Saturday, June 05, 2021

In The Matter Of Robert Mitchum-Redux-Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum’s “Holiday Affair” (1949)-A Film Review

In The Matter Of Robert Mitchum-Redux-Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum’s “Holiday Affair” (1949)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

Holiday Affair, starring Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, 1949   

In 2017 Sam Lowell a fellow writer in this space and who before his retirement from the day to day operations of the film review department had been the chief film reviewer here (and at Progressive Nation and American Film Gazetteer respectively before that) literally went crazy commemorating the centennial of the birth of the well-known 20th century actor Robert Mitchum. Sam’s take on Mitchum centered on his durability as an actor having been featured in over one hundred films in his long and honorable career and in his best roles his durability in seeking a little rough justice in this wicked old world (Sam’s term) with a build built for heavy lifting, for taking a punch or seven or a couple of slugs if it came to that. What in those days, maybe was known too although I haven’t seen the term used much recently as called “beefcake” complete with maybe not film relevant bare chested shots of his barren chested physique to set the female audience’s hearts a-flutter (mine too when Sam and I watched a few films in 2017 as part of the retrospective Sam did on Mitchum. He most famously and creditably showed that durability in films like the classic Out Of The Past with Jane Greer  where he got twisted in a knot trying to deal with a wanton gun-simple femme and yet died with a smile on his face when things went south on him.

Naturally in a career and at a time when studio contracts were the norm hunk, yes, hunk Robert did a number of films which did not display that durability and that chest and the film under review Holiday Affair is one of them. In this one Robert playing a guy named Steve is kind of a drifter after World War II like a lot of guys then and now who had trouble settling down to the nine to five life after years of combat. Moreover he had a dream of building boats out in his native California. Unfortunately that dream career was on hold since he was slumming along as a toy department salesman in a large New York City department store at Christmas time (hence the “holiday” part of the title the “affair” part is not what you think but a come on for the unwary) when the action begins. From there the thing turns into another variation of the classic tried and true boy meets girl formula that has been a hallmark of half the films ever produced in Hollywood land.        

Enter Jane, played by Janet Leigh a comparison shopper for a rival department store who is under orders to buy a train set in said toy department but who is rather ham-fisted about the whole thing so Steve know what she is up to, especially when next day she shows up to return the item (after emotionally tearing up her young son Timmy who thought that was a present for him but which working mother war widow could not afford). He should have reported her to his floorwalker but after she gave him a sob story about being the sole support of young son Timmy he fell on his sword and did the honorable thing and gave her a refund. Which cost his job.

That could have been the end of the story and nobody would have cried but naturally they meet again and Steve starts putting the classic moves (in those cinematic days “classic moves” play) and the full press. Problem, Carl problem, played by Wendell Corey a staid if stand-up lawyer who can offer Jane stability and upward mobility if not reciprocal love on her part since she is still in a fog over the loss of her late husband. The threesome (not ménage) play out their respective roles with Carl finally seeing the writing on the wall that she only has eyes for Steve (without inspecting the beefcake since there is not one such scene in this one). After some indecision and a serious egging on by Timmy who is indifferent to Carl but who goes for Steve in a big way especially after he bought him that coveted train set Jane chases him down on a train heading west to California where he will finally pursue that boat-building dream. You know thought Sam is right Robert was built for heavy-lifting and an occasional punch or slug this gooey good guy stuff is not what made his career. Them is the facts, Jack.             

In The Golden Age Of The Musical-Miss Judy Garland And Mickey Rooney’s “Babes On Broadway” (1941)- A Film Review

In The Golden Age Of The Musical-Miss Judy Garland And Mickey Rooney’s “Babes On Broadway” (1941)- A Film Review

DVD Review

By Zack James

Babes On Broadway, starring Miss Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, 1941

I don’t want to get into how I wound up doing this review since I am neither a fan of Broadway musicals nor much into older black and white movies but I do feel the need to mention that I mentioned to Greg Green, the current site manager, that somebody should do a review of a Miss Judy Garland film in light of what Allan Jackson has recently said about one of the reasons that he went to San Francisco among other places out West after he was disposed of in an internal fight at this publication in 2017. That reason Allan had wound up in that town was to borrow, if possible, since he still had pressing alimony and college tuition payments due some money from Madame La Rue or Miss Judy Garland two people he had helped in the pass to tide him over until better times.

That Miss Judy Garland part was not the real song and dance Judy Garland but a drag queen, a gay guy, Timmy Riley whom he had known in the old growing up days in the Acre section of North Adamsville where they grew up. Where I grew as well knowing these guys only through my oldest brother, Alex, who was friends with all of them in high school. Timmy too although he had only found out about Timmy being gay and being a drag queen (not necessarily the same thing at all) quite recently since Timmy had flown the old town in the late 1960s a few years after high school when he could no longer suppress his real desires once his parents disowned him and kicked him out of the family house (and went to their respective deaths cursing his unhallowed devil name with specific requests that he not be allowed to attend their funeral Masses or anything else when they passed). On that basic I made my suggestion to in a way honor Timmy and his early travails and to see why he gravitated, as other drag queens have, toward the character of Miss Garland on the runway. I didn’t volunteer for the job but here I am with it nevertheless.

The late 1930s, 1940s really were the golden age of the musical, the song and dance centered genre as witnessed here and as witnessed in the slew of films done by Fred Astaire with a few dance partners. One would be hard-pressed to think of such an array of talent doing song and dance stuff much pass the 1950s with Gene Kelly and his various partners. Now such doings come as a surprise after some smash hit on Broadway begs to be taken to the silver screen. Part of it is that Tin Pan Alley folded long ago as did the treasured art of serious songwriting for popular non-teen  consumption. Names like Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, of course, Irving Berlin and the like (although this musical production songwriting cohort was anchored by Brother, Can You Spare A Dime writer Yip Harburg who would later take serious heat when the Red Scare scalp-hunters were in vogue looking under every bed for commies).        

