Friday, September 30, 2011

"Wind at My Back" - A Mini-Series with Shirley Douglas, Kathryn Greenwood and Dylan Provencher


When the Depression forces Jack and Honey Bailey to close their hardware store, they move the family to Jack's hometown of New Bedford, where Jack's family owns a silver mine. Jack is killed in an accident shortly after the family's arrival, forcing Honey to move her 2 boys, along with their 2 year old sister, in with her domineering mother-in-law. She is unwelcome in the home and goes to Ontario, searching for work in order to re-unite her family.

Much of the action in this series takes place in Ontario, which, like the rest of the world, was going through the roughest days of the Great Depression. Distraught by the recent passing of her husband, as well as her inability to land even the most menial job, combine to tear Honey apart.

Meantime, her two boys, who have now been separated from their younger sister, are struggling to come to terms with their over bearing Grandmother, who is now planning to separate the boys. Running away to rejoin their mother proves fruitless, but the boys desire to be with her softens, ever so slightly, the Grandmother's heart of ice, and a tenative truce is worked out, whereby the boys will be able to see their mother on a limited basis.

As the story progresses, old family disagreements resurface. These disagreements must be met and conquered if the family is ever to be united as one. Wonderful acting by all, especially the two boys and their mother, have you pulling for them to make it work out, against all the odds which confront them.

Beautiful camera work, along with the scenery, and accurate depiction of every detail of the era in which the story takes place, make this a very textured, and poignant piece of work.

Can't wait to pick up the second volume.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall in My Yard

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,
Fading away with summer’s light.
Will 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, September 28, 2011

It's Only Me- Joining The Navy

(The following was first printed here on September 9th, 2009 as part of a 30 chapter autobiography. Today is the anniversary of my enlistment in the U.S.Navy and I thought I would celebrate by reprinting it here.)

1976 was the 200th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The country had begun preparing for it in 1975 with special offers and special packaging of products. You couldn’t escape it. I have often been asked if that is what lead to my joining the Navy in September of 1976. The answer is no.

My motivation for joining the service was simple. I wanted to get out of Brooklyn for good. I wanted to be away from all the drugs and also my parents. Although I had not seen them often during the last 4 years I felt as if they were a threatening presence, always lurking in the background, waiting for me to “see the light.”

In August of 1976 I went to the Recruiting Office, located on Flatbush Avenue at the junction of Nostrand Avenue. I took some aptitude tests and then had to sit for an interview. The man interviewing me was black and I think was a Chief Petty Officer.

We started with some routine questions- “Do you do drugs?” was one of the first ones-I thought he was being sociable and so pulled out a baggie of weed and said, “Yeah, wanna smoke?” I thought he was going to pass out! He asked again and I countered with, “What drugs?” I was hustled outside and he explained that I had to answer “No” to the drug question. I said that I was not interested in lying to him. He produced a Drug Waiver which read “ I have experimented with marijuana about 3 or 4 times and found it not to my liking. I have no interest in taking drugs.” I signed it and then got my contract for 4 years Active Duty. At the completion of Boot Camp in Great Lakes, Illinois I would be allowed to choose from 70 different schools. I chose “OJT” which is short for "On The Job Training" in the fleet. So I chose no school, electing to go straight to the fleet and have a look about me before choosing anything. I have never regretted that choice.

Around this time my friend Iona came by H and A Foods, where I worked, to say goodbye. She had graduated 6 months early from Madison in 1972 and I believe started Brooklyn College. She was now transferring to another school somewhere. She came by in a little green Datsun B-210 and I felt that I was seeing a good friend for the last time. It would be another 31 years until we would be in contact again.

I informed Harry and Al of my decision, which they tried in earnest to talk me out of. But when a person decides to join the service there is virtually no chance of talking them out of it. Usually it is a move made of long planning or else in desperation. Mine was a bit of both.

I had been fascinated by my Dads time in the Navy and had also long dreamt of joining the Merchant Marine- civilians who transport goods by ship. I needed to be in a Union to work as a Merchant and to be in the Union you had to work on the ships you couldn’t work on unless you were in the Union. So you see it was a conundrum. Realizing that my best shot at getting in the Union would be as a Veteran, with sea time under my belt, I elected to join the Navy. Also, I really needed to break the cycle in which I was living.

So, on a balmy September morning, after a raucous night of debauchery, I set off to Fort Hamilton and the Armed Forces Induction Station. I was several hours late and my Recruiter was actually riding through the streets of my neighborhood looking for me. He drove me to Ft. Hamilton where I went to sleep on the long bench waiting to be processed.

I was awoken with a kick from an Air Force Sergeant bellowing, “Get up slimeball- your sleeping days are done!” I rose slowly, looked at his uniform and said, “Fuck you- I’m Navy.” And then went back to sleep. A few minutes passed and I was again awoken in the same barbaric manner- this time by a Navy Chief Petty Officer. “Get up fuckhead! You’re in the Navy now! And your ass is mine!” Standing up, and looking him right in the eye, I said- “This is still Brooklyn, and I ain’t took the oath yet, so my ass is my own!” He was pissed, but walked away, and I went back to sleep for another hour.

When I awoke I began to survey my surroundings and think about what I was actually doing. Before I could think too much I was sworn in with about 50 people and divided into groups. One group was going to Great Lakes and the other to Florida where a new boot camp had just opened. That one had women as well as men. But I was slated for Great Lakes along with a Puerto Rican guy named Orlando Cruz. So I kind of kept an eye on him figuring that if I stayed close to him I wouldn’t have to listen much and still get where I was going.

A little while later we were at JFK and I was wondering what had happened to change our travel from rail to air. I had been looking forward to the 24 hour train ride to Chicago and having one of those sleeper rooms on the train. That’s when I realized that Orlando was where the other boot camp was. When they said, “If you are going to Orlando then line up here”, he had only heard his name, “Orlando", with the word "here”, and lined up accordingly. I had followed him.

What happened next was the fastest car ride I have ever had- from JFK to Grand Central in like 20 minutes in the middle of a weekday. I am sure it was a record.

Boarding the train is still a bit fuzzy but once we were on the way everything is crystal clear. They should never put recruits on a train with decent people. It sullies the image of the Armed Forces. We spent the next 24 hours headed to Chicago from New York by way of Connecticut, picking up more recruits in every town. In between stops we made unwanted advances to every woman on board, smoked pot, drank to excess and had food fights. Going through the late summer/early fall cornfields of Indiana we tossed flaming stacks of the New York Times into the fields. We were uncontrollable and crazed.

We arrived in Chicago the next afternoon about 4 PM. From there we had to catch a commuter train to Great Lakes- about 30 miles or so. Again, we should not have been allowed to mix with normal people.

