Saturday, May 20, 2017

*****Frank Jackman’s Fate-With Bob Dylan’s Masters of War In Mind

*****Frank Jackman’s Fate-With Bob Dylan’s Masters of War In Mind

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

Jack Callahan’s old friend from Sloan High School in Carver down in Southeastern Massachusetts Zack James (Zack short for Zachary not as is the fashion today to just name a baby Zack and be done with it) is an amateur writer and has been at it since he got out of high school. Found out that maybe by osmosis, something like that, the stuff Miss Enos taught him junior and senior years about literature and her favorite writers Hemingway, Edith Wharton and Dorothy Parker to name a few, that she would entice the English class stuck with him with through college where although he majored in Political Science he was in thrall to the English literature courses that he snuck in to his schedule. Snuck in although Zack knew practically speaking he had a snowball’s chance in hell, an expression he had learned from Hemingway he thought,  of making a career out of the literary life as a profession, would more likely wind driving a cab through dangerous midnight sections of town  occasionally getting mugged for his night’s work. That Political Science major winding up producing about the same practical results as the literary life though. Stuck with him, savior stuck with him, through his tour of duty during the Vietnam War, and savior stayed with him through those tough years when he couldn’t quite get himself back to the “real” world after ‘Nam and let drugs and alcohol rule his life so that he wound up for some time as a “brother under the bridge” as Bruce Springsteen later put the situation in a song that he played continuously at times after he first heard it “Saigon, long gone…."  Stuck with him after he recovered and started building up his sports supplies business, stuck with him through three happy/sad/savage/acrimonious “no go” marriages and a parcel of kids and child support.  And was still sticking with him now that he had time to stretch out and write longer pieces, and beat away on the word processor a few million words on this and that.  

Amateur writer meaning nothing more than that he liked to write and that writing was not his profession, that he did not depend on the pen for his livelihood(or rather more correctly these days not the pen but the word processor). That livelihood business was taken up running a small sports apparel store in a mall not far from Lexington (the Lexington of American revolutionary battles to give the correct own and state) where he now lived. Although he was not a professional writer his interest was such that he liked these days with Jimmy Shore, the famous ex-runner running the day to day operations of the store, to perform some of his written work in public at various “open mic” writing (and poetry) jams that have sprouted up in his area.

This “open mic” business was a familiar concept to Jack from the days back in the 1960s when he would go to such events in the coffeehouses around Harvard Square and Beacon Hill to hear amateur folk-singers perfect their acts and try to be recognized as the new voice of their generation, or something like that. For “no singing voice, no musical ear” Jack those were basically cheap date nights if the girl he was with was into folk music. The way most of the "open mics" although they probably called them talent searches then, worked was each performer would sign up to do one, two, maybe three songs depending on how long the list of those wishing to perform happened to be (the places where each performer kicked in a couple of bucks in order to play usually had shorter lists). These singers usually performed in the period in front of the night’s feature who very well might have been somebody who a few weeks before had been noticed by the owner during a pervious "open mic" and asked to do a set of six to sixteen songs depending on the night and the length of the list of players in front of him or her. The featured performer played, unlike the "open mic" people, for the “basket” (maybe a hat) passed around the crowd in the audience and that was the night’s “pay.” A tough racket for those starting out like all such endeavors. The attrition rate was pretty high after the folk minute died down with arrival of other genre like folk rock, heavy rock, and acid rock although you still see a few old folkies around the Square or playing the separate “open mic” folk circuit that also ran through church coffeehouses just like these writing jams.

Jack was not surprised then when Zack told him he would like him to come to hear him perform one of his works at the monthly third Thursday “open mic” at the Congregational Church in Arlington the next town over from Lexington. Zack told Jack that that night he was going to perform something he had written and thought on about Frank Jackman, about what had happened to Frank when he was in the Army during Vietnam War times.

Jack knew almost automatically what Zack was going to do, he would somehow use Bob Dylan’s Masters of War lyrics as part of his presentation. Jack and Zack ( a Vietnam veteran who got “religion” on the anti-war issue while he in the Army and became a fervent anti-war guy after that experience despite his personal problems) had met Frank in 1971 when they were doing some anti-war work among the soldiers at Fort Devens out in Ayer about forty miles west of Boston. Frank had gotten out of the Army several months before and since he was from Nashua in the southern part of New Hampshire not far from Devens and had heard about the G.I. coffeehouse, The Morning Report, where Jack and Zack were working as volunteers he had decided to volunteer to help out as well.

Now Frank was a quiet guy, quieter than Jack and Zack anyway, but one night he had told his Army story to a small group of volunteers gathered in the main room of the coffeehouse as they were planning to distribute Daniel Ellsberg’s sensational whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various spots around the base (including as it turned out inside the fort itself with one copy landing on the commanding general’s desk for good measure). He wanted to tell this story since he wanted to explain why he would not be able to go with them if they went inside the gates at Fort Devens.

Jack knew Zack was going to tell Frank’s story so he told Frank he would be there since he had not heard the song or Frank’s story in a long while and had forgotten parts of it. Moreover Zack wanted Jack there for moral support since this night other than the recitation of the lyrics he was going to speak off the cuff rather than his usual reading from some prepared paper.  

That night Zack was already in the hall talking to the organizer, Eli Walsh, you may have heard of him since he has written some searing poems about his time in three tours Iraq. Jack felt right at home in this basement section of the church and he probably could have walked around blind-folded since the writing jams were on almost exactly the same model as the old folkie “open mics.” A table as you entered to pay your admission this night three dollars (although the tradition is that no one is turned away for lack of funds) with a kindly woman asking if you intended to perform and direct you to the sign-up sheet if so. Another smaller table with various cookies, snacks, soda, water and glasses for those who wished to have such goodies, and who were asked to leave a donation in the jar on that table if possible. The set-up in the hall this night included a small stage where the performers would present their material slightly above the audience. On the stage a lectern for those who wished to use that for physical support or to read their work from and the ubiquitous simple battery-powered sound system complete with microphone. For the audience a bevy of chairs, mostly mismatched, mostly having seen plenty of use, and mostly uncomfortable. After paying his admission fee he went over to Zack to let him know he was in the audience. Zack told him he was number seven on the list so not to wander too far once the session had begun.

This is the way Zack told the story and why Jack knew there would be some reference to Bob Dylan’s Masters of War that night:

Hi everybody my name is Zack James and I am glad that you all came out this cold night to hear Preston Borden present his moving war poetry and the rest of us to reflect on the main subject of this month’s writing jam-the endless wars that the American government under whatever regime of late has dragged us into, us kicking and screaming to little avail.  I want to thank Eli as always for setting this event up every month and for his own thoughtful war poetry. [Some polite applause.] But enough for thanks and all that because tonight I want to recite a poem, well, not really a poem, but lyrics to a song, to a Bob Dylan song, Masters of War, so it might very well be considered a poem in some sense.   

