Saturday, February 02, 2019

On The 100th Anniversary Of Newly-Fledged German Communist Leader Rosa Luxemburg And Karl Liebknecht-Oh, What Might Have Been-*From The Pen Of Rosa Luxemburg-The Famous "Junius Pamphlet" Of 1915

Click on title to link to Rosa Luxemburg's famous anti-war work, the "Junius Pamphlet". Still makes the key anti-war points for today. Listen up!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vincent Black Lightning 1952

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

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

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

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

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The Be-Bop Drive-In Movie Night– With Doris Troy’s Just One Look In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The Be-Bop Drive-In Movie Night– With Doris Troy’s Just One Look In Mind

Sketches From The 

Just One Look Lyrics

Just one look and I fell so hard
In love with you Oh Oh
I found out how good it feels
To have your love Oh Oh
Say you will, will be mine
Forever and always Oh Oh
Just one look and I knew
That you were my only one Oh Oh
I thought I was dreaming
But I was wrong Oh yeah yeah
Ah but I'm gonna keep on scheming
Till I make you, make you my own
So you see I really care
Without you I'm nothing Oh Oh
Just one look and I know
I'll get you someday Oh Oh
Just one look
That's all it took hah just one look
That's all it took woah just one look
That's all it woah baby you know I love you baby
I'll build my world around you come on baby

You know it’s funny how a kid, a guy kid I will let the gals speak for themselves, picked up the various signals, the various nods and looks relating to being cool back in the day, back in the late 1950s, early 1960s day. Cool with guys and cool with girls for they were two very different things. Probably each generation develops out of necessity, or self-defense, its own set of signals but while I was reviewing an “oldies but goodies” rock and roll compilation from the early 1960s I latched onto Doris Troy’s Just One Look to get me thinking about the ways we rather silently communicated what we were about.

The strange thing about the signals, let’s just call it that but I mean nods and looks, was early on when you were just a wet-behind-the-ears kid, say around elementary school no later, your signals tended to be straight up, you liked this or that, didn’t like this or that, thought he or she was a dope, etc. and that was the end of it. Or maybe not the end of it if in your honesty some bigger kid decided to take umbrage and box your ears to show his or her displeasure in a more visceral way. Then almost by osmosis, or maybe design, I am not sure which, you curbed your tongue a little and began with the silent signals.

The first one I clearly remember from down at the old Adamsville housing projects neighborhood was when my best friend in elementary school, Billy Bradley, stopped telling me I was his best friend but instead when we saw each other in the hallways during school he would just give me a slight nod of his head. At first I thought he was putting the freeze on me or something until I asked him about it after school one day. He said he had learned from his older brother, Prescott I think, that guys did not just keep going around saying they were friends when they got older but gave the nod to acknowledge that fact. And so the nod. Once I picked up on it that was that. All through school until graduation, maybe later, the nod became the way guys, guys who thought other guys were cool, addressed each other. Especially guys you did not know well, maybe just played pick-up ball with, maybe just hung around the soda fountain at the drugstore listening to the juke-box, maybe just saw walking down the street and maybe had nothing to say but giving the nod expressed your appreciation of other guy’s guy-ness.      

Of course guy-girl signals were in another universe. No way you gave a girl, I think any girl whether you liked her or not, whether you cared whether she lived or died or not, the nod. No way, first they would not be privy to what that nod meant probably thinking you had some neck problem but as usual with girls you needed a much more elaborate signal system whether you were trying to score or not. Here too there was a shift around late elementary school, right around the time girls went from being nuisance sticks to, well, interesting. Before that time you would just say something unkind and they would do the same in turn, or they would beat you up depending on their mood. But thereafter to show your interest you had to develop your best furtive glance. There were variations on this but the basic idea was that if you were trying to hone in on some lovely say hanging around that drugstore listening to the jukebox with everybody else you casually shot a slight glance her way, enough for her to see that you had glanced her way but not enough to think that you were so uncool as to stare at her with your tongue open. The trick though was to see if she was also going to take a peek your way. If so then the game was on, if not then if you were called on it, although this rarely happened, you could use that neck problem thing to bail you out. Such were the ways of young love. However the older you got the more signals you developed which one Doris Troy, blessed Doris Troy gave us the ABCs on. 

See here is how it worked out in the trenches. Out in the drive-in movie night once those furtive glances paid off, or promised to pay off. A whole galaxy of options opened up. I remember being struck by the appropriateness of the cover artwork on that CD that I reviewed one time that “spoke” exactly to this drive-in night. I had been on a tear in reviewing individual CDs in an extensive commercial rock and roll series called Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Never Die. The artwork which graced the covers of each item, both to stir ancient memories and reflect that precise moment in time, the youth time of the now very, very mature (nice sliding over the age issue, right?) baby-boomer generation who lived and died by the music. And who fit in, or did not fit in as the case may be, to the themes of those artwork scenes. The one for the 1963 CD compilation was a case of the former, of the fitting in. On that cover, a summer scene (always a nice touch since that was the time when we had at least the feel of our generational break-out) we are placed at the drive-in, the drive-in movies for those of the Internet/Netflicks/YouTube generations who have not gotten around to checking out this bit of Americana on Wikipedia, with the obligatory 1950s-early 1960s B-movie monster movie (outer space aliens, creatures from the black lagoon, blobs, DNA-damaged dinosaurs, foreign-bred behemoths a specialty) prominent on the screen.

