Saturday, May 26, 2018

From The Archives) On The Occasion Of The Centennial Of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Birthday (2017)-Frank Jackman’s Journey-Take Two

From The Archives) On The Occasion Of The Centennial Of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Birthday (2017)-Frank Jackman’s Journey-Take Two  

By Political Commentator Frank Jackman

[Recently in what I had assumed would be a one-time short reminiscence on the centennial of John Fitzgerald Kennedys’ birth here in Massachusetts about the effect that the election of the first Irish Catholic President back in 1960 had on the bedraggled psyches of a bunch of Irish Catholic working class (hell working poor and lower if the truth be known) kids, corner boys, whom I hung around with and came of age with in that Camelot time. Apparently in this age of instant social media feedback and quick communications my simple plan has now turned into yet another screed.
The reason? These days there can only be one reason in my universe. One Francis Xavier Riley, the acknowledged leader of the corner boys of our times back in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Acre section of North Adamsville. Once again like in the old days Frankie has seen to it that I, or anybody else who might venture some idea not cooked up by and authorized by him, that proper homage be paid to the Scribe, to the late fallen comrade Peter Paul Markin, who was our “intellectual” leader. Funny when Frankie was running the show back then he treated the Scribe like a dog-except on those occasions when he wanted the Scribe to write something up about him, to be his “flak.” That was how Makin got his moniker in the first place after he had in order to ingratiate himself with Frankie when he came from across town to live in the Acre  written some bullshit about how Frankie was the “second coming,” something like for the school newspaper and everybody bowed down to Frankie thereafter.                   
Now the bone that Frankie had to pick with me was that in that rather simple remembrance about Jack Kennedy’s hold on us, one of our own running the whole show, I didn’t emphasize enough how Markin, how the Scribe got us off our collective girl hunger asses and out on the stump for Jack around town. Didn’t speak enough of the Scribe’s “vision” that a new day was coming, a “new breeze across the land” as Markin called it which drove a lot of his thoughts then and for several years after before the ebb tide blew him away. Funny again that if I recall correctly Frankie could not have given a rat’s ass about all of that at the time. All he cared about was “doing the do” with Minnie Murphy. But Frankie was not the acknowledged leader of the Acre corner boys of our time for nothing because he was able to twist my tail about how Markin had given us all a grand purpose and why soil his potter’s grave down in dreaded Sonora, Mexico when a few kind words would be as welcome as the morning breeze. So I had to re-write the whole freaking thing over. Jesus, Mary and Joseph why did I ever start this small JFK tribute in the first place. Below is the revised, final sketch. Scribe wherever you are I hope you are satisfied with my few words. I am sure Frankie won’t be. Frank Jackman]          

Sure now, today, as anybody who is familiar with the American Left History on-line site and The Progressive Journal print site that I write for these days knows, or should be expected to know, I along with many of my political kindred have long raked many of the policies and projects that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States 1961-1963, initiated over the coals. Most notable of those  nefarious exploits for those of us who were inspired, maybe inflamed is a better word once we were actual witnesses on television as the rebels entered Havana by the exploits of the revolutionaries (without being revolutionaries ourselves but proper liberals and social democrats) in Cuba who overthrew the Batista regime was the fumbled Bay of Pigs invasion in the spring of 1961 which was our first point of serious differences with a generally positive attitude toward Camelot. 

More troublesome was the deep state escalation of American involvement in Vietnam which led to the slippery slope that tore this society asunder as we can as near to a cold civil war as we had in this country until very recently. (Of course in the “revisionist” histories since JFK has come off as something of a pacifist who would have hightailed it out of Vietnam the minute things got out of hand and let the commies overrun the land. This from a guy deeply enamored of counter-guerilla warfare, in love with Special Forces and of manliness in person and politics). There were other generic differences that came to the fore later when we were seeking, desperately seeking, for what gangster saint brother Robert Kennedy called, “stealing” a page from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “ a newer world.” Looking for more socialist-oriented solutions to what ailed society.        

All that however was later. Today I want to speak of the promise that the election of JFK meant to a bunch of Irish Catholic corner boys from the poverty-stricken Acre section of North Adamsville back in the fall of 1960 when we felt that first fresh breeze coming over the land from the icy depths of the red scare Cold War night that we had come of political age in. That “fresh breeze,” as I have noted many, many times elsewhere an expression that fellow corner boy and our house “intellectual” the late Peter Paul Markin, the Scribe, (the actual Markin, not the moderator of the ALH blog site who uses that moniker in honor of our fallen brother long departed) would endlessly bore us with in those days when all we gave a rat’s ass about (also an expression I have used many, many times concerning our reaction to Markin’s “fresh breeze” statement) was girls, getting dough to deal with girls and cars, “boss” cars not necessarily in that order. (To be fair to Markin he was the king hell king of the midnight creep when we needed dough at the times when his seamier side got ahead of the “better angel of his nature”). 

