Friday, January 08, 2021

In The Time Of The Second Mountain Music Revival- A Song-catcher Classic Song- "Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies"-Maybelle Carter-Style

In The Time Of The Second Mountain Music Revival- A Song-catcher Classic Song- "Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies"-Maybelle Carter-Style

By Alex Radley

Being very new here, brought in the past few months by Greg Green on the recommendation of his Editorial Board, I have nothing to say about the internal wrangling that has roiled this shop over the past several month even after the departure of the previous site manager. I am concerned though at a personal level about the talk, rumor I guess you would call it, ever since Phil Larkin, an older writer here and sort of a funny guy, started talking about purges and changes of direction which has a lot of writers and not just the older ones concerned about what and who will stay and what and who will go. I have heard from Bart Webber, a mainstay of this site from what some guys have told me, there are plans afoot to shut down, or deeply scale back the amount of reviews and reminiscences about the folk scene in the 1960s and the long string of such music prior to that which those folk aficionados gathered up and promoted.

This mountain music which certainly is folk music in an almost literal sense is the music of my grandfather who grew up down in the hills and hollows of Appalachia and attended those Saturday night fiddle, mandolin, mountain harp, red barn dances when he was young which he told me about when I was young. One of the junior editors here who shall remain nameless because as they say on all disclaimers he is not authorized to talk about it but who has been helpful on a couple of other reviews kind of off-handedly told me that this review might very well be the last, or close to the last time, mountain music gets anything but short shrift notice in passing on this site. Damn.         

A YouTube film clip of a classic Song-Catcher-type song from deep in the mountains, Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies. According to my sources Cecil Sharpe (a British musicologist in the manner of Francis Child with his ballads back in 1850s Cambridge hanging out with Longfellow and the Brattle Street crowd, Charles Seeger father of Pete Seeger a seminal force in folk music in his own right and key link to the folk music passing on of the 1960s my grandfather keeps telling me about when I go visit him in the nursing home, and the Lomaxes, father and son who whatever the son did to injure the career of a British folksinger of some note with his disregard for her feelings when they were companions did yeoman’s work collecting prison songs, Saturday night red barn hills and hollows song and a lot more)"discovered" the song in 1916 in Kentucky.
Of course my first connection to the song had nothing to do with the mountains, or mountain origins, or so I though at the time but was heard the first time long ago in my grandfather in his ill-spent 1960s youth (that expression his not mine) listening to a late Sunday night folk radio show on WBZ in Boston hosted by Dick Summer (who is now featured on the Tom Rush documentary No Regrets about Tom’s life in the early 1960s Boston folk scene that my grandfather has also gone on and on about) and hearing the late gravelly-voiced folksinger Dave Van Ronk like some latter-day Jehovah doing his version of the song. Quite a bit different from the Maybelle Carter effort here. I'll say.
[By the way that “or so I thought” about mountain music later turned out to be not quite true. My grandfather originally from coal country down in Prestonsburg, Kentucky out by the hills and hollows (I refuse to write “hollas” which is the way grandfather pronounces it and from him it sounds right) and my grandmother left Carville for a time to go back to his growing up home to see if they could make a go of it there after World War II. They could not but while they were there my father was conceived and being carried in my grandmothers’ womb so it turned out the damn stuff was in my DNA going back some distance. Go figure, right.]     


(A.P. Carter)
The Carter Family - 1932
Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court young men
They're like a bright star on a cloudy morning
They will first appear and then they're gone
They'll tell to you some loving story
To make you think that they love you true
Straightway they'll go and court some other
Oh that's the love that they have for you
Do you remember our days of courting
When your head lay upon my breast
You could make me believe with the falling of your arm
That the sun rose in the West
I wish I were some little sparrow
And I had wings and I could fly
I would fly away to my false true lover
And while he'll talk I would sit and cry
But I am not some little sparrow
I have no wings nor can I fly
So I'll sit down here in grief and sorrow
And try to pass my troubles by
I wish I had known before I courted
That love had been so hard to gain
I'd of locked my heart in a box of golden
And fastened it down with a silver chain
Young men never cast your eye on beauty
For beauty is a thing that will decay
For the prettiest flowers that grow in the garden
How soon they'll wither, will wither and fade away
Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court young men
They're like a star on summer morning
They first appear and then they're gone
They'll tell to you some loving story
And make you think they love you so well
Then away they'll go and court some other
And leave you there in grief to dwell
I wish I was on some tall mountain
Where the ivy rocks are black as ink
I'd write a letter to my lost true lover
Whose cheeks are like the morning pink
For love is handsome, love is charming
And love is pretty while it's new
But love grows cold as love grows old
And fades away like the mornin' dew

And fades away like the mornin' dew

Thursday, January 07, 2021

When The Tin Can Bended…. In The Time Of Folksinger/Song-Writer/Folk Historian Dave Van Ronk’s Time

When The Tin Can Bended…. In The Time Of Folksinger/Song-Writer/Folk Historian Dave Van Ronk’s Time

By Bart Webber

I have not much to say that already has not already been said by me or others about the recent shake-up and turn-over of regimes at this site. I am sure that most readers would be more than happy not to see a supposedly bright cohort of writers acting like this was electoral politics and a fight over spoils or worse some fight in academic circles  where there really are no holds barred when somebody get their hackles up. However, I, like Jack Callahan, another old-timer who was both friends with the previous site manager whose name I will not use since there had been a recent mandate to be stop doing so further to be commented on in a minute and a big financial backer of this and several other linked sites are concerned about the drift as exemplified by that “notice” and, more importantly, rumors of dramatic changes in the subject matter and emphasis of this blog away from the original purposes also to be commented on below.

