Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Autobiography" by Chuck Berry (1987)

The only problem with this book is that it’s just too short, covering only the years from Mr. Berry’s birth in St. Louis in 1926 until 1986 when he wrote this book. At the time he was just beginning to edit the the classic rockumentary “Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll!” with Keith Richards. That film, together with this book, gives a complete picture of what went into the making of the man, but both leave out the next 25 years; from 1987 until today; and with Mr. Berry still walking amongst us, it would be nice to have a more current view into his life.

That said; you could not ask for a more personable read from a man who is iconic of the music he plays; rock and roll. John Lennon once said that “If you were to try and give Rock and Roll another name it might be called Chuck Berry.” And, he was right.

Skillfully written, with no ghost writer, Mr. Berry takes you on a no-holds barred tour de force of his life. Beginning with his childhood, and some of his first sexual stirrings, he paints a vivid picture of a young man yearning to be free in every way possible. This is the attitude which would bring him world-wide fame, and at the same time, this attitude helped to lead him off the beaten path at times, resulting in his incarceration for robbery at age 17, and then again for a supposed violation of the Mann Act in the early 1960’s. He also served 120 days for tax evasion in the early 1970’s, at a time when his career had gained new momentum. His candor in describing these periods in his life is admirable.

Mr. Berry was a victim of the unscrupulous practices which were then the norm in the music publishing business, including the song “Maybellene”, which listed DJ Allan Freed and Russ Fratto, the publisher, as co-writers. It took 25 years for Mr. Berry to get the rights back for his own song. And even then, most of the back royalties would never be realized.

The strong influence of his parents is evident in almost every aspect of the book, as the author recalls his father’s warning words of wisdom several times throughout this remarkable book. Filled with alliteration and internal rhymes, the book reads as fluently as one of his songs.

With a keen business sense, Mr. Berry is able to parlay his success in the entertainment industry into a successful career in real estate on the side. Beginning in 1957 he began work on Berry Park, a place where people could gather, picnic and listen to music in his hometown of St. Louis. It is still a work in progress, but does house a nightclub, and several other buildings, as well as a small lake. Several concerts were held there during the 1970’s, all to the benefit of the community.

The history of his joining, and then taking over, Johnnie Johnson’s band is given careful attention, helping to dispel the often told story that Mr. Berry simply came in and “took over.” As with most things, there is a second side to the story. Like-wise with the famous, but much overblown, story about not lyp-synching on American Bandstand as requested by Dick Clark. Although they did have a difference of opinion about the subject, it was never the clash of titans it was made out to be.

This is a very good book written by a very complex man who struggled to attain his goals at a time when many obstacles were placed in his path by society. It was written when Mr. Berry was 60 years old, and he is still with us today. It would be a gift to have Mr. Berry pen another volume covering the years since this book was written. So much has happened since then, including the release of “Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll”; a small clip of which is posted below.

At the risk of being redundant I will quote John Lennon once again; “If you were to try and give Rock and Roll another name it might be called Chuck Berry.” He was definitely right.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Boot Camp - Learning the Ropes

I want to post the second part of yesterday’s repost about my time in Boot Camp at Great lakes, Illinois. The story of my arrival at the Recruit Training Center would seem incomplete without relating what happened once I was inside the gates. That's me above - second from the foreground, firing in the prone position.

Some people love it, some people hate it. But no-one ever forgets Boot Camp, or their Company Commander. I can still name mine. In my case it was EMC Spencer. He took no guff, but when it came right down to brass tacks he was a really good man and I learned much about what to expect in the fleet from him. Here is the rest of that story;

We were housed in new barracks- which looked more like a school dorm building. I think I had been expecting the old wooden type barracks from World War II. The first few weeks were blisteringly hot in the daytime; especially on the Parade Ground where we practiced our marching and drilling. Some guys would pass out. We also had to do exercises in the morning and afternoons. In between these times we were learning to swim, shoot rifles and fight fires. We were also in the classroom a lot.

We learned Navy History, U.S. History, Maritime Law, Standing Orders, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and knot tying. At night we were confined to our barracks and shined our shoes, folded our laundry and generally studied for the tests that we had each day. Failing a test got you set back a week so no one wanted to fail.

There was also a period of adjustment for many of the recruits who had never been away from home. There were several fights- nothing serious- just attitude adjustment when necessary.

I was one of the older recruits- being over 21. The younger guys were the hardest to deal with. They came from high schools with a Rambo type attitude. Sometimes they needed a reality check.

I had not joined to march and learn tricks so the Company could win "flags." I had joined to go to sea and had no interest in marching. I was also coming off of several years of using barbiturates, so I was a bit restless. This led to my being a less than enthusiastic marcher. When they said left I went right and vice versa.

I was approached concerning this by several of the guys in my squad. It was getting pretty nasty and finally the shit hit the fan. I was approached by the Recruit Petty Officer, which is a make believe rank for a recruit to learn how to lead. This guy was from Philadelphia and a black guy. Race had nothing to do with it. He told me to meet him in the "drying room" where we placed wet clothes to dry after scrubbing them. Never one to back away from a fight I met him there after lights out- the whole company knew what was coming down and waited in their bunks for "Cuffy" to emerge from the drying room after having kicked my ass. They were a little bit disappointed.

