Saturday, May 02, 2020

*Our Flag Is Still Red- Reflections On Boston May Day 2010- A Personal Note On Marching With The Black and Red Anarchists

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston IndyMedia" post on the 2010 Boston May Day ceebration.

Markin comment:

Over the past several years celebrations of our international working class holiday, May Day, not only have we paid tribute to the Chicago Haymarket anarchist martyrs and the struggle for the eight hour day but the hard pressed struggle against the denial of immigrant rights and the attempt by Tea Party-types and other to “close the door” to immigration. This addition reflects the increasingly important role that Hispanics and other militants from the international working class milieu play in the left wing of the American labor movement. Thus, the call for full citizenship rights for those who make it here is an appropriate one on this day.

With this thought in mind I, and a few of the local anti-imperialist activists that I work with marched under that slogan in the 2010 Boston May Day festivities as well as the slogan for the modern equivalent of the eight hour day, especially in these times- “30 For 40”. That slogan, for those not familiar with it, is an algebraic formula, long associated with the Trotskyist movement, although not by any means exclusively raised by us. All we have proposed by the call is the eminently rational solution to unemployment (and underemployment) by spreading the work around so that all have work, and a living wage. Of course the catch is this- it ain’t going to happen under capitalist and so the question of socialism and central planning are starkly posed. And that, after all, is the idea.

What makes all of the above political lead up to my main point interesting, beyond the intrinsic value of such work, is that we found ourselves marching along with a local anarchist collective that had its own set of slogans, and... a marching band. (See linked article.) The whole atmosphere brought back the old days when such musical accompaniment, especially in the old ethnic neighborhoods, were a matter of course on May Day and other left occasions. Now here is the kicker- this group of anarchists marched under the banner of the Haymarket martyrs. That is enough to warm any old militant's heart. And, they were to a man and women, young, very young. Be still my heart, despite our political differences.

Now some may ask why are a confirmed Marxist and his comrades are walking on the same streets as those anarchist partisans. Wrong question, or better, wrong way to pose it. One of the real damaging effects that the variants of historical Stalinism have left on the international working class movement is the hard fact that different political tendencies within the movement are almost literally at war with each other, 24/7/365. To the eternal glee of the capitalists. On the political level those fights are correct. However on our common holidays, like May Day, we should be showing our united face to the international capitalists.

In that sense James P. Cannon, an old Wobblie (IWW), American Communist Party founder and Trotskyist leader had it right. One way he had it right was in his early leadership of the International Labor Defense, an organization dedicated to the struggle to free class war prisoners. All class war prisoners. The other was his long time friendships with those of other working class political tendencies like the great anarchist leader, Carlo Tresca. Hell, he even borrowed money off him. (And eventually paid it back.) I will not go and on about this but let’s leave it at this. After a spring of an anti-war agenda of what looked like a leftist variant of AARP meetings it was such nice to march with the kids. We will get back to the political struggle over differences soon enough.

Friday, May 01, 2020

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Just Before The Sea Change - With The Dixie Cups Chapel Of Love In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Just Before The Sea Change - With The Dixie Cups Chapel Of Love In Mind

YouTube film clip of the Dixie Cups performing their 1960s classic (who brought the house down with this number about 15 or 20 years ago at the Newport Folk festival of all places to show an example of a song with staying power Chapel Of Love

By Allan Jackson

[I don’t know if this burst of energy, of political energy among the younger set around the issues of gun violence and sexual harassment in America and those similarly situation in ignitable France where they are looking for some say in their academic and social lives very similar to the May days in 1968 will herald a searching for a “newer world” as we called it back in the 1960s but I like the chances. A chance once again to “turn the world upside down”-and make it stick this time-make the night-takers go to ground-finally. I don’t know if there is some kid, some kids down in Parkland, Florida, Kansas City, Missouri, Ann Arbor, Michigan, who will live and breathe the fresh air coming, will drag the rest of their generation along but in our time, the time of the Generation of ’68 which takes its name from the massive events including those Paris days that person had a name. The late Peter Paul Markin who could not go the distance but set the spark, the prairie fire he called it one time after his hero revolutionary abolitionist John Brown out in bloody, bleeding Kansas back before the start of the American Civil War.

Markin, forever known as Scribe for his habit of carrying a small pocket-sized notebook and pencil to write down the two million facts that would come into his head was unique in our growing town of the Acre section of North Adamsville because he was literally the only one in our crowd, our corner boy crowd, who saw in any outline what was coming down the road. We used to laugh at him for years every time he would start his harangue and we would have to cut him short or else he would suffer serious bodily harm from those corner boys who didn’t want to hear such bullshit, wanted to worry about girls, dates, cars, dough and real teenage stuff. Went on and on until 1967 when during the Summer of Love all of us who were still standing (we had lost a couple of guys to bloody Vietnam by then) we all became true believers and those who lasted, outlasted poor bedraggled prophet Scribe, pretty much stayed the course as tough as it got as the years passed by.

The sketch below speaks directly to what Scribe was getting at, how kids, a few at first then by the gallons, started shedding their old skins and started to try to change the world. Of course that change had to be filtered through a change of musical appreciations as well as the other stuff and like that other stuff the change in musical appreciations was sometimes behind what was in people’s heads, what they wanted to hear. The case of the three composite subjects below, based on real young people who did head toward the danger, who did head south when the clarion call came for whites to support the black civil rights struggle down there can stand in for the mood of times. The mood Scribe and others like him helped create.   

There were some things about Edward Rowley’s youthful activities that he would rather not forget, things that defined his life, gave him that fifteen minutes of fame, if only to himself and his, that everybody kept talking about that everyone deserved before they departed this life. That is what got him thinking one sunny afternoon in September about five years ago as he waited for the seasons to turn almost before his eyes about the times around 1964, around the time that he graduated from North Adamsville High School, around the time that he realized that the big breeze jail-break that he had kind of been waiting for was about to bust out over the land, over America. It was not like he was some kind of soothsayer, could read tea leaves or tarot cards like some latter day Madame La Rue who actually did read his future once down at the Gloversville Fair, read that he was made for big events anything like that back then. No way although that tarot reading when he was twelve left an impression for a while.

Edward’s take on the musical twists and turns back then is where he had something the kids at North Adamsville High would comment on, would ask him about to see which way the winds were blowing, would put their nickels, dimes and quarters in the jukeboxes to hear. See his senses were very much directed by his tastes in music, by his immersion into all things rock and roll in the early 1960s where he sensed what he called silly “bubble gum” music that had passed for rock (and which the girls liked, or liked the look of the guys singing the tunes) was going to be buried under an avalanche of sounds going back to Elvis and forward to something else, something with more guitars all amped to bring in the new dispensation. 
More importantly since the issue of jailbreaks and sea changes were in the air he was the very first kid to grasp what would later be called the folk minute of the early 1960s (which when the tunes, not Dylan and Baez at first but guys like the Kingston Trio started playing on the jukebox at Jimmy Jack’s Diner after school some other girls, not the “bubble gum” girls went crazy over). So that musical sense combined with his ever present sense that things could be better in this wicked old world drilled into him by his kindly old grandmother who was an old devotee of the Catholic Worker movement kind of drove his aspirations. But at first it really was the music that had been the cutting edge of what followed later, followed until about 1964 when that new breeze arrived in the land.

That fascination with music had occupied Edward’s mind since he had been about ten and had received a transistor radio for his birthday and out of curiosity decided to turn the dial to AM radio channels other that WJDA which his parents, may they rest in peace, certainly rest in peace from his incessant clamoring for rock and roll records and later folk albums, concert tickets, radio listening time on the big family radio in the living room, had on constantly and which drove him crazy. Drove him crazy because that music, well, frankly that music, the music of the Doris Days, the Peggy Lees, The Rosemary Clooneys, the various corny sister acts like the Andrews Sisters, the Frank Sinatras, the Vaughn Monroes, the Dick Haynes and an endless series of male quartets did not “jump,” gave him no “kicks,’ left him flat. As a compromise, no, in order to end the family civil war, they had purchased a transistor radio at Radio Shack and left him to his own devises.

