Saturday, January 30, 2021

When The West Was The Best- With Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s Film Adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Misfits” In Mind

When The West Was The Best- With Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s Film Adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Misfits” In Mind  

By Sam Lowell, retired film critic

[Before I do this retro-review I would like to put my two cents worth in about the recent storm (what I called and still call “a tempest in teapot”) at this site that Lance Lawrence, young Alden Riley and what used to be called Senior Film Critic but now just film critic Sandy Salmon have written about recently. And about my role, so-called role, in bringing in a change of regime on this site with the bringing in of Greg Green from American Film Gazette to be the administrator of the site. About my role as well in according to Lance helping purge Allan Jackson the long-time administrator or according to Sandy helping  to put him out to pasture. If you have been following along you already know the details of the recent dispute and its aftermath. For those not in the know quickly over the past several years Jackson  had been bringing younger writers aboard to assist and broaden the workload but mainly with the idea of continuing to emphasis and write with a tilt toward the turbulent 1960s in which most of the older writers came of age and which was the touchstone for lots of thing for their, for our, generation, what Allan dubbed the “Generation of ’68,” For a variety of reasons the younger writers almost all who were either in swaddling  clothes or not born bristled at  that arguing when the deal went down recently that the world has moved on and that they had been high influenced by other sensibilities.

Strangely and the reason for my calling the whole thing “a tempest in a teapot” this issue came to a head over two 1960s iconic figures Bob Dylan as king of the folk scene and Sean Connery as the quintessential cinematic fictional MI6 agent Bond, James Bond. I won’t go into the details since the others already have but a meeting was called by Allan essentially I think if I know him, and I have since back in high school days in North Adamsville in the early 1960s, to confirm his leadership and put the younger writers on notice of who was in charge of assignments and what they would cover. In that meeting to make a long story short after a few hours of arguments which I will not bore the reader with a vote of confidence was called and Jackson lost. Lost because I sided with the young writers for the simple reason once I reviewed the archives way too much time, energy and money had been spent on extolling the virtues of the 1960s against the broader American social, cultural and political history before and after. It was high time to go back to the original ideas which animated the blog, animated us back in the day when we wanted to turn the world upside down.

Did I participate willingly in a purge of Allan as Lance Lawrence one of the younger writers has alluded to? Frankly yes and while it may have destroyed my relationship with Allan I think it had to be done or else we would lose good writers and/or become something of an old white man’s sect babbling on about the 1960s like nothing else happened in the world good, bad or indifferent. Let’s not go crazy with analogies Allan will not be put in the position of his hero Trotsky, at least I don’t think so and will be able to write what he wants to write about and submit for approval like anybody else. Look in the transition to a more democratic and plebian mores here like in the old neighborhood days I have shed my official Film Critic Emeritus designation and am merely a retired film critic. That’s progress, right.    


For those who came to this post because they were interested in my take on The Misfits and not the internal workings of a group of writers fretting over their places in the sun here goes. I have actually done a review of this film, this cast benighted film (Gable, Monroe, Montgomery all died within a relatively short period after shooting was over) back in those 1960s when I first started writing film reviews for the now long gone East Bay Other out in California and was a free-lancer before finally getting a regular staff job before like the 1960s it chronicled the paper folded so I just want to make a few points  here about the West (“the West is the best’’ of Jim Morrison’s The End lyrics meaning the Coast not really what I have in mind here although that  is hardly the worst part of the West but rather the rugged West of hardship pioneer grit, savvy or just run out of luck in the East) and the place of transitional figures like cowboy Gay, Gable’s role and  Perce, Clift’s role, along with pioneer-ish type women like rock steady Isabelle Steers, played by Thelma Ritter. Hell even a wildcatter like Guido played by Eli Wallach figures in the mix.         

It may not seem like it today in places like Taos, Sedona, Reno, hell, half the formerly hard-bitten towns that dotted the Old West and survived unto the new one but those were not tourist traps or suburban oases. The ones where the cattle roamed free, the mines  were not depleted and the ranches were run by hard-headed survivors who employed the cowboys and the law such as it was, those who could not stomach staying in one place or running anything but a tab at the local saloon. As Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash would say the Running Kind. In that sense Gay and Perce seem to represent the last vestiges of that Old West, the last chance saloon rear-guard who could not or would not adjust to the new mores and the new money which was following westward.

I was looking over that initial 1960s review draft (written by hand on yellow-lined paper and transferred to typewritten final copy from-okay-a typewriter so this is ancient to anybody not even born then) and I was amazed at how hung-up I was on the surface story line about two cowpokes of unknown quality, a good pilot, a wacky Reno native and an alluring divorcee and whether things would work out between Gay and city girl Roslyn, the role played by Monroe and whether those restless and vanishing mustangs would survive the human onslaught. I guess it took my own hard knocks in life, losing out as technology has made a hard copy writer almost like a dinosaur to appreciate how some guys who grew up in the last days of the Old West got all balled up when the rugged individual values were discarded or thrown on the scrap heap. That I think was Miller’s deeper message beyond the messiness of modern living and modern relationships which don’t give a person time to absorb everything, or anything.  

Will The Real James Bond Stand Up Part V-Pierce Brosnan’s “Die Another Day” (2002)-A Film Review

Will The Real James Bond Stand Up Part V-Pierce Brosnan’s “Die Another Day” (2002)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By former Associate Film Critic Alden Riley

Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry 2002      

I have been warned off, warned off complaining about the loss of my hard-fought for title of Associate Film Critic which was leading me with Sandy Salmon’s retirement to being the Senior Film Critic pretty soon. As anybody who has been paying attention to this space now knows there has been a just completed internal power struggle and the creation of a new regime under the leadership of site manager Greg Green. Greg, although fobbing off the decision officially on his rubber-stamp Editorial Board, has abolished titles under some obscure democratic theory that every writer, young or old, male or female, gay or straight, white or not, should just write under their God-given names (his term) and that alone.

That is one thing I have been warned off of talking about in this by-line. The other the current campaign to obliterate the name and the work of the former site manager Allan Jackson in the name of “leaving the past behind,” “moving on” or whatever the day’s excuse for creating non-persons is like this was the old-time Soviet Union and Allan, yes, Allan Jackson, was like his buddy, like some latter day Leon Trotsky knocked off his pedestal by an avenging angel Stalin (and his minions). I said in my last review, my review of beautiful James Bond worthy Pierce Brosnan’s The World Is Not Enough that while the amnesty Sam Lowell negotiated for pieces in the pipeline prior to the agreement lasted I would use this space as a bully pulpit to cry shame on those who want to liquidate the memory of Allan Jackson. (I have also mentioned that due to some crazy things Allan did to me, made me do, last year out of hubris there was no love lost when he went into exile rumored to be out in Utah somewhere after the purge so this is bigger than a personal issue, a lot bigger.)          

