Saturday, May 01, 2021

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

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

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

By Allan Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 29, 2021

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

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

DVD Review

By Frank Jackman

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling-Or Political Liberty Either-Grace Kelly And Gary Cooper’s “High Noon” (1952)-A Film Review

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling-Or Political Liberty Either-Grace Kelly And Gary Cooper’s “High Noon” (1952)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Si Lannon

High Noon, starring Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper, 1952

Sometimes in life, sometimes in the publishing business might be a more appropriate way of putting the matter, you get handed gratis something like the assignment of this film under review High Noon you would have given your eye teeth to get hold of. The way this one played out was recently added stringer Sarah Lemoyne, who apparently as she has advertised is indeed a quick learner, had been assigned the classic Technicolor Western Johnny Guitar starring an over the hill Joan Crawford and getting there Sterling Hayden despite the fact that she knew nothing, hated even, the genre. Her smart move was to attach that gripe to her review which while site manager Greg Green, the guy who hands out the assignments these days, called it a very good one from an unseasoned and unversed critic in the genre the rest of us, and maybe Sarah too, knew was a dog. Showed those tell-tale signs of somebody going through the motions. The fact of putting her gripe in a review left Greg kind of in a box when he wanted her to do this review, another Western, after she said no mas. So, to keep the inmates from getting restless he assigned this iconic beauty to me. Apparently in the back and forth over the issue it became clear to Greg that Sarah really was clueless about how important this film was cinematically and politically. Too young to know of red scares and such.

The reason that I would have been willing to give my eye teeth to review this film though has nothing to do with cinema or politics but my boyhood (and now still) “crush” on “the girl next door” Grace Kelly. I never tire of telling all who will listen the remark made by Seth Garth when I think he was reviewing Ms. Kelly and Cary Grant’s To Catch A Thief and he was so struck by her form of beauty that he could understand why her husband Prince Rainier of Monaco, a man not known for public displays of emotion openly wept at Princess Grace’s funeral after she was killed in a car accident. I could have told Seth that as well ever since my boyhood infatuation.

Now to the story and to the politics which are intertwined with what the creators, or one of the creators of the story line was attempting to do back in 1952 when the height of
the Senator Joe McCarthy-led red scare was hitting full stride and Hollywood was continually in the direct line of fire for alleged “communist influence” and as a hotbed of mostly former Communist Party members and fellow travelers as they were called then. People were forced, maybe against their better judgments to “snitch”, “fink,”  “rat out” their fellows who were under the Red Scare microscope but they still did it to their every lasting shame which hopefully caused more than a few sleepless nights when they “named names” to cover their own asses. Worse let the night-takers have their way without uttering a whisper against the madness. Would not stand up for the innocent, or the guilty if such a word is appropriate in this context. Cowards and other words I would rather no use here but which we used all the time in the old neighborhood when something smelled rotten.             

And that same understanding propels the action in this film where Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper, soon to be ex-Marshall of a Western town which he did much to make hospitable for ordinary folks and taking action against the wild boys who ruled the roost previously. Leaving the profession, the job since he was now married to lovely Quaker convert Amy, played by Ms. Kelly and she insisted they move away and start a new less dangerous life. All well and god except the leader of the bad guys whom he had sent to prison for life had been pardoned and was heading back to town to seek his revenge against Will. Headed back to town on that regularly scheduled noon train which will get plenty of play via many shots of the endless railroad tracks, the ticking clocks and the bad guys waiting for their boss to come back to begin the slaughter. The question is put point blank-can Will leave where danger is afoot and all that he stands for is threatened.

Of course not everybody saw the question in that same way, didn’t see that he was a standup guy and could do no other.  Including Amy who was ready to leave town-with or without him. The story unravels around the fact that friend or foe, upstanding citizens or not, fearless or fearful not one goddam bastard was ready to stand up to the bad guys back in those late 19th century days when the West was being tamed. Just like standup people were scarce as hen’s teeth when the deal went down in the Cold War red scare night. In the end Will stood down the bad guys alone, well almost alone because his sweetie Amy came through in the end. Best of all after the bad guys were no more and Will gave his fierce look of scorn and contempt on the scurrying town  rats after the dust had settled he and Amy wordlessly left town. Nice.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Face (Book) Photo That Launched A Thousand Clicks- Or “Foul-Mouth” Phil Hits Pay-Dirt-Finally-With The Coasters Under The Boardwalk In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Face (Book) Photo That Launched A Thousand Clicks- Or “Foul-Mouth” Phil Hits Pay-Dirt-Finally-With The Coasters Under The Boardwalk In Mind

