Saturday, February 03, 2018

For Black History Month - A Guy Who Knew The Mister James Crow Score-Way Back In The Day-Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy

For Black History Month - A Guy Who Knew The Mister James Crow Score-Way Back In The Day-Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy   

By Fritz Taylor

I have heard the name Big Bill Broonzy, the old time bluesman, for a long time now since my old high school friend, Seth Garth, was the first to tune me into the genre about twenty-five years ago. Seth, who after a very trying young adulthood (as was mine) turned into a better than average free-lance film and music critic for many publications starting with Rolling Stone when that publication meant something to the counter-cultural world it was aimed at back in the day. As part of that career he was constantly looking for the roots of the blues-what he called “the blues is dues” project. Big Bill was a relatively later entry in his research and had only surfaced only because he had heard a cover of Lonnie Johnson’s Tomorrow Night done by a bluesman’s voice he couldn’t place. That turned out to be Big Bill.         

Upon further research Seth found that Big Bill besides playing the usual blues standards of the day like Robert Johnson’s Sweet Home, Chicago also sung some political songs, a bit unusual for a bluesman although the subject wasn’t about politics in general but what to do about Mister James Crow and his feudal police state laws down South among his people. So recently when I was in Washington, D.C. and got chance to go to the newly opened African-American History Museum on the National Mall ironically near the Washington Monument I was not surprised to hear in the section on the second lower level which traces the struggle for black rights from the Civil War to the Civil Rights days, the period of the struggle against Mister Jim Crow straight up down south and indirectly up north the voice of one Big Bill Broonzy singing about what you going to do about Mister James Crow. And his classic Black, Brown, and White which is high-lighted from YouTube above.

Yeah, Big Bill knew the ropes of American society in his time, knew exactly what was going down. Thanks, brother.     

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin-She-In Honor Of Rita Hayworth

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin-She-In Honor Of Rita Hayworth

[Dream sequel: An obviously very worn out (mainly visible through the telltale rings around the eyes) young working-class lad just off the boats, maybe having just worked the banana boats off the Central American coast or some oil tanker steaming to some South American city port, lands on all four’s in Rio at Faro Jack’s Casino half-drunk, half-dazed and half-crazed with lust, woman lust. Darkly good-looking, a woman’s man, a woman’s man for sure in that good-looking young working- class minute way before the hard labor and hard drink take their toll. Cleaned up, shaved-up, white Panama-suited up against the tropical sweats, some manly fragrance lightly splashed for effect, he has left the stink, the rot, and the rut of his previous travels behind and for just that minute he was standing on the rim of the world.

As he walked the long entrance way to the bar (the sound and sights of the gaming tables and slots over to the right telling him that the real play here was gambling not tight-fisted drinking), the smoke almost making it impossible to see. Impossible despite the elaborate lighting that makes the place seem like daylight 24/7, although it was almost midnight. And despite his own cigarette, a Lucky, perched in his mouth adding to the smog (his mother, his damn French-Canadian mother, always trying to make him stop that nasty Protestant habit as she called it).

Suddenly he stopped in his tracks, or rather took a series of side-steps, hearing some half-forgotten tune from a woman’s sultry voice as he looked up at the outlines of the empty bandstand. There she was. Sitting on a piano bench alone which seemed to hold her well enough as she methodically strummed her guitar and sang, laconically torch sang there was no other way to put it, If I Didn't Care, to no one in particular. He was/is transfixed for the moment, from that moment.

She raised her head a bit in his direction, still singing laconically, and gave him a smile, no, the essence of a smile. A smile that promised adventure, hardship, romance, and hell and back but it promised something. He moved toward her, stopping the waiter on his way to order a scotch, best house scotch, straight up, and whatever she was having. He continued to walk toward her, noticing her flaming reddish-brown hair, noticing her well-turned legs and ankles, noticing her deep-cleaved dress (and thoughts of undress and it pleasures), noticing her ruby-red lips built for nothing else but love, noticing…]

He awakens from his semi-trance, or rather is startled out of it by the waiter’s plea for him to take his drink and pay the tab, noticing like some déjà vu mind trick that there was something very familiar, very childhood familiar about her, about the look of her, some cinematic she vague mist remembered look. In a second, as he continued, relentlessly, if more slowly now toward her he had it. The last time that devilishly sweet-smiling, buttery-voiced, long-legged, big-haired (heck, that's the best I can do, the way he described it to me, I don't know what they called that style but other "hot" 1940s women stars like Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake wore it that way too), been around the block and is still standing, femme fatale, relentlessly sexual, very relentlessly sexual. Rita Hayworth, that’s it.