Here’s the funny part, not laughter funny either I was not warmed off by Greg Green. Greg wouldn’t do that he would have one of his lackeys on the Ed Board like Lenny Lynch or “Timid” Timmy Walton give the axe. No I was warned off by Sandy Salmon, warned off by none other than my old “boss” and fellow combative in this so-called titanic struggle between my sweet baby James Pierce Brosnan and his hoary old goat ready for assisted living quarters Sean Connery Bond, the guy who started the whole twenty-plus episodes back in 1949 or some time like that. Sandy, an old defender of Allan Jackson in the internal fight, apparently has gotten weepy Sean Connery-like now that Greg and the toadies have pulled the hammer down. Have implied you are either with us or against us and if you are against us then you will have fun reviewing re-runs of I Love Lucy or worse reviewing super-hero comic book figures made into films. Whatever, I will not bow until I am sure that the amnesty is over and I have to toe the line, or else. And maybe I will take the “or else” road.    

I will never forget that Sandy had taken my side on one of the immediate causes of the internal fight last year when Allan had gone over his head and ordered me to write a stinking review about a has-been blues singer, a girl from Texas, Janis Joplin, whom I had never heard of but who was supposed to be some mover and shaker in the 1960s when a lot of the older writers for this blog got their starts in life-and never forgot it or let us forget it. But this warning off business is way beyond his grade level-now. I won’t say more but it is rather indicative that Sandy’s bowing down to the powers that be now kind of puts paid to his devotion to the old tiger Sean as Bond, James Bond.

In any case I have review to do and I might as well get to it. Although both Sandy and I should be heartily fed-up with this by now pabulum Bond series since with the exception of a few name and bad guy organization changes, a few less dumb but beautiful young women who last read a book in about 1980 and more agent-like women, a sea-change number of high tech gizmos and a revolving door of male stars to carry the water in the role they are all the fucking same. The same no matter how much dough, moola, kale, they make for their production companies.     

Take this 2002, damn I almost forgot the name, Die Another Day, too bad they couldn’t fork up some script-writer dough for some real title better than grade school choices. That 2002 should ring a bell since that is post-9/11 axis of evil time with one of those axes being North Korea this time rather than the old tired out Soviet Union-China-SPECTRE bashing. Here a rogue Harvard-educated, that tells a lot, North Korean colonel named Moon with influence in high places is running a scam operation to deal with conflict diamonds in order to amass a ton of dough to act the rich spoiled boy wonder of the world. He is aided by his comrade the nefarious Zao. This pair is on Mister Bond’s hit list since they have had him captured, imprisoned and tortured to perdition for fourteen months. The big story here though is that Jimmy has been betrayed by somebody in MI6, been done in by one his own. He righteously seeks revenge and maybe stop the conflict diamond trade and save the known world in the bargain.

When that Colonel Moon and Zao disappear (you can see the film if you want to know how and why) after a losing fight with Jimbo they reappear in Cuba (always need to the get the commie, even if tame commie angle in these never forget the Cold War that spawned you sagas) with genetically altered faces, more Western less Asia faces, to start their activities to destroy Western Civilization as we know it. Of course these post-World War II days dinky shrunken British Empire secret agents don’t have that game to themselves. The NSA have their agent, beautiful, smart, resourceful and bed-worthy under the silky sheets Jinx, played by foxy Halle Berry on the case. (You don’t even have to ask whether James and Jinx hit the sheets nor do you have to ask whether his female adversary, he MI6 agent who betrayed him, who is helping the Colonel and Zao is to be found in his bed since our James is an equal opportunity bed-mate.)

The long and short of it is the Colonel and Zao (and their female playmate) all go down in the mud after a million fights, scrapes, collisions and those best laid plans of mice and men of Colonel Moon and his cadre go asunder. As James and Jinx go under. Here’s Pierce’s beauty. Who wouldn’t go crazy to have a secret agent who can surf, fly an airplane, or any flying object, a hovercraft, ski, leap tall buildings at a single bound, drive every kind of exotic car, hold his breathe forever under water, drink hard liquor, hit the sheets with smart and/or evil women and never put in an expense account. All for her majesty. Sean would go dizzy just thinking about that, except maybe to hit on that eye candy who hasn’t read a book since 1949.       

Will The Real James Bond Stand Up Part IV-Pierce Brosnan’s “The World Is Not Enough” (1999)-A Film Review

Will The Real James Bond Stand Up Part IV-Pierce Brosnan’s “The World Is Not Enough” (1999)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By former Associate Film Critic Alden Riley

The World Is Not Enough, starring Pierce Brosnan, Sophie, Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, 1999

A curtain is beginning to descend on the American Left History blog that I have been associated with (had been an associate film critic before such titles were eliminated without discussion by the head of the new regime Greg Green and his hand-picked minions). No, not the famous, or infamous as the case may be, one signaled by old-time British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri in 1947 for the start of my parents’ generation’s Cold War which ultimately defrosted with the demise of the Soviet Union about quarter century ago but sinister enough. (By the way this whole latter day Bond series starting with he-man in a tight spot Pierce Brosnan, John Le Carre, and Tom Clancy must be eternally weeping real tears since they don’t have that behemoth to beat up on anymore as much they try like in the film under review here The World Is Not Enough with one of the villains being an ex-KGB agent.)

Sinister enough for comment here before my review of yet another James Bond film in the seemingly never-ending “mock heroic” battle with former Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon over who the fuck is the real James Bond. (Apparently in audience land nobody cares since the revenue stream is measured in the hundreds of millions.) And before I can no longer make such comment under the agreement that Sam Lowell made with Greg Green and rubber-stamped by the Editorial Board that will soon prohibit mention of the just concluded internal struggle over direction and personnel changes. More importantly the ban on mentioning by name the previous site manager Allan Jackson, his accomplishments, or his short-comings.

So while the amnesty lasts which only extended to the ten or fifteen pieces that were in the pipeline before the agreement was reached I will express my displeasure. First at the elimination of titles which I have mentioned before and which still rankles since I put in some great effort to get to that status and have now been thrown on the Everyman, Every-person now that we have good women writers coming along , scrapheap like everybody else. Secondly at that ominous trend of making non-persons out of people who were critical to the success and development of this blog (and in its previous hard copy iterations which Sam Lowell, a key figure in all of this, is writing a history of to close the curtain down tight) and who taught me a lot about social media survival. This worry by the way from a person, from THE person, if one person can be said to have started the furor over the demise of Allan Jackson one of the founding members. Me. Rumor has it that Allan is out in exile, exile after purge as Sam Lowell put the matter inelegantly but correctly, hustling the Mormons for newspaper subscriptions.

The truth I don’t know but that sounds weird about a guy who has skewered well-known Mormon honcho and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney about his white underwear and about his unjust abandonment of his great-grandfather and his polygamous five wives. Another truth, a known truth is that I am standing by my remarks about the descending curtain despite the fact that I hated Allan Jackson, hated the way the blog was heading and fought tooth and nail with the “Young Turks” to purge the bastard. The immediate reason which is all I will detail now and let Sam do his business is the time in 2017 that he went crazy over commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967 and was assigning everybody who could walk, who could write, some silly assignment about that year.

My “mistake” is that he heard about my ignorance of Janis Joplin, a key rising blues singing star during that time, who made a big splash at the first Monterey Pops Festival that year which Sandy had written about and I had told him that I had never heard of her. Allan went wild and assigned me like some naughty schoolboy a biopic about her life. Yes, so no love lost here. But Allan was a larger than life personality and he should not be resigned to the dustbin of history like his buddy Leon Trotsky said about the old regime in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Trotsky, a guy, a larger than life personality, they, the Stalin supporters in the Soviet Union when there was a Soviet Union, tried might and main to make a non-person. It will not wash with me, it just will not.      

