Saturday, December 29, 2018

***Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- Warren Smith’s “Rock And Roll Ruby”-A Story Goes With It

***Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- Warren Smith’s “Rock And Roll Ruby”

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


Well I took my Ruby jukin'
On the out-skirts of town
She took her high heels off
And rolled her stockings down
She put a quarter in the jukebox
To get a little beat
Everybody started watchin'
All the rhythm in her feet

She's my rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
Rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
When Ruby starts a-rockin'
Boy it satisfies my soul

Now Ruby started rockin' 'bout one o'clock
And when she started rockin'
She just couldn't stop
She rocked on the tables
And rolled on the floor
And Everybody yelled: "Ruby rock some more!"

She's my rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
Rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
When Ruby starts a-rockin'
Boy it satisfies my soul

It was 'round about four
I thought she would stop
She looked at me and then
She looked at the clock
She said: "Wait a minute Daddy
Now don't get sour
All I want to do
Is rock a little bit more"

She's my rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
Rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
When Ruby starts a-rockin'
Boy it satisfies my soul

One night my Ruby left me all alone
I tried to contact her on the telephone
I finally found her about twelve o'clock
She said: "Leave me alone Daddy
'cause your Ruby wants to rock"

She's my rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
Rock'n'roll Ruby, rock'n'roll
When Ruby starts a-rockin'
Boy it satisfies my soul
Rock, rock, rock'n'roll
Rock, rock, rock'n'roll
Rock, rock, rock'n'roll
Rock, rock, rock'n'roll
When Ruby starts a-rockin'
Boy it satisfies my soul
Nobody had seen Billie (William James Bradley for those who are sticklers for detail and, by the way, not Billy, not some billy-goat thing like the boys in first grade called him, called him the last time anybody did so and he made Billie stick, and you will call him that too unless you want more, much more, than you can handle from a wiry, deceptively strong guy) for a while, a few months anyway back then, back in the late 1950s. I had drifted away from his circle, his corner boy circle, when my family moved across town to the other side of Adamsville, North Adamsville a couple of years before. And when Billie got into some stuff, some larceny stuff, mainly “clipping” things (you know five-finger discount at jewelry stores and drugstores mainly to get his girls, that’s plural, not a typo, some pretty “gift” to show his Billie love), and stealing cars if you must know, and when I decided, decided almost at the last minute, that I wanted no part of that scene that pretty much ended our best friend friendship. I still kept in touch with him for about a year or so after that and then when he got into his new “jag,” robbing stores, gas stations and the like, through keeping in touch with others.

Rumor had it, and it was always rumor with Billie whether he was right in the room or got his fate reported by one of his boys, one of his legend-producing boys which definitely including me at one time (I was the fawning flak par excellence and would have made Tony Curtis’s Sydney Falco in the film Sweet Smell Of Success look like nothing but kid’s stuff with my Billie build-ups), that he was shacked up with some “broad.” I admit I did my fair share to build up the Billie legend but that’s all, he just naturally filled in the empty spaces, empty spaces that he hated, and that characteristic goes a long way in telling why we hadn’t heard from him for a while except through that rumor mill.

The rumor mill also had it, to fill in the particulars, that he had stolen some car, a classic hopped-up 1949 Nash owned by a tough guy, real tough guy, named “Blindside” Buckley (that moniker tells you all you need to know about that august gentleman just keep clear of him, alright. So that’s two hombres to stay clear of in this sketch) or something like that, or maybe it was that he had stolen one car, abandoned it, and had stolen another. Either way sounds about right. Stole the cars and was holed up somewhere with a honey, Lucy (description to follow), that he had met down at the Sea and Surf teen nightclub across from the Paragon Park Amusement Park in Nantasket, a few miles outside of the town limits of Adamsville. Now this honey, this Lucy honey, was a little older than Billie but, and like I say this is rumor, she jumped on him from minute one when he walked in the door, leaving the guy she was with looking kind of stupid. And in the scheme of things he was probably prepared to commit mayhem on Billie (no brother, bad move, bad career, hell, bad life move).

Billie, no question, was a good-looking guy, was a real good dancer and, best of all, he had a great voice, a great rock and roll voice, that fit nicely, very nicely into the music that we were all listening to, listening to like crazy, on our little transistor radios back in the 1950s, mostly late 1950s. So maybe, for all I know, Lucy had heard Billie sing, sing at one of the two billion talents shows that he was always entering in order, as he constantly said, to win his fame and fortune. Like I said he was good, good at covering Top Forty stuff, but just short, just a short, I guess, of making that “projects” jail break-out move that he was always confident would occur once the talent guys heard him, really heard. At some point that dream faded like a lot of projects dreams faded early and hence his alternative career as a stick-up man.

And this honey, this red-headed Lucy, a luscious red-lipped honey was, reportedly, just the exact kind of honey that Billie dreamed of grabbing for his own. Great shape (great shape then meaning all fill-out curves and leggy legs, or something like that), great boffo hair (dark red, an obviously Irish girl), kittenly sexy, and most importantly ready to go all night whether dancing, doing this and that (figure it out, okay), or helping plan some caper. Just the kind of girl the priests and parents of even the projects neighborhood were always warning us against but which we boys still secretly dreamed of running up against, dreamed of hard. Yah, this Lucy was just Billie’s action, just his catnip. And so when I first heard that rumor, that Billie holed- up and out of sight rumor, I said yah, that seemed about right.

See Billie one night, one twelve- year old summer night, down in back of old Adamsville South Elementary School where we used to hang out because that was the only real hang-out place around, and talk, talk of futures, talk of dreams just like everybody else, every twelve- year old everybody else Billie kind of laid the whole thing out for us. He was going to parlay his singing voice, his rock and roll singing voice, into fame and fortune and when his ship came in he was going to search for his rock and roll soul-mate. He didn’t put it just this way but the idea was to get the hottest, sexiest, dancing-est girl around and sail off into the sunset leaving that dust of the projects behind, way behind.

