Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite 2018 Books

My favorite books published during 2018:

The Field of Blood by Joanne Freeman, charts the increasing violence, much of it linked to disputes over slavery, in the House and Senate from 1835 through 1861. Duels, fistfights, canings, knifings, and threats aplenty.

The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End by Gary Pomerantz. (Previously reviewed by me in (The Cooz and The Babe)  If you’d asked me at the start of the year if I was interested in reading a biography of Bob Cousy, my response would have been, “Shirley, you must be joking” but a review I saw prompted me to take a chance. What a great book! Cousy is now 90 and, along with being a fine biography, it’s the tale of an intelligent and thoughtful man looking back on his life as well as a meditation on aging. Plus great anecdotes about Red Auerbach and the NBA of the 1950s, like Tommy Heinsohn running into the locker room at halftime to smoke a few cigarettes before the second half.

Cult City by Daniel Flynn, a chilling tale of San Francisco in the 1970s featuring the Reverend Jim Jones, celebrated by local and state pols before 900+ died in Guyana, and Harvey Milk, celebrated via the creation of a myth after his death, 10 days after Jones and his followers died.

Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight by Heidi Osselaer. It wasn’t the OK Corral, where the Earps and Doc Holliday gunned down three (see OK Corralapalozza for more), but the attempted arrest in 1918 of two WW1 draft dodgers at an isolated cabin a few dozen miles north of Tombstone that left four dead, including three lawmen, and resulted in two men serving the longest prison sentence in state history. The author takes what could have been a dry story and with new research and fine writing wrote a engaging tale about the people who settled the rough lands of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as giving the context in which the shoot out occurred; the imposition of the draft by the Wilson Administration, the widespread opposition, and the law enforcement tactics used to break the resistance to the draft.

Didn’t come across any new fiction to make my highlights but really enjoyed a recent series of five novels by Jason Goodwin, set in Constantinople in the 1830s and 1840s, featuring Yashim, a eunuch detective with connections to the Sultan.  Allows the reader to envision the city and its culture. The first is The Janissery Tree.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

St Paul's Survives

The photo below was taken by Herbert Mason of the Daily Mail in the early morning hours of December 30, 1940.  On Sunday evening December 29 one hundred and thirty six German bombers appeared over London, dropping more than 20,000 bombs, primarily small incendiary devices, sparking 1,500 fires in the city that night.  It was the worst night of The Blitz, which started in September 1940 and lasted until May 1941.  One hundred and sixty Londoners died that night with others later succumbing to injuries.

All efforts were made to save St Paul's Cathedral from the fires raging all around.  Mason's photo showed the success of these efforts and the photo was widely reprinted as a symbol of Britain's indomitable spirit in resisting the Nazi onslaught.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Allison V-1710

Image result for p-38 lightning

The P-38 Lightning, produced by Lockheed, was the most distinctive fighter plane of WW2 with its twin fuselage design.  While the plane saw action in all theaters during the war, its greatest success was in the Pacific where it was used by America's top aces, Richard Bong (40 victories) and Tom McGuire (38), as well as the shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto's (the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor) plane over the Solomon Islands in 1943.

The distinctive configuration also prevented it being shot down by friendly fire, a fate that took all too many P-51s and P-47s.  There was no mistaking the P-38 profile for any enemy fighter.

The Lightning was powered by two liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 engines, fit with turbochargers, manufactured by the Allison Engine Company which was acquired in the 1930s by General Motors.  The Allison was a 12 cylinder engine with the initial models rated at 1,000 hp (later increased to 1,600 hp).  It was a perfect fit for the P-38.  Later in the war it was less successful when used in the early version of the P-51, a fighter which only achieved dominance in the European theater in 1944 when the Allison powerplant was replaced by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

(Allison V-1710 on display at Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa AZ)

My 96-year old father in law was trained as a mechanic for the Allison 1710 in Long Beach, California and worked on P-38 engines in 1941 and 1942.  He still loves the P-38 and the Allison.  Recently we were was able to find online for sale an original 1942 maintenance manual for the engine and give it to him for Christmas.  Pictured below is the front cover.
  In September 1942 my father in law enlisted in the Navy and was trained as a pilot.  His initial training was on the Stearman/Boeing VN2S Kaydet biplane pictured below.

