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These Things Too

Random acts of reflection on music, media, and politics.

Updated: 2017-07-25T01:12:53.514-04:00


Allen Ginsberg....


When Allen died in 1997 a local record store in Indianapolis held a memorial and people were invited to speak. I wrote a poem about my encounter with Allen and read it. I later lost the poem and the cassette that had my reading on it. Just today in a file I found a copy of the poem. I found I still like it and want to share it.

Memories of Allen Ginsberg


brushed from
the thick black beard


onto the tablecloth of
20th Century literature


sung in the flat
off key
New York Jew voice

in the time
after Bob Dylan


in Sanskrit
to the sound of finger cymbals
in the flat nasal voice of the
New York Jew Buddha

It is April 22nd 1970
& I am standing in the light rain
& I am wearing my thrift store coat
& I am on Belmont Plateau
   in Fairmount Park
   in North Philadelphia
   on a weekday afternoon
   by the hippie girl with yellow hair in the
   thin transparent white dress
   who dances
   bare feet on wet grass

   to Redbone
   and Seatrain

& Edmund Muskie
who wants to be president
has come to talk about the earth
on the first "Earth Day"

at the end of the sixties
on Belmont Plateau
in Philadelphia

I am 16
I have cut Catholic school
I took the B bus to Bridge Street
  and rode the El
  past factories
  by warehouses
  past the large brimmed hat of William Penn
  past the Cathedral
  past Rodin's Gates of Hell
  past boat house row on East River Drive
  past the dark streets that border the ghetto
  past the Electric Factory
  past Rittenhouse Square

in my thrift store coat
in the light rain
on the wet grass
by the makeshift stage
the reincarnation of Walt Whitman
the bridge between Kerouac, Cassady & Bourroughs
& The Beatles, Dylan & LSD
in long white robe
& long black hair
& long strands of prayer beads
& small brass finger cymbals
by the microphone
on the small stage
in the light rain
at the end of the sixties
on Belmont Plateau
in Philadelphia
on April 22nd
& we chant
om hani padme om
om hani padme om
om hani padme om
& we chant
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg


Songwriters... Phil Ochs


"Even though you can't expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That's morality, that's religion. That's art. That's life." - Phil OchsI had the great pleasure of seeing Phil Ochs play on three occasions, each representative of a particular phase in the arc of his career. First in the 1960s at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, the opera house modeled after La Scala where Eugene Ormandy led the Philadelphia Philharmonic. It was the peak of Och's dominance as the best topical songwriter, perhaps ever. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">Where he and Dylan had led the charge as songwriters in the intersection of the folk revival and the Civil Rights movement, Dylan abandoned the student left when the focus shifted to Vietnam while Phil became possibly the greatest anti-war songwriter ever."A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over." - Joe HillBetween 1964 and 1966 Phil's first three albums were released on Jac Holzman's Elektra Records label. All three were basic solo voice and acoustic guitar, the third one was a live album. Phil was every bit as scathing in his criticism of the left as he was the political right and his In Concert album featured his "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" which was clearly aimed at the Democratic party of LBJ and Hubert Humphrey. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">In 1967, in the wake of Dylan's trilogy of post-folk LPs, Phil switched labels moving to A&M and worked with producer Larry Marks. The album concludes with Ochs' greatest song, "The Crucifixion" exploring a cycle of sacrifice that compares JFK to Christ. The song caused Robert Kennedy to weep when Ochs performed a solo acoustic version just months before the younger Kennedy's own death. The album version marries Phil's performance to Joseph Byrd's avant garde arrangement. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">And the night comes again to the circle studded skyThe stars settle slowly, in lonliness they lie'Till the universe expodes as a falling star is raisedPlanets are paralyzed, mountains are amazedBut they all glow brighter from the briliance of the blazeWith the speed of insanity, then he dies.In the green fields a turnin', a baby is bornHis cries crease the wind and mingle with the mornAn assault upon the order, the changing of the guardChosen for a challenge that is hopelessly hardAnd the only single sound is the sighing of the starsBut to the silence and distance they are swornSo dance dance danceTeach us to be trueCome dance dance dance'Cause we love youImages of innocence charge him go onBut the decadence of destiny is looking for a pawnTo a nightmare of knowledge he opens up the gateAnd a blinding revelation is laid upon his plateThat beneath the greatest love is a hurricane of hateAnd God help the critic of the dawn.So he stands on the sea and shouts to the shore,But the louder that he screams the longer he's ignoredFor the wine of oblivion is drunk to the dregsAnd the merchants of the masses almost have to be begged'Till the giant is aware, someone's pulling at his leg,And someone is tapping at the door.To dance dance danceTeach us to be trueCome dance dance dance'Cause we love youThen his message gathers meaning and it spreads accross the landThe rewarding of his pain is the following of the manBut ignorance is everywhere and people have their waySuccess is an enemy to the losers of the dayIn the shadows of the churches, who knows what they prayFor blood is the language of the band.The Spanish bulls are beaten; the crowd is soon beguiled,The matador is beautiful, a symphony of styleExcitement is estatic, passion places betsGracefully he bows to ovations that he getsBut the hands that are applauding are slippery with sweatAnd s[...]

