Saturday, August 08, 2020

Malignant Obsession-Bette Davis and Leslie Howard’s Film Adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” (1934)-A Film Review

Malignant Obsession-Bette Davis and Leslie Howard’s Film Adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” (1934)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Film Critic Sam Lowell

Of Human Bondage, starring Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same name, 1934

No question love can take some funny turns from eternal bliss to the malignant obsession of medical student Phillip Carey, played by Leslie Howard, for waitperson (then known as waitresses) Mildred Rogers, played in an incredible performance by Bette Davis in the film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. The human, the very human capacity to find love in some very wrong places gets a full-throated workout in this 1934 film. Moreover even though the smitten and tortured character here is a man the feelings know no gender boundaries.     

The first problem for our troubled medical student is the class issue in very class-bound England then, and now. The play between the up and coming doctor and the tart-like waitperson could only spell trouble even if Mildred had been only half as perfidious as she was-always looking for the main chance-for the next Mister Big. The second problem was that the very smitten Phillip was physically- challenged (then called “crippled” which Mildred at one point made a point of being disgusting by when truth time came a-calling). The combination would have been daunting even if Mildred had been less of an opportunist. See while she was leading Phillip on she was also seeing her meal ticket-her Mister Big. Phillip played the sap for her on that one thinking he would marry her when all she was doing was making moves to marry Mister Big. Well Mildred should have checked his credentials or at least his marriage because Mister Big dumped her-turned out he was already married. All he did was leave her to the wind with child. Still Phillip took her back.                  

Okay once is okay but then the next best thing came along, a fellow medical student of Phillip’s and she was off again. Still once it was question of helping or her on the streets with an unwanted child he succumbed again. But he was getting wiser. At least he wasn’t as smitten as in those fresh bloom days. All she kept doing though was holding him in contempt while feeding off his feelings for her. At some point, a point where a young gentile women is interested in him, he begins to withdraw, begins to break from his feverish desire for Mildred as she begins her descent down into well, the gutter, the ”life,”  the hard streets. In the end T.B got her (then called consumption and if I recall earlier called the vapors), left her on deep cheap street and an unloved grave.

Phillip, well Phillip finally got himself free, got free once Mildred passed the shades. Took life in his own hands and grabbed that gentile woman who was made for him. Still Mildred led him on a not so merry chase. An excellent performance by Miss Davis especially one scene when she went berserk and cut up all of Phillip’s precious nude paintings (he had started out as a failed art student) and another when after she had been finally rebuffed by Phillip she spewed forth her utter contempt from day one. Watch this one-and read the book too.            

Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-Utah Phillips' "Nevada Jane"

Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-Utah Phillips' "Nevada Jane"

YouTube film clip of utah Phillips perfroming his song in honor of Big Bill Haywood's wife, Nevada Jane 

In this series, presented under the headline “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”, I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.

An Encore- Coming Of Age, Political Age, In The 1960s Night- A Baptism Of Fire-Making War On The War-Makers

An Encore- Coming Of Age, Political Age, In The 1960s Night- A Baptism Of Fire-Making War On The War-Makers

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

He was scared. All of fourteen year old Peter Paul Markin’s body was scared. Of course he knew, knew just as well as anybody else, if anybody thought to ask, that he was really afraid not scared, but Peter Paul was scared anyway. No, not scared (or afraid for the literary correct types), not Frannie De Angelo demon neighborhood tough boy, schoolboy nemesis scared, scared that he would be kicked in the groin, bent over to the ground in pain for no reason, no reason except Frannie deep psycho hard boy reasons known only to himself. Markin was used to that kind of scared, not liking it, not liking getting used to it but he was not tough, not even close although he was wiry, but not Franny heavyweight tough, but used to it. And this certainly was not his usual girl scared-ness on the off chance that one, one girl that is, might say something to him and he would have no “cool” rejoinder. (Yes, girls scared him, not Franny scared but no social graces scared, except in the comfortable confines of a classroom where he could show off with his knowledge of two thousand arcane facts that he thought would impress them but no avail then, later he would be swarmed, well, maybe not swarmed but he didn’t have to spend many lonely weekend nights studying to get to three thousand arcane facts) This was different. This, and his handkerchief-dabbed wet palms and forehead did not lie, was an unknown scared.

See, Peter Paul had taken a bet, a “put your money where your mouth is" bet, from best freshman high school friend Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, if you want to know the full name. Now these guys had previously bet on everything under the sun since middle school, practically, from sports game spreads, you know Ohio State by ten over Michigan stuff like that, to how high the master pizza man and owner at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor, Tonio, would throw his pizza dough one strange night when Frankie needed dough (money dough that is) for his hot date with girlfriend Joanne. So no bet was too strange for this pair, although this proposition was probably way too solemn to be bet on.

What got it started, the need for a bet started, this time, really had to do with school, or maybe better, the world situation in 1960. Peter Paul, a bundle of two thousand facts that he guarded like a king’s ransom, went off the deep end in 9th grade Civics class when he, during a current events discussion, exploded upon his fellow classmates with the observation that there were too many missiles, too many nuclear bomb-loaded guided missiles, in the world and that both sides in the Cold War (The United States and the Soviet Union and their respective hangers-on) should “ban the bomb.” But you have not heard the most provocative part yet, Peter Paul then argued that, as a good-will gesture and having more of them, the United States should destroy a few of its own. Unilaterally.

Pandemonium ensued as smarts guys and gals, simps and stups also, even those who never uttered a word in class, took aim at Peter Paul’s head. The least of it was that he was called a “commie” and a "dupe" and the discussion degenerated from there. Mr. Merck was barely able to contain the class, and nobody usually stepped out line in his class, or else. Somehow order was restored by the end of class and within a few days the class was back to normal, smart guys and girls chirping away with all kinds of flutter answers and the simps and stups, well the simp and stups did their simp and stup thing, as always.

Frankie always maintained that that particular day was one of the few that he wasn’t, and he really wasn’t, glad that Peter Paul was his friend. And during that class discussion he made a point, a big point, of not entering the fray in defense of his misbegotten friend. He thought Peter Paul was off the wall, way off the wall, on this one and let him know it after class. Of course, Peter Paul could not leave well enough alone and started badgering friend Frankie about it some more. But this was stone wall time because Frankie, irreverent, most of the time irreligious, and usually just happy to be girl-smitten in the world, and doing stuff about that, and not worried about its larger problems really believed, like the hard Roman Catholic-bred boy that he was underneath, that the evil Soviet Union should be nuclear fizzled-that very day.

But Peter Paul kept egging the situation on. And here is the problem with a purist, a fourteen year old purist, a wet behind the ears fourteen year old purist when you think about it. Peter Paul was as Roman Catholic-bred underneath as Frankie but with this not so slight difference. Peter Paul’s grandmother, Anna, was, and everybody who came in contact with her agreed, a saint. A saint in the true-believer catholic social gospel sense and who was a fervent admirer of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker for social justice movement started in the 1930s. So frequently The Catholic Worker, the movement newspaper, would be lying around her house. And just as frequently Peter Paul, taking grandmother refuge from the hell-bend storms at his own house, would read the articles. And in almost every issue there would be an article bemoaning the incredible increase in nuclear weapons by both sides, the cold war freeze-out that escalated that spiral and the hard fact that the tipping point beyond no return was right around the corner. And something had to be done about it, and fast, by rational people who did not want the world blown up by someone’s ill-tempered whim. Yah, heady stuff, no question, but just the kind of thing that a certain fourteen year old boy could add to his collection of now two thousand plus facts.