Rita’s name came up from the time when his mother (now estranged, very estranged, for the past few years, father long gone, long seven seas gone, maybe explaining his own sea chases) took him to the Strand over on Elm Street just off Main Street (really U.S. Route One but everybody called it Main Street) in his ocean edge hometown of Olde Saco up in Maine). That was when her photograph, just her big blow-up photo nothing more, was used to cover (literally) actor Tim Robbins’ escape route in the film, The Shawshank Redemption. Of course, that flash had him thinking about the film Gilda which he had to see at some art house festival in his the old ‘Frisco road days before he headed out on to the China seas.

Thinking back to that Gilda plot he looked around quickly trying to make out forms, male forms, mainly in the smoke-besmirched room. Trying to make out some down and out American expatriate fellaheen, some Johnny Farrow who found himself in Buenos Aires doing, well, doing the best he can. And Rita came with the best- you- can package, strictly private property. Sometimes though doing the best one can, as he himself well knew from a few bumps and bruises he had suffered along the way when down and out at the lumpen edges of society is risky, very risky, and not just in Buenos Aires, as the French writers Genet and Celine can tell you too. He saw a couple of guys, a couple of dressed up tux guys, but decided that they were strictly hired help, strictly bouncers, paid by the hour (or maybe, the scotch, best house scotch, was going to his head a little and his judgment was off a little ). He thought to himself no Johnny yet so he was ahead of the game.

He took another look, a hard look in her direction again as she smiled at him again, lifted her his bought drink to him and gave a silence “Cheers” that spoke unmistakably of adventure, maybe tonight, and danger. His look, his hard look by the way, was induced by that careful (lump and bump careful) check point about her possibly being married. And in his mind up stepped a “savior” candidate, a Ballin, illegal night club owner of Rita yore, power-monger and all-around megalomaniac. Maybe Faro Jack himself, although he had no proof there was even a real person named Faro Jack. He looked around again, and made a special point of looking toward the back of the house, toward the offices where some evil genie might reside. No white-haired devil on the premises. Still ahead.

As he made his final approach (thinking furiously, as furiously as that best house scotch would permit, some snappy line to break the ice, or bring that smile, that essence of a smile once again, as he thought about it later) a guy, a guy in a white Panama suit too against the oppressive Rio heat bumped into him. Half-drunkenly bumped into him but with just a touch of purpose and began to harangue him on the subject of women, and other subjects, most importantly, on the advice front, that gambling and women don’t mix, especially for up-and-coming guys like him. She gave the half- drunk one fierce look, and he returned to his seat at the bar, mumbling. Mumbling some number scheme and, well, to make the story short, with this Johnny (his Rita name for the bumper) denying on three (maybe more) bibles that he is over, done with, finished with, couldn’t care less about, is not smitten with, she. [Turned out, he found out later, that the bumper and she knew each other and had previously held the "torch" for each other.]

He thinks through the plot of Gilda again. As he knew, having sat through many lonely no money double features in odd-ball waterfront old timey movie houses in far flung ports of call, it was very routine in 1940s “boy meets girl” films in the end for things to work out, although it was close for a while in that film. Ballin (Faro Jack?), despite his off-hand desire to rule the world, was so smitten with Gilda that he could not think straight. Johnny (Bumper?) was so smitten with Gilda that he could not think straight. The 1940s male audience was so smitten with Gilda that they could not think straight. He was so smitten with she/ Gilda that he could not think straight.

Finally he was standing just in front of her, he went to open his mouth to speak but she cut him off with a smile, no, again no, with the essence of a smile, and with her hand, her wedding ring-less hand, directed him to the back door, that same back door which he had canvassed before looking for the ghost of Ballin. His heart started to beat rapidly, drink heart rapidly, adventure heart rapidly, hell and back heart rapidly. For a split second, maybe less, maybe some Nano something or whatever they call it when it is less than a second he hesitated, then moved forward following her swaying hips to meet his fate…

On The Occasion Of The 170th Anniversary Of Karl Marx And Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto”(1848)

On The Occasion Of The 170th Anniversary Of Karl Marx And Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto”(1848)

A link to the Karl Marwx Achives for an on-line copy of the Communist Manifesto

By Political Commentator Frank Jackman

If anybody had asked me back when I was a kid, a kid growing up in the desperately poor, working poor but desperate nevertheless, Acre section of North Adamsville a town south of Boston in Massachusetts that I would be commemorating, no, honoring an anniversary of the publication in 1847 of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s seminal political document The Communist Manifesto in the year 2018 I would have said they were crazy. (I will not get into the issue of commemorating odd-ball year anniversaries of events, like a 170th anniversary, which in general I abhor since I have beaten that dead horse elsewhere and in any case such a whole historic event as here would draw a worthy exemption). Not because the document was, is, not worthy of talking about but back in the day, back in my teenage days I was adamantly an anti-communist in the tradition of almost all red scare Cold War post-war baby boomers who came of age, political under the threat of the nuclear bomb (some things seem to never change given the recent saber-rattling over the developments in North Korea by the American government).