Songwriters... Paul Simon


If I ever meet Paul Simon I have one question for him. I want to know if, after writing the line "The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar," he took the rest of the day off.Over the past half century, Simon has emerged as one of the two or three finest songwriters of his generation. His skills are singularly unique, a perfect storm of musical and lyrical inventiveness that rarely sounds strained or hurried. In 1968 Simon wrote the song "America" which appeared on the Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends. It is one of a very few pop songs written in free verse; the only rhyme in the song is an internal one, "Michigan seems like a dream to me now." allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">Five years later, Simon returned to a similar rumination on the nature of identity and the character of the country of his birth. This performance from a 1974 Dick Cavett Show is just about perfect. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">Jump ahead another twelve years and the release of Simon's finest album, Graceland. There is a DVD series on the making of classic albums, the one on the making of Graceland is really worth a look. Take a look: allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420"> Simon discusses changes in his process that took place around the time of Graceland. Now he would first develop the music, build the track until he was satisfied with the results. Then write a lyric and, if he wasn't happy with the results, remove the lyric and try again, but still have the track that he liked. This was the approach that produced the song "Boy in the Bubble." allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">It is one of my favorite Simon lyrics. Like the best of his work, the song moves from the specific to the universal with language that teases and hints at a larger meaning.It was a slow dayAnd the sun was beatingOn the soldiers by the side of the roadThere was a bright lightA shattering of shop windowsThe bomb in the baby carriageWas wired to the radioThese are the days of miracle and wonderThis is the long distance callThe way the camera follows us in slo-moThe way we look to us allThe way we look to a distant constellationThat's dying in a corner of the skyThese are the days of miracle and wonderAnd don't cry baby, don't cryDon't cryIt was a dry windAnd it swept across the desertAnd it curled into the circle of birthAnd the dead sandFalling on the childrenThe mothers and the fathersAnd the automatic earthThese are the days of miracle and wonderThis is the long distance callThe way the camera follows us in slo-moThe way we look to us allThe way we look to a distant constellationThat's dying in a corner of the skyThese are the days of miracle and wonderAnd don't cry baby, don't cryDon't cryIt's a turn-around jump shotIt's everybody jump startIt's every generation throws a hero up the pop chartsMedicine is magical and magical is artThe Boy in the BubbleAnd the baby with the baboon heartAnd I believeThese are the days of lasers in the jungleLasers in the jungle somewhereStaccato signals of constant informationA loose affiliation of millionairesAnd billionaires and babyThese are the days of miracle and wonderThis is the long distance callThe way the camera follows us in slo-moThe way we look to us allThe way we look to a distant constellationThat's dying in a corner of the skyThese are the days of miracle and wonderAnd don't cry baby, don't cryDon't cry allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">That performance is so joyful and powerful... it is one of my favorites and presents Simon at the height of his powers. Let me finish here with this video that runs through Simon's cat[...]