Now, you've seen the fights in movies- they go on forever with chairs being busted over someone’s head etc. Real life is much different. Someone has to throw the first punch and take the risk that they may lose. Since I had been invited to this party by Cuffy I figured it was up to him to strike first. Instead he began to talk to me- stuff like- "I don't want to kick your ass but..." I got tired of the bullshit and hit him first. We then struggled a bit with one another but not too many punches got thrown.

Then he wanted to talk about how we should walk out of the drying room and in what order! I said "Fuck you" as I pushed him aside. You could hear the collective gasp from the rest of the company as I walked out first. Cuffy had stayed behind and several guys rushed in to see if he was okay. Several guys walked back past my bunk, kicking it and letting me know that this was not the end. Hell, I didn't know anything had begun!

So we did this 2 more times- like a ritual. The last was the best and put an end to the whole drama- which was like Public School when someone would say- "Meet me after 3 o'clock." This last guy was the company boxer- broad at the shoulders and slim at the waist. He also had those atypical weak knees. So he threw the first punch, which glanced off my forehead. My response was a kick in his knee and a caution that he should stay down. He started to get up so I kicked him just under the chin. That finished it.

The next day I was summoned by the Company Commander- a Chief Petty Officer named Spencer. He asked me what the trouble was and I told him, "I joined to see the world and sail the seas. In 5 weeks the only water I have seen is showers and shitters!" He asked why I wouldn't march. I answered that the Navy was a stepping stone for me to join the Merchant Marines when I got out. I was not interested in Mickey Mouse marching for flags.

So we arrived at a compromise- I would be the Navy's first "non-marcher." Instead of marching I would be the new Company Clerk and take head counts, draw up the watch bill etc. So the rest of boot camp passed pretty easily.

By October it began to snow. I mean snow! And we had "Snow Watches". This was a task no one wanted. 24 hours a day there was someone with a shovel posted outside the barracks. If any snow fell he had to shovel it immediately. So you would hear the scraping of the shovels on the sidewalks all night and day - even when it was a flurry. Going from the summer heat into the fall months really stretched our health thin and we had a bit of flu going around. But mainly we were getting stronger and learning how to deal with the "Chain of Command."

One of the best things that happened to me in Great Lakes was the day we were first allowed to go to the store. We marched there early, before the PX was open for the regular Navy guys. We had lists of what we were permitted to buy, with all the costs deducted from our first paychecks at the end of boot camp. We were allowed soap, shaving cream, razors, toothpaste and floss. I snuck a transistor radio and some batteries in my stack. It seemed an eternity until it was my turn at the checkout. All the while I was afraid that the radio would be discovered and I would be sent back to week one. This was already week 6.

Somehow, somewhere there is a God that watches over fools like me. The woman at the register looked at me, looked around and just tossed the radio and batteries in the bag, saying nothing. She didn't charge me because if she had it would have been a strike against her for not following orders. She knew what we were allowed to buy. So wherever you are, whoever you are, thank you for that kindness.

With my radio concealed in my pillow at night I was able to listen to AM stations from all over. Also FM for a bit of music, but mainly I played that radio on AM using those little pink earphones. I think that radio helped me get through boot camp. It was my little secret.

After about 6 weeks they let us go to Chicago on liberty. I suppose they wanted to see who would get falling down drunk or in a fight etc. But it was great. Everyone got gloriously drunk. Some had to be carried back. But we got a good look at Chicago and the Miracle Mile.

Twice during boot camp my friends sent me a bit of pot to smoke. This is where being the Company Clerk came in handy. At night, before Taps I would write myself a pass and go for a walk by myself. I would smoke a thin joint and then head back to the barracks. I remember one particular evening when I took a guy named Zotosky with me for a walk. It was 10 degrees and snowing lightly. It is one of my favorite memories of boot camp.

After 12 weeks or so we had to put in for duty stations. This was a silly exercise because you only got what they gave you. I really lucked out and was assigned to a fleet oiler. The USS Neosho would be my first ship. And the fact that it was an oil tanker fit right in with my plans to go into the Merchant service after the Navy.

In mid-December we graduated- I did not invite my folks and had myself posted as a volunteer to escort everyone’s relatives from the parking area to the Drill Hall where the ceremony would be held. It was pure heaven to walk and talk with normal people after so many months.

So with boot camp behind me I headed back to New York, this time by plane. We were wearing the new CPO type uniforms which looked kind of like a steward’s outfit. More than once I was approached by someone wanting me to carry their bags. I explained the uniform and accepted the apologies. But the third time I had an inspiration. A woman approached me and handed me her bags saying, "Follow me young man, I'm running late." I kept behind her making a sharp left into the men's room. When I came out I had no bags with me.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In the Navy - Getting to Boot Camp - 1976

No one ever forgets the exact date of their enlistment in the Armed Forces. It is a day which marks a turning point in your life. No matter what you were doing before; or will do after; your time in the service will always be a line of demarcation in the saga of your life. I know that it was, and has been, that way for me.

So, in fond remembrance of the events of that long ago day, I am re-posting a chapter of my nascent memoir dealing with the day on which I left for boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. I first posted this about 4 years ago with a different picture. That’s me shaving.

1976 was the 200th Birthday 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 Iona Derman came by H and A 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 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.