Some, at least from that baby-boomer generation who have at least heard about the document which I cannot say is true for Generation X or the Millennials since they were not born under the sign of the red scare in a post-Soviet world, may be surprised that a backward working class kid in 1950s America would even had snuck a peek at that besotted document for fear of being tainted by the red scare coppers as pinko-red commie turn him in and be done with it.  Except I was very interested in politics even then and had heard about The Communist Manifesto by some from their photographs nefarious heavily bearded German guys who wanted back in the 1800s to upset the whole applecart and henceforth the root of all evil, the root of the international Communist conspiracy that would kill us in or beds if we were not vigilant against “Uncle Joe,” his successors or their hangers-on throughout the world and especially those “traitors” in America.

I had first heard about The Communist Manifesto in a political way although I was naïve as hell about the whole situation and about who I was working with in 1960. In the fall of that year, the fall of the famous Kennedy-Nixon fight for the American presidency where I was a serious partisan for Kennedy, our local, Massachusetts local, Irishman who made good I was also very, very interested in nuclear disarmament (a subject I still am interested in as the world have not gotten qualitively safer from that threat) and had gone to the Boston Common and participated in an anti-nuclear bomb rally (as the youngest participant by far) along with others from SANE (Doctor Spock’s organization) who had called the demonstration, the Quakers, and others. (Those others would include I later found out, many years later, members of the American Communist Party but not under that name but that of some “front” group. Of course by that time several years later I would have gone through three stages about American Communist Party members-from ho-hum so what if they are Commies we need all the forces we can muster to oppose the Vietnam War to being glad they were organizing like crazy against that war to disdain as they attempted to corral the youth movement into building bigger and better demonstrations against the war when that idea had worn out.) What got me going was when a bunch of people, guys, were harassing us, calling us “reds” and why didn’t we get the hell out of America and go to the Soviet Union. Along the way somebody, some guy mentioned The Communist Manifesto by that “Jew” Karl Marx. I had never hear of it although I was familiar with the name Karl Marx.               

Here’s the funny thing, funny in retrospect anyhow, I could not when I was interested in checking the Manifesto out for myself, find a copy in the school library or the public library. I never did find out the reason why and I was too timid once I saw it was not in the card catalogues to ask a librarian. Thus the way I got the document was looking through publications put out by the Government Printing Office, the U.S. government’s official printing operation. The reason they had printed it at the time, and it said right on the front page was that it had been a document used by the House Un-American Activities Committee and thus was part of the record of that nefarious entity (which in 1960 I think I found out later was almost run out of San Francisco by the demonstrations against it-one of the first breaks in the red scare Cold War phalanx).     

I made no pretense at the time nor do I now that I understood all that Marx was trying to get at. Certainly was clueless about the various polemics in Section Four against various other mostly pro-socialist opponents. (That part made greater sense later when I swear I went through almost every one of those oppositional ideas before coming to Marxism except maybe that exotic “feudal socialism” Marx vented against). What drew me in, although only haltingly at the time, was the idea that working people, my people, my family and friends, would get a better shake out of a socialist society, out of a classless society than we were getting at the time. But in those days I was hung up on some kind of career as a political operative, remember that Kennedy point earlier (not a candidate but the guy behind the candidate). So while I was never hostile to the ideas in that document and maybe have even been a “closet” social democrat masquerading as a liberal there was nothing operative for me then, certainly I was not in favor of revolution as the way forward for myself or my people.                

What changed things? I have written elsewhere about my induction into the American Army during the height of the Vietnam War and what that meant to me-and how I reacted to it by becoming a serious anti-war person (before I had been anti-war but in a wishy-washy way). Even then after I gave up the idea of a “normal” political career (that operative behind the scenes business) I was no Marxist but was in a search for some kind of way to change society short of revolution. (That is the period when I was engaging in those activities similar to the ones proposed by the groups Marx was polemicizing against in the Manifesto.)         

By 1971 it was clear that the American government under Nixon (that same Nixon was beaten to a gong by Kennedy) was not going to end the war in Vietnam. Didn’t give a damn about the whole thing. At that time I was hanging around a radical commune in Cambridge where we were trying to work out ideas (in isolation) about ending the fucking thing. That was the year on May Day when under the banner “if the government does not shut down the war, we will shut down the government” we attempted to do just that. Heady stuff and a dramatic move to the left on my part. All we got for that effort was tear gas, the police baton, and some days in Robert Kennedy Stadium (ironic, huh) for many thousands of good radicals and no end to the war.      