One night, one late night in 1955, 1956 when Edward was fiddling with the dial he heard this sound out of Cleveland, Ohio, a little fuzzy but audible playing this be-bop sound, not jazz although it had horns, not rhythm and blues although sort of, but a new beat driven by some wild guitar by a guy named Warren Smith who was singing about his Ruby, his Rock ‘n’ Roll Ruby who only was available apparently to dance the night away. And she didn’t seem to care whether she danced by herself on the tabletops or with her guy. Yeah, so if you need a name for what ailed young Edward Rowley, something he could not quite articulate then call her woman, call her Ruby and you will not be far off. And so with that as a pedigree Edward became one of the town’s most knowledgeable devotees of the new sound. Problem was that new sound, as happens frequently in music, got a little stale as time went on, as the original artists who captured his imagination faded from view one way or another and new guys, guys with nice Bobby this and Bobby that names, Patsy this and Brenda that names sang songs under the umbrella name rock and roll that his mother could love. Songs that could have easily fit into that WJDA box that his parents had been stuck in since about World War II.

So Edward was anxious for a new sound to go along with his feeling tired of the same old, same old stuff that had been hanging around in the American night since the damn nuclear hot flashes red scare Cold War started way before he had a clue about what that was all about. It had started with the music and then he got caught later in high school up with a guy in school, Daryl Wallace, a hipster, or that is what he called himself, a guy who liked “kicks” although being in high school in North Adamsville far from New York City, far from San Francisco, damn, far from Boston what those “kicks” were or what he or Eddie would do about getting those “kicks” never was made clear. But they played it out in a hokey way and for a while they were the town, really high school, “beatniks.”  So Eddie had had his short faux “beat” phase complete with flannel shirts, black chino pants, sunglasses, and a black beret (a beret that he kept hidden at home in his bedroom closet once he found out after his parents had seen and heard Jack Kerouac reading from the last page of On The Road on the Steve Allen Show that they severely disapproved on the man, the movement and anything that smacked of the “beat” and a beret always associated with French bohemians and foreignness would have had them seeing “red”). And for a while Daryl and Eddie played that out until Daryl moved away (at least that was the story that went around but there was a persistent rumor for a time that Mr. Wallace had dragooned Daryl into some military school in California in any case that disappearance from the town was the last he ever heard from his “beat” brother). Then came 1964 and  Eddie was fervently waiting for something to happen, for something to come out of the emptiness that he was feeling just as things started moving again with the emergence of the Beatles and the Stones as a harbinger of what was coming. 

That is where Eddie had been psychologically when his mother first began to harass him about his hair. Although the hair thing like the beret was just the symbol of clash that Eddie knew was coming and knew also that now that he was older that he was going to be able to handle differently that when he was a kid.  Here is what one episode of the battle sounded like:                   

“Isn’t that hair of yours a little long Mr. Edward Rowley, Junior,” clucked Mrs. Edward Rowley, Senior, “You had better get it cut before your father gets back from his conference trip, if you know what is good for you.” That mothers’-song was being endlessly repeated in North Adamsville households (and not just those households either but in places like North Adamsville, Hullsville, Shaker Heights, Dearborn, Cambridge any place where guys were waiting for the new dispensation and wearing hair a little longer than boys’ regular was the flash point) ever since the British invasion had brought longer hair into style (and a little less so, beards, that was later when guys got old enough to grow one without looking wispy, had taken a look at what their Victorian great-grandfathers grew and though it was “cool.” Cool along with new mishmash clothing and new age monikers to be called by.).

Of course when one was thinking about the British invasion in the year 1964 one was not thinking about the American Revolution or the War of 1812 but the Beatles. And while their music has taken 1964 teen world by a storm, a welcome storm after the long mainly musical counter-revolution since Elvis, Bo, Jerry Lee and Chuck ruled the rock night and had disappeared without a trace, the 1964 parent world was getting up in arms.

And not just about hair styles either. But about midnight trips on the clanking subway to Harvard Square coffeehouses to hear, to hear if you can believe this, folk music, mountain music, harp music or whatever performed by long-haired (male or female), long-bearded (male), blue jean–wearing (both), sandal-wearing (both), well, for lack of a better name “beatniks” (parents, as usual, being well behind the curve on teen cultural movements since by 1964 “beat”  except on silly television shows and “wise” social commentary who could have been “Ike” brothers and sisters, was yesterday’s news).

Mrs. Rowley would constantly harp about “why couldn’t Eddie be like he was when he listened to Bobby Vinton and his Mr. Lonely or that lovely-voiced Roy Orbison and his It’s Over and other nice songs on the local teen radio station, WMEX (he hated that name Eddie by the way, Eddie was also what everybody called his father so you can figure out why he hated the moniker just then). Now it was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a cranky-voiced guy named Bob Dylan that has his attention. And that damn Judy Jackson with her short skirt and her, well her… looks” (Mrs. Rowley like every mother in the post-Pill world refusing to use the “s” word, a throw-back to their girlish days when their mothers did not use such a word.)     

Since Mrs. Rowley, Alice to the neighbors, was getting worked up anyway, she let out what was really bothering her about her Eddie’s behavior, "What about all the talk about doing right by the down-trodden Negros down in Alabama and Mississippi. And you and that damn Peter Dawson, who used to be so nice when all you boys hung around together at Jimmy Jacks’ Diner [Edward: corner boys, Ma, that is what we were] and I at least knew you were no causing trouble, talking about organizing a book drive to get books for the little Negro children down there. If your father ever heard that there would be hell to pay, hell to pay and maybe a strap coming out of the closet big as you are. Worst though, worst that worrying about Negros down South is that treasonous talk about leaving this country, leaving North Adamsville, defenseless against the communists with your talk of nuclear disarmament. Why couldn’t you have just left well enough alone and stuck with your idea of forming a band that would play nice songs that make kids feel good like Gale Garnet’s We’ll Sing In The Sunshine or that pretty Negro girl Dionne Warwick and Her Walk On By instead of getting everybody upset."

And since Mrs. Rowley, Alice, to the neighbors had mentioned the name Judy Jackson, Edward’s flame and according to Monday morning before school girls’ “lav” talk, Judy’s talk they had “done the deed” and you can figure out what the deed was let’s hear what was going on in the Jackson household since one of the reasons that Edward was wearing his hair longer was because Judy thought it was “sexy” and so that talk of doing the deed may well have been true if there were any sceptics. Hear this:      

“Young lady, that dress is too short for you to wear in public, take it off, burn it for all I care, and put on another one or you are not going out of this house,” barked Mrs. James Jackson, echoing a sentiment that many worried North Adamsville mothers were feeling (and not just those mothers either but in places like Gloversville, Hullsville, Shaker Heights, Dearborn, Cambridge any place where gals were waiting for the new dispensation and wearing their skirts a little longer than mid-calf was the flash point) about their daughters dressing too provocatively and practically telling the boys, well practically telling them you know what as she suppressed the “s” word that was forming in her head. She too working up a high horse head of steam continued, "And that Eddie [“Edward, Ma,” Judy keep repeating every time Mrs. Jackson, Dorothy to the neighbors, said Eddie], and his new found friends like Peter Dawson taking you to those strange coffeehouses in Harvard Square with all the unwashed, untamed, unemployed “beatniks” instead of the high school dances on Saturday night. And that endless talk about the n-----s down South, about get books for the ignorant to read and other trash talk about how they are equal to us, and your father better not hear you talk like that, not at the dinner table since has to work around them and their smells and ignorance over in that factory in Dorchester.  And don’t start with that Commie trash about peace and getting rid of weapons. They should draft the whole bunch of them and put them over in front of that Berlin Wall. Then they wouldn’t be so negative about America."

