Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Fall in My Backyard"

Fall in My Backyard

The elephant ears were 7 foot tall;
they stood to defy the arrival of fall.
But now they don’t seem so tall at all
as they await the coming of winter.

The magnolia tree with its blossoms white;
is fading away with summer’s light.
She’ll be back next year; to my delight;
after the cold days of winter.

The little flowers that fill the bed;
the chill in the air is something they dread.
There’ll be something else comes spring in their stead,
after the passing of winter.

We are young, the cycle’s old;
this wandering from heat to cold;
around a sun of shining gold,
into the grips of winter.

What is this loss I seem to feel;
when the sun begins to peel
the veneer of warmth which felt so real,
Laying us bare to winter?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Land of the Blind" with Donald Sutherland and Ralph Fiennes (2014)

Ralph Fiennes plays a freedom fighter named Joe in this film about failed revolutions. Joe tells the story of  a man named Thorne; played by Donald Sutherland. Thorne was a terrorist who was jailed and tortured for his crimes against the state, which only served to make him a hero to his countrymen. Joe; who has seen the brutality suffered by Thorne; is recruited by the terrorist for a coup to overthrow the tyrannical government for which Joe actually has been working.

But Thorne proves correct the old adage that violent revolution does little more than to replace the corrupt regime with another corrupt regime. This leads to a cycle in which Joe must now overthrow Thorne.

This was an excellent script, with superb acting. The only thing which could have been better about this film is the direction. The movie seems to drag in spots where it should be getting the audience pumped up; or even angry. There is so much to like about this film; two veteran actors in roles that are deep and meaningful. Perhaps that is what kept me watching the film all the way through.

This film is worth watching; even just to reinforce the lesson that sometimes the devil you know may the same as the devil you wish for. One caution before watching the movie; don’t let it spoil your revolutionary spirit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Brotherly Love - The David Greenglass Story

Last July 1st a man passed quietly away in New Jersey. He was living under an assumed name; and though he insisted that he was not ashamed of what he had done; he still never used his real name again. This is the story of David Greenglass; brother of Ethel, and brother in law to Julius; or more succinctly, the infamous Rosenbergs.

The Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953 at Sing Sing prison in New York for allegedly selling the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly they had something to do with it, but with Mr. Greenglass testifying against his own sister; and then recanting that testimony later in life; you have to wonder just who actually did transfer the documents to the Soviets.

Mr. Greenglass testified that he watched his sister type up the notes detailing the research data which he himself had been privy to while working at Los Alamos in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project. He was a machinist with access to the working plans for the bomb. His testimony was given in exchange for a lenient sentence. In essence, he did the spying, got his sister and brother in law involved, turned State’s Evidence against them which ensured their conviction for espionage and ultimately the death penalty. 

The Rosenberg’s had two sons; Michael and Robert. Their uncle David was instrumental in sending their parents to their death. The boys were adopted by Abe Meeropol and his wife Anne, both of New York City. Abe Meeropol was the school teacher who wrote the song “Bitter Fruit” in 1937. The song was immortalized by the great Billie Holiday in 1939. 

David Greenglass wrote a book about his life and the trial in 2001. He also gave an interview with CBS in which he stated, “As a spy who turned his family in…. I don’t care. I sleep well.” He also claimed that his sister was “stupid” and “could’ve cut a deal.”  In the 1989 Woody Allen film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” Mr. Allen says this about his arrogant brother in law, “I love him like a brother- David Greenglass.”  Let that be his epitaph.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"The Times of the Sixties" - Edited by John Rockwell (2014)

There is nothing pretentious, or confusing, about this title. Plainly put, this is a book of some of the most emblematic stories which appeared in the New York Times during the 1960’s. I don’t say the most important; although there are a number of those; I say emblematic because that what this book is. It is a wonderful representation of the things which made the 1960’s the memorable decade which it was, and still remains.

Organized into 8 sections covering 317 pages the book begins with the top stories in National news beginning with the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit- ins; which would come to characterize the Civil Rights Movement for much of the decade. That was on February 15, 1960. By November of that year JFK was President and Eisenhower bid us a farewell, warning us against the “military-industrial complex” which he had helped to create. The March on Washington, the Civil Rights demonstrations; and riots; are all covered. This section of the book speaks loudly to the little news junkie I was back then; with my 6 transistor radio always glued to my ear, or under my pillow at night.

In addition to the Civil Rights Movement, the National section also recalls the death of General MacArthur, JFK’s assassination, and just about every other important news item which would have an impact on the rest of the decade. The last article in this section is from August 1969, and is about Charles Manson.

The International section begins with a typo in the article about Francis Gary Powers being shot down over the Soviet Union in a U-2. The heading reads May 9, 1965. It should be 1960. The accompanying photo is dated correctly. From Eichmann’s kidnapping in South America to Krushchev pounding his shoe at the UN, this section is very colorful. The world still had some pretty colorful political leaders left; political correctness had not yet begun in earnest, making it possible for Politicians to still act somewhat candidly. 

