Tuesday, October 26, 2021

In Honor Of John Brown Late Of Harpers Ferry-1859- *STRIKE THE BLOW-THE LEGEND OF CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the heroic revolutionary abolitionist, John Brown.

February is Black History Month. The name of the fiery revolutionary abolitionist John Brown is forever associated with that history.

Book Review

Reclaiming John Brown for the Left



From fairly early in my youth I knew the name John Brown and was swept up by the romance surrounding his exploits at Harper’s Ferry. For example, I knew that the great anthem of the Civil War -The Battle Hymn of the Republic- had a prior existence as a tribute to John Brown and that Union soldiers marched to that song as they bravely headed south. I was then, however, neither familiar with the import of his exploits for the black liberation struggle nor knew much about the specifics of the politics of the various tendencies in the struggle against slavery. I certainly knew nothing then of Brown’s (and his sons) prior military exploits in the Kansas ‘proxy’ wars against the expansion of slavery. Later study filled in some of those gaps and has only strengthened my strong bond with his memory. Know this, as I reach the age at which John Brown was executed I still retain my youthful admiration for him. In the context of the turmoil of the times he was the most courageous and audacious revolutionary in the struggle for the abolition of slavery in America. Almost 150 years after his death this writer is proud to stand in the tradition of John Brown.

That said, it is with a great deal of pleasure that I can recommend Mr. Reynolds’s book detailing the life, times and exploits of John Brown, warts and all. Published in 2005, this is an important source (including helpful endnotes) for updating various controversies surrounding the John Brown saga. While I may disagree with some of Mr. Reynolds’s conclusions concerning the impact of John Brown’s exploits on later black liberation struggles and to a lesser extent his position on Brown’s impact on his contemporaries, particularly the Transcendentalists, nevertheless on the key point of the central place of John Brown in American revolutionary history there is no dispute. Furthermore, Mr. Reynolds has taken pains to provide substantial detail about the ups and downs of John Brown’s posthumous reputation. Most importantly, he defends the memory of John Brown against all-comers-that is partisan history on behalf of the ‘losers’ of history at its best. He has reclaimed John Brown as an icon for the left against the erroneous and outrageous efforts of modern day religious and secular terrorists to lay any claim to his memory or his work. Below I make a few comments on some of controversies surrounding John Brown developed in Mr. Reynolds’s study.

If one understands the ongoing nature, from his early youth, of John Brown’s commitment to the active struggle against slavery, the scourge of the American Republic in the first half of the 19th century, one can only conclude that he was indeed a man on a mission. As Mr. Reynolds’s points out Brown took every opportunity to fight against slavery including early service as an agent of the Underground Railroad spiriting escaped slaves northward, participation as an extreme radical in all the key anti-slavery propaganda battles of the time as well as challenging other anti-slavery elements to be more militant and in the 1850’s, arms in hand, fighting in the ‘proxy’ wars in Kansas and, of course, the culmination of his life- the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Those exploits alone render absurd a very convenient myth by those who supported slavery or turned a blind eye to it and their latter-day apologists for it about his so-called ‘madness’. This is a political man and to these eyes a very worthy one.

For those who like their political heroes ‘pure’, frankly, it is better to look elsewhere than the life of John Brown. His personal and family life as a failed rural capitalist would hardly lead one to think that this man was to become a key historical figure in any struggle, much less the great struggle against slavery. Some of his actions in Kansas (concerning the murder of some pro-slavery elements under his direction) also cloud his image. However, when the deal went down in the late 1850’s and it was apparent for all to see that there was no other way to end slavery than a fight to the death-John Brown rose to the occasion. And did not cry about it. And did not expect others to cry about it. Call him a ‘monomaniac’ if you like but even a slight acquaintance with great historical figures shows that they all have this ‘disease’- that is why they make the history books. No, the ‘madness’ argument will not do.

Whether or not John Brown knew that his military strategy for the Harper’s Ferry raid would, in the short term, be defeated is a matter of dispute. Reams of paper have been spent proving the military foolhardiness of his scheme at Harper’s Ferry. Brown’s plan, however, was essentially a combination of slave revolt modeled after the maroon experiences in Haiti, Nat Turner’s earlier Virginia slave rebellion and rural guerilla warfare of the ‘third world’ type that we have become more familiar with since that time. 150 years later this strategy does not look so foolhardy in an America of the 1850’s that had no real standing army, fairly weak lines of communications, virtually uninhabited mountains to flee to and the North at their backs. The execution of the plan is another matter. Brown seemingly made about every mistake in the book in that regard. However, this is missing the essential political point that militant action not continuing parliamentary maneuvering advocated by other abolitionists had become necessary. A few more fighting abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, and better propaganda work among freedman with connections to the plantations would not have hurt the chances for success at Harper’s Ferry.

What is not in dispute is that Brown considered himself a true Calvinist avenging angel in the struggle against slavery and more importantly acted on that belief. In short, he was committed to bring justice to the black masses. This is why his exploits and memory stay alive after over 150 years. It is possible that if Brown did not have this, by 19th century standards as well as our own, old-fashioned Calvinist determination that he would not been capable of militant action. Certainly other anti-slavery elements never came close to his militancy, including the key Transcendentalist movement led by Emerson and Thoreau and the Concord ‘crowd’ who supported him and kept his memory alive in hard times. In their eyes he had the heroic manner of the Old Testament prophet. Now this animating spirit is not one that animates modern revolutionaries and so it is hard to understand the depths of his religious convictions on his actions but they were understood, if not fully appreciated, by others in those days. It is better today to look at Brown more politically through his hero (and mine, as well) Oliver Cromwell-a combination of Calvinist avenger and militant warrior. Yes, I can get behind that picture of him.

By all accounts Brown and his small integrated band of brothers fought bravely and coolly against great odds. Ten of Brown's men were killed including two of his sons. Five were captured, tried and executed, including Brown. These results are almost inevitable when one takes up a revolutionary struggle against the old order and one is not victorious. One need only think of, for example, the fate of the defenders of the Paris Commune in 1871. One can fault Brown on this or that tactical maneuver. Nevertheless he and the others bore themselves bravely in defeat. As we are all too painfully familiar there are defeats of the oppressed that lead nowhere. One thinks of the defeat of the German Revolution in the 1920’s. There other defeats that galvanize others into action. This is how Brown’s actions should be measured by history.

Militarily defeated at Harpers Ferry, Brown's political mission to destroy slavery by force of arms nevertheless continued to galvanize important elements in the North at the expense of the pacifistic non-resistant Garrisonian political program for struggle against slavery. Many writers on Brown who reduce his actions to that of a ‘madman’ still cannot believe that his road proved more appropriate to end slavery than either non-resistance or gradualism. That alone makes short shrift of such theories. Historians and others have also misinterpreted later events such as the Bolshevik strategy that led to Russian Revolution in October 1917. More recently, we saw this same incomprehension concerning the victory of the Vietnamese against overwhelming American military superiority. Needless to say, all these events continue to be revised by some historians to take the sting out of there proper political implications.

From a modern prospective Brown’s strategy for black liberation, even if the abolitionist goal he aspired to was immediately successful reached the outer limits within the confines of capitalism. Brown’s actions were meant to make black people free. Beyond that goal he had no program except the Chatham Charter which seems to have replicated the American constitution but with racial and gender equality as a cornerstone. Unfortunately the Civil War did not provide fundamental economic and political freedom. That is still our fight. Moreover, the Civil War, the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, the reign of ‘Jim Crow’ and the subsequent waves of black migration to the cities changed the character of black oppression in the U.S. from Brown’s time. Black people are now a part of "free labor," and the key to their liberation is in the integrated fight of labor against the current seemingly one-sided class war and establishing a government of workers and their allies. Nevertheless, we can stand proudly in the revolutionary tradition of John Brown (and of his friend Frederick Douglass). We need to complete the unfinished democratic tasks of the Civil War, not by emulating Brown’s exemplary actions but to moving the multi-racial American working class to power. Finish the Civil War.

Friday, October 22, 2021

*Poet's Corner- Langston Hughes' John Brown Tribute- "October 16"

Click on the title to link to an article about the relationship between Langston Hughes' forbears and Captain John Brown, late of Kansas on the anniversary of the Harpers Ferry raid.

October 16-Langston Hughes

You will remember
John Brown.

John Brown
Who took his gun,
Took twenty-one companions
White and black,
Went to shoot your way to freedom
Where two rivers meet
And the hills of the
And the hills of the
Look slow at one another-
And died
For your sake.

Now that you are
Many years free,
And the echo of the Civil War
Has passed away,
And Brown himself
Has long been tried at law,
Hanged by the neck,
And buried in the ground-
Since Harpers Ferry
Is alive with ghost today,
Immortal raiders
Come again to town-

You will recall
John Brown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

In Honor Of John Brown Late Of Harpers Ferry-1859- *Poet's Corner- Edwin Arlington Robinson's "John Brown"- On The Anniversary Of Harper's Ferry

Click on the title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the 19th American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson.