Once qualified as a Navy pilot he was based in San Diego and ferried Lockheed Ventura PV light bombers to Quonset, Rhode Island.  The Ventura was used for coastal defense by both the US and the UK's Royal Air Force and is credited with sinking several submarines.  Below is a photo of a Ventura PV-2 which I took on my recent visit to the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Apollo 8: The Christmas Eve Broadcast

Fifty years ago today Frank Borman, Jim Lovell (commander of Apollo 13), and William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth's orbit, circle the Moon, and see the Earth as whole.  This was their Christmas Eve broadcast back to Earth, 240,000 miles away, including a reading from the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, and closing with these words, "God bless all of you, all of you on the Good Earth".

All three astronauts are still alive with Borman at 90, the oldest living space veteran.

Fairytale Of New York

The most popular Christmas song in the UK during the 21st century.  Released in 1987 by The Pogues, with a guest appearance by vocalist Kristy MacColl.

The original release hit #2 on the British charts, and it's made 15 more appearances in the Top 20 over the years, including each year since 2005.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Nice Sky There

Someday I'd like to take a photo this good.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Annual Die Hard Christmas Movie Controversy

Once again this year, one of the great controversies of the modern age has erupted - is Die Hard A Christmas Movie?

I rest my case:

And this year the studio has released a holiday trailer for the film, supporting my case:

Monday, December 17, 2018

They Shall Not Grow Old

An astonishing achievement by Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings.  The film is only being shown on two evenings in the U.S., tonight and December 27.  Find a theater showing it near you and go.

Jackson took 100 hours of archival World War One film held by the Imperial War Museum in London and has produced an unforgettable experience.  If you are used to the faded, shaky, and offspeed clips of that war be prepared for something else.  In a remarkable technical accomplishment, Jackson has colorized the footage, synced it to normal speed, been able to recreate dialogue, and given us close ups and pans to humanize the British infantry who are the focus of the film.

The result is a film that uses technical genius to achieve emotional resonance.  It unsparingly shows life (and death) for an infantryman on the Western Front; we see everything.  At times it's hard to watch; it's as if you are in the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, except with real people, real bullets, and real artillery shells.

There is no narrator or overview.  The only voices are those culled from 600 hours of audio of war veterans recorded in the 1960s and 70s.

And stay through the credits to watch Peter Jackson spend a half hour explaining how the film was put together; a segment as good as the film itself.  It is a personal mission for Jackson, whose grandfather fought on the first day of the Somme, the bloodiest day in British history, was severely wounded several time during the war, became an invalid from his wounds a few years after its end, and died from his injuries at the age of 50. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Heap Big Beef

This would definitely not fly today and it's so wrong in so many ways, but Heap Big Beef was a real fast food chain from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s.  THC remembers it well as there was one in his home town, many of his friends worked there, and he enjoyed many of its roast beef sandwiches.

As is evident from the name, the restaurants had an American Indian theme.  Here's the logo, a Indian war bonnet on a longhorn:

Image Trademark

The ad the chain owners placed in Life Magazine's August 23, 1967 issue sought new franchisees. Notice the distinctive A Frame restaurant.  And the mouth-watering roast beef sandwich!  It also touts the Idaho fries, the Shawnee Shakes (you could also get a Pawnee Pie), and brags it will cost "mighty little wampum."

I found this post on Facebook about the franchise which opened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and mentions the local ad copy reading:
"Circle the wagons, the Indians are coming with America’s favorite! Tender, juicy roast beef piled high and hot on a crisp, buttered Rippowam roll. You’ll let out a war-whoop when you sink your teeth into this delicious treat.”
Prices?  Not bad, not bad at all:

Heap Big Beef 69¢, Great Big Beef 99¢, Double-Rich Shawnee Shakes 29¢, Golden Idaho Fries 15¢, and Pawnee Pies 20¢.