Oh sure, everyone of a certain age, a certain baby-boomer age, a generation of ’68 age, has plenty of stories to tell of being bundled up as kids, maybe pre-set with a full set pajamas on to defend against the late sleepy-eyed night, the sleepy-drowsy late movie night, placed in the car backseats and taken by adventurous parents (or so it seemed) to the local open air drive-in for the double feature. That usually also happened on a friendly summer night when school did not interfere with staying up late (hopefully keeping awake through both films). And to top it all off you got to play in the inevitable jungle jim, see-saw, slide, swing set-laden playground during intermission between the films while waiting, waiting against all hope, for that skewered, shriveled hot dog, rusty, dusty hamburger, or stale, over-the-top buttered popcorn that was the real reason that you “consented” to stay out late with the parents. Yah, we all have variations on that basic theme to tell, although I challenge anyone, seriously challenge anyone, to name five films that you saw at the drive-in that you remembered from then-especially those droopy-eyed second films.

In any case, frankly, I don’t give a damn about that kid stuff family adventure drive-in experience. Come on, that was all, well, just kids' stuff. The “real” drive-in, as pictured on that cover art just mentioned is what I want to address. The time of our time in that awkward teen alienation, teen angst thing that only got abated by things like a teenage night at the drive-in. Yeah, that was not, or at least I hope it was not, you father’s drive-in. That might have been in the next planet over, for all I know. For starters our planet involved girls (girls, ah, women, just reverse the genders here to tell your side of the experience), looking for girls, or want to be looking for girls, preferably a stray car-full to compliment your guy car-full and let god sort it out at intermission.

Wait a minute. I am getting ahead of myself in this story. First you needed that car, because no walkers or bus riders need apply for the drive-in movies like this was some kind of lame, low-rent, downtown matinee last picture show adventure. For this writer that was a problem, a personal problem, as I had no car and my family had cars only sporadically. Fortunately we early baby-boomers lived in the golden age of the automobile and could depend on a friend to either have a car (praise be teenage disposable income/allowances) or could use the family car. Once the car issue was clarified then it was simply a matter of getting a car-full of guys (or sometimes guys and gals) in for the price of two (maybe three) admissions.

What? Okay, I think that I can safely tell the story now because the statute of limitations must have surely passed. See, what you did was put a couple (or three guys) in the trunk of that old car (or in a pinch one guy on the backseat floor) as you entered the drive-thru admissions booth. The driver paid for the two (or three tickets) and took off to your parking spot (complete with ramp speaker just in case you wanted to actually listen to the film shown on that big wide white screen). Neat trick, right?

Now, of course, the purpose of all of this, as mentioned above, was to get that convoy of guys, trunk guys, backseat guys, backseat floor guys, whatever, to mix and moon with that elusive car-full of girls who did the very same thing (except easier because they were smaller) at the intermission stand or maybe just hanging around the unofficially designated teen hang-out area. No family sedans with those pajama-clad kids need apply (nor would any sane, responsible parent get within fifty paces of said teens). And occasionally, very occasionally as it turned out, some “boss” car would show up complete with one guy (the driver) and one honey (girl, ah, woman) closely seated beside him for what one and all knew was going to be a very window-fogged night. And that was, secretly thought or not, the guy drive-in dream. As for the movies. Did they show movies there? 

Enough said. And enough too of furtive glances…for now.  

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Be-Bop Bopped In The Doo Wop Night-With The Classics Til Then In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Be-Bop Bopped In The Doo Wop Night-With The Classics Til Then In Mind

Til Then Lyrics

doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom)
(doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom)
[Intro continues behind each verse]
Till then, my darling, please wait for me
Till then, no matter when it may be
One day I know I'll be home again
Please wait (till) till then
Our dreams will live though we are apart
Our love will always stay in our hearts
Till then, when of the world will be free
Please wait for me
Although there are oceans we must cross and mountains that we must climb
I know every gain must have a loss, so pray that our loss is nothing but time
Till then, we'll dream of what there will be
Till then, we'll call on each memory
Till then, when I will hold you again
Please wait till then (ooh)


Sure I have plenty to say about early rock ‘n’ roll, now called the classic rock period in the musicology hall of fame. Yeah, I know I have already talked some ears off, maybe yours, about how hard-pressed Mississippi plantation workers (semi-slaves the way the pay-out came down at the  end of the year) gathered around on some sweaty Saturday night to hear Big Bill, Big Jack, Big Little, or Big somebody belt the blues out of some whiskey bottle in some broken down juke joint, and left enough of an impression that that dark boy in the corner, kind of shy but very inquisitive about that beat took it north-ward and put it in an electric outlet and you could see the audience, the woman audience part, swaying that sway that meant they got it, got that rif (and maybe said thanks that shy young brother in their own swaying way). I know too that I have left some ears kind of staggered after mouthing off about who Jesse Lee and Billy Bob, a couple of plain ordinary good old boys maybe heard a far off echo of that electrified music and started riff-ing on their own in places like Memphis and Mobile waiting to be discovered as the next be-bop daddy musical white negro (Norman Mailer’s term, hipster term, not mine but it fits) all young and hungry, ready to play for free, or nickels just to get out of the small town Saturday night and jump.  

So yeah I have talked some, some about the big broad trends coming out of the mid-century muck (mid-20th century just so you know) and within that say I have spent a little time, not enough, considering its effect on us on the doo-wop branch of the genre. Part of the reason for the “not enough,” once I thought about it was that obviously back in those mid-1950s jail-breakout days I did not (and I do not believe that any other eleven and twelve-year olds did either), distinguish between let’s say rockabilly-back-beat-drive rock, black-based rock centered on a heavy rhythm and blues backdrop, and the almost instrument-less (or maybe a soft piano or guitar backdrop) group harmonics that drove doo-wop. Even now that stuff is better left to the aficionados and musical intelligentsia, the guys who make dough putting the stuff in some boxed-in historical perspective. 