So it looked like Billie had one part of his dream coming true, although being on the lam, being big time on the lam, from the cops, the owner of that hopped-up classic 1949 Nash, and maybe even that guy Lucy left looking stupid, take your choice, wasn’t part of the description back in those twelve- year old summer nights. But being sixteen, being in some dough, and being with the rock and roll queen of the seaside night still seems like a bargain worth having made with whatever devil Billie needed to consult to pull the caper off. Hell, it makes me think that maybe I made a mistake moving away from Billie’s orbit. But just call that a rumor too in case any cops are around, alright. Anyway, my reaction was now that Billie was holed up, any girls, red-headed or otherwise, who wanted to dance the night away please just call out my name. Hey, I could dream too.

***From The Archives-On The Centenary Of Tennessee Williams' Birthday-Homage To The Outsider- Some Of The Work Of Playwright Tennessee Williams

***From The Archives-On The Centenary Of Tennessee Williams' Birthday-Homage To The Outsider- Some Of The Work Of Playwright Tennessee Williams

Friday, June 10, 2011

On The Centenary Of Tennessee Williams' Birthday-Homage To The Outsider- Some Of The Work Of Playwright Tennessee Williams

From  American Left History - Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homage To The Outsider- The Work Of Playwright Tennessee Williams

Play/DVD Reviews

Enough Mendacity To Sink A Ship

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

The first couple of paragraphs here have been used as introduction to other plays written by Tennessee Williams and reviewed in this space. This review applies to both the stage play and the film versions with differences noted as part of the review

Perhaps, as is the case with this reviewer, if you have come to the works of the excellent American playwright Tennessee Williams through adaptations of his plays to commercially distributed film you too will have missed some of the more controversial and intriguing aspects of his plays that had placed him at that time along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller as America’s finest serious playwrights. Although some of the films have their own charms I want to address the written plays in this entry first (along with, when appropriate, commentary about Williams’ extensive and detailed directing instructions).

That said, there are certain limitations for a political commentator like this reviewer on the works of Williams. Although his plays, at least his best and most well-known ones, take place in the steamy South or its environs, there is virtually no acknowledgement of the race question that dominated Southern life during the period of the plays; and, for that matter was beginning to dominate national life. Thus, although it is possible to pay homage to his work on its artistic merits, I am very, very tentative about giving fulsome praise to that work on its political merits. With that proviso Williams nevertheless has created a very modern stage on which to address social questions at the personal level, like homosexuality, incest and the dysfunctional family that only began to get addressed widely well after his ground-breaking work hit the stage.

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is a prime example of the contradiction that a radical commentator is placed in. The themes of duplicity, latent homosexuality, adultery and dysfunctional families topped off by more than enough mendacity to sink a ship are the stuff of social drama that NEED to be addressed as outcomes in the modern capitalist cultural sphere. However, in the end nothing really gets resolved truthfully here. Old 1950’s-style All-American boy Brick, the ‘great white hope’ of the family, may or may not sober up after the ‘lost’ of his dear friend and fellow football player, Skipper. Saucy and sexy wife Maggie (the cat) may or may not really get pregnant by Brick and save the family heritage for him, or die trying. The only certainty, despite all that above-mentioned mendacity, is that Big Daddy is going to die and that 28,000 acres of the finest land in the Delta is going to need new management, either Brick, brother Goober (along with his scheming wife and their ‘lovely brood’ of children) or some upstart. Off of these possible outcomes, however, I would not get too worked up about the final outcome.

In the movie version, done in the 1950’s as well, which starred the recently departed excellent actor Paul Newman as Brick and a fetching Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the question of Brick’s possible homosexual relationship with Skipper is far more muted than in the play. The implicit question seems to concern Brick’s fading youth, his search for perfect meaning to life in Mississippi and that one’s existential crisis can be eliminated by reliance on the bottle. The relationship between the dying Big Daddy and his ever suffering wife, Big Mama, is less dastardly than in the play as well. The scheming Goober and wife and family and those ‘lovely’ children, however, run true to form. My sense of the movie, unlike the deeper issues of the play, is that a few therapy sessions would put old Brick back on the right track. The play was far less hopeful in that regard.

The Fickle Bird Of Youth

The Sweet Bird Of Youth, Three Plays of Tennessee Williams, New Directions Books, New York, 1959

“Sweet Bird Of Youth” is another case in point. Not for the first time, a seemingly 1950s style All- American boy, Chance, who has left his hometown, his home town girl and his roots behind to drift in that endless spiral toward fame- Hollywood and the movies, naturally- comes back to claim what is his by right. On this little hometown reunion Chance is in the service of one aging and fretful actress who has her own issues with that elusive ‘bird of youth.’ On his return to town it appears that Chance has stirred up a hornet’s nest with the local political establishment in the person of one red-neck preacher turned politician in order to better do “god’s work”, old Tom Findley. The object of this dispute is one Heavenly Findley, old Ton’s daughter and Chance’s left behind paramour who is now the subject of some scandal (due to the amorphously stated need for female-related medical treatment, an abortion, due to Chance’s irresponsibility). Along the way we get to see how political power is distributed in a small Southern town as well as the inevitable tempting of the fates by Chance in order to win the ‘brass ring’ before it is too late (apparently somewhere over thirty, by my reckoning). At play’s end though, where he is between a rock and a hard place, Chance may not get the chance to be Chance at thirty. Oh, that fickle bird of youth. Still, Chance, go for it.

In the movie version the recently departed excellent actor Paul Newman, a classic example of a 1950’s All-American boy type (among his other acting talents), as the movie star ‘wannabe’ and Geraldine Page as the aging actress recreated their stage performances although with a greater screen presence for Ms. Page. Moreover, Chance’s strivings to reconnect with Heavenly are more central to the plot. More importantly, the endings differ in that, despite some mauling by Tom Findley’s boys Chance takes my advice from the play version and runs, with Heavenly, just as far and as fast as his now aging legs can carry him.

