Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Gilda" with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford

I went Christmas shopping yesterday and, as usual, the first thing I bought was a gift for me. "Gilda" is probably the most famous of all Rita Hayworth's films. The story is tight, and Glenn Ford is at his best in this gritty tale of expatriated Americans living in South America at the end of the Second World War. Johnny, played by Glenn Ford, is a drifter and gambler. One night, in Buenos Aires, he wins too much money using loaded dice in a crap game, almost getting killed in the bargain. That's when he meets his benefactor, a vaguely European man by the name of Mundson, played by George Macready, who owns a gambling casino. He invites Johnny to come visit him there.

When Johnny goes to the club he once again tries "his own luck" at the tables, only to be roughed up after winning way too much money once more. Using his wits, he manages to land a job in the casino, which he eventually runs for Munsdon. When the boss leaves for business, Johnny is alone with the casino, realizing for the first time, that his life has taken a turn for the better. But not for long.

When Mundson returns he brings his new bride with him, Gilda, played by Rita Hayworth. This is a shock to Johnny for two reasons; first, he and Mundson have agreed that gambling and women don't mix; and secondly, Johnny and Gilda have been former lovers, apparently having split up in some disastrous fashion. Mundson is not fully aware of this, though he suspects that something lies behind the mutual dislike that these two people have for one another. It doesn't take long for the simmering tensions to come to a head, as the domineering Mundson seemingly takes pleasure in watching Johnny and Gilda in their discomfort.

Mundson has more than the casino to worry about. He has become involved in a cartel, one which controls tungsten, a necessary element in the production of steel. When he double crosses the cartel, he is forced to flee, faking his own death to do so. But he has left behind both the casino and Gilda, plus some unfinished business with Johnny. What happens next will change Johnny and Gilda's lives forever.

Deftly directed by Charles Vidor, based on a story by E.A. Ellington, this is one of those old black and white films which are worth staying up late at night to watch on TV. In addition to the great plot, and acting, Ms. Hayworth puts in some credible dancing during the nightclub scenes, particularly while singing "Put the Blame On Mame", the films signature torch song, which was written by Doris Fisher, and lyricist Allan Roberts. The vocals are not Ms. Hayworth, they are actually sung by Anita Kert Ellis, one of Hollywood's celebrated "ghost singers".

Ms. Hayworth performs this song twice in the film; once during the nightclub scene, and then again, after hours, strumming a guitar while sitting with one of the club's other employees. Here is that scene;

And this is the fully orchestrated nightclub version of the song;

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

This is another one of my favorite poems. It is also the first poem I ever recall reading that wasn't written in a four line rhyming sequence, as with "Jack and Jill" and all the other poems that are taught in the 1st and 2nd grades. Actually, this one was first introduced to me in 5th Grade by Mrs. Denslow. I don't know where she is today; I could probably find her, or one of her children, to let them know what an impact this poem had upon me. Simply put, it stretched the boundaries of what I accepted as poetry, to something a little bit different; something which would lead me, later on, to appreciate "free verse" and other poetic styles, as valid. And, since the main purpose of this blog is for my grandchildren to know me more fully when they are older, I decided to include it here.

Poetry is the ability to condense our most complex emotions into the fewest words possible, without losing the message. Strictly structured, Haiku poetry is the champion in that regard. There are also epic poems, such as "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and Poe's "The Raven", which are a bit more lengthy and have much to say. While I enjoy them, as well as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, I have always remained enamored of the simple rhyme schemes in poetry by the likes of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, etc. These poets also capture the same complex emotions as the others, but with one difference; they turn them into song, actually making the words sing. This particular poem always strikes me as the American version of Hartley Coleridge’s “Long Time A Child”, which I have posted here before;

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"...A Frosty Morning..."

This is what a "frosty morning" looks like in "Dixie". I always wondered why they sang about it down South. That is, until I came to live here. This is the time of year when you wake up to 29 degrees, with the frost showing each time you exhale, and then watch the landscape change to a radiant, springlike 65 degrees, or so. Even when it snows here it only stays long enough to be appreciated, like a Christmas card, and then, poof, it's gone "quicker than an ol' friend from Dogpatch." There aren't too many days like this, so you have to take them as they come. And mornings like this one make that so very easy to do.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"J. Edgar" with Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts

J. Edgar Hoover was a uniquely American enigma. He was, at first, a ruthless fighter against Communism in the days of the Palmer Raids, which took place in 1919 under the direction of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and the Department of Justice. Those raids have long been ostracized as being illegal, but they really did save the nation in the early days of the 20th Century. The raids were mostly a reaction to labor related violence by the Unions. This was only 2 years after the Russian Revolution had ushered in Communism, and there was a real threat to America at the time. By September of 1920, explosions would rock Wall Street, when a wagonload of dynamite was set off at lunchtime, killing 38 and injuring scores. This was the environment in which J. Edgar Hoover "cut his teeth". It is also a small part of the history not made very clear to the audience in this film. Simply put, Mr. Eastwood has assumed too much of the average viewer.

The film is compelling, in that it keeps your attention. The direction of the actors is very well done, but the direction of the story; the screenplay; can leave the audience a bit confused as the story jumps back to the 1920's, and the Palmer Raids, and then jumps forward to the Nixon Era. Whole decades between the late 1930's and the 1960's are simply left out, or worse, merely alluded to, without any background information to help the younger viewer, as well as the uninformed, make sense of all the information imparted in the film.

Mr. Hoover's accomplishments in a forensic approach to solving crime cannot be understated. He set up the FBI's first fingerprint database, as well as introducing scientific methods to solving crimes. Ballistics, fibers, wood saw markings; all were carefully categorized under his tenure, and those accomplishments still yield results today. No matter what your politics may be, he was an innovative, though flawed, crime fighter.

Mr. Hoover is ably portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio as a conflicted man, both socially and morally. His relationship with Clyde Tolson, his assistant for almost his entire career, is not ignored, but neither is it explored for any indications that Mr. Hoover's famous "secret files" were largely due to a sense of "protectionism" of his own sexual preferences. This is a man who even had a file on Eleanor Roosevelt's dalliances with another woman, and informed the President of that fact. To his credit, that information was never made public during his tenure, but what about the files on Martin Luther King? Those he used to tempt Martin Luther King to kill himself on the eve of accepting the Nobel Peace prize. That episode is fully covered in the film.

The Kennedy years are virtually ignored, except for one scene showing J. Edgar calling Robert Kennedy to tell him the news of the assassination. Nothing further is said, or shown, concerning the FBI's complicity in covering up the events in Dallas.

J. Edgar's refusal to believe in organized crime, aka, the Mafia, is also overlooked here. How is it possible to have a film about the FBI without mentioning that it's director insisted, as late as 1964, that the Mafia, or any organized crime existed in America?

The film felt overly long, mostly due to the jumping forward and backward through almost 50 years of our nation's history in a hodge podge fashion. The film, in my opinion, would have been better served with a chronological approach to the story. Most viewers will find it helpful to read a bit about the man before they see the film. As it stands, the audience is left wondering if J. Edgar Hoover was a good man, or a bad man. The simple truth is, that just as we all are, he was a bit of both.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"My Long Trip Home" by Mark Whitaker

It has always been my belief that, like it or not; and for better or worse; we are all the sum total of our parents, and grandparents. Those 2 generations are the ones which define us, socially, as well as morally. In Mark Whitaker's life he was blessed with a rare mixture of race, and values, all of which served him well on the path to becoming the first African-American to attain the lofty position of Editor In Chief of Newsweek, and still later, Executive Vice president of CNN Worldwide.

The book is an amalgam of several stories; the first is that of his great grandfather, Frank Whitaker, and his son, Cleophaus Sylvester Whitaker, Sr., known to all as "Cleo". Frank was a slave until the age of 12, when he went to work on a tenant farm. As a matter of fact, the last name Whitaker is a combination composed of the words "white", for the cotton they picked, and "acre", for the land they picked it on. Frank wanted more for his son, so the elder "C.S." was sent west to get an education at one of the few schools for African-Americans at the time. That was in Oswego, Kansas where he lived with his mother's family while attending school. The difference between life for black people in Kansas, compared to Texas impressed "C.S." to the point of wanting to live somewhere else.