You know sometimes, a lot of times, a song, lyrics, a poem for that matter bring back certain associations. You know some song you heard on the radio when you went on your first date, your first dance, your first kiss, stuff like that which is forever etched in your memory and evokes that moment every time you hear it thereafter. Now how this Dylan song came back to me recently is a story in itself.

You remember Eli back in October when we went up to Maine to help the Maine Veterans for Peace on their yearly peace walk that I ran into Susan Rich, the Quaker gal we met up in Freeport who walked with us that day to Portland. [Eli shouted out “yes.”] I had not seen Susan in about forty years before that day, hadn’t seen her since the times we had worked together building up support for anti-war G.I.s out at the Morning Report coffeehouse in Ayer outside Fort Devens up on Route 2 about thirty miles from here. That’s when we met Frank Jackman who is the real subject of my presentation tonight since he is the one who I think about when I think about that song, think about his story and how that song relates to it.   

Funny as many Dylan songs as I knew Masters of War, written by Dylan in 1963 I had never heard until 1971. Never heard the lyrics until I met Frank out at Fort Devens where after I was discharged from the Army that year I went to do some volunteer anti-war G.I. work at the coffeehouse outside the base in Army town Ayer. Frank too was a volunteer, had heard about the place somehow I forget how, who had grown up in Nashua up in southern New Hampshire and after he was discharged from the Army down at Fort Dix in New Jersey came to volunteer just like me and my old friend Jack Callahan who is sitting in the audience tonight. Now Frank was a quiet guy didn’t talk much about his military service but he made the anti-war soldiers who hung out there at night and on weekends feel at ease. One night thought he felt some urge to tell his story, tell why he thought it was unwise for him to participate in an anti-war action we were planning around the base. We were going to pass out copies of Daniel Ellsberg’s explosive whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various location around the fort and as it turned out on the base. The reason that Frank had balked at the prospect of going into the fort was that as part of his discharge paperwork was attached a statement that he was never to go on a military installation again. We all were startled by that remark, right Jack? [Jack nods agreement.]

And that night the heroic, our kind of heroic, Frank Jackman told us about the hows and whys of his Army experience. Frank had been drafted like a ton of guys back then, like me, and had allowed himself to be drafted in 1968 at the age of nineteen not being vociferously anti-war and not being aware then of the option of not taking the subsequent induction. After about three week down at Fort Dix, the main basic training facility for trainees coming from the Northeast then, he knew two things-he had made a serious mistake by allowing himself to be drafted and come hell or high water he was not going to fight against people he had no quarrel with in Vietnam. Of course the rigors of basic training and being away from home, away from anybody who could help him do he knew not what then kept him quiet and just waiting. Once basic was over and he got his Advanced Infantry Training assignment also at Fort Dix which was to be an infantryman at a time when old Uncle Sam only wanted infantrymen in the rice paddles and jungles of Vietnam things came to a head.

After a few weeks in AIT he got a three day weekend pass which allowed him to go legally off the base and he used that time to come up to Boston, or really Cambridge because what he was looking for was help to file an conscientious objector application and he knew the Quakers were historically the ones who would know about going about that process. That is ironically where Susan Rich comes in again, although indirectly this time, since Frank went to the Meeting House on Brattle Street where they were doing draft and G.I. resistance counseling and Susan was a member of that Meeting although she had never met him at that time. He was advised by one of the Quaker counselors that he could submit a C.O. application in the military, which he had previously not been sure was possible since nobody told anybody anything about that in the military, when he got back to Fort Dix but just then, although they were better later, the odds were stacked against him since he had already accepted induction. So he went back, put in his application, took a lot of crap from the lifers and officers in his company after that and little support, mainly indifference, from his fellow trainees. He still had to go through the training, the infantry training though and although he had taken M-16 rifle training in basic he almost balked at continuing to fire weapons especially when it came to machine guns. He didn’t balk but in the end that was not a big deal since fairly shortly after that his C.O. application was rejected although almost all those who interviewed him in the process though he was “sincere” in his beliefs. That point becomes important later.

Frank, although he knew his chances of being discharged as a C.O. were slim since he had based his application on his Catholic upbringing and more general moral and ethical grounds. The Catholic Church which unlike Quakers and Mennonites and the like who were absolutely against war held to a just war theory, Vietnam being mainly a just war in the Catholic hierarchy’s opinion. But Frank was sincere, more importantly, he was determined to not got to war despite his hawkish family and his hometown friends’, some who had already served, served in Vietnam too, scorn and lack of support. So he went back up to Cambridge on another three day pass to get some advice, which he actually didn’t take in the end or rather only partially took up  which had been to get a lawyer they would recommend and fight the C.O. denial in Federal court even though that was also still a long shot then.  

Frank checked with the lawyer alright, Steve Brady, who had been radicalized by the war and was offering his services on a sliding scale basis to G.I.s since he also had the added virtue of having been in the JAG in the military and so knew some of the ropes of the military legal system, and legal action was taken but Frank was one of those old time avenging Jehovah types like John Brown or one of those guys and despite being a Catholic rather than a high holy Protestant which is the usual denomination for avenging angels decided to actively resist the military. And did it in fairly simple way when you think about it. One Monday morning when the whole of AIT was on the parade field for their weekly morning report ceremony Frank came out of his barracks with his civilian clothes on and carrying a handmade sign which read “Bring the Troops Home Now!”

That sign was simply but his life got a lot more complicated after that. In the immediate sense that meant he was pulled down on the ground by two lifer sergeants and brought to the Provost Marshal’s office since they were not sure that some dippy-hippie from near-by New York City might be pulling a stunt. When they found out that he was a soldier they threw him into solitary in the stockade.

For his offenses Frank was given a special court-martial which meant he faced six month maximum sentence which a panel of officers at his court-martial ultimately sentenced him to after a seven day trial which Steve Brady did his best to try to make into an anti-war platform but given the limitation of courts for such actions was only partially successful. After that six months was up minus some good time Frank was assigned to a special dead-beat unit waiting further action either by the military or in the federal district court in New Jersey. Still in high Jehovah form the next Monday morning after he was released he went out to that same parade field in civilian clothes carrying another homemade sign “Bring The Troops Home Now!” and he was again manhandled by another pair of lifer sergeants and this time thrown directly into solitary in the stockade since they knew who they were dealing with by then. And again he was given a special court-martial and duly sentenced by another panel of military officers to the six months maximum.

