Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Ruth’s Remembrances-With Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” In Mind

Ruth’s Remembrances-With Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” In Mind

By Guest Film Critic Lance Lawrence   

[Regular readers of this blog (and of the on-line American Film Gazette) can be excused if they are a little perplexed about this posting or at least the title of this posting since it appeared her in its original form a month or so ago. The reason that the piece is getting what I would call an encore performance is that the writer, Lance Lawrence, who has placed occasional pieces here in the past, felt that he had short-changed Ruth Snyder by writing her off as just another frustrated middle-aged dame going through an inevitable mid-life crisis down in nowhere Texas and had latched onto the first male than gives her a passing glance.  Here the glance was by a younger guy, hell, she was robbing the cradle since he was still in high school, still wet behind the ears. Wrote her off too as just another backwoods Texas gal doing what generations of Texas women have done before her and instead let the youngster, Sonny, the inevitable Sonny or Bubba or Mac of the Texas panhandle, steal her thunder. Lance hopes that this revised edition reflects better on the virtues of this hardy Texas woman who might have come up the hard-scrabble way in the West Texas night but who has some virtues in the clutch maybe formed out of that hard-scrabble existence. Peter Markin]      

Ruth Snyder had all the prejudices of any West Texas girl growing up in the hard-scrabble Great Depression of the 1930s when money had been scarcer, maybe more so, than hen’s teeth. Had all the so-called secrets of such girls as well. She had been Anchor City born and raised out in the places where the oilfields out-numbered the number of residents. As part of that Anchor City (silly nautical name for a town out in the middle of Blue Norther country but there you have it. Legend had it that some restless Yankee sea captain who had had enough of the sea had founded the place and in a fit of nostalgia named the town that rather than after himself like half the foolish towns like Houston, Austin, Johnson City, and Galveston in the state).

Prejudice number one, aside from not allowing the “colored” to get a toehold in the town but that was usual all over the South and not Anchor City-bound, was drilled into her by her hard-shell Pentecostal parents who had gotten religion when West Texas was “burned over” in the Third Awakening, third Texas Awakening and that was marriage was forever. Forever meaning until one or the other of the two contracted parties kick-off. Not before. (As to that “colored” prejudice Ruth had played with Ella Speed the daughter of a black woman who took in washing in the small Negro-town section which her mother resorted to when she was too sick to do it herself but that ended well before puberty when such race-mixing was frowned upon. She never in public or private expressed hostility to the black race although she stuck to the “code” like everybody else in town. There had in any case been few Negros in town since the days in the late 1920s when the KKK strung up a couple of Negro men allegedly for touching white women.)          

So Ruth Snyder, not the prettiest girl in town, not by a long shot, in fact rather plain like some Grant Wood painting of some woe begotten up against it farmer and his drag on the household unmarried daughter with no prospects, pure prairie plain which was in man-short West Texas (marrying man-short West Texas the other kind, the women of easy virtue, the whorehouse kind in oil fields male Texas as everywhere were plentiful enough) good enough with proper household training to get a man. (She was a good-housekeeper and cook little good it did her in the end.) But get this Ruth Snyder, Plain Jane Ruth Snyder snagged herself a football player, Tom Snyder, who starred for the Anchor City Hawks before heading to Texas A&M and a short career made shorter by a crippling knee injury. Who would have figured that Tom in those brave football days would court Ruth Snyder. Ruth would soon after their marriage come to try to figure that one out herself. Tried to figure out that all Tom wanted from a woman, no, a wife, was to just keep his house clean, his socks darned and his rifles well-oiled. While Tom in very West Texas good old boys fashion would head out with his fellow good old boys and proceed to get well-oiled in another way or two.     

Married at just short of twenty years of age Ruth was now reaching that funny quirky time, forty. Things had only gotten worse between Tom and her as time went by and especially after several serious campaigns by alumni Tom had cornered himself into being both the football and basketball coach at old Anchor City High. Thus not only did Ruth suffer the pangs of loneliness during his weekly hunting and fishing trips but for well over half the year he would be too busy with his coaching to pay even minimal attention to Ruth. Not a good thing, not a good thing at all for somebody who was entering funny quirky time.  (Although she did not lack for female friends around the neighborhood something inside her made her keep her distance, keep things to herself which she committed only to her diary or expressed in her finely wrought poetry which kept her afloat on those lonely long weeks alone.)  

One of the things that was required of a coach’s wife in those days, those early 1950s days when all the way from kid sandlot football to University of Texas University all Texas was aflutter in football was to attend the Friday night games. Ruth unlike other mothers and wives rather enjoyed watching the game which had been part of the reason that she had grabbed onto Tom with both hands when he first asked her out those many years before. Of late, this season, this season of her reaching forty she found herself looking rather longingly at the young men on the field and thinking of those days when her own heart had been all aflutter when she spied Tom Snyder doing his pre-game warm-ups. In particular this year, this 1951 year when the team was pretty poor even by Anchor City standards she was drawn to two players, Duane, Duane Wilson, and Sonny, Sonny Burgess. Not because they were any great shakes as football players, they seemed to be in way over their heads when matched up against any decent teams but because they had similar physiques to her Tom’s when he was a star (the years of good old boy-dom had not been kind to Tom and he was now a certified member of the pot-bellied, sloughing forty something guys who could not have gotten out of their own ways if something had come up to startle them). Here’ the point though our Ruth started to have certain “improper” fantasies about those two young men. Yeah, that funny quirky forty thing.     

Ruth also knew that Duane had this thing, this crush on Jackie, Jackie Germaine, the head cheer leader who in that day, in her day when she was younger, and her now was nothing but a cock-teaser, a femme or whatever they called such “come hither” to be sliced and diced girls. She would lead him a merry chase, make him cry “Uncle,” literally since in the end he volunteered like a good West Texas young man back then to join the Army to get the taste of Jackie out of his system. Got his ass hauled to frozen Korea when hot war was afoot there to freeze his brain over to forget her. (As Duane told Sonny in one of his few, very few, candid and reflective moments before he shipped out for the unknown future he would never totally short of the grave get Jackie out of his system and years later would say the same thing even when by that time she had been married three times, had a parcel of kids and even at the high side of forty was making guys make sophomoric fools out of themselves). As he told Sonny he would rather just then face the red hordes in Korea than to see her with another man. That “another man” in the space of a few short months between the end of high school and going off to college entail screwing Duane, screwing rich boy Randy, his friend Tom, who wanted to marry her, Adonis one of her father’s wild-cat oil riggers, hell, even Sonny which is where Duane and Sonny’s friendship since elementary school was sorely tested. Yeah thought Ruth who would get her information about the younger set, older set, every set from Jennie who ran the Last Chance Café one of the few reasons to stop in the pass through town who had the dope on everything happening in town. 
So Ruth almost by default kept her eye on Sonny Burgess, looking for a way to get to him in a proper manner, at least for public consumption. As it turned out Tom, her no bullshit husband who was the vehicle for bringing Ruth and Sonny together. Out of pure laziness or cussedness, take your pick. One day Tom asked Sonny to take Ruth to the nearest hospital in Waverly some fifty miles away in order for her to check up on some “female” problem she was having. Tom’s reason for not taking her himself was that he was too busy with basketball practice to do so. The lure for Sonny was that Coach would get him out of classes for the remainder of the day. The trip started out uneventfully enough with Sonny doing chauffer duty-and acting strictly in that manner. After getting Ruth home safe and sound though she asked him if he would like something to eat. Sure, like any growing kid, any teenage kid. Nothing happened that day but between whatever mother hunger mother-less Sonny had and whatever real man hunger Ruth had a few weeks later they would met at the annual town Christmas Party (the same party where the perfidious Jackie blew Duane off for some party with Randy and reportedly “played the flute” with him the universal high expression for giving a blow job) and gave each other such looks that when Ruth asked Sonny if he would take her to her doctor’s appointment the next he answered with yes without hesitation. And so Ruth and Sonny would start an affair, an affair of the heart which would last on and off again for several years. Tom either never found out about it or didn’t care if he did know which hurt Ruth at first blush when she had been half doing that affair to make him jealous. That open secret though would keep the customers at the Last Chance Café going for many months once Jennie retailed the story. Funny nobody took umbrage that Ruth was bedding a young man half her age. But here is where we get into Ruth’s knowledge of the West Texas girl-woman prejudices. The reason that the Ruth-Sonny affair, was the hot topic for only a few months was that Ellie, Jackie’s mother had started an affair with a young oil well driller, Rufus Wright, employed by her husband. So Ruth was just following West Texas girl prejudice. What do think about that.        