Heady stuff, yah, but also stuff that carried some contradictions. Not in grandmother Anna, not in Dorothy Day so much as in Peter Paul and through him Frankie. See, the Catholic Worker movement had no truck, not known truck, anyway with “commies" and "dupes”, although that movement too, more than once, and by fellow Catholics too, was tarred with that brush. They were as fervent in their denunciation of the atheistic Soviet Union as any 1950s red-baiter. But they also saw that that stance alone was not going to make the world safer for believers, or anybody else. And that tension between the two strands is where Frankie and Peter Paul kind of got mixed up in the world’s affairs. Especially when Peter Paul said that the Catholic Worker had an announcement in their last issue that in October (1960) they were going to help sponsor an anti-nuclear proliferation rally on the Boston Common as part of a group called SANE two weeks before the presidential elections.

Frankie took that information as manna from heaven. See, Frankie was just as interested in knowing two thousand facts in this world as Peter Paul. Except Frankie didn’t guard them like a king’s ransom but rather used them, and then discarded them like a tissue. And old Frankie, even then, even in 1960 starting to spread his wings as the corner boy king of the North Adamsville high school class of 1964, knew how to use his stockpile of facts better than Peter Paul ever could. So one night, one fiercely debated night, when Frankie could take no more, he said “bet.” And he bet that Peter Paul would not have the courage to travel from North Adamsville to Park Street Station in Boston to attend that SANE rally by himself (who else would go from old working- class, patriotic, red-scare scared, North Adamsville anyway). And as is the nature of fourteen year old boy relationships, or was, failure to take the bet, whatever bet was social suicide. “Bet,” said Peter Paul quickly before too much thinking time would elapse and destroy the fact of the bet marred by the hint of hesitation.

But nothing is ever just one thing in this wicked old world. Peter Paul believed, believed fervently, in the social message of the Catholic Worker movement especially on this nuclear war issue. But this was also 1960 and Irish Jack Kennedy was running, and running hard, to be President of the United States against bad man Richard Milhous Nixon and Peter Paul was crazy for Jack (really for younger brother, Bobby, the ruthless organizer behind the throne which is the way he saw his own future as a political operative). And, of course, October in election year presidential politics is crunch time, a time to be out hustling votes, out on Saturday hustling votes, especially every Irish vote, every Catholic vote, hell, every youth vote for your man.

On top of that Jack, old Irish Jack Kennedy, war hero, good-looking guy with a good-looking wife (not Irish though not as far as anyone could tell), rich as hell, was trying to out-Cold War Nixon, a Cold War warrior of the first degree. And the way he was trying to outgun Nixon was by haranguing everyone who would listen that there was a “missile gap,” and the United was falling behind. And when one talked about a missile gap in 1960 that only meant one thing, only brooked only one solution- order up more, many more, nuclear-bomb loaded guided missiles. So there it was, one of the little quirks of life, of political life. So, Peter Paul, all fourteen year old scared Peter Paul has to make good on his bet with Frankie but in the process put a crimp into his hoped-for political career. And just for that one moment, although with some hesitation, he decided to be on the side of the “angels” and to go.

That Saturday, that October Saturday, was a brisk, clear autumn day and so Peter Paul decided to walk the few miles from his house in North Adamsville over the Neponset Bridge to the first MTA subway station at Fields Corner rather than take the forever Eastern Mass. bus that came by his street erratically. After crossing the bridge he passed through one of the many sections of Boston that could pass for the streets of Dublin. Except on those streets he saw many young Peter Pauls holding signs at street corners for Jack Kennedy, other passing out literature, and others talking up Jack’s name. Even as he approached the subway station he saw signs everywhere proclaiming Jack’s virtues. Hell, the nearby political hang-out Eire Pub looked like a campaign headquarters. What this whole scene did not look like to Peter Paul was a stronghold place to talk to people about an anti-nuclear weapons rally. Peter Paul got even more scared as he thought about the reception likely at the Boston Commons. He pushed on, not without a certain tentative regret, but he pushed on through the turnstile, waited for the on-coming subway to stop, got on, and had an uneventful ride to the Park Street Station, the nearest stop to the Common.

Now Park Street on any given Saturday, especially in October after the college student hordes have descended on Boston, is a madhouse of activity. College student strolling around downtown looking for goods at the shops, other are just rubber-necking, other are sunning themselves on the grass or park benches in the last late sun days before winter arrives with a fury. Beyond the mainly civilized college students (civilized on the streets in the daytime anyway) there are the perennial street people who populate any big city and who when not looking for handouts, a stray cigarette, or a stray drink are talking a mile a minute among themselves about some supposed injustice that has marred their lives and caused their unhappy decline. Lastly, and old town Boston, historic old town Boston, scene of many political battles for every cause from temperance to liberty, is defined by this, there are a motley crew of speakers, soap-box speakers whether on a real soap-box or not, who are holding forth on many subjects, although none that drew Peter Paul’s attention this day. After running that gauntlet, as he heads for the Francis Parkman Bandstand where the SANE rally was to take place he was amused by all that surrounds him putting him in a better mood, although still apprehensive of what the day will bring forth.

Arriving at the bandstand he saw about twenty people milling around with signs, hand-made signs that showed some spunk, the most prominent being a large poster-painted sign that stated boldly, “Ban The Bomb.” He is in the right place, no question. Although he is surprised that there are not more people present he is happy, secretly happy, that those twenty are there, because, frankly, he thought there might be just about two. And among that crowd he spotted a clot of people who were wearing Catholic Worker buttons so he is now more fully at ease, and was starting to be glad that he came here on this day. He went over to the clot and introduced himself and tells them how he came to be there. He also noted that one CWer wore the collar of a priest; a surprise because at Sacred Heart, his parish church, it was nothing but “fire and brimstone” from the pulpit against the heathen communist menace.

Get this-he also met a little old lady in tennis sneakers. For real. Now Frankie, devil’s advocate Frankie, baited Peter Paul in their arguments about nuclear disarmament by stating that the “peaceniks” were mainly little old ladies in tennis shoes-meaning, of course, batty and of no account, no main chance political account, no manly Jack Kennedy stand up to the Russians account. Peter Paul thought to himself wait until I see Frankie and tell him that this little old lady knew more about politics, and history, than even his two thousand facts. And was funny too boot. Moreover, and this was something that he had privately noticed, as the youngest person by far at the rally she, and later others, would make a fuss over him for that very reason talking about young bravery and courage and stuff like that.

Over the course of the two hours or so of the rally the crowd may have swelled to about fifty, especially when a dynamic black speaker from the W.E.B. Dubois club at Harvard University linked up the struggle against nuclear weapons with the black struggle down South for voting rights that those in the North had been hearing more about lately. It was not until later, much later, that Peter Paul found out that this Dubois club business was really the name of the youth group of the American Communist Party (CP) at the time but by that time he was knowledgeable enough to say “so what.” And it was not until later that he found out that the little old lady with the tennis sneakers was a CPer, although she had said at the time he talked to her she was with some committee, some women’s peace committee, within the Democratic Party. Oh, well. But then he would also be able to say “so what” to that accusation in proper “family of the left” fashion.