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

VII. The Three Taverns

11. John Brown

THOUGH for your sake I would not have you now
So near to me tonight as now you are,
God knows how much a stranger to my heart
Was any cold word that I may have written;
And you, poor woman that I made my wife, 5
You have had more of loneliness, I fear,
Than I—though I have been the most alone,
Even when the most attended. So it was
God set the mark of his inscrutable
Necessity on one that was to grope, 10
And serve, and suffer, and withal be glad
For what was his, and is, and is to be,
When his old bones, that are a burden now,
Are saying what the man who carried them
Had not the power to say. Bones in a grave, 15
Cover them as they will with choking earth,
May shout the truth to men who put them there,
More than all orators. And so, my dear,
Since you have cheated wisdom for the sake
Of sorrow, let your sorrow be for you, 20
This last of nights before the last of days,
The lying ghost of what there is of me
That is the most alive. There is no death
For me in what they do. Their death it is
They should heed most when the sun comes again 25
To make them solemn. There are some I know
Whose eyes will hardly see their occupation,
For tears in them—and all for one old man;
For some of them will pity this old man,
Who took upon himself the work of God 30
Because he pitied millions. That will be
For them, I fancy, their compassionate
Best way of saying what is best in them
To say; for they can say no more than that,
And they can do no more than what the dawn 35
Of one more day shall give them light enough
To do. But there are many days to be,
And there are many men to give their blood,
As I gave mine for them. May they come soon!

May they come soon, I say. And when they come, 40
May all that I have said unheard be heard,
Proving at last, or maybe not—no matter—
What sort of madness was the part of me
That made me strike, whether I found the mark
Or missed it. Meanwhile, I’ve a strange content, 45
A patience, and a vast indifference
To what men say of me and what men fear
To say. There was a work to be begun,
And when the Voice, that I have heard so long,
Announced as in a thousand silences 50
An end of preparation, I began
The coming work of death which is to be,
That life may be. There is no other way
Than the old way of war for a new land
That will not know itself and is tonight 55
A stranger to itself, and to the world
A more prodigious upstart among states
Than I was among men, and so shall be
Till they are told and told, and told again;
For men are children, waiting to be told, 60
And most of them are children all their lives.
The good God in his wisdom had them so,
That now and then a madman or a seer
May shake them out of their complacency
And shame them into deeds. The major file 65
See only what their fathers may have seen,
Or may have said they saw when they saw nothing.
I do not say it matters what they saw.
Now and again to some lone soul or other
God speaks, and there is hanging to be done,— 70
As once there was a burning of our bodies
Alive, albeit our souls were sorry fuel.
But now the fires are few, and we are poised
Accordingly, for the state’s benefit,
A few still minutes between heaven and earth. 75
The purpose is, when they have seen enough
Of what it is that they are not to see,
To pluck me as an unripe fruit of treason,
And then to fling me back to the same earth
Of which they are, as I suppose, the flower— 80
Not given to know the riper fruit that waits
For a more comprehensive harvesting.

Yes, may they come, and soon. Again I say,
May they come soon!—before too many of them
Shall be the bloody cost of our defection. 85
When hell waits on the dawn of a new state,
Better it were that hell should not wait long,—
Or so it is I see it who should see
As far or farther into time tonight
Than they who talk and tremble for me now, 90
Or wish me to those everlasting fires
That are for me no fear. Too many fires
Have sought me out and seared me to the bone—
Thereby, for all I know, to temper me
For what was mine to do. If I did ill 95
What I did well, let men say I was mad;
Or let my name for ever be a question
That will not sleep in history. What men say
I was will cool no cannon, dull no sword,
Invalidate no truth. Meanwhile, I was; 100
And the long train is lighted that shall burn,
Though floods of wrath may drench it, and hot feet
May stamp it for a slight time into smoke
That shall blaze up again with growing speed,
Until at last a fiery crash will come 105
To cleanse and shake a wounded hemisphere,
And heal it of a long malignity
That angry time discredits and disowns.

Tonight there are men saying many things;
And some who see life in the last of me 110
Will answer first the coming call to death;
For death is what is coming, and then life.
I do not say again for the dull sake
Of speech what you have heard me say before,
But rather for the sake of all I am, 115
And all God made of me. A man to die
As I do must have done some other work
Than man’s alone. I was not after glory,
But there was glory with me, like a friend,
Throughout those crippling years when friends were few, 120
And fearful to be known by their own names
When mine was vilified for their approval.
Yet friends they are, and they did what was given
Their will to do; they could have done no more.
I was the one man mad enough, it seems, 125
To do my work; and now my work is over.
And you, my dear, are not to mourn for me,
Or for your sons, more than a soul should mourn
In Paradise, done with evil and with earth.
There is not much of earth in what remains 130
For you; and what there may be left of it
For your endurance you shall have at last
In peace, without the twinge of any fear
For my condition; for I shall be done
With plans and actions that have heretofore 135
Made your days long and your nights ominous
With darkness and the many distances
That were between us. When the silence comes,
I shall in faith be nearer to you then
Than I am now in fact. What you see now 140
Is only the outside of an old man,
Older than years have made him. Let him die,
And let him be a thing for little grief.
There was a time for service and he served;
And there is no more time for anything 145
But a short gratefulness to those who gave
Their scared allegiance to an enterprise
That has the name of treason—which will serve
As well as any other for the present.
There are some deeds of men that have no names, 150
And mine may like as not be one of them.
I am not looking far for names tonight.
The King of Glory was without a name
Until men gave Him one; yet there He was,
Before we found Him and affronted Him 155
With numerous ingenuities of evil,
Of which one, with His aid, is to be swept
And washed out of the world with fire and blood.

Once I believed it might have come to pass
With a small cost of blood; but I was dreaming— 160
Dreaming that I believed. The Voice I heard
When I left you behind me in the north,—
To wait there and to wonder and grow old
Of loneliness,—told only what was best,
And with a saving vagueness, I should know 165
Till I knew more. And had I known even then—
After grim years of search and suffering,
So many of them to end as they began—
After my sickening doubts and estimations
Of plans abandoned and of new plans vain— 170
After a weary delving everywhere
For men with every virtue but the Vision—
Could I have known, I say, before I left you
That summer morning, all there was to know—
Even unto the last consuming word 175
That would have blasted every mortal answer
As lightning would annihilate a leaf,
I might have trembled on that summer morning;
I might have wavered; and I might have failed.

And there are many among men today 180
To say of me that I had best have wavered.
So has it been, so shall it always be,
For those of us who give ourselves to die
Before we are so parcelled and approved
As to be slaughtered by authority. 185
We do not make so much of what they say
As they of what our folly says of us;
They give us hardly time enough for that,
And thereby we gain much by losing little.
Few are alive to-day with less to lose. 190
Than I who tell you this, or more to gain;
And whether I speak as one to be destroyed
For no good end outside his own destruction,
Time shall have more to say than men shall hear
Between now and the coming of that harvest 195
Which is to come. Before it comes, I go—
By the short road that mystery makes long
For man’s endurance of accomplishment.
I shall have more to say when I am dead.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The List Of The Dog Soldiers Of The Vietnam War Class of 1969 Expands-With The Art Of The Late Native American Artist And Poet T.E. Cannon In Mind.

The List Of The  Dog Soldiers Of The Vietnam War Class of 1969 Expands-With The Art Of The Late Native American Artist And Poet T.E. Cannon In Mind.

                                     T.E. Cannon Self_Portrait 

By Si Lannon

Frank Jackman was confused, no, rather baffled, no again, was not sure that he should not take it for an omen. And he a man who laughed at omens, portents and other such mumbo-jumbo in his time, learned to be distrustful of such early on in hard knocks growing up day. What had him in a dither, what had him exercised as he did his morning toilet was how many associations with the year 1969, more specifically the Vietnam War Class of 1969 he had turned up once he had decided to “come out of the closet” (funny a term these days associated with gays and others proclaiming proudly their sexual orientations and identities) about his own battles during that period. The immediate cause for his consternation, for him thinking that maybe he should start to pay attention to the signs was that he had gone on assignment to the art exhibit at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem twenty-five miles north of Boston featuring the works of the late Native-American artist T.E. Cannon.