Funny democracy, or the democratic façade, works in mysterious ways-or stops working. During the height of the internal fight which as everybody now should know was a knockdown, drag out fight essentially between the younger and older writers concerning who was in charge and what was to be written about everybody for a period was encouraged to freely write about their takes on the situation under some theory that the yakking out loud might be of interest to the readership about the inner workings of social media sites.  When Greg Green took over day to day operations aided by his hand-picked and some say toady Editorial Board he further encouraged such discussion. Until he, they, that supposedly independent and liberal Board didn’t. Put out the word, the “notice” which everybody young and old took as a “warning” to cease and desist using the old site manager’s name (and accomplishments which were many) in the interest  of “moving on.” So much for democracy, or better democratic façade.

More troubling since even a fair number of the younger writers, including a couple who sit on that august Ed Board, are shocked by the rumors that soon there will be dramatic changes in what is presented here and who will present the material. One of the big complaints that the younger writers had, which in truth had some merit, was that the site was too, way too mired in the past. Specifically that the older writers were tending to crawl back into their nostalgic 1960s coming of age roots reflected in the incredible number of old-time films, books, music, political dreams, and cultural events reported on. That the younger writers were forced to write about stuff that didn’t experience or know about and in the words of more than one in the heat of battle didn’t give a f- -k about. That came to a head with the massive coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967 which most of them were either too young to remember or were not even born yet.

Now the wheel seems to be turning the other way which I with which have just had some direct experience. When I attempted to submit this piece about Dave Van Ronk, a pivotal figure in the early 1960s folk music world, I was told by Greg (who invoked that flunky Ed Board over-filled with his internal fight supporters) that it might not run since the Board was concerned that there had already been too much on this site about that minor musical genre. Moreover I was told to cut it to about three hundred words if they decided to post the piece. I have refused to cut except for some tightening of a few parts suggested by a helpful junior editor. That refusal bought some space for this piece but also another “notice” about “broadening our horizons.” This is, what did Jack Callahan call it, yeah, the opening shot of my campaign to save this important genre on the American and cultural landscape if not so much now then in earlier times.     

Sure everybody, everybody over the age of say fifty to be on the safe side, knows about Bob Dylan. About how he, after serving something like an apprenticeship under the influence of Woody Guthrie in the late 1950s, became if not the voice of the Generation of ’68, my generation, which he probably did not seriously aspire in the final analysis, then the master troubadour of the age. (Troubadour in the medieval sense of bringing news to the people and entertaining them as well.) So, yes, that story has been pretty well covered. But of course that is hardly the end of the story since Dylan did not create that now hallowed folk minute of the early 1960s but was washed by it when he came East into the Village where there was a cauldron of talent trying to make folk the next big thing, big cultural thing for the young and restless of the post-World War II generations. And one of the talents who was already there, lived there, came from around there was the late Dave Van Ronk who deservedly fancied himself a folk historian as well as musician.    

That former role is important because we all know that behind the “king” is the “fixer man,” the guy who knows what is what, the guy who tells one and all what the roots of the matter were. Dave Van Ronk was serious about that part, serious about imparting that knowledge about the little influences that had accumulated during the middle to late 1950s especially around New York which set up that folk minute.

He told a funny story, actually two funny stories about the folk scene and his part in which will give you an idea about his place in the pantheon. During the late 1950s after the publication of Jack Kerouac’s ground-breaking road wanderlust adventure novel that got young blood stirring, On The Road, the jazz scene, the cool be-bop jazz scene and poetry reading, poems reflecting off of “beat” giant Allen Ginsberg’s Howl  the clubs and coffeehouse of the Village were ablaze with readings and cool jazz, people waiting in line to get in to hear the next big poetic wisdom if you can believe that. The crush meant that there were several shows per evening. But how to get rid of one audience to bring in another in those small quarters was a challenge.

Presto, if you wanted to clear the house just bring in some desperate from hunger snarly nasal folk singer for a couple, maybe three songs, and if that did not clear the high art poetry house then that folk singer was a goner. A goner until the folk minute of the 1960s who probably in that same club played for the “basket.” And so the roots of New York City folk. The second story involved his authoritative role as a folk historian who after the folk minute had passed became the subject matter for, well, for doctoral dissertations of course. Eager young students breaking new ground in folk history who would come to him for the “skinny”. Now Van Ronk had a peculiar if not savage sense of humor and could not abide academia and its’ barren insider language so when those eager young students came a calling he would give them some gibberish which they would duly note and footnote. Here is the funny part. That gibberish would then be cited by some other young and eager student complete with the appropriate footnote. Nice touch, nice touch indeed on that one.       