I awoke and 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. Orlando Cruz heard “If you are going to Orlando then line up here.” He had only heard his name “Orlando- here” and lined up with me following 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. This would be home for the next several months, and it was only the beginning...

The story is continued here:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Northampton's Clown

Have you heard about the clown stalking the streets of Northampton, England? He’s causing quite a stir among the populace there by dressing up as a clown and standing on street corners. Sounds harmless to me, but his actions have generated a bit of paranoia which seems to be centered around a character named “Pennywise” from a Stephen King novel involving a clown. Having never read the book I can’t really comment much on that aspect of the situation.

I guess my biggest concern is for the safety of the clown. The people there are ready to break out the pitchforks and torches in a scene reminiscent of “Frankenstein”, in order to be rid of the clown. He even has his own Facebook page, which I have visited. Here is the link;

The comments range from amusement and bemusement, to outright paranoia. I posted my take on it all, opining that if the Stephen King movies make you that uncomfortable, perhaps you should seek entertainment elsewhere.

It’s also interesting to note that no one seems to mind protestors wearing bandanas to obscure their identities while they destroy private property; nor is there an outcry over the increasing use of ski masks by law enforcement while depriving people of their rights when they bust up demonstrations, along with a head or two in the bargain.

I’m afraid we have all gotten a bit too sensitive. With all of the random violence in the world I suppose a bit of caution is understandable. But at the same time, I have to wonder about those who would be frightened by the mere presence of a clown standing on the corner. And then, of course, I feel sorry for them; locked in a world of fear.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"The Dam Busters" - Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd (1954)

Michael Redgrave stars in this true life 1954 British drama of World War Two as Dr. Barnes N. Wallis, who is obsessed with trying to find a way to shorten the war with Germany by destroying her ability to produce steel. The center of that industry was located in the Ruhr Valley, surrounded by dams. Conventional bombing was too unreliable to “bust” these dams, and so Dr. Wallis must overcome several obstacles in order to achieve this goal.

Shot in black and white, while interwoven with actual footage of the tests themselves; and later the actual bombings; combine to make this film feel like a documentary; which, in many ways, it is. The film carefully takes the viewer through each step of the process that led to the success in overcoming several critical factors; the weight of the bomb; the height of the drop; and the speed of the plane. All had to be coordinated if the mission were to bear fruit.

The admirals and politicians all think he’s insane; or at the very least, eccentric; save for one man, Group Captain Gibbons, played by Richard Todd. Along with his crew, and several others, he trains for low altitude bombing; 60 feet above sea level; without knowing what it is he is going to be doing. During this phase of the operation, he realizes that he has no accurate way to gauge his altitude over the water, and so an invention is necessary.

For this they use two lights and some good old trigonometry to solve the problem. The lights are mounted beneath the plane and set at such angles so that when their beams intersect the plane is 60 feet above the surface of the water. 

But, with one problem solved there is still another, as they need to be able to tell when they are at a set distance from the dams before releasing their payloads. Without radar this is, at best, an educated guess. So, using two ping pong balls set in a slingshot type contraption acts as a sort of stadimeter; which is used to judge lateral differences between ships at sea; By placing the towers of the dam in line with the ping pong balls they can determine just when to level off and make their drop.

But this was not the end of their problem, as they now had to figure out a way to make the bomb skip along the water like a stone before hitting the dam. Dropping a bomb from above would allow the water to cushion the blow to the dam, thus making the whole mission futile. It was while reading about Lord Nelson that Dr. Wallis gets his answer to this problem. It seems that Lord Nelson used to fire his cannon at such an angle to cause the canon ball to skip on the water while speeding towards its target. This assured that the ball would strike the other ship, delivering the maximum blow, without the cushioning effects of the water. This was the most difficult part of the plan to apply to the bomb drop.

Working diligently over the last remaining weeks before the scheduled bombing, Dr. Wallis is able; through trial and error; to find just the right type of casing necessary to keep the bomb intact as it skips across the water. With only days to go, and the top brass all too willing to scrub the mission, he is under the gun to solve this last problem.

The film was the biggest hit at the British box office in 1955, and won acclaim for R.C. Sheriff’s adaptation of Paul Brickhill’s book “Enemy Coast Ahead”, which detailed the entire operation. A must see for history buffs of all ages.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"What a Wonderful Bird the Frog Are" - Anonymous

I first heard this poem from a shipmate aboard the USNS Jupiter in 1981. Mr. Eldridge had been at sea for 45 years at the time. He was an octoroon; meaning that he was one eighth of African descent. In Louisiana that was the legal demarcation between being white, or black.

Like most sailors of the time; an age before DVD’s and I-Pods; sailors were among the most well-read of individuals, having ample time to read while at sea. This poem is one of many which we used to exchange of an evening, sitting on watch, or just chewing the fat on the quarterdeck. I loved it the moment he recited it, and I still do today.

Little things go a long way, and I have never forgotten Mr. Eldridge; we were after all; roommates on 2 ships, and shipmates on still one other vessel. We spent the better part of 3 years in one another’s constant company; at times each saving the other from the serious injuries attendant to life aboard ship.