None of us, me, Jack Callahan, the legendary football player who for some reason liked hanging with the bad boys when he was not being forlornly chased by defensive players or girls after Chrissie McNamara made her feelings known to him, Frankie Riley, our esteemed corner boy leader and a genius organizer, Phil Larkin, Jimmy Murphy, Ralph Kiley, Ricky Russo, Allan Stein, the corner boys although the latter two were not full Irish, but only half Irish got as carried away with Markin’s fresh breeze coming  as he did. Back then when before he “taught” us what it was like to on the cutting edge of the new day we could have, ignorantly to be sure, could have given a rat’s ass about breezes or elections. The routine, the bare necessity routine was girls, cars, and dough and how to get all three or any combination thereof. Markin would continue to spout forth on that subject for another half decade before it did come in the form of the many threads that led up to the Summer of Love, San Francisco, 1967 which Alex James and others have written about in this the 50th anniversary year of that “youth nation” explosion.  By then though we had all been “converted” to the wisdom of Markin’s ideas after he came back to fetch us in the late summer of 1967. 

But long before that breeze came to fruition Markin made us thrill beyond words to be able to say “one of own,” an Irish Catholic had done what Al Smith could not do a few decades before and get elected president in a low-slung Protestant-controlled country. (My grandfather never got over the dirty campaign waged by the “refined” WASPs, the Brahmins, you know the people with the three-name monikers like Wesley Stuart Gardner, names like that who used every Papal Plot lie in the book to down the beleaguered Smith against the heathen Hebert Hoover of Hooverville fame.) Markin made us see that it did not matter that JFK was the scion of “chandelier” Irish unlike our own “shanty” Irish digs. He was ours in all its glory.            
Markin, like in many other such endeavors was the bell-weather for our take on JFK. For getting enthusiastic about the guy, about getting out the vote in our town for our man. I have mentioned above (in the brackets) my belief that even Frankie Riley our leader could have given a rat’s ass about the elections until Markin pulled the plug of our indifference. But once Markin convinced him that the election was important then Frankie got all worked about it. Got things organized. The Scribe was not the guy who would organize the stuff though. Jesus no. He could not organize himself out of a paper bag much less run a political campaign in a large neighborhood. The one time the Scribe did try to organize one of our midnight creeps to get dough when Frankie was out of town was almost a disaster. His plan was great (in fact Frankie would later execute it to perfection) but he “forgot” you needed a few look-outs for the cops when pulling a midnight creep and we almost wound up with a show-down with the cops who were cruising the neighborhood at that hour. So once the Scribe won Frankie over he organized the whole caper.

(By the way many local Acre urban legends have grown up around how the Scribe got his moniker. Here’s the skinny. When he came across town in junior high school to live in the Acre with his family, his mother had grown up in the Acre, he latched onto Frankie the first day somehow. To seal the deal though he wrote something for the school newspaper about a speech that Frankie had given about President Eisenhower in some assembly after he beat Adlai Stevenson the second time. Everybody, teachers especially, agreed that the Scribe’s article was A-one. When I read the article I thought it sounded like Frankie, thieving, scheming, conniving Frankie Riley, had just given the Gettysburg Address or something. Here’s the real reason that Markin got the moniker from that time forward from Frankie (all the way to San Francisco, 1967 when he subsequently “became” the Be-Bop Kid). Markin had written the whole thing. Had written the speech and written the write-up. Pure Frankie conniving).            

Frankie won’t like this but that election of 1960 was also a prime example of the contradictions that would a little over decade later do Markin in and which for many of the rest of us was a close thing between freedom and a dark dungeon. See Markin among his million other thoughts like the fresh breeze and the like was all hopped up about getting rid of nuclear weapons, was all hopped up for the United States to get rid of them unilaterally if necessary. The rest of us, especially Frankie Riley, our esteemed acknowledged leader, thought he was crazy, crazy with the Russian armed to the teeth with similar such weapons. Frankie almost hit the Scribe in Civics class from what I heard when he tried to present the idea in a class discussion. Don’t forget though that we were still seriously hung up on the Cold War stuff we read about and were taught was the real deal in school.

One thing about Markin though was he put his money where his mouth was most of the time. He had heard about a rally, stand-out, vigil or something in Boston, at the Boston Common near the Park Street subway station against nuclear weapons in October of 1960 a few weeks before the election sponsored by a group called SANE, Doctor Spock’s group, some Quakers and other odd-balls. He was determined to go although he expressed some fears that he might be harmed by pro-nuclear weapons people who would see red over the issue. But he did go saying later to us that he had found some kindred spirits who were not afraid unlike a fearful fourteen year old boy and that got him through.