As Frank entered the exhibit area he noticed two things on the entrance wall describing what was ahead. The first was that while they were a million miles apart in a way with where they grew up, their racial and ethnic make-ups, and what paths they had pursued they were both members of the baby-boomer generation, more specifically for our purposes the Generation of ’68 which had come of age in that decade and went through all the ups and downs of that experience with which we are now being inundated with 50th anniversary commemorations. An added signpost of Frank’s confusion. Both had ironically, or maybe portentously is a better way to put the matter, been born in 1946 at the very start of the generational curve that was to peter out late in the 1960s giving way to Generation X and millennials. The second, and again for our purposes probably more important is that Cannon had served part of his Army hitch in the year 1969 with the 101st Airborne Division in 1969. That set off another round of explosions in Frank’s head about his own 1969 part of the equation since 1969 was the year he had accepted induction in the Army after being drafted. His story was quite different.            

Frank over the previous couple of years in the fuse over the 50th anniversary commemorations had become more aware of the pivotal part the events triggered in 1969 by that induction (he would laughingly, later laughingly, called it his indentured servitude) had played in much of his subsequent life, for good or evil. Not surprisingly he had kept quiet about his own experiences like a lot of that Class of 1969 who actually had gone to Vietnam and were trying to live it down by drowning it out, drowning it out unsuccessfully as it turned out in many cases. As Frank talked to fellow veterans from that period while he was reporting on various anti-war political events for the on-line American Left History he found a surprising number of them had some relationship to 1969 and so that perked up his interest in telling his own story which was dramatically different from theirs. In the muddle of what he was trying to do he wanted by publicizing his own experience, and in quiet nighttime moments desperately wanted, to be part of that Vietnam War Class of 1969. His story has been told elsewhere in these pages under the title Frank Jackman’s Fate-With Bob Dylan’s Masters of War In Mind and so need not detain us except that Frank too had orders for Vietnam but getting up his Irish decided to refuse to go costing him a total of thirteen months in an Army stockade and another six months of other kinds of restrictive movements.    

(Interesting there seems to have been something of a divide beginning with the Tet Offensive results in 1968 which set those from 1969 apart from earlier Vietnam War classes whom he found were less shamed or destroyed by their war experiences coming home. Nothing that he could put down as some sociological truth but with enough anecdotal force to take notice). 

Frank had written plenty about other cohorts of the Generation of ’68, the merry pranksters, not Ken Kesey’s originals but Captain Crunch’s whose led another cohort of mischief makers on their own yellow brick road converted school bus, from the Summer of Love days, the guys from the neighborhood, his corner boys who were a lightning rod from down at the base of society for what was going on in youth nation in those days and later, when he had had his own woes about fellow Vietnam veterans who had had a hard time coming back, of adjusting and had essentially dropped out of mainstream society. Had written about that band of brothers under the bridges of Southern California from inside reflecting his own turbulent war past and outside when he felt a very strong need to keep the faith with his brothers who had been thrown on the scrap heap by their government and the average citizen who di not give a fuck once the war madness was over.

But the 1969 guys were cut from a different cloth. Sure, they had many of the same PTSD symptoms of the lost boys out in the arroyos, the junkies on cheap street strung out on Golden Triangle dreams but somehow had survived well enough to get back in the real world. Sometimes it was, is a close thing with guys like Pat who went on to do work as an environmentalist after doing MAC-V military intelligence and who still is afraid to be alone in his house at night, like Dan who ran a successful logging business after running the rack on every known drug, legal and illegal reflected in five, count them five, marriages, beautiful Doc who had done triage with the 101st Airborne and came home to work the public hospital circuit but who like some small fry McBeth stills see the blood red moons of field hospitals. Howie who didn’t go because of a childhood injury that never healed correctly but whose number came up in ’69 and damn if they weren’t so desperate they were ready to take him. Almost blind John the same way. Ian from up in Maine whose two ex-wives never ever knew he had been in the Central Highlands of Vietnam when all hell was breaking loose there.

But enough about those guys who have had almost as much ink spilled in these pages by others as Frank because his assignment and his thoughts too were on the remarkable works of Cannon who gave him a whole new perspective on what Native American art was all about beyond the ancient, so-called primitive stuff he had seen in most art museums. In line with that thought he had also recently gone to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where a newer, small exhibit in the American wing was paying homage to, and trying to correct, the long history of neglect and third-class citizen of Native American art in its own exhibitions which had been relegated to the dreary basement of that wing. Maybe that told the tale another way.      

(Frank had never been sure even when he had been acting site manager in on-line times and before that as managing editor at hard copy publications about what was the correct term in the age of identity politics in reference to what he had learned as a kid in school and through television and movies about what had been called “Indians.” Terms seem to drift between “Native American” the term used at the Cannon exhibit “indigenous peoples” and “first nations” so he would stick with the first which had been the case at the exhibit)

Frank had become increasingly aware especially through his associations with veterans who in 2017 had gathered to defend against the pipelines at Standing Rock out in the Dakotas that Native Americans had been disproportionally represented in the American military with all the pathologies connected with that experience which he recognized from his own personal observations of his friends and those he had met along the way. Some were proud in the ancient warrior traditions to serve in the military like it as somewhere in some hidden gene. Cannon seems to have gone for the simple reason that he had been called up and rather than be drafted he enlisted. He did his time as well as anybody else but like a lot of guys was ambivalent about the war he had participated in and about his won role in it. As noted above not an uncommon reaction from serious creative types who were baffled by what they had experienced, by what they and others did to people with whom that had no quarrel. People, mostly peasants, workers on the land like his own people who had the same reverence for what the land gave (and took away) as those far away peasants.

Cannon went no holds barred in what he saw in his Native American environment from the proud but beaten warriors who could roam the ranges no more to the women of steel who held communal life together to the wizen elder shamans and soothsayers who really did believe in the portents Frank never could get around his head to his secret dreams of Anglo girls fussing in the night with the son of then thousand years of warrior life. Frank had to laugh thinking about those infinite number of connections which bound him to one T.E. Cannon. Then he remembered the story the late Markin had told one fireside night out in California working their way south on the Captain Crunch’s mad monk caravan. Markin and a couple of other guys had been out in Joshua Tree and had been sucking down all the hallucinogenic drugs they could gather mostly peyote buttons and maybe some righteous mescaline and had started to dance, dance the dance of ten thousand years of canyon life and had worked themselves into such a dither that they thought there was some connection between what they were doing and the light flickering off the canyon walls calling them onward. Yeah, Cannon Frank thought would have appreciated that story, would have let Frank into that vaunted Class of 1969 on the strength of that story alone.  

Friday, June 18, 2021

When Soldiers Of Fortune Held Forth In The Central American Night (And Were Well Paid)- Tom Cruise’s “American Made” (2017)-A Film Review

When Soldiers Of Fortune Held Forth In The Central American Night (And Were Well Paid)- Tom Cruise’s “American Made” (2017)-A Film Review

DVD Review

Bart Webber

American Made, starring Tom Cruise, 2017

If you are going to be a drug smuggler you had better be the best liar, con man, sell-out artist you can be otherwise you are going to wind up in some dirty, dusty back road someplace with a couple of slugs in your head and an unmarked grave in some stinking potter’s field far from home. This I know. All of this the lying, conning (including to close long-time friends), selling-out and falling down in some abandoned arroyo south of the border happened to my old time high school friend Peter Paul Markin (the real Markin not Allan Jackson who formerly headed the operations at this publication and took the Markin moniker as an on-line identity-and nobody complained). Yeah, Markin fell under the bus after making it through not unscathed in Vietnam and was never quite the same especially when that golden age hippie minute evaporated under the counter-offensive of the night-takers who have been running the show in this country ever since. But Markin was small time, was just trying to feed his serious cocaine habit at the end (a no-no if you are smuggling and tasting the product at the same time) when he made a fatal move to go “indy” down in Mexico and got nothing but two slugs in the head and a potter’s field grave for his efforts.    

Which brings us to this so-what based on fact true story about a serious upscale TWA commercial flight go by the book pilot Barry Seal with a taste for the wild side, for the dough side, who converts to drug smuggler extraordinaire in the film under review American Made 
Of course. any time you have a story line involving the CIA, drug cartels, the DEA, Contras and who knows who else you should hold onto your wallet. This is not supposed, at least in the director’s eyes, to be a biopic since Tom Cruise as the lead character Barry Seal, the late Barry Seal and the real one were very much unlike and moreover the story-line holds together better if it is told as on screen. So take the plot for what it is worth but know that Barry had a taste for the wild side beyond the bags full of money he was making in his very useful skilled profession as an ace pilot.