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Intellectuals Next Time-With Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis’ Film Adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s “The Petrified Forest” (1936)In Mind

The Intellectuals Next Time-With Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis’ Film Adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s “The Petrified Forest” (1936)In Mind               

DVD Review

By Film Critic Sandy Salmon

The Petrified Forest, starring Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, from the play by Robert E. Sherwood, 1936

The 1930s were a tough time all around. Tough for hungry mouths and wandering nomads during the Great Depression that sucked all the everyday air out of society. Made a lot of crazy things happen like the rise of right wing populism, you know, the Nazi, fascist, nationalist, ethnic cleansing crowd who wreaked havoc on an unsuspecting world then and their grandchildren and great grandchildren are prepping up for a revival here in the early part of the 21st century. It was a time of retreats, mostly, certainly a time of retreat for the intellectuals, at least those intellectuals who believed that something close to human perfection with the rise of the machine age to create greater leisure and time for thoughtfulness could happen before the millennium. They got those hopes battered first by the deeply disturbing  horrors of World War I which decimated the flower of that generation and then by the popular reversions to blood and soil, allegiance solely to the tribe and the struggle of the survival of the fittest (this time not with clubs but with guns and death-wielding high tech destruction capacities). The film under review, the adaptation of the Robert E. Sherwood play The Petrified Forest set in, well, the ancient Petrified Forest out in Arizona when only the hearty (or weary) survive takes a candid look at the defeat of the intellectuals and the disturbing reemergence of the survival of the fittest doctrine writ large and writ in a way that old Charles Darwin would have been horrified by back in the 1930s.           

The plotline is simplicity itself when you think about it. Alan, a disillusioned vagabond intellectual, a writer, played by Leslie Howard, kind of drifting along in a world that he no longer recognizes as his home finds himself in a diner on the edge of the forest where a bright young writer-painter, Gabby, played by Bette Davis, is wasting away as a waitress in her father’s business and daydreaming about heading to France to be reunited with her cultivated mother. Problem: she has no dough or nobody give her the dough and so she stagnates out on the edge of the world.  He, and she, immediately sense they are kindred spirits but there in those times nothing that could be done about it. Additionally Alan has had all his dreams punctured and he is just playing out his string.           

Enter Duke Mantee, played by rising new start Humphrey Bogart, a deadeye gangster who is on the run from every police agency in the area for having created every possible act of murder and mayhem in his time. He holds the denizens of the diner captive awaiting some frill to meet him there before they head south of the border. While he is waiting Alan hits upon the bright idea that the best way that he can help the smitten Gabby is to have Duke kill him so that Gabby can claim his insurance policy and start a new life. After some off-hand negotiations Duke agrees to do the job. No sweat off his brow, all in a day’s work. When the coppers come to get him Duke does his dastardly deed while using some customer-hostages as human shields to get away. Alan symbolically dies in Gabby’s arms knowing that his act, his gesture, will insure her future. Insure maybe, just maybe that the next time the world turns in on itself in a fit of hubris that the intellectuals will not retreat like he did. Yes, the intellectuals next time.        

Monday, September 07, 2020

All Eyes Are On Frog Pond Golf Course This Weekend

All Eyes Are On Frog Pond Golf Course This Weekend

By “Sports Editor” Si Lannon 

[This site has not generally over the past several years given much space to sports at any level. You can get all the sports you want at plenty of locations and on all kinds of media 24/7/365and then some. We did attempt several years ago to provide space for Larry Rodgers now with the on-line Sports At A Glance during a couple of college football seasons with his predictions about the placement of the top 25 teams in the big-time football area but with the coming of a truncated version of the playoff system (still based on some Top 25 formula to pick the final four top teams for the two-round playoff) a lot of the steam (and fun) of picking the Top 25 any given weekend had gone out of that effort.    

Si Lannon, normally a guest film critic and occasional music one as well is a nut for golf if you can believe that of an adult man, a very adult man, in this day in age. An otherwise mature and solid citizen chasing after a little white ball that never did anybody any harm in order to put said ball in a hole this size of a coffee cup. And they say that destruction of perfectly good grasslands, sandy beaches and a harmless fetid pond or lake passes for fun among a certain set. Si asked, no, begged, me to let him have a go at a short piece concerning a local club tournament that he was interested in writing about to stretch out his range he was bold enough to tell me. His winning argument though, a surprising one, a surprising one when he told me the number of people chasing white balls that did nobody any harm, was that some twenty-five million Americans give up rational thought at least once a year to play the game. Here is your shot at glory Si. Fore! Peter Paul Markin]      

Forget Mayweather-MacGregor (after all a tightly-wired ready to spring professional prizefighter, a pugilist, should beat some sorry street tough with kickass legs hands down), forget Warriors-Cavs (after all how hard is it for nine feet tall guys to bump into a fruit basket placed ten feet above the parquet), forget the Super Bowl (of whatever Roman numeral after all they are only playing to kill time between commercials), forget the World Series (after all how hard can it be to hit a 95 mph fastball to the heavens), forget the Stanley Cup, (yes forget it since I don’t know a damn thing about the game except most of the guys should do three to five years not minutes for their thuggery), and forget holy of holies, the four golf Majors (after all how hard is it for guys to go begging hat in hand to FedEx, Audi, Firemen’s Insurance, et. al for a nice paycheck for finishing tied for 26th in some goof tournament). Yes, forget all those “fake news” sports because this weekend, this weekend as sunny summer begins to turn autumnal (nice word, right) in New England all eyes will be on the Frog Pond Golf Course nestled in the sleepy Hollow Village section of post-doctoral heavy Cambridge for the annual winner-take-all four-ball team net club championship.         