(This is not the place to digress too much about side stuff but Markin’s fear was the subject of a bet between him and Frankie Riley that he would not go. Markin was very proud of winning that bet and would bring it up periodically long after we could have given a rat’s ass about the wager since we were always betting on almost any propositions that struck our fancies. The most infamous bet, a rigged job by Frankie, was when he needed “date” money in high school and he bet the Scribe on how high Tonio at the pizza place we hung out at would fling the pizza after having worked it out with Tonio to fling low. Markin never knew what hit him except he was out about six dollars and Frankie was out with Minnie Murphy doing whatever that night.)

Here’s where the Markin contradiction came in, maybe the human condition contradiction when all is said and done after my own fifty plus years of having gone through my own sets of contradictions. During the television debates between JFK and his Republican opponent, then Vice President Nixon who was later a president in his own right and a common criminal as well Kennedy made a great deal out of some supposed “missile gap” between the United States and Russia that had developed under the Eisenhower-Nixon regime. To our disadvantage. That “gap” was among others things in the number and effectiveness of the American nuclear arsenal. Kennedy’s solution: build more and better such weapons. Totally against what the Scribe had tried do in Boston. Nevertheless the very next weekend after that Boston anti-nuclear weapons rally Markin rounded us up to go up to the North Adamsville Kennedy for President headquarters located in a small shed-like building on the property of the Knights of Columbus and grab a bunch of leaflets to go door to door putting them in mail slots. Of course before the Scribe could take step one Frankie intervened and told the guys to go to the supermarkets, the post office, a couple of banks opened on Saturday in those days before ATMs, the bowling alley and the football fields. That is where they could hand out eye to eye with the receivers their materials. Frankie laughed at Markin and his hokey idea of stuffing leaflets in mail boxes.       

Such were the ups and downs of having “one of our own” getting elected to the White House in sunnier days. And one of our own hipping us to the idea.              

Is this good enough, Frankie?          

In Boston June 2nd-Fight the Alt-Right: March Against Fascist Violence

On June 2nd, Resist Marxism, will hold a rally to normalize right wing violence and grow their movement. This group has ties to the right wing violence...

Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Media Advisory for: May 28-29, 2018

Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Media Advisory for: May 28-29, 2018

Poor People’s Campaign to Challenge War Economy, Militarism, Gun Violence
as Protests at Massachusetts State House
Enter Third Week

Nonviolent Direct Action Planned in Boston Part of Wave of Protests to Hit 35 States, Washington, D.C.
Poor People, Veterans, Clergy, War Victims to Demand Reduction in Military Spending, Strengthening of Veterans Affairs System, End to Overseas Interventions, Ban on Assault Weapons, and Demilitarization of Local Communities

Boston, MA - For the third consecutive week, poor people, veterans, clergy and advocates will return to the Boston Common and Massachusetts State House on Memorial Day and the following day, as their historic reignition of the Poor People’s Campaign turns the focus of its protests to one of the 1968 movement’s main themes: militarism. 

Monday and Tuesday’s protests will come days after President Trump cancelled peace talks with North Korea, bragging  about the United States’ “massive and powerful” nuclear capabilities; violated the Iran nuclear agreement; and opened a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem even as Israeli forces were slaughtering mostly peaceful Palestinian protesters in Gaza.  It will highlight how our government prioritizes the war economy over programs to eradicate poverty and help veterans. Participants in Tuesday’s nonviolent direct action are expected to carry signs that read, “Money for Veterans, not for War,” and “Build Schools, Not Walls.”

“As a Vietnam combat veteran, I feel I have no choice but to use every means I have to convey to our country what the true cost of war is,” said Dan Luker, coordinator of the War Economy task force of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign.  “I feel the need to shout that it is our poor brothers and sister that pay the lifetime costs of being in combat, that it is the poor in this country that pay with their well-being the costs of war. To quote the most decorated soldier in the history of the United States, General Smedley D. Butler, awarded 2 Medals of Honor:  ‘War is a racket, a few profit -- the many pay’.”

Participants will call for a reallocation of budgetary dollars to veterans, healthcare, schools, public housing and other social programs in need of funding, among other demands. Under the current federal budget, 53 cents of every federal discretionary dollar goes to military spending and only 15 cents is spent on anti-poverty programs. Monday and Tuesday’s protests will highlight how this disproportionate allocation of resources benefits military contractors that profit from war at the expense of our troops.  