Playing chess with Domino in England
A pawn I took for granted won the game
My kingdom toppled in an instant
The queen and her bishops looked surprised

And the knights atop their horses
They had no where to go
The pawns were cheered like heroes
In the courtyard of the palace
And they danced around the castle
Arm in arm

Walking off the street and through an unmarked door in Oxford
We walked into a wholly different land
The green was the greenest green that I had ever seen
There were secret gardens, secret gardens, secret gardens everywhere

And we were riding in that tiny car and driving through the Cotswolds
Through Stanton, into Stanway and to Winchcombe and beyond
Through green fields lined with dry stone walls
And honey-colored limestone so warm in the setting English sun
A thousand years of history, kings and queens and peasants in the morning
Mist upon the water out by Castle Combe

And we followed the Romans and the Normans
Moving through the hills above the market
It was as if our souls were trying to remember
Something about that castle, something about the markings on the wall
I held you against the chill and we drank whisky in the pub that night by the fire
There was something eternal
There was something everlasting
There was some kind of mid-winter magic
On the water
In the fields
By that castle
As we rode along the country roads in England



For no reason I can fathom - I love how the brain works - this morning I was struck by how two great songs suddenly seemed related in some odd way. It had never occurred to me before, even though I have loved, and played, both songs countless times in the past forty years. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420"> Six short verses, four lines each and, like every song on Dylan's John Wesley Harding album, no chorus. This is Dylan at his enigmatic best; the signifiers dance, whirl around as if in a strong wind, never stopping long enough for any meaning to become fixed. The greater context is, as it always is, important. There is the context of the album, stark, minimalist folk, loaded with odd religious imagery that has led some to interpret the Joker and thief as Christ on the cross speaking to Dismas, the penitent thief.Dave Van Ronk was not a fan of the song, commenting that you cannot travel "along" a watchtower. I think Van Ronk found Dylan's dance with meaning irritating. I love Dave, always have, but where he is irritated I am more prone to exhilaration. I don't feel this way about all of Dylan, there are definitely songs in which he's just faking it, getting by. This is not one of those.Beyond the context of the album is the context of the times, particularly important for JWH. Released at the very end, a scant few days before the end of 1967. 1967 was dominated by psychedelia, the "Summer of Love," Haight-Ashbury, Carnaby Street, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Neon flowers and paisley, elaborate album cover constructions (the Rolling Stones 3D cover, the Bee Gees red velvet) with lyric gate folds and booklets and cut out sheets and printed inner sleeves. When Dylan sings "There must be someway out of here" it is as if he is fixing an exit sign to all of that. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420"> Released by Leonard Cohen in 1967 (though released first by Judy Collins a year earlier), "Suzanne" strikes me as a kind of bookend to "All Along the Watchtower" in its similar dance with ambiguity and meaning.Suzanne takes you down to her place near the riverYou can hear the boats go byYou can spend the night beside herAnd you know that she's half crazyBut that's why you want to be thereAnd she feeds you tea and orangesThat come all the way from ChinaAnd just when you mean to tell herThat you have no love to give herThen she gets you on her wavelengthAnd she lets the river answerThat you've always been her loverAnd you want to travel with herAnd you want to travel blindAnd you know that she will trust youFor you've touched her perfect body with your mind.And Jesus was a sailorWhen he walked upon the waterAnd he spent a long time watchingFrom his lonely wooden towerAnd when he knew for certainOnly drowning men could see himHe said "All men will be sailors thenUntil the sea shall free them"But he himself was brokenLong before the sky would openForsaken, almost humanHe sank beneath your wisdom like a stoneAnd you want to travel with himAnd you want to travel blindAnd you think maybe you'll trust himFor he's touched your perfect body with his mind.Now Suzanne takes your handAnd she leads you to the riverShe is wearing rags and feathersFrom Salvation Army countersAnd the sun pours down like honeyOn our lady of the harborAnd she shows you where to lookAmong the garbage and the flowersThere are heroes in the seaweedThere are children in the morningThey are leaning out for loveAnd they will lean that way foreverWhile Suzanne holds the mirrorAnd you want to travel with herAnd you want to travel blindAnd you know that you can trust herFor she's touched your perfect body with her mind.Three verses, with the middle verse about the figure of Jesus - a character we recognize - in the center of two verses about Suzanne, a characte[...]