For those not in the know either about golf or various ways to pass the time like four-ball this format begins with the qualify round to winnow (nice word again, right) the field down to sixteen two-man teams (it could be distaff members as well but none appeared in the lists this year) who were able to hang on after a nail-biting eighteen holes of best ball (the best score by one of the members of the team counting on each hole) using eighty percent of each team member’s handicap (for example a 30 handicapper, a high handicapper, would get twenty-four strokes toward the team’s net score, not gross, that is for those professional players waiting in line for their hand-outs). Those sixteen teams go mano a mano against one another in match play (for example the number one team goes against number sixteen and so on) with the loser eliminated until third week when the final two teams standing fight a battle to the death for the justly coveted and well-deserved championship. Again for the unknowing the treacherous uphill road to victory once the teams square off will be based on the handicap of the best player in the foursome. For example if twenty is the lowest handicap then, say, a twenty-four handicapper would get four shots in tow for the match. Those would be determined by the four hardest holes on the course as listed by the scorecard. Say a player on one team gets a five but “gets a stroke on the hole” which means four then that person would win the hole if say each opponent had a five. If they had four then the hole would be halved-no blood. This madness, and some days it is shear madness that would ensnare even the best minds at Apple or Microsoft, goes on until the eighteen hole unless the match is shortened once a team cannot win. Say a team is down three with two holes to go-done-the match is over and the losers get to hang their heads low and try to avoid eye contact with others out on the course so they don’t have to publicize their abysmal defeat on that long endless road back to the clubhouse and further snarky looks from the flea-bitten denizens around the clubhouse bar most of whom did not make the qualifying cut.     

Get this, unlike those beggarly professionals each participant forks over twenty dollars US (or its equivalent in pounds sterling, stray Euros, francs, no that is no longer current, pesos, silver, spare change or Monopoly money, should that last one as the name of a game be italicized). And the sixteen qualifying teams get to fork over ten dollars US for a cash pool (or its equivalent in pounds sterling, stray Euros, francs, no that is no longer current, pesos, silver, spare change or Monopoly money, should that last one as the name of a game be italicized). Simple except for that eighty percent stuff that requires a handy computer to figure the numbers especially when you have a decimal involved. That and the unspoken eternal vigilance necessary to make sure the opponents who are capable of any crime up to and including murder, murder most foul in their misguided quests for glory play by the rules. (We will leave the rule book for the aficionados and move on.)                    

The first round of matches begin on a cold granite gray early morning Sunday at normally placid Frog Pond (where beside the dissolute seemingly homeless golfers you can find misbegotten dog-walkers screaming at their charges to behave, pitiful ancient joggers plodding along about three miles an hour and assorted younger health nuts doing bizarre twists and turns on the leafy tree-lined road adjacent to the golf course) but I don’t really give a damn about those so-called mano a mano matches since the two teams I have decided to feature here should have “walk-overs.” What I want to look at is the “prelim”-the match-up between the two teams which should meet after a grueling three weeks in the final pairing. Come brisk Saturday morning all eyes will be upon the team of Robert and Kaz pitted against Zhou (no relation to the late former Chinese foreign minister I don’t think although maybe that team could use some of his luck since Zhou reportedly was never on the losing side of a faction fight inside the Chinese Communist Party which took some doing) and Sand-Bagger Jackson. The battle of the century, the clash of the titans, the fight to the death for glory and fame hardly are superlatives enough to describe this impending show-down.    

On the face of it, “off the form” as they say in horse racing (that’s another forget sport while I am at it-how hard is it for fast horses to run fast and what of it) this practice nine should be a “walk-over” for the first named pair. Robert-Kaz under the leadership of what more than one commentator has called the redoubtable Monsieur Roberge the mercurial Kaz shot his best round of the season as that team won the very lucrative qualifying medal and the number one seed (hence facing the number sixteen team and thus “walk-over” is an appropriate way to name the other team’s fate. Moreover the wily Frenchman (via Quebec) Robert is coming off a sparkling fourth place performance in the well-regarded City of Cambridge Quota tournament (no, not immigrants in sanctuary city Cambridge but a complicated to the novice format based on total points which need not be explained here now) and Kaz (nobody seems to know how to get pass those first three letter orally or in writing and so universally Kaz) had a very respectable semi-final finish in the individual net match play club championship earlier in the sun-bleached summer. For the other team Zhou had won a match play format in the spring but everybody knows that is ancient history come the fall and the hapless Sand-Bagger is coming off a lackluster tie for fourteenth in that aforementioned Quota tournament and has been a bust all season. (A couple of seasons ago to show how easy it is to fall from the mountain top Sand-Bagger was being favorable compared to Byron Nelson, he of the record eleven straight PGA championships, when he was winning everything in sight but that too is ancient history in the “only as good as your last round” world of competitive golf. The scuttlebutt in the club house then among the touts, con artists and junkies swapping lies around the ancient highly polished mahogany bar was that Sand-Bagger would have to play all future tourneys with a single club- a nine iron. Yes, how the mighty have fallen.)    

Still I am willing to bet six, two and even that it is not wise to count old hard-bitten warriors like Zhou-Sand-Bagger out. I’ll put my money where my mouth is and bet a fiver on that proposition.

The President Of Rock And Roll- Chuck Berry’s “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll” (1987)-A Music Film Review

The President Of Rock And Roll- Chuck Berry’s “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll” (1987)-A Music Film Review 

DVD Review

By Associate Music Critic Lance Lawrence 

Hail, Hail Rock and Roll, starring Chuck Berry with a big part for The Rolling Stone’s Keith Richard and appearances by a number of rock and roll legends like Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Etta James, directed by Taylor Hackford, 1987 

Earlier this year (2017) when the legendary “first wave” rock and roller Chuck Berry passed away I startled a number of my colleagues by declaring Chuck Berry the first black president here in America.  (That “first wave” meaning present at the creation 1950s times not the later 1960s revival with the British Invasion led by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones which also lifted Mr. Berry and others back to the limelight from those who worshipped that earlier sound in Europe after it had faded almost from view in America except among a few aficionados.) Of course my frame of reference was not directly political since we all know that Bill Clinton was the first “black” president but rather that Chuck Berry was the first president of rock and roll, the thing that counted for the young back in the 1950s.   

At that time not only had I startled some colleagues with that little bombshell but I apparently nettled the regular music critic here (and at the on-line American Music Gazette) and my boss, Zack James, when I argued that while Elvis may have been the “king” back in the day Chuck was the Chief. Here is what I said there:

“I am one who, belatedly, has come to recognize that Elvis (I don’t think I need to mention a last name but if you need one just ask your parents or grandparents and you will get your answer in two seconds flat) was indeed the “king” of rock and roll. He took, as Sam Phillips the legendary founder of Sun Records and first finder of Elvis in old Memphis town who has been quoted many, many times as saying, the old black rhythm and blues songs and put a white, a white rockabilly, face on the genre and made the crossover in a big way. So I will not argue that point with Zack. Will not argue either that Elvis’ act, those swirling rotating off their axis hips make all the girls, hell, all the women sweat. Point Zack.                          