As for Van Ronk’s music, his musicianship which he cultivated throughout his life, I think the best way to describe that for me is that one Sunday night in the early 1960s I was listening to the local folk program on WBZ hosted by Dick Summer (who was influential in boosting local folk musician Tom Rush’s career and who is featured on a recent Tom Rush documentary No Regrets) when this gravelly-voice guy, sounding like some old mountain pioneer, sang the Kentucky hills classic Fair and Tender Ladies. After that I was hooked on that voice and that depth of feeling that he brought to every song even those of his own creation which were spoofs on some issue of the day. I saw him perform many times over the years and had expected to see him perform as part of Rosalie Sorrels’ farewell concert at Saunders Theater at Harvard in 2003. He had died a few weeks before. I would note when I had seen him for what turned out to be my last time he did not look well and had been, as always, drinking heavily and his performance was subpar. But that is at the end. For a long time he sang well, sang us well with his own troubadour style, and gave us plenty of real information about the history of American folk music.                   

Howling At The Moon-When Howlin’ Wolf Held Forth

Howling At The Moon-When Howlin’ Wolf Held Forth  

By Jack Callahan

I have been encouraged by fellow older writers in this space to not put my extraneous remarks about the turmoil, the now vaunted internal in-fighting at this blog over the past several months, in brackets but let it flow as part of the narration for the piece. Their idea is that the remarks are more likely not to be famously red-penciled (famous since most editor like to use blue pencil to cut out parts they don’t like for whatever reason) by the current site manager Greg Green who gained his position as a direct result of that faction fight. And it really was a faction fight since it pitted the so-called “Young Turk” younger writers against the old guard around the previous manager whose name I will not use here as an added guarantee that the piece will be posted although my real ace in the hole is my serious financial backing for this site, and on-line American Folk Gazette, American Film Gazette and Progressive Nation. 

This is my opening shot in defense of those older writers who rely on these outlets for their daily bread and to get their material before as Seth Garth always likes to say “a candid world.” I am a very sporadic article contributor here but the latest rumors which are persistent that the “winning” side is planning a “purge” of the older writers (and any other writers who disagree with the direction of the current site manager and his hand-picked Editorial Board created in the wake of the dispute to “guide” the work) and a serious change of direction in the political, cultural, music, film and book material presented has me very concerned both for the older writers and for the direction of the blog. For example the notion which I am not sure how far it has been discussed to eliminate coverage of the classic blues, electirc blues which forms the basis for this short review. My God eliminating one of the central organic Amercian musical forms. I will expand on this more in a review I am writing for the book version of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. Hopefully this opening shot will get by the more “democratic red pencil of the current regime.
 Some music you acquired naturally, you know like kids’ songs learned in school (The Farmer in the Dell, etc. in case you forgot) and embedded in the back of your mind even fifty years later. Some reflected the time period when you were growing up but were too young to call the music your own like the music that ran around the background of your growing up house on the mother housewife radio or evening record player which in my case was the music that got my parents through my father’s slogging and mother anxiously waiting World War II. You know, Frank, The Andrew Sisters, Peggy Lee, etc.   Other music, the music of my generation, classic rock and rock came more naturally since that is what I wanted to hear when I had my transistor radio to my ear up in my bedroom. Yeah, Elvis, Chuck, Bo, Buddy, Jerry Lee, etc. again. The blues though, the rarified country and electric urban blues of the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf was an acquired taste.       

Acquired through listening to folk music programs which I had been turned onto by Sam Lowell, another older writer here who sided with the “Young Turks” against his old friend the previous site manager on that very same transistor radio in the early 1960s when they would take a break from down home mountain music, western swing ballads, and urban protest music to play some cuts of country or electric blues. See all the big folkies, Dylan, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, people like that were wild to cover the blues in the search for serious roots music from the American songbook. So somebody, I don’t know who, figured if everybody who was anybody was covering the blues in that minute then it made sense to play the real stuff.

The real stuff having been around for while, having been produced by the likes of Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf, going back to the 1940s big time black migration to the industrial plants of the Midwest during World War II when there were plenty of jobs just waiting. But also having been pushed to the background, way to the background with the rise of rock and roll. So it took that combination of folk minute and that then well-hidden electric blues some time to filter through my brain. What did not take a long time once I got “religion” was going crazy over Howlin’ Wolf when I saw him perform. Once I saw him practically eat that harmonica he was playing on How Many More Years down in Newport and which is now immortalized, immortalized as far cyberspace will be able to accomplish that feat on YouTube clips which will allow younger and future generations to see and hear what it was like when men and women played the blues for keeps.  Played like that was the last chance stance. Yes, that is an acquired taste and a lasting one.    