Arriving at the gates to Great Lakes was everything you have seen in the movies. People scream at you, call you foul names right in your face, spit flying in your eyes.

And this was just the beginning.....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Growing Up Amish" by Ira Wagler


When I was a teenager I dreamt of going back to a more "natural" lifestyle, one of community, homespun clothes and the hard work which goes with it. I never thought about those who were already doing that and wanted a piece of the life I was leading. Ira Wagler was one of those. As a child of the Amish community he longed to see beyond the narrow borders of his own world, just as I was straining to look into a world more like his. And that's the most fascinating thing about this book. We all want to be somewhere, or someone, else.

The author leaves home 3 different times, with a friend, in search of something different than the way in which he was raised. But he always returns, like the Prodigal Son, to the place he began. Along the way he works at odd jobs, relying on the very strengths which he learned in the Amish community to make a living. His journey is both spiritual, and in some cases, comical, as when he and his friend bought an old car. His adventures are mostly innocent forays into the secular world, for which he was not entirely prepared.

When all is said and done, Ira Wagler, and the reader, both learn that we are all more a product of our upbringings then we would sometimes care to admit. For better, or worse, we are all just who we are, plus, or minus, any changes we might make to ourselves along the way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Debit Card Fees - Pigs at the Trough

If you have been reading the papers you may have noticed that the banks are about to raise "swipe fees" on Debit card purchases under $15. While this may appear to affect only the merchants involved, think again and you will find that this action affects almost everybody. Banks currently charge retailers about 1.55 percent of the purchase price, plus 4 cents for the smaller transactions. This means that when you buy a cup of coffee for $2, you are paying 7 cents. Under the new rules this will triple. This may not seem a lot to you as an individual, but think of the impact it will have on the smaller retailers. In an effort to remain competitive they will have to absorb these costs, or pass them on to you as a consumer. In the very worst case this would drive customers away from the smaller retailers, into the arms of the larger ones, who will be able to more readily absorb these additional fees.

I use my Debit Card for almost everything, rarely carrying cash. This means that my local fried chicken place, as well as grocery store, will make less profit per purchase from me than they did before. And that loss will be passed on to me by the merchant, while the banks continue to rape the very people who bailed them out recently. Alas, how soon they forget. Wait, they never cared to begin with!

I am now withdrawing enough cash each week from the bank to pay for my smaller purchases in cash, rather than using my Debit Card. Will it make any difference? I don't know. But sometimes you just have to take a chance that doing something is better than doing nothing. I look at it this way, if I take the money directly from the bank, and give it to my local mom and pop stores, the bank will have less money and the stores I shop at will have more, enabling them to keep prices down. If I'm wrong, nothing changes. If I'm right, probably nothing will change either. But I will feel a whole lot better. And that's priceless!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"The American Sucess Company" with Jeff Bridges and Bianca Jagger (1980)


I saw this movie last in 1980, just before the final, re-edited version was released, and I loved it. Most people didn't. The story involves Jeff Bridges, who plays a low level corporate manager, married to Bianca Jagger, who plays the boss's daughter. But rather than sit on his ass and be content with doing essentially nothing, not to mention catering to every whim of his narcissistic wife, he decides to become a man. And he takes an unusual route to his goal. He adopts an alternate persona, complete with an eye patch. He becomes, in short, a menacing sort of fellow.

Hiring a hooker to teach him to be more assertive in bed, and in life, he gradually emerges from his shell and is able to confront both his father-in-law, as well as his wife. The movie was roundly panned in it's initial incarnation, and then soundly drubbed by the critics after it's re-release. It's worth noting that the title was changed at least twice before it's second, and final release. Even the poster art was changed in an effort to jump start this film. I have used the original poster here in lieu of the final cover.

Some of the lack of enthusiasm for this film in 1980 may have been a product of the changing times in regards to relations between men and women. In this film, Bianca Jagger plays the daughter, who mainly concerns herself with twirling around in front of mirrors while dressed as a ballerina. Her father, played by Ned Beatty, indulges her every whim. In a twisted way this film is reminiscent of "My Man Godfrey", and Carole Lombard's part as the spoiled rich girl. In that film only William Powell is able to break through the stifling world inherited by Lombard's character, much in the way that Jeff Bridges is finally able to bring his wife down to earth, only to find that he doesn't love her, or the world from which she comes.

As women's roles changed during the late 1970's and early 1980's, this film may have been perceived as an affront to women, and this may have contributed to the movies lack of success. I have not seen this film in over 30 years, and even had to look up Jeff Bridges filmography to get the title correct, it was changed twice, but I do remember enjoying the film for the broad satire it was intended to be. The film is available on line, and if you have never seen it before, you should take the time to check out this unusual and off beat comedy. The message is clear; that while we don't always get what we want, what we want is often what we didn't need, or desire, to begin with. This is a very unusual, and entertaining, film.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Love Affair" with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne


This was a nice surprise, in a couple of ways, as I had never seen it before; and having just come from a visit to New York City, where the bulk of the story takes place, it just seemed appropriate.

The story is old style corny; a French playboy, Charles Boyer of course, is traveling by boat to meet his wealthy heiress fiancee, and falls in love with another woman, Irene Dunne. They have an affair and agree to meet again in 6 months atop the Empire State Building. She is struck by a car on the way to meeting him, and paralyzed, leaving him wondering, and waiting. A real tear jerker.

Aside from the corny plot, the film did garner 2 Academy Award Nominations; both Irene Dunne and Maria Ouspenkaya were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, repectively. In addition it was nominated for Best Story and Best Song- the poignant ballad "Wishing".

It also had me "Wishing" that I had spent just a bit more time wandering the streets of New York while I was there. Best line in the movie is spoken by Irene Dunne's character, Terry McKay, who avers, "The things we like best are either illegal, immoral or fattening." Low key, and later remade as "An Affair to Remember" with Cary Grant, this is an often overlooked film that is well worth the time it takes to watch.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"I Feel Good" by James Brown


To put it quite simply, James Brown was to music as Muhammad Ali was to boxing; that is to say that they both changed all the rules, resulting in a more equitable share of the profits generated by their efforts. Prior to these two men of color, African-American artists, and boxers, were routinely "ripped off" by their managers, as well as the media who exploited them.

His early life consisted of virtually no formal education, yet he had a vision of the sound he wanted to achieve. Teaming up with Bobby Byrd, he altered the course of R&B forever, while at the same time giving birth to "Soul" Music. He is, of course, known as the "Godfather of Soul", as well as the "Hardest Working Man in Show Business". Just You Tube "Please, Please, Please" sometime and watch this man work his incredible talent. Few people realize that James Brown could play several instruments, arrange and even conduct his own music when necessary. The result was always staggering.