“I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then, “Nowhere Man” came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down…Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something, and then you’re allowed sleep.” - John Lennon “Somebody said to me, But the Beatles were anti-materialistic. That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, Now, let’s write a swimming pool.” - Paul McCartneySongwriting is the biggest mystery to me. It is something so many people seem to be able to do, and yet I have tried for probably the better part of forty years now to write songs with virtually zero success. I have one song about how hard it is to score drugs when you get older. I have one other I've never sung for anyone ever. I have a wedding song I wrote in 1980 that I've always wanted Willie Nelson to record. I have a half-finished one about being in a plane looking down on the lights of Memphis that I kind of hear as a Vulgar Boatmen song. Years ago I wrote one called something like "The Patron Saint of Circumstance" that I recorded on a cassette that I lost. I can't remember much about the song other than that I liked it at the time.  I have a 22 second instrumental that I am very fond of.And I have snippets, fragments, that I occasionally offer to people who never take me up on it. One, in particular, is the... I'm not sure what the word is. It's not the "chorus," I don't think it's a "bridge"... it's the line at the end of a verse that contains the key idea and probably the title. It's about how passions burn most fiercely when we are you and ebb as we age.It is sung by an older man remembering his younger self. When I think about it I can hear George Jones singing it.  The line is: "But I was younger then, and my heart was full of roses." When I sing it, the word "roses" is stretched out at the end.  If you can do anything with it, it's yours. I want to look at songwriting by looking at some of what I consider to be some of the greatest songs we have. First up....  allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">Written by Cole Porter in 1936. Sinatra first sang the song in 1946 and then, in 1956, he recorded this version, arranged by Nelson Riddle and known for Milt Bernhart's terrific trombone solo that shows up around 2:20 in. The collaboration of Porter, Sinatra and Riddle produces this moment of near-perfection. The pleasure here is right on the surface, in the grain of Sinatra's voice, the gorgeous lyric perfectly phrased and played with, and in Riddle's sense of swing. “I usually know what kind of song I’m after. I know what I’m trying to do when I start. I don’t always get there. But I try to visualize what it’s actually going to be." - Jimmy Webb allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">Jimmy Webb is one of the 5 or 10 best songwriters of all time. He's at his most interesting when he picks an artists to work with and writes an entire album for them. He did it with the Fifth Dimension, Richard Harris,  and with Johnny Rivers, and he did it for Art Garfunkel on his best album, "Watermarks." If I had to pick my favorite Webb collaboration of all time it would be Garfunkel's reading of Webb's "Crying in my Sleep." If you listen, you learn a volume of information about the people in the song, their history, their relationship, their friends, their jobs, etc. But if you just look at the lyrics you will not find ANY of that in there. This song is one of the greatest examples of the use of subtext I've ever found. With Webb, the pleasures are [...]

Artifacts from a distant past....


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Promises, promises....


In July 2012 we organized the largest grass roots Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration in the US, a 9 day festival with 13 events designed to educate and entertain, all in our neighborhood on the East side of Indianapolis, IN, Historic Irvington.

We now plan to make that celebration an annual event, and June 2-8, 2013 will see the Second Annual Irvington Folk Festival (Son of the Woody Guthrie Celebration) in various location in and around Irvington. For more information about the actual schedule of events check out the Facebook page (and go ahead and "like" us if you would).

In the meantime it is my plan to use this blog, which I had tired of somewhat during the political battles of the past few years, to look at the more-complicated-than-you-might-suspect notion of just what "folk music" actually is. So keep checking back to see just what's going on. In the mean time let me leave you with what I think was the brightest moment from last year's festival: Dale Lawrence & The Punkin Holler Boys doing a version of Woody's "This Land Is Your Land" is a quiet and introspective arrangement that drew everybody into the song.

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Music is....


It used to go like that....