You need a scorecard in any case to work through the cons, lies etc of this one. Barry an unhappy TWA pilot with a gaggle of kids and a good-looking wife meets up with the CIA who need some help with the troublesome growing insurgencies in Central and South America. Barry buys in if the price is right and the plane is fast. Then the CIA wants him to be the bag man for their guy in Panama. Which leads to the fatal collusion with the very interested drug cartels starting their big-time cocaine runs heading north. Naturally through all this Barry is living high off the hog and a charmed live. Until. Until things go awry as he expands his operations and is caught. Not good for a gringo with much information to offer to save his own skin. Vaya con dios Barry once the cartel sends its hit men north. See, high end or low like Markin when you play with that fire it is every person for him or herself. A nice swift moving action film which Mr. Cruise is well-known for with a shade bit more nuance in the role than the usual bang-bang operations he is cinematically involved in.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

When The Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon Governments Wasted A Whole Generation of Precious Youth In The Folly Of The Vietnam War Which Caused Every Young Man So Serious Reflection-An Encore-Frank Jackman’s Fate-With Bob Dylan’s Masters of War In Mind

When The Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon Governments Wasted A Whole Generation of Precious Youth In The Folly Of The Vietnam War Which Caused Every Young Man So Serious Reflection-An Encore-Frank Jackman’s Fate-With Bob Dylan’s Masters of War In Mind

Introduction by Greg Green

Life is full of surprises as everybody over the age of about three knows firsthand even if that hard fact does not stand out and light a fire under you at every possible moment. Take my own situation. A couple of years ago I was working hard at the American Film Gazette managing the overall film review schedule and trying to outdo the legendary publisher Larry Lorton from Film Daily in the number of films we did reviews on. Then Pete Markin (aka Allan Jackson who used that moniker in honor of a fallen hometown friend who taught him and a few of the other writers here a thing or two about the profession although he eventually fell on his own sword which is a story many had detailed here over time and I need not go into) brought me over here to run the day to day operations while he readied himself for retirement or some other project. Jesus, then the Summer of Love, 1967, or rather the 50th anniversary commemoration of the event hit this place like a whirling dervish. I was too young to know much about that time but had heard some pretty raw and scary stuff about from writers here who had been there under Markin’s guidance, the real Markin not Allan. In any case Allan went crazy to make sure the damn event got almost as much coverage after 50 years as when the thing actually got off the ground and created what he and the others hatched up as a re-work on the Generation of ’68.
All well and good. Well not all well and good since the younger writer could in the words of Alden Riley one of the leaders of the Young Turks give a fuck about the fucking Summer of Love, 1967 or any other year in that decade. That led to a show-down and the demise of Allan Jackson, a founding member, and my elevation to site manager and the overall poohbah of this operation. According to what I hear around the water cooler things are calmer now that not everybody has to spent 24/7/365 neck-deep in the 1960s like that was the golden age, like that was the Garden as Lance Lawrence mockingly called it.
All this to say that some of the stuff from the 1960s, and the recently concluded The Roots is the Toots rock and roll series is one example that I was more than happy to give an encore presentation (admittedly after a little nudge froof Eden m Sam Lowell and others), is worth another inspection. That brings us to the real-life story below about what happened to Frank Jackman when he was of draft age in the age when that meant something and meant some tough decisions for a whole generation of young men who didn’t know what the hell to do when their number got called. Yeah, maybe this tale is not the sexiest one on the block, on the lowdown of the 1960s when youth nation went overboard with sex, drugs and rock and roll but fifty years or so later it still reads like a good story that people should know about-and shout from the rooftops about as we enter another year of endless war in the endless wars of our times.

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

Jack Callahan’s old friend from Sloan High School in Carver down in Southeastern Massachusetts Zack James (Zack short for Zachary not as is the fashion today to just name a baby Zack and be done with it) is an amateur writer and has been at it since he got out of high school. Found out that maybe by osmosis, something like that, the stuff Miss Enos taught him junior and senior years about literature and her favorite writers Hemingway, Edith Wharton and Dorothy Parker to name a few, that she would entice the English class stuck with him with through college where although he majored in Political Science he was in thrall to the English literature courses that he snuck into to his schedule. Snuck in although Zack knew practically speaking he had a snowball’s chance in hell, an expression he had learned from Hemingway he thought,  of making a career out of the literary life, would more likely wind driving a cab through dangerous midnight sections of town  occasionally getting mugged for his night’s work. That Political Science major winding up producing about the same practical results as the literary life though. Those literary designs stuck with him, savior stuck with him, through his tour of duty during the Vietnam War, and savior stayed with him through those tough years when he couldn’t quite get himself back to the “real” world after ‘Nam and let drugs and alcohol rule his life so that he wound up for some time as a “brother under the bridge” as Bruce Springsteen later put the situation in a song that he played continuously at times after he first heard it “Saigon, long gone…."  Stuck with him after he recovered and started building up his sports supplies business, stuck with him through three happy/sad/savage/acrimonious “no go” marriages and a parcel of kids and child support.  And was still sticking with him now that he had time to stretch out and write longer pieces, and beat away on the word processor a few million words on this and that.  

Amateur writer meaning nothing more than that he liked to write and that writing was not his profession, that he did not depend on the pen for his livelihood(or rather more correctly these days not the pen but the word processor). That livelihood business was taken up running a small sports apparel store in a mall not far from Lexington (the Lexington of American revolutionary battles to give the correct town and state) where he now lived. Although he was not a professional writer his interest was such that he liked these days with Jimmy Shore, the famous ex-runner running the day to day operations of the store, to perform some of his written work in public at various “open mic” writing (and poetry) jams that have sprouted up in his area.

This “open mic” business Zack had embarked on s was a familiar concept to Jack from the days back in the 1960s when he would go to such events in the coffeehouses around Harvard Square and Beacon Hill to hear amateur folk-singers perfect their acts and try to be recognized as the new voice of their generation, or something like that. For “no singing voice, no musical ear” Jack those were basically cheap date nights if the girl he was with was into folk music. The way most of the "open mics" worked, although they probably called them talent searches then, was each performer would sign up to do one, two, maybe three songs depending on how long the list of those wishing to perform happened to be (the places where each performer kicked in a couple of bucks in order to play usually had shorter lists). These singers usually performed in the period in front of the night’s feature who very well might have been somebody who a few weeks before had been noticed by the owner during a previous "open mic" and asked to do a set of six to sixteen songs depending on the night and the length of the list of players in front of him or her. The featured performer played, unlike the "open mic" people, for the “basket” (maybe a hat) passed around the crowd in the audience and that was the night’s “pay.” A tough racket for those starting out like all such endeavors. The attrition rate was pretty high after the folk minute died down with arrival of other genre like folk rock, heavy rock, and acid rock although you still see a few old folkies around the Square or playing the separate “open mic” folk circuit that also run through church coffeehouses just like these writing jams.

Jack was not surprised then when Zack told him he would like him to come to hear him perform one of his works at the monthly third Thursday “open mic” at the Congregational Church in Arlington the next town over from Lexington. Zack told Jack that that night he was going to perform something he had written and thought on about Frank Jackman, about what had happened to Frank when he was in the Army during Vietnam War times.

Jack knew almost automatically what Zack was going to do, he would somehow use Bob Dylan’s Masters of War lyrics as part of his presentation. Jack and Zack ( a Vietnam veteran who got “religion” on the anti-war issue while he in the Army and became a fervent anti-war guy after that experience despite his personal problems) had met Frank in 1971 when they were doing some anti-war work among the soldiers at Fort Devens out in Ayer about forty miles west of Boston. Frank had gotten out of the Army several months before and since he was from Nashua in the southern part of New Hampshire not far from Devens and had heard about the G.I. coffeehouse, The Morning Report, where Jack and Zack were working as volunteers he had decided to volunteer to help out as well.

Now Frank was a quiet guy, quieter than Jack and Zack anyway, but one night he had told his Army story to a small group of volunteers gathered in the main room of the coffeehouse as they were planning to distribute Daniel Ellsberg’s sensational whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various spots around the base (including as it turned out inside the fort itself with one copy landing on the commanding general’s desk for good measure). He wanted to tell this story since he wanted to explain why he would not be able to go with them if they went inside the gates at Fort Devens.

Jack knew Zack was going to tell Frank’s story so he told Frank he would be there since he had not heard the song or Frank’s story in a long while and had forgotten parts of it. Moreover Zack wanted Jack there for moral support since this night other than the recitation of the lyrics he was going to speak off the cuff rather than his usual reading from some prepared paper.  

That night Zack was already in the hall talking to the organizer, Eli Walsh, you may have heard of him since he has written some searing poems about his time in three tours Iraq. Jack felt right at home in this basement section of the church and he probably could have walked around blind-folded since the writing jams were on almost exactly the same model as the old folkie “open mics.” A table as you entered to pay your admission this night three dollars (although the tradition is that no one is turned away for lack of funds) with a kindly woman asking if you intended to perform and direct you to the sign-up sheet if so. Another smaller table with various cookies, snacks, soda, water and glasses for those who wished to have such goodies, and who were asked to leave a donation in the jar on that table if possible. The set-up in the hall this night included a small stage where the performers would present their material slightly above the audience. On the stage a lectern for those who wished to use that for physical support or to read their work from and the ubiquitous simple battery-powered sound system complete with microphone. For the audience a bevy of chairs, mostly mismatched, mostly having seen plenty of use, and mostly uncomfortable. After paying his admission fee he went over to Zack to let him know he was in the audience. Zack told him he was number seven on the list so not to wander too far once the session had begun.