After that I, having picked up a copy of Marx’s The Communist Manifesto at the Red Bookstore in Cambridge,  began to sense that our isolated efforts were self-defeating if we didn’t have a larger force to bring down the damn system. Didn’t have in Marxian terms a class with the objective self-interest to lead the overturn. At the time, given the hostile attitude of the real American working class to us and to any ideas of socialism for the most part, I was unsure that such a strategy made sense.  What I knew was that was where the work had to be done. It has not been a fruitful struggle but nevertheless a necessary one even today when such ideas seem even more utopian than in my young adulthood. Some of what Marx talked about needs serious updating but the general premise of class struggle and the revolution as way forward as still solid. Just look around. Are the capitalists (the right now winning capitalists in the one-sided class war) going to give anything of value up? No way- we will have to take it away from them if we want to get that equalitarian society we dreamed about in our youth. As for the Manifesto a lot of it still reads like it was written yesterday.               

Artists' Corner- For Black History Month-Eldzier Cortor

Artists' Corner- For Black History Month-Eldzier Cortor  

Two things you should  know about Eldzier Cortor which if you view his work will tell a lot about what drove him. He was one of the first artists to study and study hard black women as black women in all their glory. He gave much of his work to museums, to the public and that tells you about his idea of the place of art in society. If you had been in Boston last year you could have checked out his work at the Museum of Fine Arts which did a retrospective along with John Wilson.   

Athletes for Peace: Open Letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee

Athletes for Peace: Open Letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee

PyeongChang 2018The XXIII Olympic Winter Games, PyeongChang 2018, is a major international multi-sport event scheduled to take place in February and March next year in Gangwon Province (Pyeongchang County), South Korea. The Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will be held in Korea for the first time in 30 years after the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988. IOC photo/Chung Sung-Jun
The 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, offer a unique moment to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. In November 2017, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an Olympic Truce, or a cessation of hostilities during the Winter Games, which gained the support of 157 Member States including both Koreas and future hosts of the Olympic Games: Japan, China, France and the United States.
As former and current atheltes, we value the Olympic spirit and tradition of bringing men and women from diverse nations together for peaceful competition and performance. The Olympic Truce represents an important opportunity to defuse tensions and begin the work of reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. We therefore call upon the US Olympic Committee to fully support both Korean governments’ current efforts to restore a peace process.
Sign the Athletes for Peace Open Letter
We in the United States have a special responsibility to demand diplomacy, not war, with North Korea. Let us firmly take hold of the opportunity provided by these winter Olympics to bring this long standing, dangerous and damaging conflict to a peaceful and positive resolution.
Athletes for Peace is initiated by Massaschusetts Peace Action and we invite all peace-loving organizations to cosponsor it with us and participate in a coordinating committee.  Sign the Open Letter at!
Signers (as of Jan. 25, 2018)
  • Jonathan King, Yale Crew, 1958 – 1960; James Madison H.S. Football, 1956-1958
  • Caitlin Forbes, Captain of Varsity Alpine Ski Team, Saint Anselm College, 2010-13.  First Team All American Combined, SL and GS
  • Andrew King, Mens Soccer, Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, 2004-07
  • Kevin Martin, Men’s Baskeball and Volleyball, Manheim Twp. HS, Neffsville, PA 1977 – 1980
  • Joseph Boyd Poindexter, Harvard University Ski Team Captain, 1957
  • Jessica Quindel, Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, Riverside High School, Milwaukee, WI 1994-1998
  • Jeff Brummer, Cushing Academy: Ski team captain, 1961- 62; Tennis team captain, 1961- 62
  • Tarak Kauff, Marathon Runner 1974 – 89, Professional boxer
  • Patrick Hiller, Columbia Gorge Tri Club, Triathlon, 2011-present
  • Ernest Goitein, Swim team, Stevens Institute of Technology, 1950,
  • William H Warricl III MD, HS and College Golf Team 1961-1966
  • Kenneth E. Mayers, Woodmere Academy, Football Co-Captain 1953; Princeton University Lightweight Crew, 1955-58
  • Christopher Spicer-Hankle, Cross Country, Santa Clara University 2004-06; Bishop Blanchet High (Seattle), Co-Captain 2000
  • Ann Wright, 1965 Arkansas State Collegiate Singles Tennis champion, 1980 Winter Olympic Games Announcer for the Luge competition, Lake Placid, New York
  • John Raby, football and basketball at Dwight-Englewood School,, Englewood, NJ, 1959-61; boys varsity cross-country coach at the Pingry School, Bernards Township, NJ, 1995-2009: 128-22 won-loss record, five conference championships, seven all-state prep championships, three all-state group championships; distance runner, 5k to marathon; frequent age group winner in local and statewide races; ran in two Boston Marathons, 2008 and 2012
  • Marcus Christian Hansen, Wrestling, Track, Jefferson HS
  • Brenton Stoddart, Allegheny College Men’s Soccer, 2012-2015, Captain 2015
  • Blase Bonpane, Ph.d., Football USC 1947 Football, Boxing Loyola High, Los Angeles CIF Championship
  • Shirley Hoak, College Basketball & Tennis 1971-73 Shippensburg State, PA
  • Jacqueline Rogers Ceary, Basketball, Cathedral High School, Boston, 1962-65
  • Chuck Weed, US Disabled Ski Team 1984, 1986; 4 way skiing Middlebury; ski/soccer coach 1965-1966 Northwood School
  • Ellora Derenoncourt, Junior Varsity Tennis, Chadwick School, 2003-4
Activites in support of the Open Letter:
Contact your alumni associaton and invite other former or current student athletes to sign the Open Letter, and forward to their former teammates, friends and acquiantenances.
In addition we call on groups and individuals to organize actions or other events in your communities., during the Winter Olympics (February 9 – 25) and Paralympics (March 9 – 18), as well as the broader period of the Olympic Truce (February 2 to March 23).
These could include:
  • Olympic watch parties — gather friends and family in your home or a community venue to celebrate the Olympics. Add a dollop of Korean culture and cuisine, and call for peace and diplomacy. Invite your local NBC-TV affiliate (the television network of the Olympics) to cover your gathering for the local news. Watch parties can be great social media events as well. Athletes and Korean-Americans should be the main spokespeople.
  • Building Congressional pressure, both in-district and in Washington, DC. Call-in Days, in-district congressional visits, high-level delegations or sign-on letters to Members of Congress calling on them to use the Olympic Truce as an opportunity to stand for diplomacy and continue to suspend U.S.-South Korea war drills, through public statements and support for pro-diplomacy legislation, including asserting Congressional powers over war and peace, and particularly any decision to use nuclear weapons.
  • Media coverage and social media promotion (utilizing FaceBook and Twitter memes and actions, Thunderclap, Instagram and other platforms) calling for diplomacy and peace. Use the Olympic Truce as a “hook” for Letters to Editor and Op-eds.
  • Teach-ins, webinars, and other types of educational events, supported by fact sheets, articles, videos and podcasts. Korean-American voices need to be front and center.
  • Film Screening:  Games of Their Lives is a stunning, exciting, humanizing, sports-fan-enthusiast film by British makers Dan Gordon and Nick Bonner.  In 1966, DPRK won a birth at the World Cup held in England. The story of the players, how they got there, how they were received at the height of the Cold War, the drama of the games, the totally unexpected embrace by the city of Middlesborough, and what became of the team over the years – is absolutely gripping.
    The film is 1 hr 20 minutes.  You can preview the full film on Youtube here –   It puts a very human face on
    North Korea. Contact Ramsay Liem c/o Massachusetts Peace Action. Related links:
  • Vigils for peace, public protests where appropriate, visibility actions.
  • Petition-gathering and support for the People’s Peace Treaty.
  • Other engaging and fun