But now onto the real battle of today. The mismatch between one senile old goat Sandy Salmon, like Allan locked in a time capsule about 1965, hanging on to his lame excuse for a James Bond old fogy Sean Connery against me, against the king of the hill, and my favorite sporty handsome he-man full of prowess that Sean would buckle under, one Pierce Brosnan. For those following this life and death struggle the basic difference is that Pierce’s Bond, James Bond could run circles around the asthmatic Connery who should have been put in an old age home about that same 1965 that Sandy-and Allan- seems locked into.

Enough of that though. Let’s run the tale, let’s tell how many “kills” and “collateral damage” Pierce put on his scorecard while Sean was still walking down the garden path with some good-looking eye candy woman who last read a book about 1949. James is onto some craziness around the fate of that former KGB agent I mentioned earlier who has turned rogue, has made himself a big spot in the international terrorist hall of fame. The target a rich British oil man who is assassinated by that dastardly former KGB agent. A separate thread has this oil king’s daughter taking over the business after having been kidnapped and NOT released via ransom paid by but by stealth and sexual allure. That no ransom the very public stance of MI6 and of its leader M. It turned out that the terrorist and kidnap victim were murkily working together on a big caper. Drive the price of oil through the roof by “killing” the market. Killing the oil by blowing away oil sites and driving production low via some stolen high tech gizmos which wind up like the British Empite not working. Nice move.

Naturally James, an erstwhile agent of the British interests in cheap oil is the one the case. He has his suspicious about that oil man’s daughter although, as is always the case, when she does here come hither act on him he goes under the silky sheets just like any other guy. Along the way sweet baby James is helped by yet another secret agent perk, a shapely drop dead beautiful young women posing as a brainy oil doctor. Posing at the end after a zillion escapades which would have drained the life right out of pokey Sean Connery. Yeah sent those old guys out to pasture just like we did with Allan Jackson except maybe not Utah, maybe Siberia.                 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Will The Real James Bond Stand Up-Part II-Sean Connery’s “Thunderball” (1965 )-A Film Review

Will The Real James Bond Stand Up-Part II-Sean Connery’s “Thunderball” (1965 )-A Film Review

DVD Review

By former Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon    

[I personally do not like the new regime, under Greg Green’s steady guidance, policy of getting rid of titles which were the hallmark of the now safely departed and exiled Allan Jackson who used to run the show here. It took many years for me to get that Senior Film Critic title having come over from the American Film Gazette under the Jackson regime when former Associate Film Critic Alden Riley decided to come over on retiring Senior Film Critic Sam Lowell’s say so and I resent being thrown on the dung heap and placed with everybody else with just their names on the by-line line. For now I will use my old title in the past tense until we go back to titles or Greg make a big deal out of my moniker and tries to shut it down. Then I will go back to being an Everyman like Alden Riley and Si Lannon have mentioned elsewhere. Sandy Salmon]   


Readers who have read Associate Film Critic Alden Riley’s recent review of Goldeneye posted on this site on December 5, 2017 (and on the on-line American Film Gazette the same day) the first of four films where well-known action actor Pierce Brosnan plays the legendary super-spy Ian Fleming-created Bond, James Bond know that he and I had a dispute over whether to review that film or not. I had insisted that he finish up the original James Bond part of the long running series starring Sean Connery started in the early 1960s of which I had reviewed the first three efforts. He balked saying that being significantly younger than I by a generation that he could not see Sean Connery as his idea of the Bond character and argued that he would prefer to do the Pierce Brosnan series which he felt epitomized the Bond role. Since this dispute underscored a storm which has been brewing among the writers on this site (and to a lesser extent at the on-line Progressive American and American Film Gazette respectively) I conceded the point and challenged him to a “duel” to argue in the public prints over who was the “real” James Bond-Connery or Brosnan. The other post-Connery Bonds like Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton interested neither of us so the chase was on.          

[Since this concession by me to a younger writer is of some importance to the future direction of this site I should explain my view about the real deal which has produced this continual tension (something Sam Lowell, the film critic emeritus on this site and all around gadfly who while surprisingly siding with the younger writers against his old regime site manager friend has called a “tempest in a tea pot” and maybe he was right). This site (and to a lesser extent Progressive American, American Film Gazette and the American Music Annals which all of the older writers have written for at some point) had been tilted as might be expected toward the coterie of writers who came up the ranks with Jackson, a coterie of men which is a separate issue, who were formed one way or another by the turbulent 1960s. Although I have only recently taken over Sam Lowell’s position as film critic, now senior film critic with the addition of Alden and a couple of other stringers I too am of that generation and the “dispute” over the Sean Connery James Bond series with Alden has reflected both my preferences and my sense of where we should put our collective energies.            

According to Sam, and the former site administrator, they saw nothing wrong with tilting toward the 1960s which they saw above all as a defining cultural, political and social moment which has been reflected even now in the long rear-guard actions to fight against what Jackson calls the night-takers. Then several years ago when Markin brought in younger writers like Alden, Zack James, Lance Lawrence, Brad Fox and a few other stringers he, and the older writers, expected somewhat rigidly and erroneously that they would “keep the ‘60s alive” for the next generation. Naturally those younger writers balked not so much about having to cover the 1960s history stuff which they knew was a key the site’s existence but that all subsequent nodal points which informed their lives were down-played if not dismissed.

It was in that content that the Connery-Brosnan fight represented a prime example of the “Old Guard” stifling (Zack James’ word) the “Young Turks.” Alden reminded me during this argument though that it had really come to a head when during an expansive, some said seemingly endless, commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967 San Francisco-based explosion when Allan asked everybody to hone in on those events when taking up writing projects. I, and looking back on it, the other older writers took up the cause in a heartbeat. The younger writers with the exception of Zack James whose older brother Alex started the whole thing in 2017 and had been out there in 1967 balked for the most part.

The firestorm really came when I mentioned to Alden that I had done a review of a documentary about the first Monterey Pops Festival also in 1967 where Janis Joplin among others won their spurs in the rock pantheon and he told me that he did not know who Janis Joplin was. I let that pass but somehow Allan heard about it and in a fit of pique ordered over my head Alden to do a review of a bio-pic of Janis: Little Girl Blues. Alden did it but the past several months as I said have been a tug-of-war among those whose sensibilities were established during the 1960s and those whose sensibilities were essentially formed by the Reagan years. Two very different epochs. The net effect though is that now Alden can write about Brosnan’s James Bond and anything else he wants. Allan had decided to retire soon and had brought in Greg Green from American Film Gazette to act as administrator so a different focus should be expected.           

I would like to add since Lance Lawrence of the younger writer set snidely brought something of the dispute up in a round-about way when he was doing a light commentary, posted December 5, 2017 here (and on the 6th on the on-line American Folk Gazette and Progressive American websites) on a recent book by a Harvard professor about 1960s folk king icon Bob Dylan arguing that he, Dylan, belong right up there in the Western Civilization literary pantheon with the classic lyric poet like Homer and Virgil. In his public take on this internal site storm Lance mentioned that Dylan was another one of the causes for the bad feelings among the staff since Allan had assigned him to do a review of Volume 12 of what even I consider never-ending the Dylan Bootleg series.

