Saturday, November 23, 2019

From The Pen Of American Communist Party Founder And Trotskyist Leader James P. Cannon

From The Pen Of American Communist Party Founder And Trotskyist Leader James P. Cannon

Click below to link to the “James P. Cannon Internet Archives.”

Frank Jackman comment on founding member James P. Cannon and the early American Communist Party taken from a book review, James P. Cannon and the Early American Communist Party, on the “American Left History” blog:

If you are interested in the history of the American Left or are a militant trying to understand some of the past mistakes of our history and want to know some of the problems that confronted the early American Communist Party and some of the key personalities, including James Cannon, who formed that party this book is for you.

At the beginning of the 21st century after the demise of the Soviet Union and the apparent ‘death of communism’ it may seem fantastic and utopian to today’s militants that early in the 20th century many anarchist, socialist, syndicalist and other working class militants of this country coalesced to form an American Communist Party. For the most part, these militants honestly did so in order to organize an American socialist revolution patterned on and influenced by the Russian October Revolution of 1917. James P. Cannon represents one of the important individuals and faction leaders in that effort and was in the thick of the battle as a central leader of the Party in this period. Whatever his political mistakes at the time, or later, one could certainly use such a militant leader today. His mistakes were the mistakes of a man looking for a revolutionary path.

For those not familiar with this period a helpful introduction by the editors gives an analysis of the important fights which occurred inside the party. That overview highlights some of the now more obscure personalities (a helpful biographical glossary is provided), where they stood on the issues and insights into the significance of the crucial early fights in the party.

These include questions which are still relevant today; a legal vs. an underground party; the proper attitude toward parliamentary politics; support to third- party bourgeois candidates;trade union policy; class-war prisoner defense as well as how to rein in the intense internal struggle of the various factions for organizational control of the party. This makes it somewhat easier for those not well-versed in the intricacies of the political disputes which wracked the early American party to understand how these questions tended to pull it in on itself. In many ways, given the undisputed rise of American imperialism in the immediate aftermath of World War I, this is a story of the ‘dog days’ of the party. Unfortunately, that rise combined with the international ramifications of the internal disputes in the Russian Communist Party and in the Communist International shipwrecked the party as a revolutionary party toward the end of this period.

In the introduction the editors motivate the purpose for the publication of the book by stating the Cannon was the finest Communist leader that America had ever produced. This an intriguing question. The editors trace their political lineage back to Cannon’s leadership of the early Communist Party and later after his expulsion to the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party so their perspective is obvious. What does the documentation provided here show? I would argue that the period under study represented Cannon’s apprenticeship. Although the hothouse politics of the early party clarified some of the issues of revolutionary strategy for him I believe that it was not until he linked up with Trotsky in the late 1920’s that he became the kind of leader who could lead a revolution. Of course, since Cannon never got a serious opportunity to lead revolutionary struggles in America this is mainly reduced to speculation on my part. Later books written by him make the case better. One thing is sure- in his prime he had the instincts to want to lead a revolution.

As an addition to the historical record of this period this book is a very good companion to the two-volume set by Theodore Draper - The Roots of American Communism and Soviet Russia and American Communism- the definitive study on the early history of the American Communist Party. It is also a useful companion to Cannon’s own The First Ten Years of American Communism. I would add that this is something of a labor of love on the part of the editors. This book was published at a time when the demise of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was in full swing and anything related to Communist studies was deeply discounted. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the American Communist Party (and its offshoots) needs to be studied as an ultimately flawed example of a party that failed in its mission to create a radical version of society in America. Now is the time to study this history.


If you are interested in the history of the American Left or are a militant trying to understand some of the past lessons of our history concerning the socialist response to various social and labor questions this book is for you. 

This book is part of a continuing series of the writings of James P. Cannon that was published by the organization he founded, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1970’s. Look in this space for other related reviews of this series of documents on and by an important American Communist.
In the introduction the editors motivate the purpose for the publication of the book by stating the Cannon was the finest Communist leader that America had ever produced. This an intriguing question. The editors trace their political lineage back to Cannon’s leadership of the early Communist Party and later after his expulsion to the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party so their perspective is obvious. What does the documentation provided here show? This certainly is the period of Cannon’s political maturation, especially after his long collaboration working with Trotsky. The period under discussion- from the 1920’s when he was a leader of the American Communist Party to the red-baiting years after World War II- started with his leadership of the fight against the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and then later against those who no longer wanted to defend the gains of the Russian Revolution despite the Stalinist degeneration of that revolution. Cannon won his spurs in those fights and in his struggle to orient those organizations toward a revolutionary path. One thing is sure- in his prime which includes this period- Cannon had the instincts to want to lead a revolution and had the evident capacity to do so. That he never had an opportunity to lead a revolution is his personal tragedy and ours as well.

I note here that among socialists, particularly the non-Stalinist socialists of those days, there was controversy on what to do and, more importantly, what forces socialists should support. If you want to find a more profound response initiated by revolutionary socialists to the social and labor problems of those days than is evident in today’s leftist responses to such issues Cannon’s writings here will assist you. I draw your attention to the early part of the book when Cannon led the Communist-initiated International Labor Defense (ILD), most famously around the fight to save the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti here in Massachusetts. That campaign put the Communist Party on the map for many workers and others unfamiliar with the party’s work. For my perspective the early class-war prisoner defense work was exemplary.

The issue of class-war prisoners is one that is close to my heart. I support the work of the Partisan Defense Committee, Box 99 Canal Street Station, New York, N.Y 10013, an organization which traces its roots and policy to Cannon’s ILD. That policy is based on an old labor slogan- ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ therefore I would like to write a few words here on Cannon’s conception of the nature of the work. As noted above, Cannon (along with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern and Cannon’s long time companion Rose Karsner who would later be expelled from American Communist Party for Trotskyism with him and who helped him form what would eventually become the Socialist Workers Party) was assigned by the party in 1925 to set up the American section of the International Red Aid known here as the International Labor Defense.