By Allan Jackson

[Once a corner boy always a corner boy as it turns out as the sketch below amply demonstrates. One of the pinnacles of corner boy-dom being always, and now apparently forever until some dying breathe, ready for the main chance-the main chance to grab (not literally in these #MeToo times-okay) some woman out of nowhere. Funny when I conceived of the rock and roll series I had expected the whole thing to revolve around the past and not have the fate of those characters still standing fifty years later come into play. So of course along the period of the two or three years that the series ran a few OMG situations cried out for coverage. Naturally Phil Larkin, a still standee, was a prime candidate if something weird turned up. And old brother Phil, a stand up corner boy in his day, did not fail us. Allan Jackson]          


Yes, I know. I know damn well that I should not indulge my seemingly endlessly sex-haunted old-time corner boys. After all this space is nothing but a high-tone “high communist” propaganda outlet on most days –good days (“red” according to those very same corner boys who thought anything to the left of Genghis Khan in the old days was redder than the sun echoing an old history teacher of mine who unhappy with a surly answer I had given him had called me a “Bolshevik,” or rather asked that as question and Timmy Murphy one of the corner boys who was there in the class after he said that never let me live that one down so I am used to that velvet-handed red-baiting). I should, moreover, not indulge a “mere” part-timer at our old North Adamsville Salducci’s Pizza Parlor hang-out be-bop night “up the Downs” like one “Foul-Mouth” Phil Larkin. (For those who do not know what that reference refers to don’t worry you all had your own “up the Downs” and your own corner boys, or mall rats as the case may be, who hung out there.) Despite his well-known, almost automatic, foul mouth in the old days Phil had his fair share, more than his fair share given that mouth, of luck with the young women (girls, in the old days, okay). I am still mad at him for “stealing” my old-time neighborhood heartthrob, Millie Callahan, right from under my nose. (And right in the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church after Mass to boot. If he is still a believer he stands condemned. No mercy. As for me, an old heathen, I was just glad that I stared at her ass during Mass. I stand condemned anyway, if things get worked out that way).

Well, that was then and now is now and if you read about “poor” Phil Larkin’s trials and tribulations with the ladies recently in a sketch entitled Sexless sex sites you know that his old Irish blarney ( I am being kind to the old geezer here) had finally given out and that he was scoreless lately. That is he was scoreless as of that writing. As Phil pointed out to me personally as part of our conversations while I was editing his story on that one he felt that he would have had better luck with finding a woman companion (for whatever purpose) by just randomly calling up names in the telephone directory than from that “hot” sex site that he found himself embroiled in. And, in an earlier time, he might have been right.

But we are now in the age of so-called “social networking” (of which this space, as an Internet-driven format is a part) and so, by hook or by crook, someone placed his story (or rather, more correctly, my post from this blog) on his Facebook wall. As a result of that “click” Phil is now “talking” to a young (twenty-something) woman graduate student from Penn State (that is why just a few minutes ago he was yelling “Go, Nittany Lions” in my ear over the cell phone) and is preparing to head to the rolling Appalachian hills of Pennsylvania for a “date” with said twenty-something. Go figure, right? So my placement of this saga, or rather part two of the saga (mercifully there will be no more), is really being done in the interest of my obscure sense of completeness rather than “mere” indulgence of an old-time corner boy. As always I disclaim, and disclaim loudly for the world to hear, that while I have helped edit this story this is the work of one “Foul-Mouth” Phil Larkin, formerly of North Adamsville and now on some twisted, windy road heading to central Pennsylvania.