This is the way Zack told the story and why Jack knew there would be some reference to Bob Dylan’s Masters of War that night:

Hi everybody my name is Zack James and I am glad that you all came out this cold night to hear Preston Borden present his moving war poetry and the rest of us to reflect on the main subject of this month’s writing jam-the endless wars that the American government under whatever regime of late has dragged us into, us kicking and screaming to little avail.  I want to thank Eli as always for setting this event up every month and for his own thoughtful war poetry. [Some polite applause.] But enough for thanks and all that because tonight I want to recite a poem, well, not really a poem, but lyrics to a song, to a Bob Dylan song, Masters of War, so it might very well be considered a poem in some sense.   

You know sometimes, a lot of times, a song, lyrics, a poem for that matter bring back certain associations. You know some song you heard on the radio when you went on your first date, your first dance, your first kiss, stuff like that which is forever etched in your memory and evokes that moment every time you hear it thereafter. Now how this Dylan song came back to me recently is a story in itself.

You remember Eli back in October when we went up to Maine to help the Maine Veterans for Peace on their yearly peace walk that I ran into Susan Rich, the Quaker gal we met up in Freeport who walked with us that day to Portland. [Eli shouted out “yes.”] I had not seen Susan in about forty years before that day, hadn’t seen her since the times we had worked together building up support for anti-war G.I.s out at the Morning Report coffeehouse in Ayer outside Fort Devens up on Route 2 about thirty miles from here. That’s when we met Frank Jackman who is the real subject of my presentation tonight since he is the one who I think about when I think about that song, think about his story and how that song relates to it.   

Funny as many Dylan songs as I knew Masters of War, written by Dylan in 1963 I had never heard until 1971. Never heard the lyrics until I met Frank out at Fort Devens where after I was discharged from the Army that year I went to do some volunteer anti-war G.I. work at the coffeehouse outside the base in Army town Ayer. Frank too was a volunteer, had heard about the place somehow I forget how, who had grown up in Nashua up in southern New Hampshire and after he was discharged from the Army down at Fort Dix in New Jersey came to volunteer just like me and my old friend Jack Callahan who is sitting in the audience tonight. Now Frank was a quiet guy didn’t talk much about his military service but he made the anti-war soldiers who hung out there at night and on weekends feel at ease. One night thought he felt some urge to tell his story, tell why he thought it was unwise for him to participate in an anti-war action we were planning around the base. We were going to pass out copies of Daniel Ellsberg’s explosive whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various location around the fort and as it turned out on the base. The reason that Frank had balked at the prospect of going into the fort was that as part of his discharge paperwork was attached a statement that he was never to go on a military installation again. We all were startled by that remark, right Jack? [Jack nods agreement.]

And that night the heroic, our kind of heroic, Frank Jackman told us about the hows and whys of his Army experience. Frank had been drafted like a ton of guys back then, like me, and had allowed himself to be drafted in 1968 at the age of nineteen not being vociferously anti-war and not being aware then of the option of not taking the subsequent induction. After about three week down at Fort Dix, the main basic training facility for trainees coming from the Northeast then, he knew two things-he had made a serious mistake by allowing himself to be drafted and come hell or high water he was not going to fight against people he had no quarrel with in Vietnam. Of course the rigors of basic training and being away from home, away from anybody who could help him do he knew not what then kept him quiet and just waiting. Once basic was over and he got his Advanced Infantry Training assignment also at Fort Dix which was to be an infantryman at a time when old Uncle Sam only wanted infantrymen in the rice paddles and jungles of Vietnam things came to a head.

After a few weeks in AIT he got a three day weekend pass which allowed him to go legally off the base and he used that time to come up to Boston, or really Cambridge because what he was looking for was help to file an conscientious objector application and he knew the Quakers were historically the ones who would know about going about that process. That is ironically where Susan Rich comes in again, although indirectly this time, since Frank went to the Meeting House on Brattle Street where they were doing draft and G.I. resistance counseling and Susan was a member of that Meeting although she had never met him at that time. He was advised by one of the Quaker counselors that he could submit a C.O. application in the military, which he had previously not been sure was possible since nobody told anybody anything about that in the military, when he got back to Fort Dix but just then, although they were better later, the odds were stacked against him since he had already accepted induction. So he went back, put in his application, took a lot of crap from the lifers and officers in his company after that and little support, mainly indifference, from his fellow trainees. He still had to go through the training, the infantry training though and although he had taken M-16 rifle training in basic he almost balked at continuing to fire weapons especially when it came to machine guns. He didn’t balk but in the end that was not a big deal since fairly shortly after that his C.O. application was rejected although almost all those who interviewed him in the process though he was “sincere” in his beliefs. That point becomes important later.

Frank, although he knew his chances of being discharged as a C.O. were slim since he had based his application on his Catholic upbringing and more general moral and ethical grounds. The Catholic Church which unlike Quakers and Mennonites and the like who were absolutely against war held to a just war theory, Vietnam being mainly a just war in the Catholic hierarchy’s opinion. But Frank was sincere, more importantly, he was determined to not got to war despite his hawkish family and his hometown friends,’ some who had already served, served in Vietnam too, scorn and lack of support. So he went back up to Cambridge on another three day pass to get some advice, which he actually didn’t take in the end or rather only partially took up  which had been to get a lawyer they would recommend and fight the C.O. denial in Federal court even though that was also still a long shot then.  

Frank checked with the lawyer alright, Steve Brady, who had been radicalized by the war and was offering his services on a sliding scale basis to G.I.s since he also had the added virtue of having been in the JAG in the military and so knew some of the ropes of the military legal system, and legal action was taken but Frank was one of those old time avenging Jehovah types like John Brown or one of those guys and despite being a Catholic rather than a high holy Protestant which is the usual denomination for avenging angels decided to actively resist the military. And did it in fairly simple way when you think about it. One Monday morning when the whole of AIT was on the parade field for their weekly morning report ceremony Frank came out of his barracks with his civilian clothes on and carrying a handmade sign which read “Bring the Troops Home Now!”

That sign was simply but his life got a lot more complicated after that. In the immediate sense that meant he was pulled down on the ground by two lifer sergeants and brought to the Provost Marshal’s office since they were not sure that some dippy-hippie from near-by New York City might be pulling a stunt. When they found out that he was a soldier they threw him into solitary in the stockade.

For his offenses Frank was given a special court-martial which meant he faced six month maximum sentence which a panel of officers at his court-martial ultimately sentenced him to after a seven day trial which Steve Brady did his best to try to make into an anti-war platform but given the limitation of courts for such actions was only partially successful. After that six months was up minus some good time Frank was assigned to a special dead-beat unit waiting further action either by the military or in the federal district court in New Jersey. Still in high Jehovah form the next Monday morning after he was released he went out to that same parade field in civilian clothes carrying another homemade sign “Bring The Troops Home Now!” and he was again manhandled by another pair of lifer sergeants and this time thrown directly into solitary in the stockade since they knew who they were dealing with by then. And again he was given a special court-martial and duly sentenced by another panel of military officers to the six months maximum.

Frank admitted at that point he was in a little despair at the notion that he might have to keep doing the same action over and over again for eternity. Well he wound up serving almost all of that second six month sentence but then he got a break. That is where listening to the Quakers a little to get legal advice did help. See what Steve Brady, like I said an ex-World War II Army JAG officer turned anti-war activist lawyer, did was take the rejection of his C.O. application to Federal District Court in New Jersey on a writ of habeas corpus arguing that since all Army interviewers agreed Frank was “sincere” that it had been arbitrary and capricious of the Army to turn down his application. And given that the United States Supreme Court and some lower court decisions had by then expanded who could be considered a C.O. beyond the historically recognized groupings and creeds the cranky judge in the lower court case agreed and granted that writ of habeas corpus. Frank was let out with an honorable discharge, ironically therefore entitled to all veterans’ benefits but with the stipulation that he never go onto a military base again under penalty of arrest and trial. Whether that could be enforced as a matter of course he said he did not want to test since he was hardily sick of military bases in any case.                                       

So where does Bob Dylan’s Masters of War come into the picture. Well as you know, or should know every prisoner, every convicted prisoner, has the right to make a statement in his or her defense during the trial or at the sentencing phase. Frank at both his court-martials rose up and recited Bob Dylan’s Masters of War for the record. So for all eternity, or a while anyway, in some secret recess of the Army archives (and of the federal courts too) there is that defiant statement of a real hero of the Vietnam War. Nice right?      