This film moreover in the time-honored Hollywood tradition (emulated by others when Hollywood ruled the roost alone) was part of a trilogy dealing with this same subject matter-mainly star-struck kids trying to make it on the Great White Way and never having to return except in triumph to Hoboken, Peoria, Winnemucca, Richmond, Albany and all points east and west. Let’s face it the song and dance part is what 1941 audiences paid good money for not some has-been half-assed script which wouldn’t hold together on its own without the music. So Tommy, Mickey’s role is the ball of fire (literally if on name only) ready to bring Broadway to her knees if can only get a “hook,” something to hang his hat on for an idea. See even though he thought he was a ball of fire there were twelve million others as well and, well, the producers weren’t looking for untried young kids from nowhere.

Lightbulb idea. Perform a show on their own. For a cause, for charity (helping inner city kids get some fresh country air for a few weeks the hook). The thing got off the ground no problem especially when the romantic interest Penny, Miss Garland’s role, comes on board after deep-sixing the big freeze she had for old Tommy at first. Needless to say after the twelve necessary snafus that threatened to cancel the show were cleared the thing worked and all aboard went to real Broadway and the big lights. For today’s audience though the last segment, the last bright idea would not go down well, not at all. Tommy, Penny, and a whole lot of white breads don blackface to perform a minstrel show. WTF. 

WTF as well is why Timmy Riley who I barely remember but who was at our house many times decided that he would hitch his star as a drag queen to that of Miss Garland. She could sing and dance but there was something not there there that I could not quite put my finger on but was scratching my head over when I thought about it later. In any case as Allan Jackson told me Timmy is running the number one drag club in Frisco and turning away tourist business dying to see the show like crazy. And yes Timmy lent Allan the money to keep the wolves from his door just like Allan did when Timmy was on the ropes.

Friday, June 04, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery Redux-With The Doors’ The End In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery Redux-With The Doors’ The End In Mind

Introduction by Allan Jackson

[I have gotten away a little from the way that the music of our generation, the generation of ’68 which came of age in the 1950s in the classic age of rock and roll to look at what some would call the sociology of poverty that also played an important part in the way we viewed the world. I keep referring back to that key corner boy high school experience bonded us together for a lifetime witness Sam Lowell, Frank Jackman, Si Lannon and Bart Webber who are all veterans of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor hang-out and who write occasionally in this publication. Not all of us were as full-formed, fully-engulfed as Peter Paul Markin, Scribe as we always called him in whatever poverty, by what I have called here the eternal wanting habits which is the fate of those down in the mud, down in the bottom of the social pecking order but we were nevertheless etched by the experience some way.

I keep thinking about Red Riley (no relation to Frankie who led our corner by acclamation Riley was a very common name in the Irish Catholic-etched Acre neighborhood where we grew up). Red was older, a few years older, and he and his corner boys, corner toughs really, who hung out at Harry Variety Store and raised seven kinds of hell to strangers and committed more than one celebrated  robbery none of which at the time drew him any jail time. I have mentioned before that Red was the roughest, meanest guy I ever ran across and that included the tough guys in the Army of which there were plenty. I know I was in awe of Red and his confederates, maybe six or seven guys with some turnover due to jail time. Like I said Red drew no jail time then but would later. Red Riley never got out of being a corner boy, never wanted to unless the Tonio corner boys who were really just glued together to survive and draw succor from each other. At fourteen I was in thrall of him though, dreamed of being in his corner since at that time I was no threat to him and so I was able to go into Harry’s without problems. Red was a pin ball wizard that may have something to do with since he would give me some free games when he had to go elsewhere or was getting ready for a caper. Later I don’t know what happened to Red although I had heard he did various sentences for armed robbery when his luck began to change. A while back when I had to go to the old neighborhood for something I asked somebody about Red’s fate. He had wound up a junkie of some sort and had died in a hail of bullets down in North Carolina while trying to rob a White Hen store for whatever reason he had. I was saddened no question when I had heard that Red had cashed his check.  

And that brings up my real point in this introduction. I came from that same place as Red (and the Scribe as well), that wanting habits place and was ready when young to do whatever was necessary to take that hurt away. I got caught up in one of Scribe’s well-planned but in this case not well executed burglaries when it turned out that Scribe had not factored in that the neighbors were watching the house for their neighbors and had called the coppers. The coppers looked for us for hours as we sidled home. Somebody said they had guns drawn at one point. So see it was a very close thing, a very close thing indeed about which way I would have fallen on this good green earth. Allan Jackman]    


In memory of Peter Paul Markin, 1946-1976 (?), North Adamsville High School Class of 1964:


This is the way the late Peter Paul Markin, although he never stood on ceremony and everybody in the corner boy night at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys down near Adamsville Beach called him plain old ordinary vanilla Markin, would have wanted to put his response to the question of what smell most distinctly came to his mind from the old neighborhoods if he were still around. Many a night, a late night around midnight usually, in the days and weeks after we got out of high school but before we went on to other stuff, maybe some of those nights having had trouble with some girl, either one of us, since we both came from all boy families and didn’t understand girls, or maybe were afraid of them, unlike guys who had sisters, who maybe didn’t understand them either but were around them enough to have figured a few things out about them we would stand holding up the wall in front of Jack Slack’s and talk our talk, talk truth as we saw it although we never really dignified the jive with the word truth.