I wish I had a picture of Eldridge, but that is something he did not allow. His picture was part of his soul, and I believe he wanted to go stand before the Lord fully intact. No matter, every time I see a frog; like this one on our patio; I hear this poem and see Eldrige's face, clear as crystal. A poem is a gift that never dies, and the memory of the man that went with it will also live forever in my heart. Thanks Sylvester…

“What a Wonderful Bird the Frog Are” - Anonymous

What a wonderful bird the frog are
When he stand he sit almost;
When he hop he fly almost.
He ain't got no sense hardly;
He ain't got no tail hardly either.
When he sit, he sit on what he ain't got almost.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"George Gently" with Martin Shaw (2008)

The George Gently series is actually based on the Alan Hunter novels involving Inspector George Gently of London’s Metropolitan Police Force. He is based at Scotland Yard, but due to his penchant for getting to the heart of things, without particular regards to the regulations, he finds himself transferred to the North East District of London. Here he faces new and uglier cases than before and also finds himself teamed up with a new and younger partner, who may be just a tad over eager to prove his worth.

 In this compilation labeled Season One, there are three discs. The first one is the pilot “Gently Go Man”, which first aired on Apr. 8, 2007. It met with great acclaim and set the ball rolling for the rest of the series in 2008. The first two of episodes of that season are also included here.

In “Gently Go Man” we are introduced to the main characters just as Inspector Gently’s wife is killed by a hit and run driver which may not have been an accident at all. Rather than retire, Gently finds himself caught up in a similar case, which leads him back to the same people whom he believes killed his wife. A clash of jurisdictions further complicate matters as Gently considers retirement. But not before he solves this case.

The following summer saw the release of the first real episode with “The Burning Man” airing on July 13, 2008. In this episode Inspector Gently finds himself with a partner in the form of Detective Baachus, an impulsive young man who is prone to leap to conclusions; but are they all wrong? Inspector Gently is faced with solving the case of a badly burned body found near the old RAF base at Huxton. A second murder puts him and Baachus on the scent of the IRA in this cat and mouse episode featuring a faked death and a kidnapping.

In the third episode; each airs about 90 minutes; “Bomber’s Moon”, which aired on July 20, 2008, Gently and Baachus look into the murder of yet another man, this time Gunter Scheikel; someone must have had a laugh naming this character; a former POW, who is found in the local harbor, apparently the victim of an accidental drowning. But with a broken back, why was he in the water in the first place? And if he wasn’t there by choice, someone had to put him there. Inspector Gently, along with Baachus, are determined to find the person/persons responsible for this one.

Good writing and tight direction make these shows highly entertaining. Like the “Foyle’s War” series, they evoke a palpable sense of England and also what it was like in the early 1960’s, when the effects of the war were still felt in Britain. Great cinematography and acting round out these shows, making them a sure fire hit each time. I can’t wait to pick up the 2nd season.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Free Books @ The Guttenberg Project

The internet is not just the sewer of porn and political debate it would sometimes appear to be. If you are looking for that sort of thing it’s easy enough to find. But, look a little bit deeper, past all those pop up ads and gossipy tidbits designed to numb your brain and drain your soul, and you can actually be rewarded with some pleasant surprises.

When I first started using the internet in 2004; that’s right, I was one of the last to fall prey to its siren call; I got bogged down in all of the usual stuff, like chat rooms and Classmates, etc. But I also stumbled onto a lot of great things as well. One of those was, and still is, the Gutenberg Project site; which houses many books and works of literature for which there is no current copyright; making them free.

I have downloaded several things from there, which I keep on my computer, and also on a portable flash drive, making some of my favorite works of literature available wherever I go, even when there is no internet service. Some I have even printed out; things like “The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym” by Edgar Allan Poe, or this book of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1922 collection of poetry “A Few Figs from Thistles.”

From the opening verse of this collection until the last, these poems reflect the spirit of Ms. Millay and her vibrant way of looking at life. She was way ahead of her time in so many respects, yet her poetry remains timeless. It speaks as poignantly now as it did when she wrote it. I’m pleased to be able to share it here, as well as call your attention to the Gutenberg Project, which can be accessed by the following link. I hope that you will visit their site and I am certain that you will come away with something long forgotten, or perhaps never knew about in the first place.

A Few Figs from Thistles

Poems and Sonnets

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

This edition of "A Few Figs from Thistles" contains several poems
not included in earlier editions.

First Fig

  My candle burns at both ends;
    It will not last the night;
  But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
    It gives a lovely light!

Second Fig

  Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
  Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!


  We were very tired, we were very merry--
  We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
  It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable--
  But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
  We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
  And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

  We were very tired, we were very merry--
  We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
  And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
  From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
  And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
  And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

  We were very tired, we were very merry,
  We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
  We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
  And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
  And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
  And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.


  And if I loved you Wednesday,
    Well, what is that to you?
  I do not love you Thursday--
    So much is true.

  And why you come complaining
    Is more than I can see.
  I loved you Wednesday,--yes--but what
    Is that to me?

To the Not Impossible Him

  How shall I know, unless I go
    To Cairo and Cathay,
  Whether or not this blessed spot
    Is blest in every way?

  Now it may be, the flower for me
    Is this beneath my nose;
  How shall I tell, unless I smell
    The Carthaginian rose?

  The fabric of my faithful love
    No power shall dim or ravel
  Whilst I stay here,--but oh, my dear,
    If I should ever travel!