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

The Dragon Man Goes Awry- With The Late Singer-Songwriter Merle Haggard’s “Running Kind” In Mind

The Dragon Man Goes Awry- With The Late Singer-Songwriter Merle Haggard’s “Running Kind” In Mind

By Vince Villon

[As of December 1, 2017 under the new regime of Greg Green, formerly of the on-line American Film Gazette website, brought in to shake things up a bit after a vote of no confidence in the previous site administrator Peter Markin was taken among all the writers at the request of some of the younger writers abetted by one key older writer, Sam Lowell, the habit of assigning writers solely to specific topics like film, books, political commentary, and culture is over. Also over is the designation of writers in this space, young or old, by job title like senior or associate. After a short-lived experiment by Green designating everybody as “writer” seemingly in emulation of the French Revolution’s “citizen” or the Bolshevik Revolution’s “comrade” all posts will be “signed” with given names only. The Editorial Board]
[I am new to writing for this site, post-Allan Jackson who used the moniker Peter Paul Markin when he was in charge before the latest shake-up pushed him out the door to parts unknown new, so that I have no real comment on what happened or why except indirectly through my father-in-law Phil Larkin whose daughter Margaret I am married to. Although I tried several times over the past few year to get some of my articles published on this site and made as many attempts to be taken on as staff through Phil’s intercession Allan would not hear of it. Called it his “fight against nepotism” when Phil asked and was turned down. Here is the funny thing though Allan was more than happy to have Phil and a slew of other older writers known to him from their collective growing up in Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville south of Boston days write whatever came into their heads whenever it came through those portals. The funny part being that since they were not kin, not related, Allan’s words to Phil when he cut me off at the knees he believed that was not nepotism. Yeah, right. V. Villon]             

Peter Scott, ever since he was a kid known as the Dragon Man, was not in any way, shape or form a reflective man, hadn’t had a clue as to what made him tick or why he had done what he had done in his thirty-four almost thirty-five years on the planet. That reason that I, Jake Jenkins known around the streets as “Five Fingers” know this, know this guy had not one ounce of reflection on why he had done what he had done was he had told me many times, too many times when we shared a cell courtesy of Los Angeles County where he was doing a nickel for his latest burglary binge and I was doing a deuce for trafficking some shit cocaine on the Bunker Hill section streets. 

Maybe it is not important in the great scheme of things, the great mandala as another county jail roommate of my put it when I was doing six months on an assault charge, but a certain event, a certain strange event occurred while the Dragon man and I were doing our time together. In stir, the joint whatever you want to call it for four walls and plenty of bars and nasty bastard guards which turned him around, turned him around the last I heard although cons, serious felony cons like me and him usually don’t stay turned around for long either getting back into the box or being put in a box the usual choices.      

Guys in stir are funny, guys like me don’t say much about ourselves, to other cons figuring the less anybody knows the less likely they are to use what they know to work out some kind of deal with the warden to get themselves out from under, to turn stoolie, to sing with the birdies (and maybe if the guy who they are ratting out finds out exactly who did the deed “sing with the angel band”). Guys like the Dragon Man though whatever their reason will, maybe trying to work through an idea talk unto the wee hours. Yeah, the Dragon Man could talk and maybe that talking is what kept him going, kept him on the wheel.     

Let me give what I know, what he told me, whether it was bullshit or not you will have to figure out yourselves. This Pete, this Dragon Man’s real name was not Peter Scott it was Kim il Soo, something like that. He had been born in Korea, South Korea, to an American G.I., one of the thirty-something thousand that were still in that country some fifty years after the big truce was declared in the early 1950s and a Korean mother who was either a brothel whore, most likely, or some naïve country girl who believed some bullshit a G.I. promised her to get her in the sack, talking about taking her home with him to the states. Whatever the case he was left off as an infant at the International Evangelical Orphanage in Seoul and that was that. That was that until he was about two and through some exchange program he was adopted by an Evangelical farm couple out in Neola, out in Iowa farm country. So here is the set-up as the Dragon Man is growing up he is an illegitimate half-white, half Asian kid being brought up in the heartland of America by strict white as rice Christians in a small community which was if not hostile to foreigners, immigrants, Asians, then uncomfortable around them and so in a way he had a bunch of strikes against him. Always felt he didn’t belong, always being carped on by these nutty Christians trying to make him like them, always being hazed, hassled and haunted by the locals, by the local kids he went to school with who hung that Dragon Man moniker on him in about fourth grade he figured. (He said he hated that nickname at first but later when he turned that wrong fork in the road he embraced it thought it was cool to leave a Dragon imprint after he completed a job, after he committed some burglary.)      

The day, no, maybe it was the next day after Dragon Man finished high school he grabbed a couple of hundred dollars out of the trusting leave the doors open and the cars unlocked heartland naiveté family cookie jar and split for Los Angeles all by himself telling no one and leaving nothing. (One time when he was telling the tale he mentioned that he hated Neola so much that he never finished high school, had left everything and everybody high and dry at sixteen so you figure it out-he left the town anyway.)  He figured that aside from losing him as an unpaid farmhand those pious parents probably were thinking to themselves good riddance since he had already shown signs of being what his adopted mother called a “sinning man” taking dough from her pocketbook, stealing, “clipping,” we called it, stuff from the Woolworth’s on Main Street, ripping off some of his classmates in school. Being pretty good looking for an Asian guy he left a few girls looking for farmland kicks in the lurch, didn’t give a fuck he said if they got pregnant or not, didn’t give a fuck as they used to say if the girls had to leave town for a few months to see “Aunt Emma” when they got too round in the tummy.  