All I knew, all any of us knew when our knees started to tremble, maybe wobble is better, to the new beat that came out of some Mother Africa from whence we came, was that it was not my parents’ mannered Tin Pan Alley by-the-numbers music, not close. Get this too as a selling point it did not hurt that they, those same parents, got nervous, very nervous, anytime it was played out loud in their presence. Forever “turn it down” (or father “turn the damn thing down”) raced along with each song. Fortunately, some sainted, sanctified, techno-guru developed the iPod of that primitive era; the battery-driven transistor radio. No big deal, technology-wise by today’s standards, but get this you could place it near your ear and have your own private out loud without parental scuffling in the background. Yes, sainted, sanctified techno-guru. No question.

What doo-wop did though down in our old-time working-class housing projects neighborhood, and again it was not so much by revelation as by trial and error, is allow us to be in tune with the music of our generation without having to spend a lot of money on instruments or a studio or anything like that. Strictly built for po’ boys like us. First of all where the hell would we have gotten the dough, when we were stretched grabbing nickels and dimes, stealing really okay, from Ma’s pocketbook just to keep the juke-box at Sandy’s Diner going, for such things when papas were out of work, or were one step away, and there was “max daddy” trouble just keeping the wolves from the door. Bills and repo men the bane of every family’s existence. (Worse, worse though when papas could not take it anymore and just split, long-gone daddy split with or without some barroom frill or got nasty drunk with the paycheck and left Ma with empty Friday night envelopes and nothing to stave off the collectors.)

Sure, some kids, some kids like my corner boy elementary school boyhood friend Billy, William James Bradley, were crazy to put together cover bands with electric guitars (rented occasionally), and dreams. Or maybe go wild with a school piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, or Fats Domino but those were maniac aficionados. I remember one time Billy was so hopped up on the fame game that in the height of the Elvis craze when all us other boys were busy growing side-burns and perfecting our sneers (sneers meant for some young thing, in our neighborhood and in that time meaning stick girls who had not gotten their forms yet, to wipe off into the sunset) he tried to hop on the Bo Diddley bandwagon. Hop on that bandwagon until one cruel school talent show night he learned the hard facts of the racial divide in a northern white housing project by one of the older boy rednecks and returned to Elvis-land with the rest of us. Billy, never say die Billy, also trying to break out with a Bill Haley and the Comets routine which worked okay around the neighborhood where all the girls went nuts but got him nowhere when a regional new talent show came through town and he was all geared up to win except the suit jacket his mother had jerry-rigged for the occasion fell apart about half way through his performance. Yeah, Billy had it bad.

Even Billy though, when the deal went down, especially after hearing Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers was mad to do the doo-wop and make his fame and fortune on the cheap. (No need for instruments, cheapjack jackets or racial taunts.) The cover art on a doo wop compilation I once reviewed in an old time rock and roll series made that poor boy and girl point beautifully. No not some Karl Marx brotherhood of man thing or Adams Smith all ships rising if one guy rises. Nothing that heavy, please. The cover showed a group of young black kids, black guys, young guys who looked “from hunger” too like us and who looked like they were doing their doo wop on some big city street corner (maybe Brooklyn, maybe the old days Bronx, maybe uptown Harlem Saturday night). And that made sense reflecting the New York City-derived birth of doo-wop and that the majority of doo-wop groups that we heard on the AM transistor sister radio were black. But the city, the poor sections of the city, white or black, was not the only place where moneyless guys and gals were harmonizing, hoping, hoping maybe beyond hope, to be discovered and make more than just a 1950s musical jail-breakout of their lives. Moreover, this cover art I speak of also showed, and showed vividly, what a lot of us guys were trying to do-impress girls, impress them on the cheap with some harmonies and moonlight and maybe a little side chatter too (and maybe visa-a-versa for girl doo-woppers but they can tell their own stories).

Yes, truth to tell, it was about impressing girls that drove many of us, Billy included, Christ maybe Billy most of all, to mix and match harmonies. And you know you did too (except remember girls just switch around what I just said). Yah, four or five guys just hanging around the back door of the old South Adamsville Elementary School on hot summer nights, nothing better to do, no dough to do things, maybe a little feisty because of that, and started up a few tunes. Junior corner boys with no corner because, well, because true corner-dom required a drugstore, a mom and pop variety store, or maybe if you were lucky a pizza parlor to be real corner boys and we did not have such institutions within five miles of our isolated peninsula projects. Billy, who actually did have some vocal musical talent (he did a very servable Bo Diddley although no way did he have that Afro-Carib beat down being as I later tried to figure out just a tad too white to have immersed his soul in that milieu and also did, if not a son of Bill Haley act if you don’t count the clothes flying off, then close very good job), usually sang lead, and the rest of us, well, doo-wopped. (Sha-sha-do-be-doo, okay just in case you thought I was kidding.) We knew nothing of keys and pauses, of time, notes, or reading music we just improvised. Worked on stuff kind of by osmosis or something and over the course of a summer we started to jell a little (And to keep in that jell mood I kept my changing to a teen-ager, slightly off-key voice on the low, on the very low.)