But forget all that later stuff, and what he knew or did not know later. See, that day, that October 1960 autumn day, Peter Paul learned something about serious politics. If you are on the right side of the angels on an issue, a central issue of the day, you are kindred. And although there were more than a few catcalls from the passers-by about “commies”, “dupes”, and “go back to Russia” he was glad, glad as hell that he came over. Although nothing turned inside him, noticeably turned inside him that day, about his politics and his determination to see Jack Kennedy and the Democrats take the White House he thought about those brave people at the bandstand and what they were standing for a lot for a long time after the event faded from memory. Oh yah, it was good to be on the side of the angels. And it didn’t hurt that he won that Frankie bet, either.

On The Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love 1967-Riverdale Blues-For Allen Ginsburg On The 60th Anniversary Of “Howl” (1956)

On The Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love 1967-Riverdale Blues-For Allen Ginsburg On The 60th Anniversary Of “Howl” (1956)

By Lance Lawrence

A sad-eyed dope hung around the back of the old-fashioned framed schoolhouse lazily drawing the summer breeze (he lied since the school had only recently been constructed in the big post World II baby boom and he had gone to school here since the place opened-he lied for the sake of lying,  lying to himself mostly especially about his sexual longing just then as he hoped to get some chick who was hanging out by the bushes to give him a hand job, give him one like Lucinda had given him that time at the movies when sitting up in the balcony she had unzipped his pants and let her hand move so fast he jerked off after about a minute he was so excited and she only twelve imagine what she will be like when she gives it all up but fat chance he would have to grab that piece since his quick spurt, his sperm, his cum,  had gotten all over her dress and she was pissed off at him when it dried and got all crusty on the way home so some other guy would grab her cherry-that  was only a matter of time), wished he could get “washed clean,” washed clean real clean which is what the guys around school called it when their Lucindas moved their hands fast, get his sperm count down, his hot flash temperature, whatever that was.
Cock sore, cock was what the guys called their hanging things, their pulsating penises, so he followed although he got flushed when some guy maybe Billy, Billy Bradley the guy who always seemed to be the first guy with the sex knowledge, first said the word and he had asked what that was-damn. Cock and cocksuckers, waiting on his corner boy, waiting on Billy, waiting on his secret comrade in arms the hazy night as he looked around over heaven’s nightshade (and the guy who would probably be the first to get into Lucinda’s panties since she had already given him her fast hand action and according to Billy something more although Billy wouldn’t  specify but at least that action which is why he had, on Billy’s solemn advise taken Lucinda to the movies in the first place, had asked if she wanted to go to the balcony and when she said yes he knew he was going to get his clock cleaned-he just wished he hadn’t gotten off so fast with Lucinda since Billy’s older brother, Max, had given them a vivid description of what was what when you got a girl all wet and then stuck your stick in her and listened to her moan, moan like humankind had been doing for a million years, and he sure could have put his stick wherever she wanted it-probably laugh at him if he got off too fast-again).
Billy at first nowhere to be found, nowhere to be found that is if he did not want to be found and then the next thing you knew Billy, secret comrade in arms, came sauntering, his style just then before puberty would turn his feet around and he would thereafter walk like some Western movie cowboy would now sing his life-song, what did the poet, the old Solomonic poet call to the high heaven’s, oh yes, plainsong for a candid world, a world before massive bombings, massive unacknowledged deaths for shady ladies and other figment s of his imagination. Come sauntering in the bejesus night looking both ways to see some straggling ungainly girls, some young Lucinda who knew the score, knew if they had hung around that back of the school just then that they had heard about Lucinda, had maybe asked their older sisters or brothers what a hand job was and how to do that. They were eager if they were hanging in the shadows and the dope was hoping that some innocent would get moved by the Billy plainsong (he would learn later that plainsong was more religious that any old rock song even big bop doo wop song but by then rock and roll was his religion anyway) hovering around the fence waiting for something, anything to happen and then a word, a sullen word came off his tongue and the night’s work had begun, maybe a generation was on its way to immortality, was ready to break out of the quiet of the 1950s night without shame and without confession.
Tripping over “she’s so fine, so fine, wish she were mine doo lang doo lang” or the corner boys, the male version of He’s So Fine by the Chiffons, the big bopping song of 1956, the guys, including the dope, backing Billy up in the doo wop frenzy that had swept tween and teen just then and the scent of the jasmine coming from the girl-shadows by the harbor, the marsh’s fetid mephitic smell giving way to the night’s splendor, maybe stolen perfumes from mother’s dresser or some girlish bath-soap all fresh and dewy. Doo lang, doo lang  along with Eddie, Jason, Frank and beloved Peter Paul slapping time and those wanderlust girls along the fences came drifting to the scent of Old Spice that the boys had splashed on father’s bureau, father’s time, father’s sweat but not to  be thought of in the hazy summer night. And as the moon hovered against the sun the girls got closer and closer, one Lucinda’s younger sister, Laura, all the sisters in that family playing off mother Lottie having “L” –encrusted first letter names,  aimed his way and he waved her over to head toward old dead sailors’ graveyard down the far corner of the school lot (oh what those sailors could have told those young bucks from their rotted graves and pock-marked burial stones about hand jobs and blow jobs too when the ante was up about what a girl had to come across with-and if out to sea some young sailor boy plaything but that latter knowledge would not click until later).  A few minutes later the dope came back out of the sailor shadows looking like the king of the hill and Laura wiping her hand with a handkerchief with a faint smile (they had already agreed to meet that next night down at that sailors’ last rest, down among the mortal stone forsaking the last ship out  and by-past the foreplay plainsong-the young learn fast so maybe those sailors would have been stating the obvious when the poured forth in their dank, damp waterfront taverns about blow jobs and hand jobs). 
But hell all that was coming of age, coming of age in a time when things were moving too fast even for quick learners and the corner boys got further and further along in their primitive sex lessons and no more stupid thoughts of red scares, Uncle Joe’s scourge in Moscow town, and Cold War down in the basement hide your ass under some oaken desk and somebody said that was real, that was okay but that scent lingered against the jimson in the jeans from Satan’s tower, look homeward, look homeward angels. Ecstasy-pure ecstasy in the hazy night of some youthful dream. 
Billy would declare (and the dope would secretly agree and write every word down to be passed around later like some latter day glad tiding-like some Mount Sinai-filched grainy stone tablet) that they were in a spin, the world was changing and although he had no empirical evidence, when did the king of the hill need hard-boiled evidence going back to Adam’s time, facts,  he had heard from his oldest brother who already had graduated from high school that not only was the music changing, not only were people, and not just kids, starting to laugh at the idea that going down some rat hole of a basement and hiding under some rotten oaken desk when the big one came [the bomb] would do anybody any good. Started to challenge everything from the whole idea of the red scare night, the whole idea that everybody needed to live their ticky-tacky lives in dread of the reds, having a big ass finned gas-eating car and not “keeping up with the Jones.” Especially day to day the latter.
Billy didn’t get most of what that oldest brother said (and neither did the dope who dutifully wrote it all down anyway which he had “contracted” with his secret comrade Billy to do, to act as scribe which became his nickname at first resented as part of the price of Billy letting a dope hang around with him and his boys and through that circumstance to get to the girls already mentioned above) but he did get that the way things were couldn’t be the future, couldn’t be the way they would have to operate in the world. Couldn’t be the down at the heel existence that he, his family and all the poor bedraggled families that resided in the Five Points “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood. His oldest brother, Jack to give him a name, the guy telling him all this stuff with the idea of making him wise to the world he was about to face in the not too distant future, had been something of the family rebel.
Jack was always heading to Harvard Square even in high school which was no mean task by bus and later by car when he came of age for a driver’s license, since that place was about forty miles from Riverdale to soak up whatever rebellion was going down (that family rebel designation would fall on Billy later in a very different way when it came his turn to figure out the freaking world and after a short attempt at a break-out rock and roll musical career turned to armed robberies and such eventually getting killed in a shoot- out with cops down in North Carolina trying to all doped up rob a White Hen convenience store). Jack was always talking about “beat” this, “beat” that, some kind of fraternity of rebels who wanted to turn the world upside down (and it was mostly a fraternity the women were mainly around for decoration and whatever sex they wanted to provide). Or maybe better resign from the “square” world and find a little breathing space to do their thing-to write, drink, travel, do dope, have sex but mostly to write for a candid world, a world where the rules didn’t make sense-no way.      
One night when Jack was home for minute during summer semester break from college-he went on a scholarship, how else would the family get the money to send the first in the family to go to college, to Boston University, Class of 1959- he decided to tell Billy and his boys in an excited manner his latest tale “what was what,” the expression all the guys used then to signify, well, they had an idea of what was what. Tell them what it was to be a “beat daddy” (not literally a daddy okay but Jack had had to make the distinction because you never knew when somebody in the neighborhood might be a daddy having knocked up some older Lucinda and had to head out of town or get hitched under the sign of the paternal shotgun). Said it was all summed up, everything that was pushing the world forward in a poem, a “beat” poem not like those rhyming simon poems Mister Riley, the old-time Jazz Age English teacher at Riverdale High  a would spout forth from some old Englishman’s pen, Alfred Lord Tennyson or Byron or Browning, guys like that, a guy named Ginsburg, Allen Ginsburg, a smart Jewish guy who was the chief propagandist for the beat-ness thing in a poem, Howl,  that was making the rounds in Harvard Square and would have its fair share of legal problems but that was later. (Jack was not exactly right about who had been the “real” max daddy of the beats-influence wise it was probably Jack Kerouac when he boiled the 1950s youth nation with his wild men travelogue On The Road, the immediate post-war whirlwind adventures of him and his buddy, Adonis personified Neal Cassady with Ginsburg playing a bit role in that one. But Ginsburg was right in the mix with that fucking long mad monk poem-Brother Jack’s exact words remembered by the Scribe-written down).              
Jack said that Ginsburg had had it right-had seen in the great American blue-pink western night stuff that would drive a guy crazy with what was happening to the world as the machine was getting the upper-hand. Ginsburg had had some kind of vision, one of the guys who hung around the Hayes-Bickford in Harvard claiming that it was dope, marijuana favored by the down-trodden cold fields braceros from old Mexico, or peyote buttons, the stuff favored by the Hopis and the “ghost dancers” out where the states are square that fueled the visions. Visions of an unkempt, unruly world where the philosopher-king was a guy named Carlo Solomon who had the whole thing down cold. Knew the West had been saturated, that there was nowhere else to go but the China seas and so he hammered home the idea that out in the Coast was where humankind had to make a last stand against the Molochs, against the fucking night-takers who have been with us forever. Only the righteous warrior-poets would enter the garden. That Hayes-Bickford clarion calling claimed Ginsburg was talking about the Garden of Eden before the Fall.   