Or maybe dateless some nights like happened a lot more than either of us, hell, any of us if it came right down to it, would admit to (I won’t even discuss the shroud we placed over the truth when talking, big talking, about “making it” when we were lucky to get a freaking kiss on the cheek from a girl half the time) we would talk. Sometimes with several guys around but mainly Markin and me, since we were the closest of the half dozen or ten guys who considered themselves Frankie Riley-led Jack Slack’s corner boys we would talk about lots of things.

Goofy stuff when you think about it but one night I don’t know if it was me or him that came up with the question about what smell did we remember from the old days, the old days being when we were in school, from around the neighborhood but I do remember we both automatically and with just a couple of minutes thought came up with our common choice- Ida’s Bakery. Ida’s over on Sagamore Street, just up the street from the old ball field and adjacent to the Parks and Recreations sheds where the stuff for the summer programs, you know, archery equipment, paints, sports equipment, craft-making stuff, how-to magazines and all were kept during the summer and after that, between seasons. Since both Markin and I when we went to Josiah Adams Elementary up the next block (named after some guy related to guys who ran the town way back when) would each summer participate in the program and as we grew older (and presumably more reliable) were put in charge of the daily storage of those materials during the summer and so got a preternatural whiff of whatever Ida was baking for sale for the next day. So yeah, we knew the smell of Ida’s place. And so too I can “speak” for old Markin just like if he was here today some fifty years later telling you his story himself.        

Unfortunately Markin laid down his head in a dusty back alley, arroyo, or cul-de-sac we never did really find out which with two slugs in his heart and nobody, not even his family, certainly not me and I loved the guy, wanted to go there to claim the body, worse, to start an investigation into what happened that day back in 1976 down Sonora way, that is in Mexico, for fear of being murdered in some back alley, arroyo, or cul-de-sac ourselves. See Markin had huge corner boy, “from hunger,” wanting habits back then, going back in the Jack Slack days. Hell I came up with him and had them too. But he also had a nose for drugs, had been among the first in our town as far as I know although I won’t swear to that now since some kids up the Point, some biker guys who always were on the cutting edge of some new kicks may have been doing smoke well before him to do, publicly do right out on Adamsville Common in broad daylight with some old beat cop sitting about two benches away, marijuana in the mid-1960s. That at a time, despite what we had heard was going on in the Boston Common and over in high Harvard Square,  when the rest of us were still getting our underage highs from illicit liquor (Southern Comfort, cheap gin, cheaper wine, Ripple, more than a few times, Thunderbird, when we were short on dough, nobody, including  our hobo knight in shining armor who “bought” for us as long as he got a bottle for his work, wanted to bother lugging cases of cheapjack beer, say Knickerbocker or Narragansett, out of a liquor store and pass it on to in obviously under-aged kids  so we all developed a taste for some kind of hard liquor or wine). Markin did too, liked his white wine. But he was always heading over to Harvard Square, early on sometimes with me but I didn’t really “get” the scene that he was so hopped up about and kind of dropped away when he wanted to go over, so later he would go alone late at night taking the all-night Redline subway over, late at night after things had exploded around his house with his mother, or occasionally, his three brother (and very, very rarely his father since he had to work like seven bandits to make ends meet for the grim reaper bill collectors, which they, the ends never did meet as far as I could tell and from what I knew about such activity from my own house, so he was left out of it except to back up Ma).

One night, one night some guy, Markin said some folk singer, Eric somebody, who made a name for himself around the Square, made a name around his “headquarters,” the Hayes-Bickford just a jump up from the subway entrance where all the night owl wanna-be hipsters, dead ass junkies, stoned-out winos, wizened con men and budding poets and songwriters hung out, turned him on to a joint, and he liked it, liked the feeling of how it settled him down he said (after that first hit, as he was trying to look cool, look like he had been doing joints since he was a baby, almost blew him away with the coughing that erupted from inhaling the harsh which he could never figure out (nor could I when my mary jane coughing spurt came) since he, like all of us, was a serious cigarette smoker, practically chain-smoking to while away the dead time and, oh yeah, to look cool to any passing chicks while we were hanging out in front of Jack Slack’s.

Of course that first few puffs stuff meant nothing really, was strictly for smooth-end kicks, and before long he had turned me, Frankie Riley, our corner boy leader, and Sam Lowell, another good guy, on and it was no big deal. And when the time came for us to do our “youth nation,” hippie, Jack Kerouac On The Road treks west the five of us, at one time or another, had grabbed all kinds of different dope, grabbed each new drug in turn like they were the flavor of the month, which they usually were. And nobody worried much about any consequences either since we all had studiously avoided acid in our drug cocktail mix.  Until Markin got stuck on cocaine, you know, snow, girl, cousin any of those names you might know that drug by where you live. No, that is not right, exactly right anyway. It wasn’t so much that Markin got stuck on cocaine as that his nose candy problem heightened his real needs, his huge wanting habits, needs that he had been grasping at since his ‘po boy childhood. And so to make some serious dough, and still have something left to “taste” the product as he used to call it when he offered some to me with the obligatory dollar bill as sniffing tool he began some low-level dealing,  to friends and acquaintances mainly and then to their friends and acquaintances and on and on.