Scene: Edward, Judy and Peter Dawson were sitting in the Club Nana in Harvard Square sipping coffee, maybe pecking at the one brownie between, and listening to a local wanna-be folk singing strumming his stuff (who turned out to be none other than Eric Von Schmidt). Beside them cartons of books that they are sorting to be taken along with them when head South this summer after graduation exercises at North Adamsville High School are completed in June. (By the way Peter’s parents were only slightly less irate about their son’s activities and used the word “Negro” when they were referring to black people, black people they wished their son definitely not to get involved with were only slightly less behind the times than Mrs. Rowley and Mrs. Jackson and so requires no separate screed by Mrs. Dawson. See Peter did not mention word one about what he was, or was not, doing and thus spared himself the anguish that Edward and Judy put themselves through trying to “relate” to their parents, their mothers really since fathers were some vague threatened presence in the background in those households.)

They, trying to hold back their excitement have already been to some training sessions at the NAACP office over on Massachusetts Avenue in the Roxbury section of Boston and have purchased their tickets for the Greyhound bus as far as New York’s Port Authority where they will meet others who will be heading south on a chartered bus. But get this Pete turned to Edward and said, “Have you heard that song, Popsicles and Icicles by the Mermaids, it has got great melodic sense.” Yes, we are still just before the sea change after which even Peter will chuckle about “bubble gum” music. Good luck though, young travelers, good luck.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- The 40th Anniversary Of The Fall Of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)(2015)-An American Ex-Soldier’s Story.

An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- The 40th Anniversary Of The Fall Of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)(2015)-An American Ex-Soldier’s Story. 

Greg Green, site manager Introduction 

 [In early 2018, shortly after I had taken over the reins as site manager at this on-line publication I “saw the light” and bowed to the wisdom of a number of older writers who balked at my idea of reaching younger and newer audiences by having them review films like Marvel/DC Comics productions, write about various video games and books that would not offend a flea unlike the flaming red books previously reviewed here centered on the now aging 1960s baby-boomer demographic which had sustained the publication through good times and bad as a hard copy and then on-line proposition. One senior writer, who shall remain nameless in case some stray millennial sees this introduction and spreads some viral social media hate campaign his way, made the very telling observation that the younger set, his term, don’t read film reviews or hard copy books as a rule and those hardy Generation of ’68 partisans who still support this publication in the transition from the old Allan Jackson leadership to mine don’t give a fuck about comics, video games or graphic novels. I stand humbled.

Not only stand humbled though but in a valiant and seemingly successful attempt to stabilize this operation decided to give an encore presentation to some of the most important series produced and edited by Allan Jackson-without Allan. That too proved to be an error when I had Frank Jackman introduce the first few sections of The Roots Is The Toots Rock And Roll series which Allan had sweated his ass over to bring out over a couple of years. Writers, and not only senior writers who had supported Allan in the vote of no confidence fight challenging his leadership after he went overboard attempting to cash in on the hoopla over the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in 1967 but also my younger writer partisans, balked at this subterfuge. One called it a travesty.

Backing off after finding Allan, not an easy task since he had fled to the safer waters of the West looking for work and had been rumored to be any place from Salt Lake City to some mountainous last hippie commune in the hills of Northern California doing anything from pimping as press agent for Mitt Romney’s U.S. Senate campaign in Utah to running a whorehouse with Madame La Rue in Frisco or shacking up with drag queen Miss Judy Garland in that same city, we brought Allan back to do the introductions to the remaining sections. That we, me and the Editorial Board established after Allan’s demise and as a guard against one-person rule, had compromised on that gesture with the last of the series being the termination of Allan’s association with the publication except possibly as an occasional writer, a stringer really, when some nostalgia event needed some attention.      

That was the way things went and not too badly when we finished up the series in the early summer of 2018. But that is not the end of the Allan story. While looking through the on-line archives I noticed that Allan had also seriously edited another 1960s-related series, the Sam and Ralph Stories, a series centered on the trials and tribulations of two working-class guys who had been radicalized in different ways by the 1960s upheavals and have never lost the faith in what Allan called from Tennyson “seeking a newer world” would resurface in this wicked old world, somebody’s term.

I once again attempted to make the mistake of having someone else, in this case Josh Breslin, introduce the series (after my introduction here) but the Editorial Board bucked me even before I could set that idea in motion. I claimed, somewhat disingenuously, that Allan was probably out in Utah looking for some residual work for Mitt Romney now that he is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator for Utah or running back to Madame La Rue, an old flame, and that high- end whorehouse or hanging with Miss Judy Garland at her successful drag queen tourist attraction cabaret. No such luck since he was up in Maine working on a book about his life as an editor. To be published in hard cop y by well-known Wheeler Press whenever he gets the proofs done. So hereafter former editor and site manager Allan will handle the introductions on this encore presentation of this excellent series. Greg Green]                   

Allan Jackson, editor The Sam And Ralph Stories -New General Introduction

[As my replacement Greg Green, whom I brought in from American Film Gazette originally to handle the day to day site operations while I concentrated on editing but who led a successful revolt against my regime based on the wishes of the younger writers to as they said at the time not be slaves to the 1960s upheavals a time which they only knew second or third hand, mentioned in his general introduction above some of the series I initiated were/are worth an encore presentation. The Sam and Ralph Stories are one such series and as we go along I will try to describe why this series was an important testament to an unheralded segment of the mass movements of the 1960s-the radicalized white working- class kids who certainly made up a significant component of the Vietnam War soldiery, some of who were like Sam and Ralph forever after suspicious of every governmental war cry. Who also somewhat belatedly got caught up in the second wave rock and roll revival which emerged under the general slogan of “drug, sex and rock and roll” which represented a vast sea change for attitudes about a lot of things that under ordinary circumstances would have had them merely replicating their parents’ ethos and fate.        

As I said I will describe that transformation in future segment introductions but today since it is my “dime” I want to once again clear up some misapprehensions about what has gone on over the past year or so in the interest of informing the readership, as Greg Green has staked his standing at this publication on doing to insure his own survival, about what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing business. This would not have been necessary after the big flap when Greg tried an “end around” something that I and every other editor worth her or his salt have tried as well and have somebody else, here commentator and my old high school friend Frank Jackman, act as general introducer of The Roots Is The Toots  rock and roll coming of age series that I believe is one of the best productions I have ever worked on. That got writers, young and old, with me or against me, led by Sam Lowell, another of my old high school friends, who had been the decisive vote against me in the “vote of no confidence” which ended my regime up in arms. I have forgiven Sam, and others, as I knew full well from the time I entered into the business that at best it was a cutthroat survival of the fittest racket. (Not only have I forgiven Sam but I am in his corner in his recent struggles with young up and coming by-line writer Sarah Lemoyne who is being guided through the shoals by another old high school friend Seth Garth as she attempts to make her way up the film critic food chain, probably the most vicious segment of the business where a thousand knives wait the unwary from so-called fellow reviewers.) The upshot of that controversy was that Greg had to back off and let me finish the introducing the series for which after all I had been present at the creation.               

That would have been the end of it but once we successfully, and thankfully by Greg who gave me not only kudos around the water cooler but a nice honorarium, concluded that series encore in the early summer of 2018 he found another way to cut me. Going through the archives of this publication to try to stabilize the readership after doing some “holy goof” stuff like having serious writers, young and old, reviewing films based on comic book characters, the latest in video games and graphic novels with no success forgetting the cardinal rule of the post-Internet world that the younger set get their information from other sources than old line academic- driven websites and don’t read beyond their techie tools Greg found another series, the one highlighted here, that intrigued him for an encore presentation. This is where Greg proved only too human since he once again attempted an “end around,” by having Josh Breslin, another old friend whom I meet in the Summer of Love, 1967 out in San Francisco, introduce the series citing my unavailability as the reason although paying attention to the fact that I had sweated bullets over that one as well.      

