Monday, February 20, 2017

The Kashmir Riff

One of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history is from Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin's Kashmir.  Here Jimmy tells The Edge and Jack White of its origin.


And here is the full recording.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Highlands

Ms THC and I spent some time in the Scottish Highlands in July 1978.  We'd rented a car in central London.  This was a mistake as driving on the wrong side of the road out of London as your first experience in England is not a good idea.  We made it without mishap, though the roundabouts were a real challenge as getting through them challenged my every natural driving instinct.  After stops in England, we ended up in Edinburgh, camping in its outskirts.  I remember encountering a waitress in a restaurant downtown and not being able to understand a word she said.  She was speaking English with a Scottish accent.

From there we headed first north, into the Highlands and Inverness and then west to the wild Atlantic Coast of the highlands.  Once we got to the coast the main roads were only one lane wide, with turnouts every half mile so that cars could pass each other, in the rare instance you encountered someone driving in the opposite direction.   We ended up that day in Gairloch, where we took a little side road (B8021) along the coast.  Finding a cottage/farmhouse near Carn Dearg we knocked on the door and asked if we could camp in their yard (a really big yard).  The occupants said it was fine with them so we set our tent with spectacular views south over the ocean to the Isle of Skye.  This video is of an area within a few hundred yards of which we camped (we were on the other side of the road close to the water).

It was a beautiful sunny late afternoon.  That time of the year, dawn is at 3am, and we awoke in a blanket of fog which began to break up 4 or 5 hours later.

Highlands. from Joren de Jager on Vimeo.

The next day we headed south on the A832 taking us a bit inland.  This part of Scotland is like "Wyoming by the sea".  Treeless, small mountains and tablelands, occasional glens and all with the ocean nearby.  We stopped at a large tract of parkland, and while Ms THC read her book near our car, I hiked into a valley.  Unfortunately while jumping from rock to rock, I fell and badly twisted my ankle (and thought I might have broken it).  It being the Highlands, no one was around, and Ms was out of shouting distance.  I crawled for the next two hours until I finally got the attention of Ms.

I needed some medical attention but a further complicating factor was I'd done all the driving so far but obviously could do no more.  So Ms THC took over driving a stick shift on the wrong side of the road.  We eventually found a doctor, practicing out of a trailer by the side of the highway.  He bandaged me up, informed us that he did not think I'd broken my ankle but advised going to the hospital on Skye for an x-ray.  By that time it was pretty late and we weren't getting to Skye that day.

Instead, Ms had the challenge of driving us over the highest paved road in the United Kingdom, through a pass with cliffs on one side and a sheer drop on the other, to the little town of Applecross where we camped by the sea that night.

The next day, we put our car on the ferry to Skye, made it to the hospital, which confirmed there was no break, and decided to splurge and stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Portree, the main town on the island.

I walked with a cane for the next 2-3 weeks but we both fondly remember our time in the Highlands.  It'd be nice to visit again.  We do hope the food will be better; it was terrible in '78, unless you liked oat cakes.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Beer & BBQ

Continuing our them from yesterday.  Melrose, Louisiana.  June 1940.  For more wonderful pictures from the 1930s and 40s, see Messy Nessy

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bus Story

In 1943, Esther Bubley, a photography program graduate working at the Office of War Information in Washington DC, received a four week assignment to document bus travel in the South and Midwest.  This was wartime America.  Gasoline rationing was in effect, so bus riding had soared in numbers.  Her photos document a long-gone America.  Below is a sampling - you can find more at Mashable.

Pittsburgh

Indianapolis



Rome, Georgia


Memphis


Memphis to Chattanooga


Memphis


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

'Retha Retires

Hey Nineteen
That's 'retha Franklin
She don't remember the Queen of Soul
Hard times befallen the soul survivors
She thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just growing old

- Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Aretha_Franklin.png/220px-Aretha_Franklin.png
Aretha Franklin announced her retirement last week.  Time is moving along.

I remember when she exploded on the music scene.  She'd spent six years with Columbia Records where they tried to make her into a mainstream artist singing pop standards.  It didn't work.  In early 1967, she signed with Atlantic Records which let her be what she was.  From the spring of 1967 through the fall of 1968 she had eight consecutive Top Ten hits.  In order:

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
Respect (written by Otis Redding)
Baby, I Love You
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman 
Chain of Fools
(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone
Think

And finishing with a single on which both sides made the Top Ten; The House That Jack Built and I Say A Little Prayer.