The beginnings of our real serious involvement in Vietnam is chronicled; as well as the Communist expansion in just about every corner of the world; including Cuba. The rise of the Berlin Wall, the death of Pope John XXIII, Diem’s assassination only weeks before JFK’s killing, Israel fighting with Palestine, it’s all here. Mandela convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life in South Africa, while our own streets burned with the desire for freedom recall my struggle to make sense of why Apartheid was wrong in South America while it was still being practiced here in the United States. Communist China getting her own bomb, and Ho Chi Minh’s death, close out the International scene.

The Business Section begins with a raise in the minimum wage in the United States. JFK pushed through a bill making the new wage $1.15 per hour. The steel crisis; when Kennedy faced off with the steel producers over a price increase which would have triggered mass inflation; DOW breaking 1,000 points for the first time;  the Bank of America rolling out credit cards; and oil leases in Alaska all show a vibrant and growing economy.

There is a section devoted solely to New York City; which is appropriate, given that this book is about the New York Times coverage of the 1960’s. First up is Casey Stengel being let go by the Yankees for the crime of being 70 years old. The next big story is the collision of 2 airliners in the fog over New York, one landing in Park Slope section of Brooklyn; and then the fire on the aircraft carrier Constellation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which killed 46 and injured hundreds. Both of these horrific events happened one week before Christmas in 1960 and so always stand out in my memory.TV news broke both of these stories to me. I was just 6 years old. 

The Twist, the folk music scene and a young Bob Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City; the World’s Fair; Shea Stadium; the Verrazano- Narrows Bridge; the theft of the Star of India from the Museum of Natural History; the Blackout of 1965; all of these stories took me back to my days delivering the New York Post by bicycle; reading the headlines as I loaded up for work each day.

Science, Technology and Health is subdivided into 3 shorter categories. Science dwells on the Space Race; which we were losing at first. The Soviets put a man in space before us; orbited the earth before us; even space walked before we did. But we cheered our astronauts on to victory with the first manned landing on the Moon. If you were alive then you will remember that day and how it felt.

Technology concerns itself with portable electric typewriters and battery powered tooth brushes, the advent of the cassette as the wave of the future in music; and the first “jumbo” jet, a Boeing 747. The only thing still relevant is the battery powered toothbrush. All of the other achievements have been surpassed. But my toothbrush is still about the same; only cheaper.

Health covers the first Pacemakers, plastic contact lenses, open heart surgery, Medicare, cigarettes causing cancer; birth control and lung transplants.

Life and Style is one of the more interesting sections as it directly affects us all. From Barbie dolls to Mustangs, skateboarding and marijuana, this section is fairly representative of the way we were back then.

Fashion covers Jackie Kennedy, miniskirts, Audrey Hepburn, big glasses and Twiggy in a highly entertaining way. The articles fairly sing the praises of the subjects they explore.
Food and Drink is another section which is fairly interesting. It’s easy to forget that a microwave once coat about $1,200 in 1955. By 1962 this had dropped to $795, still out of reach of almost all Americans at the time.  The rise of fast food and artificial sweeteners also dominated the news at the time.

Sports is a vivid recollection of the Lakers, Wilt Chamberlain, the Mets, Roger Maris, the first Superbowl, the consolidation of the NFL and the AFL, Cassius Clay becoming Muhammad Ali, and the triumph of the Mets over Baltimore in 1969.

Arts and Entertainment starts off with the architectural achievements in New York at the time. From the new airline terminal at Idewild; with its observation deck; to the opening of the Pan Am Building, and the Whitney in Manhattan, the changing skyline of Manhattan reflected the rapidly changing world.

When the book gets to Music and Art it really showcases the color and dynamics of the 1960’s. From the Beatles to James Baldwin and everything in between, this is one of the most entertaining sections. Andy Warhol and his Chelsea Girls film had me running to the computer and You Tube to see what I missed as a kid. Ava Gardner reading “The Feminine Mystique”, Monty Python, A Clockwork Orange, Tom Wolfe, James Earl Jones, Andy Griffith, Hair and Woodstock are all represented as examples of the culture of the times. The last entry, closing out the section and the book, is the Altamont Concert in California.

It’s always interesting to look back and see how far we have come in certain areas; and how little progress we have made in others. In 1961 the Senate was struggling with the issues of healthcare and equal pay for women; both of which are still unsettled today. It's possible that we have not advanced socially as far as we would sometimes like to believe. Maybe we haven't come "such a long way baby". Inadvertently, perhaps that is the message of this wonderful book.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" - Tom T. Hall (Live)

This is one off my favorite songs by one of America’s finest storytellers. That he happens to tell the stories to music is just an added plus; but the stories would stand on their own, even without the melodies. They’re simply that good.

Bob Dylan is great; abstract poetry and activism. It’s great stuff. John Prine writes about the ironies of life. And I love John Prine. But Tom T. Hall writes about the people he has met and what has happened to him in life; and guess what?  His stories reflect more accurately the everyday struggles and emotions of the average person.