This time though the Editorial Board, now headed by Sam Lowell, intervened even before Greg could approach Josh for the assignment. This Ed Board was instituted after my departure to insure the operation would not descend, Sam’s word actually, into the so-called autocratic one-person rule that had been the norm under my regime. They told Greg to call me back in on the encore project or to forget it. I would not have put up with such a suggestion from an overriding Ed Board and would have willingly bowed out if anybody had tried to undermine me that way. I can understand fully Greg’s desire to cast me to the deeps, have done with me as in my time I did as well knowing others in the food chain would see this as their opportunity to move up.  

That part I had no problem with, told Greg exactly that. What bothered me was the continuing “urban legend” about what I had done, where I had gone after that decisive vote of no confidence. Greg continued, may continue today, to fuel the rumors that not only after my initial demise but after finishing up the Roots Is The Toots series I had gone back out West to Utah of all places to work for the Mormons, or to Frisco to hook up with my old flame Madame La Rue running that high-end whorehouse I had staked her to in the old days, or was running around with another old high school pal, Miss Judy Garland, aka Timmy Riley the high priestess of the drag queen set out in that same town whom I also helped stake to  his high-end tourist attraction cabaret. All nonsense, I was working on my memoir up in Maine, up in Olde Saco where Josh grew up and which I fell in love with when he first showed me his hometown and its ocean views.          

If the reader can bear the weight of this final reckoning let me clear the air on all three subjects on the so-called Western trail. Before that though I admit, admit freely that despite all the money I have made, editing, doing a million pieces under various aliases and monikers, ballooning up 3000 word articles to 10,000 and having the publishers fully pay despite the need for editing for the latter in the days before the Guild when you worked by the word, accepting articles which I clearly knew were just ripped of the AP feed and sending them along as gold I had no dough, none when I was dethroned. Reason, perfectly sane reason, although maybe not, three ex-wives with alimony blues and a parcel of kids, a brood if you like who were in thrall to the college tuition vultures.

Tapped out in the East for a lot of reasons I did head west the first time looking for work. Landed in Utah when I ran out of dough, and did, DID, try to get a job on the Salt Lake Star and would have had it too except two things somebody there, some friend of Mitt Romney, heard I was looking for work and nixed the whole thing once they read the articles I had written mocking Mitt and his white underwear world as Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential candidate. So it was with bitter irony when I heard that Greg had retailed the preposterous idea that I would now seek a job shilling for dear white undie Mitt as press agent in his run for the open Utah United States Senate seat. Here is where everybody should gasp though at the whole Utah fantasy-these Mormons stick close together, probably ingrained in them from Joseph Smith days, and don’t hire goddam atheists and radicals, don’t hire outside the religion if they can help it. You probably had to have slept with one of Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s wives to even get one foot in the door. Done.              

The helping Madame La Rue, real name of no interest or need to mention,  running her high-end exclusive whorehouse out in Half Moon Bay at least had some credence since I had staked her to some dough to get started after the downfall of the 1960s sent her back to her real world, the world of a high class hooker who was slumming with “hippies” for a while when it looked like our dreams were going to be deterred in in the ebbtide. We had been hot and heavy lovers, although never married except on some hazed drug-fogged concert night when I think Josh Breslin “married” us and sent us on a “honeymoon” with a fistful of cocaine. Down on dough I hit her up for some which she gave gladly, said it was interest on the “loan: she never repaid and let me stay at her place for a while until I had to move on. Done

The whole drag queen idea tells me that whoever started this damn lie knew nothing about my growing up days and had either seen me in The Totem, Timmy Riley’s aka Miss Judy Garland’s drinking with a few drag queen who worked and drew the wrong conclusions or was out to slander and libel me for some other nefarious reason. See Miss Judy Garland is the very successful drag queen and gay man Timmy Riley from the old neighborhood who fled to Frisco when he could no longer hide his sexual identity and preferences. To our great shock since Timmy had been the out-front gay-basher of our crowd, our working-class corner boy gay-bashing crowd. I had lent, after getting religion rather late on the LGBTQ question, Timmy the money to buy his first drag queen cabaret on Bay Street and Timmy was kind enough to stake me to some money and a roof before I decided I had to head back East. Done.

But enough about me.  This is about two other working- class guys, Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris, met along life’s road one from Carver about fifty miles away from where Seth, Sam, Timmy and a bunch of other guys grew up and learned the “normal” working-class ethos-and broke, tentatively at times, from that same straitjacket and from Troy, New York. Funny Troy, Carver, North Adamsville, and Josh’s old mill town Olde Saco all down-in-the-mouth working class towns still produced in exceptional times a clot of guys who got caught up in the turmoil of their times-and lived to tell the tale. I am proud to introduce this encore presentation and will have plenty more to say about Sam and Ralph in future segments.]

Allan Jackson Introduction To Sam and Ralph-The Wild Boys of Cambridge When Cambridge Was Jammed Full Of Wild Girls And Boys    

[Some guys from the old days, from the old growing up poor in the working-class Acre section of North Adamsville, I still have contact with over fifty years later. Guys like Seth Garth who is now in a “battle” along with his new protégé Sarah Lemoyne who looks for all the world to be an up and coming contributor to this publication against his, and my, old time friend Sam Lowell who promised me he would retire, especially after he provided the key last and decisive vote when the younger writers rose up against my editorship and forced me to retire. Forced me West seeking another job to keep myself solvent causing all kinds of rumors and fairy tales to enter the world which only muddied up the already murky waters. Other guys like beautiful Si Lannon and generous benefactor to this publication Jack Callahan also come to mind. Of course the elephant in the room has always been, and probably always will be, one Peter Paul Markin, who taught us many things before his sadly untimely demise caused by his own hubris many years ago. I honored his memory for years using his name as my moniker in various publishing efforts and will detail the genesis of that decision in the memoir of my time in the publishing industry which I am working on and expect to complete by next year.     

I am proud to have had the chance to keep so many friendships from the old neighborhoods days as I am a man who puts a great deal into things like loyalty and camaraderie. Of course those relationships do not exhaust the number of long friendships and close working relationships. Josh Breslin met in the Summer of Love, 1967, Zack James, youngest brother of my closest friend in high Alex, and Lance Lawrence come readily to mind. Then there are guys, I am only talking guys today as I will deal with gals in an up-coming introductory segment, like fellow Vietnam veteran Ralph Morris from over in Troy, New York whom I met I believe down in Washington, D.C. in 1971 a few weeks before we, Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW), did our part to try to shut down the government to shut down the war on May Day -and failed. Guys like his friend Sam Eaton from Carver about fifty miles from North Adamsville,  not a veteran since he was exempted from the draft as the sole support of his mother and four sisters after his father passed away suddenly of a heart attack, whom Ralph “met” after both had been arrested in those May Day actions in “jail” at the RFK football stadium. They, Sam and Ralph, and I have stayed in contact over the years and have worked on many political projects mostly against war together.    

That brings me to the idea behind having Sam and Ralph as the central characters in a series I helped plan around the story- and fate- of some working- class radicals who for the most part had kept the faith, had not retreated to self, had not given up the mist of change we were struggling for in those halcyon and heady 1960s upheaval days. At the cost of over-generalization the thing that united the North Adamsville remnant, including me, guys like Josh Breslin and guys like Sam and Ralph was our working-class backgrounds. While the road to new understandings of the ways of the world were different we all arrived at some similar conclusions and since then have seen no reason to dramatically change them if in the aging process we are less able to stir the old energies. Have been ready to “pass the torch” for a while. The stories of the old North Adamsville corner boys had by 2012 or so been done to death as had the stories centered on other working-class guys like Josh Breslin from places like Olde Saco up in Maine and so the natural place to turn was the long-time relationship between Sam and Ralph. Things seemed right in the universe doing the series then-and now with this encore.]          