In 2015, the Department of Defense budgeted more money on federal contracts, $274 billion, than all other federal agencies combined. In 2016, CEOs of the top five military contractors earned on average $19.2 million each — more than 90 times the $214,000 earned by a U.S. general with 20 years of experience and 640 times the $30,000 earned by Army privates in combat.

In his landmark speech on militarism at Riverside Church in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the leaders of the original Poor People’s Campaign said: “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

The action in Boston is one of three dozen nationwide, including a major protest planned at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. that will feature Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival co-chair, the Rev. Liz Theoharis. Her campaign co-chair, the Rev. William Barber II, will join protestors in Raleigh, NC, where he started the Moral Mondays Movement.

With 101 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2018, activists will also draw the connection between the war economy and the mass proliferation of guns on our streets.  They will demand a ban on assault rifles and a ban on the easy access to firearms. And they’ll call for the demilitarization of our borders, including an end to calls to build a war on the U.S.-Mexico Border. They’ll also call for an immigration system that, instead of criminalizing people for trying to raise their families, prioritizes family reunification, keeps families together and allows us all to build thriving communities in the country we call home.


WHO:                   Veterans and people from countries and communities impacted by US militarism
calling for an end to the war economy, militarism, and gun violence
WHAT:                 Veterans’ Encampment, Rally and Teach-In
WHERE:               Boston Common near Park Street
WHEN:                 Monday, May 28, 1pm-6pm


WHO:                    Participants in Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign:
A National Call for Moral Revival
WHAT:                  Protest at Massachusetts State House demanding immediate action to challenge
the war economy, militarism, and gun violence
WHERE:               William Gould Shaw/ 54th Regiment Monument, steps leading down into Boston
                                    Common from Beacon Street, directly across from the State House
WHEN:                 Tuesday, May 29 at 2PM

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and hundreds of local and national grassroots groups across the country.

On May 14, campaign co-chairs the Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis were among hundreds arrested nationwide in the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history, kicking off a six-week season of direct action demanding new programs to fight systemic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy. Last week, they were arrested again, alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson after staging a pray-in in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds more were arrested at capitols nationwide, including in STATE.

The protests from coast to coast are reigniting the Poor People’s Campaign, the 1968 movement started by Dr. King and so many others to challenge racism, poverty and militarism. The Campaign is expected to be a multi-year effort, but over the first 40 days, poor and disenfranchised people, moral leaders and advocates are engaging in nonviolent direct action, including by mobilizing voters, knocking on tens of thousands of doors, and holding teach-ins, among other activities, as a moral fusion movement comprised of people of all races and religions takes off.

For the past two years, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival have carried out a listening tour in dozens of states across this nation, meeting with tens of thousands of people from El Paso, Texas to Marks, Mississippi to South Charleston, West Virginia. Led by the Revs. Barber and Theoharis, the campaign has gathered testimonies from hundreds of poor people and listened to their demands for a better society.

A Poor People’s Campaign Moral Agenda, announced last month, was drawn from this listening tour, while an audit of America conducted with allied organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies and the Urban Institute, showed that, in many ways, we are worse off than we were in 1968.

The Moral Agenda, which is guiding the 40 days of actions, calls for major changes to address systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative, including repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage laws, universal single-payer health care, and clean water for all.


Savina Martin
Massachusetts Statewide Coordinating Chair (Eastern Region)
Cell: (339) 216.7181 

Michaelann Bewsee
Massachusetts Statewide Coordinating Chair (Western Region)
Arise for Social Justice, Springfield, MA

Khalil Saddiq, Legal Liaison
Massachusetts Statewide Coordinating Chair (Eastern Region)
"Forward Together NOT one step back!"
prlist mailing list
Cole Harrison
Executive Director
Massachusetts Peace Action
11 Garden St, Cambridge, MA 02138
f: /masspeaceaction  t: @masspeaceaction
Cole Harrison
Executive Director
Massachusetts Peace Action
11 Garden St, Cambridge, MA 02138
w: 617-354-2169
m: 617-466-9274
f: /masspeaceaction  t: @masspeaceaction
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Tell Me: What Does The Resistance Looks Like-This Is What The Resistance Looks Like-Join The Resistance Now!!

Tell Me: What Does The Resistance Looks Like-This Is What The Resistance Looks Like-Join The Resistance Now!!  

As The Classic Film "Casablanca" Turns 75 (2017)-A Look Back

As The Classic Film "Casablanca" Turns 75 (2017)-A Look Back

Comment by Sam Lowell 

As the person who did the piece on NPR noted at the end of her piece on the making of Casablanca-even after 75 years the romance of the film and the story line still grabs one attention.