Once he hit LA he got himself a cheap room in that old-time Bunker Hill section, which I know every inch of by heart so I know this part is true, the run down section where many crime stories were hatched by crime novel writers who were using LA as a backdrop.  Short of dough he decided to head out to Santa Anita racetrack to see if he could make some dough gambling, maybe make a mob connection so he thought being just naïve enough to think all that crime stuff on television was for real. That day he made maybe a hundred bucks and figured he was on easy street now. Met a couple of guys and a couple of girls too who were from UCLA who were on some kind of “let’s see who the other half lives” outing looking at the junkies, touts, cons, losing ticket picker-uppers when he spotted them. Figured they were young and he could hang with them. And he did as they assumed that he was also some kind of student (which he said he was once he knew the play). They wound up taking him back to UCLA and he stayed there a couple of days. (He would spend many “couple of days” there not drawing any suspicion when asked about his class schedule-or anything).

After that first day Dragon Man really did believe that he was “blessed” (using an old religion term learned from his adopted mother and it stuck), believed he could beat the odds and make a nice little living out of being a gambling man, a guy who carried no stones. For a while he was but like most gambling not matter what the betting scheme he started losing. And started on a serious wave of crime to keep himself in clover-starting with ripping off those UCLA students who never suspected until he was caught the first time that they had been ripped off. Dragon Man was not subtle about his mode of action. He would climb into stores through any opening he could find and rob the inviting register or cashbox (got so good he could figure out the easier way just by ad-libbing and being lucky since nobody including the cops figured that one young guy could be so audacious). Would do five six places a night leaving his tell-tale dragon imprint on something soft. Then head to UCLA or some girl’s place, girls who like those Iowa naiveté girls were into something exotic in their leafy suburban lives would share their beds with him. (These girls. Co-eds, young women being a little more sophisticated that their Iowa sisters took the necessary precautions to avoid pregnancies and Dragon Man was not aware of any children he might have fathered on the Coast.)             

Then one night, one night when he was particularly stubborn about getting dough he got cocky, decided to hit a place that he had hit the previous night, a Chinese choy suey joint. The owner was staying over and when he spied Dragon Man winged him with a revolver. That was the first time. They could only pin that one robbery on him and since he had no record he got six months, served four. Prison was hard for the kid, hard because the older cons tried to make him their “girl” and for the sheer fact that he had not really lost that gambling addiction. Wouldn’t lose it until he got in some twelve-step gambling program after more stretches and figuring out that the percentages were against him. That twelve step stuff, bogus as far as I am concerned, Dragon Man started while we were cellmates to I thought make the time more easy passing and maybe get a few months off the mounting sentences. 

But hold on don’t think that it was those four stretches that got him thinking about going straight. No way, not a big part anyway. What got him thinking a little differently was the time that hard-headed ex-con Merle Haggard, the country singer, who made it out of prison and made a career, although even he said it was a close thing, gave a concert in the prison cafeteria. Sang one country kind of song that somehow hit this loner bastard Dragon Man right between the eyes. The song Running Kind. A song whose lyrics (see below) exactly expressed to him what his whole fouled-up, fucked up life had been about. About that instinct he had to run and run and not think about anything except the running. Funny, huh. Like I said the last I heard Dragon Man was running straight but you never know with the running kind. Enough said. 

Merle Haggard Lyrics

Play "Running Kind"
on Amazon Music
"Running Kind"
I was born the running kind
With leaving always on my mind
Home was never home to me at anytime
Every front door found me hopin'
I would find the back door open
There just had to be an exit
For the running kind

Within me there's a prison
Surrounding me alone
As real as any dungeon with walls of stone
I know running's not the answer
But running's been my nature
And a part of me
That keeps me moving on

I was born the running kind
With leaving always on my mind
Home was never home to me at anytime
Every front door found me hopin'
I would find the back door open
There just had to be an exit
For the running kind

On The 80th Anniversary-The Travails Of Single Motherhood-Barbara Stanwyck’s “Stella Dallas” (1937)-A Film Review

On The 80th Anniversary-The Travails Of Single Motherhood-Barbara Stanwyck’s “Stella Dallas” (1937)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

(This is another film that was in the pipeline in 2017 but got pushed back due to the internal in-fighting on this site so 80th anniversary is appropriate. Greg Green)

Stella Dallas, starring Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, directed by the legendary King Vidor, 1937  

In a recent film review of Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Roger’s Stage Door I mentioned, apparently out of turn, that I was grateful to the new site manager Greg Green for taking me on as a regular writer in this space. That part was okay according to him. The part that was not okay was when I mentioned that I had known the previous site manager Allan Jackson for many years beginning with an initial connection with my then companion Josh Breslin in the 1980s who had met Allan out in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, 1967. Allan had refused to give me a regular by-line then at the hard copy version of this site, although he hired me as a stringer, freelance-writer for a while until I got a regular by-line at The Eye. Allan’s reason back then was that hiring me would be an act of nepotism, would look like he was stockpiling the place with his friends their friends and cronies. Strange because in the end he would as he got older and more nostalgic surround himself with a mother lode of just such people. Gave them titles and all everything that they abhorred back in their mainly 1960s youth.          