Frank admitted at that point he was in a little despair at the notion that he might have to keep doing the same action over and over again for eternity. Well he wound up serving almost all of that second sex month sentence but then he got a break. That is where listening to the Quakers a little to get legal advice did help. See what Steve Brady, like I said an ex-World War II Army JAG officer turned anti-war activist lawyer, did was take the rejection of his C.O. application to Federal District Court in New Jersey on a writ of habeas corpus arguing that since all Army interviewers agreed Frank was “sincere” that it had been arbitrary and capricious of the Army to turn down his application. And given that the United States Supreme Court and some lower court decisions had by then had expanded who could be considered a C.O. beyond the historically recognized groupings and creeds the cranky judge in the lower court case agreed and granted that writ of habeas corpus. Frank was let out with an honorable discharge, ironically therefore entitled to all veteran’s benefits but with the stipulation that he never go onto a military base again under penalty of arrest and trial. Whether that could be enforced as a matter of course he said he did not want to test since he was hardily sick of military bases in any case.                                       

So where does Bob Dylan’s Masters of War come into the picture. Well as you know, or should know every prisoner, every convicted prisoner, has the right to make a statement in his or her defense during the trial or at the sentencing phase. Frank at both his court-martials rose up and recited Bob Dylan’s Masters of War for the record. So for all eternity, or a while anyway, in some secret recess of the Army archives (and of the federal courts too) there is that defiant statement of a real hero of the Vietnam War. Nice right?      

Here is what had those bloated military officers on Frank’s court-martial board seeing red and ready to swing him from the highest gallow, yeah, swing him high.

Masters Of War-Bob Dylan 

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

“To Be Young Was Very Heaven”-With The 50th Anniversary Of The “Summer Of Love, 1967” In Mind-Frankie Riley's Story

“To Be Young Was Very Heaven”-With The 50th Anniversary Of The “Summer Of Love, 1967” In Mind-Frankie Riley's Story

Revised Introduction by Zack James

[I was about a decade or so too young to have been washed, washed clean to hear guys like Peter Paul Markin, more on him below, tell the tale, by the huge counter-cultural explosion that burst upon the land (and by extension and a million youth culture ties internationally before the bubble burst) in the mid to late 1960s and maybe extending a few year into the 1970s depending on whose ebb tide event you adhere to. (Markin’s for very personal reasons having to do with participating in the events on May Day 1971 when the most radical forces tried to stop the Vietnam War by shutting down the government and got kicked in the teeth for their efforts. Doctor Gonzo, the late writer Hunter Thompson who was knee-deep in the experiences called it 1968 around the Democratic Party convention disaster in Chicago. I, reviewing the material published on the subject mostly and on the very fringe of what was what back then would argue for 1969 between Altamont and the Days of Rage everything looked bleak then and after.)

Over the next fifty years that explosion has been inspected, selected, dissected, inflected, infected and detected by every social science academic who had the stamina to hold up under the pressure and even by politicians, mostly to put the curse of “bad example” and “never again” on the outlier experimentation that went on in those days. Plenty has been written about the sea-change in mores among the young attributed to the breakdown of the Cold War red scare freeze, the righteous black civil rights struggles rights early in the decade and the forsaken huge anti-Vietnam War movement later. Part of the mix too and my oldest brother Alex, one of Markin’s fellow corner boys from the old neighborhood is a prime example, was just as reaction like in many generations coming of age, just the tweaking of the older generations inured to change by the Cold War red scare psychosis they bought into. The event being celebrated or at least reflected on in this series under the headline “To Be Very Young-With The Summer of Love 1967 In Mind” now turned fifty was by many accounts a pivotal point in that explosion especially among the kids from out in the hinterlands, like Markin an Alex, away from elite colleges and anything goes urban centers.   The kids, who as later analysis would show, were caught up one way or another in the Vietnam War, were scheduled to fight the damn thing, the young men anyway, and were beginning, late beginning, to break hard from the well-established norms from whence they came in reaction to that dread.

This series came about because my already mentioned oldest brother, Alex James, had in the spring of 2017 taken a trip to San Francisco on business and noticed on a passing Muni bus that the famed deYoung Museum located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, a central location for the activities of the Summer of Love as it exploded on the scene in that town, was holding an exhibition about that whole experience. That jarred many a half forgotten memory in Alex’s head. Alex and his “corner boys” back in the day from the old Acre neighborhood in North Adamsville, a suburb of Boston where we all came of age, had gotten their immersion into counter-cultural activities by going to San Francisco in the wake of that summer of 1967 to “see what it was all about.”

When Alex got back from his business trip he gathered the few “corner boys” still standing, Frankie Riley, the acknowledged leader of the corner boys, Jimmy Jenkins, Si Lannon, Jack Callahan, Bart Webber, Ralph Kelly, and Josh Breslin (not an actual North Adamsville corner boy but a corner boy nevertheless from Olde Sacco up in Maine whom the tribe “adopted” as one of their own) at Jimmy’s Grille in North Adamsville, their still favorite drinking hole as they call it, to tell what he had seen in Frisco town and to reminisce. From that first “discussion” they decided to “commission” me as the writer for a small book of reflections by the group to be attached alongside a number of sketches I had done previously based on their experiences in the old neighborhood and in the world related to those times. So I interviewed the crew, wrote or rather compiled the notes used in the sketches below but believe this task was mostly my doing the physical writing and getting the hell out of the way once they got going. This slender book is dedicated to the memory of the guy who got them all on the road west-Peter Paul Markin whom I don’t have to mention more about here for he, his still present “ghost” will be amply discussed below. Zack James]              

To the memory of the late Peter Paul Markin on the occasion of the 50th anniversary year of the Summer of Love, San Francisco, 1967

[Although this small tribute book is dedicated to the memory of Peter Paul Markin from the corner boys days of the old Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville and will have contributions from all the surviving member of that tribe there are other corner boys who have passed away, a couple early on in that bloody hell called Vietnam, Ricky Russo and Ralph Morse, RIP brothers, you did good in a bad war, Allan Jackson, Allan Stein, “Bugger” Shea and Markin’s old comrade, Billy Bradley. You guys RIP too.]          

By Francis Xavier Riley (Frankie)

Markin was a piece of work. If not one of kind then close to it and I can still say that some sixty years since we first met. Met in seventh grade in junior high school at the old North Adamsville Junior High. I had been recognized as the leader of a bunch of guys who hung around the traditional junior high hangout, Doc’ Drugstore, which had the added attraction of being not only a place where the ill and lame got their cures but had a soda fountain attached to a jukebox. A jukebox that got all kinds of play from the young bud girls that were throwing their dimes and quarters into to hear their latest for the minute heartthrob. So you mostly know why we hung around that spot just as our older brothers did and maybe some of the fathers even before that.

