Saturday, January 20, 2018

Scenes From An Ordinary 1960s Be-Bop Life-Scene Eleven: The High White Note, The High White Western Night and The High White Wave Merged

Scenes From An Ordinary 1960s Be-Bop Life-Scene Eleven: The High White Note, The High White Western Night and The High White Wave Merged

I am a driven man. I am a driven man, imprisoned, six by twelve room driven, but more by a mental six by twelve internal, eternal, infernal almost paternal quest, and that is the only word that fits for the elusive high white note, or the high white something, that I have spent a lifetime searching for. Certainly as long as that other search, that more physical search for the blue-pink great American West that disturbed my youth, and beyond, and pushed me through many a long, lonesome highway hitchhike mile. But you know that story already now that you have read the previous scenes.

This one is more elusive, although I have caught a whisper of it here and there along the way. Now it looks like I’m stuck with it to the end. Here I sit in late 2007, in any case, quarantined, in desolate, high, hard wind-swept, sunless-sea-ed, busted sand-duned, green sea-grass-blown, icy white-capped waved, Atlantic–oceaned, ragged, rugged, jagged Maine-coasted shack of a room getting ready to search, and search hard this time, for that white devil of a thing that keeps disturbing my rest.

I will put up with an ill-lit stove, half broken from generations of use by others, passing strangers, maybe seeking their own high white notes, or high white something. Or, maybe, just passing sweaty, drunken nights in some foredoomed attempt to avoid oblivion. I will, moreover, put up with that high-pitched, annoying, buzzing refrigerator in back of me that means, at least, a touch of civilization. And the bubbly, perking, hard-hearted coffee-making machine, chipped plates, moldy-cushioned sofa, and this stuffy-aired place in order to make sense of what drove me here once again to place my shoulder against the wind, the whistling wind that signals that it is time to take note, and to seriously take note, of the demands of the quest.

And I came here for a purpose, always a purpose, to leave home and sweet-loved, sweet love. And to get away to clean a man’s mind from the humdrum, fairwayed, fresh-ponded, sun-walked, run-runned, walk-runned, city-maddened depths. Also while we are on the subject from the technological-driven, cell-phoned, personal computer-strapped like some third hand or second-brained, four-walled nightmare. Nightmare-evading Maine fits the bill, although truth to tell Maine figures, Maine always figures in the white note fight, although it is hardly the only place.

Hey, wait a minute, I can almost read your thoughts about my thoughts right now. It goes something like this- here he goes again, you say, on some incensed holy grail trip of the mind, or maybe he is for real, real time, real places but still a trip that would embarrass and shame any self-respecting errant knight of yore, searching for that perfect fair damsel in distress to bring home, or more likely, to carry off, kicking and screaming, to some cozy, stone-faced, thatched-roofed, smoke-filled, forested cottage for two. Or of old mad, maddened, maddening Captain Ahab and his foolish fish, or whatever woe begotten thing that he was really looking for in the Melville deep. Or, maybe, some fiendish, freakish, madman pioneer monkishly doing his own shouldering against the storms, against the snowstorms, against the storms of life of the white-peaked Western trek nights. Ah, the blue-pink Western sky. I wish you well pioneer brother, wherever you landed.

No it is not like that at all. This is not some half-baked, half-bright, half-thought out, interior dialogue that I usually get myself tangled up into. Tangled so bad I have to break it up for a while. No, none of that this time. No intellectual gymnastics, no mental tepidity, no squarey circles or circley squares. No this is purely, or almost purely, a memory trip and that seems about right, you know, if you really want to know it has been painful at times, but no way, no way at all, that it is one of those ill-digested whims that you are thinking of. No way.

And, besides, I have the many pairs of worn out, worn-soled, worn-heeled, down at the heel shoe leather (now thick-soled, thick-heeled, logo-addled running sneakers); worn-thumbed, back-pack-ladened, some forgotten town destination sign waving, hitch-hiked mile (that means bumming free rides on the road, the wide American highway, for those too young, or too proper to the know the long gone, way long gone, exotic word that sustained many a hobo, tramp or bum in his (or her) search for the Great American night) through every nowhere, no-name, no wanna know the name, bus-depoted, stranger-unfriendly town from here to Mendocino. Moreover, here I have marks, and here you can call it intellectual or spiritual or whatever, from every diesel-trailed, oil-slicked, mud-flatted, white-lined, white-broken-lined, two-laned, no passing , hard-bitten, steam-fooded truck stop from here to Frisco as well. So don’t tell me I haven’t paid my dues.