Lance balked after listening to the six CD set and accompanying booklets saying that it was just mishmash of bullshit and outtakes and not worthy of consideration. Allan flipped out and this too brought matters to a head. Allan after heated arguments about direction and emphasis on the site told the collective audience that he was bringing in Greg Green as acting administrator and that he planned to retire. Lance’s implication: Allan had been purged, “purged like his buddy Trotsky” is the way he put it. Yes, a vote of confidence was taken and Allan was on the short end of the stick when Sam Lowell unexpectedly considering they had grown up together sided with the “Young Turks” but he was not purged, was not in any way in put in Trotsky’s position of having to defend his place in the Russian Revolution, in the Bolshevik Party when Uncle Joe pulled the hammer down, and eventually laid down his head for his belief when all was said and done. Allan will have like Sam emeritus status and can write, or not write, whenever something interest him.]            

Alden is right that in the now 20 something Bond, James Bond, films whether directly inspired by Ian Fleming’s novels or merely on the developed character that a certain familiar formula has kept the series running through several Bonds. Everybody knows that there will be plenty of high tech gadgetry provided by the ever present and resourceful Q who really should retire if he has not already, plenty of physically over-the-top action and plenty of sexy women either chasing or being chased by any actor who plays Bond. Additionally something that Alden did not pick up since he was a baby during the heyday of the big Cold War rivalry between the West, America centrally and the now long gone Soviet Union, that in the fight against the bad guys by British intelligence although they are given names like SPECTRE and Janus they are really stand-ins for the opponent bad guy countries of the moment like Russia and China.

All of this goes with the territory even though this first Pierce Brosnan Bond vehicle was not created out of Fleming’s stockpile. It most clearly in present in the early Connery films as he is something of a dashing one man avenging angel for the good guy Western values that guys like Doctor No and Gold-finger threaten. Connery uses his handsomeness, not “pretty boy” demeanor as a way to make his work easier since there is a toughness that shows whether he is in stilted work suit or casual clothes.  Brosnan only brings a “pretty boy” charm and over the top, and at times unbelievable physical manifestation to the role against Connery’s dashingly handsome demeanor. Sean also plays the role with more cheek, more sense that this whole thing is just an arduous task to get through to keep the lights burning.

As to the actual plot-line of Thunderball here as Sam Lowell likes to say the short skinny since as has already been suggested about other parts of this long-running Bond series there is a certain set formula. The bastards at SPECTRE are at it again as they as per Number One are responsible for hijacking through the usual nefarious means two atomic weapons to be used as bargaining chips for a big payoff of $100 million a lot then but chicken feed now for not destroying a major city. The city turned out to be Miami which now has its own problems to confront with climate change but then was a mecca for the sun-drenched tourists and plenty of mobster and ex-pats from all over Latin America after being giving the boot from their home countries. Bond is put on the case first to find the hiding place of the two bombs and then shutting down as much of the SPECTRE operation as possible for a single avenging angel to do. Along the way he snags the inevitable beauty who turns up in his path, succumbs to his charms and helps get the bomb situation under control. I wish I could say that would be the end of the bad guys but the world and slew of future Bond movies including ‘Pretty Boy” Brosnan’s portion tell us otherwise.   

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Before “The Last Picture Show” Was The “Last Picture Show” With The Larry McMurtry Book In Mind

Before “The Last Picture Show” Was The “Last Picture Show” With The Larry McMurtry  Book In Mind

Book Review

By Jack Callahan

The Last Picture Show, by Larry Mc Murtry,  

It is time to rally around the troops. Time for me to put my two cents worth in defending my old-time friends who write for this blog (and the on-line editions of American Folk Gazette, American Film Gazette and Progressive Nation among others). Time to honor one old pal, Phil Larkin, known in the old days as Foul-mouth Phil who others have written about in this space and mainly have gotten right about the origin of the name. About the weird twist too of how the girls, including my wife of over forty years Chrissie McNamara, even good go to church, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, every Sunday and who had rosary beads always present in their hands and a Bible between their knees like her, secretly liked his constant swearing so that he among us all never lacked for dates, at least one date anyway with them. But that is not why I am honoring Phil today since I have much more important business to attend to before I get to a short review of this excellent book by Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show, which I saw as a movie (with Chrissie) long before I first read his book (and a number of other related one about the fictional town of Thalia back in the 1950s) which Seth Garth, a longtime writer for this blog mentioned to me has come out recently in a trilogy according to what he had read in the New York Review of Books).

That other fish to fry deals with Phil’s portentous statements which were taken by most of the older staff here, including me, as the usual rantings of Phil when he doesn’t get exactly what he wants, what he considers his due. This time it is centered on a number of statements which he has made as part of his film reviews about the older writers who had been close to the previous site manager being purged, a word at least one of the younger writers has used freely in his reviews so he, they, those now victorious younger writers, must be feeling the wind in their sails. I will not mention his name since the current site manager Greg Green well known for red-penciling, not blue like most editors, copy has “warned” people off doing so under the pretext that “we have to move on” from that pernicious influence) backed up by the newly installed Editorial Board ( a board handpicked by Green and loaded, overloaded, with younger writers who supported him in the internal struggle against that previous site manager and who are really nothing but toadies and rubber-stampers for him).  

Readers familiar with this site, and perhaps with the internal dispute which wound up with the departure and “exile” of that previous manager, know that I have been neither a leading contributor to the writings posted here although I have been the subject of many reminiscences by the older writers including the old gang famous, maybe infamous, one since more than one old fogy has gotten parts wrong, of how Chrissie and I met, nor very vocal in the fight between the younger and older writers which led to that previous manager’s “purge.” (Like I said previously I best put any possible controversial words in quotes to avoid that sweeping Green red pencil despite all the claptrap about the new regime being more democratic, more open to broadening the scope of what is being written about and by whom than previously.) The reason I grabbed this book assignment was that the older writers believed that I would be the only one who had “not burned his bridges” to the new regime which is the way one wag put the matter and could expect to get my piece posted.

Moreover they believed that it would “grease the rails” (I forgot who said that) if I as a big financial backer of the enterprise did the talking about what appears to be coming down the road for the older writers, and who knows maybe some younger recalcitrant writers too (remember the fraught with danger “p” word). That financial backing based on my very successful business as a Toyota car dealer, Mr. Toyota in Eastern Massachusetts with Chrissie as Ms. Toyota so I do not depend on paychecks and fears of lack of paychecks like the others who moreover are closing in on retirement. They don’t want to wind up following the example of the previous manager who with one exception, one important exception, Sam Lowell, who is the only one from the old gang who was placed on that suddenly emergent “democratic” Ed Board, supported him. Don’t want to wind up as the rumors have it hustling newspapers out in Utah for the Mormons with no retirement pension income (I don’t know about his Social Security status), no health plan (if he didn’t have adequate S.S. quarters), and no source for getting steady postings against the dark and wild savage nights going forward (not my expression but one of the older guy’s). I have committed to rallying around the troops and this is the first shot. But enough of this for now.        