Phil Larkin comment:

Jesus, that Peter Paul Markin is a piece of work. Always rubbing in that “foul-mouth” thing. But I guess I did get the better of him on that Millie Callahan thing back in the day and he did provide me a “life-line” just now with his posting of my story on his damn communist-addled blog. It is a good thing we go back to “up the Downs” time and that I am not a “snitch” because some of the stuff that I have read from him here should, by rights, be reported directly to J. Edgar Hoover, or whoever is running the F.B.I., if anybody is. We can discuss that another time because I don’t have time to be bothered by any such small stuff. Not today. Not since I hit “pay-dirt” with my little Heloise. Yes, an old-fashioned name, at least I haven’t heard the name used much lately for girls, but very new-fashioned in her ideas. 
She is a twenty-five graduate student from Penn State and I am, as I speak, getting ready to roll out down the highway for our first “in person” meet.
You all know, or should be presumed to know to use a Markinism (Christ, we still call his silly little terms that name even forty years later), that I was having a little temporary trouble finding my life’s companion through sex sites. I told that story before and it is not worth going into here. [Markin: Fifty years Phil, and every other guy (or gal) from the Class of 1964. Do the math. I hope you didn’t try to con Heloise with that “youthful” fifty-something gag-christ, right back to you, Phil.] Let me tell you this one though because it had done nothing but restore my faith in modern technology.

Little communist propaganda front or not, Peter Paul’s blog goes out into the wilds of cyberspace almost daily (and it really should be reported to the proper authorities now that I have read his recent screeds on a Russian Bolshevik guy named Trotsky who is some kind of messiah to Markin and his crowd). So a few weeks ago somebody, somehow ( I am foggy, just like Markin, on the mechanics of the thing, although I know it wasn’t some Internet god making “good” cyberspace vibes or anything like that) picked it up and place it (linked it) on his Facebook wall ( I think that is the proper word). Let’s call him Bill Riley (not his real name and that is not important anyway) Now I don’t know if you know how this Facebook thing works, although if you don’t then you are among the three, maybe four, people over the age of five that doesn’t.

Here’s what I have gathered. Bill Riley set up an account with his e-mail address, provided some information about himself and his interests and waited for the deluge of fan responses and “social-connectedness” (Markin’s word). Well, not exactly wait. Every day in every way you are inundated with photos of people you may know, may not know, or may or may not want to know and you can add them to your “friends” pile (assuming they “confirm” you request for friendship). Easy, right?

Well, yes easy is right because many people will, as I subsequently found out, confirm you as a friend for no other reason than that you “asked” them to include you. Click- confirm. Boom. This, apparently, is what happened when Bill “saw” Heloise’s photo. I found out later, after “talking” to Heloise for a while, that she did not know Bill Riley or much about him except that he has a wall on Facebook. So the weird part is that Bill “introduced” us, although neither Heloise nor I know Bill. This has something Greek comedic, or maybe a Shakespeare idea, about it, for sure. In any case Heloise, as a sociology graduate student at Penn State, took an interest in the “sexless” sex site angle for some study she was doing around her thesis and, by the fates, got hooked into the idea that she wanted to interview me about my experiences, and other related matters.

Without going into all the details that you probably know already I “joined” Bill Riley’s Facebook friends cabal and through him his “friend” Helosie contacted me about an interview. Well, we “chatted” for a while one day and she asked some questions and I asked others in my most civilized manner. What I didn’t know, and call me stupid for not knowing, was that Heloise not only was a “friend” of Bill’s but, unlike me (or so I thought), had her own Facebook page with photos. Now her photo on Bill’s wall was okay but, frankly, she looked just like about ten thousand other earnest female twenty-something graduate students. You know, from hunger. But not quite because daddy or mommy or somebody is paying the freight to let their son or daughter not face reality for a couple more years in some graduate program where they can “discover” themselves. Of course, naturally old cavalier that I am said, while we were chatting, that she was attractive, and looked energetic and smart and all that stuff. You know the embedded male thing with any woman, young or old, that looks the least bit “hit-worthy.” (Embedded is Markin’s word, sorry.)That photo still is on Bill’s wall and if I had only seen that one I would still be sitting in some lounge whiskey sipping my life away.

Heloise’s “real” photos, taken at some Florida beach during Spring break, showed a very fetching (look it up in the dictionary if you don’t know what that old-time word means) young woman that in her bikini had me going. Let’s put it this way I wrote her the following little “note” after I got an eyeful:

“Hi Heloise - Recently I made a comment, after I first glanced at your photo wall, that you looked fetching (read, attractive, enchanting, hot, and so on). On that first glance I, like any red-blooded male under the age of one hundred, and maybe over that for all I know, got a little heated up. Now I have had a change to cool down, well a little anyway, and on second peek I would have to say you are kind of, sort of, in a way, well, okay looking. Now that I can be an objective observer I noticed that one of your right side eyelashes is one mm, or maybe two, off-balance from the left side. 