Arriving in Pittsburgh, "C.S." was an undertaker's assistant, and proved so adept at the trade that he became one of Pittsburgh’s first black Funeral Home owners. Eventually, his wife opened a second Funeral Home, which came in handy after they had divorced. Their son, Cleophaus, Jr., was in constant conflict with his father, eventually leaving the family to begin a life of his own. He was headed for the academic world, where he would leave his mark as a major influence in African Studies, eventually chairing the first African Studies Department at Harvard.

The author's mother, Jeanne Alice Theis, came from a totally different world. She was white, and came from a family of missionaries during the days leading up to the Second World War. Her parents, and their whole village in Poland, were involved in smuggling Jews out of the country, as well as hiding them in their homes.

The story of how these two very different people met; she was his teacher at college; and began a life together in 1960's America is astonishing. This account of their backgrounds, as well as the story of their son's journey to success, is well worth reading. It gets complicated, and some of the stories the author tells are not easy to hear, but they are essential to the understanding of ourselves as people, as well as the world in which we live.

In some ways Mark Whitaker's struggle is reminiscent of Barack Obama's life story as he struggles to define, first, who he is, and secondly, who his parents really were, and how their trials and tribulations affected him. In a way, it is a story not unlike our own, as we all search for the deeper meaning behind who we are, and where we are headed.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chinese Jewish Sign

This sign was sent by an old classmate from Cunningham Juinor High School, Steven Parker. If you're from New York, or any large city in the country that has a sizeable Jewish population, it should make you laugh. I once had a friend whose father was supposedly Kosher. He really loved Chinese food, especially the Pork Fried Rice. How is this possible? It's really very simple; before entering the restaurant he would ask me to be sure and order the Pork Fried Rice. Then, when it was served, he would place his fork over my plate and ask, as innocently as possible, "Do you mind if I try some of your Beef Fried Rice?" I never said no. Besides, I think that everyone at the table knew anyway.

I'm taking the day off, and skipping Black Friday shopping, which is something I never do anyway. I like shopping for the holidays in the middle of the week, at about 3 PM. The stores are always empty, and there's plenty of sales help if you need it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Moose From Thanksgiving Past

I was kind of startled yesterday when I saw this image on about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. You might wonder why. And there is a simple answer to that question; I was there, at the parade shown on the left. The one with Bullwinkle the Moose from Rocky and His Friends. It was 1966, so I was 12 years old, according to the date stamped on the border of my own photograph, which is printed below. I actually posted it here a few years ago for the holiday.

My Uncle Irving used to take us from Brooklyn to Manhattan every Christmas for the Christmas Pageant at Radio City Music Hall. This always included a live Camel, and some Sheep. The magic moment always came when the stage lights turned blue, heralding the arrival of the baby Jesus. Whether, or not you are a Christian is not relevant at all, it is simply a magnificent presentation. And I was always amazed at my Uncle's reaction to it, as he was Jewish. He would quietly sob, taken by the emotion of the moment. But, I am straying.

In 1966, for whatever reason, he asked me to meet him in Manhattan, for the Macy's Parade, and so I did. That's when I took this picture of Bullwinkle, which I still have, obviously. Thanksgiving then was always a day for family; in our case it was just the 4 of us and Uncle Irving. It doesn't seem like such a big thing to remember, but I do. And, on holidays, I tend to think of Uncle "I" more than usual. Over the years I have come to realize that, on all occasions in our home, he was the star attraction. He was the one that never yelled at my brother and I, never judged us, never discouraged us. His memory is the one thing I will never relinquish from my childhood. And, when I give thanks today, his memory will be one of the many things I am thankful for.

I started out just wanting to wish everyone a very Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving. But, I tend to wander a bit. If you can't be with family, I hope you find yourself in the company of some good friends. And, with so much going on to divide us - let's take this one day to be thankful for the things we have in common, as well as our common needs.

Have a wonderful, and safe holiday. Make a memory with someone, about someone, or for someone. You may never get to know it, but they will be glad you did.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

JFK and the Maternity Furniture

These are two exchanges between President John Kennedy and an unnamed Air Force General concerning the purchase of maternity suite furniture for a room at Otis Air Force Base. The furniture was to be used for Mrs. Kennedy when she gave birth to their expected child, Patrick, who was born and died in August 1963, just a few months before the President's assassination.

The President, as well as the Air Force, were concerned that should Mrs. Kennedy go into labor while in Hyannis Port, rather than Washington, there would be no secure place for the delivery of the child. So the Air Force, with Mrs. Kennedy's assistance, spent $5,000 on furniture to fix up a maternity room for the First Lady. But nobody told the President! He actually read about it in the morning paper! His reaction was recorded on his "dict-a-belt" recorder. He was aware of the tape, and you can actually hear the effort he is making to control his anger.

The upshot of these two phone calls was the furniture got returned to Jordan-Marsh, and one Air Force Officer was sent to Alaska. The General on the phone is not Curtis LeMay, and "Furnituregate" has never been suspected as an element in the plot to kill the President. But these tapes are a hilarious look at what goes on in the White House, then, as well as now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22nd, 1963

I was 9 years old when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. For many Americans, this was the day "the music died." For the most comprehensive account of that day, you can do no better than to read the Russ Baker's "Family of Secrets", about the events leading up to, and the ramifications from, what happened in Dallas, Texas 48 years ago today. I have posted this review before.

This book is the final word on the JFK Assassination and its connection to the Watergate break-ins in 1972 and the eventual seating of the first unelected President in the history of the United States. From there it moves on to explain how George H.W. “Poppy” Bush, with the aid of Zappata Off Shore Oil (headquartered in Medilin, Columbia (200 miles from shore) went on to become President of the United States, establishing a political dynasty along the way and leading to the election of George W. Bush and the Iraqi war.

Ever wonder what the Pepsi Convention in Dallas had to do with the murder of the President? Ever asked yourself how could anyone possibly engineer a plot so tightly that it would ensure that the President would pass by the Book Depository? Ever wonder who owned the Book Depository Building and how Oswald got the job a mere 6 weeks before Kennedy’s visit? Ever think about what, if any, was Vice President Johnsons’ role in all of this? Why were 3 of the country’s’ subsequent Presidents in Dallas on the day of the assassination and what does their presence there indicate?

What was Abraham Zapruder’s unwitting role in all of this? And why was his 8mm film taken by Time-Life and locked away from the public until New Orleans Attorney Jim Garrison forced its release with a lawsuit?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are the details that have bugged me for years. And this book takes it all the way back to Prescott Bush and the early days of establishing his family in finance and oil. The trail is murky until you shed some light on it as Mr. Baker has painstakingly done with this book.

For those that believe Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone nut, acting of his own twisted accord, this book will not interest you. But if you; like myself, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, to name a few, have any lingering doubts as to what really happened, then this is the book for you.

Layer upon layer of twists and turns all lead back to the inescapable conclusion that the Oil Lobby along with the CIA, plotted, financed, planned for, and finally executed the President of the United States. Who pulled the trigger is another story- and a backseat one at best. The real story is who paid for and orchestrated the biggest crime of the 20th Century. This one act has continued to pay dividends to the oil industry, the munitions manufacturers and one family in particular.

Follow the political growth of the Bush family from its nefarious oil dealings as Zappata Off Shore Oil Group, through the turbulent late 50’s and the 60’s. Follow the money as it flows, and funds covert op after covert op. Follow George H.W. Bush on his climb to the 41st Presidency of the United States.

Who was George DeMohrenschildt and why did he and his wife take Lee and Marina Oswald under their wing during the months leading up to the assassination of the President?

What was the connection between the Bay of Pigs and Dallas and later Watergate? Why did President Nixon demand that the Watergate Burglars be paid off or it would “lead back to the whole Bay of Pigs thing.” And why did Richard Helms react so violently when this was relayed to him by H.R. Haldeman?