Waiting For A Sign

The Rose Tattoo, Three Plays of Tennessee Williams, New Directions Books, New York, 1959

“The Rose Tattoo” is a little different look at the family. Although the geography of the play is still the American South this play is not peopled with Williams’ usually WASP-ish characters but rather a little conclave of immigrant Italians who have somehow made a beachhead in the Gulf Coast area. The central character is a previously abandoned but now widowed Italian seamstress trying to survive, mainly through her hopes for her daughter, on her wits, her memories of youth, her integrity and her fierce instinct to survive in alien territory. A philandering husband, the obsessive subject of her adoration, a daughter trying to learn to fly on her own in the love game, and an incidental encounter with a fellow, younger Italian truck driver come together to give her the sign she needs to start over. Maybe. This play, more than most of Williams’ efforts, depends on the strength of the dialogue and not the plot line. That is what gives its dramatic edge as Williams explores yet another tangled up dream gone awry story.

In the movie version, the role of the young Italian truck driver as played by Burt Lancaster and the seamstress as played by the fabulous Anna Magnini is more central to the unfolding story from the beginning. The dramatic tensions between this pair and the ‘waiting for a sign’ by the seamstress are still fairly similar. It is however Lancaster’s enhanced role that really makes this a visual treat and gives one hope that this new family ‘aborning’ can survive.

Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Orpheus Descending, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

On reading “Orpheus Descending”, Williams’ take on the old Greek legend in modern garb I was struck by the similarity in the character of the Orpheus figure, Val ,and Nelson Algren’s Dove Linkhorn in “ A Walk On The Wild Side.” Both are loners, outsiders, have checkered pasts and are ready for anything from deep romantic love to murder and mayhem. And because they are capacity of that range of emotions and reactions they are also as capable of getting burned by a complacent society that does not take kindly to those that it cannot control. Val drifts into town, gets a job at a store owned by the enigmatic Lady and then the wheels begin to turn and to deal out his fate. Could he have stopped and turned away? Although that is a question that drives many dramatic efforts it is not always resolvable in a play- or in life. Lady’s terminally ill husband lurks in the background with nothing to lose, once the romantic sparks start to fly. I do not understand why this play was not more successful in its earlier manifestations as was pointed out in the introduction, especially as this is a culture that has made space, if only grudgingly, for the outsider to tempt the fates if only symbolically.

The Sweet Bird Of Youth Gone Awry

Suddenly Last Summer, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

“Suddenly Last Summer is an odd little beauty of a play. Odd in that the appetites of the main (unseen in the play) character Sebastian seem to be both beyond the pale and obsessive. Odd, also that his protective monster of a mother is determined to keep the truth about her “genius” son from the world even after his ‘untimely’ death ……last summer. As if to add fuel to the fire of an already bizarre tale of exploitation, sexual and otherwise, Sebastian’s beautiful lure of a cousin used as bait for Sebastian’s appetites is to be permanently taken out of the picture in order to keep this world beautiful. Nobody believes the sordid tale she has to tell about dear cousin Sebastian. The play ends with the ‘hope’ that there may actually be someone to believe the girl’s story before she becomes one more sacrifice to ‘beauty’ in the world. Frankly, old Sebastian got what was coming to him over in the islands.

In the movie version, the stories that have to be told verbally in the play get told as flashbacks as well. Katherine Hepburn is in high dudgeon as Sebastian’s mother and ‘keeper of the flame’. Montgomery Clift is a more sober, somber and searcher for the truth psychiatrist than the one in the play and Elizabeth Taylor is the beautiful lure cousin is a mass of confusions whose memories of last summer have to be erased ….some way. Old Sebastian and his twisted sense of life and his place in history is still a guy who had it coming to him. Well, he did, didn’t he?

Smokestack Lightning, Indeed- With Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf In Mind

Smokestack Lightning, Indeed- With Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf In Mind

By Lance Lawrence  

[As of December 1, 2017 under the new regime of Greg Green, formerly of the on-line American Film Gazette website, brought in to shake things up a bit after a vote of no confidence in the previous site administrator Peter Markin was taken among all the writers at the request of some of the younger writers abetted by one key older writer, Sam Lowell, the habit of assigning writers solely to specific topics like film, books, political commentary, and culture is over. Also over is the designation of writers in this space, young or old, by job title like senior or associate. After a short-lived experiment by Green designating everybody as “writer” seemingly in emulation of the French Revolution’s “citizen” or the Bolshevik Revolution’s “comrade” all posts will be “signed” with given names only. The Editorial Board]

[Although I am a much younger writer I today stand in agreement with Bart Webber and Si Lannon, older writers who I admire and whom I have learned a lot from about how to keep it short and sweet but in any case short on these on-line sites. Originally I had agreed with both men as far as Phil Larkin’s, what did, Si call them, yes, rantings about heads rolling, about purges and would have what seems like something out of Stalin’s Russia from what I have read about that regime were  dubious at best. Now I am not so sure as I have heard other younger writers rather gleefully speaking around the shop water cooler about moving certain unnamed writers out to pasture-finally in the words of one of them.

In any case the gripe the former two writers appropriateness of this disclaimer above or whatever it purports to be by the "victorious" new regime headed by Greg Green and his so- called Editorial Board is what I support. As Bart first mentioned, I think, if nothing else this disclaimer has once again pointed told one and all, interested or not, that he, they have been “demoted.”  That I too as Si pointed out while I chafed as an Associate Book Critic and didn’t like it am now just another Everyman. Although this is the first time I have had the disclaimer above my article I plead once should be enough, more than enough.