Allan Jackson’s Encore Introduction to “An Ex-American Soldier’s Story”

Some generations are driven by events that have world historic importance-Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 the day of infamy according to President Franklin Roosevelt, maybe not so to others but that is for the historian to decipher and 9/11 2001 come readily to mind. For the Generation of ’68 Peter Paul Markin’s designation for the generation, or the best part of it that rose up to try and slay the dragon of the Vietnam War that fateful April 30, 1975 when with a puff of air the North Vietnamese Regulars and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front waltzed int to Saigon, now rightfully Ho Chi Minh City after the great national liberation leader, after a 10,000 day world, the bloodiest and most bloodthirsty part the American invasion from say 1964 to that well-known photograph of the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy by helicopter of the last remnant of the America hubris in the area.

Not everybody, soldier or civilian saw, sees that day as cause for some serious contemplation, reflection about the borders of hubris. Some soldiers, some fellow soldiers, and this is what I want to make sure I get clear in this introduction did their duty as they saw it, came home and as best as they could  got back to the real world, that was probably a majority of the roughly two million military personnel who served in that conflict. Another segment, smaller and more troubled never did get back to the “real” world. Drugs, physical maladies, mental problems, and just getting back the nine to five world they had expected to inhabit proved too much. Guys like the guys who famously became the “brothers under the bridge” that I wrote about for the East Bay Other after I had come back from Vietnam and had had my own troubles getting back into that real world. The epitome, the personal known to me epitome of that soldier though was Peter Paul Markin, whose moniker I used for a number of years to honor my fallen hometown neighborhood friend and brother who taught me, us many things before he went under and who had done okay for a while but just couldn’t get rid of the demons in his head, what Seth Garth, using a line from a Patty Griffin song “put out the fire in your head” used to say.        

Then there were the Ralph Morris-types who came back ready to smite dragons, and is still ready to do so, ready to take on all comers who want to get this country into yet another war and who as a sidebar has fought under various banners for social justice ever since. I met Ralph down in Washington in the spring of 1971 when he, I, was red hot to express his outrage at the murderous actions of his government against people with which he had no quarrel.  We were linked up with other ex G.I.s in various actions as veterans, as guys who knew and saw things up close and personal and ready to do something, maybe give up our lives if it came to that to stop the fucking war (that is still the only way I can describe it with the “fucking” in front).  Ralph knew the war was fucked, knew it in his bones but it took the actual experience of going to sort things out. Sure he had his problems coming home but he stayed the course. A guy like Ralph would not have been as happy, if that is the way to put such a thing, as the North Vietnamese Regulars and the South Vietnamese Liberation fighters to have the damn war finished in 1975 but every year he, we reflect on the day and are proud of our small part in helping try to stop the thing from going on forever.]        

Ralph Morris comment:

Yeah, sure I served in Vietnam, served Regular Army, after I kind of panicked when I got my draft notice from my “friends and neighbors” at the Troy, New York draft board in late 1966 and enlisted expecting, based on a foolish belief in the recruiting sergeant, that I would be placed in an electronics MOS by doing so. I can still remember my G.I. dog-tag number RA038341396, that RA in front of the numbers not like a lot of guys, guys who I wished I had been more like who had “U.S.” before their dog-tag numbers signifying that they were draftees, maybe kicking and screaming draftees like a guy I ran into in the G.I. anti-war movement in 1971, Fritz Jasper, who was a big guy in Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and who had served a year in an Army stockade before they let him out for refusing to go to ‘Nam.

But what did I know then. What did I know like Fritz who was one of those kicking and screaming draftees out of New York City, Brooklyn I think, about getting with Quaker-driven draft counsellors or military resistance counsellors once he knew after about three day in the Army in 1969 that he was in the wrong place and every instinct told him that year that he was going to ‘Nam if he didn’t do something quick to get the military’s attention. So he did first by refusing his orders and then by refusing to do a damn Army thing. They put his ass in some damn stockade down South   and were going to throw away the key before some people he was in contact with, some Quaker people or people who worked with Quakers got him some legal help and they went to federal court to spring him. Remind to tell you some more of his story sometime because it is kind of interesting when people ask me about military resisters then.

That’s the big case I tell them about because I know it cold although I know there were plenty of others, plenty that got some coverage. Maybe better I will ask Fritz to tell his story sometime because, guess what, that resistance/stockade experience made a peacenik “lifer” out of him. He is working with Veterans For Peace down in the city just like I am in Troy (really the whole North Country area and in Boston when I visit Sam Eaton who has a big part in this story and the VFP chapter there needs warm bodies for an action.) 

And what if I did know how to make those anti-war connections. What good would it have done me since before ‘Nam I was enthrall to some pretty red, white and blue notions, some ideas it has taken my whole freaking dead ass life to break from, and I still breaking from. All I know is this, bloody, forlorn god forsaken Vietnam changed my life, probably has been the number one experience that has kept me going trying to light the lamp of peace. If I hadn’t I today probably would be like a lot of guys and gals who were waving South Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) flags like I did later on when I got “religion” on the war issue. Waved that flag at the end when the “other side” came down Highway One in Vietnam in the Spring of 1975 like bats out of hell and resolved the whole thing in a couple of months, stuff that had taken thirty years of their blood and over ten of ours to conclude not to count the whole torn apart countries left in the wake. Those others have now long past made their peace with the American empire, made it quick and easy when the deal when down and the American government pulled the hammer down and they flinched when it counted a whole bunch of times since, times like Iraq 2003. Yeah, some people learn the hard way but they learn the lesson well. 

Yeah, what good would all of that knowledge done me then. See my old man, Ralph, Senior, ran a high precision electrical shop doing a lot of work for the big employer in the area, General Electric, a company which had many big contracts with the Department of Defense in those years and I worked for him a couple of years in high school and after I got out so I expected that I could do something useful for the Army with that skill. But see beside that little “error” in believing word one from that damn recruiting sergeant, First Sergeant Riley, a good old boy, a “lifer” ( a very different “lifer” from Fritz Jasper) from Arkansas who had already done two tours in ‘Nam and had blessed the Army each and every day for giving him shoes and three squares a day if I recall, the United States of America under the benevolent guidance of some damn Texan, Lyndon Johnson, LBJ, to be exact in 1967, 1968 was looking for nothing but “grunts” to comb the bushes and jungles of Vietnam. Looking for grunts to flush out every commie from every hut in every hamlet in that benighted country no matter how long it took and how much “collateral damage” ensued so I was trained as an 11B (Bravo), an infantryman, a “grunt,” “cannon fodder” although I didn’t pick up that last term until later, later when I got discharged, when people explained to me in concrete terms what I was, all that I was, to the people who ran the damn war.

That discharge business is important because unlike a couple of guys I heard about who were raising hell about the war, in Vietnam if you can believe that, yeah, raising holy hell, and guys I ran into later at Fort Dix who had joined the G.I. anti-war resistance after I came back to the “real world” I didn’t raise any hell while I was in the Army. (And knew nothing about Fritz’s case even though as he showed me a copy later it was publicized at Fort Dix via a G.I. newspaper, The Morning Report, run out of one of the G.I. coffeehouses that were sprouting up around military bases when the civilian anti-war movement, the radical students mainly, realized they had to get to the grunts if they were going to end the war on their terms not that of the American government.) Didn’t see the percentage in it, didn’t want to wind up in Long Binh Jail, the LBJ as everybody in-country called it, or worse, some long forgotten stretch out in the prairies of Kansas at Fort Leavenworth, the place where they now have the heroic Wiki-leaks whistle-blower Private Chelsea Manning doing a hard thirty-five year stretch just for telling the truth about American military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. [Since has had her sentence commuted by former President Obama before he left office in 2017-AJ] Although this piece is about my own military service and what I did or didn’t about what was going on in Vietnam, mainly didn’t, except a few words to buddies over beers at the PX or over a joint in the barracks or boondocks the Manning case grabbed me, grabbed me hard and I took her case to heart. [For those not in the know or who don’t recognize the case by that name before her conviction and sentencing in August 2013 she was known a Bradley Manning before coming out as “tran” which makes her being at the all-male prisoner Leavenworth that much  harder.] I went to many rallies in her support, raised money for the legal defense, circulated every kind of petition to get her free, still do, and went down to Fort Meade where she was tried by court-martial a few times. Yeah, call it guilt maybe, call it pay back, but I was supporting a fellow soldier in her hour of need, something I didn’t do back then. But enough of this.  