Here's a recent comment by Seth Garth in honor of the occasion:

Memories Of Rick-With Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s “Casablanca” In Mind

By Seth Garth

[Before he passed away in the late 1980s the long time French police officer, Commandant Louis Renault (everybody, everybody but the bad guys who crossed his path and there were plenty and not all of them Germans, called him “Louie” for his mild-mannered easy style when he was not in hot pursuit of some nefarious types)who had worked both in colonial Algeria and French Morocco before heading back home to work with the National Police in his hometown of Lyon, liked to sit in the Café Algiers there and reminisce about all his adventures as a cop. When asked about the most memorable person, friend or foe, he had been up against in his times he would without much hesitation blurt out the name of Rick Blaine.

Rick of Rick’s Café in Casablanca when Louie had worked in French Morocco early in World War II after the fall of the French Republic and the rise of the Vichy government which controlled that colony then. He as a police officer noted the changing of the guard and went about his business as usual-regimes come and go he had always said but the cops are forever. After investigation of Rick’s past, most of the early part as a tough guy out of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City a place where Rick would make people laugh when he said even the mighty Germans would think twice about occupying and had included some troubling adventurous activity for the “wrong” side in Ethiopia and Spain during the 1930s, he, after having had his palm “greased” issued the liquor and nightclub license for Rick to keep his Cafe Americian open under his prefecture.
For most of the time he knew Rick in Casablanca they had had a good working relationship. Rick would let him “win” at the roulette wheel as his pay-off for letting illegal gambling go on in full sight, “comp” him for drinks and dope, mostly hashish, and let him have his women “rejects” on the rebound. Then she came in, came in as Rick said one drunken night when she had her claws in him bad again “of all the gin joints in all the world she had to show up at his door.” From then on things got interesting, very interesting. The following is a translation by Jean Marais of what Louie had to say when he was asked by a National Police archivist for details of his relationship with one Rick Blaine (1920-1982)-SG]             

“That Rick Blaine was a piece of work, one of the last of the pre-war, pre-World War II if anybody is asking which war we are talking about, romantics tilting his lance at the windmills in the name of love-or the thrill of adventure, maybe even the thrill of tweaking somebody’s nose just for the hell of it, Louie Renault was reminiscing out loud to those who were attending his retirement party. Retirement from the National Police, [the French coppers although they are not national cops like the FBI in America but just like city and town cops there run through the central government], the guys who keep order in places like Paris and Lyon (since it was a governmental pension he was about to receive after much haggling his service during Vichy times first in Algiers and then in French-controlled Morocco, in Casablanca, was included as well as his Lyon assignments). He had been asked a question by one of the younger policer officers about what was his most memorable episode in a long and illustrious career. Of course Louie had to go back to those early war days when he ran the operation for Vichy in godforsaken Casablanca to find some events, some characters who could qualify for what that young officer was asking about. Had to go back to Rick Blaine without question.             

“Yes, Rick was the real thing, I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned his name,” Louie blurted out when the officer did not comprehend why a guy whom he had on other occasions called nothing but a saloon keeper, a guy out for himself whatever checkered past he might have had rated so high. “Let me fill you and see if I am not right about this whole matter.” He would say out of earshot that even De Gaulle would gladly take a back seat after hearing this story since he was safely in London being a pain in the ass to the British and American while “little guys” like Rick and a guy who looked pretty big even by De Gaulle standards Victor Lazlo were mercilessly tweaking the German’s tail.        

“Once the Germans marched into Paris they controlled the whole political situation but since they couldn’t handle a total occupation of France and wreak havoc on the rest of Europe at the same time they left part of the country to the French military, to General Petain who worked out of Vichy, the place where the specialized water comes from. Yeah, collaborators, liked they used to try to hang on me before Rick came to Casablanca, Lazlo too, and got everybody well. I had been in Algiers during that time but once the new political reality hit I was assigned to run the police operations in bloody Casablanca-a backwater where every odd-ball thing could and did happen as well as plenty of illegal stuff from dope to women to smuggling. Just my cup of tea. I figured that I could make more graft there in the Casbah than staying in Algiers once the British and Americans got serious about dislodging the Germans from Northern Africa.   

“No sooner had I landed in Casablanca then I spied Rick’s place, Rick’s Café Americian he called it, a place where there was plenty of booze, women, gambling, dope and whatever else you wanted. Or wanted done-life was cheap there-dirt cheap. The bloody Arabs could barely keep themselves busy except when some silly “blood honor” thing came up and we had to pick up the mess after the killings. Some he said, the other guy said stuff and then bang-bang. Had to arrest about fifteen people, family members from both sides and show them a little baton to the head just to let them know we meant business. Nobody ever faulted me on that score. I walked in and introduced myself to Rick without saying anything further. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye he said later after all the smoke had cleared and we could be honest with each other, sized me up and down and knowing that I would do “business” after that appraisal said would the previous arrangement with the Prefect I was replacing be okay- a cut of the profits, a slice of the gambling [paid out by his “winning at roulette” with lucky red 22], my pick of women, free liquor and dope, and deep discounts on anything else I needed. Also told me of his dealings, his working relationships for dope, booze and Moslem women which it seemed some of the Europeans were crazy for although I was strictly for the low-rent French tarts who found Casablanca easy on their virtue, with Sydney Greenstreet, an émigré merchant of sorts from England over in the Casbah. I immediately issued the necessary licenses that each new Prefect was entitled to issue as was my prerogative. Done.

“This Rick was a hard guy to figure though the more I ran into him on the street or more regularly in his place either to grab some young woman, to grab my cut, to “win” at roulette, or just to have some high shelf bonded whiskey that I became very fond of. Somebody said, I think it was Frenchie the main bartender, that Rick had had some kind of an adventurous past, had run some guns to Ethiopia when they were trying to hold off the Italians when Mussolini was flexing his muscles and later fought with the International Brigades, with the Communists in Spain when Franco was working up to flexing his muscles. I had already known that past from the files the previous Prefect had left and from a couple of snitches I had run through Rick’s place but the “grease” from Rick’s deal said otherwise in my eyes.   When I first met him he was all business like I said, if you said green he said okay what shade, that kind of thing.

“Somebody said, maybe it was Frenchie again since I sat at the bar of the joint many a night to “enforce” the no gambling regulation and to drink a few high shelf scotches, that Rick had been unlucky in love and that was why when he, Rick,  had his choice of any girl he wanted, two if he was feeling frisky, would take them up to his office and apartment upstairs from the club, do whatever it was that they did, some wild stuff I heard from a couple of them that I caught on the “rebound” especially from one who took him “around the world” which she would later do with me and the next night would not know them. Tell them to sell their wares in the Casbah, a low thing to say to a European woman if you knew anything at all about what went on in the Casbah. I never went there personally but would sent for this Greenstreet to deliver me my graft and whatever dope I was looking for at the time. Like I said mainly hashish from the pipe. In the end it would be that lost love that had been bothering Rick once she came to town but early on you couldn’t tell what was eating at him. Just knew that he had a chip on his shoulder which would not fall off.

“Jesus, in those days there were all kinds of people as you can imagine trying to get out of Europe for one reason or another and once France and the countries around it fell to the Germans that was doubled up. Homeless, stateless Jews, who we all knew were being savaged by the Germans and by Vichy too, International Brigaders who couldn’t go back to their occupied homelands, local Communists who didn’t get or who couldn’t get underground, anybody out of the ordinary, we even had a couple of kids, rich kids who had left Hamburg once Hitler said that jazz was a Negro-Jew conspiracy and banned the music. If you looked at a map of Europe in say 1941 you would notice that there was not much wiggle room to work with in order to get out of some occupied spot. The road out though however they got there led to Casablanca no matter what the individual reason for leaving Europe was. The link. The air flights to Lisbon and from there anyplace but the old canard Europe.

“So you know that there was plenty of money to be made by those daring enough to act as smugglers to get these desperate people out one way or another. I could have made plenty if I had decided to use my position to get real greedy but I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of desperate people bothering me about why they weren’t getting out fast enough. Rick and the Casbah made me plenty-for a while. All the action either went through that guy Sidney Greenstreet who ran his operation out of the Casbah where he mainly handled small fry, people of no account but with money, or at Rick’s for the higher class clientele. Mostly the wealthier Jews and previously high placed officials of democratic governments who the Germans were desperate to find and make an example out off for their compatriots under occupation. Some seriously shady characters, art forgers, crazed jazz aficionados, con artists, three card monte hustlers, independent dope dealers-mainly heroin out of the Afghan fields working their way West to the cities, jack-rollers, rapists and assorted slugs, characters who even we had to keep an eye on to keep any kind of order plopped themselves there.          

“Things though were going fine until some horse’s asses, as it turned out guys we had on our radar but couldn’t quite nab, decided they would murder a couple of German couriers and grab a couple of letters of transit they were travelling with. Now these letters of transit were like gold-would make their possessor a pot of gold. Maybe two pots if they worked it right. These were no questions asked documents which only had to have names filled in order to catch a flight to Lisbon and from there wherever else they wanted to go. This weasel, well known to us from a couple of rip-off jobs he did on unsuspecting travelers, a guy named Peter Lorre was part of the gang who took the couriers down. One night he showed up at Rick’s the natural place to start looking for high-end buyers and we nailed him-took him in “custody” but he didn’t have the letters of transit on him. He hanged himself in his cell before we could get much more out of him. Rick had been as cool as a cucumber when this weasel, this sweaty little nobody showed his ugly face there. This Lorre begged Rick to hide him. Rick just blew him off, told him to get lost. A couple of customers made noises when we grabbed and manhandled Lorre saying they wouldn’t patronize Rick’s again because of his attitude in the matter. Rick told them something that impressed me at the time-he wasn’t sticking his neck out for anybody. Those customers by the way were back the next night when I let Rick reopen the place and he sent them over a couple of drinks. They were his best buddies then.   

“That courier murder business though would lay us all low. See the Germans had sent over this hard-ass major, Major Veidt (sic) I think his name was if I remember the name correctly, to look into the matter. I was trying to impress him so he would put in a good word for me with Vichy. That was the whole idea behind making a big deal out of the Lorre arrest (and I was happy when he hung himself because he would have not stood up well under German methods and he might have spilled who knows what about what was going on in Casablanca at the time). That made Rick’s gesture at the time this guy Lorre begged him to save him from my men even more important. Rick just looked the other way and Lorre was a goner. We never did get the other guys in with Lorre when we rounded up, our what did we call them, oh yes,  “usual suspects”, Communists and con men and a few whores who we regularly rounded up to fill the jails full and make it look like we were doing our jobs. Some wound up out in a desert graveyard once we were done with them.                                                                                                                                             

“Like I said in those days all kinds of people were coming through town. One of them a guy I mentioned before and said I would speak of again named Victor Lazlo had escaped from a German concentration camp and somehow he had worked his way through whatever network he had in Europe to Casablanca. This Lazlo was well-known as a leader of the resistance to the German occupations of half of Europe so a guy whom the Germans, especially this Major Veidt, were foaming at the mouth to get their hands on. But as long as he didn’t do anything illegal I had no reason to arrest him. I had half-figured when I heard he was in town to see who the highest bidder, strictly cash, was for his hide and take my cut that way. 

“But here is where things got interesting. This Lazlo, a good-looking guy with good manners and a good tipper according to Frenchie, was not travelling alone. He had this beautiful woman with him, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen then or now, Ilsa something, I am not sure we ever knew her last name and it didn’t matter with a beauty like that. When she showed up our Rick went crazy, went crazy like a loon. See he had come to Casablanca just ahead of the German armies advancing on Paris with this black guy who was an entertainer, a singer and piano player named Sam and a sour look on his face. He had “known” Ilsa in Paris, had been her fancy man from what I could tell. They were supposed to blow town together and meet at the train station one evening on the last train out of Paris before the Germans stopped the trains. She was a “no show.” She was in living color the reason that Rick had been so indifferent to everything. Why he turned over perfectly good women to me without batting an eyelash.            

“Of course the minute she showed up the old flames were re-kindled-for both of them. She had spied Sam at the piano through the heavily smoke-filled room, had forced him to play “their” song, If I Didn’t Care I think and when Rick heard that he went ballistic, was ready to come to blows with Sam since Sam had been ordered never to play the song. Then he spotted her across the piano and he melted down like an ice cube. It seems that in Paris she had assumed her husband, this Lazlo was dead, had been killed by the Germans. False report. That last day in Paris she found out through some underground source that Lazlo was still alive and she had gone to him. Leaving Rick standing in the rain at the fucking train station. Naturally all of this stuff I learned later but that “left standing in the rain” is what drove Rick to get up on his high horse and create nothing but trouble for me and my men once she came into view.  

“That long gone Lorre had given Rick the letters of transit to keep for him the night Rick looked the other way when we grabbed the weasel and made him squeal or whatever weasels do when they are caught. When with Rick’s help he fell down, wound up at the end of his checkered tie, Rick figured that he would use the letters to get himself out of hellhole Casablanca. He said that even Hell’s Kitchen in New York where he had grown up (and had “advised” the Germans to think twice about trying to occupy if you recall) was less dangerous than Casablanca so you get an idea how bad things were-how cheap life was on in the desert. Worse than the bloody wogs the British were always moaning about in the Raj, in India. He wasn’t going alone though. She, Ilsa, was going with him. She had snuck up into his apartment one night when Lazlo was out doing his organizing of the local resistance. As a result of that outlawed meeting I had Lazlo picked up when he surfaced, you couldn’t have such meetings and I knew that German major would be happy to hear that I had the great Victor Lazlo locked up like a caged animal.