After only a brief stint as a member of the Flames, Mr. Brown took over the group, in the same way that Chuck Berry took over Johnnie Johnson's band. It wasn't sinister, they simply were the best front men for those bands.

When Boston was about to erupt into violence, on the evening of Martin Luther King's assassination, it was James Brown who quelled the riot. Using only words, he was able to turn an angry mob at his show, who were being harassed by the police for climbing on the stage to touch him, back into an audience. This video shows part of that concert, with the action described here taking place between 1:58 and 3:40 into the video. This man commanded "respect", and got it, too!



In May of 2002 he teamed up with Luciano Pavarotti and performed "It's a Man's World" at the Opera House in Modena, Italy. Pavarotti sang, using his famous voice, in a stunning counterpoint to Mr. Brown's. He even sang a completely different melody, though I do not know the name of the song which he used. The effect is amazing. You can watch it here with the translation;



Although his later years were shadowed by drug use, including the infamous 2 state, crack fueled police chase, James Brown was the man. This book takes the reader on a lifes journey in the author's own words, including his views on race and politics. In the book, just as in life, James Brown gives it his all, holding nothing back.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"It's Too Late" and "Matchbox" - Derek and the Dominoes on Johnny Cash -1971



This video needs no introduction, except to say that it's from The Johnny Cash Show in 1971. Watch the whole thing, after the Dominoes play "It's Too Late", Johnny Cash talks music with Eric Clapton before they bring out Carl Perkins for a little bit of "Matchbox" with Derek and the Dominoes. They don't have TV like this anymore....

Thanks to Dave for turning me on to this video!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Sue and I took a trip up to New York for 3 days to say hello to my old friend Iona and her husband Dave. They live on the West Coast, so the trip was a treat for them, as well as Sue and I. We didn't do a whole lot, just walked around the old neighborhood on Kings Highway, passed by our old Junior High School and the apartments where we used to live. I haven't been back to Brooklyn in almost 10 years, so I really needed to "feel" the energy of the Big Apple. And it's still there, alive and kicking, filled with all kinds of people trying to make a buck, or a name, for themselves. The subway still had musicians playing in many of the cars, and some were really good!

Iona and I went to Juinor High together, only a few short years ago. I had never met David before. For me, it was instant friendship. This guy does it all, and with style! You should have seen him zipping in, and out, of traffic in the city all the way to Brooklyn and back. He's from the West Coast and navigated the streets of my old home town like a native.

New York is nothing without walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, so we did that on an overcast, and slightly rainy day. The bridge is undergoing a new paint job, but the majesty of the structure, along with the ingenuity of the concept of suspension bridges in general, always make this a wonderful thing to do in New York. And walking across with an old friend makes it even more special. The twin towers may be gone, but that indefineable spirit which makes New York the great place that it is, can never be destroyed. It goes on and on...

And what visit to New York would be complete without a visit to Little Italy? We happened to be there for the annual Feast of St Gennaro, and aside from the food there was this wonderfully colorful procession. This is the same procession depicted in the film "Mean Streets" with a very young Robert DeNiro. I used to go to this procession with my friends when I was young, and going back again, by chance, was really a bonus round for me. The Feast of San Gennaro is known for its food, and the procession itself, which heralds in an 11-day festival which honors the official "Saint Day", September 19th, when a celebratory Mass is held in the Most Precious Blood Church, followed by the religious procession in which the Statue of San Gennaro is carried from its permanent home in the church through the streets of Little Italy.

We didn't do all that much, it was a short 3 day visit, but the City of New York is still alive and well. The sights, smells and colors, along with a new crop of immigrants, make any visit to New York the unique treat that it always has been, and always will be.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New York, New York



I'm taking what may be my last trip back home to New York City. It's just a short visit, to reconnect with my roots. I don't carry a laptop, and my cell phone is just that, a phone, but I will try to post something from the hotel each day that I am gone. Meanwhile, as you are enjoying this video, I'll be looking at the real thing!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Everyone Loves Music - Cows and Jazz



If you need any further proof that music crosses all boundaries of life, you need look no further than this current footage of cows in Southern France. At first, they react to a lone tuba player. Then, as more musicians join in, more cows appear. Who says that animals have no soul?

Wade Mainer - R.I.P.



North Carolina is the home to so many styles of music, from opera to bluegrass, we've got it all. Wade Mainer, who passed away the other day at age 104, is a perfect example of some of the musical innovations to have come from the mountains of North Carolina.

Imagine living in a time, and place, in which the only music you ever heard was in a church on Sundays, or, if you were lucky, on an instrument at home. Wade Mainer was born into such a world. Radio was barely 4 years old at the time of his birth, and still referred to as the "wireless". Broadcast music was still a few years off in the future when he was born.

Here he is, courtesy of You Tube, playing his unique 2 finger style of banjo, which influenced everyone from Earl Scruggs to John Hartford. This video was made last year when he was only 103 years young. They say singing, and playing, will do that for you. Keep you young.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"The Wire" - Any Season



This is the explosive, street level drama that takes place in the neighborhood where I used to work in Baltimore during the 17 years in which I lived there. It is so realistic and factual in its portrayal of life in that neighborhood, that I have no doubt as to the veracity of the plots, or of the writing. It's shown exactly as I remember it.

Speaking of the writing, Ed Burns and David Simon are the two award winning fellows who brought you "Homicide:Life on the Street", the Emmy Award winning TV show, and the prize winning book "The Corner", which was later produced by PBS as a series, prior to this one. The lives depicted in this series are identical to the real lives portrayed in the pages of that book.

This is the main area of the action in "The Wire." The west side of Baltimore, from Martin Luther King Blvd to Monroe Street is a daily battleground between law enforcement and the street level drug trade. Stopping for a red light in this area produces all sorts of people coming up to the car window; prostitutes, drug dealers, rip off artists, you name it - they got it. And it goes on 24/7. In the daytime, the police are on top of things, but at night it's a different story, as the drug dealers and their customers steal, shoot and beat their way to the evenings "high". This usually involves at least one shooting and an assorted number of overdoses.

This series is well produced, and has an excellent theme song, which was re-recorded each year by a new group. Season 4 is my favorite version, which was arranged by Doreen Vail and recorded by the members of a Baltimore Boys Choir.