In ‘Nam whatever I did or didn’t do is where I got the “fire in the belly” to see that the whole war was off balance, didn’t make the kind of sense right there in-country that it did in faraway propaganda-drenched America, fighting commies, fighting dominos, picking up on my father’s “my country, right or wrong” mentality or my corner boys looking for some cheapjack glory learned from watching too many Green Beret-type movies. The reality: picking off random peasants who got in the crossfire because we were too scared to go forward if we thought VC was in the area or at night when we knew, not at first but by 1968, that “the night belonged to Charlie” as we called him, first as a term of disrespect but finally after Tet 1968 as an enemy worthy of respect whatever the NCOs and officers said. Jesus. Yeah, that’s the patriotic hogwash what I had to fight against, get rid of from my mind, and frankly it has been a lifelong struggle on some things. (But get this who would have thought that a sixty-something purple heart ex-soldier would be out on the hustings to get a transgender woman, Chelsea Manning, out of hard rock prison back then, now even.)       

But back in Vietnam days, in-country not affected too much by reports of draft resistance in 1967 although I had had heard on Armed Forces Radio the bit about the student radical trying to “levitate” the Pentagon (and thought it a weird thing to do with gunfire all around me) and like I said a little about guys bucking against the military system, mostly blacks who I got along with personally but there was a lot of black nationalism in the air and we didn’t’ mix that much in 1967 (1968 yes after the Tet offensive showed what the hell we were up against we made an “armed truce” to survive) but that was kind of so much air then. I had been progressively getting more and more fed up with the war, with the killing, with what it was doing to me, what it was doing to my buddies, and what the United States of America was turning me and them into, nothing but animals. 

I even extended my tour from the usual year (thirteen months really when you figure in the 30 days of R&R) to eighteen months so if I didn’t get killed I could get out a few months earlier from my three year enlistment (and get as a bonus stationed at Fort Dix at the end of my enlistment on the East Coast only a couple of hundred miles from home). Well I might have had a death wish or something extending my tour of duty but I made it out alive with only a small purple heart wound but when I got out in late 1969 I joined, not right away but soon, that VVAW that I talked about earlier. Yeah wound up joining the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the main anti-war veterans group at the time. Such a move by me and thousands of other soldiers who had served in ‘Nam is a real indication even today of how unpopular that war was when the guys who had fought the damn thing arms in hand, mostly guys then, rose up against the slaughter. I wound up taking part in a lot of VVAW actions around Albany and New York City mainly.

Nah, I thought I was going to but no I am not going to tell war stories here about what happened in Vietnam, the “dog soldier” stories because you can read about them, or see a movie like The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now, films like that to get a flavor of the heat and humiliation of battle or books by guys who did want to tell “dog soldier stories” like Mike Caputo, and Phil Jackson. What I want to talk about in this the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon is the “afterwards” part, the VVAW part, the May Day 1971 part, the “red collectives” in Cambridge part with my old friend and political activist associate Sam Eaton, and the part where I, not without some conflict came to cheer on the DNV/NLF offensive in the Spring of 1975 which led to the fall of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and left ashes in American governmental mouths (and mine too but for different reasons). 

I didn’t really want to tell any stories, didn’t want to think about Vietnam at all although that experience one way or another touches my soul every damn day I live. I had in fact for some years later denied to strangers that I had even served in Vietnam including one girl, Joyell who I ran into at an anti-war rally on Cambridge Common one time when I went there to visit Sam where she was waving a NLF flag which made me wince at first but she was a beauty and very smart too so I took a run at her and she at me, yeah, Joyell, a radical girl from Cambridge when that was a cool thing to be in say 1972, 1973,  whom I dated for a year and had told that I had been a draft resister and when she found out I was a Vietnam vet, even with the VVAW imprimatur, had left me flat.

But see Sam, Sam Eaton, and I had been talking one night a few months back after having a few high-shelf whiskeys at our favorite watering hole, Jack Higgins’ Grille down just outside the Financial District near Quincy Market when I had come to Boston to see him on one of our periodic visits with each other and he said I “owed it to the movement,” owed it to “the generations that came after” to paraphrase a poem by Bertolt Brecht to tell how an average patriotic guy from a sternly patriotic Cold War “my country, right or wrong” family, neighborhood, city got “religion” on the issues of war and peace, and had kept the faith ever since despite having to swallow some sad truths like that I had fought on the wrong side of history in that fight, that whatever happened later the fight was for the Vietnamese people to figure out without the mightiest military power in the known world and in known history raining hell and damnation on those benighted people.

See Sam, a guy who didn’t go to war, didn’t have to go to war, because his draft board (his “friends and neighbors”) in Carver, Massachusetts had exempted him on the very reasonable grounds that he was then the sole support of his mother and four younger sisters after his drunken sot of a father (Sam’s term) passed away of a massive heart attack in 1965 is very keen on his history these days, has been since the days when we got involved in those “red collective” study groups back after the May Day 1971 fiasco. He had read that the United for Justice and Peace (UJP) was hosting a series of events commemorating that fall of Saigon by taking a retrospective look at what the American anti-war movement in general did to aid that decisive event and how the various civilian and military resistance movements, you know stuff like Fritz Jasper did by refusing to go to Vietnam when under military orders to do so, did as well. So he dragged me to that series and then bugged me for a couple of months afterward to write something like a cautionary tale from a guy like me who was not a draft or military resister but who nevertheless got “religion” on the war issue and unlike guys from VVAW like the current Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry [2015]didn’t forget the lessons when the “main chance” came along and he, Kerry, abandoned every decent instinct he ever had.     

So here goes. But like I said I don’t want to, maybe can’t tell war stories except maybe a little to show a point but no blood and gore stuff because all you need to know is 58,000 plus names on black marble down in Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands injured with small physical wounds like mine or grievous ones like Johnny Jann from my platoon who lost both legs, mostly uncounted thousand with PTSD, a mass of unnumbered suicides, tons of guys who never made it back to the “real” world and wound up homeless living like Bruce Springsteen said like “brothers under the bridge,” Vietnam bombed back practically to the Stone Age maybe before if the Air Force generals had been totally unleashed, countless hamlets, villages, towns blown to smithereens, millions of luckless innocent people who didn’t bother a soul killed, almost as many “enemy” soldiers and “friendlies” too. Yeah, that is all you need to know.          

I remember commenting to Sam during the course of our conversations on the fact that no way, no way in hell, if it had not been for the explosive events of the 1960s, of the war and later a bunch of social issue questions, mainly third world liberation struggles internationally and the black liberation question at home we would not even be having the conversations we were having, not the two of us anyway, talking stuff about the virtues of the “enemy” which would have been treason talk if not legally then emotionally (both of also as we rattled on chuckling a little at using the old time terms, especially the use of “struggle” and “question,” for example the  black, gay, woman questions since lately we have noticed that younger activists no longer spoke in such terms but used more ephemeral “white privilege,” “patriarchy,”  “gender” terms reflecting the identity politics that have been in fashion for a long time, since the ebb flow of the 1960s). 