Whether we did it well or poorly, guess what, as the hot sun day turned into humid night, and the old sun went down just over the hills, first a couple of girls, then a couple more, and then a whole bevy (nice word, right?) of them came and got kind of swoony and moony. And swoony and moony was just fine. And we all innocent, innocent dream, innocent when we dreamed, make our virginal moves. But, mainly, we doo-wopped in the be-bop mid-1950s night. And a few of the songs previously mentioned in that reviewed CD compilation could be heard in that airless night. The stick outs: Deserie, The Charts; Baby Blue, The Echoes; Till Then, The Classics; Tonight (Could Be The Night), The Velvets. And of course Why Do Fools Fall In Love although Billy did not make any mistake this time since he had seen Frankie and his boys on American Bandstand  and so did no imitation.
As for the girls as summer turned to school times on certain humid hot late August nights you could hear a mix and match of young male and female voices like they too had imbibed Billy’s dream, had seen that fame and fortune coming their way and they wanted in on it, if for no other reason than to get out of the projects. Or maybe I dwell too much, after the fact project too much, and they just wanted to bathe in the jail-break night we all knew was coming with the new rock dispensation.

Yah, I know everybody wants to know what happened to Billy since the name does not instantly come to mind when one thinks of the legends of classic rock, or doo wop bop. Well, Billy was wired for that success that always eluded him and after a while, after a few too many failures, bad moves or poor judgment he lost interest in being the president of rock and roll and turned to a life of small-time crime (even there he could not breakthrough since that life was just as “rigged” as everything else if you were not connected), got caught a few times and then I lost contact where he was and what he was doing. Whatever it was he still made many a project kid, including this kid, feel good for a couple of summers crooning out the tunes and bringing the girls around. Thanks Billy, thanks a lot.     

Yah, bop the doo wop

The Trials And Tribulations Of Legendary Artist Jasper Johns-The Double Yoke Of Being A Closeted Gay Man And Growing Up In Bible- Belt Southern America-It Was A Close Thing.

The Trials And Tribulations Of Legendary Artist Jasper Johns-The Double Yoke Of Being A Closeted Gay Man And Growing Up In Bible- Belt Southern America-It Was A Close Thing.

By Ronan Saint James

Ordinarily I would not put the relationship between an artist and where he or she grew up and under what conditions under too strong a microscope letting happenstance and innate ability run its course as more determinative. But a recent trip to the South, close to where the artist under discussion, legendary Jasper Johns he of the Amerikkka flags, figures symbols, maps and other stuff hanging out of his artwork like the inevitably spending a life measured by coffee spoons and hence the need for coffee cans, grew up made me realize how close a thing it was that he escaped from the desperate ghost town he grew up in down in Allendale, South Carolina.

The first thing you notice, no, that I noticed in one town, Travelers Rest, I passed through was how many Baptist churches there were in a few mile area. I counted something like fifteen along one short stretch which seemed impossible given the size of the town and the actual population. Without knowing whether this number of churches represented a church for each person in the town or reflected various arcane theological differences it seemed frankly weird.

Living in a Northeastern secular cultural enclave, a bubble if you like, this bears more observation and study. All I know is that it goes a long way in describing why we are as Frank Jackman of this publication has described on many occasions a cold civil-these are partisans on the other side. Unless we can bridge some unbridgeable gap the die seems to be cast-and not our way necessarily so we had better dig in and organize like our lives depended on it.        

Of course when you talk about the South, about this South that a gay man like Tennessee Williams wrote plays about and the general attitude of Baptists and other evangelical toward gays then you have to address the long-term lovers’ relationship between Johns and fellow artist Ricard Rauschenberg and can totally understand why Johns had to flee that berg for his life in the closeted gay life 1950s. As a post-Stonewall, almost post-gay marriage man I feel though I have very little understanding how hard it must have been to thrive under those South Carolina circumstances. So hats off brother, hats off to your art too which has given me many an enjoyable and thoughtful moment.    

Love Among The Smart Set-Part Three-Jason Bateman’s “The Longest Week” (2014)- A Film Review

Love Among The Smart Set-Part Three-Jason Bateman’s “The Longest Week” (2014)- A Film Review

DVD Review

By Writer Greg Green

The Longest Weekend, Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup, 2014

Readers who have been even marginally attentive over the past weeks know that I have taken over as the site administrator here after Allan Jackson’s retirement (what his old friend and betrayer by casting the decisive to kick him down the road like a can Sam Lowell called with a smirk “putting him out to pasture” which in old “neighborhood speak” meant as he has been spouting recently “purge”) and to get a feel for the job, for what people are writing film reviews about and why I took on a review myself of the 1930s classic The Libeled Lady about the rich and their predilections which I gave a rousing thumbs down to for its quirky and silly premise. The same Sam Lowell whose decisive vote basically got me this job in a subsequent review of another Mayfair swell saga (his term not mine) Preston Sturgis’ The Palm Beach Story took me to task for not drooling over these classic smart set screwball comedies and gave his reasons why. I didn’t expect to keep the dispute going but recently I have had an opportunity to see a film, The Longest Week, which graphically illustrates my point about the thinness of those smart set comedies.

Look the plotline is short and sweet when you think about it. A poor little rich boy, played by Jason Bateman, who is hunkered down in his upscale parents’ swanky Manhattan apartment in the course of a week, a week in which those same parents decide to divorce and leave him hanging, finds himself evicted from said apartment, out of dough, out of luck, out of friends and in love with a beauty, played by Olivia Stone, all the while dealing with his silly plight in a funny way that young audiences today looking at a tough future can relate to but also laugh at. Especially when that foxy lady turns and twists between him and his friend including sleeping with both of them. This is the kind of film we should be, we will be, spending more time reviewing as well as spy thrillers and comic book super-hero films. Let the classics which about twelve people are interested in now mostly cinematic academics with time on their hands go by the board. Forward.      