As I mentioned in my defense declaration above my first connection with Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show was viewing the film adaptation by Peter Bogdanovich starring Jeff Bridges as Duane  the roughneck’s roughneck, Timothy Bottoms as the gentile roughneck, as Sonny, and Cybil Shepard as the alluring and sexually predatory poor little oil money boomtown rich girl Jacy who has Duane and all the boys in heat, especially Duane and in his dreams Sonny. I should also mentioned that I saw this one the first time at the Hingham, Massachusetts, Plaza Theater when it first opened (a nice counter-position to the “last” in the film title) with Chrissie. That was when we were first living together before we got did get married a couple of years later and well after she had abandoned those rosary bead hands and squeezed Bible knees. Needless to say coming up as an urban, maybe better, suburban roughneck from a hard-struck declining North Adamsville a town like Thalia, with a ton of roughneck friends some of who turned out okay and have written for a long time in places like this blog (although for how much longer is anybody’s guess) and some who didn’t fare so well the film struck a deep chord, “spoke” to me. Spoke to me as well since sports, football in particular, was a subtext for the friendship between Duane and Sonny just like it had been for me and guys like Phil Larkin. (I had been a star football player who led the Blue Warriors to two division state high school Super Bowls which had a lot to do with how Chrissie and I met initially although not how we have stayed together pretty happily for so long.)          

One thing that Seth Garth, a serious writer and a man who has written many well-received articles in this space, who was perhaps my closest friend in high school after we had a fight over Chrissie’s affections and reconciled, has always mentioned to me when writing about films based on novels is how closely they adhere to the storyline of the book. I remember once when we were having a couple of drinks at the old watering hole The Sagamore Grille in Hingham in the days when he could drink unlike now when he has sworn off the stuff we got to talking about fidelity to the book of certain films. This was when I was first interested in writing some reviews for posting here when the previous site manager was more than happy to have an old friend (and serious financial contributor I know helped as well) write up a little something. Seth mentioned that he was appalled when a film screenplay, script, was nothing like the plotline of the book and seemingly the only reason for keeping the title and author’s name was to draw the crowds in based on that cache.        

Seth always would bring up two classic cases both by Ernest Hemingway. One, To Have And Have Not, where in the book the Captain Harry Morgan is a rogue, has-been sea captain running crap to Cuba for the highest bidder with a wife who had seen better days and a parcel of kids. Against the film version where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall sizzle up the screen with what Seth called some of the sexiest hottest scenes of two people with their clothes on he had ever seen while doing yeoman’s service to the French Resistance in the Caribbean during World War II. The other The Killers, a short story which starts and ends with two professional killers acting as hitmen for somebody who wanted an ex-pug out of the way and leaving the narrator wondering why he did not put up any resistance. Against the film starring Burt Lancaster as the ex-pug and fall guy and Ava Gardner as a femme fatale who has him going through the hoops for her as the reason that he went gentle into that good night. A dame in short like has happened to a million other guys except this time old Burt paid with his life for shacking up with her.

In Last Picture Show the film there is no such problem since the film adheres in the basic plotline and better in the spirit of two young roughneck Texas boys coming of age in the early 1950s. I first read the book in the 1990s I think when I was on a Larry McMurtry tear after viewing Texasville which is about this same grouping and town about twenty years later once they have gotten over their teenage angst and alienation. I was struck then as now by how closely the key episodes match up. The only added statement I would make at this time is that the book draws many more explicit sexual scenes, more graphically written than the shyer film does including references to homosexually, male and female orgasms, the sexual frustration aspect of the teen angst and alienation component, and the problems as well as good points of growing up in a small if declining town out in what was then considered the Texas countryside.  Finally, I have changed my opinion as I told Seth one of those nights when we were having those few permitted whiskeys at the Sagamore Grille I think everybody should read the classic book first and then the classic film. Now I wish I had done so.   

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Balducci’s Pizza Parlor Bet –With Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Balducci’s Pizza Parlor Bet –With Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula In Mind

Sketches From The Pen Of Frank Jackman 

Well, be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby
Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby
Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby love
My baby love, my baby love
Well, she's the girl in the red blue jeans
She's the queen of all the teens
She's the one that I know
She's the one that loves me so
Say be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby
Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby
Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby love
My baby love, my baby love
Well, she's the one that gots that beat
She's the one with the flyin' feet
She's the one that walks around the store
She's the one that gets more more more
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby
Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby
Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe
Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby love
My baby love, my baby love

You all know Frankie, right? Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, map of Ireland, fierce Frankie when necessary, and usually kind Frankie by rough inclination. Yah, Frankie from the old North Adamsville neighborhood. Frankie to the tenement, the cold-water flat tenement, born. Frankie, no moola, no two coins to rub together except by wit or chicanery, poor as a church mouse if there ever was such a thing, a poor church mouse that is. Yes, that Frankie. And, as well, this writer, his faithful scribe chronicling his tales, his regal tales. Said scribe to the public housing flats, hot-water flats, but still flats, born. And poorer even than any old Frankie church mouse. More importantly though, more importantly for this story that I am about to tell you than our respective social class positions, is that Frankie is king, the 1960s king hell king of Balducci’s Pizza Parlor “up the Downs,” if not then North Quincy’s finest pizza parlor still the place where we spent many a misbegotten hour, and truth to tell, just plain killed some time when we were down at our heels, or maybe down to our heels.

Sure you know about old Frankie’s royal heritage too. I clued you in before when I wrote about my lost in the struggle for power as I tried to overthrow the king when we entered North Quincy High in 1960. By wit, chicanery, guile, bribes, threats, physical and mental, and every other form of madness he clawed his way to power after I forgot the first rule of trying to overthrow a king- you have to make sure he is dead. But mainly it was his "style”, he mad-hatter “beat” style, wherefore he attempted to learn, and to impress the girls (and maybe a few guys too), with his arcane knowledge of every oddball fact that anyone would listen to for two minutes. After my defeat we went back and forth about it, he said, reflecting his peculiar twist on his Augustinian-formed Roman Catholicism, it was his god-given right to be king of this particular earthy kingdom but foolish me I tried to justify his reign based on that old power theory (and discredited as least since the 17th century) of the divine right of kings. But enough of theory. Here’s why, when the deal went down, Frankie was king, warts and all.

All this talk about Frankie royal lineage kind of had me remembering a story, a Frankie pizza parlor story. Remind me to tell you about it sometime, about how we used to bet on pizza dough flying. What the heck I have a few minutes I think I will tell you now because it will also be a prime example, maybe better than the one I was originally thinking about, of Frankie’s treacheries that I mentioned before. Now that I think about it again my own temperature is starting to rise. If I see that bastard again I’m going to... Well, let me just tell the story and maybe your sympathetic temperature will rise a bit too.

One summer night, yeah, it must have been a summer night because this was the time of year when we had plenty of time on our hands to get a little off-handedly off-hand. In any case it would have had to be between our junior and senior years at old North Quincy High because we were talking a lot in those days about what we were going to do, or not do, after high school. And it would have had to have been on a Monday or Tuesday summer night at that and we were deflated from a hard weekend of this and that, mainly, Frankie trying to keep the lid on his relationship with his ever lovin’ sweetie, Joanne. Although come to think of it that was a full-time occupation and it could have been any of a hundred nights, summer nights or not. I was also trying to keep a lid on my new sweetie, Lucinda, a sweetie who seemed to be drifting away, or at least in and out on me, mostly out, and mostly because of my legendary no dough status (that and no car, no sweet ride down the boulevard, the beach boulevard so she could impress HER friends, yah it was that kind of relationship). Anyway it's a summer night when we had time on our hands, idle time, devil’s time according to mothers’ wit, if you want to know the truth, because his lordship (although I never actually called him that), Frankie I, out of the blue made me the following proposition. Bet: how high will Tonio flip his pizza dough on his next pass through.