As usual, I'm about 5 years behind the rest of the world in watching this realistic and cutting edge show. The only excuse I have is that I was probably catching up on something else at the time, no doubt something which was 5 years old then. Like the neighborhood depicted in "The Wire", somethings never change.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pieces of My Past

My favorite Aunt Gloria has once again provided me with some of the missing pieces from my family history. She got a bunch of old photos, some dating back to the 1920's, from my cousin Mary Ellen, and then sent them on to me. This photo is the "missing" one from my Dad's Confirmation Day. It shows all the brothers and sisters, along with my grandmother, in the backyard of their house in Brooklyn. I'm really glad to have this picture, as I've said, it was the one missing photo from the set taken that day. The lineup is my Uncle Roy, my Grandmother "Nana", and Aunt Mary in the rear, with my Uncle Richie, Aunt Gladys and my Dad up front. Gloria is not in the photo, and I will have to ask her why. She was either not born yet, or too young to be in the photo. I'm guessing that this photo is from 1938, a few years before her birth. Also, it appears that Nana is smoking a cigarette! I had no idea....

This is my Great Grandmother Katherine, whom everyone called "Nanny". I have never had a picture of her until now, and it I love the way she is looking with such affection at the flowers on the stoop. Until I messed around with the settings while scanning, I hadn't noticed the boy in the upper right hand portion of the photo. I think it may be my Uncle Roy, and he looks as pleased with the flowers as his grandmother does. This picture was taken in front of the family brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Her pleasure with the flowers is so evident that it is infectious, and even endearing. I never knew this woman, but she seems like someone I would loved to have known. The stories, and history, which she could impart to me are both things I will never be privy to. Her eyes hold all those secrets in this photo.

There were 24 more photos in the envelope which arrived today, and I lost no time in scanning them, placing them on disc, in zip files and on flash drives. I don't ever want to lose these pieces of my past. Without my favorite Aunt Gloria I would have never seen these photos, along with the scores of others which she has provided me over the past few years.

It's a good deal, she sends them, I scan them, and then send the originals back with a DVD of the scans. I also forward the zip drive by e-mail so that the photos can now make the rounds of the entire family. Even the ones that don't speak to one another will have access to them. And that's a good thing, because only when you assemble all the pieces of your past can you see yourself as whole. Thanks, Aunt Gloria, for helping me to see myself more fully.

Birmingham, Alabama - September 15th, 1963

I was eating breakfast on Sunday morning, September 15th, 1963. I was just about to turn 9 years old. The radio was playing softly in the background when the first reports of the Birmingham bombing came across the news. It shocked me. Even at the tender age of almost 9, it shocked me. Safe in my kitchen it shocked me that there were people who harbored so much hatred that they would kill children in a church. It still shocks me, even today. The following is the text of the news article from the following days newspaper;

Six Dead After Church Bombing

Blast Kills Four Children; Riots Follow
Two Youths Slain; State Reinforces Birmingham Police


Birmingham, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- A bomb hurled from a passing car blasted a crowded Negro church today, killing four girls in their Sunday school classes and triggering outbreaks of violence that left two more persons dead in the streets.

Two Negro youths were killed in outbreaks of shooting seven hours after the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, and a third was wounded.

As darkness closed over the city hours later, shots crackled sporadically in the Negro sections. Stones smashed into cars driven by whites.

Police reported at least five fires in Negro business establishments tonight. A official said some are being set, including one at a mop factory touched off by gasoline thrown on the building. The fires were brought under control and there were no injuries.

Meanwhile, NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins wired President Kennedy that unless the Federal Government offers more than "picayune and piecemeal aid against this type of bestiality" Negroes will "employ such methods as our desperation may dictate in defense of the lives of our people."

Reinforced police units patrolled the city and 500 battle-dressed National Guardsmen stood by at an armory.

City police shot a 16-year-old Negro to death when he refused to heed their commands to halt after they caught him stoning cars. A 13-year-old Negro boy was shot and killed as he rode his bicycle in a suburban area north of the city. Downtown streets were deserted after dark and police urged white and Negro parents to keep their children off the streets.

Thousands of hysterical Negroes poured into the area around the church this morning and police fought for two hours, firing rifles into the air to control them. When the crowd broke up, scattered shootings and stonings erupted through the city during the afternoon and tonight.

The Negro youth killed by police was Johnny Robinson, 16. They said he fled down an alley when they caught him stoning cars. They shot him when he refused to halt. The 13-year-old boy killed outside the city was Virgil Ware. He was shot at about the same time as Robinson.

Shortly after the bombing police broke up a rally of white students protesting the desegregation of three Birmingham schools last week. A motorcade of militant adult segregationists apparently en route to the student rally was disbanded.

Police patrols, augmented by 300 State troopers sent into the city by Gov. George C. Wallace, quickly broke up all gatherings of white and Negroes. Wallace sent the troopers and ordered 500 National Guardsmen to stand by at Birmingham armories.

King arrived in the city tonight and went into a conference with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a leader in the civil rights fight in Birmingham. The City Council held an emergency meeting to discuss safety measures for the city, but rejected proposals for a curfew.

Dozens of persons were injured when the bomb went off in the church, which held 400 Negroes at the time, including 80 children. It was Young Day at the church.

A few hours later, police picked up two white men, questioned them about the bombing and released them.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wired President Kennedy from Atlanta that he was going to Birmingham to plead with Negroes to "remain non-violent." But he said that unless "immediate Federal steps are taken" there will be "in Birmingham and Alabama the worst racial holocaust this Nation has ever seen."

Dozens of survivors, their faces dripping blood from the glass that flew out of the church's stained glass windows, staggered around the building in a cloud of white dust raised by the explosion. The blast crushed two nearby cars like toys and blew out windows blocks away.

Negroes stoned cars in other sections of Birmingham and police exchanged shots with a Negro firing wild shotgun blasts two blocks from the church. It took officers two hours to disperse the screaming, surging crowd of 2,000 Negroes who ran to the church at the sound of the blast.

At least 20 persons were hurt badly enough by the blast to be treated at hospitals. Many more, cut and bruised by flying debris, were treated privately.

(The Associated Press reported that among the injured in subsequent shooting were a white man injured by a Negro. Another white man was wounded by a Negro who attempted to rob him, according to police.)

Mayor Albert Boutwell, tears streaming down his cheeks, announced the city had asked for help. "It is a tragic event," Boutwell said. "It is just sickening that a few individuals could commit such a horrible atrocity. The occurrence of such a thing has so gravely concerned the public..." His voice broke and he could not go on.

Boutwell and Police Chief Jamie Moore requested the State assistance in a telegram to Wallace; "While the situation appears to be well under control of federal law enforcement officers at this time, the possibility of further trouble exists," Boutwell and Moore said in their telegram.

President Kennedy, yachting off Newport, R.I., was notified by radio-telephone and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered his chief civil rights troubleshooter, Burke Marshall, to Birmingham. At least 25 FBI agents, including bomb experts from Washington, were being rushed in.