In the interest of transparency I was among the leaders, among the most vociferous leaders, of what has now started to come down in the shop as urban legend “Young Turks” who fought tooth and nail both while Alan Jackson (aka Peter Paul Markin as blog moniker for reasons never made clear, at least to me) was in charge and essentially stopping young writer developing their talents and when we decided that Allan had to go, had to “retire.” (I am sure Phil Larkin will take those innocent quotation marks as definite proof that Allan was purged although maybe I should reevaluate everything he has said in a new light.) But I agree with Bart and Si’s sentiment that those on the “losing” end in the fierce no-holds barred internal struggle had taken their "beating" and have moved on as far as I can tell. That fact should signal the end of this embarrassing and rather provocative disclaimers. Done. Lance Lawrence}    

Sometimes a picture really can be worth a thousand words, a thousand words and more as in the case Howlin’ Wolf doing his Midnight creep in the photograph above taken from an album of his work but nowadays with the advances in computer technology and someone’s desire to share also to be seen on sites such as YouTube where you can get a real flavor of what that mad man was about when he got his blues wanting habits on. In fact I am a little hesitate to use a bunch of words describing Howlin’ Wolf in high gear since maybe I would leave out that drop of perspiration dripping from his overworked forehead and that salted drop might be the very thing that drove him that night or describing his oneness with his harmonica because that might cause some karmic funk. So, no, I am not really going to go on and on about his midnight creep but when the big man got into high gear, when he went to a place where he sweaty profusely, a little ragged in voice and eyes all shot to hell he roared for his version of the high white note. Funny, a lot of people, myself for a while included, used to think that the high white note business was strictly a jazz thing, maybe somebody like the “Prez” Lester Young or Duke’s Johnny Hodges after hours, after the paying customers had had their fill, or what they thought was all those men had in them, shutting the doors tight, putting up the tables leaving the chairs for whoever came by around dawn, grabbing a few guys from around the town as they finished their gigs and make the search, make a serious bid to blow the world to kingdom come. Some nights they were on fire at blew that big note out in to some heavy air and who knows where it landed, most nights though it was just “nice try.” One night I was out in Frisco when “Saps” McCoy blew a big sexy sax right out the door of Chez Benny’s over in North Beach when North Beach was just turning away from be-bop “beat” and that high white, I swear, blew out to the bay and who knows maybe all the way to the Japan seas. But see if I had, or anybody had, thought about it for a minute jazz and the blues are cousins, cousins no question so of course Howlin’ Wolf blew out that high white note more than once, plenty including a couple of shows I caught him at when he was not in his prime.         
The photograph (and now video) that I was thinking of is one where he is practically eating the harmonica as he performs How Many More Years (and now like I say thanks to some thoughtful archivist you can go on to YouTube and see him doing his devouring act in real time and in motion, wow, and also berating father Son House for showing up drunk). Yes, the Wolf could blast out the blues and on this one you get a real appreciation for how serious he was as a performer and as blues representative of the highest order.
Howlin’ Wolf like his near contemporary and rival Muddy Waters, like a whole generation of black bluesmen who learned their trade at the feet of old-time country blues masters like Charley Patton, the aforementioned Son House who had his own personal fight with the devil, Robert Johnson who allegedly sold his soul to the devil out on Highway 61 so he could get his own version of that high white note, and the like down in Mississippi or other southern places in the first half of the twentieth century. They as part and parcel of that great black migration (even as exceptional musicians they would do stints in the sweated Northern factories before hitting Maxwell Street) took the road north, or rather the river north, an amazing number from the Delta and an even more amazing number from around Clarksville in Mississippi right by that Highway 61 and headed first maybe to Memphis and then on to sweet home Chicago.  
They went where the jobs were, went where the ugliness of Mister James Crow telling them sit here not there, walk here but not there, drink the water here not there, don’t look at our women under any conditions and on and on did not haunt their every move (although they would find not racial Garden of Eden in the North, last hired, first fired, squeezed in cold water flats too many to a room, harassed, but they at least has some breathing space, some room to create a little something they could call their won and not Mister’s), went where the big black migration was heading after World War I. Went also to explore a new way of presenting the blues to an urban audience in need of a faster beat, in need of getting away from the Saturday juke joint acoustic country sound with some old timey guys ripping up three chord ditties to go with that jug of Jack Flash’s homemade whiskey (or so he called it).
So they, guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, Johnny Shines, and James Cotton prospered by doing what Elvis did for rock and rock and Bob Dylan did for folk and pulled the hammer down on the old electric guitar and made big, big sounds that reached all the way back of the room to the Red Hat and Tip Top clubs and made the max daddies and max mamas jump, make some moves. And here is where all kinds of thing got intersected, as part of all the trends in post-World War II music up to the 1960s anyway from R&B, rock and roll, electric blues and folk the edges of the music hit all the way to then small white audiences too and they howled for the blues, which spoke to some sense of their own alienation. Hell, the Beatles and more particularly lived to hear Muddy and the Wolf. The Stones even went to Mecca, to Chess Records to be at one with Muddy. And they also took lessons from Howlin’ Wolf himself on the right way to play Little Red Rooster which they had covered and made famous in the early 1960s (or infamous depending on your point of view since many radio stations including some Boston stations had banned it from the air originally).Yes, Howlin’ Wolf and that big bad harmonica and that big bad voice that howled in the night did that for a new generation, pretty good right.  

When The Bolsheviks Went Into The Trenches To Stop Russian Continued Participation In World War I, Circa 1917

When The Bolsheviks Went Into The Trenches To Stop Russian Continued Participation In World War I, Circa 1917

By Lance Lawrence    

[Sam when he was telling the story, Frank Jackman’s story, to his longtime companion Laura who knew some of the outline of Frank’s military service,  had to bring her up to speed on some of the specifics which the reader may as well be interested in although Frank a few years early had written a detailed summary of the whole affair for the Progressive Nation magazine when they were doing a series on Vietnam veterans and wanted the perspective of an anti-war soldier who while in the military became a military resister. (While every serious civilian peace activist then, or now, honors those who “got religion” as Sam likes to call it on the issues of war and peace after their military service was completed the military is the special category that marks off this story from theirs.) 