This is the penultimate book on the covert operations of the 1950’s CIA in Latin America and Southeast Asia. It ties together all the questions raised and argued by conspiracy theorists and refutes all the assertions put up by the Lone Assassin Theorists, showing along the way what the real goals were and how they were achieved.

Follow George W. in his early years and see how he was groomed to protect the family and secure power, both political and financial.

I cannot recommend this book enough. For me it is the final word on the events of November 22nd, 1963. It is also an explanation of the Watergate Burglary and its ultimate consequences for American politics, right up to the present day.

You will be amazed by this painstakingly researched and annotated book.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Are They So Afraid Of?

Two years ago, when the country was in the first half of the so-called "Recession", both houses of Republicans and Democrats could not seem to find the $38 Million necessary to extend Unemployment for 12 weeks. It was just around Thanksgiving, with Christmas coming fast, when they held the fate of so many, hostage for so long. $38 Million; a drop in the Sea of Debt compared to the billions wasted in Iraq, when we should have been concentrating on Afghanistan instead. When we should have been rebuilding our own infrastructure and providing shovel ready jobs for the Unemployed, instead of padding the pockets of Halliburton and their ilk.

You can imagine my reaction the other day when I read that the Congress, and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats alike, had approved $50 Million to be spent on security measures for next year's Democratic National Convention, which is to be held in Charlotte in September. I wondered, first, will this be a repeat of the last Democratic Convention in 2008? At that event protesters were kept several blocks away from the proceedings, in a state of irrelevance, to exercise their First Amendment Rights.

The second thought that came to mind was that the North Carolina National Guard will be on deployment to Kuwait at the time, leaving a "hole" in our security measures. Who will be filling that breech, and how much extra will that cost compared to having the local National Guard performing this duty? This is one time that finding the answer does not require you to "follow the money", but to follow the power instead.

Executive Order 12656 was signed into law by President Reagan in November 1988, just before he left office in January 1989. On the surface it appears to be about the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but scratch the surface and sniff a bit, and the implications of this sweeping document stink. Remember, Presidential Executive Orders, become law simply by their publication in the Federal Registry. Congress is not consulted, nor the Senate notified. They become laws, whether Constitutional or not.

Executive Order 12656 names the National Security Council as the principal body that would consider any emergency powers, should they become necessary. Not Congress, not the Senate; the National Security Council. This allows them, at their own discretion, to conduct domestic intelligence and surveillance in the United States, as well as restrict the freedom of travel by its citizens. Further, this Order; I cannot bring myself to call it Law; grants the authority to this unelected Council to isolate large groups of civilians in the event of mass demonstrations and civil unrest. The National Guard could be federalized to do the bidding of the Council. The Council may even suspend local, elected officials, replacing them with regional military commanders. Much of this law was written with Colonel Oliver North, celebrated figure of the Iran-Contra scandal. He was hailed as a hero by President Reagan even as he was fired him for stealing missiles, which were then sold to Israel, who in turn sold them to Iran as a defense against Iraq during their 8 year war with one another. Of course, at the time, Iran was being sanctioned and not allowed to buy weapons from anyone.

What has this to do with the Convention next summer, and the National Guard being out of the country? Plenty. With the local National Guard out of the country, then who will fill the void should it become necessary to do so? With protests likely to be taking place in numerous cities around the country, and some of those National Guard units deployed overseas as well, it is possible to have foreign troops on the ground, here in America, policing the Convention. Feel safe yet? If the American "peace" officer in the photo above is willing to pepper spray you like a roach, then what would a "Peacekeeper" from NATO be willing to do?

Here is a great link concerning Presidential Executive Orders in general, listing some of the most sweeping ones;

And here is a link to Executive Order 12656 in it's entirety;

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Update: Midnight - Rooftop's Cat

A quick update on Midnight, or "Meow", as he prefers to be called, the cat who seems to have adopted us as his benefactors for the winter, and maybe longer! All of the shelters, which are of the "no-kill" variety, are full, etc. And, of course, nobody seems to want him, as in, "My other cat may not like him" etc. So, he has definitely taken up residence with us for the winter. He doesn't want to use the community "cathouse" a neighbor has provided down the street, either.

Naturally, he gives us moments of high drama, as in the little episode a few weeks back, when he was snatched and taken for a short flight by one of the many large hawks which abound in our area. But, I feed him rather well, and he has gained weight, so the hawk couldn't hold him. The good news is that the drop didn't kill him, but the sad news is that the hawk's talons really sliced up his neck and ear a bit. So, we let nature take its course, and he's doing much better now, though he seems to look up a lot more than he used to. Then there was the day and a half he was gone because he snuck into a neighbor's garage as they were leaving for the weekend and the door was closing.

He still can't enter our home, due to my allergies, but, somehow he seems to like it at our place. Maybe it's the warm canned foods he gets on these frosty mornings, along with the warm skim milk in the evenings that keeps him around. And then again, how could any cat resist this cardboard, felt lined, heated shelter in our garage? He seems quite happy with the arrangement, in spite of Sue and I constantly "looking in" on him, disturbing him when he is in deep thought, contemplating the great cat issues of the day, such as, "Wonder how long 'til dinner?” There is nobody, in the entire world, more surprised by my having a cat, than I.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christmas Comes to Concord

What better way to usher in the holiday season than the annual Concord Christmas Tree Lighting and Fireworks Display in the downtown area last night. Sue and I went last year and vowed to return again for this really great fireworks display. Now, I may be getting older, and my memory a bit shorter, but I know it wasn't this cold last year! With temperatutres hoovering in the high 30's, it really did feel a bit like Christmas is on it's way. And, due to the cold weather, the "speechifying" was kept to a bare minimum.

It was a pleasure to see a crowd of people gathered together without protesting anything. It's been quite a tense week, current events wise, and so the relief, and joy, of the crowd was palpable.

And, of course, when all was said and done, even the fireworks paled in comparison to the lighting of the Christmas Tree. Although, in one sense, it does seem that the holidays come earlier each year, at the same time, I can't help but wonder if this year we need the relief just that much more. Sue and I had a great time; we were there by 7:30 and home before 9. We may be getting older, but we seem to enjoy the simple things so much more than we used to. Well, at least we try to. Thanks to the Town of Concord for such a fun early evening event.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Bill of Rights

This document is known as the United States Constitution. I have copies of it in my car, as well as several locations in my home. It comes in handy when watching the news, or fact checking a crime related drama. And sometimes, it just makes comforting reading. The entire document was put together by people, who, like you and I, were vastly different in many ways. That is, all except one. We ALL believe in the Right of Freedom of Speech, that Right which gives you the Freedom to Peaceably Assemble to air your grievances. That's the called the First Amendment. It appears in the Bill of Rights, a section of the Constitution which has expanded over the years, sometimes into contentious territory. But never has anyone, on either side of whatever debate, officially condoned the emasculation of the First Amendment. That is until now.

By their silence, the Mayors, the Members of Congress, the Senators, and even the President of the United States, all stand complicit of the worst sort of treason possible; the treason of Indifference. The treason of watching it all go wrong, while standing aside and collecting a salary paid by the people they were sworn to protect, but don't.

Then there are the "Foot Soldiers” and “Pawns", who, under the banner of "Authority", beat, pepper spray, and arrest those who exercise the Rights which these same "Authorities" are sworn to uphold. These are the ones who later espouse the all too familiar, "I was only following orders."

So let's begin with the first order. If we are to play by the rules, then let's start with the first one; the First Amendment to the Constitution. For those in power, and in need of reading this document, which is the cornerstone of our Republic, I have printed it here, with the First Amendment highlighted for their convenience.

The Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Protect and Serve?

This is the new face of democracy in America. This unidentified 84 year old woman was pepper sprayed in Seattle yesterday as jack booted thugs broke up a peaceful demonstration against corporate and political greed.
Can you imagine what thoughts were racing through her mind as she was assaulted for expressing her right to assemble and peacefully protest?