Markin when he lived the West Coast, I think when he was in Oakland with Moon-Glow (don’t laugh we all had names, aliases, monikers like that back then to bury our crazy pasts, mine was Flash Dash for a while, and also don’t laugh because she had been my girlfriend before I headed back east to go to school after the high tide of the 1960s ebbed out around 1971 or so. And also don’t laugh because Moon-Glow liked to “curl my toes,” Markin’s too, and she did, did just fine), stepped up a notch, started “muling” product back and forth from Mexico for one of the early cartels. He didn’t say much about it, and I didn’t want to know much but for a while he was sending plane tickets for me to come visit him out there. Quite a step up from our hitchhike in all weathers heading west days. And of course join him in imbibing some product testing. That went on for a while, a couple of years, the last year or so I didn’t see him, didn’t go west because I was starting a job. Then one day I got a letter in the mail from him all Markin-y about his future plans, about how he was going to finally make a “big score,” with a case full of product that he had brought up Norte, he always said Norte like he was some hermano or something rather than just paid labor, cheap paid labor probably, and was too much the gringo to ever get far in the cartel when the deal went down. Maybe he sensed that and that ate at him with so much dough to be made, so much easy dough. Yeah, easy dough with those two slugs that Spanish Johnny, a guy who knew Markin in the Oakland days, had heard about when he was muling and passed on the information to us. RIP-Markin          

No RIP though for the old days, the old smells that I started telling you about before I got waylaid in my head about the fate of my missed old corner boy comrade poor old Markin. Here’s how he, we, no he, let’s let him take a bow on this one, figured it out one night when the world was new, when our dreams were still fresh:

“There are many smells, sounds, tastes, sights and touches stirred up on the memory’s eye trail in search of the old days in North Adamsville. Tonight though I am in thrall to smells, if one can be in thrall to smells and when I get a chance I will ask one of the guys about whether that is possible. The why of this thralldom is simply put. I had, a short while before, passed a neighborhood bakery on St. Brendan Street in a Boston neighborhood, a Boston Irish neighborhood to be clear, that reeked of the smell of sour-dough bread being baked on the premises. The bakery itself, designated as such by a plainly painted sign-Mrs. Kenney’s Bakery- was a simple extension of someone’s house like a lot of such operations by single old maid, widowed, divorced or abandoned women left for whatever reason to their own devises trying to make a living baking, sewing, tailoring, maybe running a beauty parlor, small change but enough to keep the wolves from the door, with living quarters above, and that brought me back to the hunger streets of the old home town and Ida’s holy-of-holies bakery over on Sagamore Street.

Of course one could not dismiss, or could dismiss at one’s peril just ask Frank, that invigorating smell of the salt-crusted air blowing in from North Adamsville Bay when the wind was up hitting us in front of Jack Slack’s bowling lanes and making us long to walk that few blocks to the beach with some honey who would help us pass the night. A wind too once you took girls out of the picture, although you did that at your peril as well, that spoke of high-seas adventures, of escape, of jail break-out from landlocked spiritual destitutes, of, well, on some days just having been blown in from somewhere else for those who sought that great eastern other shoreline. Or how could one forget the still nostril-filling pungent fragrant almost sickening smell emanating from the Proctor &Gamble soap factory across the channel down in the old Adamsville Housing Authority project that defined many a muggy childhood summer night air instead of sweet dreams and puffy clouds. Or that never to be forgotten slightly oily, sulfuric smell at low- tide down at the far end of North Adamsville Beach, near the fetid swamps and mephitic marshes in the time of the clam diggers and their accomplices trying to eke a living or a feeding out of that slimy mass. [Sorry I put those smelly adjectives in, Markin would have cringed.] Or evade the funky smell [A Markin word.] of marsh weeds steaming up from the disfavored Squaw Rock end of the beach, the adult haunts with their broods of children in tow. Disfavored, disfavored when it counted in the high teenage dudgeon be-bop 1960s night, post-school dance or drive-in movie love slugfest, for those who took their “submarine races” dead of night viewing seriously and the space between the yacht clubs was the only “cool” place to hang with some honey. And I do not, or will not spell the significance of that teen lingo “submarine race” expression even for those who did their teenage “parking” in the throes of the wild high plains Kansas night. You can figure that out yourselves.

Or the smell sound of the ocean floor at twilight (or dawn, if you got lucky) on those days when the usually tepid waves aimlessly splashed against the shoreline stones, broken clam shells, and other fauna and flora or turned around and became a real roaring ocean, acting out Mother Nature’s high life and death drama, and in the process acted to calm a man’s (or a man-child’s) nerves in the frustrating struggle to understand a world not of one’s own making. Moreover, I know I do not have to stop very long to tell you guys, the crowd that will know what I am talking about, to speak about the smell taste of that then just locally famous HoJo’s ice cream back in the days. Jimmied up and frosted to take one’s breath away. Or those char-broiled hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on your back-yard barbecue pit or, better, from one of the public pits down at the beach. But the smell that I am ghost-smelling today is closer to home as a result of a fellow classmate’s bringing this to my attention awhile back (although, strangely, if the truth be known I was already on the verge of “exploring" this very subject). Today, after passing that home front bakery, as if a portent, I bow down in humble submission to the smells from Ida’s Bakery.”

That’s good enough for the Markin part, the close up memory part. Here I am for the distant memory part: 

You, if you are of a certain age, at or close to AARP-eligible age, and neighborhood, Irish (or some other ethnic-clinging enclave) filled with those who maybe did not just get off the boat but maybe their parents did, remember Ida’s, right? Even if you have never set one foot in old North Adamsville, or even know where the place is. If you lived within a hair’s breathe of any Irish neighborhood and if you had grown up probably any time in the first half of the 20th century you “know” Ida’s. My Ida ran a bakery out of her living room, or maybe it was the downstairs and she lived upstairs, in the 1950s and early 1960s (before or beyond that period I do not know). An older grandmotherly woman when I knew her who had lost her husband, lost him to drink, or, as was rumored, persistently rumored although to a kid it was only so much adult air talk, to another woman. Probably it was the drink as was usual in our neighborhoods with the always full hang-out Dublin Grille just a couple of blocks up the street. She had, heroically in retrospect, raised a parcel of kids on the basis of her little bakery including some grandchildren that I played ball with over at Welcome Young Field also just up the street, and also adjacent to my grandparents’ house on Kendrick Street.