Or it could have been some smoke-filled, nicotine-plastered walls in some long defunct coffee house (when smoking was de rigueur), or some gin-sweated, smoke-fogged Cambridge bar (in the days when smoking was allowed), listening to some local group trying to make it out of town, one way or another. Or it could have been being chained-smoked cigarette (ditto above) writing like crazy, every soul thing, every non-soul thing, every anti-soul thing after passing on the last call train out to the sticks at that old reliable, don’t have the eggs scrambled, Hayes-Bickford where we all believed that if you just spent enough nights, enough hot, heavy-aired July nights, or enough snow-bound, frost-bitten January nights (this before Super Bowl suspense filled in January) maybe something major would come out, and maybe fame, big fame too, fame etched by the gods.

Hey did I tell you how I got here, got here this time that is? Did I forget that in my frenzy to tell you what is? Ya, I guess I did reading back. Let me tell you of my dreams, or at least the story of my dreams to make it right, okay? One recent, sweat- drenched night I woke up, or was I woken up by one of the cats, in a start. I had a weird old dream, or maybe just a flash of a dream where I saw, in living, livid color a big old beautiful high white note floating, free and easy, as you might guess on a very stormy high white wave. After than flash, if that is what it was, I could not get back to sleep and lay there, soaking a little and trying to soak off that soaking with an old bedraggled railroad man’s roaring red handkerchief, or that is at least what I call them since I first saw a railroad guy walking down the line when I was a kid, carrying one in the left back pocket of his dirt-stained denims as he uncoupled one train from another, maybe sending it into the great western night.

But I will get into that great Western night, or what I think is my idea of the great Western night later on once I figure out the meaning of this dream. Hey, it is really bothering me, and it should because, lately, I have been thinking and thinking hard about that very subject. No, it did not just come out of the blue, come on now, you guys know better than that. Ain’t you read Freud, or his acolytes or renegades, these things all have secret meanings of their own. But no surprise if you think about it. I have been thinking about the high white note for a while, ever since I read poor old, black, gay, exiled against his will, writer James Baldwin and his infernal short story, Sonny’s Blues.

You know I really should make you read the whole thing, that whole short story, and then you could come back and get an idea about my dream, or the thought of what my dream was all about. And then the great Western trek in the night, hell in the day time even, would make a great deal more sense. But I am going to let you off the hook this time and just tell you that old “Sonny” is a story about brothers, and I have been thinking about that too lately, although not in the friendly, gee I should get back in touch with my own brother sense, but about brothers who drifted back and forth in each others lives until one day the reality set in hard and hard was that Sonny, a high white note-seeking jazz pianist really got high on the white note. Busted, busted hard, busted back to clean but busted and his brother, would you know that it was his big brother, had to help him put back the pieces, even though the pieces were what made Sonny interesting and alive. That's me, living on old sweet, sweet dream of that white note, and Angelica-ish-driven memories of that old time blue-pink night before I go.

****In Search Of Lost Time… Then-With 1960s School Days In Mind

****In Search Of Lost Time… Then-With 1960s School Days In Mind

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Several years ago, maybe in 2007 or 2008 Sam Lowell, the locally well-known lawyer from the town of Carver about thirty miles south of Boston, wrote some small pieces about the old days in the town, the old days being for him the 1950s and 1960s, the time of the golden age of the automobile and relative abundance but also if mocking the ephemeral materialist nature of the times also the red scare Cold War night with its threats of some errant Russkie bomb landing of top of us. At that time the town was mainly a rural outpost, the usual Main Street and drive on through like many such places in outer America, where instead of the usual rural occupation of farming, truck or raising staple crops on fertile land,  the cranberry bogs, the marches and water pits, and boggers (as kids we called them “boogers” not knowing what the hell bogs were about although knew what nasty boogers were from the eternal kids picking their noses) held sway and dominated a fair part of town life, ran the town politics and determined the ethos, determined the ethos to the extent that was possible in post-World War II America where the older cultural norms were rapidly being replaced by a speedier and less homespun way of doing business.

In the teenage life line-up, the only one that was important in Sam’s world then, since he was not a low-life bogger and had no bogger roots he had gravitated to those whose families like his  that were connected with the shipbuilding industry about twenty miles up the road. So you would have seen Sam and his corner boys on any given Friday or Saturday night if not dated up holding up the wall in front of Jimmy Jack’s Diner over on Main Street daring, with the exception of Jack Callahan the great school football running back and fourth generation bogger who hung with them because he thought they were “cool,” any of the bogger clan to do anything but go in and order food or play the jukebox.