Markin had come over from across town, from the Brook Meadows Junior High a couple of months into the school year so he already had one strike against him since by then all the social and personal relationships which would last through high school and beyond (beyond in our case enough to have been around when Markin came making his clarion call to head west and see what the emerging “youth nation” was all about in the Frisco Summer of Love). Moreover he was even then kind of a nerdy guy, you know, always spouting odd-ball facts and figure like we gave rat’s ass about any of it. (That “rat’s ass” which I haven’t said in years maybe since Markin’s time was the “in” word we used to fluff off anything that was not important to us-important being mostly girls, cars and how to get money to deal with either, or both.)

His idea, once we became friends and he would confide in me some of his feelings, not a lot, that wasn’t our style, the style, then that the reason he became a wizard at certain things was because he had maybe read that knowing such stuff, like who was who in folk music when that stuck his fancy also something that then the rest of us could have given a rat’s ass about, was the way to meet interesting girls. Or then any girls once his hormonal urges got into overdrive. I would tell you more about Markin’s theory and the reality of his junior high and high school love life such as it was except this is about the Summer of Love where his approach was something like pure magic when he and the young women were stoned, you know high as kites on the drug of the day. On the West Coast they flocked around him like acolytes-and he took full advantage of that luck.

Another strike, and maybe the definitive one once Markin said he had thought about it later, was that he had come from the even then notorious Adamsville “projects,” public assistance housing. Between the large family, four siblings along with him and his father’s lack of education that was where the family was thrown helter-skelter in his early years. Years that formed the hard edge as he said of that “from hunger” feeling that drove a lot of the seamier side of his personality. Strangely most of us in the Acre section of North Adamsville were in some cases poorer, or at least as poor, as Markin’s family but that “projects” albatross designation hanging around his neck in the small one family houses or at worst a double-decker apartment in the Acre caused him some isolation before we became friends. (My mother when things were tough in our family or when one of us went off the rails would spring the “wind up in the projects” on us to try to make us behave which worked when we were younger but was like water off a duck’s back later.) Funny thought when I thought about it later myself we all had that “from hunger” edge, and acted on it. Some of us grew out of it, some didn’t. Markin never had a fighting chance to test that out either way.

So Markin and I met in seventh grade and after a few disputes we became friends and would stay that way for as long as he was in contact with any of us, when he was alive although Josh Breslin who will tell his own story about Markin not I was the last to see him before the fateful drug trip down to Mexico. I could tell lots of things about Markin but what is important for this piece is that he and his odd-ball facts and figures drove him to the conclusion starting I think in tenth grade that there was a “new breeze coming through the land” or that was his idea that he would periodically pound into us on a stray Friday or Saturday hanging out night when other prospects had petered out. Again the rest of us could have given a rat’s ass about it until much later, later when it was obvious even to the socially dumbest of us that indeed a new breeze was in the air. How Markin, a guy from nowhere in the social firmament, from a hick town to boot knew what he sensed is beyond me all I know is until 1967 every time he would begin his rant I would close my ears, close them tight.   

I was shocked, we all were shocked, when Markin told us one day in the spring of 1967 that he was dropping out of school, out of Boston University, where he had a scholarship and maybe some financial aid. All I know is that his family not matter what the tuition had no money, none, to send him, the first in his family to go to college, there. Even in my own case where I went to a branch of State U later my parents were hard-pressed to find some spare dough to send me and I had to work as well all through school. The idea he presented to us was that from what he had heard about what was happening out West that the time of the new breeze had come and he was going to what he called “find” himself.(Of course as Alex James has already mentioned in his introductory piece that fateful decision which sounded good in the short haul especially when we imbibed some weed a habit which Markin had begun to indulge in at college along with about half our generation and introduced us to wound up in the long haul not so good. I won’t repeat here what Alex has said but Markin eventually wound up getting drafted since he had lost his student deferment, getting his ass into Vietnam, and afterward, after coming back to the “real” world he called it, the trip down the slippery slope. The ultimate “from hunger” move that haunted his whole blessed life.)  

Markin would sent back reports about what was happening out West when he finally got out there after hitchhiking out on his first trip. (That first hitchhike road inspired by his inflamed reading of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in high school and trying. Again just then we could have given a rat’s ass about that.) He wound up in Golden Gate Park where a couple of stray California girls befriended him once they heard his accent and thought it was “cute,” or something like that. That and about ten thousand facts about music and literature, On The Road, finally getting him some positive play when they found out that he had hitchhiked out across the country to find out what was what out West, found out if that new breeze was really here.       

The thing about the spring of 1967 is that like lemmings to the sea lots of young people were heading west (according to Alex’s report on the deYoung Museum exhibit something like 100, 000) and the town was taxed to the limit with so many stray kids, some runaways from Podunk towns like ours, some like Markin looking to “find” themselves so it was fortunate that Markin had run into Aphrodite and Venus (not their real names but I don’t remember them, their real names, and besides what was important at that time was coming up with a moniker to “reinvent” yourself with. Markin was the Be-Bop Kid paying homage to his semi-beat roots and I was Cowboy playing to my childhood love of watching Westerns on television Saturday mornings and later at the Strand Theater Saturday matinees. Others can give their monikers in their pieces if they wish.). They had actually come up from Laguna Beach a couple of months before on Captain Crunch’s converted yellow brick road school bus (Markin’s expression for the vehicle) and that was where after a couple of days of sleeping out in the air on his improvised bedroll in the Park he wound up.

This Captain Crunch was his own piece of work. He was an older guy, older then being maybe thirty or a little younger, who had been travelling up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in his own version of what the author Ken Kesey had started with his own school bus Further On complete with Merry Pranksters who set the tone for the whole West Coast experience of “drug, sex and rock and roll.” Kesey had been the guy who did all the “acid test” stuff that the writer Tom Wolfe would write about later and drive even more kids west (or if not West then to do what was happening there in towns like New York City, Boston, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Madison and any place where there were enough young people to hold the experience together. The Captain knew Kesey and as Alex mentioned we had been to his place in La Honda when we went out and joined Markin on the bus. Reportedly, and in all the time we were on the bus we could never pin the story down fully anyway, the Captain had traded a bag of serious dope for the bus. All I know is that we never lacked for drugs all through the experiences as the Captain always had a ready supply from weed to speed to acid.                 