Now I do not remember all the particulars about her beyond the grandmotherly appearance I have just described, except that she still carried that hint of a brogue that told you she was from the “old sod” but that did not mean a thing in that neighborhood because at any given time when the brogues got wagging you could have been in Limerick just as easily as in North Adamsville. Also she always, veil of tears hiding maybe, had a smile for one and all coming through her door, and not just a commercial smile either. Nor do I know much about how she ran her operation, except that you could always tell when she was baking something in back because she had a door bell tinkle that alerted her when someone came in and she would come out from behind a curtained entrance, shaking flour from her hands, maybe, or from her apron-ed dress ready to take your two- cent order-with a smile, and not a commercial smile either but I already told you that.
Nor, just now, do I remember all of what she made or how she made it but I do just now, rekindled by Markin’s reference to that sour-dough yeasty smell, remember the smells of fresh oatmeal bread that filtered up to the playing fields just up the street from her store on Fridays when she made that delicacy. Fridays meant oatmeal bread, and, as good practicing Catholics like my family going back to the “famine ships,” and probably before, were obliged to not eat red meat on that sacred day, but fish, really tuna fish had that on Ida’s oatmeal bread. But, and perhaps this is where I started my climb to quarrelsome heathen-dom I balked at such a tuna fish desecration of holy bread. See, grandma would spring for a fresh loaf, a fresh right from the oven loaf, cut by a machine that automatically sliced the bread (the first time I had seen such a useful gadget). And I would get to have slathered peanut butter (Skippy, of course) and jelly (Welch’s Grape, also of course) on oatmeal and a glass of milk. Ah, heaven.

And just now I memory smell those white-flour dough, deeply- browned Lenten hot-cross buns white frosting dashed that signified that hellish deprived high holy catholic Lent was over, almost. Beyond that I have drawn blanks. Know this those. All that sweet sainted goddess (or should be) Ida created from flour, eggs, yeast, milk and whatever other secret devil’s ingredients she used to create her other simple baked goods may be unnamed-able now but they put my mother, my grandmother, your mother, your grandmother in the shade. And that is at least half the point. You went over to Ida’s to get high on those calorie-loaded goodies. And in those days with youth at your back, and some gnawing hunger that never quite got satisfied, back then that was okay. Believe me it was okay. I swear I will never forget those glass-enclosed delights that stared out at me in my sugar hunger. I may not remember much about the woman, her life, where she was from, or any of that. This I do know- in this time of frenzied interest in all things culinary Ida's simple recipes and her kid-maddening bakery smells still hold a place of honor. And with a tear in my eye as I say it fifty some years later my boy Markin did too.

“There Ain’t No Cure For The Summertime Blues”-Bill Murray’s “Meatballs” (1979)-A Film Review

“There Ain’t No Cure For The Summertime Blues”-Bill Murray’s “Meatballs” (1979)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Laura Perkins

Meatballs, starring Bill Murray, 1979

This film review of former Saturday Night Live comedian Bill Murray’s Meatballs from 1979 is a case study in what my long-time companion and fellow writer Sam Lowell calls the “slice of life” take. By that he means, I mean, that there is no other way to get the “hook” on which every film review depends, maybe every piece of literature if it came to that, to set the film in its time as a way to look at what society was about, what it allowed and what it missed. The reason for invoking this rationale is that clearly other than some of Murray’s comic antics and no means all of them have withstood the test of time is that neither the so-called story line nor any of the other characters as they were developed offered much reason to see this film again when Greg Green, the site manager here now, asked me to do the film as part of a retrospective on some of the fates of those who started out on SNL way back when.

Bill Murray’s role here is as the max daddy summer camp counselors of all summer camp counselors. A look at that profession circa 1980 in any case when parents did not have to worry as much about leaving their charges with a bunch of mad monks and monkesses if there is such a term for the latter worrying about predators and pedophiles, perverts and punks abusing their own. Of course if looked at from that angle there is no way any responsible parent would let their kids run amok with the crew, led by Murray, who grace this production. Among the counsellors are the usual case of characters that show up in any kid-centered movie. Among the counselors the nerd, the camp Romero, the camp flirt, the camp fat guy,  the chief counsellor (here Morty aka Mickey for some only kid-knowing reason), the tomboy girl, the female nerd if there is a distinction made between the two genders (and of course they never get together since “sames” don’t attract). Among the kids, well among the kids who get short shrift here at the expense of whatever the counselors are doing, mostly young feeling about on sexual matters, is one kid whom Murray takes under his wing, and whom he makes blossom before the end. All of this pretty ho-hum including the obligatory competition against “the camp across the lake” where the upper crust sent their kids. The upshot of the, the human interest side, is that  that kid actually bails the camp out and helps them win-finally- against that other upscale camp.                