She must have been wondering; as I sometimes do myself; what happened to the country in which I was born? When did the jackals take over? How did we let this happen? Did we become so liberal that we pose a threat to the powers that be? And just who makes that determination anyway?

From New York's Zuccotti Park, all the way to Seattle, the country is abroil with discontent. And, rightfully so. We have become the prisoners of a greedy class of people, who think it is all about them. From golden toilets on Wall Street; and golden parachutes to match; all the way down to the "noveau riche", who will be gobbled up right after the middle class becomes extinct, there is a savage fight brewing to decide just who we are, versus who we want to be, as individuals, as well as a nation.

And, if it is true, as spoken by such luminaries as, Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Harry Truman, that "Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; the last, the least, the littlest", then I'm afraid we have come painfully short of the mark, as evidenced by this photo. It should serve to galvanize the nation to the dangers confronting it by the forces of greed and self-interest. It is not all about "me", or "you", it is about "us", together, standing up for what we know is right. And pepper spraying this 84 year old woman, along with the rest of the protesters, was clearly wrong.

There will be a reckoning next year, and there will be violence in the streets, just as there was during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. And just like that sorry chapter in our history, which has been described as a "police riot", I fear that we will once again witness the sorry spectacle of authority waging war on its own citizens. The irony in it all, of course, is that they will be beating us with the very things which we, as tax payers, bought them after 9/11, to protect us from those who would do us harm.

The Big Tree

Some things, like this tree, need no words to enhance their beauty. They would seem inadequate. But, just like last year, I can't help but post Joyce Kilmer's poem, "Trees", to honor this beautiful specimen, neatly groomed, which sits off of Williamson Road in Mooresville.

A big thank you to the architect who decided to build around the tree, rather than rip it up. This tree, were it able to speak, could tell us so much about how things have changed over the course of it's life. In a way, though, the tree does speak; each time the breeze rustles it's leaves, or when the winter wind moans through her bare limbs, and when the birds of summer sing softly from her leafy branches, the tree sings. And the best part is that those are three of my favorite songs.

"Trees" by Joyce Kilmer

I Think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Marlene" by Charlotte Chandler

This is a book that may very well not have been written. Marlene Dietrich had been retired since the late 1960’s, and with the exception of a few guest “spots” here and there, she was living in an apartment in Paris, one of her beloved cities, when the author, Ms. Chandler, was able to obtain permission to interview her, for this book, in the late 1970's.

If you have never read one of Ms. Chandler’s biographies you are missing a real treat. Her books on Mae West, Groucho Marx, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, to name a few, are more than just biographies. They are personal insights into the stars themselves, in their own words, prompted by Ms. Chandler’s unique way of getting them to open up. And in this book, Marlene Dietrich does just that.

I have always been fascinated by Marlene Dietrich. To me she represented the gritty days prior to the Second World War, when Berlin was a bubbling cauldron of politics, art, music and sex. Who can forget seeing her dressed in a man’s tuxedo while singing to a cabaret full of cigarette smoke and finely dressed patrons? Not me. And yet, in spite of that outward bravado, the Marlene Dietrich known by her colleagues and friends, is surprisingly simple, and at the same time very complex.

From her early film roles in German cinema, to her heady days in Hollywood, and her service at the very front lines of World War Two, she was a most unusual woman.

When Ms. Dietrich was filming “Destry Rides Again”, a western with James Stewart, she became pregnant by him. He asked her what “she was going to do about it?” This was a tremendous insight into Mr. Stewart, who has always been one of my favorite actors. He couldn’t offer to marry her, she was already wed, but still, according to Ms. Dietrich, he should have at least asked. Not that she would have accepted. She was in an open marriage, one in which both parties accepted one another, as well as their mutual affairs.

Part of this book is a narrative by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., with whom the iconic Ms. Dietrich had a five year relationship. He describes his surprise at meeting Ms. Dietrich’s husband, along with his lover, in London. It was all very civilized, but a bit strange, nonetheless. Some of the most interesting stories begin with Mr. Fairbanks; like the time Marlene Dietrich wanted to return to Germany to kill Adolph Hitler with a poisoned hair pin. Hitler was a big fan, and had even ordered her to return to Germany. In any case, she would have been searched before being left alone with him, but the hairpin would probably have worked. She knew that she would probably never get out of Germany again, but considered the risk worth taking in order to regain her native country. At the time that this story took place, Ms. Dietrich was having an affair with Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future President. It strikes me as no co-incidence that the CIA, under John Kennedy, contemplated using a poison pin to kill Castro in Cuba.

An interesting aside here is that Ms. Dietrich would often be a guest in the Kennedy home, even as she was having an affair with the elder Mr. Kennedy. Years later, when JFK was in the White House, and Jackie was out of the country, she was invited to the Executive Mansion, where the President wasted no time in making his desires known. In Ms. Dietrich’s words, “He was even faster than his father.”

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was madly in love with her, and he recounts some of the most enjoyable stories in the book. They were both in love; he with her, and she with love itself. He did several nude sculptures of her, all of which he broke the heads off of, so the sculptures would not be exploited after her death.

At one point, as England stood poised on the edge of war with Germany, and at the same time that King Edward was about to abdicate the throne for the American divorcee Wallis-Simpson, Ms. Dietrich planned to seduce him to thwart his impending marriage. She couldn't stand to see him throw his royalty away for "that flat chested American woman."

When World War Two broke out she volunteered to work with Bette Davis and all the other Hollywood actresses in the USO, dancing with, and even cooking for the soldiers who passed through. But she felt she wasn’t doing enough, so she sold all of her belongings to join the war effort, going way past where Bob Hope would even go. She saw the death camps, and even had relatives in there. When told she was only allowed 56 pounds of luggage for the trip, she tossed away her gowns and makeup kit, electing to stuff the pockets of her flight suit with dime store fake fingernails, which she felt she could not do without, as they made her feel more feminine.

But there was another side to her that will surprise many people. She loved to cook, and clean the houses of her various lovers. Several are quoted as saying that she never looked more beautiful than when wearing a hairnet, frying eggs for breakfast.

When she elected to appear in the film “Judgment at Nuremberg”, in 1961 with Spencer Tracy, she was able to add authenticity and even some dialogue to her part, as well as the film. This was her last major film, but not the end of her career.

In the 1960’s she did a show in Las Vegas which is still spoken of today by those old enough to remember it. She appeared on stage, singing. Her voice was that of the classic chanteuse. Her musical director was a young Burt Bacharach, who even accompanied her on her tour of the Soviet Union. To quote Ms. Dietrich, “When Burt said; ‘Terrific baby, terrific;’ I could have died of happiness.”

This was a delightful book to read, filled with the stuff that legends are made of. And Ms. Dietrich was that; a legend; even in her own time. If you have never read one of Ms. Chandler’s books, “Marlene” is a great place to start.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Greatest Music Stories Never Told" by Rick Beyer

This little 214 page book covers the greatest moments in musical history beginning in 1400 BC. That was when an unknown resident of Syria wrote a hymn in praise of the Moon God. It was recorded on a stone tablet. It is the oldest song known to man, but it wasn't until the 1970's that it was recognized for what it was. Anne Kilmer, a Professor at Berkeley University recognized some of the cuneiform writing as musical notation. From that she was able to reconstruct the tune, which had been written for a lyre. From there the stories continue, all the way to 2007's "Rocking the Cosmos", which talks about Brian May, a former college student in the 1970's, who finally completed his degree in Astrophysics. In the 30 odd years between he was the guitarist for the Rock Group "Queen." Along with lead singer Farrokh Bulsara, aka Freddie Mercury, they became known as the rock and roll band "Queen".

In between the author introduces us to the invention of leotards, which were brought on by a French trapeze artist who needed something more flexible to wear while performing his act. He became known as "The Daring Young man on the Flying Trapeze".