Macdougal Street

  As I went walking up and down to take the evening air,
    (Sweet to meet upon the street, why must I be so shy?)
  I saw him lay his hand upon her torn black hair;
    ("Little dirty Latin child, let the lady by!")

  The women squatting on the stoops were slovenly and fat,
    (Lay me out in organdie, lay me out in lawn!)
  And everywhere I stepped there was a baby or a cat;
    (Lord God in Heaven, will it never be dawn?)

  The fruit-carts and clam-carts were ribald as a fair,
    (Pink nets and wet shells trodden under heel)
  She had haggled from the fruit-man of his rotting ware;
    (I shall never get to sleep, the way I feel!)

  He walked like a king through the filth and the clutter,
    (Sweet to meet upon the street, why did you glance me by?)
  But he caught the quaint Italian quip she flung him from the gutter;
    (What can there be to cry about that I should lie and cry?)

  He laid his darling hand upon her little black head,
    (I wish I were a ragged child with ear-rings in my ears!)
  And he said she was a baggage to have said what she had said;
    (Truly I shall be ill unless I stop these tears!)

The Singing-Woman from the Wood's Edge

  What should I be but a prophet and a liar,
  Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar?
  Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water,
  What should I be but the fiend's god-daughter?

  And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,
  That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog?
  And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,
  But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

  You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,
  As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby,
  You will find such flame at the wave's weedy ebb
  As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother's web,

  But there comes to birth no common spawn
  From the love of a priest for a leprechaun,
  And you never have seen and you never will see
  Such things as the things that swaddled me!

  After all's said and after all's done,
  What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

  In through the bushes, on any foggy day,
  My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away,
  With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,
  A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

  And there'd sit my Ma, with her knees beneath her chin,
  A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in,
  And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying
  That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

  He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin,
  He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,
  He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,
  And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

  Oh, the things I haven't seen and the things I haven't known.
  What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,
  And yanked both ways by my mother and my father,
  With a "Which would you better?" and a "Which would you rather?"

  With him for a sire and her for a dam,
  What should I be but just what I am?

She Is Overheard Singing

  Oh, Prue she has a patient man,
    And Joan a gentle lover,
  And Agatha's Arth' is a hug-the-hearth,--
    But my true love's a rover!

  Mig, her man's as good as cheese
    And honest as a briar,
  Sue tells her love what he's thinking of,--
    But my dear lad's a liar!

  Oh, Sue and Prue and Agatha
    Are thick with Mig and Joan!
  They bite their threads and shake their heads
    And gnaw my name like a bone;

  And Prue says, "Mine's a patient man,
    As never snaps me up,"
  And Agatha, "Arth' is a hug-the-hearth,
    Could live content in a cup;"

  Sue's man's mind is like good jell--
    All one colour, and clear--
  And Mig's no call to think at all
    What's to come next year,

  While Joan makes boast of a gentle lad,
    That's troubled with that and this;--
  But they all would give the life they live
    For a look from the man I kiss!

  Cold he slants his eyes about,
    And few enough's his choice,--
  Though he'd slip me clean for a nun, or a queen,
    Or a beggar with knots in her voice,--

  And Agatha will turn awake
    While her good man sleeps sound,
  And Mig and Sue and Joan and Prue
    Will hear the clock strike round,

  For Prue she has a patient man,
    As asks not when or why,
  And Mig and Sue have naught to do
    But peep who's passing by,

  Joan is paired with a putterer
    That bastes and tastes and salts,
  And Agatha's Arth' is a hug-the-hearth,--
    But my true love is false!

The Prisoner

  All right,
  Go ahead!
  What's in a name?
  I guess I'll be locked into
  As much as I'm locked out of!

The Unexplorer

  There was a road ran past our house
  Too lovely to explore.
  I asked my mother once--she said
  That if you followed where it led
  It brought you to the milk-man's door.
  (That's why I have not traveled more.)


  Was it for this I uttered prayers,
  And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
  That now, domestic as a plate,
  I should retire at half-past eight?

The Penitent

  I had a little Sorrow,
    Born of a little Sin,
  I found a room all damp with gloom
    And shut us all within;
  And, "Little Sorrow, weep," said I,
    "And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
  And I upon the floor will lie
    And think how bad I've been!"

  Alas for pious planning--
    It mattered not a whit!
  As far as gloom went in that room,
    The lamp might have been lit!
  My little Sorrow would not weep,
    My little Sin would go to sleep--
  To save my soul I could not keep
    My graceless mind on it!

  So up I got in anger,
    And took a book I had,
  And put a ribbon on my hair
    To please a passing lad,
  And, "One thing there's no getting by--
  I've been a wicked girl," said I;
  "But if I can't be sorry, why,
    I might as well be glad!"


  Why do you follow me?--
  Any moment I can be
  Nothing but a laurel-tree.

  Any moment of the chase
  I can leave you in my place
  A pink bough for your embrace.

  Yet if over hill and hollow
  Still it is your will to follow,
  I am off;--to heel, Apollo!

Portrait by a Neighbor

  Before she has her floor swept
    Or her dishes done,
  Any day you'll find her
    A-sunning in the sun!

  It's long after midnight
    Her key's in the lock,
  And you never see her chimney smoke
    Till past ten o'clock!