When Aphrodite and Venus introduced Markin to the Captain a couple of days later once they thought he was “cool” the pair immediately took to each other. Had some kind of wavelength thing that I could never quite figure since the Captain had gone to an elite Ivy League school, Columbia if I recall, and had a certain aristocratic sensibility about him. Maybe it was Markin’s ten billion facts, or his enthusiasm, or maybe they were connected because each in their own way were what Alex called small letter prophets the Captain too having sensed early that a new day was coming and had grabbed the bus and all and started to live out the dream. Before Markin would come back to make his pitch in the late summer he had gone with the bus twice down toward Los Angeles and back again. As Markin was at pains to tell us in his pitch every day was another days of drug, sex and rock and roll if you wanted it. (Aphrodite and Venus before they left the bus just before Markin headed East were successively his first two girlfriends out West. They were totally unlike the tight Eastern Irish Catholic girls we grew up with or even like the girls who would hover around Markin at Boston University. They were converted “surfer girls” and had nothing but easy ways and good time delights on their minds. They would Markin thought not make the long road in the search for utopia that was what we were really looking for if you had to give an academic explanation for it  but were a very pleasant diversion along the road.)           

When Markin hitchhiked back from Frisco he was taking no prisoners, not taking no for an answer among the corner boys who were still around (a couple of guys were in the service, in Vietnam where Ricky Russo and Ralph Morse would lay down their heads and be forever etched in black granite down in Washington and at the town square memorial in Adamsville, North Adamsville is for governmental purposes if not for social purposes part of Adamsville proper, and a couple of others had left town for jobs or some other reason but the bulk of us were still attached to the town, a few still are). The breeze was here and whether we liked it or not we were going to check it out. This by the way was very unusual for Markin to assert himself so forcefully since he usually was the guy who proposed stuff to me and I would take it from there in the hierarchy which ruled at the time which was headed by me. Frankly, and this may tell something about why Markin fell down in Mexico trying to deal with organizing something. He was a great idea man for fresh breeze stuff and the stuff that we did give a rat’s ass about which was grabbing dough fast and easy. That is the part of Markin I always appreciated. He always had an idea, maybe ten at a time, on how to get dough fast and easy. He would conger up some scheme and I would lead the operation. The one time he actually did try to lead one of his schemes he almost got us all arrested since he forgot the cardinal rule to have a lookout when you were going through a house not your own.            

As Alex mentioned once Markin got us fired up he and Markin took off for California via the hitchhike trail since Alex had no job to ditch which I had to do before I could head out. I keep thinking today how crazy we were to even attempt to hitchhike across town never mine across the country with all the crazies out there but we did it collectively a couple of dozen times without a problem. There was a point maybe sometime around the exposure of the Charles Manson madness in Southern California when hitching became dangerous and passé but by then we were all off the road one way or another.

In any case my first trip out along with Jack Callahan, the great football player from our high school days who despite that acclaim was nothing but a hardcore corner boy and good to have around since he was as tough as nails (except with his high school sweetheart Chrissie McNamara whom he is still married to all these years later unlike me with three marriages and three divorces under my belt) was via the Greyhound bus. Part of that was to placate my mother who would have run me down all the way to China if I had told her I was hitchhiking. Nevertheless that bus ride was the only time I, we, used that horrible form of cross-country travel. Travel with screaming kids, overweight people sitting next to you or snoring and just the nerve-racking experience of being cooped up in a bus without proper hygiene for five or six days straight. No matter what they say about the health conditions, sanitary conditions, in Haight-Ashbury it was no worse than the damn bus. Certainly when we got onto the Captain’s bus that was clearly healthier if more primitive since the Captain and his lady Mustang Sally made that a condition was travelling with them. Over the couple of years I was on that bus several people were summarily excluded for poor hygiene or not pulling their weight keeping the quarters clean.

I will say that Markin who as you might have suspected of a minor prophet was filled with hyperbole about lots of stuff but he had the skinny on the wild and wonderful scene out in Frisco town (and later on the trips up and down the coast). Now when we were growing up, when we were hanging around the corners of North Adamsville, even the idea of drugs other than the traditional alcohol haze that half the Acre drifted around in was anathema. That stuff was for junkies, guys like Frankie Machine in the film adaptation of Nelson Algren’s The Man With The Golden Arm but the stuff Markin had us try Columbia Red, good weed, got us all changed around. Needless to say except for LSD, acid, none of us turned down whatever drug was cooked up. That combined with the wild girls, wild girls in comparison the rough bible between their knees Irish Catholic girls who drove us crazy and gave us nothing whatever we might say on the corner about how we scored like crazy with some Suzy.

But it was not just the drugs, the wanton women, the music, or even all of them put together but that new spirit of adventure that took us, us corner boys from North Adamsville out of our ruts and gave us a sense of community which we never had beyond our corner boys’ bondings. On the 50th anniversary hell I still miss it, still wouldn’t mind  travelling that road again. Yes, Markin, the Scribe, as I dubbed him half in fun when we first met can take a bow even all these years later for that. And yes I still miss the crazy bastard as much as ever. 

To Sin By Silence When We Should Protest Makes Cowards Out Of Men (Women Too)!-Build The Resistance!

To Sin By Silence When We Should Protest Makes Cowards Out Of Men (Women Too)!-Build The Resistance!  

By Political Commentator Frank Jackman 

To Sin By Silence When We Should Protest Makes Cowards Out Of Men … (and I added women too)-lines from “Protest” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Usually when I want to grab a line or two from some poem it would more likely by from say Bertolt Brecht’s “To Those Born After,” Langston Hughes’ “Homage To John Brown” or Claude McKay’s “Let’s Us Die Like Men (and I would add women here again) and not some relatively obscure American poet but when the point is made so succinctly I could not resist using the damn thing as it disturbed my sleep one night    

Ella Wheeler Wilcox whatever her vices or virtues as an American working the ways of the late 19th and early 20th century had it exactly right-had a mantra that we need to live by these dark days on the American frontier (the frontier not Harvard Professor Turner’s old idea about the closing of the frontier once you hit the Pacific Ocean with all its consequences for a restless people ever since but the outer edge of civil society). We must continue to resist the Trump government with whatever resources we have. And whatever hubris we can gather in to keep us from the storm that has gathered right on our doorsteps.

Most of us didn’t want this fight, the older ones of us thinking that maybe we could pass on under conditions of an armed truce with the imperial government. But then the cold civil war descended on us and we had to pick sides, those of us who see the necessity of picking sides when bans are in place, when walls are being built and when the rich, no, hell no, the super-rich have literally stepped up to besieged every social program that our people need to face the next day. And act. Act to build the resistance which these days looks like it will need to be on the order of the French Resistance in World War II.

Do you really want to bend your head down when the deal, the hell train coming, goes down and your kids, if you have kids, your grandkids if you have grandkids, or just your own conscience asks you what did you when it was time to speak up. Remember Ella had it right, right as rain.