Fortunately I have the “medicine” to cure you. If you don’t mind living with your hideous asymmetrical deformation that is up to you. I will still be your friend. But if you were wondering, deep in the night, the sleepless night, why you have so few male Facebook friends or why guys in droves are passing your page by there you have it. Later-Phil.”

The famous old reverse play that has been around for a million years, right? Strictly the blarney, right? [Markin: Right, Phil, right as ever]. That little literary gem however started something in her, some need for an older man to tell her troubles to or something. And from there we started to “talk” more personally and more seriously. See I had it all wrong about her being sheltered out there in the mountains by mom and dad keeping her out of harm’s way until she “found” herself. No, Heloise was working, and working hard, to make ends meet and working on her doctorate at the same time. Her story, really, without the North Adamsville corner boy thing, would be something any of us Salducci’s guys would understand without question. (I was not a part-time corner boy by the way, except by Frankie Riley’s 24/7/365 standards and The Scribe’s). [Markin: Watch it, Phil. I told you not to use that nickname anymore.] I’ll tell you her story sometime depending on how things work but right now I am getting ready to go get a tank full of gas and think a little about those photos that launched a thousand clicks.

Markin comment:

Phil, like I said to Johnny Silver about what people might say about his little teeny-bopper love. Go for it. Don’t watch out. And like I said before we had better get to that “communist” future you keep thinking I think we all need pretty damn quick if for no other reason than to get some sexual breathes of fresh air that such a society promises.

Life According To The Mayfair Swells-Dick Powell’s “Happiness Ahead” (1934)-A Film Review

Life According To The Mayfair Swells-Dick Powell’s “Happiness Ahead” (1934)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Frank Jackman

Happiness Ahead, starring crooner cum actor Dick Powell, Josephine Hutchison, 1934

I am not exactly sure why I drew this film review assignment, an area which I haven’t dealt with much over the past several years doing mostly political commentary during that time. I have a sneaking suspicion current site manager Greg Green, who is the guy who after all makes the assignments of late, has an idea that I will make some pithy social and political comments about the time frame and content of this Happiness Ahead I am stuck with reviewing. A title which while it was produced in the heart of the 1930s Great Depression (I noted the National Recovery Act, NRA, logo a sure fire way to tell the times) could have been the campaign theme of any President or presidential candidate from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Donald J. Trump.

In any case I am sure Greg was not under the impression that he was trying to “broaden my horizons” with this assignment like he had increasingly tried to use as a reason among the younger writers. He knows, and if he does not I am here to tell him, that I was looking to mine political gold from such socially conscious 1930s films which were a specialty of Warner Brother films when he was reviewing B-film horror movies as a stringer for the American Film Gazette. Now if he assigned this beast under the sign of a 1930s “slice of life” nugget to be gleaned then all is forgiven and he will have hit the nail on the head as to why today’s readers would give a damn about this soapy romance posing as a tribute to the possibilities of the American Dream even when the soup kitchens were lengthening, banks were going bust, houses where being foreclosed, shanty camps were establishing new postal zones, and most germane, New York City financiers were jumping out of freshly “massaged” skyscraper windows.         

Wow the reader might ask all out of a film which is about the budding romance of a daughter of the Mayfair swells out slumming and an up and coming white collar go-getter and side door Johnny crooner in the pocket of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jack Sampson and the like. Well, yes, since as I mentioned Warner Brothers was in love with these social uplift sagas as long as they had enough boy meets girl, or is it girl meets boy here, to avoid some right-wing agents’ accusations of Communist International allegiance. Ms. Smith, in really Joan Bradford, played by 1930s film sweetheart Josephine Hutchison, of the very, very Mayfair swells Bradfords who first reached these shores on the old tug The Mayflower and who had ridden out the first rush of the Great Depression pretty well since Father Bradford not only did not jump out of some Windex skyscraper window but is around to advise his young daughter on the dangers of upsetting high society mother and her “plans” for an upscale marriage and doing what she damn well pleased attempts a jail break-out from the stifling confines of New York high society and a horrible marriage to some male scion of another such family. Fair enough.    