Right wing fantasies used to involve hiding in the mountains and fighting invading Soviet troops ("Red Dawn," "Invasion USA," "Amerika"). But current right wing fantasies are different. Current fantasies involve building private arsenals to resist the "Islamic Marxist Kenyan dictatorship" the President (who is, when you remove the smoke and mirrors, basically a Nixon Republican) has planned to impose by fiendishly trying to make sure all Americans have decent health care. And that fantasy doesn't involve shooting Soviet troops, it involves shooting US troops. So, if you have those fantasies, you really shouldn't have that "Support the Troops" sticker on the back of your SUV, should you?

Think it through. There is no way any US government could seize control of the country and suspend the Constitution without the support of the US military. And I don't care how many Glocks, AR-15s and assorted deer rifles you have buried in the back yard, there's no private militia in this country who could defend itself against a single Boeing AH-64 attack helicopter.

If you buy into the black helicopters paranoia of today's far right wing you should be petitioning your representatives to have Timothy McVeigh's birthday declared a holiday.

And in my dream....


Clarion River, Clarion PA
In my dream
I die
and wake
floating in an inner tube
in the warm water
on a Summer afternoon

 In my dream
I float
closer to the bank
where I can hear
the voices of my friends

 In my dream
there are coolers full of ice cold
 seven ounce bottles of Rolling Rock
and a film can full of Thai stick
and some acoustic guitars

One more perfect day.


My America....


It is 1955 and....


It is 1955 and
it is a week
or two
after my second birthday and
I am standing in long pants
in the dark green water
of the Atlantic Ocean
with my mother
and Marian Anderson is the first African American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera
and the game Scrabble debuts
and the Pentagon announces a plan to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons
and President Eisenhower sends the first U.S. advisors to Vietnam
and Claudette Colvin, a fifteen year old black girl, refuses to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white woman after the driver demands it and is carried off the bus backwards while being kicked and handcuffed on the way to the police station
and Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister
and the Salk polio vaccine receives full approval by the FDA
and Disneyland opens to the public in Anaheim, California
and the first nuclear-generated electrical power is sold commercially
and James Dean dies in a car wreck
and Christopher Mayhew ingests mescaline and allows himself to be filmed by the BBC
and Vladimir Nabokov publishes his novel Lolita
and the Mickey Mouse Club TV program debuts on ABC
and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon is released from prison in Seoul, South Korea
and the Brooklyn Dodgers finally win the World Series
and a time bomb explodes in the cargo hold of United Airlines Flight 629 killing everyone on board
and racial segregation is outlawed on trains and buses in Interstate Commerce in the United States
and Bo Diddley makes his television debut on Ed Sullivan's Toast Of The Town
and the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merge to become the AFL-CIO
and the Montgomery Improvement Association is formed in Montgomery, Alabama, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Black ministers to coordinate a boycott of all city buses
and General Motors Corporation becomes the first American corporation to make a profit of over one billion dollars in one year
and we are anchored
into a
history that swirls around us
like some living
and we're not in Kansas anymore.

History, rhyming....


America, 1935.





"Spoken Word" artists, Dick Gregory and Mort Sahl

Although he is best known as a Punk Rock icon, Jello Biafra's "spoken word" career is best understood as part of a direct lineage from Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory. All three were stand up night club comedians in the 1950s who, as they moved into the tumult of the 1960s, stopped telling jokes and started, in Sahl's case, coming on stage with that day's newspaper and reading the news. If you want an introduction to Biafra's spoken word catalog I recommend the 2001 release, Become the Media, a 3-CD set offered at a single disc price.

While Biafra doesn't own a computer and doesn't use email (except through his record label, Alternative Tentacles), he has taken to the internet in the form of a video journal called "WWJD" which is posted to Youtube. His recent monologue on then Occupy Wall Street movement is alternately scatter shot and insightful.

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#Occupy Wall Street....