For Frederick Douglass On His 200th Birthday- Poets' Corner- Weary Blues, Indeed- The Poetry Of Langston Hughes-Daybreak In Alabama

Click on the title to link to a "Langston Hughes" Web site for more information about his work and about his biography.

Book Review

February Is Black History Month

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer, Alfred F. Knopf, New York, 1977

Do you want to hear the blues? Do you want to know what the blues are? Then listen to the songs of Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Charley Patton, Son House and that whole crowd that gave us the classic plantation country-driven blues back in the days. And, read the poetry of the artist under review here, Langston Hughes. Oh sure, Brother Hughes has prettified the expressions and the form (although he has also mastered the double-entente, especially in sexual matters, that the previously mentioned artists made into an art form all its own) for a more upscale, literary audience, but he KNOWS the blues. Just check out the section of poems here under the title “Shadow Of The Blues”.

Unquestionably, old Langston had his ear to the ground for any and all rumblings coming out of the black community during, roughly, the middle third of the 20th century. From the fearsome, no existence Jim Crow South that blacks were leaving in droves to the semi-Jim Crow North where the complexities of modern life still left the black man and woman down at the bottom of the heap Hughes gives voice to their frustrations and dreams, deferred or otherwise. Despair, luck, no luck, hoping for any luck, once in a while luck. Life on the edge, life on top for a minute, life filled with bumps and bruises. It is all there in this little sampler of his works.

Of course, not all is unrelenting struggle. And Hughes has a high old time with the doings, nothing doings, the to-ing and fro-ing of a Harlem Saturday night (and Sunday morning)...leading to those old Monday blues as developed in the section entitled “After Hours”. Here one can hear the post-World War II change in tempo, as well, with the shift in voice from those old time country-driven blues to the be-bop jazz sound of the 1950s.