It is important to note here that Cannon’s selection as leader of the ILD was insisted on by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) because of his pre-war association with that organization and with the prodding of “Big Bill’ Haywood, the famous labor organizer exiled in Moscow. Since many of the militants still languishing in prison were anarchists or syndicalists the selection of Cannon was important. The ILD’s most famous early case was that of the heroic anarchist workers, Sacco and Vanzetti. The lessons learned in that campaign show the way forward in class-war prisoner defense.
I believe that it was Trotsky who noted that, except in the immediate pre-revolutionary and revolutionary periods, the tasks of militants revolve around the struggle to win democratic and other partial demands. The case of class-war legal defense falls in that category with the added impetus of getting the prisoners back into the class struggle as quickly as possible. The task then is to get them out of prison by mass action for their release. Without going into the details of the Sacco and Vanzetti case the two workers had been awaiting execution for a number of years and had been languishing in jail. As is the nature of death penalty cases various appeals on various grounds were tried and failed and they were then in imminent danger of execution.

Other forces outside the labor movement were also interested in the Sacco and Vanzetti case based on obtaining clemency, reduction of their sentences to life imprisonment or a new trial. The ILD’s position was to try to win their release by mass action- demonstrations, strikes and other forms of mass mobilization. This strategy obviously also included, in a subordinate position, any legal strategies that might be helpful to win their freedom. In this effort the stated goal of the organization was to organize non-sectarian class defense but also not to rely on the legal system alone portraying it as a simple miscarriage of justice. The organization publicized the case worldwide, held conferences, demonstrations and strikes on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti. Although the campaign was not successful and the pair were executed in 1927 it stands as a model for class war prisoner defense. Needless to say, the names Sacco and Vanzetti continue to be honored to this day wherever militants fight against this system.

I also suggest a close look at Cannon’s articles in the early 1950’s. Some of them are solely of historical interest around the effects of the red purges on the organized labor movement at the start of the Cold War. Others, however, around health insurance, labor standards, the role of the media and the separation of church and state read as if they were written in 2014 That’s a sorry statement to have to make any way one looks at it.

*The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- In Pete Seeger's House- "Rainbow Quest"-Paul Draper

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Pete Seeger's now famous 1960s (black and white, that's the give-away)"Rainbow Quest" for the performer in this entry's headline.

Markin comment:

This series, featuring Pete Seeger and virtually most of the key performers in the 1960s folk scene is a worthy entry into the folk archival traditions for future revivalists to seek out. There were thirty plus episodes (some contained more than one performer of note, as well as Pete solo performances). I have placed the YouTube film clips here one spot over four days, November 10-13, 2009 for the reader's convenience.

Everybody Loves A Con, Con Artists Unless They Are The Dreaded Con- Steve Martin and Michael Caine, Oops And, Oh Yeah, Glenne Headly “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988)-A Film Review

Everybody Loves A Con, Con Artists Unless They  Are The Dreaded Con- Steve Martin and Michael Caine, Oops And, Oh Yeah, Glenne Headly “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starting Glenne Headly, Steve Martin, Michael Caine, 1988

One of the virtues of coming back to work at this publication occasionally after I retired from my daily by-line at Women Today is to hear the stories from some of the older writers about various characters, mainly but not exclusively male con artists and armed robbers, they knew when they were growing up. That includes my old flame and now fellow writer Josh Breslin who along with one Sam Lowell live by the headline above that “everybody loves a con artist except the conned.” That idea will come in handy as I review the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels because the whole film, every waking minute, is spent documenting a series of interrelated cons. Cons coming out of your ears before the last frame. (By the way in case some other writer has betrayed a water cooler thought the relationship between Josh and I these days is well, murky. After my two failed due to the press of work marriages and his three due the press of work failed marriages murky is good, very good.)      

One day around the water cooler on another occasion not related to the discussion mentioned above Sam, Josh, Fritz, Frank and maybe Laura Perkins were talking about the legendary Eddie Riley from Sam and Frank’s old neighborhood who pulled the biggest con they had heard of on a New York banker who was looking to  make some easy money to get out from under some Ponzi scheme he was running that was starting to go awry and he would listen to anything that sounded like a life-saver. (Rule number one by cynical Sam make sure your mark is desperate then it is like finding money on the ground to take whatever you want.) Nobody was still sure of all the details since the gaff had happened a couple of decades ago but basically Eddie set up a fake stock brokerage house complete with agents and all putting up numbers for stocks especially around say the Acme Toy Company. A sure thing, especially when Eddie said he had inside information (illegal I know but goes on all the time just be smart about it). So Mr. Investment Banker forked over a cool 100 thou and the game is on. Two or three days later the stock jumped from say ten to fifteen dollars, a good rise with Eddie’s assurance that it was just the start. Another 100 thou, no two hundred thou since Mr. Big was in a very deep hole. Stock goes from say fifteen to twenty-two and Mr. Big is almost hooked. Another couple of hundred thou to make a half million and the stock goes to thirty then thirty-five in a short time.

Mr. Big is breathing a sigh of relief. So he goes another two hundred thou. Eddie makes his smart move here by not being too greedy and starts to wind the con up although he knew for certain he could have gotten to a million no sweat. Of course on all of this Eddie, really Mr. Big, is buying on margins, grabbing stock for say ten percent down with the expectations that it will generally keep going up for a while even with some blips. The blips start and eventually just to add salt to the wound the stock goes low enough that margin calls come into play and Mr. Big has to folk up another couple of hundred thou to cover his margins. Done. From there the stock takes a slow nosedive all along Eddie “calming” the guy with a new upturn soon. Never came as the stock when to about twenty cents and Eddie wrote the guy a check for about a thousand dollars to close out the account. I don’t think the guy committed suicide but I do believe that Sam said that he fled the country. Here is the beauty-there is, was no Acme Toy Company, no stock was ever issued-t was all mirrors-beautiful, even I can see the beauty of the thing. And everybody else, well, except Mr. Big probably could as well.               

That was the high side but of course that requires some skill and a deep understanding of human greed only a greed-head could understand and work through. Mostly, and after Eddie’s exploits got a serious airing at the water cooler that day, they began to talk about small time grifters starting from street guys hustling blind routines or from hunger stuff. Probably started with guys like this hustling their fellow student out of their milk money or throwing counterfeit slugs in change machines, stuff like that. That latter point is important because that idea, that grifter business enters into the plot of the film under review via small time Freddy, played by Steve Martin, whose idea of a big score is hustling some passenger on a train for dinner and carfare. Kids’ stuff. But Eddie, you remember Eddie of the big score, also enters the scene as the fast company for the big-time scam artist, Lawrence, played by million film Michael Caine, bilking rich widows and bored wives of enough money to keep his mansion and his expensive appetites afloat. The rubber will hit the road when these two go mano a mano as the action progresses.      

