Saturday, October 15, 2016
Latte At Café Lena’s Anyone-With Susie Sampson In Mind
By Sam Lowell
Lance Andrews had had to laugh at the coincidence even though the hurt inside his head which resulted from the incident made him feel kind of weird for laughing just then. Here is how it played out for those who are curious about old flames, about busted romances and, well, about the fate of coincidences. Lance had been on assignment for the small folk publication that he wrote for, American Folk Gazette, an assignment that had taken him to Saratoga Springs after an absence of maybe forty years, possibly more. For those not in the know about folk music over the past half century or so the name Saratoga Springs at one time was, and still is if less so even today, synonymous with Caffe Lena, the tiny club just off the center of the downtown area. Through those portals passed folk legends like newly minted Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Utah Philips, Rosalie Sorrels, Arlo Guthrie and a host of others too numerous to mention. Lance was in town to do a story about the old café for a new generation fairly well untouched by the wand of those previously mentioned legendary names. He had consciously failed to mention that through those portals passed Susie Sampson, an up and coming new voice folk singer back around 1975 and at one time Lance’s paramour. The coincidence? The very night that Lance had been scheduled to go to the club to drink in the atmosphere a bit the headliner was one Susie Sampson.
But maybe we should go back a bit for the big affair between Lance and Susie and their subsequent separate paths could stand in for the vagaries of trying to survive on the edges of the music world, the edges when the early 1960s folk minute which took American campuses and other prominent locales by a storm ebbed taking no prisoners. In those days Susie had been a student at nearby Skidmore College studying music and as she entered her senior year had been wondering if the folk scene would provide her with enough income to make a career of it, at least for a while. She had grown up down the road at Clifton Park and had taken up the guitar after her parents had bought her one for a Christmas present her freshman year in high school. Susie, always shy and somewhat withdrawn around her farming family, would spent hours practicing the instrument up in her bedroom and while her talents as a guitarist were always behind her real instrument-her voice-she proved adequate enough to get into the coveted music department program at Skidmore. Through high school (and college as well) she was the prime soloist for the chorus and had initially had thoughts of a classical career. Then the folk bug hit her, the ebb of the folk bug around the time that the British invasion and “acid” rock had turned former folk devotees on to those genre.
One night in 1965 she discovered Caffe Lena’s, with hostess Lena, a character in her own right, at the door taking admissions, and Tom Paxton on the bill. That was the night that she also found out that Lena’s had an “open mic” night on Tuesday for anybody who wanted to do a two song set (and pay the two dollar entry fee). She was excited about the prospects of performing in a non-school situation and find out whether she had the stuff to take a run at a performing career. So a few weeks later she showed up at Lena’s (Lena on the door again taking admissions) and placed herself on the list which gave the order of performances. She had decided that she would do one religious-oriented song reflecting her pious Methodist upbringing among the farming brethren having always been intrigued by that last phrase “I hear the noise of wings,” Angel Band, and one more contemporary, a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Deportee. Needless to say she wowed the mostly student audience. What she had previously been unaware of was that talent-spotting Lena (between bouts of admission taking) had taken note of her performance and the audience’s reaction to it and had taken Susie aside before she left and asked her if she would like to be the opening act for Larry Rivers, then an up and coming talent (whose light would fade later after bouts of cocaine addiction), and a crowd-pleaser in a couple of weeks with his off-beat folk repartee. Of course she had said yes to that proposal and began the next day to put together a six song set featuring a couple of Patsy Kline tunes and a couple of Joan Baez covers thrown in along with a song she had written but had never performed in public. The night of the performance she may not have outshined Larry but if not she came close. That was also the night that Lance Andrews then a student at Siena who was in Saratoga in order to date a student at Skidmore who was the sister of his roommate. That roommate’s sister was with him that night but Lance’s eyes were all over Susie.