Here in quick outline is what Sam told Laura. Frank had been drafted in 1969 in the heart of the Vietnam War, had allowed himself to be inducted with a slight anti-war feeling but not enough to do anything else about so accepted induction in the Army. (Sam, just to set the record straight had been drafted in 1968 had served a year, actually thirteen months with a month R&R in Hawaii, in Vietnam as an 11 Bravo, an infantryman, a grunt, “cannon-fodder” as Frank would say, and saw other do, and he did things which still cause restless nights.)  

About three days into basic training down south down in notorious Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia which all recruits go through Frank realized that he had made a big mistake, a very big mistake, since whatever seemingly slight anti-war feeling he had previously expressed had actually been a pretty powerful opposition to war but only had been awakened by the actual experience of Army life. Frank would always tip his hat later to those draft resisters who had formed their powerful opposition to war before facing induction and under the threat of several years of federal prison. Nevertheless, being no place where he could seek help and not sure what help he needed he went through both basic training and, and this is important, Advanced Infantry Training, the same training that Sam had gone through about a year earlier, meaning training as an infantryman, grunt, “cannon-fodder” as he came to call it. That meant no question in the post-Tet summer of 1969 when the Army was desperate for replacements after suffering heavy casualties and the only place on the good green planet when 11 Bravo skills were in anything like serious demand was in Southeast Asia orders to Vietnam. At the end of that training with a month’s leave before reporting to Fort Lewis, Washington for transit that was exactly what happened.                     

While home, still not sure what he was going to do, he got in touch with the Quakers up in Cambridge who he had found out were doing counselling for G.I.s in exactly his situation. The option presented which applied to him out of several not good paths to choose from, after a technical AWOL (absent without leave, a no no) to get dropped from the rolls for not reporting to Fort Lewis, was to turn himself in at the nearest Army post which was at Fort Devens out in Ayer, Massachusetts and apply for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. A long shot as the counsellor made clear but the route he had to follow if he expected relief. At that time the Army was turning down virtually all such applications whatever basis for the beliefs, sincere or not. Frank was turned down on the basis of his Catholic just war theory and moral and ethical objections none of which then were viable as reasons for discharge, and as the next step the Quakers had gotten him a lawyer who was very interested in testing these kind of Army turndowns in federal court on writs of habeas corpus. That was one strand of the Frank case which in the end would be the way that he got out of the Army via granting of a writ in civilian court and received an honorable discharge as a result since the court ruled the Army had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in turning down his admittedly sincere application.   

The other more important strand, the one which makes sense of why Frank startled Sam by affirming his pride in what he had done in the military one night soon after he had gotten out and more recently reconfirmed several weeks ago was his increasing commitment to the cause of peace, to stopping the massacres in Vietnam. One day he decided not without feelings of extreme anxiety to join a demonstration those Quakers from Cambridge were putting on at the front gates to the fort. During the duty day and in uniform both illegal. That action lead to his first special court-martial where he drew and served a six month sentence, or rather almost six months with a couple of weeks chopped off for good conduct. Sam had to Laura explained some of the specific details of that case previously about how the military authorities pretty high up in the fort conspired to try to ship him off under guard to Fort Lewis for transit to Vietnam something that
was only averted by a time temporary restraining order from that federal court in Boston. Also explained how Frank in his defense of his actions in open court had read into the record Bob Dylan’s searing Masters of War which drove the judges apoplectic.  

Stockade sentence one down Frank had clearly what he called “gotten religion” about war and peace during this whole process and almost immediately after he got out one Monday morning early on the weekly parade field where everybody lined up he came storming out of the barracks in civilian clothes carrying a sign “Bring The Troops Home.” That brought a second Special court-martial in which he drew another six month sentencing serving almost all of it before the writ of habeas corpus came through releasing him from the Army’s clutches. Otherwise Frank had mentioned one time he might still be in the stockade the way he was feeling and the Army was obliging him in his determination to break the chains holding him to the Army.
Another night Frank would tell Sam and some other friends that after he first turned himself in long before he served serious time he had felt relieved of the fear that troubles most people into thinking twice about doing what their heart tells them to do for fear of incarceration. He, not having been entangled with the law previously had had to stay in a naval prison cell in Boston subsequently a State Police holding cell before being transported to a short pre-trial detainment cell in the post stockade, after turning himself in as an AWOL. That very few days of initial imprisonment acted as a catalyst since a lot of the fear of jail time, which is nevertheless hard time to do no matter what anybody says, is a fear of the unknown and of stories heard from childhood about not doing this or that unless you wanted to wind up behind bars where they might lock you up and throw away the keys. The first taste relieves that anxiety. He made everybody laugh that night when he related how every freaking dumb-ass drill sergeant in basic training and AIT would warn their charges that any willful misconduct would wind them up in Fort Leavenworth, the maximum security hard-ass hard time place for the incorrigible. After surviving that first small bout, that mere taste Frank recalled that he would keep repeating to anybody who would listen- “hey, what do you want to do wind up in Leavenworth” when they threatened to put him away for keeps. A strange way to lose your fear of being locked up in the slammer but a nice cautionary tale. Lance Lawrence]

You never know, especially if you have lived in this wicked old world long enough, when some ancient memory long buried will come up and bite you. Not literally but make you sit up and take notice nevertheless. Take the case of one Frank Jackman, a writer, something of an inventor, and for our purposes one of those guys whom he, when in writing mode, has called a member in good standing of the Generation of ’68, a turbulent war time, roller coaster of emotion time which deeply formed many a baby-boomer. Oh yes and for our purposes since we will be speaking of war and what the hell to do about stopping it as we approach the final year of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the so-called war to end all wars, a full-fledged Army veteran. A veteran of a certain type not to be found in the cheap dollar a hard liquor drink bars adjacent to your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting hall.        