City Police Inspector W.J. Haley said as many as 15 sticks of dynamite must have been used. "We have talked to witnesses who say they saw a car drive by and then speed away just before the bomb hit," he said.

In Montgomery, Wallace said he had a similar report and said the descriptions of the car's occupants did not make clear their race. But he served notice "on those responsible that every law enforcement agency of this State will be used to apprehend them." The bombing was the 21st in Birmingham in eight years, and the first to kill. None of the bombings have been solved.

As police struggled to hold back the crowd, the blasted church's pastor, the Rev. John H. Cross, grabbed a megaphone and walked back and forth, telling the crowd: "The police are doing everything they can. Please go home. The Lord is our shepherd," he sobbed. "We shall not want."

The only stained glass window in the church that remained in its frame showed Christ leading a group of little children. The face of Christ was blown out.

After the police dispersed the hysterical crowds, workmen with pickaxes went into the wrecked basement of the church. Parts of brightly painted children's furniture were strewn about in one Sunday School room, and blood stained the floors. Chunks of concrete the size of footballs littered the basement.

The bomb apparently went off in an unoccupied basement room and blew down the wall, sending stone and debris flying like shrapnel into a room where children were assembling for closing prayers following Sunday School. Bibles and song books lay shredded and scattered through the church.

In the main sanctuary upstairs, which holds about 500 persons, the pulpit and Bible were covered with pieces of stained glass. One of the dead girls was decapitated. The coroner's office identified the dead as Denise McNair, 11; Carol Robertson, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14, and Addie Mae Collins, 10.

As the crowd came outside watched the victims being carried out, one youth broke away and tried to touch one of the blanket-covered forms. "This is my sister," he cried. "My God, she's dead." Police took the hysterical boy away.

Mamie Grier, superintendent of the Sunday School, said when the bomb went off "people began screaming, almost stampeding" to get outside. The wounded walked around in a daze, she said.

One of the injured taken to a hospital was a white man. Many others cut by flying glass and other debris were not treated at hospitals.

It was the fourth bombing in four weeks in Birmingham, and the third since the current school desegregation crisis came to a boil Sept. 4.

Desegregation of schools in Birmingham, Mobile, and Tuskegee was finally brought about last Wednesday when President Kennedy federalized the National Guard. Some of the Guardsmen in Birmingham are still under Federal orders. Wallace said the ones he alerted today were units of the Guard "not now federalized."

The City of Birmingham has offered a $52,000 reward for the arrest of the bombers, and Wallace today offered another $5,000. But Dr. King wired Wallace that "the blood of four little children ... is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cat Food - They Warned Me...

Everyone warned me, so I can't say that I entered this relationship blindly. "If you feed a cat once, it'll be back forever." Okay, so they were right. I gave this little feline friend a bowl of cold milk on a hot summer day and now she greets me each morning, meowing loudly to me as I bring in the morning paper. Actually, she is already waiting by the door, keening for her breakfast. And I get it for him/her. I'm allergic to cats and can't turn it over to see what it is.

Yesterday morning she was doing her act, I do think it's a she cat, and I was desperate to find her something to eat. It appears that the neighbors, who were also feeding her, have either left town, or have decided to leave feeding the cat to me. So, she got tuna fish for breakfast.

Last evening, Sue bought a more cost effective box of dry cat food for our new "pet." And when she came home, the cat was already waiting. It was as if she knew Sue was going to the store for her. And she was right. Now, if I can only train her to bring me my morning paper....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jason Mraz - "Life Is Wonderful" Live



This song expresses best how I currently feel. I'm taking a trip to New York next week and, while there, looking forward to looking back a bit. Sometimes it just takes time to put things, and people, in proper perspectives, and when you do, well, "life can be wonderful."

I wasn't familiar with Jason Mraz until I heard his recording of "I'm Yours" at the local chicken place tonight, and it blew me away. So, naturally, I came home and You Tubed him, coming up with this beautiful gem of a song in the bargain. Hey, sometimes you get more than you looked for...

"Life Is Wonderful"

It takes a crane to build a crane
It takes two floors to make a story
It takes an egg to make a hen
It takes a hen to make an egg
There is no end to what I'm saying

It takes a thought to make a word
And it takes some words to make an action
It takes some work to make it work
It takes some good to make it hurt
It takes some bad for satisfaction

La la la la la la la life is wonderful
Ah la la la la la la life goes full circle
Ah la la la la la la life is wonderful
Al la la la la

It takes a night to make it dawn
And it takes a day to make you yawn brother
And it takes some old to make you young
It takes some cold to know the sun
It takes the one to have the other

And it takes no time to fall in love
But it takes you years to know what love is
It takes some fears to make you trust
It takes those tears to make it rust
It takes the rust to have it polished

Ha la la la la la la life is wonderful
Ah la la la la la la life goes full circle
Ah la la la la la la life is so full of
Ah la la la la la la life is so rough
Ah la la la la la la life is wonderful
Ah la la la la la la life goes full circle
Ah la la la la la la life is our love
Ah la la la la la

It takes some silence to make sound
It takes a loss before you found it
And it takes a road to go nowhere
It takes a toll to show you care
It takes a hole to see the mountain

Ah la la la la la la life is wonderful
Ah la la la la la la life goes full circle
Ha la la la la la life is wonderful
Ha la la la la la life is meaningful
Ha la la la la la life is wonderful
Ha la la la la la life it is...so... wonderful
It is so meaningful
It is so wonderful
It is meaningful
It is wonderful
It is meaningful
It goes full circle
Wonderful
Meaningful
Full circle
Wonderful

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Dark Harbor" by Nathan Ward


In this colorful and enjoyable history, Nathan Ward has brilliantly tied together the story of corruption along the New York waterfront of the 1930's through the 1950's with the iconic film "On the Waterfront." Utilizing the Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles by New York Sun reporter Malcom Johnson, Mr. Ward has pieced together the facts behind the thinly disguised fiction of the Elia Kazan film. Working with playwright Arthur Miller, and actor Marlon Brando, gave that film a reality that still has a bite, even now when viewed almost 60 years later.

The author takes the reader on a pier by pier journey through the corruption that ate away at the social fabrics of whole neighborhoods, gobbling up livelihoods, and often lives, as it swallowed the promise of the American Dream based on hard work.

The "shape-up", the humiliating practice of having men bribe, and beg, for a day’s work, is explored in detail. The real life characters that were the basis for the main players in "On the Waterfront" are all exposed here through the real life experiences of the working men, and their families, who were all victims to the thugs and organized criminal enterprises who ran the docks. There really were Johnny Friendly's and Kayo Dugan’s, just as there were real life Terry Malloy's, all caught up in the struggle to provide either pinky rings for themselves, or food and shelter for their families. There really was a Crime Commission investigating the labor practices along the waterfront, and witnesses were killed for testifying before them.