They start as strangers on a train to the French Rivera and Lawrence once he meets Freddy and find out that he is planning on squatting on his turf tries to move heaven and earth to get him out of town, and away from endangering his profit margins. And it works, well, almost works as you could figure since Freddy on his way out of town runs into one of those rich ladies Lawrence has been bilking based on his being an exiled prince in need of funds to get his kingdom back, or something like that. In order to avoid exposure as a fraud Lawrence agrees reluctantly to tutor Freddie on the high-side economics and style of the con game. And he doesn’t do badly but in a place like the Rivera only one king can survive.

Enter the con between cons, always a good watch when titans go at each other no holds barred. The object here is one Judy, really, Judy Colgate of the Colgate fortune they think. The bet $50,000 but the real stakes are the first guy to bed her wins, the other guy leaves sad sack out of town and back to cheap street and hustling winos for beer money. For a good while the battle of the titans is something to watch as they cut and feign, slash and burn and still get nowhere near a bedroom until finally Freddie makes a score, or think he has. Faking the old cripple routine that has melted many a woman’s heart her “love” has allowed him to walk, to walk right up to the bed.  Success. Well almost, well no actually. See Judy is from hunger or rather is a con artist on her own, the notorious Jackal that every con artist stays up late trying to emulate (to no success). After she cons Freddy into taking a shower before love-making she blows town. Or rather she heads over to Lawrence’s mansion where he, suddenly soft after finding she was no heiress and from hunger herself, gives her the 50K and she really does blow town after blowing the boys off and sending them back to school chastised. Nice, and in a real twist on her next caper to show no hard feeling she brings a boatload of suckers Freddie and Lawrence’s way as they head off into the sunset. Nice, yeah, everybody loves a con, no question, none whatsoever.


“We’ll Meet Again Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When”-Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon’s “Mrs. Miniver (1942)-A Film Review

“We’ll Meet Again Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When”-Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon’s “Mrs. Miniver (1942)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell

Mrs. Miniver, starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Dame May Whitty, Teresa Wright,  Richard Ney, 1942

They say that Dame Vera Lynn’s (at least I think she is a Dame now if she is still alive and a quick look at Wikipedia confirms that she is at 100 having been born during World War I and hence having seen many, many wars over the past century)  song We’ll Meet Again got England, you know the stiff upper lip British, through the night of the long knives when that country was basically alone fighting against the Nazi night-takers after Hitler and his minions stepped over most of Europe and the destruction of the British Isles by a massive bombing campaign was beating down as a last step in that act. This before Pearl Harbor put American boots on European soil. (The Americans having their own get through the war song Til We Meet Again to keep up morale as the soldiers, sailors, marines and flyboys were leaving these shores for an uncertain fate many laying their heads down on those foreign shores.) If that was the case then the film under review, the award-winning Mrs. Miniver, was the cinematic complement to that song as a combination straight story about civilian wartime struggles in the modern age when such populations have unfortunately become front and center in military warfare planning and none too veiled propaganda for the British government’s war effort. (Such things are hard to gauge but as eminent a spokesman for British war efforts as war-time leader Winton Churchill said the film (and the book it was based on) was invaluable to keep British morale high.) 

Some seventy-five years on and too many brutal wars to count, including atrocities which come close to those of World War II, it is hard to say whether such a film did or did not lift morale although especially with the minister’s sermon that ended the film urging all Britons to keep the faith and keep pushing on it must have had some impact. For now though let me give the reader the “skinny” as I like to do and you can figure how much of a propaganda vehicle it was against the storyline of how a ordinary middle class British family dealt with the hard realities of war on its doorstep.    
Obviously the key figure here is the ordinary citizen housewife Mrs. Miniver, played by Greer Garson who won an Oscar for her performance, as she tries to keep her family together through those trying times. This although her husband, Clem, played by Oscar-nominated Walter Pidgeon who was too old for military service but who took his civilian war service seriously (including participating in the evacuation at Dunkirk in the darkest days of the war as Germany was marching to the seas) was at home. And despite her worry over her oldest son joining the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot at a time when Germany essentially ruled the skies over Britain. The most important thing that Mrs. Miniver does, aside from keeping the faith that her country will survive this big hit, is to keep cool, keep that notorious stiff upper lip as least for public consumption and therefore becomes a model for her fellow villagers. That becomes increasingly necessary as the air war begins to take a serious toll since there is an RAF base close by which the nasty Germans are very interested in putting out of commission. (One gardener set on winning an annual flower competition which went on as usual named his rose selection after her as tribute to her low key steadfastness).     

Along the way Mrs. Miniver faces a number of trials which only steel her against the plotting of the night-takers including coolly capturing a downed German pilot, constant worries over her son’s fate up in the skies and as the German juggernaut hones in on that airbase protecting her two younger children as the Germans lay waste to her homestead (seeing that destruction which I think would have made most women, and men, flip out she merely carries on with what is left of the house and Clem does to in his own understated way). Added in is a little romance aside from the warm regard that she and Clem have for each in their marital relationship. That RAF son, played by Richard Ney, meets the granddaughter, played by Oscar-winning Teresa Wright, of the local leader of the gentry in those parts, played by Dame May Whitty, and they fall in love, get married and plan for an uncertain future despite that Lady’s objections. In the end that romance is shattered but not in the way one would expect. Mrs. Miniver’s now daughter-in law is killed during a German air attack as they were exposed in the open rather than her son up in the skies. As the film ends that previously mentioned minister’s sermon speaks of the new ways of war, the need to fight a people’s war against the night-takers. (Although the British were none too keen, not at all, when their “colonials” got all uppity in places like India after the war working for their liberation through that same basic strategy.)  Like I said it is hard to see what effect this film had on morale at the time but it certainly was a very powerful if in spots melodramatic film showing the modern realities of warfare.          