This is the way Frank told Sam Lowell, a friend from high school down in North Adamsville, south of Boston also a veteran but of the more traditional type, except also minus the cheap bar stuff one night over a couple of drinks at The Grotto in downtown Boston near the Seaport District. (A story Sam would tell his longtime companion Laura, Laura Perkins as well after setting up the story with a brief Frank Jackman introduction outlined above.) Frank had, as mentioned previously, startled Sam by opening up the conversation with a statement that he had always been understatedly proud of his Army record, what he had done for the cause of peace in his very small individual way, when, using old familiar language from their growing up poor Acre section of town, the deal went down. (Sam had automatically thought after hearing that sentiment that Frank should be rather than understatedly have been “understandably” proud of that record wishing he had done something similar when he time had come to face his demons.)

Sam was a bit confused by Frank’s comment nevertheless since while both men were Army veterans and whatnot they seldom of late had talked about those experiences much less what lessons Frank as the more political type of the two had drawn from that experience. He asked Frank why he had brought up that point since they long ago had agreed that Frank had done the right thing during his Army time (and that Sam to his everlasting regret had not but nobody pushed that point then or now). What had caused that recollection to surface once more was a recent “controversy,” what Sam usually called “a tempest in a teapot” when whatever the problem was it was minor in the great scheme of things. This would prove the case as well but Sam could see where Frank would be incensed by the implications of what went as a result of that minor event in the great scheme of things.

Of all things almost fifty years later the big deal was over Frank’s discharge, his official DD214 which for all military personnel is the summation of one’s service time and discharge. What enabled you to be called veteran by friend and foe alike, and what entitled you to certain governmental benefits reserved for those in veteran status. If you can believe this would come up with what you already know from above about whether he was even a veteran. Sam gasped in disbelief but held up comment because he wanted every gory detail of this charge.

Both men, each from a different place but each having “gotten religion” on the issues of war and peace, began shortly after Frank’s discharge which was later than Sam’s to work with various anti-war veteran groups like the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Sam did that kind of work for a while and even today if Frank asks him he will show up at an anti-war rally against American aggression in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or the ever-growing threat of war in places like Iran and North Korea. But mostly he was bogged down with work, with three ex-wives and a parcel of kids who almost broke him with college tuition and left the politics to Frank. Frank as well would have periods of political inactivity due to a lot of the same reasons Sam had except he would stick with it more for the long haul-those periods of inactivity he called an “un-armed truce” with the war-monger. Particularly Frank (and Sam for a longer while than usual having finally gotten that parcel of well-behaved kids through college which had nearly broken him having a little more free time) became incensed and energized over the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Iraq invasion of 2003 and wound up joining the local chapter of another veteran’s peace group, Veterans Peace Action (VPA), in Boston. And that is where “the rubber hit the road” as one of Sam’s expensively-trained at his almost breaking point expense college boys would say.      

Frank, as anybody who read the introduction could see a mile away, once he is committed to something is in “all the way.” That was his approach to VPA once he decided to join up. That joining up process as previously with VVAW and other later organizational affiliations meaning no paper membership but an activist’s commitment and for a few years, several years actually, there was no problem, no political problem. When Frank had joined he had specifically joined the local VPA chapter since there was an option to join the local, the national organization or both. He opted for the local since he felt, and still feels that the national organization is something that he would be merely a paper member of which did not interest him in the least. Things seemed okay until a local member with ties the national organization who let’s call him as Frank did “the Inquisitor-General” began an individual campaign a few years ago directed mainly at Frank declaring that he was not a member of VPA since he has not, had never, paid dues to National (he did faithfully to the local chapter as well as contribute extra funds for various campaigns another usual step when he was “all in”). The Inquisitor-General as it turned out was right when Frank checked that matter out. Was right as far as that fact went although the local held to its long-time which was reaffirmed in their subsequently enacted by-laws that one could be a local member without being a National member as long as one, with various hardship exceptions, paid local dues. Mostly bureaucratic hokum as the whole thing drifted like smoke from his mind.

Not so the Inquisitor-General (let’s call him to save cyberspace I-G for simplicity’s sake hereafter). He would periodically badger Frank about his “non-membership” usually via e-mail since while the I-G may have been an organization stickler he played other than poster child “thorn in the side” no active role in the local organization. Had his base of support to the extent that he had any in the national office VPA bureaucracy.  Then about a year ago the I-G amped up his campaign, decided for his own nefarious reasons or his own delusions, or maybe both, that if Frank didn’t apply for National VPA membership which required proof of military discharge, that vaunted DD214 that he was “hiding” something ( that proof of discharge a requirement of the local chapter as well but being a looser not as well organized volunteer organization with fewer resources and less procedural hurtles had never asked Frank, or many others for that matter, for discharge papers upon becoming members). He was hiding something, something nefarious in a veterans’ organization of any stripe, that he was possibility not a veteran. Frank sensing a twisted turn in events in order to protect himself had quickly contacted the State Adjutant-General’s Office to get a copy of his discharge since he no longer had a copy at home. A few days later it came via e-mail and he forwarded that copy to the local executive committee which was the appropriate place to verify his status under normal circumstances. End of story as Sam was famous for saying.

Not quite, actually not by a long shot. The I-G as far as Frank could tell never pressed the issue further that year. Several weeks ago the I-G again pressed the issue not only to Frank but to the Executive Committee once again defaming Frank as possibility not a veteran. The executive committee or the members who overlapped from the previous year told the I-G that they had seen Frank’s discharge and that was that. As you now know that was not the case. The I-G essentially defaming the committee in the process wanted a copy of the discharge which he as a merely marginal member of the local VPA was emphatically not entitled to view for privacy reasons among others. He kept up a drumbeat including to Frank to produce the DD214 although Frank had a long-standing policy of not responding to anything from the I-G for any reason after few blow-outs a few years previously. On this particular issue Frank was adamant that he needed no “good conduct certificate” by the I-G (or any other entity including the local and National branches of VPA) as a stand-up anti-war soldier. Without going further into the silly rather continuously repetitive details at some point not yet concluded the Executive Committee started expulsion proceedings against the I-G and Frank has retained a lawyer to begin a defamation suit in Massachusetts court.           
During this whole nightmarish Kafkaesque/1984 process Frank had a chance to think through not only his pride in his individual actions against the American war machine during the Vietnam War but his changing attitude not toward the personal actions themselves but to their effectiveness. That is in a sense the real reason, if one was necessary since the question of discharge for him was finished the day he received his discharge back in February of 1971, Frank had kept his personal history “on the low” as they say in another context. That leads us finally to the title of this piece, the why of the Bolshevik way to stopping war in its tracks at the soldier, grunt, cannon-fodder on the ground.        