“But see I am a good republican (with a very purposeful small ‘r”) and as such I believe that the “divine right of kings,” the theory that Zack is apparently working under was discredited a few hundred years ago when Oliver Cromwell and his crowd took old Charles I’s head off his shoulders. And while I would have wished no such fate for the “king” his influence other than for purely sentimental reasons these days is pretty limited.

“A look at this CD selection will tell a more persuasive tale. Sure early Elvis, Good Rockin’ Tonight, Jailhouse Rock, It Alright, Mama spoke to 1950s teenage angst and alienation read: lovesickness, but beyond that he kind of missed the boat of what teenagers, teenagers around my way and around Zack’s older brother’s way, wanted to hear about. Guys wanted to hear about anyway. Cars, getting girls in cars, and hanging out at places like drive-in theaters and drive-in restaurants looking for girls. In short thoughts of sex and sexual adventure. This may seem kind of strange today. Not the sex and sexual adventure part but the car and drive-ins part.

“Those were the days of the “golden age” of the automobile when every guy, girls too, wanted to learn how to drive and get a car, or at least use the family car for those Friday and Saturday night cruising expeditions for which we lived. (I hear anecdotally all the time about 20 somethings who don’t have their driver’s license and are not worried by that horrendous fact. Could care less about car ownership in the age of Uber and Lift. Madness, sheer madness).  Cars for running to the drive-in to check out who was at the refreshment stand, cars for hitting “lovers’ lane if you got lucky. For that kind of adventure you needed something more than safe Elvis, safe Elvis who made your own mother secretly sweat so you know where he was at. Say you found some sweet sixteen, found some sweet little rock and roller, say you found that your parents’ music that was driving you out of the house in search of, say you were in search of something and you really did want to tell Mister Beethoven to hit the road. Needed some help to figure out why that ever-loving gal was driving you crazy when all you really wanted to worry about was filling the gas tank and making sure that heap of your was running without major repairs to cramp your style.             

“Take a look at the lyrics in the selections in this CD: Maybelline, Sweet Little Sixteen, Sweet Little Rock and Roller, Nadine, Johnny B. Goode, Roll over Beethoven. Then try to tell me that the man with the duck walk, the man with the guitar from hell, the man who dared to mess with Mister’s women (hell we have all been beaten down on that one since Adam’s time, maybe before) one Chuck Berry didn’t speak to us from the depth of the 1950s. Hail to the Chief.”     
I made my case before I had watched or rather re-watched the music film under review the Keith Richards-inspired Hail, Hail Rock and Roll centered on the life and times of Chuck Berry (until 1986) and two concerts he gave in honor of his hometown Saint Louis from where he started out to change the music landscape of the young. This film I will force-feed if necessary to one Zack James, boss or no boss, to put paid to the “controversy” around who was who the “king” or the “president”

Naturally the film had to deal with the central question of the expansion of rock and roll from its rockabilly and rhythm and blues beginnings. So naturally as well the question of race in the beginning to heat up start of the black civil rights movement days came to the fore as it did in every aspect of social life in segregated America. As for music Sam Phillips thought he had one answer-get a white guy to swing and sway like a black guy and make all the women, white women now, sweat. And Sam was right. But as fully documented here one Chuck Berry had an idea that he could do the reverse slam-dunk cross-over with lyrics and a back beat that the sullen 1950s red scare Cold War benighted teens with discretionary money to spend would gravitate to. And Chuck was right. Right even as the black and white kids broke down the barriers between them in any given concert or dance hall. Once again hail to the Chief.

[That Saint Louis concert produced many great Chuck Berry performances of his greatest hits both by himself and by his guest artists. Beyond Chuck’s outstanding performances stand-out work was done by the guy who inspired the guy who thing Keith Richards being Keith Richards one of the greatest guitarists around and Etta James. But for my money Linda Ronstadt stole the show with her booming rendition of Chuck’s Back in the U.S.A.]  

Saturday, September 05, 2020

The Not So Pretty Finish-With Etta James’ “Please, No More” in Mind

The Not So Pretty Finish-With Etta James’ “Please, No More” in Mind

By Hank Jones

“No more, no more,” had become Shep Wilson’s new mantra once he got over his rage against his long-time companion, Sarah Long, after she had set him adrift, had as she said “moved on” to fine herself whatever that might have meant when she uttered the ugly words of separation one night and then the next day was gone, leaving no forwarding address and only the thin reed of a cellphone number and e-mail address to remember her by. It had not been like Shep had not known it was coming, or could see it coming since Sarah had been making noises about leaving, and under what conditions, for a couple of years prior to that sneaking out the next day door. And maybe she was right to make a clean break, although in his heart of hearts Shep knew he was only fooling himself, only acting out of his version of male alleged indifference which had been part of the problem between the pair for the past several years.

Shep kept trying to think through what he could have done differently, where he had fallen down bad enough to make her leave. And make him take up her chant of “no more” (not really put that way by her since she would have used more gentile language that fit her persona but that was the way that it rang through this latest fire in his head and that was the way he was trying to think the matter through). He knew that he shared the blame, shared in the debacle of their love, had lost that magic that held them together for so many years, and that the little saying that she had had in sunnier times about how they had been so much in love in those early years and though it would continue forever. And in the early days, hell, up until the last few years that love had been as genuine as any emotion that he held dear. Then a whole series of events, a whole personal deluge of troubles laid him low, and had made him a grumpy old man. The last month or so, maybe two months he had tried to take stock of himself (and of her role in their decline after all as she admitted she could have signaled him more concretely about what was ailing her, what make her say her own “no more”). Had tried to put, as he constantly told her against all odds, to put his best foot forward. Unfortunately it had been too late.     

After Shep thought about those early days when they were so in love, were so sympathetic to each other, fed off each other’s needs, faced the wicked old world as a pair of waifs, soul mate waifs was the way she put it one time early on, sipping on a little light wine to numb himself a bit against the emptiness in his heart, he tried to retrace where he had fallen down (her shortcomings were her business now and so he looked at the lonely world through his future path and  how he could become the “new” Shep, get rid of that mantra of “no more” into a better place). 

Shep had never been much for reflection, never much to think how his actions, or better his omissions, would affect Sarah, would make her withdraw, make her close her heart to him. Had dismissed at least in his on fire head much of what she would speak of when she was seriously trying to signal him that things had dramatically drifted downhill. Would not take the signals about getting help, psychiatric help foremost, that she first gently and then more insistently tried to get him to undertake. Saw that as her New Age Cambridge background thing that she was forever trying out (and to his mind without much success but he kept that to himself especially as she seemed more and more to withdraw into that world as she got more distraught about them and as well about her place in the sun, about who she was). 

Funny, Shep thought to himself, in the end, or rather toward the end, in one of those previous downhill moments he had agreed to go with her to couples counselling (they had tried that route about twenty years before but both had been dissatisfied with the counsellor who seemed to be more interested in what she had to say than what they had had to say). Funny as well that he, not she though, and if he had been wise enough to see what that meant he could have seen what was coming, he felt that the then current counselling, and the counsellor, was a worthwhile endeavor every week (Sarah, before they decided, or rather she decided, to discontinue the work, had told him that she thought the counsellor was “championing him” because, as a gregarious type in such situations he had the better of it against her more quiet and thoughtful responses which tended to be short, if to the point.)         