Sports lovers will not be disappointed by this book, as there are a couple of great stories concerning music and sports. Take the Boston Red Sox as an example. Harry Frazee, the owner of the team, was more interested in show business than he was in baseball. So, in 1919 he sold his star player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees for $100,000 and a $300,000 loan. This enraged the fans in Boston, but placed Mr. Frazee in a position to pay back all of his debts and open a small play in New York. That play, "My Lady Friends" became a huge success. He then used the profits from that play to turn it into a musical in 1925. The song "Tea for Two" came from that show. The show? "No, No, Nanette". Mr. Frazee went on to become a great producer, while the Red Sox would not win a pennant for the next 80 years.

Walter Boyd, the blues guitarist was doing a 30 year stretch for murder on a Texas prison farm when the Governor came to visit. Walter was known as the hardest working man on the farm, as well as being a genius on his guitar, which he often used to entertain his fellow prisoners. On the night the Governor came to visit, Boyd was asked to entertain him with a song. He sang the following words;

"If I had the Governor
Where the Governor has me;
Before daylight
I'd set the Governor free.

I beg you Governor
Upon my soul;
If you won't give me a pardon
Won't you give me my parole?"

The Governor was impressed, and amused. And Boyd got his pardon. Walter Boyd's real name? Leadbelly, aka Huddie Ledbetter. He would later go on to write "Good Night Irene."

During the Civil War, "drummer boys" marched into battle, playing their drums to communicate orders. They played for hours upon hours without a break. In the 1920's a drummer named Sanford Moeller went around to every nursing home, where there was an old Civil War drummer, in order to learn how they drummed so loudly for such long periods of time. He wrote a book about it called "The Art of Snare Drumming". Then he passed his knowledge along to his best student, who went on to become the drummer for Benny Goodman, inventing the modern drum solo in the 1937 hit "Sing, Sing, Sing". His name; Gene Krupa.

Isidore Hochberg was the owner of an electrical appliance business, until the Great Depression came along and wiped him out. He decided to write a poem about it. He called up an old childhood friend, who happened to be in the music business, and soon the two were working together. The friend's name? Ira Gershwin. The result of their collaboration? "Brother Can You Spare a Dime". Hochberg would go on to change his name to Yip Harburg, and also write the lyrics for every tune in "The Wizard of Oz".

Speaking of "Oz", there is one song which almost didn't make it into the film. Studio head Louis B. Mayer considered the song too slow for the film, and so he simply ordered that it be cut from the final version of the film, just prior to its release. Associate Producer Arthur Freed challenged this decision, and along with the song's composer, Yip Harburg, they were able to keep the song in the film. The song? "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

One night a man named Stuart Gorrell got to help write a song. This was unusual, as he was a retired banker. He had a roommate, a former fraternity buddy from Indiana University, who had come to New York to try and realize his musical ambitions. They sat up together that night and wrote a song called "Georgia on My Mind". The roommate? Hoagy Carmichael. And Georgia? Although the song is mostly associated with the State of Georgia, it was written for Carmichael's sister, who was named Georgia. Ray Charles would go on to record the signature version of this song in 1960. It is often attributed to him, as well as to another singer, Willie Nelson.

The FBI comes into play around 1964 with their intense investigation of some song lyrics. The words on the record were virtually unintelligible. With rumors spreading that the lyrics were somewhat bawdy, the FBI sprang into action, in order to ascertain whether or not the public was being offended. They slowed the song down, and sped it up. Still no clear lyrics emerged. The song became #1 on the charts and J. Edgar Hoover was blazing mad. Thousands of man hours, and hundreds of agents, were involved in trying to decode the lyrics. The truth behind it all? The song was recorded by Jack Ely, along with his group "The Kingsmen". Ely was wearing braces on his teeth and standing on tip toe in order for the overhead mike to pick up his voice. The result was unintelligible. The record was "Louie, Louie", a song about a Jamaican fisherman who wonders if his woman is really in love with him.

The history of ukuleles, long thought to be a Hawaiian instrument, is also explored here. Prior to 1879 there were no ukuleles in Hawaii. As a matter of fact, no one in Hawaii had ever heard of one. In August of that year, a Portuguese ship named the Ravenscraig came to the islands. Within a few days the island was abuzz with news of the sailors serenading the natives with their ukuleles. By 1915, after the ukulele was featured in the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, it was forever more associated with Hawaii.

But my all-time favorite piece in this book concerns the man who would turn music on its head. He is often credited as the first jazz musician, and was directly responsible for Louis Armstrong picking up the cornet, and later the trumpet. Although no recordings of the man were ever made; he was committed to an asylum in 1907, where he would die in 1932; he influenced every jazz player of his era, and many in ours. His name was Buddy Bolden, and to quote Louis Armstrong, "He blew so hard, that I used to wonder if I would ever have enough lung power to fill one of those cornets." Mr. Armstrong, at the age of 5, used to listen to Buddy Bolden as he played at The Funky Butt Hall in New Orleans. From such humble beginnings, legends are born.

A quick and informative read, this book is entertaining, and in many cases will have you running to You Tube to see, or hear, the musical history described within its pages.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keith Richards - Mailer Award Winner

"This is one for the books, if you get my drift - you hacks," the 67-year-old Rolling Stones guitarist joked Tuesday as he accepted the Mailer Prize for Distinguished Biography, a prize earned by his million-selling memoir "Life." Wearing tinted glasses, a long scarf around his neck and a wide red band around his sprawl of salt and pepper hair, Richards stood before hundreds dressed in suits and gowns at the Mandarin Hotel in Manhattan and loosened up as if presiding over a celebrity roast. He chuckled. He swore. He reasoned that since he had been writing - songs - since age 16, his appearance at a literary event was not a total "intrusion."

Read the entire article here;

It always pleases me when I have read a book which goes on to win an award. It makes me feel as if I really do know a good book when I read one. Keith Richards, who just last week won the Mailer Award for his autobiography "Life", is a good example. I reviewed that book last January, a few months after its release. It was a very credible work. So, I was not too surprised to see that it garnered the Mailer Award last week in New York City. The Mailer Award, is of course, named after Norman Mailer, the iconic news columnist, and author, who passed away in 2007. I grew up on his columns in the New York Daily News. He was the workingman's writer, a journalist who saw more of the underbelly of New York City than almost anyone else in the 1960's.

In case you missed that review, and to give myself a day of rest, I am re-posting it. If you still haven't read this book, give it a whirl. It's well worth the time.

"Life" by Keith Richards

One of the hardest, and most enjoyable aspects of reviewing this book by Keith Richards, is the enormous amount of information he has to impart to the reader. There are, for instance, the names of many musicians who influenced Mr. Richards, but who are totally unrecognizable to those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Take "Wizz" Jones as an example. Mr. Richards cites him as an early influence. Mr. Jones was a British folk singer along the lines of our own Bob Dylan, and he used to drop by the toilet at the art school where all the kids would hang out and play guitar. This was in Chapter 2, so I had to stop reading and get acquainted with "Wizz" Jones. And thanks to our good friend You Tube, it's not that hard to do. Here is Mr. Wizz Jones, on BBC in 1960;

Don't take me wrong, I'm not complaining. This is just the type of book I love! One that will stretch my knowledge of the music I love and where it came from. And this book starts giving on page one! Then it keeps on delivering until the very last page.

I have been a Keith Richards fan since I first heard him singing "Connection" with the Stones in 1966. And when he wrote and sang "You've Got the Silver" on "Let It Bleed" in 1969, I was hooked on Keith Richards for life. The man is a human musical note. He sees most things musically, lyrically. That he is able to then translate these visions and craft them into music that rocks the entire world is amazing. That he has done it for almost 50 years is astounding!

I won't bore you with a review of this book and a rehashing of some of the wilder exploits. It would only cheapen this incredible work by Mr. Richards. Let's just say that there is enough sex, drugs and rock and roll in the book to keep the more voyeuristic amongst us very happy. And to that end, the book delivers very well.

But for those looking to read a more serious side of the man known to millions as "Keef", this book is THE place to be. The author explores every aspect of his life, from growing up in post war England, which was still on rations through 1954, his days at art college, an examination of how the British primary schools worked at the time, and everything else you will need to know in order to measure the man.