Here is Bertolt Brecht's "To Those Born After" if you need further reason-


To the cities I came in a time of disorder
That was ruled by hunger.
I sheltered with the people in a time of uproar
And then I joined in their rebellion.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

I ate my dinners between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
I didn't care for much for love
And for nature's beauties I had little patience.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

The city streets all led to foul swamps in my time,
My speech betrayed me to the butchers.
I could do only little
But without me those that ruled could not sleep so easily:
That's what I hoped.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

Our forces were slight and small,
Our goal lay in the far distance
Clearly in our sights,
If for me myself beyond my reaching.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.


You who will come to the surface
From the flood that's overwhelmed us and drowned us all
Must think, when you speak of our weakness in times of darkness
That you've not had to face:

Days when we were used to changing countries
More often than shoes,
Through the war of the classes despairing
That there was only injustice and no outrage.

Even so we realised
Hatred of oppression still distorts the features,
Anger at injustice still makes voices raised and ugly.
Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness,
Could never be friendly ourselves.

And in the future when no longer
Do human beings still treat themselves as animals,
Look back on us with indulgence. 

An Encore -He Saw Starlight On The Rails-With The Irascible Bruce “Utah” Phillips in Mind

An Encore -He Saw Starlight On The Rails-With The Irascible Bruce “Utah” Phillips in Mind

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Jack Dawson was not sure when he had heard that the old long-bearded son of a bitch anarchist hell of a songwriter, hell of a story-teller Bruce “Utah” Phillips caught the westbound freight, caught that freight around 2007 he found out later a couple of years after he too had come off the bum this time from wife problems, divorce wife problems (that "westbound freight" by the way an expression from the hobo road to signify that a fellow traveler hobo, tramp, bum it did not matter then the distinctions that had seemed so important in the little class differences department when they were alive had passed on, had had his fill of train smoke and dreams and was ready  to face whatever there was to face up in hobo heaven, no, the big rock candy mountain that some old geezer had written on some hard ass night when dreams were all he had to keep him company). That “Utah” moniker not taken by happenstance since Phillips struggled through the wilds of Utah on his long journey, played with a group called the Utah Valley boys, put up with, got through a million pounds of Mormon craziness and, frankly, wrote an extraordinary number of songs in his career by etching through the lore as he found it from all kinds of Mormon sources, including some of the dark pages, the ranch war stuff, the water stuff not the polygamy stuff which was nobody's business except the parties involved of those latter day saints.

For those who do not know the language of the road, not the young and carefree road taken for a couple of months during summer vacation or even a Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac-type more serious expedition under the influence of On The Road (what other travelogue of sorts would get the blood flowing to head out into the vast American Western night) and then back to the grind but the serious hobo “jungle” road like Jack Dawson had been on for several years before he sobered up after he came back from ‘Nam, came back all twisted and turned when he got discharged from the Army back in 1971 and could not adjust to the “real world” of his Carver upbringing in the East and had wound up drifting, drifting out to the West, hitting California and when that didn’t work out sort of ambled back east on the slow freight route through Utah taking the westbound freight meant for him originally passing to the great beyond, passing to a better place, passing to hard rock candy mountain in some versions here on earth before Black River Shorty clued him in.

Of course everybody thinks that if you wind up in Utah the whole thing is Mormon, and a lot of it is, no question, but when Jack hit Salt Lake City he had run into a guy singing in a park. A guy singing folk music stuff, labor songs, travelling blues stuff, the staple of the genre, that he had remembered that Sam Lowell from Carver High, from the same class year as him, had been crazy for back in the days when he would take his date and Jack and his date over to Harvard Square and they would listen to guys like that guy in the park singing in coffeehouses. Jack had not been crazy about the music then and some of the stuff the guy was singing seemed odd now too, still made him grind his teeth.  but back then it either amounted to a cheap date, or the girl actually liked the stuff and so he went along with it.

So Jack, nothing better to do, sat in front of guy and listened. Listened more intently when the guy, who turned out to be Utah (who was using the moniker “Pirate Angel” then, as Jack was using "Daddy Two Cents"  reflecting his financial condition or close to it, monikers a good thing on the road just in case the law, bill-collectors or ex-wives were trying to reach you and you did not want to reached), told the few bums, tramps and hoboes who were the natural residents of the park that if they wanted to get sober, if they wanted to turn things around a little that they were welcome, no questions asked, at the Joe Hill House. (No questions asked was right but everybody was expected to at least not tear the place up, which some nevertheless tried to do.)

That Joe Hill whom the sobering up house was named after by the way was an old time immigrant anarchist who did something to rile the Latter Day Saints up because they threw he before a firing squad with no questions asked. Joe got the last line though, got it for eternity-“Don’t mourn (his death), organize!”                   

Jack, not knowing anybody, not being sober much, and maybe just a tad nostalgic for the old days when hearing bits of folk music was the least of his worries, went up to Utah and said he would appreciate the stay. And that was that. Although not quite “that was that” since Jack knew nothing about the guys who ran the place, didn’t know who Joe Hill was until later (although he suspected after he found out that Joe Hill had been a IWW organizer [Wobblie, Industrial Worker of the World] framed and executed in that very state of Utah that his old friend the late Peter Paul Markin who lived to have that kind of information in his head would have known. See this Joe Hill House unlike the Sallies (Salvation Army) where he would hustle a few days of peace was run by this Catholic Worker guy, Ammon Hennessey, who Utah told Jack had both sobered him up and made him some kind of anarchist although Jack was fuzzy on what that was all about.

So Jack for about the tenth time tried to sober up, liquor sober up this time out in the great desert (later it would be drugs, mainly cocaine which almost ripped his nose off he was so into it that he needed sobering up from). And it took, took for a while.        

Whatever had been eating at Jack kept fighting a battle inside of him and after a few months he was back on the bottle. But during that time at the Joe Hill House he got close to Utah, as close as he had gotten to anybody since ‘Nam, since his friendship with Jeff Crawford from up in Podunk Maine who saved his ass, and that of a couple of other guys in a nasty fire-fight when Charley (G.I. slang for the Viet Cong originally said in contempt but as the war dragged on in half-hearted admiration) decided he did indeed own the night in his own country. Got as close as he had to his corner boys like Sam Lowell from hometown Carver. Learned a lot about the lure of the road, of drink and drugs, of tough times (Utah had been in Korea) and he had felt bad after he fell off the wagon. But that was the way it was. 
Several years later after getting washed clean from liquor and drugs, at a time when Jack started to see that he needed to get back into the real world if he did not want to wind up like his last travelling companion, Denver Shorty, whom he found face down one morning on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and had abandoned his body fast in order not to face the police report, he noticed that Utah was playing in a coffeehouse in Cambridge, a place called Passim’s which he found out had been taken over from the Club 47 where Sam had taken Jack a few times. So Jack and his new wife (his and her second marriages) stepped down into the cellar coffeehouse to listen up.