Later, a few weeks later, when they finally met Susie would tell him that he had made her “nervous” while he was looking at her as she was singing-nervous but wondering to herself who he was. The way Lance played his hand to meet Susie was pure Lance. As a journalism student at Siena he had finagled the editor of the school newspaper to do a “human interest” story, a story on area budding singers- a generic fluff piece but the editor, Ben Samuels, said what the hell. So that weekend he was off to Saratoga to “meet” Susie. Another Lance touch he had Lena make the introductions to add her imprimatur to his weak credentials. So Lance made like a reporter although he also peppered his interview with her with lots of personal questions that did not seem to fit with the subject he was supposed to be covering-new talent. As he finished the interview he shook Susie’s hand (she would later tell her girlfriend roommate that the shake was so gentle she had felt somewhat flush after he removed it from hers) he asked her what she was doing after her performance. Recovering smartly for such a shy young woman she said going with him for something to eat because she would be starving since she did not eat before a performance since it made her feel logy. Bingo. And that started the on again off again love affair between Susie Sampson looking for fame and the bright lights and Lance Andrews who wanted to help her get there.
Maybe the times were just out of joint. Maybe 1965, 1966, 1967 the years of their torrid affair mixed in with Lance trying to get his foot in the journalism door at the Albany Times and Susie was trying to break out of the confines of upstate New York, of the Caffe Lena, were just a bit too late for either to make their marks. Lance was the first to speak of making a break, of heading west to see and hear all about was brewing out there in fantasyland, out in the summer of love. Susie balked at that, said she had to get to the Village and get her break. Said she was not built for Grace Slick and Janis Joplin mixes, felt she could make a living on folk if she could just get to the big city and not have to depend on an occasional feature at Lena’s or over at Siena and Skidmore or worse, much worse working for the “basket” at Sonny Red’s in Albany. So they split-for a while. In 1969 they were back together after Lance had sowed his wild oats in California and had worked a niche for himself in the alternative newspaper scene as a “cultural” reporter meaning reviewing the myriad new groups sprouting up in the acid-rock etched night. Susie had had her moment in the Village, had done a feature at the Gaslight where she did well but she was like in a time capsule trying to get some place when there was no some place to go to.
They would make one more go in 1972 and by 1975 had closed out whatever it was that had flamed but now was burned to the edges. He went up to Boston and had a checkered career as a free-lance journalist mostly for old friend Ben Gold’s Spectator, had had three wives all divorced now and a slew of kids who cost him dearly for sundry college educations. Susie, a couple of years after that final split decided, prompted by her straight-laced family, to quit the folk scene. Had gotten married to a guy from her high school, had had the requisite three children and had recently been widowed when that high school friend keeled over one night after spreading seed on their fifty acre farm.
As Lance took his seat that night in the seemingly unchanged tiny room that passed for a folk club and Susie came on to do her feature he was all eyes, like a kid. Later, a few hours later, during intermission when they met to cut up old touches Susie would tell him that he had made her “nervous” while he was looking at her as she was singing-nervous but wondering if he was still married to wife number three. Later after cutting up those old touches with a few flirty asides thrown in Lance asked Susie what she was doing after her performance. Having found out from a mutual friend also in the audience that night that he had divorced number three she recovering smartly for such a not so shy mature woman she said going with him for something to eat because she would be starving since she did not eat before a performance since it made her feel logy. And that would start … Only at the Lena.
Honor An Historic Leader Of The American Abolitionist Movement-John Brown Late Of Harper's Ferry
Honor John Brown and Harpers Ferry Uprising (1859)-Frederick Douglass' Speaks (1881)
Workers Vanguard No. 1079
27 November 2015
Honor John Brown and Harpers Ferry Uprising
(Quote of the Week)
On 2 December 1859, the revolutionary abolitionist John Brown was executed for having led the multiracial anti-slavery uprising in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, two months earlier. Brown’s raid prepared the road for the liberation of slaves through the Civil War, the Second American Revolution. But with the undoing of Radical Reconstruction, the promise of black equality was betrayed by the Northern bourgeoisie. Racial oppression remains in the very marrow of American capitalism. Ending the oppression of black people that is inherent in American capitalism will require a workers socialist revolution. The following is an excerpt from an 1881 oration by leading black abolitionist and radical democrat Frederick Douglass honoring his friend and comrade given at the historically black Storer College in Harpers Ferry. The speech was published as a pamphlet to fund an endowment for a John Brown Professorship.
—Frederick Douglass, “John Brown: An Address at the Fourteenth Anniversary of Storer College” (May 1881)
The Full Text
Address by Frederick DouglassMAY 30, 1881
Sloughing Toward Bethlehem-To The Ghost Of Hunter Thompson-“Doctor Gonzo” Where Are You Now When We Need You?
Sloughing Toward Bethlehem-To The Ghost Of Hunter Thompson-“Doctor Gonzo” Where Are You Now When We Need You?