Musically, the book is a treasure. Mr. Richards explains his method of guitar playing and song writing, right down to the five string open G tuning which he uses on many of The Rolling Stones records, as well as in concert. This portion of the book was so inspiring that I immediatley retuned one of my guitars so that I could check it out myself. I'll keep you posted on that one!

Exploring his sometimes volatile relationship with Mick Jagger is also a very interesting part of the book. How fame affects different people is fascinating, and even more so when told by someone who has lived it.

From the early Bohemian days of the Rolling Stones, founded by Ian Stewart, to the chaotic days of Brian Jones death, and then on through the politics and drug scandals of the late 1990's and beyond, this book is a ticking bomb. Each page explodes with information about the music business, touring, and the petty differences that can plague old friendships on the road.

Many people will be interested in the history of Keith Richards drug use, and on this subject, once again, he dishes up the full story. He does not, as I have read in other reviews, glorify drug use at all, rather he just tells it the way it is. You make the choices for yourself. This whole topic of hard drug use is an education in itself, and written honestly by someone who has been through it all, several times.

The legal problems of the 1970's, when Mr. Richards was under indictment in Canada for trafficking, is of special interest. It is the typical story of a Government catching a tiger by the tail and not knowing what to do with it. And the story of the blind girl, who helps to influence the decision of the judge, will really let you in on who Keith Richards is beneath the surface. I'm no spoiler, so you'll have to read the book if you want to hear that one.

This book holds nothing back. Mr. Richards is completely candid about his family life and the book contains just enough photos to let you peek inside of that world. When dealing with the loss of his infant son Tara, in 1979, he moved me to tears, no exaggeration, and I'm a pretty hard case when it comes to that sort of thing.

His stories are, at times, interspersed with an account of the same event, told from someone else's point of view. This lends credibility to many of the more amazing stories. And there are many!

There are a couple of extra special portions of the book for me. One is the description of the making of the film "Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll", made in 1988. Keith Richards had always been a big fan of Chuck Berry's, but felt that Chuck had been touring for so long, using only "pick up" bands in each town, that he had lost his edge. So he put together a group to back Chuck Berry, with Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, Bobby Keys on sax, and a host of others, including Chuck Berry's original piano player, Johnnie Johnson. Actually, it had been Mr. Johnson's band until Chuck Berry took it over. That film has always been very special to me and it was nice to hear how it all came together.

But the most impressive thing to me was the phone call from Hoagy Carmichael, the man who wrote "Stardust" and a million other songs back in the 1930's through the 50's. The man who was friends with Bix Biederbicke. The man who co-starred with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not." He called to say that he had heard a version of Keith doing "The Nearness of You", which had been written in the 1940's. It was a slow song, but Keith had done a tape of it for his lawyer, and had stepped it up to a barrelhouse piano number. He was knocked for a loop when Mr. Carmichael told him that this was the way he originally had envisioned the song.This was only 6 months before Hoagy Carmichael died, and Mr. Richards relishes that call to this very day.

I could go on and on about this book. But it would be better if you'd just read it. This is the side of Keith Richards that so many of his fans have embraced over the years. It is also a side of him that many do not know. Great book.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock and Roll" by Preston Lauterbach

This book is probably one of the best, and most complete, accounts of the so-called "Chitlin' Circuit". For the uninitiated, the "Chiltin' Circuit" was the area of the country, back in the 1930's through the early 1960's, where African-American artists, such as Big Joe Turner, B.B. King, Little Walter, Little Richard, Louis Jordan, Gatemouth Brown, James Brown, and all the rest, toured. They played in out of the way places with names like The Bronze Peacock, The Two Spot, The Dew Drop Inn, and the Hi-Hat. The "Chitlin' Circuit" has influenced as many people as Tin Pan Alley did in its heyday.

The author, Preston Lauterbach has done a wonderful job in looking back a little bit further than "Cadillac Records", which was a wonderful movie. But, that film assumed that the average viewer knew most of the basics, and so some viewers were left wondering how much of that film was real, and how much was fiction. Truth be told, "Cadillac Records" is just the visible "tip of the iceberg" in the story of Rhythm and Blues as it morphed into Rock and Roll.

The story of the “Chitlin' Circuit" began much earlier, back in the earliest days of the Great Depression. Mr. Lauterbach has managed to connect all the names and places in the story of the road, and the music, which would become rock and roll. And what a story it is!

From the back roads "juke joints", to the theaters and nightclubs in the larger cities, the author has written a complete portrait of the life and times of the performers who would change music forever. Even the beginnings of the Powerball are covered in this book.

Gambling was a big part of the scene on the "Circuit", with "baseball ticket" lotteries abounding, along with dice games and cards. One of the oldest forms of gambling was the "pea shake", which involved the use of a hollowed out gourd, filled with peas that had numbers written on them. The player shook the gourd and rolled the peas out. The bets were already in on 5 number combinations, with an extra digit that could be played for a bonus. Sound familiar? It should. When the authorities in Indianapolis finally shut down the baseball card lotteries in the early 1970's, they were unsuccessful in shutting down the "pea shake" game as a form of legal gambling. Finally, in 1992, they simply supplanted it with the Powerball Lottery. Within 2 short weeks, Indiana had the largest selling Lottery in the nation, and remains so today. See why I love this book?

The chapters covering Little Richard were especially interesting to me. I have always wondered how an African-American, living in the Jim Crow era, could have become so obviously gay, and yet rose to such heights in the field of entertainment. That riddle is explored here, with truly insightful results. Richard Penniman was just part of a long tradition of black transvestite acts, beginning with his stint as Princess Lavonne. Unable to walk in heels gracefully, he was carried out to the microphone each evening before the curtain rose. In a few short years he would become known simply as Little Richard.

Little Richard took a page from a performer named Esquerita, whose real name was Eskew Reeder, Jr. According to Little Richard, Esquerita taught him many of the piano rolls which would become his own trademark.

It would seem that the author has left no stone unturned in a quest for a truly accurate depiction of both the "Chitlin' Circuit" itself, as well as the times, and social mores, which gave birth to it.

Initially, the "Chitlin' Circuit" was the brainchild of an African-American nightclub owner Denver Ferguson, who was also a racketeer. His specialty was the numbers rackets in Indianapolis. At the same time, in Chicago, bandleader Walter Barnes was busy on the road, playing dance halls and hotels. He wrote a column for the Chicago Defender each week, detailing life as an entertainer on the road.

As the 1920's gave way to the Depression Era of the 1930's, many clubs closed for want of business. The end of Prohibition didn't help, and also seems to have been a factor in the development of the "circuit". As the 1940's, and World War Two came into play, the bands became smaller "combos", which themselves became the template for most of today's rock bands. Big band jazz had more or less become "small band blues".

Louis Jordan came on the scene in the 1940's, along with Roy Brown, and this is where the music really starts to take off. Roy Brown recorded a cover of Wynonie Harris' hit record "Good Rockin' Tonight" in 1948. That record, which would later be covered by Elvis, was like the spark that lit the kindling. In spite of this, he has still not been inducted into, or even nominated for, membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Listen to the recording here;

There is so much to learn from this book about the evolution of Rock and Roll, it's almost impossible to do a coherent review. But I would be remiss if I left out something about Don Robey and Johnny Ace. They both had guns. Don Robey used his for negotiating, like the time his partner, Dave Mattis, wanted to quit. It all involved his share of profit from Johnny Ace's "My Song" in 1952, which was released on Duke Records. When he arrived at the Bronze Peacock unannounced to inquire about the money, Robey placed a .45 on the table, gave him $10,000, and that ended any further negotiations. The record was #1 on Billboard within a month of it's release, and had generated much more than $10,000 for Dave Mattis, but the presence of Don Robey's .45 on the table was a persuasive end to any differences of opinion.