As Jack waited in the rest room area a door opened from the other side across the narrow passageway and who came out but Utah. As Jack started to grab his attention Utah blurred out “Daddy Two Cent, how the hell are you?” and talked for a few minutes. Later that night after the show they talked some more in the empty club before Utah said he had to leave to head back to Saratoga Springs in New York where he was to play at the CaffĂ© Lena the next night.         

That was the last time that Jack saw Utah in person although he would keep up with his career as it moved along. Bought some records, later tapes, still later CDs just to help the brother out. In the age of the Internet he would sent occasional messages and Utah would reply. Then he heard Utah had taken very ill, heart trouble like he said long ago in the blaze of some midnight fire, would finally get the best of him. And then somewhat belatedly Jack found that Utah had passed on. The guy of all the guys he knew on the troubled hobo “jungle” road who knew what “starlight on the rails” meant to the wanderers he sang for had cashed his ticket. RIP, brother.

Friday, May 19, 2017

An Encore -The Son Of Dharma-With Jack Kerouac’s On The Road In Mind

An Encore -The Son Of Dharma-With Jack Kerouac’s On The Road In Mind


Jack Callahan thought he was going crazy when he thought about the matter after he had awoken from his fitful dream. Thought he was crazy for “channeling” Jack Kerouac, or rather more specifically channeling Jack’s definitive book On The Road, definite in giving him and a goodly portion of his generation that last push to go, well, go search a new world, or at least get the dust of your old town growing up off of your shoes, that had much to do with his wanderings. Got him going in search of what his late corner boy, “the Scribe,” Peter Paul Markin called the search for the Great Blue-Pink American West Night (Markin always capitalized that concept so since I too was influenced by the mad man’s dreams I will do so here). Any way you cut it seeking that new world that gave Jack his fitful dream. That  “driving him crazy” stemmed from the fact that those wanderings, that search had begun, and finished shortly thereafter, about fifty years before when he left the road after a few months for the hand of Chrissie McNamara and a settled life. Decided that like many others who went that same route he was not build for the long haul road after all.  


But maybe it is best to go back to the beginning, not the fifty years beginning, Jesus, who could remember, maybe want to remember incidents that far back, but to the night several weeks before when Jack, Frankie Riley, who had been our acknowledged corner boy leader out in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys from about senior year in high school in 1966 and a couple of years after when for a whole assortment of reasons, including the wanderings, the crowd went its separate ways, Jimmy Jenkins, Allan Johnson, Bart Webber, Josh Breslin, Rich Rizzo, Sam Eaton and me got together for one of our periodic “remember back in the day” get-togethers over at “Jack’s” in Cambridge a few block down Massachusetts Avenue from where Jimmy lives. We have probably done this a dozen time over the past decade or so, more recently as most of us have more time to spent at a hard night’s drinking (drinking high-shelf liquors as we always laugh about since in the old days we collectively could not have afforded one high-shelf drink and were reduced to drinking rotgut wines and seemingly just mashed whiskeys, and draino Southern Comfort, and that draino designation no lie, especially the first time you took a slug, the only way to take it, before you acquired the taste for it).


The night I am talking about though as the liquor began to take effect someone, Bart I think, mentioned that he had read in the Globe that up in Lowell they were exhibiting the teletype roll of paper that Jack Kerouac had typed the most definitive draft of his classic youth nation travel book, On The Road in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of its publication in 1957. That information stopped everybody in the group’s tracks for a moment. Partly because everybody at the table, except Rich Rizzo, had taken some version of Kerouac’s book to heart as did thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of certified members of the generation of ’68 who went wandering in that good 1960s night. But most of all because etched in everybody’s memory were thoughts of the mad monk monster bastard saint who turned us all on to the book, and to the wanderings, the late Peter Paul Markin.


Yeah, we still moan for that sainted bastard all these years later whenever something from our youths come up. It might be an anniversary, it might be all too often the passing of some iconic figure from those times, or it might be passing some place that was associated with our crowd, and with Markin. See Markin was something like a “prophet” to us, not the old time biblical long-beard and ranting guys although maybe he did think he was in that line of work, but as the herald of what he called “a fresh breeze coming across the land” early in the 1960s. Something of a nomadic “hippie” slightly before his time (including wearing his hair-pre moppet Beatles too long for working class North Adamsville tastes, especially his mother’s, who insisted on boys’ regulars and so another round was fought out to something like a stand-still then in the Markin household saga). The time of Markin’s “prophesies,” the hard-bitten Friday or Saturday night times when nothing to do and nothing to do it with he would hold forth, was however a time when we could have given a rat’s ass about some new wave forming in Markin’s mind (and that “rat’s ass” was the term of art we used on such occasions).


We would change our collective tunes later in the decade but then, and on Markin’s more sober days he would be clamoring over the same things, all we cared about was girls (or rather “getting into their pants”), getting dough for dates and walking around money (and planning small larcenies to obtain the filthy lucre), and getting a “boss” car, like a ’57 Chevy or at least a friend that had one in order to “do the do” with said girls and spend some dough at places like drive-in theaters and drive-in restaurants (mandatory if you wanted to get past square one with girls, the girls we knew, or were attracted to, in those days).           


Markin was whistling in the dark for a long time, past high school and maybe a couple of years after. He wore us down though pushing us to go up to Harvard Square in Cambridge to see guys with long hair and faded clothes and girls with long hair which looked like they had used an iron to iron it out sing, read poetry, and just hang-out. Hang out waiting for that same “fresh breeze” that Markin spent many a girl-less, dough-less, car-less Friday or Saturday night serenading us heathens about. I don’t know how many times he dragged me, and usually Bart Webber, in his trail on the late night subway to hear some latest thing in the early 1960s folk minute which I could barely stand then, and which I still grind my teeth over when I hear some associates going on and on about guys like Bob Dylan, Tom Rush and Dave Von Ronk and gals like Joan Baez, the one I heard later started the whole iron your long hair craze among seemingly rationale girls. Of course I did tolerate the music better once a couple of Cambridge girls asked me if I liked folk music one time in a coffeehouse and I said of course I did and took Markin aside to give me some names to throw at them. One girl, Lorna, I actually dated off and on for several months.


But enough of me and my youthful antics, and enough too of Markin and his wiggy ideas because this screed is about Jack Kerouac, about the effect of his major book, and why Jack Callahan of all people who among those of us corner boys from Jack Slack’s who followed Markin on the roads west left it the earliest. Left to go back to Chrissie, and eventually a car dealership, Toyota, that had him Mr. Toyota around Eastern Massachusetts (and of course Chrissie as Mrs. Toyota).