The madness, the sheer madness making everybody from the hunger days of the 1930s and the rat rationing days of World War II hustle to the sound of steel and iron and not the freaking sound of waves slashing timidly to shore. Started ripping up words a minute not all complete phrases and without some kind of formal pacing sense, although if you heard the thing out loud it would have its own jazz-like cadence somebody who was at the recital in Frisco town had been quoted in a newspaper as saying, jazz cadence and stoned on dope or liquor was all you needed that same source ventured. Ginsburg was not hung up on form, like those old fart Englishman who were totally hung up on form almost as bad as those sonnet bastards Riley made the class memorize but talking about post-war modern minds beaten down by the sound of industry humming away talking about a meltdown, talking crazy stuff about angel hipsters (portraying a sentence of 1940s pre-beat daddies hanging around Times Square hustling and conning an unsuspecting world), talking about Negro streets which they all knew as “n----r streets” over in the Acre section of Boston, a place to stay away from, talking about taking on the monster in the mist Moloch mano y mano, talking about the new heroes of the American night all-American swordsman Jack and secret love that dare not speak its name crush on Adonis of the New Western night courtesy of Laramie Street in mile-high Denver Neal Cassady to be exact the new model of the  last cowboy standing. Neal some amazing cocksman to be envied and emulated screwing every honey who was not tied down to a chastity belt on farms, in the restrooms of diners and out in the back alley if the restroom was occupied. Damn. 

Ginsburg had actually been in the nut house in New York someplace, had dedicated the poem to some fellow inmate who was crazier that he was or dedicated to all the crazies, the looney bin Jack had called the place like the place all the guys in Riverdale did when they talked about where screwballs and goofs, even Kerouac’s holy goofs learned about later, should have landed, so he knew what deal was going down, knew that America had turned into a cesspool even if nobody else saw the drain coming. Jack had made Billy and the dope laugh when he told them the reason Ginsburg was in the looney bin was he had been sent there by some judge after he got into legal trouble, committed or was present at some unknown crime, an event which made the pair respect this Ginsburg more since cons in the old Riverdale neighborhood were looked up to with respect and admiration, to try to get rid of his faggot-ness, his homosexuality, his liking boys and not girls. (They laughed not because they knew that Jack hated fags and queers which he did and had put paid to that idea having gone down to Provincetown where all the fags and queers hung out all dressed up and all leering at anybody who came off the Provincetown boat from Boston with his own boys and raised hell with them-more than once. Beat a couple up who were eyeing him too closely and one in drag whom he thought was a girl until he got close enough to see some slight stubble on “her” face. Seems that Jack was giving Ginsburg a pass on his sexual preference just because he was a beat guy-Billy and the dope wouldn’t have given the fucker the time of day even if the guy was a prophet if he hadn’t been a con when they talked about it later since they shared Jack’s hatred of fags-and dykes like every red-blooded guy did then.)     

Jack knew what the unholy kid goofs were laughing about, about his seeing literary merit even if the guy was a faggot. The minute he said “faggot” he knew they would goof but he thought they should know what else the guy had to say. He told them a lot of good writers and poets were “light on their feet” and that was something you had to deal with if you wanted to read anything worth reading and let the faggot stuff slide, you don’t have to meet them in person anyway. So he told Billy and the dope to forget the stuff he said about Ginsburg’s queer as a three dollar bill situation and “dig” (that was the word Jack used) what he had to say to the world, to the young really. The stuff about machines devouring humankind and making the world crazier than it already was. That maybe the guys in mental hospitals like the ones who were his comrades at the time were the sane ones-that what they knew was too powerful to let them stay out on the mean streets for long. That the Molochs were in charge (“what the fuck is a Moloch,” Billy asked, interrupting, not comprehending what Jack was talking about as he droned on about stuff that seemed weird). Tried to tell the kids that this thing was Ginsburg plainsong, his way of putting in raw language his spiritual trip, his karma on the world. (the dope would run into Ginsburg later at an anti-war rally in New York City in his later incantation as a Buddhist so karma was the right word even though they were clueless about what it really meant in Buddhist traditions).

After about fifteen minutes Jack could see his audience’s eyes glazing over and so he stopped, stopped and told them that when they got his age they would be thinking about all the stuff Ginsburg laid out in that not-fit-for-public-school-classrooms poem. They laughed, snickered really and wondered what Lucinda and Laura were up to just then. The hell with Jack and his fucking homo poem.            