Now this Tonio, as you know already if you have read the story about how Frankie became king of the pizza parlor, and if you don’t you will hear more about him later, was nothing but an ace, numero uno, primo pizza flinger. Here’s a little outline of the contours of his art, although minus the tenderness, the care, the genetic dispositions, and who knows, the secret song or incantation that Tonio brought to the process. I don’t know much about the backroom work, the work of putting all the ingredients together to make the dough, letting the dough sit and rise and then cutting it up into pizza-size portions. I only really know the front of the store part- the part where he takes that cut dough portion in front of him in the preparation area and does his magic. That part started with a gentle sprinkling of flour to take out some of the stickiness of the dough, then a rough and tumble kneading of the dough to take any kinks out, and while taking the kinks out the dough gets flattened, flattened enough to start taking average citizen-recognizable shape as a pizza pie. Sometimes, especially if Frankie put in an order, old Tonio would knead that dough to kingdom come. Now I am no culinary expert, and I wasn’t then, no way, but part of the magic of a good pizza is to knead that dough to kingdom come so if you see some geek doing a perfunctory couple of wimpy knead chops then move on, unless you are desperate or just ravenously hungry.

Beyond the extra knead though the key to the pizza is the thinness of the crust and hence the pizza tosses. And this is where Tonio was a Leonardo-like artist, no, that’s not right, this is where he went into some world, some place we would never know. I can still see, and if you happened to be from old North Quincy, you probably can still see it too if you patronized the place or stood, waiting for that never-coming Eastern Mass. bus, in front of the big, double-plate glass pizza parlor windows watching in amazement while Tonio tossed that dough about a million times in the air. Artistry, pure and simple.

So you can see now, if you didn’t quite get it before that Frankie’s proposition was nothing but an old gag kind of bet, a bet on where Tonio would throw, high or low. Hey, it’s just a variation on a sports bet, like in football, make the first down or not, pass or rush, and so on, except its pizza tosses, okay. Of course, unlike sports, at least known sports, there are no standards in place so we have to set some rules, naturally. Since it was Frankie’s proposition he got to give the rules a go, and I could veto.
Frankie, though, and sometimes he could do things simply, although that was not his natural inclination; his natural inclination was to be arcane in all things, and not just with girls. Simply Frankie said in his Solomonic manner that passed for wisdom, above or below the sign in back of Tonio’s preparation area, the sign that told the types of pizza sold, their sizes, their cost and what else was offered for those who didn’t want pizza that night.

You know such signs, every pizza palace has them, and other fast eat places too. You have to go to “uptown” eateries for a tabled menu in front of your eyes, and only your eyes, but here’s Tonio’s public offerings. On one side of the sign plain, ordinary, vanilla, no frills pizza, cheap, maybe four or five dollars for a large, small something less, although don’t hold me to the prices fifty years later for chrissakes, no fixings. Just right for “family night,” our family night later, growing up later, earlier in hot-water flats, public housing hot-water flats time, we had just enough money for Spam, not Internet spam, spam meat although that may be an oxymoron and had no father hard-worked cold cash for exotic things like pizza, not a whole one anyway, in our household. And from what Frankie told me his too.

Later , when we had a little more money and could “splurge” for an occasional take-out, no home delivery in those days, when Ma didn’t feel like cooking, or it was too hot, or something and to avoid civil wars, the bloody brother against brother kind, plain, ordinary vanilla pizza was like manna from heaven for mama, although nobody really wanted it and you just felt bloated after eating your share (and maybe the crust from someone who doesn’t like crust, or maybe you traded for it); or, plain, by the slice, out of the oven (or more likely oven-re-heated after open air sitting on some aluminum special pizza plate for who knows how long) the only way you could get it after school with a tonic (also known as soda for you old days non-New Englanders and progeny), usually a root beer, a Hires root beer to wash away the in-school blahs, especially the in-school cafeteria blahs.

Or how about plump Italian sausage, Tonio thickly-sliced, or spicy-side thinly-sliced pepperoni later when you had a couple of bucks handy to buy your own, and to share with your fellows (those fellows, hopefully, including girls, always hopefully, including girls) and finally got out from under family plain and, on those lucky occasions, and they were lucky like from heaven, when girl-dated you could show your stuff, your cool, manly stuff, and divide, divide, if you can believe that, the pizza half one, half the other fixings, glory be; onion or anchovies, oh no, the kiss of death, no way if you had the least hope for a decent night and worst, the nightmarish worst, when your date ordered her portion with either of these, although maybe, just maybe once or twice, it saved you from having to do more than a peck of a kiss when your date turned out not to be the dream vision you had hoped for; hams, green peppers, mushrooms, hamburg, and other oddball toppings I will not even discuss because such desecration of Tonio’s pizza, except, maybe extra cheese, such Americanized desecration , should have been declared illegal under some international law, no question; or, except, maybe again, if you had plenty of dough, had a had a few drinks, for your gourmet delight that one pig-pile hunger beyond hunger night when all the fixings went onto the thing. Whoa. Surely you would not find on Tonio’s blessed sign this modern thing, this Brussels sprouts, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, wheat germ, whole wheat, soy, sea salt, himalaya salt, canola oil, whole food, pseudo-pizza not fit for manly (or womanly) consumption, no, not in those high cholesterol, high-blood pressure, eat today for tomorrow you may die days.

On the other side of the sign, although I will not rhapsodize about Tonio’s mastery of the submarine sandwich art (also known as heroes and about seventy-six other names depending on where you grew up, what neighborhood you grew up in, and who got there first, who, non-Puritan, got there first that is) are the descriptions of the various sandwich combinations (all come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, the outlawed onions, various condiment spreads as desired along with a bag of potato chips so I won’t go into all that); cold cuts, basically bologna and cheese, maybe a little salami, no way, no way in hell am I putting dough up for what Ma prepared and I had for lunch whenever I couldn’t put two nickels together to get the school lunch, and the school lunch I already described as causing me to run to Tonio’s for a sweet reason portion of pizza by the slice just to kill the taste, no way is right; tuna fish, no way again for a different reason though, a Roman Catholic Friday holy, holy tuna fish reason besides grandma, high Roman Catholic saint Grandma, had that tuna fish salad with a splash of mayo on oatmeal bread thing down to a science, yah, Grandma no way I would betray you like that; roast beef, what are you kidding; meatballs (in that grand pizza sauce); sausage, with or without green peppers, steak and cheese and so on. The sign, in all its beatified Tonio misspelled glory. 