I (and Sam too) had imbibed all the standard identifiable working-class prejudices against reds, some of those prejudices more widespread than among the working class among the general population of the times, you know, like the big red scare Cold War “your mommy is a commie, turn her in,” “the Russians are coming get under the desk and hold onto your head,” anybody to the left of Grandpa Ike, maybe even him, nothing but communist dupes of Joe Stalin and his progeny who pulled the strings from Moscow and made everybody jumpy; against blacks (I had stood there right next to my father, Ralph, Sr., when he led the physical opposition to blacks moving into the Tappan Street section of town and had nothing, along with my corner boys at Van Patten’s Drugstore, but the “n” word to call black people, sometimes to their faces. Sam’s father was not much better, a southerner from hillbilly country down in Appalachia who had been stationed in Hingham no too far from Carver at the end of World War II and stayed, who never could until his dying breathe call blacks anything but the “n” word); against gays and lesbians (me and my boys mercilessly fag and dyke baiting them whenever the guys and I went to Saratoga Springs where those “creeps” spent their summers doing whatever nasty things they did to each other and Sam likewise down in Provincetown with his boys, he helping, beating up some poor guy in a back alley after one of his boys had made a fake pass at the guy, Jesus; against uppity women, servile, domestic child-producing women like our good old mothers and sisters and wanna-bes were okay as were “easy” girls ready to toot our whistles, attitudes which we had only gotten beaten out of us when we ran into our respective future wives (and me with Joyell too but don’t mention that to my wife Laura since all these years later she see red when I mention her name in any content) who had both been influenced by the women’s liberation movement although truth to tell they were not especially political, but rather artistic types.  Native Americans didn’t even rate a nod since they were not on the radar, were written off in any case as fodder for cowboys and soldiers in blue. But mainly we had been red, white and blue American patriotic guys who really did have ice picks in our eyes for anybody who thought they would like to tread on old Uncle Sam (who had been “invented” around my way, my Troy hometown way).      

See I, Sam too for that matter, had joined the anti-war movement for personal reasons at first which had to do a lot with ending the war in Vietnam and not a lot about “changing the whole freaking world” (Sam’s term). Like I said my story was a little bit amazing that way, since I had served in the military, served in the Army, in Vietnam. But like I already told you in 1967, 1968 what Uncle needed, desperately needed as General Westmoreland called for more troops, was more “grunts” to flush out Charlie and so I wound up with a unit in the Central Highlands, up in the bush trying to kill every commie I could get my hands on just like the General wanted.  

After I got out I worked in my father’s high precision electrical shop for a while to make some dough and head west, head somewhere not stinking nowhere Troy, not the woe begotten North Country. One day in 1970 I was taking a high compression motor to Albany to a customer and had parked the shop truck on Van Dyke Street near Russell Sage College. Coming down the line, silent, silent as the grave I thought later, were a ragtag bunch of guys in mismatched (on purpose I found out later) military uniforms carrying individual signs but with a big banner in front calling for “Immediate Withdrawal From Vietnam” in big black letters and signing the banner with the name of the organization in red-Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). That was all, and all that was needed. Nobody on those still patriotic, mostly government worker, streets called them commies or anything like that but you could tell some guys in white collars and ties who had never come close to a gun, except maybe to kill animals or something defenseless really wanted to. One veteran as they came nearer to me shouted out for any veterans to join them, to tell the world what they knew first-hand about what was going on in Vietnam. Yeah, that shout-out was all I needed, all I needed to join my “band of brothers.”                               

Let me tell you thought how Sam and I met in Washington on May Day 1971 because that will explain a lot of why I am writing this thing that almost half a century later still hurts my brain. I remember that I had first noticed that Sam was wearing a VVAW supporter button when I saw him on the football field at RFK Stadium and I had asked if he had been in ‘Nam. Sam, a little sheepishly, explained that he had been exempted from military duty since he was the sole support for his mother and four younger sisters after his father had passed away of a massive heart attack in 1965. (He had also said he had gone to work in Mister Snyder’s print shop where he had learned enough about the printing business to later open his own shop which he kept afloat somehow during the late 1960s with his high school friend Jack Callahan’s help and which became Sam’s career after he settled down when the 1960s ebbed and people started heading back to “normal” in the mid-1970s)

Oh yeah the reason we were in RFK was not for a football game, the NFL Washington Redskins did not play that game in May, but because we both respectively had been arrested along with thousands of others in a massive civil disobedience action that I will tell more about in a minute. Sam told me, since we had plenty of time to talk, the reason that he had joined the anti-war movement after years of relative indifference since he was not involved in the war effort had been that his closest high school friend, Jeff Mullins, had been blown away in the Central Highlands and that had made him question what was going on. Jeff, who like us had been as red, white and blue as any guy, had written Sam when he was in Vietnam that he thought that the place, the situation that he found himself in was more than he bargained for, and that if he didn’t make it back for Sam to tell people, everybody he could what was really going on. Then with just a few months to go Jeff was blown away near some village that Sam could not spell or pronounce correctly even all these many years later. Jeff had not only been Sam’s best friend but he said was as straight a guy as you could meet, and had gotten Sam out of more than a few scrapes, a few illegal scrapes that could have got him before some judge. So that was how Sam got “religion,” not through some intellectual or rational argument about the theories of war, just wars or “your country right or wrong” wars, but because his friend had been blown away, blown away for no good reason as far as that went.  

May Day 1971 was a watershed for both of us, both of us before May Day having sensed that more drastic action was necessary to “tame the American imperial monster” (Sam’s term picked up from The Real Paper, an alternative newspaper he had picked up at a street newsstand in Cambridge) and had come away from that experience, that disaster, with the understanding that even to end the war would take much more, and many more people, than they had previously expected. I, in particular, had been carried away with the notion that what I and my fellow veterans who were going to try to symbolically close down the Pentagon were doing as veterans would cause the government pause, would make them think twice about any retaliation to guys who had served and seen it all. I got “smart” on that one fast when the National Guard which was defending the Pentagon, or part of it that day, treated us like any Chicago cops at the Democratic Party Convention in 1968, treated us like cops did to any SDS-ers anywhere, and treated us just like anybody else who raised their voices against governmental policy in the streets.

I told Sam while were in captivity that I had been working in my father’s shop for a while but our relationship was icy (and would be for a long time after that although in 1991 when Ralph, Senior retired I took over the business). I would take part in whatever actions I could around the area (and down in New York City a couple of times when they called for re-enforcements to make a big splash).

I had, like I said, joined with a group of VVAW-ers and supporters for that action down in Washington, D.C. See the idea, which would sound kind of strange today in a different time when there is very little overt anti-war activity against the current crop of endless wars but also shows how desperate we were to end that damn war, was to on May Day shut down the government if it did not shut down the war. Our group’s task, as part of the bigger scheme, since we were to form up as a total veterans and supporters contingent was to symbolically shut down the Pentagon. Wild right, but see the figuring was that they, the government, would not dare to arrest vets and we figured (“we” meaning all those who planned the events and went along with the plan) the government would not treat it like the big civilian action at the Pentagon in 1967 which Norman Mailer won a literary prize writing a book about, Armies of the Night. Silly us. 

Sam and I after the fall-out from May Day were thus searching for a better way to handle things, a better way to make an impact because those few days of detention in D.C. that we had jointly suffered not only started what would be a lifelong personal friendship but an on-going conversation between us over the next several years about how to bring about the greater social change we sensed was needed before one could even think about stopping wars and stuff like that. (The story, in short, of how we got out of RFK after a few days was pretty straight forward. Since law enforcement was so strapped that week somebody had noticed and passed the word along that some of the side exits in the stadium were not guarded and so we had just walked out. And got out of town fast, very fast, hitchhiking back north to Carver first, and me later going back to Troy).

Hence the push by Sam toward the study groups led by “red collectives” that were sprouting up then peopled by others who had the same kind of questions. Collectives  which we would join, unjoin and work with, or not work with over the next few years before both of us sensed the tide of the rolling 1960s had ebbed. 