Thinking about the matter recently I am more inclined to go with my feelings at the time of rejection that he really did not like women
working alongside him in his various publishing efforts. A look at the archives has pretty much confirmed that. The surprising part is that in person, and the politics he and the blog stood for, stand for, he, if not actually a feminist, none of the guys at this site, including Josh, could be classified that way then he was far forward on what he called “the women question” than most of the men that I worked in the industry with later. And I have made that statement on a number of occasions including that previously mentioned review. That is what got me in hot water with Greg. He told me that he was trying to get rid of Allan’s still very strong “presence” here despite his physical distance in, I think, Utah. I am not sure what to make of the statement but others have told me they have received the same “warning.” In short, except as a passing reference to some negative aspect of Allan’s regime, don’t write about him during the course of a review. Since this film review was already in the pipeline Greg has told me he will not “red-pencil” any such references here.           

That brings us to the film under review Barbara Stanwyck’s Stella Dallas which deals with some women’s issues that could not get addressed in Stage Door although that was a very strong women’s film as well. (I hope that I am wrong, and I probably am, but I would be very unhappy if I was the token women here and hence will be given all the so-called “chick-flicks,” all the women-oriented films since that would both be a serious step back from what this site is supposed to stand for and drive me crazy as well since my attitude toward most women’s films, especially of late is that they should never have been produced for lots of reasons which I will get into sometime when I get another such assignment).     

It is only recently, maybe the last few years, the combination of sex and class have begun to get a serious work-out in the body politic and its reflection in film. So it is rather surprising to see such issues, intentionally or not and maybe not is closer to the grain, in a 1930s Hollywood film, a melodrama, a tear-jerker to boot. Stella Dallas (nee Martin) is from minute one of the film all about getting out from under her banal mill-town working class upbringing. She wants the American rags to riches dream but via her sexual charms and feminine wiles to grab an eligible rich man and not through        
her own education and acumen. Well once she put her claws out she hooks an up and coming guy, not rich but with prospects, Steve Dallas, played by 1930s rich and handsome leading man character John Boles, who on the rebound marries her quickly, too quickly for either party in the end.      

The result of this union is a young daughter, Laurel, played by Anne Shirley as she ages, as she gets to be a good-looking young woman. But well before that the well-mannered Dallas-rough and tumble Martin class differences portent a marriage not made in heaven. Before long the paths separated with Stella in charge of the daughter on a set allowance from Stephen who was off to New York to make a ton of money. That situation goes on for years with Laurel periodically off with father and very different kind of lifestyle among the upper crust whom her father is associating with as he again rises in society.        

Such a situation could not go on forever especially as Laurel is attracted to that high society life, although finally made aware that her ill at ease mother can’t keep up with that crowd, no way. In the best interest of the child though Stella finally agrees to divorce Stephen, an extremely hard thing to have to do in that time, and let Laurel go and soak up the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Stella’s sacrifice, although it turned out she couldn’t quite make that class jump herself, paid off when Laurel married some scion of the Mayfair swells as Josh always liked to call them. Sex, class, single motherhood, sacrifice a better than average melodrama from that period. Except Josh will also squash things a bit when he reads this review and start yelling about Ms. Stanwyck’s role as the femme fatale in the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity la and the hell with the frumpy housewife she plays in this film.     

I Hear The Voice Of My Arky Angel-Once Again-With Angel Iris Dement In Mind

I Hear The Voice Of My Arky Angel-Once Again-With Angel Iris Dement In Mind

By Fritz Taylor 
(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

Sweet forgiveness, that's what you give to me

when you hold me close and you say "That's all over"

You don't go looking back,

you don't hold the cards to stack,

you mean what you say.

Sweet forgiveness, you help me see

I'm not near as bad as I sometimes appear to be

When you hold me close and say

"That's all over, and I still love you"

There's no way that I could make up for those angry words I said

Sometimes it gets to hurting and the pain goes to my head

Sweet forgiveness, dear God above

I say we all deserve a taste of this kind of love

Someone who'll hold our hand,

and whisper "I understand, and I still love you"


(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

There'll be laughter even after you're gone

I'll find reasons to face that empty dawn

'cause I've memorized each line in your face

and not even death can ever erase the story they tell to me

I'll miss you, oh how I'll miss you

I'll dream of you and I'll cry a million tears

but the sorrow will pass and the one thing that will last

is the love that you've given to me

There'll be laughter even after you're gone

I'll find reason and I'll face that empty dawn

'cause I've memorized each line in your face

and not even death could ever erase the story they tell to me

Every once in a while I have to tussle, go one on one with the angels, or a single angel is maybe a better way to put it. No, not the heavenly ones or the ones who burden your shoulders when you have a troubled heart but every once in a while I need a shot of my Arky angel, Iris Dement. Every once in a while when I am blue, not a Billie Holiday blue but maybe just a passing blue I need to hear a voice that if there was an angel heaven voice she would be the one I would want to hear.    