Meantime, Johnny Ace, born John Alexander, Jr. had developed a strange little habit of his own, which involved a .38 snub nosed revolver. He liked to play Russian Roulette with it, claiming that he had it rigged so that nothing could go wrong. Things seemed to be going along just as planned, with nothing happening, until one night, when it finally did. It was in 1954, at a time when Johnny Ace had not been placing well on the charts. Rumor has always had it that Don Robey, his manager, somehow rigged the gun that night, switching the bullets around. There is motive for this thought. The year before, in 1953, Robey noticed that right after Hank Williams' untimely death, "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive" shot to #1 on the country charts. He may have considered the death of Johnny Ace to be a good career move, although it is doubtful that Mr. Ace would have agreed with him. Listen to Johnny Ace singing "Never Let Me Go" here;

I actually ran this book by Eddie Ray, at the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, in Kannapolis, to get his take on the subject. Mr. Ray should know, he was there in all of the places mentioned in this finely researched, and well written book, and with many of the artists themselves. A quick scan of the book passed muster, and he will be reading it shortly. That, in itself, is high praise. Visit the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame online at the following link;

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day - Storm Off Cape Hatteras

I have posted this story here before. I'm posting it again today for Veteran's Day in order to illustrate just how precarious a "normal" peacetime day can be. Now, think about that when you watch the news, and see our troops, in actual combat, around the world today. Although the issues are complex, and some may not agree with the current policies for which we fight, these men, and women, are serving in a way I never had to. All I had was this storm, but it's my storm. I just want to share it as a way of honoring all my fellow Veterans. Each and every one of you has a story to tell. Whether or not you fought in a war, or just fought a storm at sea, your service made a difference. Thanks, and Happy Veterans Day!

We were steaming off the coast of the US heading back from operations in the Caribbean on the USS Milwaukee at the time the following occurred in February 1980. It was a Wednesday and I believe it was the 6th. I had the Dog watch that afternoon, which is the watch that runs through evening chow, so that you get relieved for about 30 minutes or so by the oncoming 8-12 watch in order to eat.

Upon returning from chow I noticed that the barometer had dropped another .02 of an inch for the second hour in a row. Something was brewing along the lines of a low pressure system that would bear watching in the coming hours. I informed the officer of the deck; I believe it was Ensign Tyler that evening; that heavy weather was approaching and a life line on deck would be a good idea. A 500 foot mooring line was secured to the after and forward bulkheads by means of shackles affixed to pad eyes which were welded to the respective bulkheads. For some reason no precautions were taken to secure the ship's cargo and equipment for heavy seas.

I was relieved by QM3 Baker at 1945 for the 20-2400 watch. "Star" time was not an issue that evening due to the weather. We were running on Omega and Loran with a dead reckoning tracer as a back up. I entered into the Pass Down the Line log that the barometer had fallen for 2 hours in a row and to be aware of any changes in the sea etc. I then left the bridge.

By the time I got back to the after house, and the Navigation Division berthing space, the ship was being tossed and buffeted by huge swells and violent gusts of wind. The helmsman was a deckhand and the ship was not being handled properly. We were taking a lot of punishment that could have been avoided by having a more experienced man on the helm.

By now, objects all over the ship were being loosed by the storm and there was no way to stop the seeming avalanche of food supplies, crates, forklifts etc that had not been tied down. The 7 million gallons of fuel that we carried started to have its own inertial effect upon the handling of the vessel, making it even more unstable. The “Mighty Milwaukee” was taking rolls in excess of her design and the ship would shudder as she laboriously struggled to right herself after each successive roll. Standing was now impossible and most of the men were braced in their “racks”, with hands held tightly against the nearest stanchion or bulkhead, and feet dug into the rims of the thin sleeping surfaces that served also as covers to the coffin like clothes compartment that lay beneath each. The coffin like similarities of these "lockers" were not lost on the men at a time like this.

Lockers were toppling and tables and chairs were being literally pitched as the violence of the storm increased. Most of the crew was now motion sick, and those that weren’t were unable to do anything but hang on for the wildest ride any of us had ever been on.

Shortly after 2300 (11 PM) the phone rang and someone told me that the bridge was on the phone. I was told that the Captain was ordering me to the bridge. I went, on the double, expecting that I was about to be chewed out for the storm having taken us by surprise. I started across the deck and made it about 50 feet before turning back and using the cargo deck; which although it had the advantage of being enclosed; had the hazard of forklifts, tools and cargo being tossed and thrown about with considerable violence. Added to this was the possibility of falling into one of the open elevator pits. These were large, seven story deep shafts, which were sometimes left open. Tonight, unfortunately, was one of those times. The effect of the ship moving about under me not only prevented me from walking in a straight line at this point, but it was now carrying me close to these pits and several times I came near to falling in one, or another. They were located on both the port and starboard sides, increasing this likelihood as I struggled forward.

At the end of this journey on the cargo deck I was faced with 4 interior ladders, steeply angled as compared with a normal stairway, but still an improvement over the exterior ladders, which were precisely that, ladders welded to the bulkheads. Unknown to me at this time, was that many of these ladders had been torn away by the tons of water crashing against the superstructure.

The bridge was a scene of disaster. There were 22 people in there- way too many. Captain Page was braced in a corner, legs apart and arms against the forward portholes, concerned, but very much in command. “Well Willie, what do you think we should do?”, or something to that effect. Captain Page had been a Pilot, he flew A-6’s and was also a flight instructor. With a good sense of humor and a relaxed demeanor among the men, he was a well liked Captain and a good leader. He had a hard act to follow, coming on the heels of our former skipper, Captain Hawkins, who had come up from the enlisted ranks via the NESEP program, which although not that rare, was quite an accomplishment, and the men had idolized him as “one of us.” But Captain Page had more than filled his shoes, and it was a ”tight” crew.

My first suggestion was to rid the bridge of as many of the puking, moaning men as possible, placing them in the passageways leading to the bridge itself. Everyone had plastic trash bags to puke in and the stench was beginning to become overpowering.

Standing was impossible at this level. We were hanging on to the overhead and the wire banks and piping that line it. Captain Page ordered me to take the helm.

The compass card was swinging wildly, port to starboard and back again over a field of approximately 180 degrees. We were at the mercy of the sea unless we could stabilize ourselves and begin to make some sort of headway. The Captain then ordered me to steer as necessary and hold course. I was hanging onto the overhead and steering with my feet- literally counteracting the swells by kicking the helm hard left and hard right.

I then received, via the Captain, several course changes prompted by the other officers present on the bridge looking for the course that would give us the “best ride”. Captain Page asked my recommendation and I chose West as that would bring us toward our destination of Norfolk but not put us in shallow waters that could hazard the vessel. I was of the opinion that with 65 foot swells breaking over the bridge, and winds of 98 knots, with gusts greater than that, there was no course which was going to give us a "good" ride. Remaining upright was the chief concern of all. The Captain ordered me to make it so, which I immediately did.

We spent the next 9 hours or so riding through this maelstrom and upon breaking out of it in the morning and later approaching Virginia Beach, we were greeted by the most dazzling sight; over 12” of snow blanketing the Beach and everything beyond! After the violence of the past 10 hours the contrast was extraordinary and we began to open hatchways and portholes to air the ship out. The crew began to come back to life, re-stowing all the gear that had been thrown about but not washed overboard. The Officers took toll of the structural damage to the ship; the ladders gone, boats torn loose, and rigging fouled and ruined.

We moored at the "D and S" Piers on the James River, in the Naval Station at Norfolk, and there my memory fades a bit. We were all very tired and I imagine that we cleaned ship and had an early knock off that day.

A week later on the 12th of February we were back out at sea, headed to the Azores to bring a load of fuel to the Task Group operating there. We were doing an underway replenishment when Captain Page approached me at the helm with an envelope saying “It’s a little bit late, read it later.”