Friday, November 22, 2019

Veterans For Peace-Heading Toward The Danger Not Away In The Struggle Against The Amercian Government's Endless Wars

Veterans For Peace-Heading Toward The Danger Not Away In The Struggle Against The Amercian Government's Endless Wars 

On The 50th Anniversary- Julie Christie and Alan Bates’ Film Adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd” (1967)

On The 50th Anniversary- Julie Christie and Alan Bates’ Film Adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd” (1967)

DVD Review

By Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon

Far From The Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Peter Finch, Terence Stamp, based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Hardy, 1967   

I am sure sometimes readers of these reviews must wonder why a certain film is being reviewed, especially older films which while a big deal in the old days may not seem classical enough to warrant coverage forty, fifty, sixty years later. There are many reasons for choices but for the film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd there is one, and only one, reason. I had a big time “crush” on actress Julie Christie. That crush started not on this film but for her part in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago about the turbulent period around the Russian Revolution and the early part of Stalin’s reign based on a book, a forbidden book under Stalin if I recall, by Russian writer Boris Paternak. If memory serves I almost lost a girlfriend, the girlfriend that I saw the film under review with, over my unbridled gushing on and on about Ms. Christie’s blue eyes (that gal’s eye were brown and she had come from an all brown-eyed world in Manhattan), figure (hers was very good as well but no young woman then, maybe now as well although body shaming is rightly considered social error, if not political liked to have some other woman’s body commented upon) and long blonde hair (hers again brown from that brown-eyed Manhattan Lower East Jewish quarters world). Not a good move no question but what could you expect of wet-behind-the ears high school student from New Jersey who was a “late bloomer” in the dating/sexual allure world.                

So much for young romantic love misadventures, although I rekindled that crush in re-watching this film so many not so young romantic misadventures since I went on and on to my longtime companion about those blue eyes (hers are brown) although she has that same ethereal beauty Ms. Christie had (and maybe still has since I have not seen her in anything recently). So maybe I am an eternal wet-behind-the ears guy. My big idea in taking this date to see this film is another little quirk I had. We had just finished reading Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge (Casterbridge the scene of many of Hardy’s novels) which I had been enthralled with, had devoured well before the class was supposed to finish the novel and I was trying to see if it was worthwhile for me to read the book this film was based on. I did that a lot then although now it is more likely to be the reverse, to read the book and then see the film adaptation which sometimes, actually many times, is not true to the author’s intention or plotline. That is a story for another day though.    

As Sam Lowell, the previous senior film critic now emeritus, is always found of saying let’s get the “skinny” on this one. Let’s get to why I was enthralled by Thomas Hardy’s novels and this film adaptation beyond short-cuts and Ms. Christie’s blue eyes. I grew up in the city, in urban Trenton (actually just outside but close enough to consider myself a city boy as did my friends) so reading about the rural life in 19th century England was almost like I was reading a space adventure. The film in some scenes like when the shepherd Gabriel, Allan Bates’ role, loses all his flock when his sheep dog goes berserk and drives them over a cliff into the sea, or when Bathsheba’s, Ms. Christie’s role as the inherited from her uncle landowner, sheep come down with a disease that lays them low and harvesting wheat graphically showed what I had imagined when I read my first Thomas Hardy novel.         

But what we have here in this film is really well beyond some idyllic agricultural ideal a city boy had about the country. Let’s face it and deal with the real subject-the romantic endeavors of Bathsheba’s three, count them, three suitors and her attitude toward each one (and the reason that long ago almost lost girlfriend and the miffed longtime companion both loved the film). As noted poor girl Bathsheba inherited a landed estate from her deceased uncle. Being young and energetic she was determined to run the place herself and show what she was made of against the views of her fellow male landowners, male tenants and employees who believed she was in over her head. And at times, like that sheep sickness time, she relied despite her own judgement, she had to depend on Gabriel who after being spurned on his marriage proposal by Bathsheba before she inherited that land and losing his flock to that berserk dog found himself in her employ. Spurned love number one down.   

While tending to her land the precocious Bathsheba gathered in another suitor, the older bachelor neighboring landowner, Mr. Boldwood, played by Peter Finch, who developed a late life obsession about her. Spurned love number two. Along comes number three, a young man, Frank, played by bad boy Terence Stamp, a rather dashing cavalry sergeant and she is smitten beyond reason. (As was that almost lost girlfriend and that current longtime companion to Stamp’s blue eyes but I will just charge that to their respective reactions to my going on and on about Ms. Christie.) They eventually marry and this proves a marriage not made in heaven as he is something of a wastrel and philander. Or so it seemed until Fanny, a young woman from Bathsheba’s estate, whom he had gotten with child as they used to say delicately in the old days and was to marry came back to claim her man. Too late since she was very ill and passed away along with that child she bore. That began Frank’s gnashing of teeth over her death and he subsequent alleged drowning at sea.

End of story for the widowed Bathsheba (although since the body was not found she would have to wait the legal seven years in order to remarry). Or so I would think. Re-enter that besotted Boldwood and another marriage proposal. Spurned again. End of story now. Well no that bastard Frank actually had not died but had taken off for parts unknown and wouldn’t you know showed up just when Bathsheba was ready to conditionally accept Boldwood’s marriage proposal. End of Frank as the enraged Boldwood pulled the old rooty-toot-toot and he fell down. Off to the gallows and probably some measure of relief for the unlucky Boldwood. You can’t have a romance end on a sour note, or at least you couldn’t in a 19th century romantic novel so with two departed lovers finished dear fickle, there is no other word for it, Bathsheba finally, finally gets under the sheets with Gabriel something that kept getting telegraphed throughout the movie as they threw those meaningful glances as each other. And maybe Ms. Christie batted those blues eyes. A fine if long film version of well-done book.   

Thursday, November 21, 2019

When Your Rooster Crows At The Break Of Dawn-Hold On To Your Wallet-Or Shallow And Swallow Down Your Love

When Your Rooster Crows At The Break Of Dawn-Hold On To Your Wallet-Or Shallow And Swallow Down Your Love

By Ronan Saint James

That goddam rooster down the road, I am not sure how far down that road but this the fourth day running the sleepy bastard has broken the hell out of my sleep, thought Jack Dolan as he once again, for the fourth time running tried to shake off the tepid sleep of the weary. Yeah, like the song said, Dylan wasn’t it, always that gravelly-throated bugger has an apt phrase to speak to what wearied a man, probably reflecting his own weariness, yeah, his own woman trouble what else would drive a man to write prose or lyric about his malaise blame farmyard animal for his discontents -“when your rooster crows at the break of dawn look out your window and I’ll be gone.” That is what had been keeping one John Dolan weary and wary four days running and not some fucking stone cold-eyed rooster yelling his brains out for whatever he yelled his brains out for at dawn. That Jack weariness wariness too had a name. Lucinda, Lucinda Jolly, the so-called love of his life who had walked out that door four days before without not so much as a by your leave. Left him high and dry in not to be alone Naples, down in Florida, broke and broken-hearted.