One New Year’s night Joan goes slumming amongst the ordinary folk and winds alone in a Chinese jazz joint where she “meets” Bob, get this Bob Lane, all-American Bob Lane, played by crooner Dick Powell last seen in this space as Phillip Marlowe getting knocked around, drugged and kicked in the teeth by some evil high society forces who don’t want him to find his Velma for the Moose in the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely dubbed Murder, My Sweet on the screen. One thing leads to another and they get dated up although dear Joan has to go through about six ruses to “prove” she is just ordinary folk. Joan is so starved for reasonable social interaction she plays along for a while even going with Bob to totally plebian roller skating and such holy goof stuff to be at one with the masses.  

Naturally, and that is exactly the right word, this pair are smitten. Big problem though is that while Bob is a go-getter right at that moment he is nothing but a cheapjack office manager for a company who washes the windows of half the skyscrapers in New York City. He has dreams though of running his own window washing company and there is the rub. No dough, or not enough dough and Mother Bradford of the very, very Bradfords is not going to have a window-washer for a son-in-law. That is when Joan to help things along made what looked like a fatal mistake by getting her Daddy Warbucks father to front the necessary dough and thereby incurring the manly wrath on one Robert Lane who finally gets wise to who his sweetie really is. I hope you were paying attention because I already told you this was a boy meets girl story and therefore requires the adequate happy ending, here happiness ahead ending of the title. Bob a little miffed but still head over heels for Joan (which you can tell is true since every once in a while a song telegraphs his desires) and after working out man to man a deal with her father the deal is done. Hope this has broadened your horizons.  

Sunday, April 25, 2021

How The West Was Won-Johnny Too Bad’s “Johnny Guitar” (1954)-A Film Review

How The West Was Won-Johnny Too Bad’s “Johnny Guitar” (1954)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Sarah Lemoyne

Johnny Guitar, starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady and whoever else they could round up who played any cowboy roles before 1954, 1954

I am not, never was, a fan of Westerns in any of its transmissions to the screen from iconic Tom Mix mash to High Noon to The Wild Bunch the latter which began to chip away at the angelic white cowboy legend that sustained my late grandfather on many a Saturday morning on television and many a Saturday afternoon movie matinee according to my grandmother. And that seems to me to be exactly the point.  My grandparents born respectively in 1946 and 1948 were probably the remnants, the holy goof remnants according to fellow baby-boomer and thus contemporary Sam Lowell, who allegedly would have given his eye teeth for this assignment since he shared that same commitment to the Western white cowboy legends as my late grandfather did. In any case the assignment fell to me and that was that. (That “white cowboy” reference hot off the heels of reading a review of a new Smithsonian/Folkways compilation by one of the Carolina Chocolate Drops paying homage to the not inconsiderable role of the black cowboy in taming the West, so white in the days when the black contribution was conveniently written out of the picture in everything from dime store novels to “oaters.”)       

But I am still befuddled as to why I grabbed the assignment, this review of the classic iconic Johnny Too Bad Western, Johnny Guitar other than some office politics thing to keep it from Sam and keep him in line. Or as officially came to me in a reply memo when I asked why somebody who could care less about cowboys, and a genre which had zero influence on me growing up was given such an assignment that it would “broaden my horizons.” I accepted that answer until I saw the film and found out the real answer which is that this film breaks the mold, breaks the white male hero cowboy angel ride mold and pays a certain oblique homage to the pioneer women who one way or the other influenced the taming of the West once the gunplay subsided a little. A little startling for a 1954 film if you ask me.    