Here is what had those bloated military officers on Frank’s court-martial board seeing red and ready to swing him from the highest gallows, yeah, swing him high.

Masters Of War-Bob Dylan 

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Songs To While The Time By- The Roots Is The Toots-Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Songs To While The Time By- The Roots Is The Toots-Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven

A YouTube clip to give some flavor to this subject.
Introduction by Allan Jackson

[It is with a certain sadness that I introduce this last entry from The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night series which we first ran several years ago and which is now with this last entry finished having its encore presentation. I am extremely proud of that series which along with another series done earlier in my career entitled The Brothers Under The Bridge about guys from the Vietnam War, veterans who had serious trouble coming back to the real world after that experience and for a while formed an alternate world in the arroyos and along the railroad tracks and under the bridges of Southern California are two of the highlights of my career as manager editor at various site.

Of course this encore series has been fraught with all kinds of difficulties stemming from the faction fight in 2017 between the younger and older writers which led to my dismissal as site manager (some say “purge” but we will let that go since those who were on the other side have been generous in letting me finish the introductions to this series of sketches). The first part of the series was ghosted by Frank Jackman under the misapprehension that I had somehow “fallen under the bus” after I had been dismissed and people believed variously that I had gone to work for the Mormons out in Utah, had gone partners in a brothel in San Francisco with an old flame or had taken up with a drag queen in that same town. I, we have gone over all that in previous introductions so that story need not detain us further here.

The real question is what I will do now that I have done what I was called to do in order to finish up this series once again. Too much blood has been spilled since the fall of 2017 to assume that I would stay here in some capacity even though I have a few champions in my corner including Sam Lowell, my old corner boy who was pivotal in ramming through my dismissal (what he called politely a vote of no confidence). What I can tell the curious is that I will not go sell my soul to the Mormons out in Utah (nor with the silliest rumor of all when I went west to seek some kind of job to keep myself and my college-aged brood   will I go to work on Mitt Romney’s senatorial campaign out in Utah. Jesus after all I said about him in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns I am lucky to have gotten out of Utah alive). Nor will I go partners with my dear old friend and lover Madame LaRue out in her high-end brothel catering to high rolling mostly Asian businessmen with a taste for walking on the wild side. Nor will I be keeping house with Miss Judy Garland as much as I love him, my old drag queen corner boy Timmy Riley who saved my ass the past year with generous help to tide me over. But everything else that sounds reasonable for an old corner boy and an old devotee of the Generation of ’68 and what happened to it is up for grabs. Allan Jackson]      

Over the past several years I have been running an occasional series in this space of songs, mainly political protest songs, you know The Internationale (reflecting the necessarily international brother and sisterhood of the downtrodden and oppressed to get out from under the thumb of the now globalized economic royalists who run the show to their small benefit), Union Maid (reflecting the deep-seeded need to organize the unorganized and reorganize the previously organized sections of the labor movement in America), Which Side Are You On (reflecting, well, that is easy enough to figure out without further explanation, which side are you when the deal goes down), Viva La Quince Brigada (reflecting that at certain times and certain places we must take up arms like in the 1930s Spanish Civil War against the night-takers before they get out of their shells and wreak havoc on the world), Universal Soldier (reflecting the short-fall in the ability of humankind to step forward without going off the deep end of killing each other for no none reason), and such under the title Songs To While The Class Struggle By. And those songs have provided our movement with that combination entertainment/political message that is an art form that we use to draw the interested around us. Even though today those interested in struggling may be counted rather than among the countless that we need to take on the beasts and the class struggle to be “whiled away” is rather one-sidedly going against us at present. The bosses are using every means from firing militants to targeting and setting union organizing drives up for failure by every means possible to employing their paid propagandists to complain when the masses are not happy with having their plight groveled in their faces like they should be and are ready to do something about it while the rich, well, while away in luxury and comfort.  

Not all life however is political, or rather not all music lends itself to some kind of explicit political meaning but yet spoke to, let’s say, the poor sharecropper or planation worker on Mister’s land at the juke joint on Saturday listening to the country blues, unplugged, kids in the early 1950s at the jukebox listening to high be-bop swing heralding a new breeze to break out of the tired music of their parents, other kids listening, maybe at that same jukebox later in the decade now worn with play and coins listening to some guys from some Memphis record company rocking and rolling (okay, okay not just some record company but Sam Phillip’s Sun Records and not just some guys from the cornfields but Warren Smith, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis), or adults spending some dough to hear the latest from Tin Pan Alley (some Cole Porter, Irvin Berlin, Gershwin Brothers summertime and the living is easy tune)or some enchanted evening Broadway musical. And so they too while away to the various aspects of the American songbook and that rich tradition is which in honored here.   

This series which could include some modern protest songs as well like Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone or Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, is centered on roots music as it has come down the ages and formed the core of the American songbook. You will find the odd, the eccentric, the forebears of later musical trends, and the just plain amusing here. Listen up.
And as if you needed more motivation to list up run through this sketch:

The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven  

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Sam Lowell thought it was funny how things worked out in such contrary fashion in this wicked old world, not his expression that “wicked old world” for he preferred of late the more elastic and ironic “sad old world” reflecting since we are in a reflecting mood the swift passage of time and of times not coming back but that of his old time North Adamsville corner boy Peter Markin, Markin, who seemingly was possessed by the demon fight in his brain against the night-takers whatever their guise and who will be more fully introduced in a moment. (Markin aka Peter Paul Markin although nobody ever called him that except his mother, as one would expect although he hated to be teased by every kid from elementary school on including girls, girls who liked him too as a result, and his first ill-advised wife, a scion of the Mayfair swells who tried, unsuccessfully, to impress her leafy suburban parents with the familiar waspy triple names inherited from the long ago Brahmin forbear stowaways on the good ship Mayflower.)
Neither of those expressions referred to above date back to their youth since neither Sam nor Markin back then, back in their 1960s youth, would have used such old-fashioned religious-drenched expressions to express their take on the world since as with all youth, or at least youth who expected to “turn the world upside down” (an expression that they both did use in very different contexts) they would have withheld such judgments or were too busy doing that “turning” business and they had no time for adjectives to express their worldly concerns. No that expression, that understanding about the wickedness of the world had been picked up by Sam from Markin when they had reconnected a number of years previously after they had not seen each other for decades to express the uphill battles of those who had expected humankind to exhibit the better angels of their nature on a more regular basis. Some might call this a nostalgic glancing back, especially by Markin since he had more at stake in a favorable result, on a world that did not turn upside down or did so in a way very different from those hazy days.   

The funny part (or ironic if you prefer) was that Sam had been in his youth the least political, the least culture-oriented, the least musically-oriented of those corner boys like Markin, Jack Dawson, Jimmy Jenkins and “max daddy” leader Fritz Fallon (that “max daddy” another expression coined by Markin so although he has not even been properly introduced we know plenty about his place in the corner boy life, his place as “flak,” for Fritz’s operation although Fritz always called him “the Scribe” when he wanted something written up about his latest exploit and needed to play on Markin’s vanity, Markin with his finger-tip two thousand arcane facts stored in that brain ready to be fired at a moment’s notice for his leader. His leader who kept the coins flowing into the jukebox at Phil’s House of Pizza (don’t ask how that “coins flowing” got going since Fritz like most of the corner boys came “from hunger” but just take on faith that they got there. That shop had been located down a couple of blocks from the choppy ocean waters of Adamsville Beach (and still is although under totally different management from the arch-Italian Rizzo family that ran the place for several generation to some immigrant Albanians named Hoxha).

That made it among other things a natural hang-out place for wayward but harmless poor teenage corner boys. (The serious “townie” professional corner boys, the rumblers, tumblers, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters hung around Harry’s Variety with leader Red Riley over on Sagamore far from beaches, daytime beaches although rumors had been of more than one nighttime orgy with “nice” girls looking for kicks with rough boys down among the briny rocks. Fritz and the boys would not have gone within three blocks of that place. Maybe more from fear, legitimate fear as Fritz’s older brother, Timmy, a serious tough guy himself, could testify to the one time he tried to wait outside Harry’s for some reason, a friend stopping to buy a soda on a hot summer day Fritz said, and got chain-whipped by Red for his indiscretion. Moreover Phil’s provided a beautiful vantage point for scanning the horizon for those wayward girls who also kept their coins flowing into Phil’s jukebox (or a stray “nice” girl passing by after Red and his corner boys threw her over).