*The100thAnniversaryYearOfTheBolshevik-LedOctoberRevolution-Lessons- From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Trotsky Was Right: How Stalinism Undermined Legacy of October Revolution- A Guest Commentary

*The100thAnniversaryYearOfTheBolshevik-LedOctoberRevolution-Lessons- From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Trotsky Was Right: How Stalinism Undermined Legacy of October Revolution- A Guest Commentary

Frank Jackman comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Winter 1991-92, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Trotsky Was Right: How Stalinism Undermined Legacy of October Revolution

The following speech, edited for publication, was given by Spartacist League Central Committee member Jim Robertson at a 17 November 1991 meeting in the Bay Area for the Lenin-Trotsky fund.

There are two great Westernizers in Russian history: one was Peter the Great and the other was Lenin. They were Westernizers not in the sense that they wanted to create colonial dependence for the Russian areas, but seeing the immense backwardness of Russia—one in a period where autocracy was the order of the day and one where the proletariat had become a significant factor—each reached out, in his own way and in his own time, to modernize Russia.

In the case of Lenin, this was not on a nationalist basis, not in order to beat the Turks, the Prussians and the Swedes, but to create a new world order that Marx and Engels had sketched out, in which one would abolish the struggles for ascendancy between imperialist powers and the necessity for national struggles for self-determination or independence. That laid the basis for the Communist International. 1 use Lenin's name as shorthand for the entire Bolshevik Party, of which he was the undisputed leader. He had a great many colleagues in this endeavor.

Modern Russian history opens with the Decembrist Uprising in 1825, when sections of the officer corps and the first sprouts of the Westernizing intelligentsia, facing the implacable opposition of tsarism, thought in terms of a coup, and were executed or deported to Siberia for the result. The Decembrists did not look toward the tsarist intrigues in Europe—you know, how to play the Austrians against the French against the Prussians and the rest. They had drawn conclusions from Russia's expansion indigenously several thousand miles to the east; for example, they enthused over the eastward expansion into Siberia and all the way to Alaska. I don't know if they appreciated the reason why Russia could expand indigenously for thousands of miles, simply absorbing native peoples. The reason was that the Russians were involved in the fur trade, and they did not try to exterminate the natives or to culturally transform them, but to hire them as assistants to do what they already had done all their lives for many generations. It was simply an accelerated hunting/gathering activity, only this time for the world market. For related reasons, but very contrary to British imperialist practices, the Russians sexually intermingled with the natives, and the children were named Ivan and baptized. So there was a process of organic absorption, and thus the Russian Socialist Republic extends all the way to the Kamchatka Peninsula, to the Pacific Ocean. To this day American Baptist missionaries have trouble with the Aleuts in the Aleutian Islands, who insist on clinging to their ancient ancestral Bible that goes back into an infinity of time, which happens to be in Cyrillic.

The tsarist court and its entourage went another way. Russia had been a strong state certainly since the time of Peter the Great. The autocracy and the church were subordinated to the tsarist empire itself, and the nobility's titles were generated from service to the imperial court and the imperial administration. In the 19th century, an intelligentsia grew up, along with a countercurrent of Slavic mysticism; That's why I can call Lenin, validly, a Westernizer, because he fought this very reactionary current that said there's a special Slavic soul and we must eschew all things Western.

Lenin wrote a little essay, "The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism," in which he said the Marxist movement "is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism," referring to the repeated revolutions that had taken place in the metropolitan areas of France since 1789. And he focused on the new, but very concentrated, proletariat that was growing up in the various parts of the tsarist empire.

Through the 1905 revolutionary experience and the disasters that the Russian government experienced in World War I, the Bolsheviks regrouped in the course of a general social revolution, a prolonged popular revolution. The October 1917 insurrection was a coup planned after all the intermediate forces had tried to make various kinds of compromises between the old order and the appetites of the working class and, to a considerable extent, of the peasantry, which were never to be satisfied. Each government (most typically Kerensky) had continued to honor its treaty obligations to the Allies and had continued to endlessly send millions of men against the all too murderously efficient German army.

The coup was very successful—rapidly and highly peacefully in Leningrad, and equally rapidly but not quite as peacefully in Moscow—and was simply accepted all across the Soviet Union, all the way to Vladivostok. It took about six months for the White Guard officers and their Allied advisers and financial suppliers to begin to develop effective White armies, which were put in the field in the summer of 1918. Russia experienced a terribly debilitating civil war. The Bolsheviks won it: they had interior lines of communication, and when it came right down to it, although a good many of the ideas of the Bolsheviks were not too appetizing to the mass of the Russian peasantry, it was a better deal than the tsarists were offering.

But Russian industry, badly deteriorated, virtually ceased to exist. The few hundred thousand workers who had been in the vanguard of the 1917 Revolution ceased to exist, by and large, as a working class. They died or they were pulled into the administration or especially into the army. There were no raw materials for factories anyhow, except those that were diverted exclusively to the Civil War. When the Civil War was about won (under the policy of War Communism, which was simply a ruthless seizure of peasant products), the end of the war and the growing disgruntlement of the peasantry were signaled by the Kronstadt uprising. It was an uprising of sailors, peasant boys who had been put in this safe area during the war to replace the Bolshevik sailors who had gone to the front or otherwise served the revolution.

The Bolshevik Party at the time was and had been debating a new course, but meanwhile was inertially carrying out the policies of War Communism. The Kronstadt uprising marked the first of about 50 years of alternative interpretations of the Soviet Union as something other than a workers state. At that point, the anarchists began calling for a third revolution. One theoretical interpretation after another that the Soviet Union was no longer a workers state became current. In renouncing the Soviet Union as a workers state, the state capitalist currents have based themselves on about three different—and more or less mutually counterposed—points of qualitative departure.

Meanwhile, something very bad was at work in the USSR. Without the political ballast of the proletariat, all parties other than the Bolsheviks, more or less, were undergoing polarization (with the exception of Martov's Left Mensheviks, who still staggered down the middle of the road). Some groups were simply becoming counterrevolutionary, while the other wing, like some Left Social Revolutionaries and a few Left Mensheviks, went over to the Bolshevik Party. So the Bolshevik Party became the repository of such revolutionary virtues as continued to exist in the Soviet Union. But meanwhile deterioration was taking place within the Soviet Union, along with various personal transformations.

The death of Sverdlov and the illness of Lenin vastly facilitated the concentration of administrative powers in the hands of a fairly minor figure known as J.V. Stalin. Actually, he was a Georgian named Djugashvili, but like some semicolonial individuals, he was a greater exponent of Great Russian chauvinism than the ordinary Russian. In the fall of 1923, the growing pressures of economic dislocation, the disorganization of the peasantry and the lack of industrial production created what Trotsky called the "scissors crisis." When the scissors are closed, the prices of industrial and agricultural goods are close together. But with prices for industrial goods rising and for agricultural goods falling, the scissors open, and there is growing discontent among the peasants.

So there was a big debate in the Bolshevik Party. The debate was slammed shut; by then the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union had acquired a sufficient consciousness to begin to act in concert. There was a party conference in January of 1924 where, as a way to shake the fist of the bureaucracy at the party, the representation proportions were completely out of line. Substantial forces in the Leningrad and Moscow Communist parties were in opposition to the administration, which was then, with Lenin out of action, concentrated in the hands of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, who constituted a "Troika," as it was called, a team of three.