That, in the end, well almost the end, is the great sense that Hughes possessed and why he still speaks to those of us who are interested in that period of American life, life as led by the working classes and the black working class in particular. But this reviewer, whose book reviews in this space tend to have some political edge to them, would be remiss if he didn’t point out here, as he has in the past, his favorite image of Langston Hughes. That was of a photograph of him taken as the editor, during the Spanish Civil War, of the newspaper of the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th International Brigade, that band of “premature anti-fascists”, organized by the Communist International, who volunteered to fight for the Republican side in Spain. That picture tells more than anything tells the why of the strong effect of Langston Hughes’ poetry on me and why he is rightly honored every February during Black History Month.

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

*Poet’s Corner- Weary Blues, Indeed- The Poetry Of Langston Hughes

Daybreak in Alabama

When I get to be a composer

I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Artists’ Corner-In The Aftermath Of World War I- Dada Takes A Stab At Visually Understanding The World After the Bloodbath

Artists’ Corner-In The Aftermath Of World War I- Dada Takes A Stab At Visually Understanding The World After the Bloodbath    

By Lenny Lynch

I don’t know that much about the Dada movement that swept through Europe in the early part of the 20th century in response to the creation of modern industrial society that was going full steam and the modern industrial scale death and destruction brought upon this good green earth by World War I. The war to end all wars which came up quite short of that goal but did decimate the flower of the European youth, including vast swaths of the working class. I don’t know much but this space over this centennial year of the last year of the bloody war, the armistice year 1918 which stopped the bloodletting will explore that interesting art movement which reflected the times, the bloody times.

Step up George Groz, step up and show your stuff, show how you see the blood-lusted world after four years of burning up the fields of sweet earth Europe making acres of white-crossed places where the sullen, jaded, mocked, buried youth of Europe. Take one look Republican Automatons. Look at the urban environment, look at those tall buildings dwarfing mere mortal man and woman, taking the measure of all, making them think, the thinking ones about having to run, run hard away from what they had built, about fearful that to continue would bury men and women without names, without honor either.          

Look too at honor denied, look at the handless hand, the legless leg, the good German flag, the Kaiser’s bloody medal, hard against the urban sky. The shaky republic, the republic without honor, shades of the murders of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, thoughts of renegade burned out soldiers ready for anything. Weimar would shake and one George Groz would know that, would draw this picture that would tell the real story of why there was a Dada-da-da-da-da movement to chronicle if not fight against that beast from which we had to run.      

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-In The Time Of The Hard Motorcycle Boys- With Marlon Brando’s The Wild One In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-In The Time Of The Hard Motorcycle Boys- With Marlon Brando’s The Wild One In Mind


"Black Denim Trousers"
He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up 'cycle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101
Well, he never washed his face and he never combed his hair
He had axle grease embedded underneath his fingernails
On the muscle of his arm was a red tattoo
A picture of a heart saying "Mother, I love you"
He had a pretty girlfriend by the name of Mary Lou
But he treated her just like he treated all the rest
And everybody pitied her 'cause everybody knew
He loved that doggone motorcycle best
He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up 'cycle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101
[Instrumental Interlude]
Mary Lou, poor girl, she pleaded and she begged him not to leave
She said "I've got a feeling if you ride tonight I'll grieve"
But her tears were shed in vain and her every word was lost
In the rumble of his engine and the smoke from his exhaust
Then he took off like the Devil and there was fire in his eyes
He said "I'll go a thousand miles before the sun can rise"
But he hit a screamin' diesel that was California-bound
And when they cleared the wreckage, all they found
Was his black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
But they couldn't find the 'cycle that took off like a gun
And they never found the terror of Highway 101

Okay here is the book of genesis, the motorcycle book of genesis, or at least my motorcycle book of genesis. But, before I get to that let me make about seventy–six disclaimers. First, the whys and wherefores of the motorcycle culture, except on those occasions when they become subject to governmental investigation or impact some cultural phenomena, is outside the purview of the things I generally discuss. I am much more comfortable with the ins and outs of boy meets girl (or really boy longs to meet girl) in various 1950s growing up teenage settings like at the drugstore soda fountain either sipping sodas or absent-mindedly listening to some selections on Doc’s jukebox, doing the stuff in drive-in theaters or drive-in restaurants or down by the shore getting all moony and spoony watching the “submarine races.”  But for all of their bad press, for all that every mother feared for her daughter’s safety when they were within fifty miles of town, for all a mother’s feat that she would lose her Johnny to the gangs I have been fascinated by motorcycles since my early youth when these were definitely outlaw vehicles.