In a lot of ways Markin was only the messenger, the prodder, because when he eventually convinced us all to read the damn book at different points when we were all, all in our own ways getting wrapped up in the 1960s counter-cultural movement (and some of us the alternative political part too) we were in thrall to what adventures Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty were up to. That is why I think Jack had his dreams after the all-night discussions we had. Of course Markin came in for his fair share of comment, good and bad. But what we talked about mostly was how improbable on the face of it a poor working-class kid from the textile mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, from a staunch Roman Catholic French-Canadian heritage of those who came south to “see if the streets of America really were paved with gold” would seem an unlikely person to be involved in a movement that in many ways was the opposite of what his generation, the parents of our generation of ’68 to put the matter in perspective, born in the 1920s, coming of age in the Great Depression and slogging through World War II was searching for in the post-World War II “golden age of America.”  Add in that he also was a “jock” (no slur intended as we spent more than our fair share of time talking about sports on those girl-less, dough-less, car-less weekend nights, including Markin who had this complicated way that he figured out the top ten college football teams since they didn’t a play-off system to figure it out. Of course he was like the rest of us a Notre Dame “subway” fan), a guy who played hooky to go read books and who hung out with a bunch of corner boys just like us would be-bop part of his own generation and influence our generation enough to get some of us on the roads too. Go figure.       


So we, even Markin when he was in high flower, did not “invent” the era whole, especially in the cultural, personal ethos part, the part about skipping for a while anyway the nine to five work routine, the white house and picket fence family routine, the hold your breath nose to the grindstone routine and discovering the lure of the road and of discovering ourselves, and of the limits of our capacity to wonder. No question that elements of the generation before us, Jack Kerouac’s, the sullen West Coast hot-rodders, the perfect wave surfers, the teen-alienated rebel James Dean and wild one Marlon Brando we saw on Saturday afternoon matinee Strand Theater movie screens and above all his “beats” helped push the can down the road, especially the “beats” who along with Jack wrote to the high heavens about what they did, how they did it and what the hell it was they were running from. Yeah, gave us a road map to seek that “newer world” Markin got some of us wrapped up in later in the decade and the early part of the next.


Now the truth of the matter is that most generation of ‘68ers, us, only caught the tail-end of the “beat” scene, the end where mainstream culture and commerce made it into just another “bummer” like they have done with any movement that threatened to get out of hand. So most of us who were affected by the be-bop sound and feel of the “beats” got what we knew from reading about them. And above all, above even Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem, Howl which was a clarion call for rebellion, was Jack Kerouac who thrilled even those who did not go out in the search the great blue-pink American West night.              


Here the odd thing, Kerouac except for that short burst in the late 1940s and a couple of vagrant road trips in the 1950s before fame struck him down was almost the antithesis of what we of the generation of ’68 were striving to accomplish. As is fairly well known, or was by those who lived through the 1960s, he would eventually disown his “step-children.” Be that as it may his role, earned or not, wanted or not, as media-anointed “king of the beats” was decisive.           


But enough of the quasi-literary treatment that I have drifted into when I really wanted to tell you about what Bart Webber told me about his dream. He dreamed that he, after about sixty-five kinds of hell with his mother who wanted him to stay home and start that printing business that he had dreamed of since about third grade when he read about how his hero Benjamin Franklin had started in the business, get married to Betsy Binstock, buy a white picket fence house (a step up from the triple decker tenement where he grew up) have children, really grandchildren and have a happy if stilted life. But his mother advise fell off him like a dripping rain, hell, after-all he was caught in that 1960s moment when everything kind of got off-center and so he under the constant prodding of Markin decided to hit the road. Of course the Kerouac part came in from reading the book after about seven million drum-fire assaults by Markin pressing him to read the thing.


So there he was by himself. Markin and I were already in San Francisco so that was the story he gave his mother for going and also did not tell her that he was going  to hitchhike to save money and hell just to do it. It sounded easy in the book. So he went south little to hit Route 6 (a more easterly part of that road in upstate New York which Sal unsuccessfully started his trip on). There he met a young guy, kind of short, black hair, built like a football player who called himself Ti Jean, claimed he was French- Canadian and hailed from Nashua up in New Hampshire but had been living in Barnstable for the summer and was now heading west to see what that summer of love was all about.


Bart was ecstatic to have somebody to kind of show him the ropes, what to do and don’t do on the road to keep moving along. So they travelled together for a while, a long while first hitting New York City where Ti Jean knew a bunch of older guys, gypsy poets, sullen hipsters, con men, drifters and grifters, guys who looked like they had just come out some “beat” movie. Guys who knew what was what about Times Square, about dope, about saying adieu to the American dream of their parents to be free to do as they pleased. Good guys though who taught him a few things about the road since they said they had been on that road since the 1940s.


Ti Jean whose did not look that old said he was there with them, had blown out of Brockton after graduating high school where he had been an outstanding sprinter who could have had a scholarship if his grades had been better. Had gone to prep school in Providence to up his marks, had then been given a track scholarship to Brown, kind of blew that off when Providence seemed too provincial to him, had fled to New York one fine day where he sailed out for a while in the merchant marines to do his bit for the war effort. Hanging around New York in between sailings he met guys who were serious about reading, serious about talking about what they read, and serious about not being caught in anything but what pleased them for the moment. Some of this was self-taught, some picked up from the hipsters and hustlers.


After the war was over, still off-center about what to do about this writing bug that kept gnawing at him despite everybody, his minute wife, his love mother, his carping father telling him to get a profession writing wasn’t where any dough was, any dough for him he met this guy, a hard knocks guys who was something like a plebeian philosopher king, Ned Connelly, who was crazy to fix up cars and drive them, drive them anyway. Which was great since Ti Jean didn’t have a license, didn’t know step one about how to shift gears and hated driving although he loved riding shot-gun getting all blasted on the dope in the glove compartment and the be-bop jazz on the radio. So they tagged along together for a couple of years, zigged and zagged across the continent, hell, went to Mexico too to get that primo dope that he/they craved, got drunk as skunks more times than you could shake a stick, got laid more times than you would think by girls who you would not suspect were horny but were, worked a few short jobs picking produce in the California fields, stole when there was no work, pimped a couple of girls for a while to get a stake and had a hell of time while the “squares” were doing whatever squares do. And then he wrote some book about it, a book that was never published because there were too many squares who could not relate to what he and Ned were about. He was hoping that the kids he saw on the road, kids like Bart would keep the thing moving along as he left Bart at the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge on their last ride together.


Then Bart woke up, woke up to the fact that he stayed on the road too short a time now looking back on it. That guy Ti Jean had it right though, live fast, drink hard and let the rest of it take care of itself. Thanks Markin.