“Okay,” I said, that sign part seemed reasonable under the circumstances (that’s how Frankie put it, I’m just repeating his rationalization), except that never having made such a bet before I asked to witness a few Tonio flips first. “Deal,” said Frankie. Now my idea here, and I hope you follow me on this because it is not every day that you get to know how my mind works, or how it worked differently from star king Frankie, but it is not every day that you hear about a proposition based on high or low pizza tosses and there may be something of an art to it that I, or you, were not aware of. See, I was thinking, as many times as I had watched old saintly Tonio, just like everybody else, flip that dough to the heavens I never really thought about where it was heading, except those rare occasions when one hit the ceiling and stuck there. So maybe there was some kind of regular pattern to the thing. Like I say, I had seen Tonio flip dough more than my fair share of teenage life pizzas but, you know, never really noticed anything about it, kind of like the weather. As it turned out there was apparently no rhyme or reason to Tonio’s tosses just the quantity (that was the real secret to that good pizza crust, not the height of the throw), so after a few minutes I said "Bet." And bet is, high or low, my call, for a quarter a call (I had visions of filling that old jukebox of Tonio’s with my “winnings” because a new Dylan song had just come in that I was crazy to play about a zillion times, Mr. Tambourine Man). We are off.

I admit that I did pretty well for while that night and maybe was up a buck, and some change, at the end of the night. Frankie paid up, as Frankie always paid up, and such pay up without a squawk was a point of honor between us (and not just Frankie and me either, every righteous guy was the same way, or else), cash left on the table. I was feeling pretty good ‘cause I had just beaten the king of the hill at something, and that something was his own game. I rested comfortable on my laurels. Rested comfortably that is until a couple of nights later when we, as usual, were sitting in the Frankie-reserved seats (reserved that is unless there were real paying customers who wanted to eat their pizza in-house and then we, more or less, were given the bum’s rush) when Frankie said “Bet.” And the minute he said that I knew, I knew for certain, that we are once again betting on pizza tosses because when it came right down to it I knew, and I knew for certain, that Frankie’s defeat a few nights before did not sit well with him.

Now here is where things got tricky, though. Tonio, good old good luck charm Tonio, was nowhere in sight. He didn’t work every night and he was probably with his honey, and for an older dame she was a honey, dark hair, good shape, great, dark laughing eyes, and a melting smile. I could see, even then, where her charms beat out, even for ace pizza-flinger Tonio, tossing foolish old pizza dough in the air for some kids with time on their hands, no dough, teenage boys, Irish teenage boys to boot. However, Sammy, North Quincy High Class of ’62 (maybe, at least that is when he was supposed to graduate, according to Frankie, one of whose older brothers graduated that year), and Tonio’s pizza protégé was on duty. Since we already knew the ropes on this proposition I didn’t even bother to check and see if Sammy’s style was different from Tonio’s. Heck, it was all random, right?

This night we flipped for first call. Frankie won the coin toss. Not a good sign, maybe. I, however, like the previous time, started out quickly with a good run and began to believe that, like at Skeet ball (some call it Skee-ball but they are both the same–roll balls up a targeted area to win Kewpie dolls, feathery things, or a goof key chain for your sweetie) down at the amusement park, I had a knack for this form of betting. Anyway I was ahead about a buck or so. All of a sudden my “luck” went south. Without boring you with the epic pizza toss details I could not hit one right for the rest of the night. The long and short of it was that I was down about four dollars, cash on the table. Now Frankie’s cash on the table. No question. At that moment I was feeling about three-feet tall and about eight-feet under because nowadays cheap, no meaning four dollars, then was date money, Lucinda, fading Lucinda, date money. This was probably fatal, although strictly speaking the fate of that relationship was another story and I will not get into the Lucinda details, because when I think about it now that was just a passing thing, and you know about passing things- what about it.

What is part of the story though, and the now fifty years later still temperature-rising part of the story, is how Frankie, Frankie, king of the pizza parlor night, Frankie of a bunch of kindnesses, and of a bunch of treacheries, here treachery, zonked me on this betting scandal. What I didn’t know then was that I was set up, set up hard and fast, with no remorse by one Francis Xavier Riley, to the tenements, the cold-water flat tenements, born and his cohort Sammy. It seemed that Sammy owed Frankie for something, something never fully disclosed by either party, and the pay-off by Sammy to make him well was to “fix” the pizza tosses that night I just told you about, the night of the golden fleecing. Every time I said "high" Sammy, taking his coded signal from Frankie, went low and so forth. Can you believe a “king”, even a king of a backwater pizza parlor, would stoop so low?

Here is the really heinous part though, and keep my previous reference to fading Lucinda in mind when you read this. Frankie, sore-loser Frankie, not only didn’t like to lose but was also low on dough (a constant problem for both of us, and which consumed far more than enough of our time and energy than was necessary in a just, Frankie-friendly world) for his big Saturday night drive-in movie-car borrowed from his older brother, big-man-around-town date with one of his side sweeties (Joanne, his regular sweetie was out of town with her parents on vacation). That part, that unfaithful to Joanne part I didn’t care about because, once again truth to tell, old ever lovin’ sweetie Joanne and I did not get along for more reasons than you have to know. The part that burned me, and still burns me, is that I was naturally the fall-guy for some frail (girl in pizza parlor parlance time) caper he was off on.

Now I have mentioned that when we totaled up the score the Frankie kindnesses were way ahead of the Frankie treacheries, no question, which was why we were friends. Still, right this minute, right this 2014 minute, I am ready to go up to his swanky downtown Boston law office (where the men’s bathroom is larger than his whole youth time old cold- water flat tenement) and demand that four dollars back, plus interest. You know I am right on this one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Beach Blanket Bongo- With The Falcons' You're So Fine –Take Two In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Beach Blanket Bongo- With The Falcons' You're So Fine –Take Two In Mind  

The Falcons
You're So Fine
You're So Fine
The Falcons

You're so fine, you're so fine
You're mine, you're mine
I walk, and I talk, about you

I love you, I love you
I need you, I need you
I walk, and I talk, about you

There's nothing in the world as sweet as your kiss
so fine, so fine
Every time we meet, my heart skips a beat
You're my first cup of coffee
( my last cup of tea) Bass line
You're so fine, you're so fine
You're mine, you're mine
I walk, and I talk, about you

Sax solo

You're so fine, you're so fine
You're mine, you're mine
I walk, and I talk, about you


Sometimes it is funny how people will get into certain jags, will become aficionados, no, more than that will become single-minded fanatics if you don’t watch them very carefully and keep an appropriate distance say the distance you would keep from a cobra.  Some of us will go all out to be the best at golf or some such sport (or game, I guess you would call golf a game rather than sport because sport sounds too rough, sounds too in-your-face for such a gentile pastime, for the active mashing of some innocent white ball, yeah, let’s call it a game and move on) or will devout endless hours to the now thirty-seven, at least, flavors of yoga now passing through a rage period (no, I will not name all the variants, all the exotically-named mostly Hindu-sounding names,    except to say that such devotion at least makes health sense strangling some poor misbegotten caddie for not providing the right club for that perfect golf shot you had lines up) and others will climb straight-faced (theirs and the mountain’s) sheer rock precipices (no further comment needed except perhaps a sane citizen might just suggest that gentile pastime of golf to those sheer rocks). So be it.