Once Again Love Among The Smart Set- Preston Sturgis’ “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)-A Film Review

Once Again Love Among The Smart Set- Preston Sturgis’ “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)-A Film Review

DVD Review   

By Sam Lowell, retired film critic

The Palm Beach Story, starring (double) Joel McCrea, (double) Claudette Colbert, (single) Rudy Vallee, (single) Mary Astor, written and directed by screwball comedy legend Preston Sturgis, 1942

Recently the newly installed administrator, the “boss” in common lingo from time immemorial among us slaves, Greg Green, who has deposed my old friend Allan Jackson with what proved to be my decisive vote of no confidence since I felt he was spinning his wheels in some 1960s nostalgia trip which he couldn’t abandon decided as a “democratic” gesture to get his hands dirty writing a film review something that he had never done despite having been what he called the moderator, again “boss” over at the on-line American Film Gazette website. Sandy Salmon my successor here (and also old friend and colleague from our own Gazette days) assigned him the old black and white classic Oscar-nominated The Libeled Lady with an all-star and bankable cast. Apparently in his youth unlike this writer Greg did not spent minute one while in high school or college watching retrospectives from the halcyon days of the black and white film noir days or the screwball comedy of the 1930s and 1940s. He gave the thing a big pan which is neither here nor there and his prerogative. What irked me no little was that he disparaged his grandparents who during their struggle to keep their heads above water appreciated such films. Even if they concerned the Mayfair swells a term he freely admitted he had never of before he talked to me about his feelings after viewing the film.

Well I have news for Greg I am on the trail of another tale from deep among the Mayfair swells when they head to their winter watering holes to escape the hellish Northern winters none other than legendary screwball comic master Preston Strugis’ The Palm Beach Story. On this one though you have to follow the bouncing ball since Mr. Sturgis is up to his “old now you see it now you don’t” best practice.         
For openers we see regular middle class striving Tom, played by durable Joel McCrea a Sturgis favorite and Gerry, played by resilient Claudette Colbert ready to tie the knot, get married and they do. Problem though is they are struggling like crazy to even keep their heads above water in the tough racket architecture design world that is Tom’s chosen profession. Gerry comes up with the bright idea that they should divorce so she can find some rich moneybags looking for an eligible divorcee on the rebound. And she does bagging this oil king played by crooner Rudy Vallee who takes her to his digs in Palm Beach then as now the resort of the very rich no plebeians need apply. (If you don’t believe me read the late Hunter Thompson’s Rolling Stone article on the Pulitzer divorce of the 1980s when the Mayfair swells bared their fangs). Its turns out that the oil king money bags has a promiscuous and flighty sister who at some point in her meanderings grabbed a prince and hence is a princess, played by cagey Mary Astor last seen in this space riding the ride, riding down to the big step off after Sam Spade throws her over to save his own worthless skin when a certain golden egg black bird turned out to be a fake.

While all this is going on Tom, you remember Tom, is lonely for his Gerry and flies down to Palm Beach to find out what is what. What is what turns out to be that old moneybags wants to marry Gerry and this looney sister princess has eyes just then for Tom. The conundrum seems like a dead-end for all parties but that is when you have to do double time with that bouncing ball. Let’s put it this way moneybags and the princess both get married. You have to go back to the beginning of the movie to figure out why all of this is not just a huge case of bigamies of which only lawyers would benefit. I am sure the “boss” would put his thumb down on this one too. What the heck did he do in his young man-hood on those what the hell do to vagrant Saturday afternoons.        

A Kinder, Gentler Super-Hero Saga- George Clooney’s “Batman and Robin” (1997)-A Film Review

A Kinder, Gentler Super-Hero Saga- George Clooney’s “Batman and Robin” (1997)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Eaton

Batman and Robin, starring George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman,

I don’t care if I say it, say it right out loud at the beginning. WTF
I had been given the understanding that after several attempts to draw down this fetish with reviewing comic book characters thrown onto film that we were done with this foolishness. Several writers here have rebelled against the trend, at least in print, have rebelled against the idea that the way to reach a younger audience was to cater to this aspect of the American cultural landscape. Still, and here I will name names, site manager Greg Green, Max Steiner, Lenny Larkin, Jim Morris, Ralph Morse, not one of them under forty, still believe that this is the way to go. Hell, Greg Green refused to let any of the writers review a Batman film starring Chris Bale and the late Heath Leger who played the psychopathic Joker when the violence and inanity of the plotline was so over the top he wrote the scathing review himself. That is when some of us thought, foolishly it turned out, that we had turned a corner, that sanity had come back into vogue here as it had under the un-nameable previous regime when reviewing pop culture kids’ stuff was the exception, the great exception not the rule.

Then Greg Green lowered the boom, lowered it on me in the first instance when he assigned me to do this film, this Batman and Robin which he said he had previewed and while there was the usual amount of mandatory violence the bad guys were at least socially redeemable. Reason, reason for handing me this heap of ashes, this fucking crap if you want to know my real feelings. I had not done a super-hero flick review and it was high time I did so under the old chestnut rubric of “broadening my horizons.” Me, a guy who has reviewed Jean Renoir, Jean Cocteau, Truffaut, all the French New Wave, done a million reviews of film noir which I helped to revive in this country by getting half empty theater houses to put on retrospectives which filled up those empty seats in campus towns and decent-sized cities, done all the screw-ball comedy classics, done reviews of half the Oscar-winners over the past thirty years or so, reviewing comic book characters for what did Sandy Salmon call them, yeah, butter-drenched popcorn and sugar refill soda cup kids too lazy to even read the freaking comic books. I refused. Then Greg pulled the so-called democratic fast one on me. Asked me flat out with no way to avoid the meaning if I wanted to go before the Editorial Board, his handpicked toadies, stooges and hangers-on for a vote of no confidence, a vote to get canned by that rubber-stamp crew. Having just now three very nicely brought up kids to get through college I folded, tucked away my sword.              