With this administrative control ensured, the boys at the top began rapidly to develop new theories. The failure of the German Revolution—which Lenin had looked to as the beginning of the necessary extension of the revolution internationally—in 1918-19 and in 1923 propelled the move to the right in the Soviet Union. In the fall of 1924, Stalin advanced the extremely characteristic idea that "we will build socialism in Russia alone." In this miserable, wracked country, somehow socialism was to be built. The ideologist Bukharin found favor. His idea was that not only can you build socialism in one country alone, but you can build it at a snail's pace, entirely independently of the world market and imperialist economic and military appetites. It was isolationism with a great vengeance.

There was a very considerable regroupment of those who rejected this and insisted that the fate of the Soviet Union was intimately associated with international and revolutionary developments. Trotsky was simply the best-known figure. The balance of the '20s consisted in power maneuvering: first, the isolation and downgrading of Zinoviev, and then, eventually, of Bukharin. But it was a period of relative mass social freedom, while the administration at the top was fighting it out, and the Stalin faction emerged triumphant.

Its triumph, at the end of the 1920s, generated a considerable totalitarian grip on Soviet society which rapidly spread into practically every field of human endeavor. (The only one that I can think of that was excluded was music. Stalin executed a lot of poets, because he could kind of figure out what the poetry meant; if it meant the wrong thing, you got eliminated. He could never quite get the composers, because that was a little obscure. But he imposed such a structure on the musical arts that the bitter joke was that if Stalin couldn't whistle it, you couldn't get it published.) So this rather frothy bureaucracy had consolidated around a faction, and this added impetus to Mensheviks or anarcho-syndicalists who wanted to find new reasons to write off the Russian state as at bottom not a working-class state.

Seen through Stalin's eyes, the whole thing was terribly difficult. First he had to deal with his allies, who had bigger names than he did, and he got rid of them. Then his own faction more or less believed the doctrines of socialism in one country as they were first enunciated, and were somewhat idealistic. They began to like a chap named Kirov, who in 1934 was shot to death, which was of great convenience to Stalin. He immediately blamed his opponents. In 1934 the Russian CP had the 17th Party Congress, in which a lot of votes were not cast for Stalin. The party didn't have another congress until 1939, and hardly anybody was still alive who had been to the 1934 congress. The consolidation of a totalitarian bureaucracy of a very brittle and murderous sort, along with extensive, enormous purge trials, meant the liquidation of the tops of the economy and the army and the like. It resulted in the sentencing of many millions of men and women to time in forced labor camps, which became a significant factor.

So again new interpretations of the Soviet Union were made. In the early New Deal, two guys named Berle and Means wrote an influential book saying that American capitalism is no longer owned by the capitalists, but instead by the managers of American industry, and the capitalists who own the shares are merely parasites. As a description of the day-to-day operations of American capitalism, this is as suitable as any other. But when you get into a factional struggle in a corporation, you very rapidly learn it is not the managers, but the holders of the common shares, that in fact do own. But that was probably the germ from whence Shachtman and Burnham in the American Trotskyist movement got their idea that the people who were managing Soviet society are the owners of the means of production. In America this was a prevailing idea—called "bureaucratic collectivism"—among revisionist elements for quite a while. It never took hold in England, where various forms of state capitalist ideas dominated: that is, that the Soviet state itself is the one capitalist. I was never attracted to this idea, because capitalism is associated with the development of surplus value, of exploitation, and the Soviet Union allocated its labor on the basis of administrative decisions and quite
independently of the possibilities of financial return. But right down to this day, the current British centrists and left critics of the Labour Party and New Leftists think along the lines of "state capitalism,"

Trotsky was developing an analysis of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state, in which the political commanding heights had been seized by a bureaucracy which was inherently unstable and polarizable. This bureaucracy represented a kind of a bridge between the base, which was the Soviet Union that had issued out of the revolution and Civil War, and a series of accommodations with the imperialist powers. So socialism in one country has a very important corollary. If socialism is going to exist only in one country, what is the role of the working class in the rest of the world? The answer is, to defend socialism in that one country, by supposedly finding friendly capitalists to make common electoral blocs and parties with, as opposed to the hostile and evil capitalists who want to do something bad to the Soviet Union. That's the root theory that still operates in the American Communist Party today, which sees progressive Democrats and evil, reactionary Republicans.

All this was a very slow process. Stalin died, they got a semi-reformer, actually personally a decent chap, Khrushchev. He seems to have been the only top Soviet leader who was not personally involved in the mass, bloody terror. But perhaps he wasn't too apt. At least he didn't remain in power very long, but he told a good bit of the truth about the past. All of this, of course, is implicitly immense evidence that the bureaucracy was and is not a possessing class. In order to possess, you have to be able to inherit. But in Russia if a bureaucrat gets fired from his job, it's like working for the Ford Motor Company—you're fired, you're out, and that's it. And you end up at best with a very small pension, and at worst shot as a traitor. So this was not a class in that it did not offer the perquisites of ownership, which are very real and have been real in every society hitherto.

Under Brezhnev, which they now call a period of stagnation, things ran pretty well. But there was no more real terror. If you were a dissident, you might be abused a bit, deprived of your job, sent off for a few months of re-education, then you would come back and hang around in Moscow writing samizdat. In general there, had been a multilateral agreement that with Stalin gone, and his henchman Beria (the head of the KGB) having been shot as a British agent since 1919, they weren't going to do this to each other anymore, that it was too hard.

Furthermore, changes had taken place. They'd already gone through a generation of bureaucrats, who started out as rather bright, uneducated, ambitious peasants who found favor in the eyes of their chiefs. They went out and worked hard, but then they too had children—and the children hung about in the main centers of the country, because they didn't want to go back to the farm. They got high-grade degrees from Moscow U. and places like that. They are the new intelligentsia. And they look to the West, not in the sense of learning from it, but of conciliating it and becoming consumers, with a house in the hills somewhere near Los Angeles. And that explains, by and large, the social base of Yeltsin.

The Russians have been sealed off for a very long time, and they're quite innocent. They believe that any criticism of the United States is a lie by the bureaucracy, because they've been lied to a lot, as well as told the truth a lot. They think that one can simply join the West. Well, one can join the West, all right, like Brazil or Mexico. And that's what the world bourgeoisie would like to do with the Soviet Union. But they have a problem: it was profitable for the United States to spend tens of billions of dollars a year in war preparations against the Soviet Union, but nobody wants to put capital into Russia because the prospect of extracting profit is very uncertain. So very little money is flowing into East Europe as a whole, except the Germans are maintaining and rebuilding an infrastructure in East Germany, after having destroyed its industrial base. And if the Poles can't get money, it's not going to be so easy for the Russians either.

The East European countries now are neocapitalist without capital. It doesn't matter that they haven't managed to denationalize any plants because nobody wants to buy anything—the industrial capacities are not particularly good—and furthermore it's a stormy area. But Russia had an indigenous proletarian revolution. The historical memory of the proletariat is badly but not entirely impaired. Stalin created the Stakhanovite program, in which people are supposed to be paid for how hard they work. The idea of equality is a pervasive feeling among huge masses in the Soviet order. To them, the idea of private ownership of the means of production looks quite literally like sheer theft. So that has been for the Russian proletariat, which is now a much larger section of Soviet society, something that never caught on. Meanwhile the Yeltsin forces are fast accruing everyone who wants to introduce inequality and impoverishment for the masses, and status as a bourgeoisie co-equal with the West (a semi-Utopian aspiration) for the few. Yeltsin is a really despicable character who has long had relations with the anti-Semitic fascists of Pamyat, for example. His main drive is for an early, fast, brutal capitalization of the USSR, at the expense of the constituents that stand outside of Russia itself.