Shep’s troubles really had started with the advent of his medical troubles, with what he called “the poking and prodding” of the medicos, a few years before. Yeah, he knew growing older, getting to be an old grumpy man, meant that health issues would surface, would especially as he reached his seventh decade (he knew first-hand as well from his friends of similar ages that this was the “deal,” the real deal). Shep had prided himself on keeping a semblance of fitness, of keeping himself heathy as measured by very infrequent visits to the doctor’s office and of not feeling sick most of the time except for an occasional cold. Then the deluge, first trouble with breathing and eating necessitating an endoscopy which found some problems, and medications. After that bladder problems associated with his smoking many years before according to the urologist, more medications, and then more recently the final nail in the coffin (his expression as stated to Sarah many times and a silly foolish thing to say), the early discovery of bladder cancer after a scope should unusual inflammations. More procedures and more medications.       

One day Shep just erupted, started yelling at Sarah, started to approach her for which she would later say she stood in fear of physical danger he seemed so out of control (not at the time though as she thought that saying anything would only enflame him further). After a few minutes he settled down, because something of the old Shep, but the line had been crossed. Shep swore he would stop taking the medications since they seemed to be making him more aggressive, more sullen, and angrier. As it turned out one of the medications was reacting poorly with another one and had aided in Shep’s angry responses to the world-and to Sarah.   

If the medications, if the health issues were all that there were Sarah pointed told Shep before she departed she could have worked around that. What she could not work around was what Shep called one night the fire in his head (not helping that inability to “work around” were long-time, long-held issues around Sarah’s own worth, around who she was, around what was she to do in the world now that she too was retired, issues which had plagued her since childhood). In the end that “fire in his head,” that not being “at peace” with himself was the way she expressed her take on the situation was what made something snap in her psyche. Shep, as he would admit to himself in a moment of candor several weeks after she had gone, had reacted to his health issues and graceless aging rather than getting more rest and taking it easier in life had true Shep form driven himself even harder in order to leave what he told Sarah was his mark on the wicked old world. The snapping point for her was that he seemed indifferent to her needs, seemed to be in a world of his own, and had begun again to question every move that she made like he did not trust. In a final stab to his heart she had told him that her own increasing medical problems were being aggravated by his foul behavior(after being fearful of doing so since she still worried about his anger if she did tell him this hard truth).       

So this was Shep’s sad demise. Or could have been but one night a couple of months after Sarah left he woke up one night and said “no more.” No more acting like a crazed maniac, no more fruitless search for some netherworld place in the sun. He had read a book, a book on meditation that Sarah had left behind talking about the benefits of doing such a therapy, backed up by scientific evidence. (Shep was not sure that Sarah had not left the book behind on purpose since she, like in a lot of things around his well-being, had mentioned his doing meditation on numerous occasions in the past.) So Shep started practicing the art, had real trouble at the beginning in focusing away from his two million “pressing” forward that day issues and living in the moment. But as with many things when he gets “religion” Shep is still at it after a month. His mantra, his focus term, not surprisingly “no more.”    

[Shep would wind up meeting Sarah in a Whole Foods grocery store in Cambridge several months later and remarked after telling him she had spent the previous several months in California that he seemed calmer, seemed to have lost some of that fire in his head, and seemed more at peace with himself. Had said also that they should keep in touch now that  she was back in town and that he wasn’t such a maniac (her term for his previous late innings conduct). So who knows. All Shep knows is that he wanted “no more” to do with the old Shep). 

When Sun Records Blew The Lid Off Rock And Roll-With The Show “Million Dollar Quartet” In Mind

When Sun Records Blew The Lid Off Rock And Roll-With The Show “Million Dollar Quartet” In Mind  

By Sam Lowell

“You know they are right whoever said it sometimes a picture, a photograph, tells more than a thousand words, or you name the number of words,” Jack Callahan was telling his lady-friend, wife, and number one companion of forty-odd years, Chrissie (nee McNamara and so as Irish as her beau and husband), as they exited the side door of the Ogunquit Playhouse, the non-profit theater group up in the town of the same name up in Southern Maine which this fall (2016) had brought back by popular demand the hit show-The Million Dollar Quartet. Jack’s photograph reference was to the now famous one of the key creators and interpreters of rock and roll, ouch, now called the classic age of rock and roll Elvis (no last name needed at least for anybody who knew anything at all about rock and roll and maybe just about music), Carl Perkins (who actually had first dibs of right on a song, Blue Suede Shoes, that Elvis blew everybody out of the water with), Johnny Cash (a name known as much for country and gospel-oriented music later but a serious rocker out of the blocks when he was starting out who travelled  with the previously mentioned artists as they wowed the young things in the backwaters of the South), and, Jerry Lee Lewis, in the end the most long-lived and perhaps if he could have as Jack’s non-blushing Irish wit grandfather put it, “kept his pecker in his pants” the most prolific of the lot. Certainly the way he was highlighted in the show, the way the actor who portrayed him did his bit, stole the damn show in fact there was much to be said about that possibility. All four, who at various times had been under contract to legendary Sun Records owner Sam Phillips and that photograph taken in the end of 1956 represented the only time all four were under one roof singing together. Beautiful.

Chrissie had had to laugh when she thought about how they had come to be in Ogunquit in the late fall, a time when she normally did not even want to think about north, north of their home in Hingham a town on the coast south of Boston. The hard fact was that Jack and Chrissie had had another of their periodic falling-outs and Jack had, in the interest of preserving the marriage, taken one of those periodic “sabbaticals” from Chrissie that had helped in the past to salvage their marriage. So Jack had taken a small off-season cottage in Ogunquit, a town he, they knew well for almost as long as they had been together. While he had been in “exile” he would frequently pass the Playhouse and notice on the billboard how long the show was playing for. If Chrissie relented before the first week in November he was determined to take her to the show. As it turned out, as usual, but nothing negative should be made of the idea, Chrissie had gotten lonely for her Jack and suggested that she would head north (a real sign that she was missing her guy) and stay with Jack before the end of October. Hence the conversation on Friday night as they exited that side door to reach their automobile for the short ride to Jack’s cottage.

Of course “luring” Chrissie to the show was a no-brainer since they both had grown up, had come of age during the second wave of the rise of rock and roll coming to smite down their parents Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee et al. music that they had been previously enslaved to without recourse. Without recourse meaning the big “no” in the respective Callahan and McNamara family hearths when either had approached their parents about turning the radio dial away from WJDA 1940s stuff to WMEX the hot rock station of the time. They were more likely get “the lecture” on the devil’s music and advise to listen to their 1940s more attentively or worse, much worse, be threatened with the Irish National Hour as an alternative. (On this “second wave” thing their older brothers and sisters who passed on the torch after having given up the radio fight went outside their respective homes to find the music on local jukeboxes starting with early Elvis just as Jack and Chrissie would likewise find their outlet at those same jukeboxes a few years later when the British invasion took the nation by a storm.)