You see, and the first time Sam heard Frank mention this he freaked out, Frank has come to believe that pride or not he should have when ordered to Vietnam gone there and seen what he as an anti-war soldier could do to stop the war “in the trenches” taking a phrase from World War I. His later model the Bolsheviks, at that 1969 time their anti-war policies unknown to him, who Frank thought correctly ordered their male members if inducted or dragooned into the Czarist armies to accept that induction under penalty of expulsion from the organization (a policy of later Bolshevik-descended organizations including the Communist and Socialist Workers parties in their better days in the United States).

Not for the Bolsheviks the refusal of the draft notice as occurred in America with wide-spread refusal on an individual basis. Refusal by the kind of politically adept young men whom if they had been inducted and accepted orders to Vietnam en masse could have perhaps shifted the balance. Shifted it even more drastically than in the actual case where the American Army in Vietnam in 1969 no end in sight, no victory in sight, nothing but useless deaths in sight was half-mutinous. Had, as individual soldiers Frank met in VVAW and VPA would confirm from refusal to go beyond the minimum ordered march to FTA on their helmets to laying wasted under marijuana and other refined killer drugs. Was an army even to, maybe especially to, the top generals, a spent force and which would take an all- volunteer and several years to put back into fighting trim.

Such actions by those young men, by Frank, might have shortened the war by years. Of course such speculation would depend on whether such numbers would have been permitted to go, whether in Frank’s individual case he would have landed in a unit that would listen to him, whether he might like many others have landed in mutinous Long Binh Jail (LBJ). One thing Frank knew as this 100th anniversary of the last year of the First World War was coming into focus collective action beat individual acts of conscience six, two and even. He laughed as he thought about how insignificant the I-G’s nonsense mattered in the great scheme of things except he had to be stopped in his tracks like any other miserable wannbe big fish in a little pond. Some things never change.       

Pop-Up Reflections On The Poor People's Rally And March In Washington, D.C. on June 23, 2018

Pop-Up Reflections On The Poor People's Rally And March In Washington, D.C. on June 23, 2018

By Si Lannon

[This initial report, commentary is expected to be the first of several reports this year as the Poor People's Campaign unwinds. Additional reports through December 2018 will be added to the end of this entry as needed. Greg Green]  

Some stories get written on the fly in our business, the publishing business and it does not matter if it is on-line or the hardest of hard copy. The damn thing falls into somebody’s lap and sometimes it is yours-by default. Here is genesis on my coverage of the Poor People's Campaign rally and march down in Washington, D.C. on June 23rd. I had originally been sent down to Washington by Greg Green our current site manager to do a story about the Cezanne Portrait exhibit at the National Gallery of Art (with a side trip to the small Saint Francis of Assisi exhibit and another of the work on display of Saul Steinberg both of which will be dealt with if I ever get around to actually writing about again after the curtain falls.

Bart Webber has already recently told in this publication the other part of this story, the other part of how I was waylaid even before I was able to write word one about the Cezanne story. Told about how, as is my wont, since I was in town anyway that I would check out to see what was happening at the National Portrait Gallery which is open later than the National Gallery and I figured to do the Cezanne project the next day, a Saturday. The story that developed by Bart out of that experience concerned seeing a remembrance painting of Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic Time magazine cover of Bobby Kennedy in the spring of 1968 which flipped me out when I spied it on the first floor. Got me to thinking about the late Peter Paul Markin who was crazy for Bobby and spent the spring of that year working his ass off for him. My reflections about Markin (always Scribe in the old days) which that night I conveyed to Bart Webber and Sam Lowell, two old friends of his as well and who work at this publication, got turned into that article about the million “might have beens” if Bobby had not been murdered and Markin had not subsequently wound up in hellhole Vietnam which did him no good, no good at all and led to an unsettling early grave. You would not believe the speed Bart was able to put that one together once it got through the grapevine about my “discovery” and others clamored to get their points in about much missed Scribe. It was almost as if some portent, some omen, some invisible hand was at play since nobody here had written word one of original work about the 50th anniversary the effect of Bobby’s murder and had relied on previous sketches to commemorate the event since everybody was busy with some other project.         

Here is where it all ties together, where sainted Bobby and wanna-be saint Scribe are reunited in spirit anyway. That Saturday I was heading to the National Gallery early to beat the crowds. I usually take the Metro since from the hotel where I was staying it was infinitely easier to do so than taking a car, so the natural stop on that line, the Blue line, is the Smithsonian on the National Mall. As I exited the station heading the few blocks to the museum from there I noticed a huge white tent across from the Hirschhorn Museum and further down toward 7th Street a stage complete with a couple of large screens flanking a stage and people milling around. I stopped at the tent to inquire about the event although on any given day you will see tents, usually white, strewn on the Mall for some event or other. It turned out that this was the headquarters for the Poor People’s Campaign during the week of actions they had planned in D.C. and was to culminate later that morning and afternoon in a rally there and a march to the Capitol several blocks away.