This is an alternate take of Chain Of Fools, substantially different than the version that was released in 1967.  Listen to Aretha's opening.  It is so good, it'll send chills down your spine.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Grandfather & The Great Emancipator

 
The February 12, 1949 edition of the Stamford (CT) Advocate carried nine headlines above the front page fold.  Illustrating the importance of local newspapers and their breadth of coverage in that era, five of the stories were international (mostly related to the new Cold War), two concerned events in Washington DC, and one reported on 4,000 people marooned by heavy snow in Idaho and California.  The only local story, accompanied by a photo, was headlined "Grocer Says Union Tactics Force Closing Of Business".  The grocer was my maternal grandfather, Nathan Cohen (I've written previously of my paternal grandfather, RMS Republic and Our Grandfather Louis, and maternal great grandfather, Our History and My History).

When I was growing up in Norwalk, Connecticut in the 1950s and 60s, my grandfather owned a toy store in nearby Stamford.  I remember the distinctive aroma of wooden floors and shelves as you walked in.  The decor was minimalistic, even by the standards of the time.  There was a soda machine in the front that dispensed glass bottles.  As a treat, my grandfather would occasionally take me on his Sunday trips to the Bronx to visit toy wholesalers.  Grandpa was tough, direct, interesting and smart. I thought the world of him.

It must have been sometime in the mid or late 60s that I learned from my mother how Nate came to be running a toy store, and why he had no employees.

Born in 1898 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Nate Cohen (sometimes called Nat) moved to Stamford by the early 1920s.  For years he carefully saved his money while working as a butcher for a wholesaler, and preparing to strike out on his own.

In 1935 he opened a credit and delivery store at 907 Main Street in downtown Stamford, converting it to Cohen's Self-Service Market six years later, one of the first self service markets in that part of the state.  Self-service markets were a relatively new development.  In a traditional store, the shopper went to a counter and told a clerk what they wanted.  The clerk would then bring the requested goods to you.  In a self serve store, the shopper walked the store and brought the items they selected to the clerk (the first patent for a Self Serving Store (US 1,242,872) was issued on October 9, 1917 to Clarence Saunders of Memphis, Tennessee.  Saunders went on to open a chain of stores which he named Piggly Wiggly).

Nate's store was successful enough to support his wife and young daughter (my mom).  They were never wealthy; he and my grandmother lived in a one-bedroom, three room apartment when I was growing up, but Nate took great pride in the business he'd built.  And as the business grew he added three or four employees.

Local 1507 of the Retail Clerk's International Association approached him in 1938, asking that he  allow his employees to join the union.  Nate "had no objection . . . because I felt that the labor union movement generally was a good thing for this country" and asked his employees if they wanted to join. They did, and he signed a one-year contract.  Each year he asked his employees and, with their consent, signed annual contracts until 1949.  Throughout, he always paid his employees higher than the union scale.

In the intervening years, Stamford grew rapidly, its population increasing from 49,000 in 1940 to 74,000 by 1950, as part of the great post-war suburban boom that saw Connecticut's population soar by more than 75% from 1940 to 1970.  The city was enjoying prosperous times.

When it came time for the annual renewal at the end of 1948, three of Nate's employees told him they didn't see the need for the union, so he declined to enter into another contract.  In response he was warned to sign "or else".  He chose "or else".  Grandpa didn't like being threatened and he stuck by his decisions once he made them.

On February 1, 1949 the union called a strike but only grandpa's newest employee, hired three months before as a favor to a family in the neighborhood, walked out, starting a one-man picket line.  But that wasn't the problem; it was the other union tactics.

Nate told the Advocate:
. . . truck drivers who have tried to make deliveries have been threatened and intimidated to such an extent that they not only are afraid to bring supplies to my store, but are even afraid to leave such supplies some place else where I could go and pick them up myself.
My mother told me what her father did not tell the Advocate; one of the drivers had been badly beaten by union thugs.

Nate added that he had tried to get supplies from other retailers but they were warned to stop helping him "or else".  He also reported to the police that men were watching his house and trailing him where ever he went during the day.  Within 10 days business dropped by 40% as he ran out of supplies on his shelves.