I first heard Iris DeMent doing a cover of a Greg Brown tribute to Jimmy Rodgers, the old time Texas yodeller, on Brown's tribute album, Driftless. I then looked for her solo albums and for the most part was blown away by the power of Iris’ voice, her piano accompaniment and her lyrics (which are contained in the liner notes of her various albums, read them, please). It is hard to type her style. Is it folk? Is it Country Pop? Is it semi-torch songstress? Well, whatever it may be that Arky angel is a listening treat, especially if you are in a sentimental mood.

Naturally when I find some talent that “speaks” to me I grab everything they sing, write, paint, or act I can find. In Iris’ case there is not a lot of recorded work, with the recent addition of Sing The Delta just four albums although she had done many back-ups or harmonies with other artists most notably John Prine. Still what has been recorded blew me away (and will blow you away), especially as an old Vietnam War era veteran her There is a Wall in Washington about the guys who found themselves on the Vietnam Memorial probably one of the best anti-war songs you will ever hear. That memorial containing names very close to me, to my heart and I shed a tear each time I even go near the memorial when I am in D.C. It is fairly easy to write a Give Peace a Chance or Where Have All the Flowers Gone? type of anti-war song. It is another to capture the pathos of what happened to too many families when we were unable to stop that war. The streets of my old-time growing up neighborhood are filled with memories of guys I knew, guys who didn’t make it back, guys who couldn’t adjust coming back to the “real world,” or could not get over no going into the service to experience the decisive event of our generation.

Other songs that have drawn my attention like When My Morning Comes hit home with all the baggage working class kids have about their inferiority when they screw up in this world. Walking Home Alone evokes all the humor, bathos, pathos and sheer exhilaration of saying one was able to survive, and not badly, after growing up poor, Arky poor amid the riches of America. (That may be the “connection” as I grew up through my father coal country Hazard, Kentucky poor.)  

Frankly, and I admit this publicly in this space, I love Ms. Iris Dement. Not personally, of course, but through her voice, her lyrics and her musical presence. This “confession” may seem rather startling coming from a guy who in this space is as likely here to go on and on about Bolsheviks, ‘Che’, Leon Trotsky, high communist theory and the like. Especially, as well given Iris’ seemingly simple quasi- religious themes and commitment to paying homage to her rural background in song. All such discrepancies though go out the window here. Why?

Well, for one, this old radical got a lump in his throat the first time he heard her voice. Okay, that happens sometimes-once- but why did he have the same reaction on the fifth and twelfth hearings? Explain that. I can easily enough. If, on the very, very remotest chance, there is a heaven then I know one of the choir members. Enough said. By the way give a listen to Out Of The Fire and Mornin’ Glory. Then you too will be in love with Ms. Iris Dement.

Iris, here is my proposal, once again. If you get tired of fishing the U.P., or wherever, with Mr. Greg Brown, get bored with his endless twaddle about old Iowa farms or going on and on about Grandma's fruit cellar just whistle. Better yet just yodel like you did on Jimmie Rodgers Going Home on that Driftless  CD.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken-The Music OF The Carter Family (First Generation)

Will The Circle Be Unbroken-The Music OF The Carter Family (First Generation)

By Sam Lowell

I am not enjoying my so-called retirement from the day to day operation of the film review section of  this site. For many years I was at first film critic, small letters, and later when the then site manager Allan Jackson brought in some younger writers Senior Film Critic, capital letters, in the days when he got the bright notion that we needed a heriarchy here between the older writers and the younger writers and such designations did the trick. Well Allan found out to his later regret that such silly formal divisions and as well only permitting the younger writers to essentially have our leavings, leaving which included and oversized amount of material reflecting on the growing up times of the older writers, the 1960s, that frankly the younger writers could give a f- - k, pardon my English, about was part of his undoing. Brought a full-scale rebellion which eventually led to his downfall.

There are persistant rumors that Allan did not retire as is the formal reason given for his no longer running the show here but that he was purged, was unceremoniously driven into exile in Utah where he is hustling the Mormons for a by-line in some third-rate newspaper hard as that is to believe of guy who mocked the hell out of Mitt Romney when he was running for President in 2012 what with his five wives great-grardfather and white underwear. As a long time friend of Allan’s I had thought the former reason, that retirement stuff,  rather suspicous since no way would Allan have retired on his own volition. This place was his baby. Of course as the one older writer who sided with what are now around the office called the “Young Turks” I am concerned that these victorious writers are not going to leave well enough alone and are ready according to another strong rumor to purge the lot of older writers.