Of special interest in this book are the preparations for the filming of "On the Waterfront", with both Arthur Miller and Marlon Brando walking the streets of Red Hook, where the movie takes place, in order to capture the real feel of the time and place. Brando didn't think he could walk the streets unrecognized as Marlon Brando. Donning his costume, and carrying his cargo hook, he strode through the neighborhood, without raising an eyebrow. That's when he knew he was ready.

From Albert Anastasia, in the area of the Fulton Street Fish Market, to Charlie Yanowsky, in Jersey City, the cast of characters is colorful in this engaging book which chronicles the sordid history of New York's waterfront. In 1948 it was written that "the New York waterfront produces more murders per square foot than any other one section of the country."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ground Zero - September 11th, 2001

Although I have some serious questions about the events of 9/11, today is not the day to raise them. It is instead, a day to remember those who were victimized by the tragedy, as well as those who responded to it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Aaron Lefkowitz - Leaving Something Behind

Aaron Lefkowitz, the father of an old friend, passed away last Tuesday. I just heard about it this morning from his daughter, Lois. Aaron owned a hardware store in Brooklyn. It was called Coleman's on 5th Avenue and 50th Street, just a few blocks east from the upper portion of Bay Ridge Channel, which is just south of Gowanus Bay. I believe it was his second store, but I'm not really sure of that. At any rate, the store is secondary to the man I knew.

At the time I knew him I was a drunk, but mostly I liked to take pills and smoke pot. My own family, for whatever reasons, had little to no respect for me, and perhaps I had none for myself at the time. But Aaron, and his wife, never judged me on my flaws. They always did their level best to make me feel accepted, whether it was in the store, where Lois' husband Mark worked, or at their table on any given holiday. Aaron was always the first to ask Lois if I had anyplace to go, as in "No Jew should be alone on the holidays." Consequently, I spent several of the High Holy Days breaking fast at their table. Sometimes I was barely awake. But again, no one there ever judged me. They simply fed me and made sure I was not alone. I have spoken, over the years, to my wife and children about the wonderful kindness shown to me by this man.

Life is filled with lessons to be learned, you just have to be open to receiving them. And though I might not always have been at "my best" when in Aaron's company, his lessons came through. About 20 years ago, for a number of reasons, I began to light Sabbath Candles on Friday evenings. And I have continued to do so until this very day. And I have never lit one without thinking of the influence this one man had upon me. His demeanor, and joy of life, will be missed.

They say that a man is judged by what he leaves behind him in this world. That's his candle burning in the picture above. The candle will last only a day, perhaps a few hours more, but the light that Aaron brought to the world will remain forever.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"The Glass Rainbow" by James Lee Burke


When you open a James Lee Burke novel it's like stepping out of an airplane at several thousand feet, you just don't know exactly where you are going to land. Mr. Burke, a two time Edgar Award winner, and a recipient of the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America, writes so convincingly, that it is hard to tell where his life intersects with that of his main character, Dave Robicheaux. I suspect that, at times, they are one and the same.

"The Glass Rainbow", released in 2010, has New Iberia Parish Detective Dave Robicheaux back in the middle of a seemingly impossible to solve string of murders. The victims have all been young, and disenfranchised, young women, all that is except one. She is the sister of a convict in Mississippi, Elmore Latiolais, who has requested to see Detective Robicheaux after seeing a newspaper article related to his sister, Bernadette's, murder. This meeting sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the underbelly of race, religion, politics, gambling and alternative energy, all of which define the animus of present day Louisiana, as well as Texas, which in turn defines some of the forces which serve to tear apart the America of the recent past. And that is one of the strengths of James Lee Burke as a writer. He weaves real life politics and the problems of the ordinary man together seamlessly with a mystery based on the social injustices of our own times. And, as if that is not enough to satisfy you, he also connects the problems of today's society with the sins of our own past.

With his usual flair for detail, he serves up a cast of characters that becomes more diverse with each of his several dozen novels. And, with "The Glass Rainbow" he has surpassed even himself in this endeavor.

With his pal Clete Purcel at his side, and at the same time watching his back, Detective Robicheaux peels back the layers that conceal the corruption of people, and organizations, that threaten to wipe out all of the good in this world. With energy schemes, masquerading as religious good will, and involving some of the wealthiest families, it is often hard to remember that you are reading fiction.

I actually tried to diagram this book in the way that the detectives do on TV, all in a vain effort to uncover the real guilty parties before Mr. Burke serves them up. It was an effort in futility. I was on the right track, but took the wrong fork in the road in this sprawling work of fiction that has its roots in the headlines of today's newspapers. With greed and corruption at every turn, and with his daughter, Alafair, home from college, things get hot and heavy as "Streak" and Clete Purcel pursue every lead, and lowlife, in order to bring to justice the people who are really responsible for the death of Elmore Latiolais' sister, Bernadette, who was an honor student with a penchant for saving wildlife. What is her connection to the 7 arpents of land left by her grandfather?

I have never read a James Lee Burke novel without learning something about the music, history and politics that have come to define the image of New Orleans, either pre, or post Katrina.

In "The Glass Rainbow", Mr. Burke has once again done the seemingly impossible. He has blended all of these elements into a tale that sometimes has the reader going back a few pages, in order to keep things straight, while navigating the fascinating and colorful world which has become the hallmark of all his writing. And, in the end, though the good guys always win, the reader is left wondering at the price paid for the injustices inflicted upon the average man by those with so much power.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"In the Garden" - Pixels and Impressionist Art


Just because the picture didn't come out right doesn't mean it's wrong. Claude Monet's "Artist Garden at Giverny" comes to mind when I look at this photo. Now, I'm no Monet, and I certainly can't do this with a brush - but for an accident it's not that bad...


Here is a link to good ol' Wikipedia's article on Monet. There is a gallery at the bottom which highlights almost all of his work.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Monet

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Saving Mr. Zippy

The Post Office is in trouble, and it needs your help. With a projected loss of $15 billion dollars this fiscal year, which includes the $5.5 billion due to the Retirement Health Fund, the Post Office needs you! First, let's take a look at the history of the Post Office in the United States.

In the earliest days of the American colonies, the settlers relied upon one another to deliver messages between the colonies. These messengers included the colonists, slaves and even friendly Native Americans. The system worked fairly well for its time. But what about the correspondence going back to England, Holland, Germany, and all of the other countries from where the colonists originated? For the most part these messages were carried by ship's captains and deposited in the systems of the countries to which they were destined. The system worked okay, but it needed to be more organized. To that end, in 1639, the General Court of Massachusetts named a tavern in Boston, owned by Richard Fairbanks, to be the official depot for mail coming from, or going to, overseas locations. The tavern also served as the place from which mail received here in the colonies would be distributed.