Frankly there is no political rule, no political line, as a rule, on such activity, for or against, nor should there be. Those exceptions include when motorcyclists, usually under the rubric of “bad actor” motorcycle clubs, like the famous (or infamous) Oakland, California-based Hell’s Angels are generally harassed by the cops and we have to defend their right to be left alone (you know, those "helmet laws", and the never-failing pull-over for "driving while biker") or, like when the Angels were used by the Rolling Stones at Altamont and that ill-advised decision represented a watershed in the 1960s counter-cultural movement. Or, more ominously, from another angle when such lumpen formations form the core hell-raisers of anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-black liberation fascistic demonstrations and we are compelled, and rightly so, to go toe to toe with them. Scary yes, necessary yes, bikes or no bikes.

With that out of the way. Second, in the interest of full disclosure I own no stock, or have any other interest, in Harley-Davidson, or any other motorcycle company. Third, I do not now, or have I ever belonged to a motorcycle club or owned a motorcycle, although I have driven them, or, more often, on back of them on occasion. Fourth, I do not now, knowingly or unknowingly, although I grew up in working-class neighborhoods where bikes and bikers were plentiful, hang with such types. Fifth, the damn things and their riders are too noisy, despite the glamour and “freedom” of the road associated with them. Sixth, and here is the “kicker”, I have been, endlessly, fascinated by bikes and bike culture as least since early high school, if not before, and had several friends who “rode”. Well that is not seventy-six but that is enough for disclaimers.

Okay, as to genesis, motorcycle genesis. Let’s connect the dots. A couple of years ago, and maybe more, as part of a trip down memory lane, the details of which do not need detain us here, I did a series of articles on various world-shaking, earth-shattering subjects like high school romances, high school hi-jinx, high school dances, high school Saturday nights, and most importantly of all, high school how to impress the girls( or boys, for girls, or whatever sexual combinations fit these days, but you can speak for yourselves, I am standing on this ground). In short, high school sub-culture, American-style, early 1960s branch, although the emphasis there, as it will be here, is on that social phenomena as filtered through the lenses of a working class town, a seen better days town at that, my growing up wild-like-the-weeds town.

One of the subjects worked over in that series was the search, the eternal search I might add, for the great working-class love song. Not the Teen Angel, Earth Angel, Johnny Angel generic mush that could play in Levittown, Shaker Heights or La Jolla as well as Youngstown or Moline. No, a song that, without blushing, one could call our own, our working class own, one that the middle and upper classes might like but would not put on their dance cards. As my offering to this high-brow debate I offered a song by written by Englishman Richard Thompson (who folkies, and folk rockers, might know from his Fairport Convention days, very good days, by the way), Vincent Black Lightning, 1952. (See lyrics below.) Without belaboring the point the gist of this song is the biker romance, British version, between outlaw biker James and black-leathered, red-headed Molly. Needless to say such a tenuous lumpen existence as James leads to keep himself “biked" cuts short any long term “little white house with picket fence” ending for the pair. And we do not need such a boring finish. For James, after losing the inevitable running battle with the police, on his death bed bequeaths his bike, his precious “Vincent Black Lightning,” to said Molly. His bike, man. His bike. Is there any greater love story, working class love story, around? No, this makes West Side Story lyrics and a whole bunch of other such songs seem like so much cornball nonsense. His bike, man. Wow! Kudos, Brother Thompson.

Needless to say that exploration was not the end, but rather the beginning of thinking through the great American night bike experience. And, of course, for this writer that means going to the books, the films and the memory bank to find every seemingly relevant “biker” experience. Thus, readers of this space were treated to reviews of such classic motorcycle sagas as “gonzo” journalist, Doctor Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and other, later Rolling Stone magazine printed “biker” stories and Tom Wolfe’ Hell Angel’s-sketched Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (and other articles about California subset youth culture that drove Wolfe’s work in the old days). And to the hellish Rolling Stones (band) Hell’s Angels “policed” Altamont concert in 1969. And, as fate would have it, with the passing of actor/director Dennis Hooper, the 1960s classic biker/freedom/ seeking the great American night film, Easy Rider. And from Easy Rider to the “max daddy” of them all, tight-jeaned, thick leather-belted, tee-shirted, engineer-booted, leather-jacketed, taxi-driver-capped (hey, that’s what it reminds me of), side-burned, chain-linked wielding, hard-living, alienated, but in the end really just misunderstood, Johnny, aka, Marlon Brando, in The Wild One.

Okay, we will cut to the chase on the plot. Old Johnny and his fellow “outlaw” motorcycle club members are out for some weekend “kicks” after a hard week’s non-work (as far as we can figure out, work was marginal for many reasons, as Hunter Thompson in Hell’s Angels noted, to biker existence, the pursue of jack-rolling, armed robbery or grand theft auto careers probably running a little ahead) out in the sunny California small town hinterlands.(They are still heading out there today, the last time I noticed, in the Southern California high desert, places like Twenty-Nine Palms and Joshua Tree.)