He should have seen it coming should have seen that Lucinda had been distracted by something. When they had argued, screamed really, that last night before she took a powder something they generally did not do since both had come up in households where the screaming and disorder had made them very reticent to argue, to yell at each other and maybe that was the problem, maybe what called the day done, she had mentioned that he seemed to be “distant, “ seemed to have been off his “meds” his drugs that kept him on keel. He denied it as usual and maybe that was the day done deal that finally broke things in her overheated head.

Hell that was all bullshit, all crap, what it was she had found another guy, a guy he did not see coming either although he should have since lately she had been going out by herself and coming in late. Didn’t make any excuses, lame excuses anyway, about being over at some girlfriend’s house but that she needed to be alone. That was when they decided to take whatever money they had and head to Naples, not a natural place like Big Sur out in the California coast where they could wish the Japan seas would solve whatever ailed their relationship and be washed clean by the fresh air and dreams of Jack Kerouac. dreams she had been spoon-fed on growing up in the French-Canadian Acre section of Lowell, Jack’s hometown, but what they could afford and had been a place to head for in fast sunnier days. Now she was gone, left him with no dough in godforsaken Naples of all places.

Maybe Jack should have taken those rooster crows for a sign, better should have listened to the whole Dylan lyric where he talks about it not being him (her) he (she) was looking for-after having given their, her, his bet shot, best shot maybe not up to some abstract standard they could never reach and a while back had both agreed could never reach that the whole thing had been a house of cards, had been a waystation for both after divorces, his three her pair and after those deep unhappy childhoods that seemed to glue them for a while. The whole thing had been so freaking fragile from the night they met in The Garden of Eden bar in downtown Albany near Russell Sage College when he had had plenty of dough and a full to the brim credit card that got them within a couple of days out to Big Sur, out to where he believed he had been washed clean and wanted her to see life through the prism of Pfieffer State Park complete with stone ass totems once she mentioned Jack Kerouac and that Lowell Jack park set in stone too with some his words, especially about looking for some dead-beat father they never knew. Hit right home with that one.             

In his mind, in his rooster-disturbed mind as Jack started to meditate, real meditation, and not just dwell on her being gone, who the hell that other guy was that he had not seen coming but should have when they were in their down in the mud days who maybe had not been divorced a million times, maybe didn’t drink, didn’t need “meds” and even need to meditate to keep an even keel, him with no dough and Albany many miles north but some old-time Allan Ginsberg in lieu of his now depleted “meds” he unwound the whole affair. Saw for the first time that what they had had was made of more smoke and mirrors than he could have figured when she was like a breath of fresh air coming through the fields after that first date to Saratoga field the day after they first spent the night together (he still had a hard time around “sleeping together, damn, sex so spent is what anybody would get who asked when they “did it”). She had been staying with her sister, a Russell Sage graduate and former denizen of “the Garden,  over in Ballston Spa, a sleepy little town that suited her just then but she was restless, needed to see some city lights and so the Garden of Eden had been her stopping place since Guy Williams, an old favorite, was playing a few sets there and her sister assured her that no guys would hit on her. Before she got out the door that sister Kate would amend her statement given what a breath of fresh air beauty he emitted even if she thought herself not particularly pretty, at least not too hard. Guys hitting on her. And hence Jack and his credit card and shy manner around her. (Lucinda was always amazed that he was ready to shake her hand, which he did, softly that first night and leave it at that he was so shy around women even after three marriages and a bunch of affairs. She had been the one who mentioned taking a walk along the Mohawk River to “talk” although that was not the only thing on her mind that night.) 

Jack hoped that tomorrow, tomorrow the fifth day running that rooster would lay off so he could gather himself to hit the road back to Albany and pick up the pieces of his now shattered life. The meditation, a new routine, which she had introduced him to calm him down when he was wired, when he was distant too but that was probably too little, too late.   

The next morning Jack did hit the road, well, not really hit the road like he was some second coming of Jack Kerouac or his buddies Allan Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy ready to throw caution to the wind and put his thumb out but go on his computer to look on-line for some ride-sharing opportunity. After setting up a meet with a guy going to New York City he sat around for a couple of hours in the place they had rented through Air B&B and which needed to be vacated by noon and rewound the spool of their two- year relationship now in tatters wishing all the time that he thought about it that morning that she had given a better signal, better signals that he was not what she was looking for, not the one she wanted and Dylan came lyrically back into view with his phrase from some forgotten 1960s song about “leaving at your own chosen speed.”        

Funny she had actually “discussed” with him several times her feeling she had to leave, no, that is not right, feeling that they could not go the distance, that they were too similar in their quiet desperations to stick and that whether he was expecting too much from her or she had too many non-negotiable demands the thing had not been despite Kerouac, despite being washed clean at Big Sur and a few times in Naples as well built to last. She never got to the door then, they would patch things up by having sex, or doing some dope or something to keep the embers alive. But he knew deep down that she was looking at that door and that a time would come, a time would come. 

Maybe a couple of months before when he mentioned that he had after several months had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and he begged her to leave and find her path since the treatment procedure, damn, maybe his whole life said he had to face this alone had triggered something. Or maybe so gallant had seen her and taken his best shot. Who knows. Just as he was to run a new train of thought he heard the honking of the car that would take him North-north and aloneness. He put the key in the mailbox as requested, picked up his suitcase and headed out the door to the waiting automobile. 

As he entered the vehicle and said hello to his new-found friend driver and savior Jack got pensive for a while after throwing his knapsack in the backseat and adjusting his seat-belt. Started recounting, no, re-living all the steps he and she should have taken to bring them to some understanding, if possible. He was not naïve enough after three marriages, a million affairs and his stint with her to think that it would have been a done deal but maybe. How many times had she made it plain that it was him, him and his mercurial ways that would drive her from his door, their door when they decided to move in together. How many times had he had the words in his stinking overactive head that would not come out, would not come out making any sense.

And about the night when both high but still in contact with their emotions they talked the whole night away about his “problem” of not being able to say the words she wanted to hear, that maybe they would make it with a little more communication. About too how that mother constant brow-beating made it very reticent to express any emotions, about the child being future to the man. About how in the end, she must have taken a hint from her ever practical side and realized that continuing would not work out, that the percentages were too low for her own fragile existence to count on.         

As Jack started to talk to that driver he thought  well at least he wouldn’t haven’t to listen to that cocksure rooster and his king kong king of the hill crowing … 

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- *In Pete Seeger's House- "Rainbow Quest"-Frank Warner

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Pete Seeger's now famous 1960s (black and white, that's the give-away)"Rainbow Quest" for the performer in this entry's headline.