"The basic movement that says to each person: You are, I am a worthwhile person. I am one of the 99% that are the backbone of and reason America got this far. Why do I have to, beg for a job, beg that I can be seen for a medical condition, beg a politician for some little relief from the inexorable tightening of the screws that go on day after day, year after year, and never lets up? Why do the 1% have to keep grabbing more and more and stealing from the rest of us? Why must this theft continue? Why do I have to have my dignity, self worth violated over and over?" - BeeDeeSEveryday I read more and more reports that point to the leaderless character of the #OWS movement and it's lack of a clear concise agenda as the primary strengths of the incipient movement. And the argument is not without merit - don't allow any organization to lay claim to leadership because, the second you do, you immediately limit the scope and appeal of the movement.But there will come a moment when that will have to change, when this movement will have to move pass the simple expression of built up frustration and outrage over the past 3 decades of economic inequities and proceed toward some actual specific action.It will not be a "revolution." Not in the same sense as those that spread across the Arab Spring. Barack Obama and John Boehner will not flee the Capitol and be discovered by an angry mob hiding in the break room of a Walmart. I see posts on Facebook by people who, when I tell them they need to vote to stop a return of a Republican White House, tell me I'm wrong and that instead we have to "tear the whole thing down."So.... This means what? That we shut down every public assistance office, every library, every public school? That we shut down all public utilities, all public transportation, all government services, all government agencies?The fire hydrants in my neighborhood have been broken for a while; the sewage system in Indianapolis is about 100 years old and in need of some serious repair. Three times in the past week I've woken up, turned the faucet, and nothing has come out.This is what we need to do, rather than re-elect Barack Obama? No water, no electricity, no heat, no traffic lights, no police, no fire, no emergency services? Do these people really think a world in which a call to 911 is answered by a recording that says "The number you have dialed is no longer in service" is better?No banks, no money, no prescription medicine, no salt trucks and road plows after a snow storm. Power to the people. Right on.At the same time, the #OWS movement fills me with real hope. I read recently someone who argued that the New Deal ended on May 8, 1970 in lower Manhattan, the day of the "Hard Hat Riots." The riot started about noon when about 200 construction workers mobilized by the New York State AFL-CIO attacked about 1,000 high school and college students and others protesting the Kent State shootings, the American invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War near the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street. A left political movement that is on the other side of the working class is a non sequitur and has zero potential for growth or success.But fast forward forty-one years to October 5, 2011 and the statement issued by Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President:"Occupy Wall Street has captured the imagination and passion of millions of Americans who have lost hope that our nation's policymakers are speaking for them. We support the protesters in their determination to hold Wall Street accountable and create good jobs. We are proud that today on Wall Street, bus driver[...]

Einstein on memory beach....


Washed up on the beach
A sorry sight
His unruly
mushroom cloud
of white hair
Flattened against his skull
His spectacles
Knocked off by a wave
Staggers to his feet
Laying there for a moment on the sand
He almost looks like a young man again

My father's mother's second husband
Was a kind man
They lived in West Philadelphia
Girard Avenue
I would spend a week or two living with them
in the summers
at the end of the 1950s

I don't know if we have any photos of Albert
I haven't seen any for many, many years
and in my mind's eye he looks like
Albert Einstein
I imagine
I am remembering the mustache
and filling in the blanks.

Everything old is new again....


The things we remember....


Earlier today, playing around on Facebook, I posted a video of my favorite love song. The opening chord reminded me that there is a medieval pudding recipe made from yellow rose petals. Looking for an image of yellow roses I found that they are a symbol of joy, affection and friendship. And it wasn't even noon.

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This is 1966....