Here is what you missed if you had avoided that comic book craze when you were a kid and need to get updated on what the kids are watching these days. Always, always, the health and safety of a major American city, Gotham, really New Jack City by the Hudson if you want the real life model is left in the hands of one Batman, wealthy scion Bruce Wayne in civilian life, who has been played by half the rugged Type A males of Hollywoodland, here played by cool and calm and collected George Clooney. In this one he is aided by his neophyte young partner Robin, and later by foxy Batgirl or something like that although I will be politically correct and call her Bat Woman hereafter. You know though this trio is not dealing with real New York City plagued by drugs, poor transportation, expensive housing, inadequate schools and social programs, and racial injustices. Batman, alone or with his newfound company, inevitably has to deal with a single nefarious villain who has the capacity to destroy the whole town without working up a sweat. This time it is a holy goof named Mr. Freeze, played by body-builder, former California Governor and Maria Shriver’s ex-hubby Arnold Schwarzenegger, who after diving in a vat of nasty chemical can only live where the air is, well, chilly. His big problem though is that  those chemicals made him a holy goof trying to take down the world into a new Ice Age all because he couldn’t find a cure for his wife’s ailments.          

No question the new version of the Iceman Cometh is a dastardly dude who wants to ransack dear sweet Gotham for diamonds that keep his funny bunny suit going and keep him, well, chilly. Batman and maybe Robin a little grab him and put him where he can’t harm a hair of honest citizens’ heads. The trouble with these comic book-derived plots is that there is plenty of room for holy goofs of all sorts. Enter Poison Ivy, an ex-scientist who went over to the wild side after stewing in her own vat of unhealthy chemicals, played by Amazon luscious Uma Thurman whose crusade is to wipe out the human race and let the fauna and flora run the earth on behalf of some old flea-bitten hag named Mother Earth. You would think that two holy goofs working at cross-purposes would not have any reason to become allies but so it came to pass. A regular holy goof united front to bring down sweet Batman and Robin and Bat Women protected Gotham first with deep freeze and then with plants not out of Home and Garden.  

Naturally after good old boy Freeze is captured and put away the first step in Ms. Ivy’s playbook is to free her fellow holy goof so he can put the big freeze on Gotham. Meanwhile the divine Ms. Ivy started turning Gotham into the second Garden of Eden. She too gets kicked out of Paradise, pushed east of Eden by none other than Bat Women in her first outing as a high profile crime stopper. Ivy behind bars leaving the Frig to menace the town and he does. Batman and friends make short work of him though since we are in the age of climate change on the hot side not cold side. Case closed.

Well, as Frank Jackman likes to say, not quite. This is where the kinder, gentler villain Greg Green tried to convince me was worth my reviewing this turkey for comes in. Seems Ice Cube was a real scientist before the fall, before he left his Eden. Had worked on a cure for his wife, or tried. Here is where that comes in handy, gets him a reprieve from the big step-off. See longtime Bruce Wayne indentured servant Alfred, an English dude from England is dying of the same kind of affliction that had the Freeze man’s wife in cold storage. Batman plays off of the guy’s human side to give Alfred a little more time on the orb. In exchange the good Doctor gets to work his lab stuff in the nut house they have set up for him. Jesus, I can’t believe that I reviewed this silly excuse for a film. Maybe, just maybe, if he has a lucid moment Greg will blue-pencil this one to death. 

On The 50th Anniversary Of The Passing Of The “King Of The Beats” -Ti Jean Kerouac-A Series Of Appreciations - On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957)- NPR's Exploration Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"

On The 50th Anniversary Of The Passing Of The “King Of The Beats” -Ti Jean Kerouac-A Series Of Appreciations 

By Contributing Editor Allan Jackson

[Back in 2007 and then in 2017 when we commemorated the 50th and 60th anniversaries respectively of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s landmark travel book of a different kind On The Road which ignited a generation, maybe two. to “hit the road” I was the site manager, then called general editor, a throw-back from the times when American Left History was a hard copy publication. At those times I had been re-reading a series of Ti Jean’s books after senior writer Sam Lowell had pointed out to me that the previous years had been the 50th and 60th anniversaries respectively of fellow Jack “beat” brother Allan Ginsberg’s landmark poem (really screed) Howl which for a while took poetry into a different direction which we had neglected to commemorate (and which we did belatedly). Now Sam has again reminded that we have come to a certain commemoration date, the 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac and we are again in need of evaluation, no, re-evaluating the place of his work, his place as “king of the beats” whether than title fits or not and his place in the sun.   

Of course on those prior occasions I could assign whatever I wanted to whomever I wanted since I was the person who was handing out the assignments. Now after a prolonged internal fight in which I was deposed and sent into “exile” I am back but solely as a contributing editor, not as the person handing out assignments. That task is now in the capable hands of one Greg Green whom I knew over at American Film Gazette many years ago and had brought over a couple of years ago to run the day to day operation here. Greg and I have had our ups and downs especially after I was in desperate straits when I was sent into exile and had no current source of income and had to depend “on the kindnesses of strangers.” But that is past and since I was instrumental in the previous commemorations Greg decided that I should as with a couple of other major projects that I have done since my return oversee the Kerouac death watch anniversary this year.   