Markin comment:

This series, featuring Pete Seeger and virtually most of the key performers in the 1960s folk scene is a worthy entry into the folk archival traditions for future revivalists to seek out. There were thirty plus episodes (some contained more than one performer of note, as well as Pete solo performances). I have placed the YouTube film clips here one spot over four days, November 10-13, 2009 for the reader's convenience.

*In Pete Seeger's House- "Rainbow Quest"-

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- *In Pete Seeger's House- "Rainbow Quest"-Herbert Levy

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Pete Seeger's now famous 1960s (black and white, that's the give-away)"Rainbow Quest" for the performer in this entry's headline.

Markin comment:

This series, featuring Pete Seeger and virtually most of the key performers in the 1960s folk scene is a worthy entry into the folk archival traditions for future revivalists to seek out. There were thirty plus episodes (some contained more than one performer of note, as well as Pete solo performances). I have placed the YouTube film clips here one spot over four days, November 10-13, 2009 for the reader's convenience.

Murder Anyway You Cut It- With The French Film Tell No One In Mind

Murder Anyway You Cut It- With The French Film Tell No One In Mind

By Zack James

Phil Larkin, the locally well-known private investigator from Gloversville about sixty miles west of Boston, loved to go to the National Private Investigators Association (NPIA) annual conventions not so much to inspect the inevitable new technological gizmos which were touted as the P.I.s next best friend by their producers but to gather up old acquaintances and over a few whiskies to find out about some new interesting case one or more of them might be working on. They are not all interesting by any means whatever the individual P.I. might be hyping about by virtue of his or her prowess in solving the riddle of the age –usually some missing husband who was ready to go home after a couple of months with some floozy who spent all his dough and blew for places unknown, a guy who fled town for some reason and wants to remain missing but something got him up from the underground, some scared kid who blew home and is out in Topeka somewhere and can’t get out of the caboose until some adult accompanies him or her home, or a skipper you would be amazed at how much P.I. work is “repo” stuff which keeps many guys in clover and a full scotch bottle in that bottom desk drawer for those long stretches between jobs. Or about a case they might have heard about. That is how he heard from his old friend Artie Shaw about the Beck case, the case that had half the public coppers, gendarmes they call them there, in France baffled and Artie too until things fell into place by virtue of that over-rated prowess that every P.I. hung out like single in front of his or her shabby sixth floor office in some seen its day office building filled with failed dentists, cheapjack insurance agents, seedy repo men (guys who do it full-time) and discount wholesale jewelers.

[By the way for those who are confused, or only know of the more famous American Forensic Investigators Organization (AFIO), the one the famous detectives Jack Dolan, Robert Parker, and Shane Chandler, the latter a distant relative of the crime writer Raymond who practically invented the hard-boiled detective genre that has misled several generations of readers and average citizens about the real lives of P.I.s, belong to, the NPIA and AFIO work two very different tracks. The AFIO had split, an acrimoniously split, from the NPIA over the issue of working with the public coppers. The NPIA historically had deferred, meaning “butted out on,” once a case went onto the police blotter. The AFIO made up of a bunch of “hot-doggers” who spit on the public coppers and their half-ass work went on the premise that all cases were better done through private hands. Phil an old time public cop himself would have been railroaded out of business in Gloversville if he had made step one to mess with the open police cases in that town. Would have been run out of town on a rail if not put under some very loose ground especially when Nick Devine was chief copper in that burg and was so “connected” to the boys with grunts and funny noses that he well might have done it himself-or had it done.]     

Every NPIA member in attendance could hardly wait for the banquet that closed each convention to hear the words, to hear the deep dark secret of the profession that the difference between the actual numbers of cases between the two organizations was minuscule or NPIA’s were better. The reality was that despite the few headline cases like the Galton kidnaping and ransom case which some guy, some almost amateur sleuth named Ross MacDonald solved there was as much co-operation between AFIO and public coppers as the NPIA.             

Artie, originally from Boston, had worked with Phil when he had started out on a couple of cases, key-hole peeping cases which in the 1950s was bread and butter work for most private detectives in the days when getting a divorce was heavy lifting without an army of reasons adultery being the primo reason a court would accept. Phil eventually moved on from that work saying to anybody who would listen that he would rather try to solve mass murder cases, solve serial murder stuff than have to swallow the lies associated with guys and gals shacking up once they got to court and practically accused him of breaking up happy homes or being the fall guy for some kind of abuse.  Less strain on the nerves. Artie, knowing his limitations, always stuck with key-hole peeping which is how in a roundabout way he got the Beck case.

The wife of a big Boston international banker had hired him to get the goods on her husband and his French mistress whom said banker had established, had set up in a Paris apartment for when he travelled there on business. Artie, really a pro then at getting the dope, getting the photos necessary to close a divorce case in court, rapped that one up tight, no problem. What Artie had found out in Paris as the 1950s turned into the 1960s was that there was still much key-hole peeping work to found there through the still pretty much intact cumbersome French Napoleonic civil code and so he stayed around there to pick up the pieces, especially when that Boston banker’s divorcee set up herself in Montmatre.      

That banker’s ex-wife connection got him the Beck case, got it to him at least indirectly through her lawyer in Paris who was also the lawyer that this Doctor Beck had retained once he got into serious trouble, or rather he and his sister, Anne, a devotee of the horsey set, but loaded with dough from her husband’s fortune had retained. The case would have seemed to be on the face of it way over Artie’s head as it involved a “cold case,” a case that the French gendarmes had closed up tight. But the ex-banker’s wife and Beck’s lawyer both agreed that a non-French P.I. would have less hurdles to cross than some Parisian private dick who was bound by law to turn everything over to the coppers under penalty of losing his or her license. (Artie was working off his U.S. permit courtesy of influence with the public coppers by a friend of that banker’s ex-wife).

Artie had moreover gotten on the case after the thing had been dead for about seven, eight years. Years after this Doctor Beck was cleared as far as could be of his wife’s murder out in the country while they were out for a swim on the lake. The doctor’s story then had been that he had been knocked unconscious by a party unknown and dumped into the lake when he heard his wife’s screams. Except he was found on the dock. As such things went the public coppers had to let it go when they couldn’t shake his story and his wife’s father, a public copper himself, identified his daughter’s body and vouched for his son-in-law.           