On any given Friday or Saturday night Jack Callahan, a legitimate high school football hero who would go on to be a good if not great college career, and his corner boys, everybody had corner boys in the old Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville, would hang around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor putting dimes and quarters into the jukebox to hear (and re-hear) the newest big rock hits. (Eventually, when Chrissie got under Jack’s skin and did something about it one Friday night, a story in itself worthy of telling but this is about rock and roll legends and not the hijinks of 1950s teenagers so we will move on she and Jack would spent those Friday and Saturday nights spinning tunes together -and other stuff too.)

Back to the show though. Jack and Chrissie had had dinner at a local restaurant and then headed to the Playhouse a little early since neither in all the years they had collectively been going to Maine set foot in the place. So they were thrilled when they saw the stage all festooned with the Sun record label in bright lights and with the stage set up to be like Sam Phillips’ wreck of a recording studio. To top that off in the background rock and roll music was being played over the loudspeakers- Jack laughed (and sang along) when he heard Warren Smith doing his classic Rock and Roll Ruby followed by Jerry Lee’s Mona Lisa. Jack admitted and Chrissie would too at intermission that they were amped up, expected to be thrilled to hear a lot of the songs they had grown up with and hadn’t heard for a while. And they were not disappointed, no way.

Of course the core of the show was about the fabulous four (not to be confused with the other fabulous four, the Beatles, who worshipped at the shrine of these older rockers over in Britain when the American teen audience was gravitating toward bubble-gum music). But there also was a sub-story line dealing with the hardships of a small record company promoting talent, promoting rock and roll talent, and in those days most of them were small and would be out of business without some kind of hit to keep them afloat. So the story line was as much about the trials and tribulations of Sam Phillips trying to keep his operation afloat-including the unfortunate selling of Elvis’ contract to big dog RCA for what in the end was chump change in order to keep above water-to keep his dream of creating rock legends alive.

The other tension was between the various performers and their desires to make the big time which at times did not coincide with what Sam was trying to. At the edge of the Phillips story though is what to do after Elvis got away, and Johnny and Carl wanted to sign with a bigger record company. And that is where grooming Jerry Lee came in, the next big thing that Phillips seemed to be able to draw to his little two-bit operation. Like Jack’s grandfather said if Jerry Lee could have just kept it in his pants once maybe he could have ruled the whole rock and roll universe. That was the way the story played here. 

Story-line or no story line (including an additional female singer, a girlfriend of Elvis’ who represented the seriously under told story of female singers in the early days of rock and roll) the show was about the songs that Jack and Chrissie came of age to from Elvis’ classics including those hips moving frantically to Carl’s great rockabilly guitar (he dubbed the “king of rockabilly” back then) to Johnny deep baritone. And the topping-the actor doing Jerry Lee’s role doing things with a piano (including blind-folded) that would seem impossible. Let’s put it this way after that night Chrissie was seriously thinking about taking Jack back-again. Enough said.               

Friday, September 04, 2020

When The Tin Can Bended…. In The Time Of The Late Folk-Singer Dave Van Ronk’s Time

When The Tin Can Bended…. In The Time Of The Late Folk-Singer Dave Van Ronk’s Time

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Sometimes Sam Lowell and his “friend” Laura Perkins (really “sweetie,” long time sweetie, paramour, significant other, consort or whatever passes for the socially acceptable or Census Bureau bureaucratic “speak” way to name somebody who is one’s soul-mate, his preferred term) whose relationship to Sam was just described in parenthesis, and righteously so, liked to go to Crane’s Beach in Ipswich to either cool off in the late summer heat or in the fall before the New England weather lowers its hammer and the place gets a bit inaccessible. That later summer heat escape valve is a result of the hard fact that July, when they really would like to go there to catch a few fresh sea breezes, is not a time to show up at the bleach white sands beach due to nasty blood-sucking green flies swarming and dive-bombing like some berserk renegade Air Force squadron lost on a spree who breed in the nearby swaying mephitic marshes.

The only “safe haven” then is to drive up the hill to the nearby robber-baron days etched Crane Castle to get away from the buggers, although on a stagnant wind day you might have a few vagrant followers, as the well-to-do have been doing since there were well-to-do and had the where-with-all to escape the summer heat and bugs at higher altitudes. By the way I assume that “castle” is capitalized when it part of a huge estate, the big ass estate of Crane, now a trust monument to the first Gilded Age, not today’s neo-Gilded Age, architectural proclivities of the rich, the guy whose company did, does all the plumbing fixture stuff on half the bathrooms in America including the various incantations of the mansion. 

Along the way, along the hour way to get to Ipswich from Cambridge Sam and Laura had developed a habit of making the time more easy passing by listening to various CDs, inevitably not listened to for a long time folk CDs, not listened to for so long that the plastic containers needed to be dusted off before being brought along, on the car CD player. And is their wont while listening to some CD to comment on this or that thing that some song brought to mind, or the significance of some song in their youth.  One of the things that had brought them together early on several years back was their mutual interest in the old 1960s folk minute which Sam, a little older and having grown up within thirty miles of Harvard Square, one the big folk centers of that period along with the Village and North Beach out in Frisco town, had imbibed deeply. Laura, growing up “in the sticks,” in farm country in upstate New York had gotten the breeze at second-hand through records, records bought at Cheapo Records and the eternal Sandy's on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and a little the fading Cambridge folk scene when she had moved to Boston in the early 1970s to go to graduate school.     

One hot late August day they got into one such discussion about how they first developed an interest in folk music when Sam had said “sure everybody, everybody over the age of say fifty to be on the safe side, knows about Bob Dylan, maybe some a little younger too if some hip kids have browsed through their parents’ old vinyl record collections now safely ensconced in the attic although there are stirrings of retro-vinyl revival of late according a report he had heard on NPR. Some of that over 50 crowd and their young acolytes would also know about how Dylan, after serving something like an apprenticeship under the influence of Woody Guthrie in the late 1950s singing Woody’s songs imitating Woody's style something fellow Woody acolytes like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot never quite got over moved on, got all hung up on high symbolism and obscure references. Funny guys like Jack actually made a nice workman-like career out of Woody covers, so their complaints seen rather hollow now. That over 50s crowd would also know Dylan became if not the voice of the Generation of ’68, their generation, which he probably did not seriously aspire in the final analysis, then the master troubadour of the age.

Sam continued along that line after Laura had said she was not sure about the connection and he said he meant, “troubadour in the medieval sense of bringing news to the people and entertaining them by song and poetry as well if not decked in some officially approved garb like back in those olden days where they worked under a king’s license if lucky, by their wit otherwise but the 'new wave' post-beatnik flannel shirt, work boots, and dungarees which connected you with the roots, the American folk roots down in the Piedmont, down in Appalachia, down in Mister James Crow’s Delta. So, yes, that story has been pretty well covered.”  