(Seemingly every boy in town from junior high on, if not before, had his corner boys for protection against a dangerous world outside the corner, or something like that if you asked them. If you wanted an explanation more than that of self-preservation professional sociologists and cracker barrel philosophers of the time spent endless hours of their time analyzing that angst-driven night and could give you their take on the phenomenon although as usual they were about twelve steps behind  the curve and by the time they had caught up these guys were shedding their angst and alienation for Zen rock and roll, drugs, Nirvana and the Kama Sutra not necessarily in that  order.)

Sam had seen that small town Americana all change over his long association with the town, including a few terms as a town selectman, although the boggers were still there, still moaning about their collective water tax bills, and still a force on the board but the drift over the decades was for the town to become a bedroom community for the sprawling high tech industry running the Interstate corridor about ten miles away. Sam though hung up with some old age nostalgia twist wrote about the old neighborhood now still intact as if time had passed that hell’s little acre by (the new developments were created on abandoned bog lands to the benefit mainly of Myles Larson, the largest bogger around), largely still composed of the small tumbledown small single family homes with a patch of green like that he grew up and came of age on “the wrong side of the tracks” (along with three brothers all close in age in a five room shack, Sam had never, except in front of his parents, ever called it anything but that). Sam sighed one time to his old friend from that very neighborhood Bart Webber after they had put the dust of the old town behind them for a while on the hitchhike road west that the “acres” of the world will always be with us. Markin, in his “newer world” turn the old world upside down phase did not want to hear that, blocked it out when Sam would bring the idea up on the road. That said a lot about Markin, and about Sam as well.   

Wrote too about the old (painful, the painful being that the school drew the more prosperous new arrivals staring to come into town leaving the boggers over at John Alden Junior High and subjecting him to lots of taunts about his brother hand-me-down clothes, silly saran wrapped-brown lunch bag bologna sandwich lunches with no dessert, no twinkles, cupcakes, Jello or anything at all fruit even, stuff like that) days when he attended the then newly built Myles Standish Junior High School (such places are now almost universally called middle schools) where he and his fellow class- mates were the first to go through starting in seventh grade. In that piece he mentioned that he was not adverse, hell, he depended on “cribbing” words, phrases and sentences from many sources.

One such “crib” was appropriating the title of a six-volume saga by the French writer Marcel Proust for one of those sketches, the title used here In Search of Lost Time as well. He noted that an alternative translation of that work was Remembrances of Things Past which he felt did not do justice to what he, Sam, was trying to get a across. Sam had no problem, no known problem anyway, with remembering things from the past but he thought the idea of a search, of an active scouring of what had gone on in his callow youth (his term) was more appropriate to what he was thinking and feeling.       

Prior to writing those pieces Sam had contacted through the marvels of modern technology, through the Internet, Google and Facebook a number of the surviving members of that Myles Standish Class of 1962 to get their take on what they remembered, what search that they might be interested in undertaking to “understand what the hell happened back then and why” (his expression, okay). He got a number of responses, the unusual stuff that people who have not seen each for a long time, since the old days as school and so are inclined to put up a “front.” To show that the trajectory toward state prison or whore-houses which Miss Winot or one of them had predicted was to be their fate had been put behind them long ago, so endlessly going on and on about beautiful houses in beautiful neighborhoods putting paid to the dust of the dingy old town, what they had done with their lives in resume form, endless prattle about grandchildren (Sam admitted to a certain inclination that way himself so he was more forgiving on that issue) and so forth who also once Sam brought the matter up wanted to think back to those days.

One of those classmates, Melinda Loring, whom Sam in high school although not in junior high had something of a “crush” on but so did a lot of other guys, after they had sent some e-mail traffic to each other, sent him via that same method (oh beautiful technology on some things) a copy of a booklet that had been put out by the Myles Standish school administrators in 1987 commemorating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the school. Sam thoughtfully (his term) looked through the booklet and when he came upon the page shown above where an art class and a music class were pictured he discovered that one of the students in the art class photograph was of him.        