  She digs in her garden
    With a shovel and a spoon,
  She weeds her lazy lettuce
    By the light of the moon,

  She walks up the walk
    Like a woman in a dream,
  She forgets she borrowed butter
    And pays you back cream!

  Her lawn looks like a meadow,
    And if she mows the place
  She leaves the clover standing
    And the Queen Anne's lace!

Midnight Oil

  Cut if you will, with Sleep's dull knife,
    Each day to half its length, my friend,--
  The years that Time takes off _my_ life,
    He'll take from off the other end!

The Merry Maid

  Oh, I am grown so free from care
    Since my heart broke!
  I set my throat against the air,
    I laugh at simple folk!

  There's little kind and little fair
    Is worth its weight in smoke
  To me, that's grown so free from care
    Since my heart broke!

  Lass, if to sleep you would repair
    As peaceful as you woke,
  Best not besiege your lover there
    For just the words he spoke
  To me, that's grown so free from care
    Since my heart broke!

To Kathleen

  Still must the poet as of old,
  In barren attic bleak and cold,
  Starve, freeze, and fashion verses to
  Such things as flowers and song and you;

  Still as of old his being give
  In Beauty's name, while she may live,
  Beauty that may not die as long
  As there are flowers and you and song.

To S. M.

  If he should lie a-dying

  I am not willing you should go
  Into the earth, where Helen went;
  She is awake by now, I know.
  Where Cleopatra's anklets rust
  You will not lie with my consent;
  And Sappho is a roving dust;
  Cressid could love again; Dido,
  Rotted in state, is restless still:
  You leave me much against my will.

The Philosopher

  And what are you that, wanting you
    I should be kept awake
  As many nights as there are days
    With weeping for your sake?

  And what are you that, missing you,
    As many days as crawl
  I should be listening to the wind
    And looking at the wall?

  I know a man that's a braver man
    And twenty men as kind,
  And what are you, that you should be
    The one man in my mind?

  Yet women's ways are witless ways,
    As any sage will tell,--
  And what am I, that I should love
    So wisely and so well?

Four Sonnets


  Love, though for this you riddle me with darts,
  And drag me at your chariot till I die,--
  Oh, heavy prince! Oh, panderer of hearts!--
  Yet hear me tell how in their throats they lie
  Who shout you mighty: thick about my hair
  Day in, day out, your ominous arrows purr
  Who still am free, unto no querulous care
  A fool, and in no temple worshiper!
  I, that have bared me to your quiver's fire,
  Lifted my face into its puny rain,
  Do wreathe you Impotent to Evoke Desire
  As you are Powerless to Elicit Pain!
  (Now will the god, for blasphemy so brave,
  Punish me, surely, with the shaft I crave!)


  I think I should have loved you presently,
  And given in earnest words I flung in jest;
  And lifted honest eyes for you to see,
  And caught your hand against my cheek and breast;
  And all my pretty follies flung aside
  That won you to me, and beneath your gaze,
  Naked of reticence and shorn of pride,
  Spread like a chart my little wicked ways.
  I, that had been to you, had you remained,
  But one more waking from a recurrent dream,
  Cherish no less the certain stakes I gained,
  And walk your memory's halls, austere, supreme,
  A ghost in marble of a girl you knew
  Who would have loved you in a day or two.


  Oh, think not I am faithful to a vow!
  Faithless am I save to love's self alone.
  Were you not lovely I would leave you now;
  After the feet of beauty fly my own.
  Were you not still my hunger's rarest food,
  And water ever to my wildest thirst,
  I would desert you--think not but I would!--
  And seek another as I sought you first.
  But you are mobile as the veering air,
  And all your charms more changeful than the tide,
  Wherefore to be inconstant is no care:
  I have but to continue at your side.
  So wanton, light and false, my love, are you,
  I am most faithless when I most am true.


  I shall forget you presently, my dear,
  So make the most of this, your little day,
  Your little month, your little half a year,
  Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
  And we are done forever; by and by
  I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
  If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
  I will protest you with my favorite vow.
  I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
  And oaths were not so brittle as they are,
  But so it is, and nature has contrived
  To struggle on without a break thus far,--
  Whether or not we find what we are seeking
  Is idle, biologically speaking.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Worried Man Blues" - The Stanley Brothers (1961)

Here are the iconic Stanley Brothers, Ralph and Carter, performing "It Takes A Worried Man" on Pete Seeger's TV show Rainbow Quest from 1966.  The Clinch Mountain Boys are there to do their stuff backing the brothers up on this number.

The Stanley Brothers were known for their high lonesome sounding harmonies, which they passed on to a whole new audience over the years.  If you have never listened to them then you are missing a piece of American history, as well as culture.

Even if you are not a fan of bluegrass music you would have to admit that this music, with its origins in the Scottish and Irish settlers, can really grab you by the heart and make you listen. Over the years, while the genre had changed into something else, the Stanley’s, along with the Clinch Mountain Boys, were keeping it alive, seemingly waiting for someone to come along and continue the tradition.

Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, country music became a watered down version of what it had once been. Gone were the basic elements of mountain music, replaced by electric instruments and adding drums in a seeming attempt to keep up with the rock and roll format. There were some really good records to come out of that period, but as those artists got older they began to return to their own roots, and those roots were Bill Monroe and the Stanley’s, along with the Carter Family.