Yeah ho-hum is right except these days with #MeToo and a million other such activist social media outlets on the alert I wonder, seriously wonder, whether some of the antics would pass muster, would make it on to the screen today in regard to the treatment of young women and to an extent young men. Now everybody knows, or should know although they act like it is something from a foreign planet that teens are all over the place about sex, interested in what it all about and fearful of what they don’t know or know from sources who many times know less than they do. There is much, maybe too much old-fashioned boy meets girl stuff here but also a lot that seems in 2018 rather intimidating and cruel in what pranks were played, how mostly young women were treated and how young men acted egged on by Murray’s aggressive if playful character. I am willing to admit having said that about the healthy interest in sexual understandings a lot of these antis today might pass to good-humored effect but maybe, just maybe we can no longer be cavalier about what we present on the screen. This is hardly the last word on the subject but since we are looking at this film from the perspective of what youth society looked like then, what was okay and what wasn’t then I don’t think I am being some modern day scold about the matter.         

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Happy 200th Birthday Karl Marx-From The Archives- The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx

Happy 200th Birthday Karl Marx-From The Archives- The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx

Workers Vanguard No. 1134
18 May 2018
The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx
(Quote of the Week)
May 5 marked the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. The excerpts below are taken from the beginning and conclusion of the Communist Manifesto, a seminal work that Marx co-wrote with his lifelong comrade, Friedrich Engels.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes....
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat....
The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers....
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)

From The Marxist Archives- Labor and Capital Have No Common Interests

From The Marxist Archives- Labor and Capital Have No Common Interests

Workers Vanguard No. 1133
4 May 2018
Labor and Capital Have No Common Interests
(Quote of the Week)
The trade unions are the mass defensive organizations of the working class. The trade-union bureaucracy undermines the power of the unions by its allegiance to the U.S. capitalist order, particularly expressed through support to the Democratic Party. In a 1942 lecture, James P. Cannon emphasized that the Trotskyists who led the successful 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes fought against illusions in the politicians and government agencies of the capitalist class enemy. The understanding that the interests of the workers and bosses are counterposed is vital to reviving the unions as battalions of class struggle and to the fight to forge a new leadership of labor.
All modern strikes require political direction. The strikes of that period brought the government, its agencies and its institutions into the very center of every situation. A strike leader without some conception of a political line was very much out of date already by 1934. The old fashioned trade union movement, which used to deal with the bosses without governmental interference, belongs in the museum. The modern labor movement must be politically directed because it is confronted by the government at every turn. Our people were prepared for that since they were political people, inspired by political conceptions. The policy of the class struggle guided our comrades; they couldn’t be deceived and outmaneuvered, as so many strike leaders of that period were, by this mechanism of sabotage and destruction known as the National Labor Board and all its auxiliary setups. They put no reliance whatever in Roosevelt’s Labor Board; they weren’t fooled by any idea that Roosevelt, the liberal “friend of labor” president, was going to help the truck drivers in Minneapolis win a few cents more an hour. They weren’t deluded even by the fact that there was at that time in Minnesota a Farmer-Labor Governor, presumed to be on the side of the workers.
Our people didn’t believe in anybody or anything but the policy of the class struggle and the ability of the workers to prevail by their mass strength and solidarity. Consequently, they expected from the start that the union would have to fight for its right to exist; that the bosses would not yield any recognition to the union, would not yield any increase of wages or reduction of the scandalous hours without some pressure being brought to bear. Therefore they prepared everything from the point of view of class war. They knew that power, not diplomacy, would decide the issue. Bluffs don’t work in fundamental things, only in incidental ones. In such things as the conflict of class interests one must be prepared to fight.
—James P. Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism (1944)

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Time Of Frankie’s Carnival Time-With The Silhouettes’ Get A Job In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Time Of Frankie’s Carnival Time-With The Silhouettes’ Get A Job In Mind  

Introduction by Allan Jackson

[Maybe the worse thing about growing up poor, poorer than church mice as my Grandma would have it with a slight sneer since she was referring to my poor father’s inability to adequately provide for his family of four boys and a wife since he was an uneducated man and she thought my mother had married beneath her station, for a kid was always wanting things that couldn’t be bought. Of course a kid doesn’t know, doesn’t want to know, would have not have given a fuck to put it starkly that it was a struggle to just keep a roof over the head and food on the table and only saw and heard that he or she could not have what some other Johnnie or Janie had on the consumer dream television. Of course a kid will still even if he or she becomes aware of the situation later doesn’t want to hear about all the thin air talk about how this or that was not affordable.

That conflict between those freaking wanting habits and the empty envelope come payday reality in the end determined my youthful fate (my mother like many mothers in the neighborhood had weekly envelopes which were usually short on each bill due but enough to keep the wolves from the door. When that was not enough I was send to say the landlord to give the pittance and some story so yes things were close, very close indeed especially in father unemployed times). When it came time to hang with guys, with corner boys I came up with a bunch of guys like the eternally mentioned Scribe and Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader of our crew mainly because he was tight with Tonio the guy who ran the pizza place where we hung out who treated him like a son. That “headquarters,” known or unknown  to good guy Tonio who had immigrated from Italy and had a great beauty of an Italian girlfriend whom despite her age we googled, was where Scribe would hatch some weird but workable plan to grab dough from the rich houses in town near the beach at Squaw Rock. After we almost got catch when Scribe led his one and only expedition when Frankie was out of town we swore that he would never lead another no matter how good the plan.