Needless to say, since this dark cloud anniversary is upon us I have to do a new introduction, a setting of the tone. One thing that I was not able to do when I was overseeing the previous commemorations was to write about something that has haunted me for a long time-how different Jack’s experiences were from those of my parents, from any Acre neighborhood parents despite some very strong similarities between the way he grew up and the way they did. In short they were near contemporaries having all been born and raised in the 1920s and forward experiencing youthful Great Depression and slog-through World War II. The three could not have been more different in their lifestyles and life dreams. It would take my parent’s son, me, not my other siblings who went very different ways, would take their son, and their son’s generation to at least momentarily connect with the older man and what he brought to the table. Maybe the link between “beat” and “hippie” was tenuous, but it was there, and is there fifty years after his passing to his unsettled grave. That will be the thread that runs through this new series. Adieu, Ti Jean.     


Jack fifty tears, fifty years gone in some bastard grave in holy, holy, holy Edson Merrimack River ground busted asunder by holy goofs looking for timely relics, looking for that one word which would spring them into some pantheon, some parity with the king (we will not even mention that other king that animated our dreams for we now speak of parent, parent of class of ’68 dream). Funny non-Catholic ground Lowell given his deep sea dive to right his ship around the beatitudes that the class of ’68 left in the shade if you wished to know. Mere, dear Mother Kerouac, turning in her old Quebec come down to the textile mills from desolate turn of the century farms which gave to the bloody English overlords, another common sticking point against heathen English overrunning the small patch farms with enclosures and encumbered debts devotion grave, with the times out of sorts the young passing before ancient hatreds mother. Not a stranger come the end on Hard Rock Mountain and no place but some stinking trailer benny and that fucking crucifix that never helped anybody that far gone into the haze.

Not strange for assuredly lapsed Catholic cum Buddha swings devotee coming out of Desolation Mountain, Dharma bum frills and assorted other spiritual trips, (won’t even think about that black boy, and he was just a boy, who against some grandmother dreads blew the high white note out to the China Seas, via, well, via Frisco Bay drove the writing, the what, the unvarnished truth  until it drove him into the ground. That and those endless whiskeys and cheap Thunderbird wines when dimes were scarce a few times down on his luck cadging wino bottles from buying for underaged kids, with his bottle the kicker and what the hell if he didn’t go it, didn’t get his some sterno junkie would dip into Salvation Army surplus and the thirst was great. Not “his” thirst but “the” thirst and don’t mix the two up buddy as he told that straggly bearded kid, some hippie bastard from Omaha clueless about the decadent night which lie ahead, the compromises too.

Strangely bisected, fuck finally my real point (another luxury of not having to be general editor with parsing and editing to make “nice” for the academic journals which thrive, which throttle on  Jack’s sputum and can get down in the mud with the real critics like Artie Shaw and Bugs Malone and not worry about half-ablaze in the head, half fire in the head Patti Griffin called it once),  through my own parents too who had no idea of hip, no idea of “beat,” except maybe mother in beatitude but that is a different story, a story about common roots high holy day Catholic stuff. Another common point, emerged in veiled tears, speaking of tears, to rear their ugly heads come feast days. (Wondering if her, their fairy sons would see the light, would submit to the calling that every grandmother hoped without saying leaving it to transient daughters to do their own parsing. Father no hipster born to the hills and hollows which hallowed by memory played no part in big boom beat-beat time coming out of World War II like houses on fire. No speedy cross-country by 1947 Hudson (hell no car a public transportation might as well say welfare crude bum and fuck that is all a guy like that deserved.) With big ideas of shaking things up, making merry with the always with us squares and other geometric forms. Jesus the worst part knowing that they knew not of square or any other geometric dreams. Too bad, too bad when they chance came around and the call went out looking for junkie hipsters, con men and queers hanging around public toilets on Seventh Avenue in New York City. 

No Dean Moriarty, hell call a thing by its right name, no Max Fame, no Allan Ginsberg, no Kenneth Rexforth, no Hank James, or his brother William speaking in tongues trying to figure what a guy named Freud meant when he wanted to go where his mother lived, after killing cosmic fathers and brothers, no Gregory Corso, no John three names somebody a throwback to ancient Boston Brahmin bouts with legitimacy speaking of bastards, trace the genealogy back to Mayfair swells days, nothing for the bastard who is bothering one Laura Perkins who I have been sweet on for an eternity but who only has eyes for Sam Lowell about her sexy takes on serious 19th century artist who were as capable of going down into the mud, blowing some high white note out in the Japan seas for a change. Above all no Neal Cassidy, no fake Dean Moriarty to skirt the libel laws with wives and mistresses searching for vagrant unknown fathers in some dusty coal bins but a poor old good old boy and maybe in another time said Dean, Adonis Dean against Father Sheik, would have wandered out in the cowboy West night looking for drunken fathers with hip-ness but that was not the play, not at all. Father Sheik coming like a bat out of hell from those hazardous coal bins looking to break the eternal hills and hollows existence that plagued his fathers since the time the first clan were cast out of England for stealing pigs or consorting with them in any case with not unfamiliar family refrain of “leave, or the gallows,” such were the tempers of the times.

And Father Sheik, hell, Adonis Dean too, with no way out except that passport via some Nippon adventure over Pearl always Pearl nothing else needed and he off to Pacific battles and raiments. Jack to the North Seas and merchant marine bunks with odd-ball seasick sailors (and me wondering whether having looked of late at YouTube should attribute my borrowed words but the hell with it plenty of seasick sailors had nothing to do with YouTube or song lyrics). And forsaken Dean too young to know the face of battles hung up in reformatory secret vices which an earlier generation (and later ones too) would “dare not speak their names” (Catamite, Sodomite, homosexual, pug ugly, suck-head, your call.) How quaint.