Sundays was once a time of quiet reflection; a day in which a working man could spend some quality time with his family. And the television had programs which were oriented to the whole family. Even with the problems facing the average guy during the week, it was still possible to sit back in the living room and take a break with the family; and though all the troubles didn't go away, they could be turned around and made into a celebration of sorts.

And that’s what music like this was, a celebration of the human condition, whether good or bad. It’s kind of like that Hank Williams song “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive”. The lyrics are heartbreaking, the guy can’t catch a break to save his life, but instead of crying about it, it is turned into song. And when Monday morning rolled around, the cycle began again, with a new outlook. Maybe that glimmer would only last a day or so, but what a welcome relief it was to have.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Music Land" - Silly Symphony's (1935)

Here's a perfect example of the quality in the old cartoons. Millions of baby boomers grew up watching these things on television, introducing us to classical music and everything else, including some jazz and swing music thrown in. If you listen to this cartoon you can here the orchestra riffing on such classics as Beethoven's "Eroica" and Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", which was later used in the film  "Apocalypse, Now" in the 1970's. If it sounded familiar yo your ears, you probably first heard it in this cartoon.

Mixed in with the classical music are a myriad of popular tunes of the day, all performed by the same orchestra in one continuous piece. The characters in this cartoon speak only in musical tones, with each one being based upon a particular instrument. This made the cartoon was very educational in introducing young children to the different musical instruments in an orchestra.

The actual plot concerns the Land of Symphony, and what happens when the Violin Princess gets bored and sneaks out to the Isle of Jazz, located just across the Sea of Discord. The place is a veritable Jazzland, with dancing and partying all night long.

The Alto Saxophone Prince, who goes looking for the Princess, arrives in Jazzland, but is bored with it all. When war ensues, and the Prince is locked in a tower, all stops are let loose his father, a Tenor Saxophone enlists the aid of his friends to free his son.

The Princess rises to the occasion, calling for an end to the war. Her efforts are rebuffed, and after she falls into the ocean; with the Prince quickly following to save her life; the two sets of parents are forced to accept the love of the two youngsters and let the two be wed. The wedding takes place on the Bridge of Harmony which connects the two islands for ever after.

Supposedly, the cartoon is based upon the dilemma of the 1930's, when parents were despairing of their children's choice of jazz over the classics. The cartoon is meant to show that the two genres are closely related, separated only by tempo and timing. The same thing happens with each generation; out goes the old, and in comes the new. But, you have only to look at the basics of any genre to see that all music; and all generations; are really very closely related. It's in "how you swing that thing."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Sue!

Today is Sue’s birthday. I wouldn't tell you how old she’s not- but she is a couple of week’s older than me; and wiser, too. This photo; which is one of my favorites; was taken in New York about a year after we met in Baltimore, where I was sitting for my Third Mates License and Sue was working for Social Security. We've been together ever since, much to my good fortune and a lapse of judgment on her part.

We met when both of us had just turned 29; and hopefully were old enough to know who we really wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. Sue, thanks for letting me be your husband. I was waiting for you to come along. I just never understood what took you so long.  

Happy Birthday Sue - you still light up my life...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Starportrait" - Acker Bilk (1959)

An offhand comment from another episode of Inspector Lewis brought me to You Tube to find out what Acker Bilk was all about. In the episode I was watching from the Third Season, Inspector Lewis makes a comment concerning him to his younger partner, who always knows everything. But this time, Lewis had him stumped; answering only that it was something from the “old days”.

Of course, that sent me to the computer to find out. Some might describe Acker Bilk as being Britain’s version of Artie Shaw. Mr. Bilk is a well accomplished clarinet player, and holds a place in the hearts of many in Britain for his fluid renditions, or “covers”, of other artist’s hits as well as his own compositions. So, I would imagine that Mr. Bilk’s recordings have been played at English weddings for decades now, becoming a staple.

This number, “Starportrait”, the title of which immediately made me think of “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael, was written and released in 1959 by Bill Acker and His Paramount Jazz Band. He would later go on to record “Stranger on the Shore” which he also wrote, and that is the hit for which he is most remembered. Among those backing Mr. Acker on his clarinet are Dave Collett on piano, Ernie Price on bass, Ron Mackay on drums. Mr. Acker is a new artist for me and a reflection of Britain’s Post World War Two and Pre- Beatles era. It’s amazing what you can pick up on while watching TV.

And here's Mr. Acker with his orchestra in the 1970's doing "The Twelve of Never." Real ragtime New Orleans style jazz.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"The Land of Lost Content" by A.E. Housman

You can never tell where your next long forgotten memory may crop up. In this case it was while watching an episode of “Inspector Lewis” that I heard the familiar words of A.E. Housman, reminding me that in losing track of him as a poet I had created my own “Land of Lost Content.” This poem was always one of my favorites, and to see it on a television show lends hope to the medium.