Then a couple of bodies surfaced in that same area and a couple of cops from the old case started to put two and two together and come up with the doctor. The frame was on but the point was how was Artie to get enough evidence to get the doctor off the hook. As it turned out a couple of pieces of evidence surfaced that got the ball rolling. The doctor’s wife, who along with his sister were seriously into steeplechase horse shows, had been beaten badly by someone a few weeks prior to her death. The coppers figured that Doc Beck did the deed, a wife-beater not uncommon among certain high profile types. As it turned out the wife, Margot was her name, had had his sister take photographs of the wounds but had also swore her to secrecy that this horse set guy, this Phillip Neuville, the son of Baron Neuville, a guy with a pile of money as well had done the beating when she confronted him with evidence of child sexual abuse of a bunch of kids who worked the stables as a part of program she was involved with.     

That confrontation as it turned out resulted in the death of young Philip. The photographs were taken after the Doc’s wife had killed the bastard.  

Switch up to the film made of the Beck case minus, at his request since it might be bad for his business in America do, Artie….

Nowadays in order for a thriller to pass muster there have to be many little twists and turns or else the film get very tedious, get very boring, never gets, as a friend of mine who is into both written and cinematic thrillers has suggested, off the slow-moving track which spells death to the film, makes one reach for the remote very quickly. That is not the case with the thriller under review, the French film, Tell No One, although frankly I thought that the film would in its opening scenes succumb to that slow-moving death every thriller has to dodge.

Here are the twists in this “cold file” case. Doctor Beck’s wife, Margot, had been killed, senselessly killed by a serial killer, several years earlier and he was just beginning to put his life back together when a whole ton of hell started coming down on his head. Reason: a couple of male bodies filled with bullets had been found out in the country where his wife had been killed. Beck had just barely gotten out of the clutches of the law back then since the law thought under the odd-ball evidence in the case that he was the mastermind behind the deed. He had been mysteriously found unconscious on the dock despite his assertions that he had been hit and fallen into the water by the killer being a chief reason that he had been suspected by the cops.    

Lots of things begin to pop up that had the cops interested in reopening the case, hoping to see the big frame placed around his head. Unaccounted for bruises to his wife’s face on photos that survived, a gun found in secret place in his house, the murder most foul of his wife’s best friend are just some of the examples that dog him. Put those together with Beck’s taking it on the lam to figure out what the hell was going on and for the average cop never mind what country he or she works in and you have an “open and shut” case of consciousness of guilt and an easy and early wrap-up to the cases.

But hold on. This Doctor Beck actually loved his wife, was not faking the trouble he had trying to put his life back together. Something else was going on, some nefarious plot to get him to take the big step-off and let him rot in prison forgotten after a while. Not only was something going on in the frame department but the good doctor was getting information via his e-mail that his wife was still alive. So two trails of events were going on at the same time (always a good sign in a thriller): the net tightening over his head by the coppers and his frenzy to find his wife knowing now that she is not dead. That’s all I will tell you because I have been asked to “tell no one” in order not to spoil the ending, okay. Except old Doc Beck was not crazy, was not wrong in assuming that nefarious forces were out to get him although it would take a while before he learned that it was because of something that Margot had knowledge about shortly before her “death” which had people in high places ready, willing and able to do her in. Watch this award-winning film.    

Releasing Your Inner Michael Feinstein-Amy Adams and Alec Newman’s “Moonlight Serenade” (2009)-A Film Review

Releasing Your Inner Michael Feinstein-Amy Adams and Alec Newman’s “Moonlight Serenade” (2009)-A Film Review

[Occasionally a reader will write in asking how a particular staff member gets an assignment for a particular film. In short has an interest in learning about the inner working of an on-line operation where most of us are not in the same room together making decisions. Most of the time it is pretty straight forward. Films get handled by Sandy Salmon and Alden Riley with Sandy taking the older films that he would have maybe watched when he was younger and Alden the more current films. Although one time earlier this year I overrode Sandy and “forced” Alden to watch and write a review on a documentary about the first Monterey Pops Festival in 1967, the year of the Summer of Love out in San Francisco which we promoted the 50th anniversary of heavily this year, when he told Sandy that he did not know who Janis Joplin was. I still bristle at that since Monterey in 1967 was where the ill-fated snake-bitten Janis made her smash break-through. But that is the exception.

Another exception is the reviewer of the film here Moonlight Serenade where Seth Garth who usually handles music reviews got the nod from Sandy since neither he, a child of rock and rock in his youth, nor Alden much more attuned to hip-hop and techno-rock had a clue about the American Songbook Tin Pan Alley style. Knowledge of that genre for this film is critical and so Seth drew the assignment. Pete Markin]    


DVD Review 

By Seth Garth

Moonlight Serenade, starring Amy Adams, Alec Newman, Harriet Samson Harris, 2009   

My old high school friend and fellow corner boy down in Carver, down in cranberry country in Southeastern Massachusetts, Gilbert Rowland used to kid me mercilessly about my knowing more of the American Songbook than he could ever dream of. He did not know that term “American Songbook” but what he meant was clear. Although I, he, we were indeed children of rock and roll (and it off-shoot the blues a little later and still later folk music during that folk minute in the early 1960s) I knew, would hum or sing what were essentially show tunes, tunes created by those who inhabited mythical Tin Pan Alley like the Gershwin Brothers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and the like to the jeers of the corner boys who only cared about what the latest Chuck Berry composition was about, whether Jerry Lee’s High School Confidential was youth nation of the time’s national anthem or whether Bill Haley and the Comets still jumped after Rock Around The Clock. Stuff like that not “sissy” (he, they used a more derogatory word than that but you get the drift) music like our parents might like-or even know about since the heyday for most of that was in their 1930s and 1940s growing up times.  Don’t ask me how I came by it, maybe hearing it on a vagrant radio station sometime up in my room listening to music on my transistor radio and it stuck, but it was surely not around the house much since I was after certain young age not around the house much.

But enough of genesis and get to the why of this assignment since I don’t usually do film reviews. This Moonlight Serenade (title from an old Glen Miller smash hit back in the long ago day) is a quirky little movie that is both a romantic comedy of sorts and a semi-musical since the three main characters are ready to sing at the drop of a hat (and maybe with less prompting). Nate, played by Alec Newman, is nothing but an up and coming Wall Street money manager who has along with his associate Angelica, played by Harriet Samson Harris been selling “short” as a strategy for making tons of money for their clients and plenty of commissions for themselves. Not a strange phenomenon in 2000s New York City. What is slightly, no more than slightly, askew is that Nate is a denizen of a jazz club and also a more that fair piano player which is how he gets his relaxation after those hard-boiled hours hustling stocks around the clock. What Nate plays is not some Jerry Lee made rock and roll piano and not even Fat Domino since no way was he a child of rock and roll, way too young, but the old Broadway and cabaret show tunes made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday and Mabel Mercer and written by Tin Pan Alley legends like Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins and the like.             