THC enjoyed the roast beef sandwiches but his clearest memory of Heap Big Beef was when his friend Tim lost the tip of his finger using the beef slicer. He swore they removed the missing tip from the beef before serving!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Dead Flowers

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this version of Dead Flowers by Townes Van Zandt appears in The Big Lebowski (a THC #10 all-time movie favorite).  I prefer the Van Zandt cover to the Rolling Stones original on Sticky Fingers (1971) because of its compelling lassitude.  And the video is brilliant.

Van Zandt died in 1997, prior to release of the film.  According to Wikipedia, "much of Van Zandt’s life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms and backwoods cabins. For much of the 1970s, he lived in a simple shack without electricity or a phone".

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Berlin Divides

It was seventy years ago this month that Berlin became a city divided, a status it retained until the Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, came down on that memorable evening in November 1989.

The event occurred amidst the turmoil of the Berlin Blockade and the relief airlift launched by the United States and Britain to keep its sectors of the city supplied.

With the end of the Third Reich in May 1945, Berlin was divided into four zones of occupation (Soviet, American, British, and France) but governed as a unified city.  The entire country was also divided into four zones, but Berlin lay completely within the Soviet zone.  In order to support their occupation forces and supply its sectors, the Western Allies had the right to use certain rail and road lines to connect their zones in Western Germany with their Berlin sectors.  Governance of the entire structure was through the four-power Allied Control Council (ACC).

(Berlin: Occupation Sectors from Air Force Historical Support Division)
Map of Berlin divided into sectors or zones; after WWII and during the Berlin Airlift.

As relations between the Soviet Union and the West worsened, Stalin decided on a plan designed to force the U.S., Britain, and France to choose between withdrawing from Berlin or agreeing to his wishes regarding the future of Germany.  On March 20, 1948 the Soviet delegates walked out on what proved to be the final meeting of the ACC.  Over the next three months the Soviets intermittently interfered with Western shipments to Berlin.

Germany was in the middle of an economic crisis and the Soviets refused to agree to currency reform efforts.  On June 18 Britain, French, and the United States announced the introduction of the Deutsche Mark (DM) as the new currency in their sectors.  The following day, the Soviets began permanently restricting and, within a few days, completely blocking the rail and road supply links to the Western Allies sectors in Berlin.  Only the air corridors remained open but the Soviets thought the Allies incapable of the massive airlift needed to maintain the civilian population of Berlin.  As of late June, western Berlin had only 36 days of food supplies and 45 days of coal.

From a military perspective the West was vulnerable.  There were only about 21,000 British, American, and French military personnel in Berlin and fewer than 150,000 troops (and only one combat ready division) in West Germany, while the Soviets had 1.5 million soldiers in East Germany.

President Harry Truman was confronted with deciding how to respond.  Though the U.S. commanders on the ground in Germany and Europe, Lucius Clay and Curtis LeMay, urged a strong response, he was getting different advice from his senior civilian and military advisers in Washington.

Army Secretary Kenneth Royall, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, acting Secretary of State Robert Lovett, and Truman's military advisor, Admiral William Leahy all believed the Western Allied position in Berlin to be militarily indefensible and quickly overrun if the Soviets attacked.  Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley advised that it would be better for the U.S. to pull out of Berlin on its own terms, than to be forced out.  Walter Bedell Smith, the current U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and former chief of staff to General Eisenhower in WW2 also thought America should leave Berlin.  Several months into the crisis, Bedell Smith remarked:
"Our present hysterical outburst of humanitarian feeling keeps reminding me that just three and a half years ago I would have been considered a hero if I had succeeded in exterminating those same Germans with bombs."
The initial response from our British and French allies was also undecided on how to respond.

And there was a political aspect, with a presidential election coming in November.  Thomas Dewey had just wrapped up the Republican nomination and was considered by the press as a sure victor in November.  Truman was also facing what looked like a strong third-party challenge to his left from  Henry Wallace.