Old time high school thoughts even with the cross-fire hells of burned down Vietnam villages melted into the back of his brain crossed my mind when I first thought of Marx, Lenin (I, we, were not familiar with Trotsky except he had “bought it” down in Mexico with an icepick from some assassin), Joe Stalin, Red Square, Moscow and commie dupes. Sam had not been far behind in his own youthful prejudices as he told me one night after a class and we were tossing down a few at Jack’s in Cambridge before heading home to the commune where Sam was staying. That was the summer of 1972, the year I broke from my father’s business and spent the summer in Cambridge, the summer I first met Joyell, her waving in the breeze NLF flag and her jet black hair and pale blue eyes. 

I had gone out of my way to note in a blog entry for Fritz Jasper’s New York VFP chapter that before I got “religion” on the anti-war and later social justice issues I had held as many anti-communist prejudices as anybody else in Troy, New York, not excluding my rabidly right-wing father who never really believed until his dying days in 2005 that the United States had lost the war in Vietnam. I had realized that all the propaganda he had been fed was like the wind and my realization of that had made me a very angry young man from the time I got out of the Army onward. I tried to talk to my father about it but Ralph, Senior was hung up by a combination “good war, World War II, his war where America saved international civilization from the Nazis and Nips (my father’s term since he fought in the Pacific with the Marines) and “my country, right or wrong.” All Ralph, Senior really wanted me to do ever was to get back to the shop and help him fill those goddam GE defense contract orders. And like I said I did it, for a while.

I had also in that blog entry expressed my feelings of trepidation when after a lot of things went south on the social justice front with damn little to show for all the arrests, deaths, and social cataclysm when me and Sam had gotten into a latter study group in Cambridge run by a “Red October Collective.” That group focused on studying “Che” Guevara and the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky after an earlier introduction to the Marxist classics. Sam was constantly trying to figure out why we were spinning our wheels trying to change the world for the better just then and to think about new strategies and tactics for the next big break-out of social activism so he would drag me along half-kicking and screaming. At the end of each meeting we would sing the Internationale before the group broke up. At first I had a hard time with the idea of singing a “commie” song (I didn’t put it that way but I might as well have according to Sam) unlike something like John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance, songs like that. As I, we got immersed in the group I lightened up and would sing along if not with gusto then without a snicker.

That same apprehensive attitude had prevailed when after about three meetings we began to study what the group leader, Jeremy, called classic Marxism strategy, the line from Marx and Engels to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A couple of the early classes had dealt with the American Civil War and its relationship to the class struggle in America, and Marx’s views on what was happening, why it was necessary for all progressives to side with the North and the end of slavery, and why despite his personal flaws and attitudes toward blacks Abraham Lincoln was a figure to admire. All of which neither of us knew much about except the battles and military leaders in American History classes.

What caused the most fears and consternation for me was the need for revolution worked out in practice during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. I could see that it was necessary in Russia during those times but America in the 1970s was a different question, not to speak of the beating that we had taken for being “uppity” in the streets in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when we were not thinking thought one about revolution (maybe others had such ideas but if so they kept them to themselves) and the state came crashing down on us anyway.    

At the beginning in any case, and that might have affected my ultimate decision, some of my old habits kind of held me back, you know the anti-red stuff, Cold War enemy stuff, just like at first I had had trouble despite all I knew about Vietnam, what it had to meant to me and my buddies, that the other side had the better argument in history calling for victory to the Viet Cong.  But I got over it, got in the swing, mostly. Joyell and her energy helped a lot then too. And I still think that was the right outcome. Enough said.  

The Marxism did not come easy, the theory part, maybe for me a little more than Sam who had taken junior college night classes to bolster the small print shop he had built from nothing after Mister Snyder moved his operation to Quincy to be nearer his main client, State Street Bank and Trust (although for long periods his old Carver friend, Jack Callahan, managed the place when Sam was off on his, our anti-war campaigns). We got that the working-class, our class, should rule and be done with inequalities of all kinds but the idea of a revolution, or more importantly, a working class party which was on everybody’s mind in those days to lead that revolution seemed, well, utopian. The economic theory behind Marxism, that impossible to read Das Capital and historical materialism as a philosophy were books sealed with seven seals for us both. Nevertheless for a few years, say until 1975, 1976 when the tide really had ebbed for anybody who wanted to see we hung around with the local “reds,” mostly those interested in third world liberation struggles and political prisoner defense work.

Those were really our earnest “socialist years” although if you had asked us for a model of what our socialism looked like we probably would have pointed to Cuba which seemed fresher than the stodgy old Soviet Union with their Brezhnev bureaucrats. Yeah, those were heady times, we made a ton of mistakes but one that we didn’t make was having silent thrills in our hearts when the DNV/NLF troops came swooping down on Saigon April of 1975. Even if I gave the slightest pause at first hearing.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Of Marriage And Its Vows-Spencer Tracy’s “The Father Of The Bride” (1950)-A Film Review

Of Marriage And Its Vows-Spencer Tracy’s “The Father Of The Bride” (1950)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Frank Jackman

Father of the Bride, starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, directed by Vincente Minelli, 1950

Sometimes it pays to just not say anything. Take the recent case, my recent case, of being handed a review of a 1934 social/romance comedy/drama starring crooner turned actor (and crooner) Dick Powell Happiness Ahead. There I fumed about the on-going tendency of site manager Greg Green to hand out certain less than desirable assignments under the sign of “broadening horizons” He has tried to pull that gag on many of the younger writers, especially the stringers who after all without the least bit of security have to take it-or leave it- which means another assignment in say 2047. When I thought he was trying to pull that old gag on me I took him up short until he mended his ways by telling me that I was the cat’s meow at doing period “slice of life” pieces. So I did the assignment and he liked it and so he tried to smooth my edges by running this Father of the Bride goof film by me on that same “slice of life” mumbo-jumbo. Be forewarned Mr. Green Mrs. Jackman didn’t raise any kids who it took forever to figure out when he has been had. Enough said.   

I learned long ago from Seth Garth (who I am told now got it from that old hawk Sam Lowell) that when you are up against it for a “hook” on an assignment pull the old chestnut “slice of life then” angel angle out of the fire. But that can only get you so far in some films like this dog since the subject matter is about some young daughter of the leafy suburban upper crust crazy to get married and have her own house and family just like millions in previous generations of leafy suburbanites and those to come as well. Can one who has been married three times though like me (and an amazing number, or maybe not so amazing, of corner boys from the old Acre section of North Adamsville) really do justice to such a subject other than the by-the-numbers social reality of in this case post-World War II upscale complete with servant, black and female of course, family life out in what felt like Connecticut.

Well Greg is paying the freight so here goes. Pops, played by versatile Spencer Tracy who seems a little lost and filled with hubris without sweetie and long-time co-star Katharine Hepburn, is sitting around completely spent after footing the bill for daughter Kay, played by a young and startlingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor who ironically would have a couple of fistfuls of marriage but was the soul of leafy suburban post-debutante in this one, quicksilver marriage to some up and coming guy from town. Being a guy with no married daughters or granddaughters as of yet I don’t know how a guy in 1950 would take the fall for losing his daughter to some young guy who, well who knows, could be a con artist or serial murderer when all is said and done. All I know is that the father of the bride in those days, now too I would think, has to foot the bill for the big day. That is the easy part when you think about it because the real hard part is dealing with losing that daughter who not so long before was wearing pigtails and braces. Yeah, I can see where that would be the tough part then, or today.

This one though is played seemingly strictly for laughs as Pop is so worried about daughter dear that he gets Mom, played by Joan Bennett in a dither. We get to see every aspect of the wedding process back then, similar to now in many ways although I am not sure, based on my own female kin that such a father would get a feminist seal of approval. No indeed. Such is life among the Mayfair swells and their progeny.