"History teaches everything including the future." - LamartineWho we are now has a lot to do with who we were. This is the second part of a look... an inventory, of the center of what some scholars are calling the "Long Sixties" - the period of 1955 to 1975 in which the cultural revolution of "the sixties" played out. January 3, 1966. The first Acid Test is conducted at the Fillmore, San Francisco, when tubs of regular and high test Kool Aid are set out for the masses. Also in January, Robert C. Weaver becomes the first African American Cabinet member, by being appointed United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. A B-52 bomber collides with a KC-135 Stratotanker over Spain and drops three 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs near the town of Palomares, and one more into the sea. Ooops. Young singer David Jones changes his last name to Bowie to avoid being confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees. Carl Brashear, the first African American United States Navy diver, is involved in an accident during the recovery of a lost H-bomb which results in the amputation of his leg; Brashear would later be portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the film Men Of Honor (2000). January 1966 also saw Indira Gandhi elected Prime Minister of India and Simon & Garfunkel release "Sounds of Silence," which hit #1 on Billboard charts. Albums released in January 1966 include Them Again by Them, Ballads of the Green Berets by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, Just Like Us by Paul Revere & the Raiders and Jealous Heart by Connie Francis.In February 1966, West Germany welcomes some 2,600 political prisoners from East Germany. The unmanned Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft makes the first controlled rocket-assisted landing on the Moon. The National Hockey League expands to twelve teams. A military coup in Syria replaces the previous government with a Ba'athist regime. The Australian dollar is introduced at a rate of 2 dollars per pound, or 10 shillings per dollar. On 19 February, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin perform at the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco (LSD-25 is still legal at this time). In February 1966 Wayne Shorter releases Adam's Apple; Boom by The Sonics; The Best of The Animals on MGM; Boots by Nancy Sinatra; She's Just My Style by Gary Lewis & the Playboys; The Sonny Side of Cher; Take a Ride by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.In March 1966, the Soviet space probe Venera 3  crashes on Venus, becoming the first spacecraft to land on another planet's surface.  The Ba'ath Party takes power in Syria.  In an interview with London Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, John Lennon of The Beatles states that they are "more popular than Jesus now."  The U.S. announces it will substantially increase the number of its troops in Vietnam.  An Irish Republican Army bomb destroys Nelson's Pillar in Dublin.  The Texas Western Miners defeat the Kentucky  Wildcats with 5 African-American starters, ushering in desegregation in athletic recruiting. The Labour Party under Harold Wilson wins the British General Election, gaining a 96-seat majority (a great improvement upon the five-seat majority gained at the election 17 months earlier).  The Soviet Union launches Luna 10, which later becomes the first space probe to enter orbit around the Moon.  On March 3rd, Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay form Buffalo Springfield in Los Angeles, California. The Young Rascals, Gordon Lightf[...]

This is 1965....


"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development." - AristotleThe years 1965 and 1966 represent a sort of peak in popular music, bound up in a kind of homogeneity that would never happen again; shattered by a gradual crawl toward fragmentization and the compartmentalization that defines contemporary popular culture. It is also across these two years that pop begins to morph into rock and lose it's status as ephemeral teenage fascination. As the performers in the post-British Invasion second age of rock and roll travel through their twenties, they begin to take more and more control of the processes that had traditionally been the realm of the "suits" who packaged and marketed the music. In 1965, pop performers are all still well ensconced in "the show business", but the signs are there of something larger lying just ahead.The fans, too, are growing up, leaving high schools and heading to universities, and in never-before seen numbers. The "baby boom" that was wearing Beatle wigs and screaming at the Ed Sullivan Show just a year ago is now becoming politicized by the perfect storm of the draft and Vietnam, and using the added gravitas of the civil rights and anti war movements to become conscious of itself as a generation in a manner that rarely happens. These things would all reach a boil in the period of 1967-1969, but the seeds of it all are present in the period of 1965-1966.Sometimes my head gets stuffy with facts.  Names, dates and places all jumble together and I occasionally need to stop and gain a better purchase on what things correspond to what things, and what other things are years apart.As 1965 begins, LBJ, who will be sworn in for his own full term as President on January 20th, first uses the phrase "The Great Society" in his State of the Union address on the 4th. On January 24th, as if ringing a large bell to announce the start of a new era, Sir Winston Churchill dies as "Downtown" hits #1 and makes Petula Clark the first British female performer to top the charts since the arrival of The Beatles. In February, The Rolling Stones Now! and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme are released, and Malcolm X is assassinated in Manhattan. In March, civil rights demonstrators clash with state troopers in Selma Alabama while some 3,500 US Marines become the first American combat troops in Vietnam. A Russian cosmonaut becomes the first person to ever walk in space while the bill that will become the Voting Rights act of 1965 is introduced to Congress. Also in March, the Temptations have their first hit, "My Girl" while the Supremes have their fourth number one single, "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bill Wyman are fined five pounds for urinating on the wall of a London gas station. Albums released in March 1965 include Kinda Kinks, The Beach Boys Today!, Buck Owens' I've Got a Tiger by the Tail, Elvis Presley's Girl Happy and Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home.In April, the US launches the world's first space nuclear power reactor. The Houston Astrodome opens. The 100th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War is observed. My Fair Lady wins 8 Academy Awards, Mary Poppins wins 5. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, convicted of murdering 4 members of the Herbert Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, are executed by hanging at the Kansas State Penitentiary for Men. The West German parliament extends the statute of limitations on Nazi war crimes. The first SDS [...]