Sam had recently thought about that funny story that Markin had told the crowd once on a hot night in the summer of 1965 when nobody had any money and were just holding up the wall at Phil’s about Johnny Callahan, the flashy and unstoppable halfback from the high school team (and a guy even Red respected having made plenty of money off of “sports” who bet with him on Johnny’s prowess any given Saturday although Johnny once confessed that he too, rightly, avoided Harry’s after what had happened to Timmy). See Johnny was pretty poor in those days even by the median working poor standard of the old neighborhoods (although now, courtesy of his incessant radio and television advertising which continues to make everyone within fifty miles of North Adamsville who knew Johnny back in the day aware of his new profession, he is a prosperous Toyota car dealer down across from the mall in Hull about twenty miles from North Adamsville, the town where their mutual friend Josh Breslin soon to be introduced came from). Johnny, a real music maniac who would do his football weight-lifting exercises to Jerry Lee’s Great Balls of Fire, Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and stuff like that to get him hyped up, had this routine in order to get to hear songs that he was dying to hear, stuff he would hear late at night coming from a rock station out of Detroit and which would show up a few weeks later on Phil’s jukebox just waiting for Johnny and the kids to fill the coffers, with the girls who had some dough, enough dough anyway to put coins into that jukebox.

Johnny would go up all flirty to some young thing (a Fritz expression coped from Jerry Lee and not an invention of Markin as he would later try to claim to some “young thing” that he was trying to “score”) or depending on whatever intelligent he had on the girl, maybe she had just had a fight with her boyfriend or had broken up with him so Johnny would be all sympathy, maybe she was just down in the dumps for no articulable reason like every teen goes through every chance they get, whatever it took. Johnny, by the way, would have gotten that intelligence via Markin who whatever else anybody had to say about him, good or bad, was wired into, no, made himself consciously privy to, all kinds of boy-girl information almost like he had a hook into that Monday morning before school girls’ locker room talkfest (everybody already knew that he was hooked into the boys’ Monday morning version and had started more rumors and other unsavory deeds than any ten other guys).

Now here is what Johnny “knew” about almost every girl if they had the quarter which allowed them to play three selections. He would let them pick that first one on their own, maybe something to express interest in his flirtation, maybe her name, say Donna, was also being used as the title of a latest hit, or if broken up some boy sorrow thing. Brenda Lee’s I Want To Be Wanted, stuff like that. The second one he would “suggest” something everybody wanted to listen to no matter what but which was starting to get old. Maybe an Elvis, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee thing still on the jukebox playlist but getting wearisome. Then he would go in for the kill and “suggest” they play this new platter, you know, something like Martha and the Vandelas Dancing in the Streets or Roy’s Blue Bayou both of which he had heard on the midnight radio airwaves out of Detroit one night and were just getting play on the jukeboxes. And bingo before you know it she was playing the thing again, and again. Beautiful. And Johnny said that sometimes he would wind up with a date, especially if he had just scored about three touchdowns for the school, a date that is in the days before he and Kitty Kelly became an “item.” An item, although it is not germane to the story, who still is Johnny’s girl, wife, known as Mrs. Toyota now.

But enough of this downstream stuff Sam thought. The hell with Johnny and his cheapjack tricks (although not to those three beautiful touchdowns days, okay) this thing gnawing at him was about old age angst and not the corner boy glory days at Phil’s, although it was about old time corners boys and their current doings, some of them anyway. So yeah he had other things he wanted to think about (and besides he had already, with a good trade-in gotten his latest car from Mr. Toyota so enough there), to tell a candid world about how over the past few years with the country, the world, the universe had been going to hell in a hand-basket. In the old days, like he kept going back to he was not the least bit interested in anything in the big world outside of sports, and girls, of course. And endlessly working on plans to own his own business, a print shop, before he was twenty-five. Well, he did get that small business, although not until thirty and had prospered when he made connections to do printing for several big high-tech companies, notably IBM when they began outsourcing their work. He had prospered, had married (twice, and divorced twice), had the requisite tolerated children and adored grandchildren, and in his old age a woman companion to ease his time.

But there had been for a long time, through those failed marriages, through that business success something gnawing at him, something that Sam felt he had missed out on, or felt he had do something about. Then a few years ago when it was getting time for a high school class reunion he had Googled “North Adamsville Class of 1966” and came upon a class website for that year, his year, that had been set up by the reunion committee, and decided to join the site to keep up with what was going on, keep up with developments there (he would wind up not going to that reunion as he had planned to although that too is not germane to the story here except as one more thing that gnawed at him because in the end he could not face going home, believed in the end after a painful episode, a feud with a female fellow classmate that left bitter ashes in his mouth (hers too from what he had heard later) what Thomas Wolfe said in the title of one of his novels, you can’t go home again).

After he had registered on the site giving a brief resume of his interests and what he had been up to these past forty years or so years Sam looked at the class list, the entire list of class members alive and deceased (a rose beside their name signifying their passing, some seventy or so madding to his sad old world view) of who had joined and found the names of Peter Paul Markin and Jimmy Jenkins among those who had done so. (Sam had to laugh, listed as Peter Paul Markin since everybody was listed by their full names, revenge from the grave by his poor mother, and that leafy suburban first wife who tried to give him Mayflower credentials, he thought.) Jack Dawson had passed away a few years before, a broken man, broken after his son who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide, according to Markin, as had their corner boy leader, Fritz Fallon, homeless after going through a couple of fortunes, his own and a third wife’s.

Through the mechanism established on the site which allowed each class member who joined to have a private e-mail slot Sam contacted both men and the three of them started a rather vigorous on-line chat line for several weeks going through the alphabet of their experiences, good and bad, the time for sugar-coating was over unlike in their youth when all three would lie like crazy, especially about sex and with whom in order to keep their place in the pecking order, and in order to keep up with Fritz whom lied more than the three of them combined. Markin knew that, knew Fritz’s lying about his scorecard with under the satin sheets women, knew it better than anybody else but to keep his place as “scribe” in that crazy quill pecking order went along with such silly teenage stuff, stuff that in his other pursuits he would have laughed at but that is what made being a teenager back then, now too, from what Sam saw of his grandchildren’s trials and tribulation.

After a while, once the e-mail questions had worked their course, all three men met in Boston at the Sunnyvale Grille, a place where Markin had begun to hang out in after he had moved back to Boston from the West Coast (read “hang out”: did his daytime drinking) over by the waterfront, and spent a few hours discussing not so much old times per se but what was going on in the world now, and how the world had changed some much in the meantime. And since Markin, the political maniac of the tribe, was involved in the conversations maybe do something about it at least that is what Sam had hoped since he knew that is where he thought he needed to head in order to cut into that gnawing feeling at him. Sam was elated, and unlike in his youth he did not shut his ears down, when those two guys would talk politics, about the arts or about music. He had not listened back then since he was so strictly into girls and sports, not always in that order (which caused many problems later including one of the grounds for his one of his divorces, not the sports but the girls).

This is probably the place for Sam to introduce Peter Paul Markin although he had already given an earful (and what goes for Markin goes to a lesser extent for Jimmy who tended to follow in Pete’s wake on the issues back then, and still does). Markin as Sam already noted provided that noteworthy, national security agency-worthy service, that “intelligence” he provided all the guys (and not just his corner boys, although they had first dibs) about girls, who was “taken,” a very important factor if some frail (a Fritz term from watching too many 1940s gangster and detective movies and reading Dashiell Hammett too closely, especially The Maltese Falcon),was involved with some bruiser football player, some college joe who belonged to a fraternity and the brothers were sworn to avenge any brother’s indignities, or worse, worse of all, if she was involved with some outlaw biker who hung out in Adamsville and who if he hadn’t his monthly quota of  college boy wannabes red meat hanging out at Phil’s would not think twice about chain-whipping you just for the fuck of it (“for the fuck of it” a  term Jimmy constantly used so it was not always Markin or Fritz who led the verbal life around the corner), who was “unapproachable,”  probably more important than that social blunder of ‘hitting on” a taken woman since that snub by Miss Perfect-Turned-Up-Nose would make the rounds of that now legendary seminar, Monday morning before school girls’ locker room (and eventually work its way through Markin to the boys’ Monday morning version ruining whatever social standing the guy had spent since junior high trying to perfect in order to avoid the fatal nerd-dweeb-wallflower-square name your term).

Strangely Markin had made a serious mistake with Melinda Loring who blasted her freeze deep on him and he survived to tell the tale, or at least that is what he had the boys believe. Make of this what you will though he never after that Melinda Loring sting had a high school girlfriend from North Adamsville High, who, well, liked to “do the do” as they called it back then, that last part not always correct since everybody, girls and boys alike, were lying like crazy about whether they were “doing the do” or not, including Markin.
But beyond, well beyond, that schoolboy silliness Markin was made of sterner stuff (although Sam would not have bothered to use such a positive attribute about Markin back then) was super-political, super into art and what he called culture, you know going to poetry readings at coffeehouses, going over to Cambridge to watch foreign films with subtitles and themes that he would try to talk about and even Jimmy would turn his head, especially those French films by Jean Renoir, and super into music, fortunately he was not crazy for classical music (unlike some nerds in school then who were in the band and after practice you would hear Beethoven or somebody wafting through the halls after they had finished their sport’s practice)but serious about what is now called classic rock and roll and then in turn, the blues, and folk music (Sam still shuttered at that hillbilly stuff Markin tried to interest him in when he thought about it). That was how Markin had first met Josh Breslin, still a friend, whom he introduced to Sam at one of their meetings over at the Sunnyvale Grille.