All of this to say the simple truth that living down in nowhere land at the base of society is not conductive to bringing out the better angels of our natures and those wanting habits twisted plenty of ordinary guys for a long time. So running away with the glamorous circus, carnival, sideshow was not some aberration or some far-fetched thing not when the con men, grifters and hustlers were showing all kinds of exciting tricks to kids who were ready to grab dough with every hand. Can you blame them. Allan Jackson]       

An old man walked, walked haltingly down a North Adamsville street, maybe Hancock Street, or maybe a street just off of it, maybe a long street like West Main Street, he has forgotten which exactly in the time between his walking and his telling me his story. A street near the high school anyway, North Adamsville High School, where he had graduated from back in the mist of time, the 1960s mist of time. A time when he was known, far and wide, as the king, the king hell king, if the truth be known, of the schoolboy be-bop night. And headquartered himself, properly headquartered himself as generations of schoolboy king hell kings had done previously, at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor as was his due as the reigning schoolboy king of the night. But that schoolboy corner boy king thing is an old story, an old story strictly for cutting up old touches, according to the old man, Frankie, yes, Francis Xavier Riley, as if back from the dead, and not fit, not fit by a long shot for what he had to tell me about his recent “discovery,” and its meaning.

Apparently as Frankie, let us skip the formalities and just call him Frankie, walked down that nameless, maybe unnamable street he was stricken by sight of a sign on a vagrant telephone pole announcing that Jim Byrd’s Carnival and Traveling Show was coming to town and setting up tent at the Veteran’s Stadium in the first week in June, this past June, for the whole week. And seeing this sign, this vagrant sign on this vagrant telephone pole, set off a stream of memories from when the king hell king of the schoolboy corner boy night was so enthralled with the idea of the “carny” life, of this very Jim Byrd’s Carnival and Traveling Show carnival life, that he had plans, serious plans, to run away, run away with it when it left town.
Under this condition, and of course there was always a condition: if Ma Riley, or Pa Riley if it came to it, although Pa was usually comfortably ensconced in the Dublin Pub over on Sagamore Street and was not a big factor in Frankie’s life when it came time for him to make his mark as king hell king, just bothered him one more time, bothered about what was never specified at least to me. Of course they never did, or Frankie never let on that they did, bother him enough to force the issue, and therefore never forced him on the road. But by then he was into being the corner boy king so that dream must have faded, like a lot of twelve- year old dreams.
In any case rather than running away with the carnival Frankie served his high school corner boy term as king hell king, went to college and then to law school, ran a successful mid-sized law practice, raised plenty of kids and political hell and never looked back. And not until he saw that old-time memory sign did he think of regrets for not having done what he said that “he was born for.” And rather than have the reader left with another in the endless line of cautionary tales, or of two roads, one not taken tales, or any of that, Frankie, Frankie in his own words, wants to expand on his carnival vision reincarnation and so we will let him speak :

“Who knows when a kid first gets the carnival bug, maybe it was down in cradle times hearing the firecrackers in the heated, muggy Fourth Of July night when in old, old time North Adamsville a group of guys, a group of guys called the “Associates,” mainly Dublin Pub guys, and at one time including my father, Joe Riley, Senior, grabbed some money from around the neighborhood. And from the local merchants like Doc over at Doc’s Drug Store, Mario over at Estrella’s Grocery Store, Mac, owner of the Dublin Pub, and always, always, Tonio, owner of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor. What they did with this money was to hire a small time, usually very small time, carnival outfit, something with a name like Joe’s Carny, or the like, maybe with a merry-go-round, some bumping cars, a whip thing, a few one-trick ponies, and ten or twelve win-a-doll-for-your-lady tents. On the side maybe a few fried dough, pizza, sausage and onions kind of eateries, with cotton candy to top it off. And in a center tent acts, clown acts, trapeze acts with pretty girls dangling every which way, jugglers, and the like. Nothing fancy, no three-ring circus, or monster theme amusement park to flip a kid’s head stuff. Like I say small time, but not small time enough to not enflame the imagination of every kid, mainly every boy kid, but a few girls too if I remember right, with visions of setting up their own show.

Or maybe it was when this very same Jim Byrd, a dark-haired, dark-skinned (no, not black, not in 1950s North Adamsville, christ no, but maybe a gypsy or half-gypsy, if that is possible), a friendly guy, slightly wiry, a slightly side-of-his-mouth-talking guy just like a lawyer, who actually showed me some interesting magic tricks when I informed him, aged eight, that I wanted to go “on the road” with him first brought his show to town. Brought it to Veteran’s Stadium then too. That’s when I knew that that old time Associates thing, that frumpy Fourth of July set-up-in-a-minute-thing-and-then-gone was strictly amateur stuff. See Jim’s Carny had a Ferris wheel, Jim had a Mini-Roller Coaster, and he had about twenty-five or thirty win-a-doll, cigarettes, teddy bears, or candy tents. But also shooting galleries, gypsy fortune-telling ladies with daughters with black hair and laughing eyes selling roses, or the idea of roses. And looking very foxy, the daughters that is, although I did not know what foxy was then. Oh yah, sure Jim had the ubiquitous fried dough, sausage and onion, cardboard pizza stuff too. Come on now this was a carnival, big time carnival, big time to an eight-year old carnival. Of course he had that heartburn food. But what set Jim’s operation off was that central tent. Sure, yawn, he had the clowns, tramp clowns, Clarabelle clowns, what have you, and the jugglers, juggling everything but mainly a lot of whatever it was they were juggling , and even the acrobats, bouncing over each other like rubber balls. The big deal, the eight- year old big deal though, was the animals, the real live tigers and lions that performed in a cage in center stage with some blonde safari-weary tamer doing the most incredible tricks with them. Like, well, like having them jump through hoops, and flipping over each other and the trainer too. Wow.

But now that I think about it seriously the real deal of the carny life was neither the Associates or Jim Byrd’s, although after I tell you about this Jim’s would enter into my plans because that was the carnival, the only carnival I knew, to run away with. See what really got me going was down in Huntsville, a town on the hard ocean about twenty miles from North Adamsville, there was what would now be called nothing but an old-time amusement park, a park like you still might see if you went to Seaside Heights down on the Jersey shore. This park, this Wild Willie’s Amusement Park, was the aces although as you will see not a place to run away to since everything stayed there, summer open or winter closed. I was maybe nine or ten when I first went there but the story really hinges on when I was just turning twelve, you know, just getting ready to make my mark on the world, the world being girls. Yes, that kind of turning twelve.