That high strung money manager versus his inner Michael Feinstein, the fairly recent famous cabaret performer of this kind of music, is what drives the Nate end of the plotline. Enter Chloe, played by fetching Amy Adams, a hat-checker (formerly hat check girl but that is passé now) at that jazz club Nate frequents and who turns out to be a struggling torch-singer in the mold of Peggy Lee it appears whose paramour and piano player is some strung out junkie. They “meet” while he is singing a song in his open window apartment and she is walking along the sidewalk below and begins a duet (the drop of a hat phenomenon). When they actually do meet though they are frosty, or rather she in the throes of what to do about that junkie boyfriend is, and standoffish although you could tell from minute one that they would hit the satin sheets before long-and they did.

What Chloe needed was a big change and eventually got it at that jazz club when Nate who has been providing the owner with good stock tips for this portfolio gave her a break. Smash home run hit. Except two things are amiss. Nate is torn about taking stab at making a musical career and tearing up Wall Street with his expertise and Chloe has to confront what to do about that junkie boyfriend. In the end you know what happened-or can guess. Here is the big problem for me though having first seen Ms. Adams doing her torch-singer thing in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day burning up the screen with her version of the old Inkspots’ tune If I Didn’t Care which even I recognized was one of the best versions ever done on that number. Either the song selection here was wrong although there were plenty of can-do Cole Porter tunes which Billie Holiday hit out of the park or Chloe’s jaunty way of performing them was off but except for one torch she didn’t ready hit the mark in the music department. He was off as well although Nate never claimed to be the cat’s meow as a singer. Maybe having imbibed this stuff third-hand (at least given their ages that seems right) their New York 2000s sensibilities saw the tunes differently. Still a good film to hear those old classics getting a workout and seeing the chemistry develop between Nate and Chloe.            

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- *In Pete Seeger's House- "Rainbow Quest"-Jean Ritchie

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Pete Seeger's now famous 1960s (black and white, that's the give-away)"Rainbow Quest" for the performer in this entry's headline.

Markin comment:

This series, featuring Pete Seeger and virtually most of the key performers in the 1960s folk scene is a worthy entry into the folk archival traditions for future revivalists to seek out. There were thirty plus episodes (some contained more than one performer of note, as well as Pete solo performances). I have placed the YouTube film clips here one spot over four days, November 10-13, 2009 for the reader's convenience.

Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell-Once Again, On The Enigma Of Leonard Cohen- "He's Your Man"(?)

Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell-Once Again, On The Enigma Of Leonard Cohen- "He's Your Man"(?)

A link to YouTube's film clip form the 2005 concert reviewed below of Martha Wainwright performing Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man".

Once Again, On The Enigma Of The Late Songwriter Leonard Cohen- "He's Your Man"(?)

DVD Review

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, Leonard Cohen, various artists, directed by Lian Lunson, Liongate Productions, 2005

I have used today’s, August 18, 2009, review of “The Best Of Leonard Cohen” CD as the start of my review of the DVD “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man” because I believe that the questions that I had about his place in musical history get resolved, partially, in the film:

“The Best Of Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen, CBS Records, 1975

Leonard Cohen always seemed to me to be the odd man out in the swirl of the folk revival of the early 1960’s. Yes, sure he did his time at the Chelsea Hotel (something of a rite of passage for some singer/songwriters). He certainly, either through his music or lifestyle, did not merely represent some hippie faddism. He was just a little too old and little too proper writer, in the European sense, for that. Yet, although some of his material could well be played in the beat cafés of the late 1950’s, there too his work seems too civilized for that raucous crowd. A viewing several years ago of a film documentary on his life, work and times "I'm Your Man" only added to my confusion about where to pigeonhole Mr. Cohen.

So now you see my dilemma. In any case the best place to start to get an appreciation for the work of this very talented and driven lyricist (I cannot say much for his vocal accomplishments as it will be the lyrics that will stand the test of time, not the voice) is this compilation of his best work, circa 1975. Haven’t we all had, or wanted to have, male or female, that “Suzanne” of the first song. This is probably his best known song, and I think rightly so as a secondary anthem of the 1960’s. Included here are the heart-wrenching lyrics of “Bird On A Wire”, as well as “Sisters Of Mercy” and “So Long, Marianne”. Cohen tips his hat to the Chelsea Hotel experience in “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. As I run through this list there is one thought that does occur to me. If you are in a depressed or melancholy mood it is best to save this CD for some other time. But do listen to it.”

Those remarks receive some answers in this well-done 2005 part biographic sketch and part tribute concert (down in Sydney, Australia). The parts about his driven personal life from the days when he held forth in the poetry circles of his native Montreal, his evolution as a lyricist during his key stay at the Chelsea Hotel (basically absorbing the vibrant folk lyric/ poetic milieu of New York City, the center of the cultural universe back in those days), and his long time commitment to the rigors of Buddhism round his story and give a better sense of the demons that drove his work.

The concert segments interspersed between the Cohen commentaries are the real reason to view this DVD though. I mentioned in the review of the CD (and Cohen, with a measured sense of his own creative skills, confirms in this film) that Leonard Cohen would be remembered for his lyrics not for his voice. By that I did not mean that his work could not be well-covered by others. And this Sydney concert is the proof. Of course any time you have the McGarrigle Sisters, Anna and Kate and the Wainwright kids (Kate’s kids), Rufus and Martha (Martha outshines Rufus here, if you can believe that), you know that there is a solid base to the show. Add in Linda Thompson, Beth Orton and others covering Cohen classics like “Suzanne”, “Sisters Of Mercy”, and Chelsea Hotel”, to name a few, and this is quite a tribute show. Additionally, there is as segment with the ubiquitous Bono and the U2 crowd doing their part by “aiding” Cohen’s singing on a newer song “Tower Of Sound” and the title entry “I’m Your Man”. This is good stuff for Cohen aficionados and newcomers alike.

"Suzanne" -Leonard Cohen

Suzanne takes you down to her place newer the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that shes half crazy
But thats why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from china
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That youve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For youve touched her perfect body with your mind.

And jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe youll trust him
For hes touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now suzanne takes you hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From salvation army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For shes touched your perfect body with her mind.