Meanwhile, 17 years later....


This book was written eighteen years ago, published in 1994.  I just went back and started to read it for the first time in at least 15 years and was struck by the very first page and how much what we were describing then seems like, with very few changes of names and places, a perfectly lucid description of today.

I'm not at all sure of my point here, I don't think it's anything as simple as "nothing changes" since there is clearly an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Perhaps it is more in keeping with what has become one of my favorite Mark Twain quotations: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."

"There is an unmistakable irony in watching the United States offer itself as role model to the various projects of democratization unfolding throughout eastern Europe even as the very activities inherent to notions of participatory democracy (e.g., voter turnout, literacy, etc.) continue their steady decline inside our borders. For those striving for social change, there is an experience of tangible depression in witnessing the growing power of neoconservative ideology. The borders and boundaries of this ideological cultural formation are marked by numerous signposts: the renewed attacks upon the hard-won rights of women (in the holy name of morality), racial and ethnic minorities (in the name of a mythological meritocracy), and gays and lesbians (in the timeless name of nature); the steady increase of corporate and state power; the continued melding together of the state, the market and the media, and the corresponding erosion of an ever-diminishing democratic public sphere; the conflation of the corporate and the public into one vague and amorphous collective philosophy of money and nostalgia; and the declamation that recent gains in multicultural education represent little more than the thinly veiled virus of political correctness (which in a twisted Orwellian logic has as its goals the restriction of free discussion and the subversion of a stable and coherent canon of Western culture). Finally in the face of all of this, the political left has been weakened by a spiraling fragmentation and factionalization into a complex yet redundant theoretical melange of suffocating identity politics and reactionary and nihilistic postmodernisms" (p. 1).

Father's Day


Grace Kelly and my father, Philadelphia in the 1960s

Just called my dad who is doing well, living with one of my sisters in New Jersey.  Born in the second decade of the 20th Century to parents who came to the US in that wave of East-European immigration; a while back my sister managed to track down the actual logs from Ellis Island documenting their arrival from Poland (the original family name of "Dzieniszewski" was shortened to "Denski" a short time later).  He grew up in the tough part of Philadelphia, the "Fish Town" neighborhood and made his way during the Great Depression as a pool hustler, gambler, fighter and occasional footballer.  Along with another million plus men his age, he joined the Army and fought from the beaches in Normandy through France and Belgium as part of what Kurt Vonnegut would later describe as the "children's crusade" (now that I'm in my fifties, everybody looks impossibly young in the photos from that period).

Coming home after the war, he wanted "a job with a pension" and joined the Philadelphia Police force, eventually retiring as a Lieutenant.  Growing up and coming of age in the 1960s with a police officer father made ours a tumultuous relationship. These days, we speak about once a week and that past is well behind us now.

I love this photograph.  Grace Kelly and her mother are unveiling a bust of her father, John B. Kelly, a famous Philadelphia native, somewhere in Fairmont Park.  The bust is gone now, nobody seems to know where it went; I believe it was removed when a larger sculpture of Kelly as an Olympic rower was installed sometime, I think, in the 1990s. But I digress.

My father is there on the left, one of two Fairmont Park police officers serving as an honor guard. The other guy is Bill Hamilton, who once went to FBI school and brought me a present of a big book on the FBI that he had autographed "To Stanley, J. Edgar Hoover."  I don't know what happened to the book, I wish I still had it.

I used this photo a while back to start a rumor in the family that my father and Grace Kelly had an affair and that our brother, Joe, is actually my father's son by Princess Grace.  Nobody in my family actually looks like Joe, and Joe looks a WHOLE lot like this bust of John B. Kelly.

Anyway, happy father's day you rascal you.