According to my mother, the beating of the driver greatly upset my grandfather and he decided he could not put other drivers or his employees in danger.  He decided to close the store, announcing it in an open-letter that took up 1/3 of an inside page of the Advocate and published the same day as the story.  He also told the Advocate "that a small neighborhood grocery story cannot now carry on under union domination".   When asked about his future plans, Nate told the paper, "I don't know what I'm going to do now.  All I know is that I can't continue this way".

The full text of his eloquent letter can be found below, but here are the closing paragraphs.
What would you do?  I am a little man trying to earn a living.  The men with me are loyal to me.  All we want is to keep going and make enough to provide for our families.  I have no money to go on fighting for a principle.  I guess I am just like a million other shop-keepers, who if they found themselves some day caught in a bewildering situation like mine would do just what I am forced to do now, shut up shop.

It is hard to give up what you have built up over many years, but I must do just that, close up my business.  Therefore, with regret I have to announce that my store and market will close its doors the evening of Saturday, February 12, 1949 - the birthday of the Great Emancipator.
The Retail Clerks Union merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in 1979 to form the United Food and Commercial Workers Union which today has 1.3 million members.

Grandpa soon opened the toy store, but vowed never to hire another employee.  He was a man of his word.

While rummaging through my attic, I came across the Stamford Advocate of February 12, 1949 and remembered the story my mother told me decades before.  I wish I'd had the foresight to ask my grandpa about it before he passed in 1973. 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To the Friends and Customers of Cohen's Self-Service Market:
I am putting this in the paper to explain to you all my position, because it is impossible for me to talk to each one of you personally.

For many years I have been running a neighborhood grocery store and market at 907 Main Street, Stamford, Connecticut.  I have tried hard to give you the best at the right prices and you have shown that you liked what I was doing by giving me your trade.  I want to thank you.

You know my store.  It is not large, just myself and three helpers, but I am proud of it. I believe that you enjoyed trading here with [illegible] as a friend and neighbor on a personal basis, and I tried hard to please you, which I must have done or else you would not have given me more and more of your trade each year.

Before the war, an organizer of the Retail Clerk's International Association, Local 1507, approached me and said he would like to organize my helpers.  I had no objection and helped him because I felt that the labor union movement generally was a good thing for this country.  I still feel that where there is no direct contract between the owner and those working for him that a union is all right.  Anyway, I signed a contract and have signed one every year since until this year.  I now have NO contract with the union, as the last one expired the first of January, 1949.

Ten years is a long time -- long enough to learn a lot.  One is that a small neighborhood grocery story cannot now carry on under union domination.  I have certainly given the matter a fair trial, ten years of it.  I have always paid those who worked for me more than the union scale.  We were happy working together in our store where we could talk things over at any time.  We certainly have no need for an outsider to come in and tel us what we should do whether we like it or not.  We felt we could get along by ourselves without outside interference and therefore I informed the union that I thought it best not to sign up for another year.

I am not going to complain as that would only make matters worse.  Name calling has never done any good as far as I have ever seen, and besides I can't afford to spend the money to print such stuff.  So here is what happened and here is what I have decided is the only thing I can do.

I was told to sign a contract for the year 1949 "or else".  I chose the "or else".  The union called a strike on me to make me sign.  I then had four men in the store besides myself.  One had been with me for four years and another for ten years.  The two others for only a short while.  One man who had been with me only three months walked out.  He started a one man picket line.  Three out of the four refused to go on strike and are here helping me run the store.

My friends and neighbors have been willing to come in the front door of my place but goods have to come in the back door or else in a very short time I would have nothing to sell.  As I said before, I am not going to make a list of all my trouble.  All I will say is that though there is no real strike, through there has been no election, and although I have no contract with the union, truck drivers who have tried to make deliveries have been threatened and intimidated to such an extent that they not only are afraid to bring supplies to my store, but are even afraid to leave such supplies some place else where I could go and pick them up myself.

What would you do?  I am a little man trying to earn a living.  The men with me are loyal to me.  All we want is to keep going and make enough to provide for our families.  I have no money to go on fighting for a principle.  I guess I am just like a million other shop-keepers, who if they found themselves some day caught in a bewildering situation like mine woud do just what I am forced to do now, shut up shop.

It is hard to give up what you have built up over so many years, but I must do just that, close up my business.  Therefore, with regret I have to announce that my store and market will close its doors the evening of Saturday, February 12, 1949 - the birthday of the Great Emancipator.

                                                    Gratefully yours,
                                                             NAT COHEN