Two years and two places do make a different no Bette Davis eyes in the hills and hollows but Jack-induced Merrimack adventures of boys seeking pleasures in riverside woods and hamming it up for all the world to see. If only the old man could have written out his dreams, if he could have written out anything. Jack to the library born to take his fill of whatever classics that river textile town had to offer and whiskey you’re the devil which should have given even a blinded son something to think about with dear Jack fifty years dead and the old man still trembling in his teeth. My God.

But he never made, he the old man never made New York ever as far as I could tell, knew none but obvious landmarks like tall Empire State Building or Lady Liberty. Mother Jacked on some Cape Cod Canal cutaway small steamer to the Big Apple (not Big Apple then but who knows) and Automats, evoking Laura’s Edward Hopper sad-assed dreams of a guy who couldn’t even draw smiling faces and hence the queen of 20th century angst and alienation and five cent ferry rides to Staten Island. The Village, okay for me to call it Village as I was a denizen once for Jack too might as well have been on some planet’s moon for all she knew-him too, too rich for his blood but Jack’s meat, no problem. Even if strangely Times Square hipsters, grifters, drifters and Howard Johnson hot dog eaters were mixed into the new wave, then new wave against Big Band Duke, Artie, Lionel jazz boys coming up with their sullen lipped riffs to spring a new alienated be-bop on the square world. Jack knew square, knew father square, knew mother, Mere, square in large letters of unrequited love but shook it off long enough to cross the great desert America giving Lady Liberty the boot, the un-shod sole, or maybe taking a cue from Jack book lamming it out on Bear Mountain just for the hell of it. But this old mother, not Mere mother, never knew, never had an idea of even in her big Catholic, Irish Catholic dream of meeting the boy next door and finding steady white-collar civil servant heaven. Jesus is that what she was about when the deal went down and Jack split for Ohio with two bucks and six bologna sandwiches stale well before Toledo believe me I know.            

Life took a different tact though she never found that clever test-worthy boy next door (he was some greaser with a big hog of a bike which would have inflamed Dean, would have gotten his wanting habits on and maybe a run to the Coast). So she having had her fill of Coney Island dreams and Automat five cent pies took a chance on the Sheik (strange on looking at Jack photographs how sheik-like our boy was and father too like some lost tribe members) found guarding the country’s defense not far from her home but he of Pacific wars, many with manly Marines. Jack flopped the Navy but did dangerous merchant marine runs out in the North Atlantic, out to the Murmansk seas (that makes three China and Japan alongside) not honored even in Washington until much later down in front of Arlington National bravos resting places. And a not so funny twist of sagging fate brought her dish loads of kids and some undefined alienation from which she was excluded, and he too by association. They didn’t prosper far from it but they also didn’t have that run, no, those runs, to the West looking for lost fathers, looking for the Adonis of the West to shake up his love. Could two worlds be any more different and only about say forty miles apart. That not a question but maybe a quiet condemnation for some woe-begotten life of quiet desperation, her mantra for all the good it did her.

It would take a son, some son, some great girth of sons and daughters to jailbreak, to Jack their ways out of that parent, remember their parents’ contemporary, that snare set for those who didn’t get to Times Square, didn’t get to the Village but stuck it out in Hoboken, Elko, Oceanside. It would take some unsettled sense that all was not right with the world, that too many kids were stuck with Modesto hot-rod dreams, Hell’s Angels angers, Louisville thwarts, and many La Jolla searches for perfect waves to jumpstart what Jack, and not just Jack but he is fifty tears, fifty years gone. Oh, what might have been. 


On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957)- NPR's Exploration Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"

Click on title to link to National Public Radio's(NPR) presentation of Jack Kerouac's iconic "On The Road" that has influenced several generations, including my own, since its publication in 1957.

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)

By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just for kicks, for stuff, important stuff that had happened down in the base of society where nobody in authority was looking or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all-night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation. (Yes,  I know that the actual term “beat” was first used by Kerouac writer friend John Clemmon Holmes in an article in some arcane journal but the “feel” had to have come from a less academic source so I will crown the bandit prince Corso as genesis) Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my older brother Alex they called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, that high white note he heard achieved one skinny night by famed sax man Sonny Johns, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps, half stirred left on corner diners’ coffees and cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well and so very appropriate to mention since there were a million threads, fibers, connections between “beat” and “hippie” despite dour grandpa Jack’s attempts to trash those connection when they acolytes came calling looking for the “word.” So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind (not found on the AAA, Traveler’s Aid, Youth Hostel brochure circuit if you please although Jack and the crowd, my brother and his crowd later would use such services when up against it in let’s say a place like Winnemucca in the Nevadas or Neola in the heartlands). Literary stuff for sure but the kind of stuff that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter of which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life as a high-road lawyer (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother’s Alex name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Frankie, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh (he a separate story from up in Olde Saco, Maine),   Bart, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967, their birthright event, just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid any attention to, or dismissed out of hand what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957(after an incredible publishing travail since the story line actually related to events in the late 1940s and which would cause Jack no end of trauma when the kids showed up at his door looking to hitch a ride on the motherlode star, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway, like I say I think the best part, have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out on the road two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely and semi-tragic end. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that for fear of being tarred with those brushes. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly “from hunger” working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants any way they could as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little bit “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan. That was for smooth as silk Frankie now also a high-road lawyer to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Bob Dylan above all else) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)

Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like Jack wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll in about three weeks. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.