A link to a Wikipedia entry for Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, "Doctor Gonzo."
By Frank Jackman
A link to a Wikipedia entry for Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, "Doctor Gonzo."
By Frank Jackman
Back in 2008, no, maybe more like late 2007 Josh Breslin, the then well-known writer for half the unread alterative journals and small publications in America now mercifully retired attempted against all caution to seriously comment on the upcoming presidential election in the United States (mercifully retired for his gallons of friends who had to subscribe to those alternative and small press publications and appropriately display them, pristine and unread, on their expansive coffee tables when guests, including the ubiquitous Josh showed up for party time). Attempted to in his small way to “pinch hit” for his long distance mentor, the late Doctor Gonzo, the late big-time lefty journalist Hunter Thompson who had gained a fair share of his fame from every four years since the ill-fated and ill-starred 1972 campaign where nice guy Senator George McGovern got pasted by the then current president and common criminal, one Richard Milhous Nixon, rolling out his wild wind commentary. (Accompanied by some of the most graphically vicious but on point artwork by the bloody Englishman Ralph Steadman.) The pinch hitting became necessary when the to be sorely missed Doctor having committed suicide for what were apparently health reasons in 2005 (or maybe not being able to stand what looked like then a standard brand same old, same old campaign with another Clinton and who knows who else in 2008 where he would begin to look like the ghost of Teddy White who in an earlier time got tagged with being the “go to” guy for presidential politics every four years to the exclusion of any other worthy pursuit).
On the face of the matter the thought for Josh of a big-time drag out knock them down fight for the soul of the Democratic Party between an insurgent black candidate, Barack Obama, subsequently the first black president but also the first president whose administration from start to finish was tied up with wars somewhere despite a still unseemly Nobel Peace prize to his credit, and the first serious woman candidate Hillary Clinton, former first lady and the wife of most publically acknowledge randy President since Warren Harding had seemingly endless possibilities for comment and consideration. And no question a few well-chosen barbs as well. On the other side, the Republican Party also had what looked like a real donnybrook for that party’s nomination between ex-Vietnam prisoner of war Senator John McCain from Arizona and an upstart Mormon, Mitt Romney out of Massachusetts or someplace it was never clear where he claimed residence, whose seemingly odd-ball religion with its former history of polygamy (including by his grandfather or great-grandfather Josh had forgotten which) and the wearing white cotton underwear by its devotees had its own feisty possibilities.
Josh did start out like a house afire, had the Obama black and smart appeal nailed down, saw where Clinton fatigue would do Hillary in and where Mitt’s inability to not drool in public over the prospects of getting the nomination despite being “on the one hand, on the other hand” about every single issue including whether he liked wearing white cotton boxer shorts or briefs would finally make him a loser. Then in May of that year maybe before, but not question by May, Josh threw in the towel, publically stated that what had seemed like the makings of an interesting bourgeois parties’ campaign had turned to piss and vinegar. Had all the appeal of a mop.
He abandoned his ideas in a fit of hubris recognizing as well that it took the stomach of a Hunter Thompson loaded down with as much dope as he could get down his gills, as much Wild Turkey as he could syphon down his throat and as much gibberish as he could produce on whatever new technological gadget he could handle to make his reports to do justice to the damn thing. Long gone Hunter meant that there was really nobody who gave a rat’s ass about covering the campaign the way it should be covered-with a very pinched nose and from a midnight hotel room one hundred miles from any candidate.
When 2011 came around with a sitting if then wildly unpopular president in office Josh didn’t even bother to think about the nerve-wracking possibility that he might slip back, might abandon that twelve-step program for political junkies which had weened him off such fruitless endeavors. Then 2015 came along, 2015 the year that Josh had planned to retire, planned to go back up to Maine and work through a couple of ideas about that great American novel that due to the urgencies of making enough money to pay alimony, child support and college educations for his three divorced wives and his brood of children, and all of a sudden a guy named Donald Trump came into view, had some kind of serious chance to take the Republican nomination based on Know-Nothing politics that had not been in play since about 1856 before the then newly emerged Republican Party beat back the bastards.