That set off a train of memories about how in those days, days by the way when the community freely offered every student a chance to take art in school and outside as well unlike today when he had been recently informed that due to school budget cuts art is no longer offered to each student in school but is tied to some cumbersome Saturday morning classes at the out-of-the-way community center, he was encouraged in his pursuit of artistic expression. In seventh grade after noticing some seascapes that he had done in a crude quasi-impressionist style like the French painter Monet whose work he had seen at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where he and his brother Kenny had done a whirlwind tour of the place in about two hours going there mainly to see the Egyptian exhibits but stopping at the French Impressionists for some kindred reason Mrs. Robert’s encouraged him to become an artist, thought he had some talent, enough to carry into an art school if he worked at it hard enough. Later at Carver High his junior and senior year art teacher Mr. Henry thought the same thing after he had done some less crude and less imitative semi-Impressionist-like rural scenes from the bogs around town and some quite good Abstract Expressionist work when he discovered the work of Jackson Pollock. He was prepared to recommend Sam to his alma mater, the Massachusetts School of Art in the Back Bay of Boston.

Art for Sam had always been a way for him to express what he could not put in words, could not easily put in words anyway and he was always crazy to go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see some artwork by real professionals, especially in high school the abstract expressionists that he was visually drawn to (and would leave after viewing such modern masterpieces feeling like he at best would always be an inspired amateur since he did not have the vision to break off from what he already had seen and imitated, at least that is what he thought then). Part of the appeal of art was the kind of bohemian lifestyle he imagined they led, having read a few things in the encyclopedia about various artists like Gauguin and Van Gogh and that enflamed a kid who was stuck in a three boys to one bedroom shack of a house down in the wrong side of the tracks and part was the idea of breaking out, breaking out from the traditional art that you would see on people’s walls, stuff used as decoration. His idea was to create something that someone would buy and not put on the walls for decoration by maybe highlight in a room of its own as the next new thing in art. Those were on his better days, days when he had not seen museum pieces for a while and began to believe once he had the basics down he could take off from what Picasso, Miro, Pollack, Rivers, Dove and the others were trying to do. Those were the days when he had painted a weird scene in watercolor, a medium always hard for him to work in, that was something like a breakaway from a Georgia O’Keefe Southwest mountain painting which Mr. Henry wanted him to enter into the Art for Art’s Sake competition the Boston Globe was sponsoring and he won third prize, his best effort ever.  

The big reason that Sam did not pursue that art career had a lot to do with coming up “from hunger,” coming up the hard way. When he broached the subject to his parents after he won the prize (and had already been accepted in a local college based on his high SAT score in History), mainly his mother, Delores, lowered the boom, vigorously emphasized the hard life of the average artist, and old chestnut about the million failed artists for every Picasso, and told him that a manly profession like a teacher was better for a boy who had come up from the dust of society. (“Manly” her term, although she did not mean the practice of law which he had not aspired to at the time except that his cranky old grandfather would keep bugging him to be a lawyer after he had recited the Gettysburg Address as part of a school ceremony honoring Abraham Lincoln on the centenary of that event, but like all second-generation Irish mothers in that town when they got their tongues wagging some nice white collar civil service job to support a nice wife, nice three children and a nice white picket fenced house outside the “acre,” such were motherly dreams).

Sam wondered about that long ago mother’s sensible remark after seeing the photograph, after seeing that twinkle in his eye as he was creating something with his hands, some painting because outside the brush he was not very mechanically-inclined. Wondered about the fact that after a lifetime of working the manly profession of the practice of the law all he could conclude was that there were a million good lawyers (and he included himself in that category without any undue modesty he thought) but far fewer good artists and maybe he could have at least had his fifteen minutes of fame in that field. He might not have caught he Pop Art/Op Art waves that were carrying art forward then but maybe being around such artists would have made him push his personal envelope. He resolved to search for some old artwork stored he did not know where, maybe still in the attic of the old family house which after his parents passed on his unmarried older brother, Seamus, took over, the only one who didn’t flee the place like it was the plague, to see if that path would have made sense.  

Sam had had to laugh after looking at the other photograph, the one of the music room, where he spotted his old friend Ralph Morse who went on in the 1960s to some small fame in the Greater Boston area as a member of the rock group The Rockin’ Ramrods. Actually a bit more than small fame since they had fronted for the Stones when they came to the Boston area a few years later and had had a couple of local hits that went number one on the WMEX hot rock charts. Many an after concert party in Boston or down at the Surf Ballroom in Hull where they were a fixture and were “discovered” by Alex Ginsberg from WMEX one night when he was there because his girlfriend had heard about the band from a woman she worked with and had bugged Alex to go hear them and he pushed them forward after that found Ralph and Sam drunk as skunks talking about the old days when rock and roll music was not even let into the Morse household (his parents were Evangelicals and hated “the devil’s music”). Hell barely tolerated in the pious Catholic Lowell household (a truce declared when Sam’s parents purchased a transistor radio for him one Christmas at the Radio Shack so they could not hear the music). Ralph had eventually once the Ramrods broke up as such bands do when there are personal differences or in Ralph’s case when he wanted to try his luck as solo lead singer headed west to seek his fame and fortune but kind of fell off the face of the earth in the early 1970s out in Oregon and nobody even with today’s technology, Internet/Facebook and whatever else could help track somebody down, somebody who was not hiding under the radar anyway, has been able to find out his whereabouts, if any.