This early system lead to the development of what became known as "the old Post Road", parts of which are still in existence between Boston and New York. The first regularly scheduled mail runs between New York and Boston began under New York's Governor Francis Lovelace in 1673.

In 1683, William Penn, then Governor of Pennsylvania, established postal service throughout Pennsylvania. It was a fairly simple affair, covering only the immediate area. Primarily they were tasked with the delivery of local documents, as well as the letters arriving by ship in Philadelphia from the old world to the residents in Pennsylvania. It was a good system for its time and place.

The Southern colonies, too, had their own method for the delivery of mail. They used slaves to transport documents between plantations. Failure to forward another person's mail was met with a fine, a hogs head of tobacco was the usual penalty.

The first real organization of the Post Office began in 1691 when the English crown gave a 21 year grant to a man named Thomas Neale. Neale had never even visited America, and with no desire to do so, appointed the Governor of New Jersey, Andrew Hamilton, as Deputy Postmaster General. Neale passed away in 1699, passing the torch back to Andrew Hamilton. Between that time and 1730, much remained as it was.

By 1730, Alexander Spotswood, a lieutenant governor of Virginia, was named as Deputy Postmaster General for the colonies. He appointed 31 year old Benjamin Franklin as postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. At the time Franklin was the publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette.

Spotswood remained at the helm until 1739 when he was succeeded by Head Lynch, and then Elliot Benger in 1743. Both Lynch and Benger were from Virginia. When Benger died in 1753, Franklin was appointed, along with William Hunter, to be the Joint Postmasters General for all of the colonies. When Hunter died in 1761, John Foxcroft of New York succeeded him. He would serve until the outbreak of the American Revolution.

By this time, Franklin had already toured the colonies to inspect the post offices, which were still largely ensconced in General Stores and taverns. During this time Franklin made many changes and improvements to the service. He ordered new surveys for better roads, and added milestones on many of the main roads. This lead to new and shorter routes, and for the first time, mail was carried by horseback and stagecoach at night between Philadelphia and New York, cutting the travel time in half.

By 1760 the Post Office was operating at a surplus. The system was operated between Maine and Florida, with a route from New York to Canada as well.

With the coming of the American Revolution, most Americans eschewed the official Post Office in favor of other means to communicate with the various colonies. Benjamin Franklin was dismissed by the Crown for being in sympathy with the colonists. William Goddard set up a post office in Connecticut for inter colonial service. He appointed Franklin as Postmaster General. There were now 30 official stations operating across the colonies.

Between that time and the opening of the Western regions, the Post Office took on many different incarnations, including the famous Pony Express, which carried mail from coast to coast in as little as 5 days.

As the country continued to grow, so did the Post Office. And it has served us well for over 200 years. The latest news for this valuable institution is not good. With no money to plug that $15 billion dollar hole it seems that the Post Office may be looking at its demise. And that would be a shame. So, what can be done to save it?

First of all, revenues need to be increased. This can be done by not trying to undercut the private carriers. Instead, the Post Office should charge the same amount as the private carriers do for "junk" mail and other commercial uses. Minimum fees for the private companies need to be set, so as to avoid price wars between the Public and Private enterprises.

The loss of revenue due to the use of e-mails and e-cards, of which we are all guilty, needs to be made up for in other ways. The First Class postal rate needs to be set at a realistic rate, say about 75 cents per letter. We cannot let the Post Office simply go out of existence. Too much time and energy were expended to create it, only to let it slip away from us.

Send a letter to yourself. This should be easy; you know what you want to say, so you can just mail an empty envelope to yourself. Wouldn't it be nice to get a letter once in a while, along with all the "junk" mail? Another method would be for you to place one extra stamp, of any denomination, to the next thing you mail.

Finally, remember this, it still takes a Court Order to open your mail when it is sent by U.S. Postal Service. The Postmaster General is the one who has to approve the monitoring of the mails, which was last done during the Second World War. After 9-11, and the enactment of the Patriot Act, all private carriers were required to let law enforcement open any mail, or packages, carried by Fed Ex, UPS and all the others, without warrants, operating solely on "anonymous" tips. This runs so counter to who we are as a nation, that it sets one to wondering how this is considered to be "patriotic" at all. We have already given up many of our rights in regard to packages and e-mails carried privately; do we really want to cast aside the last truly protected service?

Perhaps I am being too emotional about the whole issue. It's just that I remember waiting for the mailman to come when I was a kid, hoping that the day would bring me that special letter I was waiting for, or perhaps some silly thing I had sent away for with my allowance and the required box tops from my cereal. At any rate, the Post Office is simply too good a thing to let it go without at least trying to keep it viable.

I'm printing this out for my mail carrier to read. I'm going to put it in my mailbox today with the red flag up. Then I'm going to mail myself a copy, with an extra stamp on it for luck.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Andy Griffith Show



I'm a big fan of the Andy Griffith Show. I say this without embarassment. There is more to be learned about the Golden Rule in any single episode of these shows than in any church, or other house of worship, which I have ever attended. And in between there is some great fingerpicking going on. In the first video, above, the Darling family has come to town, intent on drawing up a marriage contract with Andy for Opie to marry Mr. Darling's grandaughter when the two children become of age. The whole matter is finally settled, Opie doesn't have to get married, and the two families sit down and make some music in Sheriff Taylor's living room.

Andy Griffith really started out telling stories, his first big break came with the recording of his comedy routine "What It Was, Was Football", recorded in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1953. This routine lead to appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and really launched his career, first in film with "A Face In The Crowd" in 1957, which co-starred Patricia Neal, and then on Broadway as the star of "No Time For Sergeants" in 1958. By 1961 he was the star of his own show on television in the all time classic "The Andy Griffith Show". This show also spawned the career of Ron Howard, who often credits the 6 years he spent with Mr. Griffith as the most rewarding ones of his life.

But in all of these genres, Andy Griffith was able to include, and indulge, his real passion, which was music. In doing so he managed to preserve some of the music of North Carolina's long musical legacy. I watch these shows often, on TV, or even on You Tube, where they are preserved in pristine condition. You can watch them in their full versions, or just watch short clips from the episodes which you like best.

Andy Griffith is one of those performers who will be considered timeless. His shows will be aired long after he has left the stage. Here he is, in the Courthouse, singing "New River Train" with one of the prisoners, Jim Lindsey, played by actor James Best. Herb Ellis, a very talented jazz guiarist, and CBS studio musician, is actually playing the second guitar. The close ups are of Mr. Ellis' hands.