Josh toyed and toyed with the idea of getting back in the ring, of going mano y mano with this cartoonish character who seemed a natural for the skewer. Then Josh went back to his archives, back to some comments he made in 2008 and later in 2012 when he abandoned the crummy little small change of beating up on guys and gals who could give a rat’s ass about some writer up in Maine holding forth on the issues of the day. The kicker though was a commentary he had written about the need for the outsized ego of a Hunter Thompson to do justice to the campaign. Hunter whose blood rose to the quick when all the bullshit of the campaigns gathered steam would have loved this low-rent 2016 fight. Here’s what Josh had to say then, and stands by now when more than ever we need a big foot guy like Thompson to tilt his lance:
Josh Breslin comment:
One of the beautiful things about commentary on American bourgeois presidential electoral politics is that with a change of name here, maybe these days an added gender or two, maybe a longer list of contenders in one contest year than another, you can “cut and paste” from 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 (I’m ready) and be right on point. The following piece from the archives is a case in point. But the real beauty, as stated in the entry, is that I don’t have to actually vote for any of them. That, as the credit card commercial says, is priceless.
“In my old age I am getting a little weak-kneed about having to wade through the basically vacuous blather coming out of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating processes. While we are in a little period of ‘doldrums’ before the deluge I keep falling back to the work of Hunter Thompson on earlier presidential campaigns to try to keep a little sanity. Here’s a little tribune to the fallen journalist. Damn, Hunter we sure as hell could use you now. Call me collect from wherever you are. I’ll gladly accept the charges. Selah.
This commentary was originally used as part of a review of Hunter Thompson's Songs of the Doomed. Since most of the points I made in my review of that book apply here I will let that review stand in for the essential thrust of his whole body of political work. Obviously each book written by Thompson on the various presidential campaigns is formatted differently but whether Thompson was skewering the Nixon era, the Reagan era, the Clinton era or the Bush eras the song is the same. And it was not (and is not) pretty.
“Generally the most the trenchant social criticism, commentary and analysis complete with a prescriptive social program ripe for implementation has been done by thinkers and writers who work outside the realm of bourgeois society, notably socialists and other progressive thinkers. Bourgeois society rarely allows itself, in self- defense, to be skewered by trenchant criticism from within. This was particularly true when it came from a known dope fiend, gun freak and all-around lifestyle addict like the late, lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Although he was far from any thought of a socialist solution and would reject such a designation we could travel part of the way with him. We saw him as a kindred spirit. He was not one of us- but he was one of us. All honor to him for pushing the envelope of journalism in new directions and for his pinpricks at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Such men are dangerous.
I am not sure whether at the end of the day Hunter Thompson saw himself or wanted to been seen as a voice, or the voice, of his generation but he would not be an unworthy candidate. In any case, his was not the voice of the generation of 1968, my generation, being just enough older to have been formed by the earlier, less forgiving coming of political age in the 1950's. His earlier writings show his struggle to break out of formalistic journalism. Nevertheless, only a few, and with time it seems fewer in each generation, allow themselves to search for some kind of truth even if they cannot go the whole distance. This compilation under review is a hodgepodge of articles over the best part of Thompson's career. As with all journalists, as indeed with all writers especially those who are writing under the gun and for mass circulation media these works show an uneven quality. However the total effect is to blast old bourgeois society almost to its foundations. Others will have to push on further.
One should note that `gonzo' journalism of which Thompson’s later work is a prime example is quite compatible with socialist materialism. That is, the writer is not precluded from interpreting the events described within with himself/herself as an actor in the story. The worst swindle in journalism, fostered by the formal journalism schools, as well as in other disciplines like history and political science is that somehow one must be “objective.”' Reality is better served if the writer puts his/her analysis forward correctly and then gets out of the way. In his best work that was Hunter's way.
As a member of the generation of 1968 I would note that the 1960s was a period of particular importance which won Hunter his spurs as a journalist. Hunter, like many of us, cut his political teeth on one Richard Milhous Nixon, at one time President of the United States and all- around political chameleon. Thompson went way out of his way, and with pleasure, to skewer that man when he was riding high. He was moreover just as happy to kick Nixon when he was down, just for good measure. Nixon represented the “dark side” of the American spirit- the side that appears today as the bully boy of the world and as craven brute. Sound familiar? If for nothing else Brother Thompson deserves a place in the pantheon of journalistic heroes for this exercise in elementary hygiene. Anyone who wants to rehabilitate THAT man before history please consult Thompson's work. Hunter, I hope you find the Brown Buffalo wherever you are. Read this book. Read all his books.”
Strange that this review could with a few changes have been written in 2016-JB