Laura said she knew all of that about the desperate search for roots although not that Ramblin’ Jack had been an acolyte of Woody’s but she wondered about others, some other folk performers who she listened to on WUMB on Saturday morning when some weeping willow DJ put forth about fifty old time rock and folk things a lot of which she had never heard of back in Mechanicsville outside of Albany where she grew up. Sam then started in again, “Of course that is hardly the end of the story since Dylan did not create that now hallowed folk minute of the early 1960s. He had been washed by it when he came to the East from Hibbing, Minnesota for God’s sake (via Dink’s at the University), came into the Village where there was a cauldron of talent trying to make folk the next big thing, the next big cultural thing for the young and restless of the post-World War II generations. For us. But also those in little oases like the Village where the disaffected could put up on stuff they couldn’t get in places like Mechanicsville or Carver where I grew up. People who I guess, since even I was too young to know about that red scare stuff except you had to follow your teacher’s orders to put your head under your desk and hand over your head if the nuclear holocaust was coming, were frankly fed up with the cultural straightjacket of the red scare Cold War times and began seriously looking as hard at roots in all its manifestations as our parents, definitely mine, yours were just weird about stuff like that, right, were burying those same roots under a vanilla existential Americanization. How do you like that for pop sociology 101.”

“One of the talents who was already there when hick Dylan came a calling, lived there, came from around there was the late Dave Van Ronk who as you know we had heard several times in person, although unfortunately when his health and well-being were declining not when he was a young politico and hell-raising folk aspirant. You know he also, deservedly, fancied himself a folk historian as well as musician.”    

“Here’s the funny thing, Laura, that former role is important because we all know that behind the “king” is the “fixer man,” the guy who knows what is what, the guy who tells one and all what the roots of the matter were like some mighty mystic (although in those days when he fancied himself a socialist that mystic part was played down). Dave Van Ronk was serious about that part, serious about imparting that knowledge about the little influences that had accumulated during the middle to late 1950s especially around New York which set up that folk minute. New York like I said, Frisco, maybe in small enclaves in L.A. and in precious few other places during those frozen times a haven for the misfits, the outlaws, the outcast, the politically “unreliable,” and the just curious. People like the mistreated Weavers, you know, Pete Seeger and that crowd found refuge there when the hammer came down around their heads from the red-baiters and others like advertisers who ran for cover to “protect” their precious soap, toothpaste, beer, deodorant or whatever they were mass producing to sell to a hungry pent-ip market.  

Boston and Cambridge by comparison until late in the 1950s when the Club 47 and other little places started up and the guys and gals who could sing, could write songs, could recite poetry even had a place to show their stuff instead of to the winos, rummies, grifters and conmen who hung out at the Hayes-Bickford or out on the streets could have been any of the thousands of towns who bought into the freeze.”     

“Sweetie, I remember one time but I don’t remember where, maybe the Café Nana when that was still around after it had been part of the Club 47 folk circuit for new talent to play and before Harry Reid, who ran the place, died and it closed down, I know it was before we met, so it had to be before the late 1980s Von Ronk told a funny story, actually two funny stories, about the folk scene and his part in that scene as it developed a head of steam in the mid-1950s which will give you an idea about his place in the pantheon. During the late 1950s after the publication of Jack Kerouac’s ground-breaking road wanderlust adventure novel that got young blood stirring, not mine until later since I was clueless on all that stuff except rock and roll, On The Road which I didn’t read until high school, the jazz scene, the cool be-bop jazz scene and poetry reading, poems reflecting off of “beat” giant Allen Ginsberg’s Howl the clubs and coffeehouse of the Village were ablaze with readings and cool jazz, people waiting in line to get in to hear the next big poetic wisdom guy if you can believe that these days when poetry is generally some esoteric endeavor by small clots of devotees just like folk music. The crush of the lines meant that there were several shows per evening. But how to get rid of one audience to bring in another in those small quarters was a challenge.

Presto, if you wanted to clear the house just bring in some desperate “from hunger” snarly nasally folk singer for a couple, maybe three songs, and if that did not clear the high art be-bop poetry house then that folk singer was a goner. A goner until the folk minute of the 1960s who probably in that very same club then played for the 'basket.' You know the 'passed hat' which even on a cheap date, and a folk music coffeehouse date was a cheap one in those days like I told you before and you laughed at cheapie me and the 'Dutch treat' thing, you felt obliged to throw a few bucks into to show solidarity or something.  And so the roots of New York City folk according to the 'father.'

Laura interrupted to ask if that “basket” was like the buskers put in front them these days and Sam said yes. And asked Sam about a few of the dates he took to the coffeehouses in those days, just out of curiosity she said, meaning if she had been around would he have taken her there then. He answered that question but since it is an eternally complicated and internal one I have skipped it to let him go on with the other Von Ronk story. He continued with the other funny story like this-“The second story involved his [Von Ronk's] authoritative role as a folk historian who after the folk minute had passed became the subject matter for, well, for doctoral dissertations of course just like today maybe people are getting doctorates in hip-hop or some such subject. Eager young students, having basked in the folk moment in the abstract and with an academic bent, breaking new ground in folk history who would come to him for the 'skinny.' Now Van Ronk had a peculiar if not savage sense of humor and a wicked snarly cynic’s laugh but also could not abide academia and its’ barren insider language so when those eager young students came a calling he would give them some gibberish which they would duly note and footnote. Here is the funny part. That gibberish once published in the dissertation would then be cited by some other younger and even more eager students complete with the appropriate footnotes. Nice touch, nice touch indeed on that one, right.”
Laura did not answer but laughed, laughed harder as she thought about it having come from that unformed academic background and having read plenty of sterile themes turned inside out.       

As Laura laugh settled Sam continued “As for Van Ronk’s music, his musicianship which he cultivated throughout his life, I think the best way to describe that for me is that one Sunday night in the early 1960s I was listening to the local folk program on WBZ hosted by Dick Summer, who was influential in boosting local folk musician Tom Rush’s career and who was featured on that  Tom Rush documentary No Regrets we got for being members of WUMB, when this gravelly-voice guy, sounding like some old mountain pioneer, sang the Kentucky hills classic Fair and Tender Ladies. It turned out to be Von Ronk's version which you know I still play up in the third floor attic. After that I was hooked on that voice and that depth of feeling that he brought to every song even those of his own creation which tended to be spoofs on some issue of the day.”
Laura laughed at Sam and the intensity with which his expressed his mentioning of the fact that he liked gravelly-voiced guys for some reason. Here is her answer, “You should became when you go up to the third floor to do your “third floor folk- singer” thing and you sing Fair and Tender Ladies I hear this gravelly-voiced guy, sounding like some old mountain pioneer, some Old Testament Jehovah prophet come to pass judgment come that end day time.”

They both laughed. 

Laura then mentioned the various times that they had seen Dave Von Ronk before he passed away, not having seen him in his prime, when that voice did sound like some old time prophet, a title he would have probably secretly enjoyed for publicly he was an adamant atheist. Sam went on, “ I saw him perform many times over the years, sometimes in high form and sometimes when drinking too much high-shelf whiskey, Chavis Regal, or something like that not so good. Remember we had expected to see him perform as part of Rosalie Sorrels’ farewell concert at Saunders Theater at Harvard in 2002 I think. He had died a few weeks before.  Remember though before that when we had seen him for what turned out to be our last time and I told you he did not look well and had been, as always, drinking heavily and we agreed his performance was subpar. But that was at the end. For a long time he sang well, sang us well with his own troubadour style, and gave us plenty of real information about the history of American folk music. Yeah like he always used to say-'when the tin can bended …..and the story ended.'