It burned a hole in my pocket for several hours until I was able to leave the wheel and read it; you have to remember that Captains do not often slip notes to their crewmembers; The note, which I still have; it hangs on the wall of my TV room; says the following;

It was,and remains, I think, one of the proudest moments of my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"The Five Pennies" with Danny Kaye, Louis Armstrong and Barbara Bel Geddes (1959)

I last saw this film when I was about 10. I remembered the music, especially Louis Armstrong doing the best version of "When the Saints Go Marching In." I had forgotten most of the plot, and was kind of unaware that this was a true story - what they call a "biopic", about "Red" Loring Nichols. Danny Kaye plays him with irrepressible charm in this film, opposite Louis Armstrong, who plays himself. Barbara Bel Geddes plays "Reds" wife, along with a very young Tuesday Weld as his delightful daughter.

When Loring Nichols arrives in New York City in 1922, he is clearly unprepared for the "big city." He is a cornet player with stars in his eyes, and music in his heart. Landing a coveted spot in Will Paradise's band should put him off to a great start, except for one thing; he wants to play jazz, and the bands all want ordinary dance music. So what does "Red" do? He goes to Harlem, sees the vibrant jazz scene happening there and forms his own band, "The Five Pennies." His wife, Bobbie, is the vocalist. Life is perfect. Almost.

At the apex of his career, with such future luminaries as Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey in his band, he's the "top of the pops." They ride the wave of Dixieland Jazz, until his daughter, Dorothy, develops polio.

When "Red" quits the music business for a move to Los Angeles, where the climate might be better for Dorothy, he takes a job in a shipyard, making ships for the Second World War. His spirit is broken, and he has seemingly hit bottom. When his daughter realizes who her father was, and the influence he had on the very music she has come to love, he is persuaded to open a small nightclub. He does very poorly, until his old bandmates, who have gone on to become some of the greatest names in the music business, find him working there, and come to help him out of his dilemma.

This is a very uplifting film, with Danny Kaye at his best during his vocal "skat" duets with Louis Armstrong. Mr. Kaye, long a master of fast talking diatribe, meshes perfectly with Mr. Armstrong, who clearly enjoys the collaboration.

My favorite scene in the entire movie takes place on the bus, when "Red's" daughter is an infant. She can't sleep with the band rehearsing, and so "Red" leads the band, doing "Lullaby in Ragtime" for her. At first, the band performs the number in a muted tone, and then, with the help of "Red's" wife, Bobbie, they bring the whole number back to a rousing finish, which finally puts little Dorothy to sleep. Interesting intersection here between real life and a movie. The Song, "Lullaby In Ragtime", was written by Danny Kaye's real life wife, Sylvia Fine, who grew up within blocks of her future husband in Brooklyn. They never met until 1939, and were married for the rest of their lives. She was a composer, lyricist and producer in her own right, as well as a major force behind Danny Kaye's career.

Here is the scene, in which Danny Kaye performs the song written by his real wife, with Barbara Bel Geddes, his on screen wife. As always, the video is courtesy of You Tube;

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aunt Gloria - Everyone Should Have One

This is my Aunt Gloria, actually, my favorite Aunt Gloria. Everybody should have one. They play a special role in your life, sometimes without even knowing it! This picture was taken, and this is a guess, on the steps to the brownstone in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, where the family moved from Brooklyn after my Grandfather passed away. Gloria was only about 4, or 5 at the time, so she must be about 8 years old in this photo. I could be wrong though, and this may have been taken at Aunt Katy's in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She'll let me know. She looks a bit like Judy Garland here, with her nose kind of scrunched up, looking at the camera. Even at that young age you could see the joy inside of her. That inner joy was what made her special to me when I was growing up.

One of my favorite memories of Aunt Gloria involves her sneaking my brother and I into the hospital to see our Mom when she was sick. Back in those days children were not allowed to visit their parents in the hospital. My mother didn't like this rule, and so Aunt Gloria decided to do something about it.

Sneaking into the hospital stairway was easy enough, the hard part always came when we had to exit the stairwell, and then make our way down the hall to my Mom's room. Gloria would usually have my Aunt Gladys with her, so Gladys would go to the nurse's station and distract the head nurse, waving us on behind her back when the time was right. We would then go single file, with Gloria blocking the rear so we wouldn't be seen by the nurse, down the hallway to my Mom's room. They weren't private rooms, so the visits never lasted that long before we were "discovered", and then ejected, by the hospital staff. But those few minutes meant the world to my Mom, and Aunt Gloria knew it.

While re-reading "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" recently, for about the hundrenth time, I was struck by the similarity between those real life visits to my Mom, and the part of the book where Johnny enrolls Francie in a school out of their neighborhood. They both know that it's wrong - but it's done to right a greater wrong. And, in some cases, the ends do justify the means.

Anyway, this is just a very public rambling about my favorite Aunt Gloria. Today is her birthday. She's younger than me, in heart, and spirit. She and her husband, my Uncle Bob, aka the "Fork and Spoon", reside in Florida and sometimes in New York. They can also be found at all points in between. Happy Birthday, Gloria, from your favorite nephew!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Election Day - 1960

I was 6 years old and this was the first Presidential election I would recall. I do remember brief bits about Eisenhower, mostly connected with my father being out of work during Ike's second term, during a recession. My father was never out of work, and so I suppose that is why I remember it at all.

The 1960 election was a big deal in our house, my father was Irish-Catholic; as was the Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy, who was the Democratic candidate for President. When Kennedy came to New York City, he visited various parts of Brooklyn, including a ride down Ralph Avenue in the Carnasie section, where we lived for a bit less than a year. I still remember seeing him riding past, waving to the crowd.

On Election Night 1960, my parents, along with millions of other Americans, sat glued to their televisions, waiting for the results. It would be a long wait. I remember making it until about 11 PM, or so, and then being carried to my bed. When I woke in the morning it was still not settled as to who had won the election!

While I slept, Richard Nixon had made a speech at about 3 AM, hinting toward a concession. He intimated that Kennedy may have won the election. This was puzzling, as it was not an out and out concession speech. Data from several states, notably Illinois and Ohio, were being examined closely for evidence of Voter fraud.

It was not until the afternoon of Wednesday, November 9th, that Nixon finally conceded the election to Kennedy. This map from Wikipedia illustrates just how close the election was. As a matter of fact, history has proven that Kennedy stole the 1960 election by buying votes in the states questioned. Included in this scenario were the actions of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in carrying Illinois for the Democrats.

With the United States and the Soviet Union locked in a Cold War, which was about to heat up dramatically, Vice President Nixon made the decision not to concede the election, rather than challenge it, which would have thrown the country into a Constitutional crisis. With the Soviets poised on the border of West Berlin, along with the new Communist regime in Cuba, clearly this was not the time to "rock the boat" here at home. Swallowing what must have been a bitter pill, the Vice President finally conceded the election at about 3 PM on Wednesday, November 9th.

The election of 1960 still stands as a landmark one. It was the first election in the 20th Century in which both candidates had been born in the 20th Century, marking a milestone for younger voters, like my parents. It was the first time in decades that both candidates had children at home, like so many Americans in the electorate. This was also the last time a Presidential candidate would win election without carrying the state of Ohio.

Although he did not win the popular vote, Kennedy beat Nixon by one tenth of one percentage point(0.1%) which is the closest margin of the 20th century.

Nixon's staff wanted him to pursue a recount and challenge Kennedy's victory in several states, especially in Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey. Those 3 states had large majorities in Catholic districts, which just about handed Kennedy the election.

Three days after the election was over, Nixon gave a speech in which he said that he would not contest the results of the election. He is to be credited for this action, as the Russians were watching very closely to see how we handled the affair. Nixon's decision to forgo a challenge sent a clear and united signal to the Soviets that we were a strong, and unified nation, in spite of our many differences.

However, the Republican National Chairman, Senator Morton of Kentucky, did challenge the results in 11 states. Those challenges would not be thrown out of the courts until the following summer of 1961; fully 6 months after Kennedy had taken office, and just 4 months after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The only loss to Kennedy by recount was the state of Hawaii.

Though this year's elections are largely local affairs, they are the ramp up to next year's National election. So, get out there, vote, and make your voice heard. For what it's worth, the votes you cast today just may influence next year's choices.