And naturally, when the boys (and they are all boys here, except for couple of “mamas”, one spurned by Johnny, in a break-away club led by jack-in-the-box jokester, Lee Marvin as Chino) hit one small town they, naturally, after sizing up the local law, head for the local café (and bar). And once one mentions cafes in small towns in California (or Larry McMurtry’s West Texas, for that matter), then hard-working, trying to make it through the shift, got to get out of this small town and see the world, dreamy-eyed, naïve (yes, naive) sheriff-daughtered young waitress, Kathy, (yes, and hard-working, it’s tough dealing them off the arm in these kind of joints, or elsewhere) Johnny trap comes into play. Okay, now you know, even alienated, misunderstood, misanthropic, cop-hating (an additional obstacle given said waitress’s kinships) boy Johnny needs, needs cinematically at least, to meet a girl who understands him.

The development of that young hope, although hopeless, boy meets girl romance relationship, hither and yon, drives the plot.  Oh, and along the way the boys, after a few thousand beers, as boys, especially girl-starved biker boys, will, at the drop of a hat start to systematically tear down the town, off-handedly, for fun. Needless to say, staid local burghers (aka “squares”) seeing what amount to them is their worst 1950s “communist” invasion nightmare, complete with murder, mayhem and rapine, (although that “c” word was not used in the film, nor should it have been) are determined to “take back” their little town. A few fights, forages, casualties, fatalities, and forgivenesses later though, still smitten but unquenched and chaste Johnny (and his rowdy crowd) and said waitress part, wistfully. The lesson here, for the kids in the theater audience, is that biker love outside biker-dom is doomed. For the adults, the real audience, the lesson: nip the “terrorists” in the bud (call in the state cops, the national guard, the militia, the 82nd Airborne, The Strategic Air Command, NATO, hell, even the “weren't we buddies in the war” Red Army , but nip it, fast when they come roaming through Amityville, Archer City, or your small town).

After that summary you can see what we are up against. This is pure fantasy Hollywood cautionary tale on a very real 1950s phenomena, “outlaw” biker clubs, mainly in California, but elsewhere as well. Hunter Thompson did yeoman’s work in his Hell’s Angels to “discover” who these guys were and what drove them, beyond drugs, sex, rock and roll (and, yah, murder and mayhem, the California prison system was a “home away from home”). In a sense the “bikers” were the obverse of the boys (again, mainly) whom Tom Wolfe, in many of his early essays, was writing about and who were (a) forming the core of the surfers on the beaches from Malibu to La Jolla and, (b) driving the custom car/hot rod/drive-in restaurant-centered (later mall-centered) cool, teenage girl–impressing, car craze night in the immediate post-World War II great American Western sunny skies and pleasant dream drift (physically and culturally). Except those Wolfe guys were the “winners”. The “bikers” were Nelson Algren’s “losers”, the dead-enders who didn’t hit the gold rush, the Dove Linkhorns (aka the Arkies and Okies who in the 1930s populated John Steinbeck’s Joad saga, The Grapes Of Wrath). Not cool, iconic Marlin-Johnny but hell-bend then-Hell Angels leader, Sonny Barger.

And that is why in the end, as beautifully sullen and misunderstood the alienated Johnny was, and as wholesomely rowdy as his gang was before demon rum took over, this was not the real “biker: scene, West or East. Now I lived, as a teenager in a working-class, really marginally working poor, neighborhood that I have previously mentioned was the leavings of those who were moving up in post-war society. That neighborhood was no more than a mile from the central headquarters of Boston's local Hell’s Angels (although they were not called that, I think it was Deathheads, or something like that). I got to see these guys up close as they rallied at various spots on our local beach or “ran” through our neighborhood on their way to some crazed action. The leader had all of the charisma of Marlon Brando’s thick leather belt. His face, as did most of the faces, spoke of small-minded cruelties (and old prison pallors) not of misunderstood youth. And their collective prison records (as Hunter Thompson also noted about the Angels) spoke of “high” lumpenism. And that takes us back to the beginning about who, and what, forms one of the core cohorts for a fascist movement in this country, the sons of Sonny Barger. Then we will need to rely on our street politics, our fists, and other such weapons.

Vincent Black Lightning 1952

Said Red Molly to James that's a fine motorbike
A girl could feel special on any such like
Said James to Red Molly, my hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme
And he pulled her on behind
And down to Boxhill they did ride

Said James to Red Molly, here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man
I've fought with the law since I was seventeen
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Come down, come down, Red Molly, called Sergeant McRae
For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside
Oh, come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
And said I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do
They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I've got no further use for these
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride