Saturday, September 15, 2018

From The Archive-“Strobe Light’s Beams Creates Dreams”-The Summer Of Love, 1967-The Boston Museum Of Fine Arts Take

From The Archive-“Strobe Light’s Beams Creates Dreams”-The Summer Of Love, 1967-The Boston Museum Of Fine Arts Take   

By Political Commentator Frank Jackman  
Early this year driven by my old corner boys, Alex James and Sam Lowell, I had begun to write some pieces in this space about things that happened in a key 1960s year, 1967. The genesis of this work is based on of all things a business trip that Alex took to San Francisco earlier this spring. While there he noted on one of the ubiquitous mass transit buses that crisscross the city an advertisement for an exhibition at the de Young Art Museum located in Golden Gate Park. That exhibition The Summer of Love, 1967 had him cutting short a meeting one afternoon in order to see what it was all about. What it was all about aside the nostalgia effect for members of the now ragtag Generation of ‘68 was an entire floor’s worth of concert poster art, hippy fashion, music and photographs of that noteworthy year in the lives of some of those who came of age in the turbulent 1960s. The reason for Alex playing hooky was that he had actually been out there that year and had imbibed deeply of the counter-culture for a couple of years out there after that.
Alex had not been the only one who had been smitten by the Summer of Love bug because when he returned to Riverdale outside of Boston where he now lives he gathered up all of the corner boys from growing up North Adamsville still standing to talk about, and do something about, commemorating the event. His first contact was with Sam Lowell the old film critic who also happened to have gone out there and spent I think about a year there, maybe a little more. As had most of the old corner boys for various lengths of time usually a few months. Except me. Alex’s idea when he gathered all of us together was to put together a small commemoration book in honor of the late Peter Paul Markin. See Markin, always known as “Scribe” after he was dubbed that by our leader Frankie Riley, was the first guy to go out there when he sensed that the winds of change he kept yakking about around the corner on desolate Friday and Saturday nights when we had no dough, no girls, no cars and no chance of getting any of those quickly were coming west to east.

Once everybody agreed to do the book Alex contacted his youngest brother Zack, the fairly well known writer, to edit and organize the project. I had agreed to help as well. The reason I had refused to go to San Francisco had been that I was in the throes of trying to put together a career as a political operative by attempting to get Robert Kennedy to run against that naked sneak thief of a sitting President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had us neck deep in the big muddy of Vietnam and had no truck with hippies, druggies or “music is the revolution” types like those who filled the desperate streets around Haight-Ashbury. Then.  Zack did a very good job and we are proud of tribute to the not forgotten still lamented late Scribe who really was a mad man character and maybe if he had not got caught up in the Army, in being drafted, in being sent to Vietnam which threw him off kilter when he got back he might still be around to tell us what the next big trend will be.              

The corner boys from the old Acre neighborhood in North Adamsville are, as the article below demonstrates, not the only ones who are thinking about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Not only did the de Young cash in on the celebration which is to be expected since it is right in San Francisco and right in Golden Gate Park where the Be-Ins, and many concerts by Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Doors, etc. played (many times for free if you can believe that in the now age of high priced tickets for the Stones, etc.) but the Museum of Fine Arts in staid old Boston has tipped its hat as well. The exhibit in Boston unlike San Francisco is small and concentrates on the graphic poster art and photographs but is similar in intent to the larger exhibits (also one at the Berkeley Art Museum around the same time as the de Young). Boston had its own smaller Summer of Love experience as well in 1967 but it was a pale refection of the big deal in Frisco town     

Still no question as I have mentioned before around this celebration year 50 years later looking at the art, the posters, photographs and listening to the music makes me once again realize that in that time “to be young was very heaven.”    

An Encore -When The Tin Can Bended…. In The Time Of The Late Folk-Singer Dave Van Ronk’s Time

An Encore -When The Tin Can Bended…. In The Time Of The Late Folk-Singer Dave Van Ronk’s Time

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Sometimes Sam Lowell and his “friend” (really “sweetie,” long time sweetie, paramour, significant other, consort or whatever passes for the socially acceptable or Census Bureau bureaucratic “speak” way to name somebody who is one’s soul-mate, his preferred term) Laura Perkins whose relationship to Sam was just described at the end of the parentheses, and righteously so, liked to go to Crane’s Beach in Ipswich to either cool off in the late summer heat or in the fall before the New England weather lowers its hammer and the place gets a bit inaccessible and too windswept to force the delicate Laura into the weathers. That later summer  heat escape valve is a result, unfortunately for an otherwise Edenic environment of the hard fact that July, when they really would like to go there to catch a few fresh sea breezes, is not a time to show up at the bleach white sands beach due to nasty blood-sucking green flies swarming and dive-bombing like some berserk renegade Air Force squadron lost on a spree captained by someone with a depraved childhood who breed in the nearby swaying mephitic marshes (mephitic courtesy of multi-use by Norman Mailer who seemed to get it in every novel- if you don't what it means look it up but think nasty and smelly and you will close-okay).

The only “safe haven” then is to drive up the hill to the nearby robber-baron days etched Crane Castle (they of the American indoor plumbing fortune way back) to get away from the buggers, although on a stagnant wind day you might have a few vagrant followers, as the well-to-do have been doing since there were the well-to-do and had the where-with-all to escape the summer heat and bugs at higher altitudes. By the way I assume that “castle” is capitalized when it part of a huge estate, the big ass estate of Crane, now a trust monument to the first Gilded Age, not today’s neo-Gilded Age, architectural proclivities of the rich, the guy whose company did, does all the plumbing fixture stuff on half the bathrooms in America including in the various incantations of the mansion. 

Along the way, along the hour way to get to Ipswich from Cambridge Sam and Laura had developed a habit of making the time more easy passing by listening to various CDs, inevitably not listened to for a long time folk CDs, not listened to for so long that the plastic containers needed to be dusted off before being brought along, on the car's improvised  CD player. And as is their wont while listening to some CD to comment on this or that thing that some song brought to mind, or the significance of some song in their youth.  One of the things that had brought them together early on several years back was their mutual interest in the old 1960s folk minute which Sam, a little older and having grown up within thirty miles of Harvard Square, one the big folk centers of that period along with the Village and North Beach out in Frisco town, had imbibed deeply. Laura, growing up “in the sticks,” in farm country in upstate New York had gotten the breeze at second-hand through records, records bought at Cheapo Records and the eternal Sandy's on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and a little the fading Cambridge folk scene through breathing in the coffeehouse atmosphere when she had moved to Boston in the early 1970s to go to graduate school.     

One hot late August day they got into one such discussion about how they first developed an interest in folk music when Sam had said “sure everybody, everybody over the age of say fifty to be on the safe side, knows about Bob Dylan, maybe some a little younger too if some hip kids have browsed through their parents’ old vinyl record collections now safely ensconced in the attic although there are stirrings of retro-vinyl revival of late according a report I had heard on NPR."

Some of that over 50 crowd and their young acolytes would also have known about how Dylan, after serving something like an apprenticeship under the influence of Woody Guthrie in the late 1950s singing Woody’s songs imitating Woody's style something fellow Woody acolytes like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot never quite got over moved on, got all hung up on high symbolism and obscure references. Funny guys like Jack actually made a nice workman-like career out of Woody covers, so their complaints about the "great Dylan betrayal, about moving on, seen rather hollow now. That over 50s crowd would also know Dylan became if not the voice of the Generation of ’68, their generation, which he probably did not seriously aspire in the final analysis, then he would settle for the master troubadour of the age.

Sam continued along that line after Laura had said she was not sure about the connection and he said he meant, “troubadour in the medieval sense of bringing news to the people and entertaining them by song and poetry as well if not decked in some officially approved garb like back in those olden days where they worked under a king’s license if lucky, by their wit otherwise but the 'new wave' post-beatnik flannel shirt, work boots, and dungarees which connected you with the roots, the American folk roots down in the Piedmont, down in Appalachia, down in Mister James Crow’s Delta, and out in the high plains, the dust bowl plains. So, yes, that story has been pretty well covered.”  

Laura said she knew all of that about the desperate search for roots although not that Ramblin’ Jack had been an acolyte of Woody’s but she wondered about others, some other folk performers whom she listened to on WUMB on Saturday morning when some weeping willow DJ put forth about fifty old time rock and folk rock things a lot of which she had never heard of back in Mechanicsville outside of Albany where she grew up. Sam then started in again, “Of course that is hardly the end of the story since Dylan did not create that now hallowed folk minute of the early 1960s. He had been washed by it when he came to the East from Hibbing, Minnesota for God’s sake (via Dink’s at the University there), came into the Village where there was a cauldron of talent trying to make folk the next big thing, the next big cultural thing for the young and restless of the post-World War II generations. For us. But also those in little oases like the Village where the disaffected could pick up on stuff they couldn’t get in places like Mechanicsville or Carver where I grew up. People who I guess, since even I was too young to know about that red scare stuff except you had to follow your teacher’s orders to put your head under your desk and hands neatly folded over your head if the nuclear holocaust was coming, were frankly fed up with the cultural straightjacket of the red scare Cold War times and began seriously looking as hard at roots in all its manifestations as our parents, definitely mine, yours were just weird about stuff like that, right, were burying those same roots under a vanilla existential Americanization. How do you like that for pop sociology 101.”

“One of the talents who was already there when hick Dylan came a calling, lived there, came from around there was the late Dave Van Ronk who as you know we had heard several times in person, although unfortunately when his health and well-being were declining not when he was a young politico and hell-raising folk aspirant. You know he also, deservedly, fancied himself a folk historian as well as musician.”    

“Here’s the funny thing, Laura, that former role is important because we all know that behind every  'king' is the 'fixer man,' the guy who knows what is what, the guy who tells one and all what the roots of the matter were like some mighty mystic (although in those days when he fancied himself a socialist that mystic part was played down). Dave Van Ronk was serious about that part, serious about imparting that knowledge about the little influences that had accumulated during the middle to late 1950s especially around New York which set up that folk minute. New York like I said, Frisco, maybe in small enclaves in L.A. and in precious few other places during those frozen times a haven for the misfits, the outlaws, the outcast, the politically “unreliable,” and the just curious. People like the mistreated Weavers, you know, Pete Seeger and that crowd found refuge there when the hammer came down around their heads from the red-baiters and others like advertisers who ran for cover to “protect” their precious soap, toothpaste, beer, deodorant or whatever they were mass producing to sell to a hungry pent-up market.  

"Boston and Cambridge by comparison until late in the 1950s when the Club 47 and other little places started up and the guys and gals who could sing, could write songs, could recite some be-bop deep from the blackened soul poetry even had a place to show their stuff instead of to the winos, rummies, grifters and con men who hung out at the Hayes-Bickford or out on the streets could have been any of the thousands of towns who bought into the freeze.”     

“Sweetie, I remember one time but I don’t remember where, maybe the CafĂ© Nana when that was still around after it had been part of the Club 47 folk circuit for new talent to play and before Harry Reid, who ran the place, died and it closed down, I know it was before we met, so it had to be before the late 1980s Von Ronk told a funny story, actually two funny stories, about the folk scene and his part in that scene as it developed a head of steam in the mid-1950s which will give you an idea about his place in the pantheon. During the late 1950s after the publication of Jack Kerouac’s ground-breaking road wanderlust adventure novel, On The Road, that got young blood stirring, not mine until later since I was clueless on all that stuff except rock and roll which I didn’t read until high school, the jazz scene, the cool be-bop jazz scene and poetry reading, poems reflecting off of “beat” giant Allen Ginsberg’s Howl the clubs and coffeehouse of the Village were ablaze with readings and cool jazz, people waiting in line to get in to hear the next big poetic wisdom guy if you can believe that these days when poetry is generally some esoteric endeavor by small clots of devotees just like folk music. The crush of the lines meant that there were several shows per evening. But how to get rid of one audience to bring in another in those small quarters was a challenge."

"Presto, if you wanted to clear the house just bring in some desperate “from hunger” snarly nasally folk singer for a couple, maybe three songs, and if that did not clear the high art be-bop poetry house then that folk singer was a goner. A goner until the folk minute of the 1960s where that very same folk singer probably in that very same club then played for the 'basket.' You know the 'passed hat' which even on a cheap date, and a folk music coffeehouse date was a cheap one in those days like I told you before and you laughed at cheapie me and the 'Dutch treat' thing, you felt obliged to throw a few bucks into to show solidarity or something.  And so the roots of New York City folk according to the 'father.'

Laura interrupted to ask if that “basket” was like the buskers put in front them these days and Sam said yes. And then asked Sam about a few of the dates he took to the coffeehouses in those days, just out of curiosity she said, meaning if she had been around would he have taken her there then. He answered that question but since it is an eternally complicated and internal one I having to do with where she stood in the long Sam girlfriend  pecking order (very high and leave it at that unless she reads this and then the highest) have skipped it to let him go on with the other Von Ronk story.

He continued with the other funny story like this-“The second story involved his [Von Ronk's] authoritative role as a folk historian who after the folk minute had passed became the subject matter for, well, for doctoral dissertations of course just like today maybe people are getting doctorates in hip-hop or some such subject. Eager young students, having basked in the folk moment in the abstract and with an academic bent, breaking new ground in folk history who would come to him for the 'skinny.' Now Van Ronk had a peculiar if not savage sense of humor and a wicked snarly cynic’s laugh but also could not abide academia and its’ barren insider language so when those eager young students came a calling he would give them some gibberish which they would duly note and footnote. Here is the funny part. That gibberish once published in the dissertation would then be cited by some other younger and even more eager students complete with the appropriate footnotes. Nice touch, nice touch indeed on that one, right.”

Laura did not answer but laughed, laughed harder as she thought about it having come from that unformed academic background and having read plenty of sterile themes turned inside out.       

As Laura laugh settled Sam continued “As for Van Ronk’s music, his musicianship which he cultivated throughout his life, I think the best way to describe that for me is that one Sunday night in the early 1960s I was listening to the local folk program on WBZ hosted by Dick Summer, who was influential in boosting local folk musician Tom Rush’s career and who was featured on that  Tom Rush documentary No Regrets we got for being members of WUMB, when this gravelly-voice guy, sounding like some old mountain pioneer, sang the Kentucky hills classic Fair and Tender Ladies. It turned out to be Von Ronk's version which you know I still play up in the third floor attic. After that I was hooked on that voice and that depth of feeling that he brought to every song even those of his own creation which tended to be spoofs on some issue of the day.”

Laura laughed at Sam and the intensity with which his expressed his mentioning of the fact that he liked gravelly-voiced guys for some reason. Here is her answer, “You should became when you go up to the third floor to do your “third floor folk- singer” thing and you sing Fair and Tender Ladies I hear this gravelly-voiced guy, sounding like some old mountain pioneer, some Old Testament Jehovah prophet come to pass judgment come that end day time.”
They both laughed. 

Laura then mentioned the various times that they had seen Dave Von Ronk before he passed away, not having seen him in his prime, when that voice did sound like some old time prophet, a title he would have probably secretly enjoyed for publicly he was an adamant atheist. Sam went on, “ I saw him perform many times over the years, sometimes in high form and sometimes when drinking too much high-shelf whiskey, Chavis Regal, or something like that not so good. Remember we had expected to see him perform as part of Rosalie Sorrels’ farewell concert at Saunders Theater at Harvard in 2002 I think. He had died a few weeks before.  Remember though before that when we had seen him for what turned out to be our last time and I told you he did not look well and had been, as always, drinking heavily and we agreed his performance was subpar. But that was at the end. For a long time he sang well, sang us well with his own troubadour style, and gave us plenty of real information about the history of American folk music. Yeah like he always used to say-'when the tin can bended …..and the story ended.'

As they came to the admission booth at the entrance to Crane’s Beach Sam with Carolyn Hester’s song version of Walt Whitman’s On Captain, My Captain on the CD player said “I was on my soap box long enough on the way out here. You’re turn with Carolyn Hester on the way back who you know a lot about and I know zero, okay.” Laura retorted, “Yeah you were definitely on your soap-box but yes we can talk Carolyn Hester because I am going to cover one of her songs at my next “open mic.” And so it goes.                      

The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(1956)-A Film Review

The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(1956)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring James Stewart, Doris Day, directed again (first time 1934) by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, 1956   

People, historians, especially counter-historians, often speculate if one little fact was changed then history would have taken a decisive turn the other way. You know stuff like if Hitler had been killed at the beer garden in Munich in 1923 or if Lenin could not have gotten back to Russia in the spring of 1917. That idea runs to the personal side of life as well, sometimes with strange results like being in the wrong place at the wrong time like the protagonists in the late Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s off-beat remake of his 1934 classic The Man Who Knew Too Much. So just like with great historical figures and events we can play the same game here what if Ben, played by Jimmy Stewart, Jo played by Doris Day and their young son had not been in heading from Casablanca to Marrakesh on some dusty woe begotten bus and run into a French intelligence agent whose dying words talked of an assassination plot against a big shot foreign dignity in bloody England.      

But, of course, they were and the chase was on from there ruining a perfectly respectable little family vacation and putting Ben and Jo on the edge-to speak nothing of their son who will eventually be kidnapped just because Ma and Pa knew too freaking much. Once the conspirators know they know what was what that young son’s life isn’t worth much, maybe. He is kidnapped to insure Ben and Jo’s silence. But they trace the party to London where the action gets hot and heavy and the conspiracy to kill the foreign big wigs in full gear. Except through keen analysis and some luck Ben and Jo figure out that the plot is going to be hatched, that dignitary is going to be killed while attending a symphony concert at Royal Albert Hall (where else). The long and short of it is that Ben and Jo discover where the kidnappers have taken their son, they struggle to get to him and eventually find out about the Royal Albert caper. They are able to foil the plot by a timely scream from Jo who sights the paid assassin as he attempts his dastardly work. After much ado their son is recovered and they can go on about their average American family life.

But let’s say that bigwig in the gunsights had been killed maybe there would have been another Sarajevo, 1914. There’s a little history in the conditional for you. See this one. It is better that the 1934 version which as Hitchcock himself is quoted as saying was the work of an inspired amateur and the 1956 was done by a master artist, a pro. And that is right.  

A Slice Of Teenage Life-Circa 1960s-With Myrna Loy And Cary Grant’s “The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer” In Mind

A Slice Of Teenage Life-Circa 1960s-With Myrna Loy And Cary Grant’s “The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer” In Mind    

By Guest Film Critic Prescott Blaine

[Prescott Blaine, now comfortably retired, comfortably for those editors, publishers and fellow writers particularly those who have tangled with him on the film criticism beats for the past forty years or so decided he just had to comment about his own growing up in the 1950s teenage life. I had done a short film review on a 1940s film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Cary Grant the bachelor to Shirley Temple’s bobby-soxer with Myrna Loy more well-known as the helpful detective in her own right wife Nora Charles opposite William Powell’s Nick in the seemingly never-ending The Thin Man series of the same decade. I had in passing mentioned my reasoning for even touching this piece of fluff. The key was in the title, or part of it, the “bobby-soxer” part which represented to my mind one of the key terms from teenage times in the 1940s where bobby-soxers were associated with the fast jitter-bugging set since those socks made it easier to traverse those slippery high school gym floor where sock hops have been held since, well, since they started having school dances to keep unruly and wayward kids in check. I figured I would get a low-down on what was what.

I had followed a false lead though since despite the enticing possibility that I would learn something about teenage life in the immediate post-World War II period the real thrust of the film was the inevitable romancing between Grant and Loy’s characters. I should have sensed that if goody-goody Shirley Temple was holding forth I would learn less about that decade’s teen concerns than if I had asked a surviving elderly uncle of mine.

Oh sure I did learn that girls went crazy for guys with “boss” cars, worried, worried somewhat about their reputations meaning worrying about being known as high school sluts and that they were as perfidious when the deal went down as the teenage girls in Prescott’s and my generation and probably now too. When I mentioned that to him one day in his office at the American Film Review where he still shows up occasionally to do pinch-hit work when the editor Ben Goldman needs a quick “think” piece to fill up an issue he laughed at me. Laughed at me foremost because of my, his term, sophomoric idea that you could learn anything about teen life in any age when you had certified stars like Grant and Loy tangling just short of the satin sheets and because it would not be until the 1980s when Hollywood produced some films based on S.E. Hinton’s novels that you would get anything like an informative look at a slice of real teen life.        

Follow me here to get an idea of what Mr. Blaine is like when he gets on his hobby-horse. From that “profound” (my quotation marks) comment he asked, I won’t say begged because Prescott is not like that most of the time, or at least he wasn’t in the old days, to let me use my space here to go back into his teenage days in the 1950s, the mid-1950s when rock and roll came running up the road (although we are near contemporaries my coming of age teenage time was about five years later and reflected a drought period in rock and roll which I filled in by “discovering” the blues). Needless to say since this piece has Prescott’s by-line he sold me on the idea-for one shot anyway. Below is what he wants to share about 1950s teenage culture-Sam Lowell]    

WTF Sam (a term I would not have used in my professional career in print and certainly not to start an article but as Sam has mentioned I am comfortably ensconced in retirement and besides I am playing on his dime) even a wet behinds the ears kid in the 1950s who didn’t figure out what was what until sometime in the mid-1960s knows that when the fresh breeze of rock and roll hit the planet the whole thing opened up the big three that was on every alive and awake teenager, teenage boy (the girls can speak for themselves but they will tell the same basic story) mind-drive-in theaters, drive-in restaurants and grabbing every loose girl not tied down. (Not literally but then we had a strange male-driven code honored I think more in the breech than the observance that if a girl had a guy that meant she was off-limits to other guys. Like I said honored in the breech much mother that the observance.)

WTF sex is what I am talking about because all three things were connected by a million threads, a million threats that made up  1950s teenage life (maybe now too but since drive-in movies and restaurants and maybe access to girls too depended on the golden age of the automobile car, borrowed or sweated for, which today’s youth are not nearly as enamored of, hell, some of them don’t even have driver’s licenses that premise may be questioned). Tie all that in with rock and roll and the rest of what I have to say makes total sense even to a guy like Sam.

A lot of what was what then had to do with corner boy life something that has for the most part gone by the boards between the rise of the malls (and “mall rats” a totally different thing than on the edge, quasi-illegal corner boy life reflecting certain hungers that never could be satisfied in a strictly legal way which the denizens of the mall do not exhibit since they are fixed up pretty well) and the totally bizarre actions of local police departments to hustle kids off the street corners on behalf of  local businessmen and satraps. Let’s face it the whole mix had to be cemented with dough, dough anyway we could get it, or we would still be standing on those forlorn corners (or doing time in some state or county institution).

Not to belabor the point but it bears notice it is amazing how much our waking hours, maybe dreaming hours too centered on girls (and those dreaming hours included the then forbidden talk about masturbation, about what Father Lally up at Sacred Heart Catholic Church called “touching” yourself but we all knew what he meant even if we were not quite sure what masturbation was and would have never dared asked parents about such an evil thing (according to Lally who would later be transferred out because he “touched” boys and girls and was an early figure of interest in the breakthrough Catholic priest abuse scandal that rocked  the archdiocese of Boston, via the spotlight from The Boston Globe). Nor would they have voluntarily or involuntarily been forthcoming about sex issues and so we learned most of it on the streets-mainly wrong or stupid.                 

There were some funny parts, maybe not funny at the time but funny now and stuff I want to tell about for the record since not only are we fading from the scene but the two- generation social media-driven gap between my growing up time and today is far greater than between box-soxers of the 1940s and the cashmere sweaters of the 1950s. A staple of existence then for poor boys especially was the weekly school and/or church dance since we could not afford other pay dances held in various locations for the progeny of the town swells. The dances although touted by the school and church authorities as keeping us youth from going over the edge on the rock and roll craze which they saw as just an episode, a fade really were our lifeline into social existence. (That Father Lally mentioned early used the dances for laying a trap for his prey as it turned out and more than one teacher chaperone at school dances got a little over the top when the girls came along looking all sexy and serene.)   They at least got us to bathe, shave if necessary, use deodorant, slick our hair and wear something other than cuff-less chinos or blue jeans since sports jackets and dress shirts were required.

But that was all social graces stuff. What we craved, what we spent the week day-dreaming and talking about was who we would dance with (or who would dance with us). Above all else who would we dance the last slow dance of the night with after our night’s efforts. Most of the music of the times, mercifully in many cases, was geared to fast dancing which meant each partner was more or less free to do their own gyrations and keep a safe distance from toes and other vulnerable body parts of that partner but the last dance was always a slow one, one that those “going steady” immediately got up and danced to, and others who had some prior arrangement as well.

That left those of us who had come stag, had been maybe wallflowers or some such designation were frantic. Frantic usually meaning that the girl you had been eyeing and/or talking up, the two were separate possibilities, all evening may or may not have accepted your offer of the last dance. That was critical because custom, custom going back who knows how long maybe back to booby-soxer days meant that you would leave the dance together and go to one of several possible places. Least desirable was to walk the girl home (all of those options by the way predicated on having NOT destroyed some feet or other body part during that close dance) and maybe cope a kiss, or a promise of a date (not always honored for lots of reasons including the obvious one of piecing you off with that promise). Most desirable was to go to the beach walking or riding as the case might have been or if riding going to the drive-in restaurant to hang out and have something to eat.

Each of the latter had its own protocols. If the beach then the obvious question was whether you would go to Squaw Rock or to the seawall. If the former that meant some heavy “necking” and “groping” (generally but not always permitted and one was expected to back off if not although you know…) and the latter then maybe a duck below the seawall so that parked cars couldn’t see that you were necking and/or groping. A question that bothered every guy, and my guys were not exception when were younger, before we got to the beach -walking or riding-was why all those cars were so fogged up late at night. By high school you knew exactly why and hoped beyond hope that you would be so lucky.

The drive-in also had its own protocol which involved money. The guy paid for the food and the girl put coins in the jukebox to while the time away. No one expected any heavy “petting” but maybe later at some lovers’ lane. The jukebox two-way deal was important and one guy had it down pat (after having seen a guy do the exact same thing in the classic High School Follies and which I found out later was done by lots of guys including a guy in Sam Lowell’s crowd who had it down to a science.) See most girls wanted to play dreamy stuff, romantic stuff where guys, me, wanted Jerry Lee or Chuck Berry so the girl had to be nudged toward those selections. I won’t go into details because every girl was different to approach on the subject but you can bet a least one song would be a fast one.

Bringing up the drive-in theater (and to a lesser extent the drive-in movies based on the same calculus) meant money, a few bucks anyway to pay for burgers and fries, soda, whatever. For poor boys like me (and for a whole stable of guys I have run into here and elsewhere this was a problem. I handled it with a suck-ass job of caddying for the country club guys on the weekends working my small ass off carrying two bags in the morning and two in the afternoon both Saturday and Sunday during the season. I know Sam who has written about it in this publication was in a crowd who did some pretty illegal stuff to get their kale. Nobody I know in any case had anything as exotic as an allowance so you had to dig up dough somehow or else stay by the midnight phone at home forlorn and deserted. The down side of 1950s rock and roll if you weren’t inventive enough to ride the tide. Yeah, that is it, that is what I wanted the reader to get a flavor of-ride the tide.       


Legendary Alternative Newspaper Folds-Longtime 'Village Voice' Columnist Michael Musto Mourns The Paper's Closure-And So Does "American Left History"

Longtime 'Village Voice' Columnist Michael Musto Mourns The Paper's Closure

NPR's Audie Cornish talks with Michael Musto, who wrote Village Voice's famous nightlife column for 30 years before he was laid off, and then returned in 2015 until the paper closed on Aug. 31.
Alternative weekly papers from San Francisco to Baltimore have struggled in recent years. And now one of the most storied of them all is shutting down altogether. The Village Voice in New York is no more.
The paper started in 1955 and counted Norman Mailer among its owners. Over the years, it groomed a staff of muckraking investigative journalists, top-notch music writers and Pulitzer Prize winners. Friday was its last day. Among its mourners is Michael Musto. He joined the paper in the mid-'80s and became known for his nightlife column "La Dolce Musto." He's on the line from New York. Welcome to the program.
CORNISH: So how are you feeling about the paper shutting down? Are you reaching out to other writers?
MUSTO: Well, yeah. We're all a family. I do feel it was inevitable. First of all, print journalism was declining through the years, and the Voice abandoned its print version last year and became Web-only. But I didn't even think, necessarily, the Web version would last that long, mainly because the underground and the alternative point of view has been subsumed by the mainstream.
When the Village Voice started, and even when I started in the '80s there, there wasn't cable TV, there wasn't Internet, there wasn't a plethora of media devoted to the underground and to alternative points of view about the culture and politics. That being said, it does leave a big hole because there is something very special about an alternative weekly, especially the Village Voice, which was the most legendary of alternative weeklies. There's something personal and passionate about the reportage. And there's something about the things they uncover in the culture that nobody else does.
CORNISH: Can you talk about your first column? What was it like?
MUSTO: Well, in 1984, they had an opening for an entertainment columnist. And I actually pitched myself, and they had me write a sample column as an audition, and they even paid me for it, which I thought was very professional. And I did a sort of melange of first-person reporting about nightclubs, movie premieres, Broadway and all sorts of things. And they liked it. That's just what they wanted. I had my finger on the pulse of all different entertainment venues that made New York City tick. And they gave me the column. I called it "La Dolce Musto" after the Fellini film "La Dolce Vita" about a gossip columnist, and also about a "Saturday Night Live" sketch called La Dolce Gilda with Gilda Radner.
And I had total freedom from the very beginning to run with it and just write whatever I wanted. I became more politicized, more openly gay as time went on - and really write whatever I want. There were no restrictions. We never had to worry about insulting an advertiser or being in bad taste or anything like that. We were just told to run with it. And that's the glory of an alternative weekly. It's a paper for the writers to express their voices.
CORNISH: Can you talk more about that? What kind of topics did the Village Voice cover that you feel, maybe, were ignored by other papers in the city?
MUSTO: Well, I would celebrate underground performance artists - drag queens, transgender performers - people that were not getting mainstream coverage at the time. This was way before, you know, drag queens had their own TV shows and there was all sorts of media about the underground.
The Village Voice also took a very liberal political point of view for the most part. And Wayne Barrett was a writer whose beat was basically going against Donald Trump way before he was in politics. And we would uncover a lot of stuff. It was a muckraking paper. It was a paper that uncovered things that nobody else was going near.
CORNISH: In the end, what do you consider its legacy, either in New York or beyond?
MUSTO: The legacy of the Village Voice is that, starting in 1955, it was daring. It was out there. It was in your face. We were not self-conscious writers. We were unself-conscious writers. And it was a paper for writers, and the readers responded to that. Nowadays, a lot of people would rather read a quick Facebook post or a short tweet than an actual article or column. And that's a shame because the Village Voice was about actual journalism as literature.
CORNISH: And can I ask, is there any way that you marked the end, or are going to?
MUSTO: No. I'm not very sentimental or anything, but I wrote for the website of the Voice till the very end. And I did an obituary of Aretha Franklin, and I'm not happy that Aretha passed, but I'm happy that my final piece for the Voice was a lovely tribute to the brilliance of Aretha Franklin. Two legends are gone, the Village Voice and Aretha.
CORNISH: Well, Michael Musto, thank you so much for remembering the paper with us. We appreciate it.
MUSTO: Thank you so much.
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