As they came to the admission booth at the entrance to Crane’s Beach Sam with Carolyn Hester’s song version of Walt Whitman’s On Captain, My Captain on the CD player said “I was on my soap box long enough on the way out here. You’re turn with Carolyn Hester on the way back who you know a lot about and I know zero, okay.” Laura retorted, “Yeah you were definitely on your soap-box but yes we can talk Carolyn Hester because I am going to cover one of her songs at my next “open mic.” And so it goes.               

In Search Of Heroes Of The Great American Hispanic Night-Mi Hombre Senor Zorro-The ‘Z’ Man Of My Youthful Dreams-Antonio Banderas’s “The Mask Of Zorro” (1998)-A Film Review

In Search Of Heroes Of The Great American Hispanic Night-Mi Hombre Senor Zorro-The ‘Z’ Man Of My Youthful Dreams-Antonio Banderas’s “The Mask Of Zorro” (1998)-A Film Review

DVD Review
By Si Lannon
The Mask Of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins and assorted sleaze-ball Spanish dons and their senoras and senoritas, 1998
I have made no secret here or in private conversations that in my youth, my childhood really, I was crazy to watch the Zorro half hour on 1950s black and white television. For a reason that only a few people knew then, mostly family, and excluding my corner boys, some of who work for this publication, and whom I grew up with in the heavily working- class Irish and some Italian neighborhood of the Acre in North Adamsville a suburb south of Boston. I suppose every family has its family secrets, its skeletons in the closet like some looney grand aunty up on the batty attic, a brother, a hermano in home speak, who has spent more time in jail for various armed felonies than on the outside, that some cousin was in the vernacular of the day in our family at least was “different” meaning then a “fairy, fag” you know what I mean and today proudly LGBTQ, a young female relative who also in the code words of the day had to travel to “Aunt Emmy” for a while, meaning that she was pregnant out of wedlock and had to leave town to avoid family disgrace and dagger neighborhood dowager grandmother eyes probably never to come back.
In my family the deep dark secret which also reveals in passing why I loved Zorro as my youthful hero was that my mother was a Latina, Hispanic, you know from Mexico whose last name was Juarez, Bonita Juarez. No big deal right, now anyway although in the age of the long knives, in the age of Trump and all the animosities he has helped stir up, bring to the ugly surface of American life, that may no longer be true. But back then, back in 1950s growing up Irish-Italian Acre that was a no-no. The way around it devised by my parents was that sweet Bonita was “passed off” as Italian. An entirely respectable ethic designation in a town that drew Italians back around the turn off the 20th century to work the granite quarries that dominated the topography of the landscape (that work died out with the exhaustion of the quarries to be replaced by a booming shipbuilding industries which by the 1950s has in their turn faded this time by off-shore outsourcing and eventual departure which explained a lot about the wanting habits of we corner boys in the 1950s while other working class towns were observing something of a golden age-also mainly gone now with globalization). While there were names, derogatory names, for Italians in some Irish working-class homes in the neighborhood there was enough intermixing to level things off.
Almost universally though since there were absolutely no Hispanic families in the whole town the normal terms of abuse applies-spics, wetbacks, braceros, and the like. My father could not stand for that and even his relatives in the neighborhood believed my mother was from Italy. She had come up to California from Mexico during World War II with her family to work the grape and melon fields and my father stationed at Fort Ord at the time met her at a USO dance and wooed her after that. Since Bonita’s English was halting she was forbidden to speak Spanish when others were around. The only way any corner boys knew that she was Spanish was in high school when in ninth grade my best friend Jack Callahan had been taking Spanish and had come to the house unannounced and heard her speaking that language and not Italian. Naturally asking what gives and I told him and from there to the rest of the guys who hung around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor. [In the interest of today’s seemingly compulsory transparency statement Jack Callahan has not only occasionally written in this publication but has been a substantial financial backer-Greg Green]
The corner boys when they found out since we were “brothers” today hermanos were pretty cool about the whole thing since she was my mother and that counted a lot even when we were at civil war with them, con madres. In general though it was not until many years later after Bonita passed away that people became aware of her nationality in a time when such things were more openly okay-even in the Acre.                    
Secrets aside I loved Zorro the same way my corner boys loved say white gringo good guys, avenging angels like Wyatt Earp or the Maverick boys from the television our main source outside of the movies from having characters we could identify with. Swashbuckling Zorro taking on all-comers, bad ass gringos especially but also batos locos paid soldiers and other scumbags and of course the oppressor hombres-the mainly Spanish dons who had the huge land grants from the Spanish kings when California was part of the fading Spanish Empire and later after formal independence and creation of a Mexican state who gouged the peasantry into the ground to maintain their freaking luxurious lifestyles. I would have to keep my devotion something of a secret although in general Zorro was a positive figure among the television-watching corner boys.
I was therefore very interested in doing this review of The Mask of Zorro when site manager Greg Green decided that enough was enough as Mexican Nationals, immigrants, citizens, hard-working peoples were being bashed for no good purpose by the Trump unleashed dark alt-right-Nazi-fascist-white nationalist cabal and had to be defended on all fronts including popular culture-including films. And in a very definitive way-beyond the obvious romance between Zorro, played by a youthful Antonio Banderas and his lovely senorita and soon to be marida and madre of his child, Elena, played by drop-dead beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones-this film shows a heroic and honorable side of the Mexican saga-of cultural super-heroes among the oppressed peoples of the world. 
Here is the way the thing worked on this one although one can take the production to task for not have more Hispanics, Latinos, etc. in key roles like Elena, who could have worthily been played by Penelope Lopez, and certainly Zorro, the elder, played by venerable and ubiquitous high-toned Brit actor Anthony Hopkins could have had a better casting. The elder Zorro has a running battle in the Mexican independence struggle with the soon to be departed Spanish viceroy, a real bastard whose name is legend so no need to give him some human surname over the way the peasantry and others were treated by him. More importantly over the elder Zorro’s wife and daughter since that msl hombre viceroy was smitten by her. Eventually the bastard was the cause of the mother’s death and the elder Zorro’s imprisonment leaving the field clear for him to raise that daughter, Elena, when going back to Spain in comfort and culture.    
Then fast forward twenty year later and the bastard returned with Elena and with the idea of turning via those well-off land grant Dons California into an independent republic by stealth and cold hard cash to the Mexican leader Santa Ana, known as a villain in U.S. history via the Alamo and Jimmy Polk’s Mexican War adventure. The one guys like young Abe Lincoln and Henry avid Thoreau couldn’t stomach. Enter a rejuvenated elder Zorro who nevertheless is too old to go mano a mano with the bastard and his hired thugs. Through serious trial and error he trains a new generation Zorro, played by Banderas, to lead the struggle against the returned kingpin oppressor and let the peasantry live off the their lands in some peace. Once our new Zorro finishes his basic training he is off and running to woo the lovely Elena, tweak the bastard, fight a million sword fights, woo the lovely Elena, fight a few million more sword fights, and well you know the “and” part by now. A most satisfying film which only rekindled my love of the sacred youthful character-thanks young and old Zorro.