Take me for example although I am not up for rigors of golf (or the premediated first-degree murder of some errant golf ball either), yoga (although thinking back the Kama Sutra came out of that same tradition so it might be worthy of some thought) or mountain-baiting (I like my rocks strictly in museums where they belong) recently I have been on a tear in reviewing individual[CL1]  CDs in an extensive generic commercial classic Rock ‘n’ Roll series (meaning now the 1950s and 1960s) entitled Rock and Roll Will Never Die. The impetus for reviewing that particular CD series at first had been in order to hear the song Your So Fine by the Falcons after I had been listening to The Dubs’ Could This Be Magic on YouTube. That combination was driven by a memory flashback to about 1959 when I used to pester (I am being kind here) every available girls in my seventh grade class by being timid boy flirty and calling her, well, “so fine.” Available girls by the way meaning not going “steady” with a boy, especially a guy who might be on the football team and who might take umbrage with another guy trying to cut his time. Although let’s say that if she was going with a golf guy I might cut his time since they live by some strange honor system, you know count exactly the number of strokes you took to complete the hole, including those three, not two, you clunked into the pond.  Available girl also meaning in seventh grade, unlike in sixth or fifth grade where the distinctions did not matter because they were all nuisances, girls who had gotten a shape and broken out of “stick-dom.” Those are the ones who were worthy of Jeff Sterling, that’s me, “so fine” designation. Such is the memory bank these days.  

While that particular review was driven by a song most of those reviews that I was crazy to listen to and speak about had been driven by the intriguing artwork which graced the covers of each CD, pinpoint artwork drawn in such a way to stir ancient memories of ancient loves, ancient loves, too many to count, anguishes, ditto, alienations, you give a number, angsts, infinite, and whatever else teen–age life could rain down on you just when you were starting to get a handle on the world, starting to do battle to find your place in the sun. Starting to feel too that this wicked old world might be a place worthy of the fight to preserve it but such thoughts were only flushed out later, much later after the dust of angst and alienation settled.  

Moreover these artwork covers reflected that precise moment in time, time being a very conscious and fungible concept then when we thought we would live forever and if we did not at least let us do our jailbreak rock and roll rock with the time we had, the youth time of the now very, very mature (nice sliding over the age issue, right?) baby-boomer generation who lived and died by the music. And who fit in, or did not fit in as the case may have been, to the themes of those artwork scenes. That fit in or didn’t fit in as the example of that flirty “your so fine” mantra that I would pin on any girl (remember any available girl not going steady and not with some big brute just in case that big brute is still holding a grudge).

Some artwork in the series like those that portrayed the terrors of Saturday night high school dance wallflower-dom, hanging around the you-name-it drugstore soda fountain waiting for some dreamy girl to drop her quarters in the juke-box and ask you, you of all people, what she should play to chase her blues away after some  guy left her for another girl and she needed a sound to shed a tear by and you there with that empty shoulder to ease the way, or how about a scene down at the seclude end of Adamsville Beach with a guy and his gal sitting watching the surf and listening to the be-bop radio before, well, let’s leave it at “before,” and picture this a few beauties sunning themselves at the beach waiting for Johnny Angel to make an appearance need almost no comment except good luck and we, we of that 1950s demographic, all recognize those signposts of growing up in the red scare cold war night. This cover that I am thinking of though  did not “speak” to me, a 1959 artwork cover from the time when the music died (meaning Elvis turned “square,” Chuck got caught with Mister’s girls and Jerry Lee failed to check the family tree).

On this cover, a summer scene (always a nice touch since that was the time when we had least at the feel of our generational breakout, listening all afternoon to the transistor radio, trying to keep the sand from destroying your sandwich, getting all or red and pretty for Saturday night in white), two blondish surfer guys, surf boards in tow, were checking out the scene, the land scene for that minute they were not trying to ride the perfect wave, or thinking about that possibility. That checking out of course was to check out who was “hot” on the beach, who could qualify to be a “surfer girl” for those lonely nighttime hours when either the waves were flat or the guys had been in the water so long they had turned to prunes. That scene although not pictured (except a little background fluff to inform you that you are at the beach, the summer youth beach and no other, certainly not the tortuous family beach scene with its lotions, luggage, lawn chairs, and longings, longings to be elsewhere in early teen brains), can only mean checking out the babes, girls, chicks, or whatever you called them in that primitive time before we called them sisters, and women.

No question that this whole scene had been nothing but a California come hinter scene. No way that it has the look of my Eastern pale-face beaches, family or youth. This is nothing but early days California dreamin’ cool hot days and cooler hot nights with those dreamed bikini girls. But hold on, see as little as I know about West Coast 1950s growing up surfer culture I was suddenly struck by this hard fact. These pretty boys are, no question, “beach bums” no way that they are serious surfer guys, certainly not Tom Wolfe’s Pump House La Jolla gang where those surfers lived for the perfect wave, and nothing else better get in the way. For such activity one needed rubberized surf suits complete with all necessary gear. In short these guys are “faux” surfers. Whether that was enough to draw the attention of those shes they are checking out into the humid night I will leave to the reader’s imagination.

As I noted before and commented on in the review the music, the 1959 music, that backed up this scene told us we were clearly in a trough, the golden age of rock with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and Chuck Berry was fading, fading fast into what I can only describe as “bubble gum” music. Sure I listened to it, listened to it hard on my old transistor radio up in my lonely shared room or out on those surly, tepid Eastern beaches mainly because that was all that was being presented to us. Somehow the parents, the cops, the school administrators and, if you can believe this, some of those very same bikini girls who you thought were cool had flipped out and wanted to hear Fabian, Bobby Vee and Bobby Darin, got to the record guys, got to Tin Pan Alley and ordered them to make the music like some vanilla shake. So all of a sudden those “you’re so fine” beach blanket blondes were sold on faux surfer guys, flip-floppers and well-combed guys and had dumped the beat, the off-beat and the plainly loopy without a thought. Leaving hard-boiled Harvard Square by night denizens like me homeless, and girl-less more than less.

It was to be a while, a few years, until the folk, folk rock, British invasion, and free expression rock engulfed us. My times, times when I did not have to rely on some kids’ stuff flirty “your so fine” line but could impress the young women of my acquaintance (admittedly not the beach blanket bingo blondes of my youth but long straight brunette-haired women with faraway eyes and hungry haunted expressions) with eight million Child ballad, Village, traditional music, mountain music facts I had accumulated during that red scare cold war trough before the break-out. 

As the bulk of that CD’s contents attested to though we were in 1959 in the great marking time. There were, however, some stick-outs there that have withstood the test of time. They include: La Bamba, Ritchie Valens; Dance With Me, The Drifters; You’re So Fine (great harmony),The Falcons; Tallahassee Lassie (a favorite then at the local school dances by a local boy who made good), Freddy Cannon; Mr. Blue (another great harmony song and the one, or one of the ones, anyway that you hoped, hoped to distraction that they would play for the last dance), The Fleetwoods; and, Lonely Teardrops, Jackie Wilson (a much underrated singer, then and now, including by this writer after not hearing that voice for a while).

Note: After a recent trip to the Southern California coast I can inform you that those two surfer guys, who actually did turn out to be landlubbers and were working the shoreline while serious surfers with no time for beach blanket bingo blondes sought that perfect wave stuff, are still out there and still checking out the scene. Although that scene for them now is solely the eternal search for the perfect wave complete with full rubberized suit and gear. No artist would now, or at least I hope no artist would, care to rush up and draw them. For now these brothers have lost a step, or seven, lost a fair amount of that beautiful bongo hair, and have added, added believe me, very definite paunches to bulge out those surfer suits all out of shape. Ah, such are the travails of the baby-boomer generation. Good luck though, brothers.