So the issue has not yet been completely joined in the Soviet Union. On the 74th anniversary of the October Revolution, in defiance of the authorities and without official authorization, the working class began to raise its head and come forward with slogans. Not all of them were so appetizing, because there are some nationalists there who want to blame the Jews for everything, as well as Wall Street. But there are also some internationalists, so when we intervene, when we have trouble with some people who want to beat us up, there were always groups that come and defend us, too. The mobilization in Moscow in particular was very large, around 90,000. And this was in spite of the threats by Popov, the liberal mayor of Moscow, who up until the last couple of hours said that he wasn't going to let the march happen.

It's quite important to get the Soviet working class into action, and along intensely political and Bolshevik lines. The issues do not lend themselves to simple economism: a better deal with the trade union to get a few more rubles from management. Because obviously—and it's obvious to the Russians, too—the whole of the country hangs in the balance. While Gorbachev's earlier appointees were liberals, the late ones were rather conservative, and they split off and last August they tried to stage a coup, which was a disastrous, isolated failure. They turned their backs on the working class, and the coup collapsed. But the Yeltsinites do not have complete control yet. We are dealing not with a totalitarian bureaucracy, but a decomposed one. There is every kind of bureaucratic obstacle while at the same time very shady operators will print our stuff for a very considerable amount of dollars—anything!

There is a window of opportunity; the police do not knock on your door. We want to exploit this very much against the capitalist-restorationists, and to engage in a struggle among those who oppose the capitalist-restorationists and against those, like the Great Russian chauvinists, who believe in Mother Russia, "beat the Yid," and the suppression of the constituent republics. We find a considerable base of support for our position for a Leninist-Trotskyist party, which means for a political revolution in the Soviet Union.

From The Marxist Archives-Karl Liebknecht-No Unity With The Class Enemy-Build The Resistance

From The Marxist Archives-Karl Liebknecht-No Unity With The Class Enemy-Build The Resistance  

Workers Vanguard No. 1104
27 January 2017


No to Unity with Class Enemy!
(Quote of the Week)
Today, the reformist left calls for “unity” to fight against Trump. This boils down to uniting behind the Democratic Party, political representatives of the class enemy. Writing in 1918, as the German Revolution was unfolding, revolutionary leader Karl Liebknecht warned against the dangers of unity with those defending the capitalist order. Liebknecht, along with Rosa Luxemburg, belatedly split with the socialist conciliators who wanted to unite with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which had betrayed the working class by supporting German imperialism during World War I. In January 1919, shortly after founding the German Communist Party, Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered by right-wing paramilitary forces at the behest of the SPD government and the revolution was defeated.
Unity! Who could yearn and strive for it more than we? Unity, which gives the proletariat the strength to carry out its historic mission.
But not all “unity” breeds strength. Unity between fire and water extinguishes the fire and turns the water to steam. Unity between wolf and lamb makes the lamb a meal for the wolf. Unity between the proletariat and the ruling classes sacrifices the proletariat. Unity with traitors means defeat.
Only forces pulling in the same direction are made stronger through unity. When forces pull against each other, chaining them together cripples them both.
We strive to combine forces that pull in the same direction. The current apostles of unity, like the unity preachers during the war, strive to unite opposing forces in order to obstruct and deflect the radical forces of the revolution. Politics is action. Working together in action presupposes unity on means and ends. Whoever agrees with us on means and ends is for us a welcome comrade in battle. Unity in thought and attitude, in aspiration and action, that is the only real unity. Unity in words is an illusion, ​self-​deception, or a fraud. The revolution has hardly begun, and the apostles of unity already want to liquidate it. They want to steer the movement onto “peaceful paths” to save capitalist society. They want to hypnotize the proletariat with the catchword of unity in order to wrench power from its hands by reestablishing the class state and preserving economic class rule. They lash out at us because we frustrate these plans, because we are truly serious about the liberation of the working class and the world socialist revolution.
Can we unify with those who are nothing more than substitutes for the capitalist exploiter, dressed as socialists?
Can we, may we join with them without becoming accomplices in their conspiracies?
Unity with them would mean ruin for the proletariat. It would mean renouncing socialism and the International. They are not fit for a fraternal handshake. They should be met not with unity, but with battle.
The toiling masses are the prime movers of social revolution. Clear class consciousness, clear recognition of their historic tasks, a clear will to achieve them, and unerring effectiveness—these are the attributes without which they will not be able to complete their work. Today more than ever the task is to clear away the unity smokescreen, expose half measures and halfheartedness, and unmask all false friends of the working class. Clarity can arise only out of pitiless criticism, unity only out of clarity, and the strength to create the new socialist world only out of unity in spirit, goals, and purpose.
—Karl Liebknecht, “The New ‘Civil Peace’” (19 November 1918), printed in The German Revolution and the Debate on Soviet Power (Pathfinder Press, 1986)

An Encore-Just Before The Sea Change - With The Dixie Cups Going To The Chapel Of Love In Mind

An Encore-Just Before The Sea Change - With The Dixie Cups Going To The Chapel Of Love In Mind

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

There were some things about Edward Rowley’s youthful activities, those that he thought would bring some small honor to his name, 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 “fifteen minutes of fame” business which he thought had been uttered by the Pop-artist Andy Warhol in one of his prankster moments, one of his New York high society put-downs, was fine by him even if it had been the result of some small honor thing.

The subject of that small honor done in the spurt of his youth that had defined a lot of what came later 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. (His world view did not encompass the entire world or what was the same thing the "youth nation" part of that view but later after making plenty of international connections from here and there he could have said he was waiting for that breeze to bust out over the world.)

It was not like Edward was some kind of soothsayer, like some big think tank thinker paid well to keep tabs on social trends for those in charge so they didn’t get waylaid like they did with the “rebel without a cause” and “beat” phenomena or anything like that back in the 1950s that had them all scared like hell that society was going down in the ditch. No, it was like he 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 when she had come to that location with her daughter, Gypsy Anne, one hot August week when he was about twelve. Madame that day read that he was made for big events. The big event that he was interested in just then was winning a doll, a stuffed animal or something like that for dark-haired, dark-eyed just starting to fill out  Gypsy Anne at the Skee game of which he was an expert at.

(For those clueless about Skee, have forgotten or have never spent their illicit youths around carnivals, small time circuses, or penny-ante amusement parks, the game is simplicity itself once you get the hang of it and play about 10,000 hours’ worth of games you roll small balls, which come down a chute once you pay your dough, or credit/debit card the way they have the machines worked nowadays, and you roll them like in bowling up to a target area like in archery and try to get a ton of points which gives you strips of coupons to win a prize depending on high your score is, and what you want. Like I say, simple.) 

And Edward did win his Gypsy Anne a stuffed animal, a big one, and got a very big long wet kiss for his heroics down by the beach when she gave her best twelve year old “come hither” look, not the last time he would be snagged by that look by her or any other women later (and by the way “copped a little feel” from that starting to fill out shape of hers and he finally solved, no, he solved for that one minute that budding girls turned to women were as interested in sex, or at least being “felt up” as the other guys around Harry’s Variety Store had told him  they were if approached the right way).  No way though that tarot reading when he was twelve left an impression, left him with that vague feeling about the big breeze coming, not then when his hormones drove his big thoughts, and not for a long while thereafter.