I have no regrets, except the probable loss of a friend of fifty years standing if it proves that he is not out in hell-hole Utah but holed up somewhere near-by licking his wounds, about casting that decisive vote agaisnt him since the site really was turning into a lonely-hearts club for nostagic generation of ’68 veterans. Especially last year when Allan  went crazy early on about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967 which formed a number of us from the old growing up neighborhood’s baptism of fire into that newer world we thought we were getting caught up in.

Allan got in such a frenzy about the matter that say you wanted to submit an article about the 1940s classic private detective Dashiell Hammett novel-inspired movie The Maltese Falcon you had to connect the dots somehow so that that San Francisco era of the film somehow linked up to the Summer of Love which was also centered in Frisco town. He had a big red-pencil out eagle-eyed looking for anything which he could “edit” toward that goal. (By the way to give a graphic example of how tilted Allan’s mind had become about linkage none of the younegr writers who gave it a try could make a conenction between the two, none. It took wily Phil Larkin to do the deed. The link? Miles Archer, one of the detective on the case, was killed, was murdered on Post Street and that street is located not far from the Fillimore where plenty of ‘acid rock” was performed and also near the epicenter of the whole thing, the Haight-Ashbury section of town. He went on to speculate about whether Sam Spade would have gotten caught in the Summer of Love or would he have hired himself out to search for missing kids for their distraught parents. Allan was delighted.) 

The younger writers could have given a f - - k about that distant time but he made it a litmus test. I assumed that the frenzy would only get worse as the various 50th anniversaries, good and bad, for 1968 in 2018 came up. He had to go.

It did not help personally, although I have kept pretty quiet about it and did not let it get used for ammunition in the fierce internal fight which raged throughout most of the latter part of 2017, that due to my persistant nagging about the erroneous direction the site was taking that I was “forced” to retire from the day to day operations once he brought Sandy Salmon over from the American Film Gazette (as he did with current site manager Greg Green later in the year). He gave me so-called emertitus status and told me that I could now write whatever I wanted and submit whenever I wanted. And then crabbed every time I wanted to write about something not Summer of Love-related or not film related. So the short reminscence piece below is something that I had done a draft on, got red-penciled to death by Allan and threw in a desk drawer until recently I asked Greg Green about resurrecting the damn thing. In a flick he sure go to it. Yeah, although I am worried about purge talk both for Allan’s sake and the rest of us older writers, the old bastard had to go.            

You know it took a long time for me to figure out why I was drawn, seemingly out of nowhere, to the mountain music most famously brought to public, Northern public, attention by the likes of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, and the folklorists the Seegers and the Lomaxes who brought a ton of this stuff to the waiting arms of 1960s kids who were looking for “roots” whatever that might mean to any particular kid. Kids who would pay serious college cheap date money to see some of the survivors like Buell Ezell or Hobart Smith go through their paces. 

As a kid I could not abide it but later on I figured that was because I was so embroiled in the uprising jail-break music of my generation, rock and roll, that anything else faded, faded badly by comparison. Later in high school and after that in college when I too joined the cheap date night crowd in the days when I hung around Harvard Square and would pursue girls, young women, only if they were willing to but into my cheap date routine I would let something like Gold Watch And Chain register a bit, registering a bit. That then meaning that I would find myself occasionally idly humming such a tune. But again more urban, more protest-oriented folk music was what caught my attention more when the folk minute was at high tide in the early 1960s.           

Then one day not all that many years ago as part of a final reconciliation with my family, going back to my own roots, making peace with my old growing up neighborhood, I started asking many questions of family, old school mates and old friends like Phil Larkin and Bart Webber who have written in this space as well about how things turned so sour back when I was young. More importantly asking questions that had stirred in my mind for a long time and formed part of the reason that I went for reconciliation. To find out what my roots were while somebody was around to explain the days before I could rightly remember the early days. And in that process I finally, finally figured out why the Carter Family and others began to “speak” to me.         

The thing was simplicity itself. See my father hailed from Kentucky, Hazard, Kentucky long noted in song and legend as hard coal country. (The L&M Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Going Back To Harlan)When World War II came along he left to join the Marines to get the hell out of there. During his tour of duty he was stationed for a short while at the Portsmouth Naval Base and during that stay attended a USO dance held in Portland where he met my mother. Needless to say he stayed in the North, for better or worse, working the mills in Olde Saco until they closed or headed south for cheaper labor and then worked at whatever jobs he could find. All during my childhood though along with that popular music that got many mothers and fathers through the war mountain music, although I would not have called it that then filtered in the background on the family living room record player.

But here is the real “discovery,” a discovery that could only be disclosed by my parents. Early on in their marriage they had tried to go back to Hazard to see if they could make a go of it there. This was after my older brother Prescott was born and while my mother was carrying me. Apparently they stayed for several months before they left to go back to Olde Saco before I was born since I was born in Portland General Hospital. So see that damn mountain was in my DNA, was just harking to me when I got the bug. Funny, isn’t it.