Of course there are just some stories made up for plain fun. Listen to “A Week In a County Jail” sometime to hear what I mean. You can listen here;

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Old Smokey" - The Captain and the Kids (1938)

These cartoons are new to me so I will be posting all 15 of them; one each Saturday as I discover them. I watch one a week and then post it. Hey, don’t knock it - if you were doing this blog every day you’d be strung out for ideas, too!

This week’s episode actually doesn’t feature the kids at all. It’s the story of a man and his horse. When Smokey, the local fire department horse, is replaced by a new fire engine he is heartbroken. He leaves the firehouse with an old man and pulling the old hand pump tuck. His future looks bleak.

The Captain meantime is busy with polishing his new engine, thinking he is the luckiest guy in the world. Then the first fire call comes in. Rushing to the scene the Captain loses control of the rig and the truck is severely damaged.  Smokey; who meanwhile is plodding along with the old man; smells the fire and hauls himself; the old man; and the pump truck to the fire, putting out the blaze with a torrent of water.

The Captain; taking a page from the Little Red Lighthouse, realizes the value of loyalty and service, quickly reuniting with hid old partner. This is only the 3rd of the 15 Captain and the Kids cartoons I have seen. I like them, not only for the fact that they are new to me, but also because of the quality of the animation and the presence of a coherent plot, capped off with a moral lesson.

Friday, October 17, 2014

NC Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - 2014

Sue and I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Induction Award Ceremony for the NC Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis last night. The pre-ceremony dinner was at the restaurant Forty Six, which is right adjacent to the Gem Theatre where the Induction Ceremony was held.

The Gem; for those not already familiar with the theater; is one of those rare commodities these days; a stand-alone, honest to goodness movie theater, with a marquee and everything.  Not only do they show the most recent films at a reasonable price; they also showcase local community events, and the theater is also available for rent as a place to hold an occasion; from weddings to graduations.

This year’s ceremony, which followed the dinner, featured an award for Clay Aiken. Although he was not in attendance his presence was easily felt. Raleigh is not so far away that we don’t consider him to be a “local”. His mother accepted the award for him and even gave a little plug to his upcoming election bid for Congress. Nobody seemed to mind. 

Fantasia Barrino, top R&B artist and American Idol Winner in 2004 was on hand to accept an award and gave a truly charming acceptance speech. Although she did not perform she did sing a portion of her remarks acapella, much to everyone's delight. Even Ms. Barrino seemed to enjoy herself. In a form fitting white full length gown she was reminiscent of a younger Aretha Franklin.

Jimmy Capps, whose career has had him playing on so many hits that it’s hard to even list them, was also part of the show. He was truly in great form leading the audience through a series of his hits. He has also been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1958.

The Embers, known for their beach music sound; made for strolling on the boardwalk, were honored and then later performed. These were the original members and they still had it all together; friends for life. And that friendship translated right through to the audience, many of whom were life long fans.

Little Eva; known mostly for “The Loco-motion” & “The Turkey Trot”, was born in Belhaven, NC, and received a long overdue posthumous induction. She also got a extended ovation. The Chairmen of the Board; long known for their beach music and cross over hits such as "Give Me Just a Little More Time" also performed and brought the house down. Everybody loves these guys and they have played at several Hall of Fame events; being early Inductees themselves.  

Lulu Belle & Scotty, two artists from the 1940’s, known as the Sweethearts of Country Music were singled out for their contributions at a time when Charlotte almost replaced Nashville as the center of country music. Not only was Charlotte on the "circuit", it also boasted the most powerful transmitter in the South at the time, bringing acts such as theirs here to the Queen City for radio exposure. One of my favorite recordings of theirs was the 1974 hit "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" That song was highlighted in the tribute film to them, which made me very happy.
Talmadge “Tab” Smith, who played with Jimmy Witherspoon and Johnny Otis was also honored, as was Link Wray, renowned guitarist known for the” power chord”. As an added bonus, Link Wray's grandson's group Band of Tribes shook the theater with a power performance, which although it may have seemed a bit out of place for the program, reflected the myriad sounds which originated here in North Carolina. Their vocalist was also a powerhouse of her own.

All in all it was a fantastic show which lasted over 2 hours before everybody headed over to the museums new headquarters at Curb Motorsports down the road in Concord. The move will afford the museum about twice the space they currently have in the original location at the old Kannapolis Jail. Mike Curb is an old friend of Eddie Ray, who is the Vice-Director of Operations at the museum. You might even say that he is its heart and soul.

The evening really highlighted not only the musical roots of North Carolina, but also what fun local cultural events can be when presented by such local organizations as The NC Music Hall of Fame.
For more about them and what they do, go to their website at;

Also, for more about the remarkable Eddie Ray visit his Wikipedia page at;

And to purchase a copy of his autobiography, “Against All Odds”, go to;