The poem speaks to the places and people we all leave behind as we create our own lives.  It’s only in the looking back that one realizes the friendships, and passions, that were for some reason set aside, only to be missed later. This is a very personal poem to me and I was pleasantly surprised to have it appear so unexpectedly on the television. Life is a set of mysteries…

“The Land of Lost Content”

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills?
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli

In just about every musical autobiography I have always come across the name of Django Reinhardt as being an influence for such diverse musicians, and genres, as Keith Richards, Chet Atkins, Paul Simon, and the list goes on and on, including some of the greatest names in jazz. Here is the video I was hoping to post but for some reason would not load; the one above is short and only shows the drummer;

The funny thing about it is that I had been listening to his violinist/accompanist Stephane Grappelli since I was about 19 years old, when Mr. Grappelli recorded “Hobo Blues” with Mr. Simon at the end of his first solo album, which ends with the song “Papa Hobo” as track 8 and morphs into a 1 minute and 22 second violin rag which I have always loved and carried around, either on tape, or now on CD.

So, when I first started listening to the music of Django Reinhardt and hearing Mr. Grappelli’s violin I assumed that Mr. Simon was just imitating his style. Here I am, over 40 years after the song’s release and I find out that the violin I have been hearing on that track is actually Mr. Grappelli himself, playing with Mr. Simon.

Yesterday’s review of the Ricky Skaggs autobiography is just another example of the far reach which music has over time and place. Even Mr. Skaggs credits Mr. Grappelli with having opened his ears to a new way of interpreting the old sounds, which form the basis of his own music. As I listen to “Jatteendrai Swing” I can hear where the basic sound of Spade Cooley, and even Hank Williams, comes from. And the influence doesn’t stop there. It will only keep growing, shaping the music of future generations through the music of our own.

Here’s the Paul Simon You Tube link so that you can hear Stephane Grappelli doing his stuff 30 odd years down the road from the video above.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Kentucky Traveler" by Ricky Skaggs (2013)

I was hesitant to read this book at first. It is a faith based memoir, and I am somewhat suspect of those who wear their religion like a badge. But, Mr. Skaggs has done the seemingly impossible; he has managed to convey his Christian roots and the journey which brought him to international fame without being overly judgmental of others. He is firm in his beliefs; and lets the reader know it; but to separate the religion from the music would be to tell only a part of his story. And, in the case of Mr. Skaggs;  the man, the faith, and the music are all the same.

Beginning with his childhood Mr. Skaggs weaves a wonderful story of growing up as a Christian in the 1950’s and ‘60’s while pursuing his love of music. His father and mother were the main influences in his spiritual and musical development, with the elder Mr. Skaggs playing guitar himself. Young Ricky first performs on the top of the soft drink case at a local store. He was 5 years old at the time.  He was a true “child prodigy.” His instrument of choice was the mandolin, but his talent would lead him to the guitar, banjo and even the sitar for a brief moment in India.

His father’s love of music fueled Mr. Skaggs interest, and desire, to play the music he heard all around him while growing up. His father and mother were both musically inclined, with his mother singing with a strong clear mountain voice and even kicking up her feet and dancing at the frequent house parties they had on weekends. These occasions are the seeds of that would grow into a lifelong love of bluegrass music for Mr. Skaggs, taking him far away from his home, but always returning.

If you love traditional old time bluegrass music, then this book is a veritable history of the genre, beginning; as it should; with Bill Monroe. Ricky meets him as a kid and then later on as a teen when his Dad gets him behind stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. But Ralph and Carter Stanley are the two men who most gave him his first big break.

As his career rises he finds himself at a sort of crossroads; he can go the way of so many before him in the music business, or he can remain true to his roots; both musically as well as spiritually. This is easier said than done, and the author admits it.

Crammed full of stories about the great legends he has known, and the spiritual path he has chosen for himself, make this book a very worthwhile read. His relationship with the late Keith Whitley is a bittersweet memory, as Mr. Whitley succumbs to the temptations of the road and heavy drink.

The story of the people he has played with is also the story of the salvation of the original sound of the bluegrass music he loved so well as a kid, but which had slipped away by the 1970’s, replaced by the overproduced “Nashville Sound.” Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and so many others, along with Mr. Skaggs, have helped to not only preserve that sound, but to make it popular once again.

This remarkable family oriented, faith based memoir, is living testament of the roots of bluegrass music and the magic of where it comes from. It is also proof that you don’t necessarily need sex and drugs to make really great, timeless music.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Inherit the Wind - The Age of Rocks

Frederic March and Spencer Tracy shine in this verbatim exchange from the Scopes Trial in 1925. It was used in the highly fictionalized film, “Inherit the Wind”, which is one of my favorites. But this scene is one that changed the direction of my thinking in regard to Intelligent Design/Creationism versus Darwinism/Evolution.

It is more in line with what the late Pope John Paul II had to say about science and religion being compatible with one another; a belief which I share. This movie was banned by the Catholic Church upon its release due to the nature of the subject, which is the theory of Evolution. That theory is under attack more than ever these days as the world seems to slip backwards, just as Clarence Darrow suggested it would in his argument before the court in his infamous delivery of the above words portrayed by Spencer Tracy.

One big difference in the film versus reality is that this argument took place outdoors due to the courtroom being so tightly packed with spectators, not to mention the summer’s heat. You can actually see the footage of this on You Tube at; 

The audio is also available on some of the other clips on You Tube. Notice how closely Frederic March resembled William Jennings Bryan; named Matthew Harrison Brady in the film.

This film is a staple in my video collection. Its message may seem divisive to many, but I see both sides to the issue and; as I said earlier; I believe that science and religion can co-exist, with each tempering the other in our search for the truth. With both camps divided it’s good to remember that the truth can usually be found somewhere in the middle.