Once I understood what was going on, understood that this might be something to check out further, I made the connection. Make another stab at figuring out the invisible hand at work this weekend. This year was also the 50th anniversary of the ill-fated original Poor People’s Campaign led by Martin Luther King before he was assassinated in April of that year and which was carried on in his memory through the summer of 1968. The central physical focus of the original efforts was the establishment of an encampment dubbed Resurrection City which had been highlighted by a large demonstration on June 23rd of that year. Robert Kennedy had before his own assassination put his endorsement of the campaign as part of his political strategy to spark issues around race, poverty and above all the raging, futile war being waged in Southeast Asia then and which was sucking up resources which could have been used to help alleviate the poverty of those times, something still with us all these years later. ( I use Southeast Asia here although at the time we mostly thought it was Vietnam little did we know until later and only by other sources like Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers expose that Laos, Cambodia and who knows where else were bombed to perdition as well).I believe that Bobby had also visited the site and I know that his funeral train passed through the city. I thought about the situation and called Greg Green to ask if he wanted me to also cover this event along with the Cezanne assignment. Greg said by all means yes. Actually what Greg said was that if I had wanted to keep my nice art assignments I had better damn well (his expression) cover the event. Greg being a half generation younger that most older writers who go back to the hard copy editions of this publication did not have the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Poor Peoples Campaign on his radar so he was as they say “covering his ass” (my expression).

The following are some reflections taken away from that experience.         

Like in a lot of other things that happen without explanation I don’t believe in resurrection meaning in the context of the Poor People's Campaign, hereafter PPC, trying to jumpstart something like the war on poverty which is what this is all about based on something that happened 50 years ago and that was unsuccessful then seemed anachronistic. Seemed doom to failure as it had previously in  the muddy summer of 1968 once Doctor King’s hand was not there to guide the thing and use his huge authority not only in the black and among other minorities but among white liberals who to this day see him as the guy who could have led his people out of bondage-and assuaged  their guilt for falling down in the struggle after his demise. His authority unlike his successors, and from what I could see on stage this June day, could have pushed things forward. Even then there was no guarantee given the political climate that anything would happen. I confess after looking around, talking to some activists, a few who I recognized from other contexts, other political campaigns I have covered, hearing the endless speeches and trying to decipher what the road forward would look like since everybody emphasized, correctly emphasized that this would only be the start of a long uphill struggle, went into coverage of this event with something of a jaded eye. Whatever  I agree with in principle, whatever I    believe must be done about the vast social and economic inequalities in this country, and internationally.

Nothing said or heard that day has led me to believe that my original assessment was wrong, although this is one time I hope I am. The portents, that invisible hand I seem to have grown committed to using as a metaphor for these strange and worrisome times don’t head that way though. Here is a quick rundown of what the PPC had been up to the previous forty days as they called it, maybe reflecting some forty days in the wilderness although I could not get any rank and file activists to buy into that scenario, in what they have called their “call for a national moral revival.” Such a theme is always tricky and always capable of misintereptation, mainly since it is usually other-worldly Christian evangelicals and bare-bones religious folk who call, usually from the right political perspective or from outside politics, for moral revival. Usually eschewing the worldly poverty problems around them and waiting upon the Lord, and you know who that Lord is.

What the PPC, headed by Revered Barber from North Carolina and others who had been planning this project for several years, wanted to do was highlight the poverty situation and offer remedies. Organize the poor to organize themselves the way one youth activist put it. Saying as well, and I took this as an omen as well, that if it is not done from the bottom up as opposed to most efforts which are lead by middle class professional people on some salvation of their souls mission then once again the thing would be coopted and doomed to failure. Good point.   

In order to drum up support locally and nationally the PPC had the previous five weeks centered their actions, including acts of civil disobedience, on the state capitals each week presenting a different broad issue like homelessness or the war economy and the way those affect the poor, those down at the bottom of the barrel in society. After those five weeks of gathering from what I could tell, and what was noticeable in the crowd I saw at the Mall, a middle class professional cadre with a sprinkling of union activists to further the work, to get to the poor so they can organize themselves they would gather in Washington to see what they had wrought. From my observations of who was in the crowd that day, unlike what I remember and have seen photographs of the original encampment, with a few exceptions this was not the poor masses coming to act as avenging angels against their oppressors. Which made, makes me wonder about that portentous statement that young enthused activist made to me in all candor and which was seconded by a couple of other young people around him who nodded their heads in agreement.

If Sam Lowell or Seth Garth, maybe even Bart Webber although he is not given to straying away from straight reportage, were writing this they would say this was a situation where you “rounded up the usual suspects,” saw people who had been around these issues going back to the 1960s. Frank Jackman would have call it preaching to the choir” if you want another way to say it. These people were good in their time, hell, a bunch of us worked with them when the world was new and were still all sparkling eyes and dewy too, but we have a generational “passing the torch” problem between today’s youth and the generation after ours who came of age under the aegis of Ronald Reagan. The old ways of organizing, the very heavy reliance after all this time and all the times we have been showed nothing but ashes and brimstone of voting as the main organizational tool for change, does not bode well for this PPC program.      

And not so strangely given the moral imperative behind the movement the crowd was treated to such preaching in a literal sense both by the speakers who has some religious or quasi-religious take on the situation and by the “feel” of the event, the feeling that it was a revival meeting of some sort with people being exhorted to join up, to get out there in the mud and organize, to get “religion” as the late Markin used to say once he came back from Vietnam about the issues of war and peace.

The several thousand in attendance and/or who marched to the Capitol were thus treated to this eerie spectacle. But here is where things got a little awry. Got as confused as they did in the 1960s when strategy, basically voting for a regime or going down in the mud for fundamental social change were the two main poles of attraction. Put people, thoughtful people in different camps. The 23rd of June was an almost chemically pure example of that old dilemma-in one place-hell, in one speaker at times. On the one hand speakers, including prime leader Reverend Barber who knew how to work the crowd into a revival spirit no question, spoke of “revolution” which I assumed was meant in the traditional sense like the original American or French revolutions. In the next breath, and this was truest when the Reverend Jessie Jackson brought in for the occasion, a former King aide and later a Democratic Party presidential candidate himself, spent his every word talking about heading to the ballot box come November. Now revolution and voting are by no means mutually exclusive, but I got a very queasy feeling I had been here before, had been cajoled into doing the same old, same old. And you wonder why I am a little eye-jaded about the future prospects of this campaign.