That big breeze blowing through the land thing had not been Edward’s idea anyway, not his originally although he swore by it once he thought about the possibilities of breaking out of Podunk North Adamsville, but came from “the Scribe,” the late Peter Paul Markin, a corner boy at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys on Thornton Street where he occasionally hung out in high school since he had been childhood friends with the leader of that crowd, Frankie Riley. Markin, despite a serious larcenous heart which would eventually do him in, read books and newspapers a lot and would go on and on about the jail-break thing on lonesome Friday nights when all the guys were waiting, well, just waiting for something to happen in woebegone North Adamsville where the town mainly went to sleep by ten, or eleven on Friday and Saturday night when Jack Slack’s closed late.  (For the younger set, Doc’s Drugstore, the place where he and Frankie hung in their younger days as well, the place where they all first heard rock and roll played loud on Doc’s jukebox by the soda fountain, every night was a nine o’clock close just when things were getting interesting as the shadows had time to spank vivid boy imaginations and you wonder, well, maybe not you, but parents wondered why their kids were ready to take the first hitchhike or hitch a freight train ride out of that “one-horse town” (an expression courtesy of the grandmothers of the town, at least the ones he knew, mostly Irish grandmothers with corn beef and cabbage boiling on their cast-iron stoves and smirks on their faces, if grandmothers could have smirks over anything, about how dear the price of everything was if you could get it a very big problem, including for Edward’s Anna Riley, where he first heard the words).

Here is where that big breeze twelve million word description thing Markin was talking about intersected with that unspoken trend for Edward (unknown and unspoken since the corner at Jack Slacks’ did not have a professional academic sociologist in residence to guide them since those “hired guns” were still hung up on solving the juvenile delinquency problem and so as usual were well behind the curve  and Markin, the Scribe as smart as he was, was picking his stuff up strictly from newspapers and magazines who were always way also behind the trends until the next big thing hit them in the face). 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 based on his recommendations.

Even Markin deferred to him on this one, on his musical sense, the beat or the “kicks” as he called then although he, Markin, would horn in, or try to, on the glory by giving every imaginable arcane fact about some record’s history, roots, whatever which would put everybody to sleep, they just wanted to heard the “beat” for crying out loud. Edward did have to chuckle though when he thought about the way, the main way, that Markin worked the jukebox scene since he was strictly from poverty, from the projects, poorer even than Edward’s people and that was going some if you saw the ramshackle shack of a house that he and his four older brothers grew up in. The Scribe used to con some lonely-heart girl who maybe had just broken up with her boyfriend, maybe had been dateless for a while, or was just silly enough to listen to him into playing what he wanted to hear based on what Edward had told him.

But Markin was smooth in his way since he would draw a bee-line to the girl who just put her quarter in for her three selection on Jack Slack’s jukebox (Doc’s, sweet and kindly saint Doc whose place was a bee-hive after school for that very reason , had five for a quarter if you can believe that). He would become her “advisor,” and as the number one guy who knew every piece of teenage grapevine news in the town and whom everybody therefore deferred on that intelligence so he would let her “pick” the first selection, usually some sentimental lost love thing she could get weepy over, the second selection would be maybe some “oldie but goodie,” Breathless or At The Hop, which everybody still wanted to hear, and then on number three, the girl all out of ideas Markin would tout whatever song had caught his ear. Jesus, Markin was a piece of work. Too bad he had to end the way he did down in Mexico now lying in some unmarked grave in some town’s potter’s field back in the mid-1970s which guys from the old town were still moaning over.

That was Markin on the fringes but see Edward’s 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(what high priest Markin called something like the “musical counter-revolution” but he was always putting stuff in political bull form like that). Which, go figure, the girls liked, or liked the look of the guys singing the tunes, guys with flipped hair and dimples like Fabian and Bobby Rydell but was strictly nowhere with Edward. The breeze Edward felt was going to bury that stuff under an avalanche of sounds going back to Elvis, and where Elvis got his stuff from like Lonnie Johnson and the R&B and black electric blues guys, the rockabilly hungry white boys, and forward to something else, something with more guitars all amped to big ass speakers that were just coming along to bring in the new dispensation.

More importantly since the issue of jailbreaks and sea changes were in the air Edward was the very first kid to grasp what would later be called “the folk minute of the early 1960s,” and not just by Markin when he wrote stuff about that time later before his sorry end. Everybody would eventually hone in on Dylan and Baez, dubbed the “king and queen” of the moment by the mass media always in a frenzy to anoint and label things that they had belatedly found about out about and run into the ground.  But when folk tunes started showing up on the jukebox at Jimmy Jack’s Diner over on Latham Street where the college guys hung out and where families went to a cheap filling dinner to give Ma a break from the supper meal preparations it was guys like the Kingston Trio, the Lettermen, and the Lamplighters who got the play after school and some other girls, not the “bubble gum” girls went crazy over the stuff when Edward made recommendations.

He had caught the folk moment almost by accident late one Sunday night when he picked up a station from New York City and heard Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie songs being played, stuff that Mr. Dasher his seventh grade music teacher had played in class to broaden youthful minds, meaning trying to break the Elvis-driven rock and roll habit. 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, that Anna Riley with her boiling kettles and smirks mentioned before,   who was an old devotee of the Catholic Worker movement kind of drove his aspirations (and Markin’s harping with the political and so-called historical slant triggered by his own grandmother’s devotion to the Catholic Worker movement added in). 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 Edward 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 Edward 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 had severely disapproved of 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 Edward 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  Edward 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 Edward 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 Edward 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 job working on repairing that ship up in Maine, 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 Carver, Hullsville, Shaker Heights, Ann Arbor, Manhattan, 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, after they 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 after giving up their "slave" names.)

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 lonely 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 by “wise” social commenters who could have been “Ike” brothers and sisters, was yesterday’s news).

Mrs. Rowley would constantly harp about “why couldn’t Edward 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 had 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 either and so everybody learned about sex is some strange osmotic way out in the streets, in the school boys' and girls' lavs Monday mornings before school when some Ben or Lisa would lie like crazy about their sex bouts weekend, and from older almost as clueless older brothers and sisters just like now.)     

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 Markin, who used to be so nice when all you boys hung around together at Jimmy Jack’s Diner [Edward: corner boys, Ma, that is what we were and at Jack Slack’s alleys not Jimmy Jack’s that was for the jukebox and for checking out the girls who were putting dough in that jukebox] 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. Worse though, worse than 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 shorter 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 Markin 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 he 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 Markin were sitting in the Club Nana in Harvard Square sipping coffee, maybe pecking at the one brownie between them, and listening to a local wanna-be folk singing strumming his stuff (who turned out to be none other than Eric Von Schmidt whose Joshua Gone Barbados and a couple of other songs would become folk staples and classics). Beside them cartons of books that they are sorting to be taken along with them when they 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. Markin. 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 had 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 down to Mississippi goddam and Alabama goddam on a chartered bus. But get this Peter turned to Edward and said, “Have you heard that song, Popsicles and Icicles by the Mermaids, it has got great melodic sense.” Edward made a very severe off-putting “no way” face. Yes, we are still in the time just before the sea change after which even Peter will chuckle about “bubble gum” music. Good luck on your journey though, young travelers, good luck.