That Ralph look too set off a train of memories about how in those days, days by the way when the community freely offered every student a chance to take music in school and outside as well like with art classes unlike today when he had been informed recently that due to school budget cuts music is no longer offered to each student but is also tied to some cumbersome Saturday morning classes at the out-of-the-way community center. However unlike with his art teachers Mr. Dasher the slap-dash music teacher often went out of his way to tell Sam to keep his voice down since it was gravelly, and off-key to boot.

At the time Sam did not think much about it, did not feel bad about having no musical sense. Later though once he heard folk music, the blues and some other roots music he felt bad that Mister Dasher had put a damper on his musical sensibilities. (Mister Dasher who had a band of his own, you know a swing band, playing stuff for people like his parents from the big band era, Benny Goodman, Count this, Duke that to supplement his meager teacher’s pay was something of a flashy dresser and was taunted by the kids in class, taunted by Sam right along with the others as Mister Dasher, the Nighttime Flasher. In that innocent age nobody thought anything of it except kids caught up in the nation-wide “rhyming simon” craze but today no question such a moniker would bring heaven’s own wrath down on his poor head, Jesus.) Not that he would have gone on to some career like Ralph, at least Ralph had his fifteen minutes of fame, got Mick and the boys autographs and had a few of their leftover party girls but he would have avoided that life-long habit of singing low, singing in the shower, singing up in the isolated third floor of his current home where no one, including his longtime companion, Laura Perkins a woman with a professional grade voice that would make the angels weep for their inadequacies, would hear him. The search for memory goes on….  




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Tillerson laid out five strategic goals in Syria, what he called “end states”:  First, ISIS and al-Qaida in Syria suffer an enduring defeat, do not present a threat to the homeland, and do not resurface in a new form; that Syria never again serves as a platform or safe haven for terrorists to organize, recruit, finance, train and carry out attacks on American citizens at home or abroad or against our allies. Second, the underlying conflict between the Syrian people and the Assad regime is resolved through a UN-led political process prescribed in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and a stable, unified, independent Syria, under post-Assad leadership, is functioning as a state. Third, Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, their dreams of a northern arch are denied, and Syria’s neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria. Fourth, conditions are created so that the refugees and IDPs can begin to safely and voluntarily return to Syria. And fifth, Syria is free of weapons of mass destruction.  The problem is that most of these goals cannot be attained at all, and several of them can be attained only if others are not.    More

Related imageHow the U.S. Is Making the War in Yemen Worse
Since the war began, at least ten thousand Yemeni civilians have been killed, though the number is potentially much higher, because few organizations on the ground have the resources to count the dead. Some three million people have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands have left the country. Before the war, Yemen was the Middle East’s poorest state, relying on imports to feed the population. Now, after effectively being blockaded by the coalition for more than two and a half years, it faces famine. More than a million people have cholera, and thousands have died from the disease. UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the World Health Organization have called the situation in Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.  Yet the U.S. and Great Britain have continued to support the coalition, mainly with weapons sales and logistical help. (A small contingent of U.S. Special Forces fights Al Qaeda militants in the south of the country.) Without foreign assistance, it would be very difficult for the Saudis to wage war. As casualties mount, legislators in the U.S. have begun to question support for the Saudis. Nonetheless, the Administration of Donald Trump has refused to criticize the kingdom.     More

The Trump administration’s Middle East strategy revolves around a threat that doesn’t exist
Trump and his aides appear to have embraced the view that Iran is a potential hegemon poised to dominate the Middle East — and specifically to control the oil-rich Persian Gulf. This logic helps make sense of Trump’s unswerving support for Saudi Arabia, including his endorsements (both tacit and explicit) of the political shake-ups organized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at home and his apparent efforts to interfere in Lebanon’s internal politics. It also explains Trump’s refusal to recertify the Iran nuclear deal in October.  Yet this ongoing full-court press against Iran makes little sense because it is nowhere close to being a regional hegemon. If anything, the willingness of pundits and politicians to embrace this alarmist fantasy says more about the cavalier nature of U.S. strategic discourse than it does about the actual challenge Iran may pose.

*****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