Josh told the gathering that Markin had met him after high school, after he had graduated from Hull High (the same town where Johnny Callahan was burning up the Toyota sales records for New England) down at the Surf Ballroom (Sam had his own memories of the place, some good, some bad including one affair that almost wound up in marriage). Apparently Josh and Peter had had their wanting habits on the same girl at one Friday night dance when the great local cover band, the Rockin’ Ramrods held sway there, and had been successively her boyfriend for short periods both to be dumped for some stockbroker from New York. But their friendship remained and they had gone west together, gone on that Jack Kerouac On The Road trail for a number of years when they were trying their own version of turning the world upside down on. Josh also dabbled (his word) in the turning upside down politics of the time.

And that was the remarkable thing about Markin, not so much later in the 1960s in cahoots with Josh because half of youth nation, half the generation of ’68 was knee-deep in some movement, but in staid old North Adamsville High days, days when to just be conventionally political, wanting to run for office or something, was seen as kind of strange. See Peter was into the civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament, and social justice stuff that everybody thought he was crazy to be into, everybody from Ma to Fritz (and a few anonymous midnight phone-callers yelling n----r-lover and commie into the Markin home phone).  He had actually gone into Boston when he was a freshman and joined the picket-line in front of Woolworths’ protesting the fact that they would not let black people eat in their lunchrooms down south (and maybe Markin would say when he mentioned what he was up to Woolworth’s, or North Adamsville residents, were not that happy to have blacks in their northern lunchrooms either ), had joined a bunch of Quakers and little old ladies in tennis sneakers (a term then in use for airhead blue-haired lady do-gooders with nothing but time on their hands) calling on the government to stop building atomic bombs (not popular in the red scare Cold War “we were fighting against the Russians” North Adamsville, or most other American places either), running over to the art museum to check out the exhibits (including some funny stories about him and Jimmy busting up the place looking at the old Pharaoh times slave building Pyramids stuff uncovered by some Harvard guys way back), and going to coffeehouses in Harvard Square and listening to hokey folk music that was a drag. (Sam’s take on that subject then, and now.) So Markin was a walking contradiction, although that was probably not as strange now as it seemed back then when every new thing was looked at with suspicion and when kids like Peter were twisted in the wind between being corner boys and trying to figure out what that new wind was that was blowing though the land, when Sam and the other corner boys, except Jimmy and sometimes Jack would try to talk him out of stuff that would only upset everybody in town.

Here is the beauty, beauty for Sam now that he was all ears about what Peter had to say, he had kept at it, had kept the faith, while everybody else from their generation, or almost everybody, who protested war, protested around the social issues, had hung around coffeehouses and who had listened to folk music had long before given it up. Markin had, after his  Army time, spent a lot of time working with GIs around the war issues, protested the incessantly aggressive American foreign policy dipped internally into wars and coups at the drop of a hat and frequented off-beat coffeehouses set up in the basements of churches in order to hear the dwindling number of folk artists around. He had gotten and kept his “religion,” kept the faith in a sullen world. And like in the old days a new generation (added to that older North Adamsville generation which still, from the class website e-mail traffic had not gotten that much less hostile to what Markin had to say about this “wicked old world,” you already know the genesis of that term, right, was ready to curse him out, ready to curse the darkness against his small voice).

One night when Peter and Sam were alone at the Sunnyvale Grille, maybe both had had a few too many high-shelf scotches (now able to afford such liquor unlike in the old days when they both in their respective poverties, drank low-shelf Johnny Walker whiskey with a beer chaser when they had the dough, if not some cheapjack wine), Peter told Sam the story of how he had wanted to go to Alabama in high school, go to Selma, but his mother threatened to disown him if he did, threatened to disown him not for his desire to go but because she would not have been able to hold her head up in public if he had, and so although it ate at him not to go, go when his girlfriend, Helen Jackson, who lived in Gloversville, did go, he “took a dive” (Markin’s words).

Told Sam redemptive story too about his anti-war fight in the Army when he refused to go to Vietnam and wound up in an Army stockade for a couple of years altogether. (Sam thought that was a high price to pay for redemption but it may have been the scotch at work.) Told a number of stories about working with various veterans’ groups, throwing medals over Supreme Court barricades, chainings to the White House fence, sitting down in hostile honked traffic streets, blocking freeways complete with those same hostile honkings, a million walks for this and that, and some plain old ordinary handing out leaflets, working the polls and button-holing reluctant politicians to vote against the endless war budgets (this last the hardest task, harder than all the jailings, honkings, marches put together and seemingly the most fruitless).

Told too stories about the small coffeehouse places seeing retread folkies who had gone on to other things and then in a fit of anguish, or hubris, decided to go back on the trail. Told of many things that night not in feast of pride but to let Sam know that sometimes it was easier to act than to let that gnawing win the day. Told Sam that he too always had the “gnaw,” probably always would in this wicked old world. Sam was delighted by the whole talk, even if Markin was on his soapbox. 

That night too Peter mentioned in passing that he contributed to a number of blogs, a couple of political ones, including an anti-war veterans’ group, a couple of old time left-wing cultural sites and a folk music-oriented one. Sam confessed to Markin that although he had heard the word blog he did not know what a blog was. Peter told him that one of the virtues of the Internet was that it provided space (cyberspace, a term Sam had heard of and knew what it meant) for the average citizen to speak his or her mind via setting up a website or a blog. Blogs were simply a way to put your opinions and comments out there just like newspaper Op/Ed writers or news reporters and commentators although among professional reporters the average blog and blog writers were seen as too filled with opinions and sometimes rather loose with the facts. Peter said he was perfectly willing to allow the so-called “objective” reporters state the facts but he would be damned if the blog system was not a great way to get together with others interested in your areas of interest, yeah, stuff that interested you and that other like-minded spirits might respond to. Yeah that was worth the effort.

The actual process of blog creation (as opposed to the more complex website-creation which still takes a fair amount of expertise to create) had been made fairly simple over time, just follow a few simple prompts and you are in business. Also over time what was possible to do has been updated for ease, for example linking to other platforms to your site and be able to present multi-media works lashing up say your blog with YouTube or downloading photographs to add something to your presentation. Peter one afternoon after Sam had asked about his blog links showed him the most political one that he belonged to, one he had recently begun to share space with Josh Breslin, Frank Jackman and a couple of other guys that he had known since the 1960s on and who were familiar with the various social, political and cultural trends that floated out from that period. 

Sam was amazed at the various topics that those guys tackled, stuff that he vaguely remembered hearing about but which kind of passed him by as he had delved into the struggle to build his printing shop after high school and the marriage, first marriage, house, kids and dog bit.  He told Markin that as he scrolled through the site he got dizzy looking at the various titles from reviews of old time black and white movies that he remembered watching at the old Strand second run theater uptown, poetry from the “beat” generation, various political pieces on current stuff like the Middle East, the fight against war, political prisoners most of whom he had never heard of except the ones who had been Black Panther or guys like that who were on the news after they were killed or carted off to jail, all kinds of reviews of rock and roll complete with the songs via YouTube, too many reviews of folk music that he never really cared for, books that he knew Peter read like crazy but that Sam could not remember the titles of. The guys really had put a lot of stuff together, even stuff from other sites and announcements for every conceivable left-wing oriented event in Boston or the East Coast. He decided that he would become a Follower which was nothing sinister like some cult but just that you would receive notice when something was put on the blog.

Markin had also encouraged him to write some pieces about what interested him, maybe start out about the old days in North Adamsville since all the guys mined that vein for sketches (that is what Peter liked to call most of the material on site since they were usually too short to be considered short stories but too long to be human interest snapshots). Sam said he would think about the matter, think about it seriously once he read the caption below which was on a sidebar of the blog homepage:

“This space is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of our interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hardworking, hard drinking blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off from earlier generations has drawn our attention. Mostly by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally hereafter under this headline, specifically songs that some future archaeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived ,and what we listened to back in the day.”

Sam could relate to that, had something to say about some of those songs. Josh Breslin laughed when he heard that Sam was interested in doing old time rock and roll sketches. He then added, “If we can only get him to move off his butt and come out and do some street politics with us we would be getting somewhere.” Peter just replied, “one step at a time.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.