But nine or twelve this Wild Willie’s put even Jim Byrd’s show to shame. Huge roller-coasters (yes, the plural is right, three altogether), a wild mouse, whips, dips, flips and very other kind of ride, covered and uncovered, maybe fifteen or twenty, all based on the idea of trying to make you scared, and want to go on again, and again to“ conquer” that scared thing. And countless win things (yah, cigarettes, dolls, teddy bears, candy, and so on in case you might have forgotten). I won’t even mention that hazardous to your health but merciful, fried dough, cardboard pizza (in about twenty flavors), sausage and onions, cotton candy and salt water taffy because, frankly I am tired of mentioning it and even a flea circus or a flea market today would feel compelled to offer such treats so I will move on.

What it had that really got me going, at first anyway, was about six pavilions worth of pinball machines, all kinds of pinball machines just like today there are a zillion video games at such places. But what these pinball machines had (beside alluring come-hither and spend some slot machine dough on me pictures of busty young women on the faces of the machines) were guys, over sixteen year old teenage guys, mainly, some older, some a lot older at night, who could play those machines like wizards, racking up free games until the cows came home. I was impressed, impressed to high heaven. And watching them, watching them closely were over sixteen- year old girls, some older, some a lot older at night, who I wondered, wondered at when I was nine but not at twelve, might not be interfering with their pinball magic. Little did I know then that the pinball wizardry was for those sixteen year old, some older, some a lot older, girls.

But see, if you didn’t already know, nine or twelve-year old kids were not allowed to play those machines. You had to be sixteen (although I cadged a few free games left on machines as I got a little older, and I think the statute of limitations has run out on this crime so I can say I was not sixteen years or older). So I gravitated toward the skee ball games located in one of those pinball pavilions, games that anybody six to sixty or more could play. You don’t know skees. Hey where have you been? Skee, come on now. Go over to Seaside Heights on the Jersey shore, or Old Orchard up on the Maine coast and you will have all the skees you want, or need. And if you can’t waggle your way to those hallowed spots then I will give a little run-down. It’s kind of like bowling, candle-pin bowling (small bowling balls for you non-New Englanders) with a small ball and it’s kind of like archery or darts because you have to get the balls, usually ten or twelve to a game, into tilted holes.

The idea is to get as high a score as possible, and in amusement park land after your game is over you get coupons depending on how many points you totaled. And if you get enough points you can win, well, a good luck rabbit’s foot, like I won for Karen stick-girl one time (a stick girl was a girl who didn’t yet have a shape, a womanly shape, and maybe that word still is used, okay), one turning twelve-year old time, who thought I was the king of the night because I gave her one from my “winnings,” and maybe still does. Still does think I am king of the hill. But a guy, an old corner boy guy that I knew back then, a kind of screwy guy who hung onto my tail at Salducci’s like I was King Solomon, a guy named Markin who hung around me from middle school on, already wrote that story once.

Although he got one part wrong, the part about how I didn’t know right from left about girls and gave this Karen stick girl the air when, after showering her with that rabbit’s foot, she wanted me to go with her and sit on the old seawall down at Huntsville Beach and according to Markin I said no-go. I went, believe me I went, and we both practically had lockjaw for two weeks after we got done. But you know how stories get twisted when third parties who were not there, had no hope of being there, and had questionable left from right girl knowledge themselves start their slanderous campaigns on you. Yes, you know that scene, I am sure.

So you see, Karen stick and lockjaw aside, I had some skill at skees, and the way skees and the carny life came together was when, well let me call her Gypsy Love, because like the name of that North Adamsville vagrant telephone pole street where I saw the Byrd’s carnival in town sign that I could not remember the name of I swear I can’t, or won’t remember hers. All I remember is that jet-black long hair, shiny dark-skinned glean (no, no again, she was not black, christ, no way, not in 1950s Wild Willie’s, what are you kidding me?), that thirteen-year old winsome smile, half innocent, half-half I don’t know what, that fast-forming girlish womanly shape and those laughing, Spanish gypsy black eyes that would haunt a man’s sleep, or a boy’s. And that is all I need to remember, and you too if you have any imagination. See Gypsy Love was the daughter of Madame La Rue, the fortune-teller in Jim Byrd’s carnival. I met her in turning twelve time when she tried to sell me a rose, a rose for my girlfriend, my non-existent just then girlfriend. Needless to say I was immediately taken with her and told her that although I had no girlfriend I would buy her a rose.

And that, off and on, over the next year is where we bounced around in our “relationship.” One day I was down at Wild Willie’s and I spotted her and asked her why she wasn’t on the road with Jim Byrd’s show. Apparently Madame LaRue had had a falling out with Jim, quit the traveling show and landed a spot at Wild Willie’s. And naturally Gypsy Love followed mother, selling flowers to the rubes at Wild Willie’s. So naturally, naturally to me, I told Gypsy Love to follow me over to the skees and I would win her a proper prize. And I did, I went crazy that day. A big old lamp for her room. And Gypsy Love asked me, asked me very nicely thank you, if I wanted to go down by the seawall and sit for a while. And let’s get this straight, no third party who wasn’t there, no wannabe there talk, please, I followed her, followed her like a lemming to the sea. We had lockjaw for a month afterward to prove it. And you say, you dare to say I was not born for that life, that carnival life. Ha.