“Whatever Rick and Ilsa did and from what Frenchie said Oscar the head waiter told him they had definitely gone under the sheets from his disheveled look and the blush on her face when Rick told Oscar to escort her home they were blowing town together. When Oscar told me that story a few days later I wondered about what had happened. What had made sour Rick decide to blow a good thing in Casablanca (my good thing too don’t forget). No question Ilsa was a beauty, an exceptional beauty but after the way she had left him high and dry in Paris I figured maybe a quick roll in the hay and then off alone. But you never know about beautiful women, sometimes they can be just as kinky as any whore or any low-rent tart. She didn’t look that way but maybe with a few drinks and an agenda of her own-like getting Lazlo out- alone- she took him around the world like that ex-flame Lisette had.      

“Somehow and I never could get him to tell me exactly what happened he had had an epiphany after that night some kind of turnaround. All he would say back then was the way the world was just then the troubles of three people, him, Ilsa and Lazlo weren’t worth a hill of beans compared what was going on. But whatever the source from then on he was on fire, was maybe thinking back to that old fight in Spain, thought about some payback for lost comrades, maybe what would happen if the Germans won, maybe he just didn’t like that Major Veidt and his arrogant ways closing up his café when the high rollers were coming in for their weekend beatings.

“So he gave Ilsa one story about how they should meet at the airport and blow town. She was all over that idea and had dropped any mention of Lazlo. He told me another. Talked me into a deal that when I thought about it later I should have figured was bullshit from minute number one. Confessed to me that he had the letters. Was blowing town with Ilsa and that was that. He said -let’s do this though. Let Lazlo out, let him get to the airport with the letters and grab him as an accessory for the courier murders. A feather in my cap was all I could think of. Would get that fucking Major Veidt off my back about picking up Lazlo and showing him the desert sights. When the deal went down though Rick was faking the whole thing. Maybe not about wanting to flee with Ilsa but about his attitude toward Lazlo. He had convinced me of his plan but when the deal went down I was the fall guy, well, one of the fall guys. That German major took the big fall when he tried to stop the plane to Lisbon as Lazlo and Ilsa got on the plane. Rick took him down without a murmur in one clean shot making me wonder how the Loyalists lost in Spain with a guy like that working with them.
“Needless to say when I was caught in a bind I stepped away from danger by refusing to arrest Rick. I went into the usual dodge-round up the usual suspects, double it up this time since a goddam German major was under the ground. I resolved the bind I was in pretty simply. I figured my days in Morocco were finished and so I saw the writing on the wall. I walked away with Rick (an action that I was successfully able to use in order to have my service time there count toward my retirement which I had many hassles over before I won). We made our way to Brazzaville with the dough Rick grabbed from Greenstreet when Rick sold him his interest in the café. I stayed there grabbing my graft until the end of the war and had worked various grifts with Rick until he went back to Europe a few months later where he joined up with the French resistance, worked with Samuel Beckett the exiled Irish playwright who was deeply into the organization from what I heard later. I heard from him a few times over the years before he passed away a few years ago. I guess Casablanca was in his blood because after the war he ran the Café Casablanca in New York City for some thirty years before he gave it up to retire. But what a guy that Rick was, giving up that luscious piece for unsung glory underground in France. Making that big gesture for love. Yeah, the last of the pre-war romantics.




"Our Side of Town" – A Red House Records 25th Anniversary Collection”- A CD Review

"Our Side of Town" – A Red House Records 25th Anniversary Collection”- A CD Review

CD Review

“Our Side of Town – A Red House Records 25th Anniversary Collection”
Various Artists, Red House Records, 2008

I have, except as the occasion called for it as in the case of Sun Records or Chess Records, not spent much time discussing the various ups and downs of particular record labels and their attempts to corner a piece of the music market. There is certainly history there, sometimes very interesting history as in the cases of those labels mentioned above, but I leave that for others to toil over. I prefer to concentrate on various musical influences that flow through the folk world, except that here one can not avoid, or should not avoid, paying some respect to the Red House Record label that has been a mainstay of post-1960s folk revival folk music and artists.

Frankly, I know Red House mainly as the long time vehicle for one of the artists performing on this anniversary CD, Greg Brown. And also for a few late efforts by Rosalie Sorrels, especially her tribute to Utah Phillips last year. Of course, those two names tell you much about what this label is about and about the musical traditions of not just the past 25 years of folk and folk rock but the last half century.

This label has also been the launching pad for some lesser known names like Jimmy LaFave, Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, and the Wailin’ Jenny’s. What you have here, my friends, are tributes by the performers who have struggled, and sometimes struggled in lonely spots, to keep the folk genre part of the great American songbook. So match up the performers and the label and you have quite a piece of history and a primer of the latter-day folk scene. Listen up.