And here is a link to "the original live version of "What It Was, Was Football";

http://youtu.be/-z3XvZ-lh7I

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day - 2011

This is a sweatshop on Ludlow Street on New York's Lower East Side. The photograph was taken by Jacob Riis. If any of the workers are smiling, it's only due to the novelty of having their pictures taken. These folks made pants for the princely sum of 45 cents per dozen. Imagine the time it took to accomplish this!

To make matters more clear, remember that this photo was taken in someone's home. That's right, this family, or group of immigrants, were working, living, eating and sleeping in this apartment, which probably contained one other room, with no windows at all, and a toilet in the backyard. The Public Baths were located on Grand Street. They worked 6 days a week, for about 12 hours per day. All of them split the 45 cents per dozen for the completed work. Just how many dozen do you think were made per day by this 5 person team working from scratch? Perhaps 2 dozen per day? That means that these 5 adults were working for a combined total of $5.40 per week.

When I grew up in New York, the city, as most of the nation, was largely free of these sweat shops. The workers had organized into Unions, demanding better wages and working conditions. Gone were the days of the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory, with it's locked doors, leading to the deaths of so many of the women who worked there when fire broke out. Gone was the sign that read - "If you don't come in on Sunday- then don't come in on Monday." As a child of the 1950's, and the Middle Class, these things are unimaginable to me. That is, until I look down at my sneakers.

Unions are almost dead, and sweatshops exist everywhere in the world today. My sneakers were probably made in one somewhere in China, or Malaysia, or Mexico; in short, they probably come from anywhere that people are desperate for work, and there are others willing to exploit that need for profit. These children are working at a brick "factory" in Asia.

Even back on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where much of the Labor Movement began, there are sweatshops once more. In the last 30 years we have been moving backwards in regards to Worker's Rights. Everywhere in the world today, there are factories, and sweatshops, which employ the most destitute of the working class, as well as illegal immigrants, under conditions which make the older photo, by Mr. Riis, look good. Think about this when you are out shopping today for all of the Labor Day Sales.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Maybe" - Two Versions of One Song



One of my favorite R&B songs is "Maybe", which was recorderd by the Chantels in 1957. The song was written by Arlene Smith and producer Richard Barrett. It went on to become a huge hit for the group, selling over one million copies, which made them the first "girl" group to accomplish this feat. They are considered to be one of the earliest of the "all girl" groups, which would eventually spawn acts such as The Cookies, The Supremes, and The Shangri-Las, to name only a few. The influence of these goups also spread into the Rock and Roll genre, with artists like The Beatles covering songs such as The Cookies version of "Chains", which had been written by Carole King.

By the late 1960's even Janis Joplin was covering some of the best songs of the 1930's through the 60's. "Summertime" by Cole Porter comes to mind, as does "Little Girl Blue" by Rodgers and Hart. But one of my favorite covers by her was when she did "Maybe" on the "I Got Them Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama" album. She infused that song with the blues, pure and simple. I have both versions on my flash drive, back to back, and sometimes even I have to stop and marvel at the two interepations of this great song. There is also another live version of this song, by Janis Joplin, from the Dick Cavett Show, which left the audience near tears.



Here is a link to the Chantel's original studio recording;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIyRhb8yv3A&feature=related

This is a link to an interview with Arlene Smith, which I hope you will find interesting;

http://www.classicbands.com/ChantelsInterview.html

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Every Streets a Boulevard" from "Living It Up" with Jerry Lewis



It's hard to believe that Jerry Lewis will not be appearing on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon this weekend for the first time since it was broadcast, locally, in New York several years prior to the popularly acknowledged date of 1966 at the Americana Hotel. Actually, the first one was held in 1952. If you don't believe me, hit this Wikipedia link for yourself. I don't need it, I grew up in Brooklyn and we used to collect change for the Telethon, and even go to the lobby of whatever hotel was hosting it, to drop off the coins.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MDA_Labor_Day_Telethon

I'm not sure of who is responsible for deciding that Jerry Lewis will no longer be the Emcee of what was essentially "his baby", but I do know it will never be the same without him. So, for all the Jerry Lewis fans out there, here is the master Emcee himself, along with Dean Martin, celebrating life on the streets of the Big Apple, in the 1954 comedy hit "Living It Up." Listen for those high harmonies from Jerry Lewis and think about how hard it must have been to sing them with such force. He really does outdo Dean Martin in the sheer exuberance of his performance. Like I said, this is a uniquely talented man, and as such, his presence on the Telethon will be sorely missed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thoughts on the MLK Memorial.

I don't know which of the errors concerning the Martin Luther King monument, which was unveiled last weekend in Washington, D.C. troubles me more. Maybe it's the fact that it was outsourced to China, while I would have preferred a monument done by an American, not necessarily of African-American descent. Dr. King is often quoted on being judged by the content of character, rather than the color of one's skin. But the monument should have been done by an American, as the whole Civil Rights Era was so uniquely American in it's context.

Maybe it's the way the Chinese artists cast him in a formidable, and almost unnapproachable stance,which was so unlike the man himself. Or perhaps I was troubled by the way in which they mangled the quote used on the monument. In it's short, clipped version the words sound arrogant and full of self praise. They were anything but that.

On February 4th, 1968, while speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Chiurch, a mere 8 weeks before his murder, Dr. King spoke of what his eulogy would be like if he were to pass away before his work was complete. He did not wish to be remembered as a supreme leader, he wanted to be remembered as a man who stood up for what is right, and beat the drum in that cause. He spoke with resignation, as a man who was fully reconciled with his own mortality, his eyes were moist, and his voice filled with emotion when he spoke these words;

"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."

This is the quote as it appears on the side of the monument;

"I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

Maya Angelou said it best when she opined that the statue, along with it's truncated quotation, "minimizes the man."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Cat

My first reaction to this fellow was to chase him away. He had been hiding out in our garage to escape the heat of the mid-day sun, which has been quite hot here lately. But each time I came out and saw him, I liked him a bit more. He roams the neighborhood, much as I did in my own neighborhood, when I was younger.

The first day I just let him alone in the shade as it was 100 degrees outside! There was no way I could chase him away. Then the next day I brought him a dish of water. In true cat fashion he turned his nose up at it, and went back to curling up under the front porch chairs.

Well, now I have gotten used to him darting around the outside of the house when I get my morning paper. Yesterday he was hanging out beneath Sue's car, and I brought him some milk. There was not even a moment of hesitation on his part, he simply began to lick it up while I snapped away. Camera shy is not in his vocabulary.

I haven't seen him yet today, but I know he'll be back. I know he doesn't really love me, and he certainly isn't coming by to see me - he's just in it for the milk. And that's okay by me.