Vienna, the role played by Joan Crawford who I only know a little, the name mostly, because Jack Kerouac whose book Big Sur I did my master’s thesis on did a short piece for some magazine about Joan Crawford working on some film in San Francisco and had her as some fogged up dame who jammed up the works and gave the very obliging director seven kinds of hell. I don’t know if she was considered some kind of femme earlier in her career but she looked like she had been through the mill by 1954. Which is good because the role of Vienna calls for a woman who has been through the mill, has seen and done it all from saloon bar girl to some Madame La Rue (that courtesy of Seth Garth from the table of Allan Jackson) whorehouse denizen to what knows what else but as the scenes open she is running, she, her, Vienna is running a nice little casino and jip join outside of some dusty town in the real, meaning not the Left Coast, if still mostly untamed West. She might have worn out a few beds in her time and maybe was running her own unseen whorehouse but she was on the high side now. Even better she was laying plans for the railroad to build a depot near her place and extend a line and a new born town bringing plenty of gringos and sad sack immigrants who washed out in the East and think they will find the mother lode before the frontier ends and their dreams go up in opium smoke like Mrs. Miller in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. All you have to say in railroad in 19th century America, East or West and that meant money, money for those savvy and hungry enough to grab it and pay a little graft for the right to make a fortune. And our Vienna was ready to grab whatever fell to her with all hands.

Of course an independent woman out West running a saloon and gambling den and whatever else she was running was sure to raise the hackles of the good and prosperous town folk who money was made through banking and cattle so the tension would fly through the night especially when some vengeful woman Emma, played by Mercedes McCambridge, has it in for her for reasons from repressed sexuality to class snobbishness and prudery. (I like the sexual repression theory one townie ran by us revolving around one Dancing Kid whom she love/hated and would shoot right through the head in the end but that was much later. Of course, as well, a woman, hell, anybody running a gin mill and clip joint will also have partisans, partisans like the just mentioned Dancing Kid and his gang of cutthroats who will gladly relieve stagecoaches and banks of their precious possessions. (This nickname stuff and we will see with Johnny Guitar in a minute reminded Seth Garth when I told him about the film to get a little advice on a “hook” of when he and the North Adamsville corner boys he grew up with went to California in the Summer of Love in 1967 and all took up monikers to what he called “reinvent” themselves maybe like these earlier travelers and denizens of the low spots.) The Dancing Kid not only a partisan of Vienna’s dreams but with knowledge of her in the Biblical sense which will cause no end of problems and not just with bitch Emma.

Now the scene in set so enter one Johnny Guitar, played by ruggedly handsome Sterling Hayden who Seth said did a great job bleeding himself to death as the heavy lifter in the classic film noir The Asphalt Jungle which he reviewed, with nothing but a guitar on his back (caseless by the way) and tombstones in his eyes. Those tombstones via the cardinal error of trekking West without manly guns and plenty of them like some fool Eastern city slicker. He is in Vienna’s joint to sing troubadour style for his supper and entertain the hooligans while they lose their dough. But that Johnny Guitar front is just baloney because behind that moniker and those easy-going whiskey sot ways is the gun simple killer one Johnny Logan, a name once revealed that even got the Dancing Kid’s attention. Vienna and Johnny were lovers some time and place back and while Vienna played the ice queen and tough hombre bit for a while she only has eyes for Johnny when the deal went down. By the way let’s get this straight now this Johnny Guitar troubadour stuff is strictly lame since he neither sings one damn song nor does he do more than strum that guitar and not very well at that. So unless Johnny is better in bed than he looks he would be hard put to make dimes for donuts today on the mean streets of the city or in the subways.  
That interestingly enough though is all side door Johnny stuff. The real war is on, the war between the two vixens Vienna and Emma with Vienna two to one in my book to win this duel to the death with the guys looking on here taking direction from womenfolk. Yes you heard that right all of these cowboys cum civilized town folk are lining up to take sides this this big step off. (Seth Garth also mentioned that in this film virtually every actor who had donned a cowboy hat more than once in films was part of the back-up cast including Scott Brady and Ward Bond.) The Dancing Kid set the whole shooting match up when he and the boyos robbed Ms. Emma’s bank and that gave her the last straw she needed to send Vienna to the gallows by associating her with the Dancer’s action maybe even the brains behind the heist.

The chase was on, big time, because it might be a cliché but it works here-watch out for a woman scorned as twisted sister Emma aint no feminist and wants Vienna’s pretty little neck around some fresh hemp. And she almost has her way but Johnny boy who was on the outs with Vienna for a while came by to save Ms. Vienna’s bacon. Save it and leave the situation fluid enough for the gals to have a final draw-down to see who was queen of the hill. Needless to say I won my bet. Johnny did too taking the ice queen to better surroundings. But please, please, please no more of these   fake Westerns which still leave me cold.