Wallace, an Iowan, had been Secretary of Agriculture under FDR, then served a Vice-President during Roosevelt's third term, before being forced off the ticket in 1944 by Democratic party bosses, clearing the path for Truman, and returned to FDR's cabinet as Secretary of Commerce.  He was also, as Andrei Cherny writes in The Candy Bombers (a highly recommended account of the Berlin Airlift), a "profoundly strange" man who "believed the future could be foretold by markings on the Great Pyramid of Egypt", and convinced FDR to add the pyramid to the dollar bill.  He was also involved with theosophists (for more on this odd group read Madame Blatavsky and the Birth of Baseball).

Wallace was also not unsympathetic to the communists.  In September 1946 he was fired by Truman after attacking his policy of opposing Soviet domination in Europe.  As Truman moved to counter Soviet aggression, Wallace became even more outspoken.  In March 1947 in response to the announcement of what became known as the Truman Doctrine under which it became the "policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressure", Wallace declared that "America will become the most hated nation in the world", placing all blame on America for the emerging Cold War.  He opposed the Marshall Plan calling it a "blueprint for war". Throughout 1947 Wallace spoke to enthusiastic audiences of up to 30,000 people announcing, at the end of the year, a third party presidential run as the Progressive Party candidate.  Wallace knew he could not win an election from hope to deny Truman victory and ultimately allow Progressives to take over the Democratic Party.

As 1948 began international tensions already high, became worse after a successful communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the last remaining free country in Eastern Europe.  Wallace excused the coup on the grounds that the communists were driven to it by threats of a Rightist coup.  It should come as no surprise that as the Soviets ratcheted up pressure on Berlin, Wallace urged an American withdrawal in order to preserve the piece.

From a political perspective Truman was faced with a strong Republican opponent, and a Wallace campaign that could siphon off much needed votes.

Harry Truman decided to stand firm in Berlin.  The logistical obstacles to supply the city were overwhelming but, by trial and error over the next three months along with Herculean efforts by the American and British Air Forces, a viable air corridor was established.  We were fortunate that during the next year no crisis erupted elsewhere in the world, as the U.S. had no additional air logistical capacity to deploy.  It was all needed to keep Berlin supplied.

At the Progressive Party convention in Philadelphia during July, enthusiasm ran high and Wallace was doing well in the polls. With thirty being the average age of delegates, and three quarters having no prior political involvement, it appeared to be a transformational youth movement.

(Berlin after WW2 ended, from Rare Historical Photos. com)
Excellent aerial view showing devastation and bombed out buildings over wide area.

In the meantime though, the airlift was transforming American and German views of each other.  The horrors of Nazism and hundred of thousands of dead American soldiers left little sympathy for German civilians trying to survive amidst the ruins of their shattered cities.  We did want we needed to do to prevent outright starvation, but economically and spiritually the country remained prostrate, and in Berlin there were still food shortages and little rebuilding; that was fine with most Americans but in 1948 the Soviet threat, the determination of the Germans in Berlin to resist the Russians, and their enthusiastic response to the Airlift sparked more public sympathy and interest in American efforts to help German recovery.

One specific event had a profound impact on both Germans and Americans during the blockade. On July 18, 1948, while on approach to Templehof Airport in Berline, C-54 pilot Gil Halvorsen, wiggled his wings and dropped chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to children waiting below.  The prior day while at Templehof, Halvorsen while walking around encountered the children who were watching the planes land and asked him questions about the aircraft.  He gave them gum and promised he'd drop them candy the next day after wiggling his wing.  Halvorsen continued his daily candy runs and when news reached the airlift commander he organized Operation Little Vittles; soon American children sent candy for the drops and eventually U.S. candy manufacturers made donations; 23 tons of candy were dropped in toto, and Halvorsen became known as The Candy Bomber, giving title to Cherny's book.  The candy drops became a symbol of America's willingness to help and of the perseverance of Berliners.

(C-54 Lands At Templehof, from wikipedia)

In November Truman pulled off one of the most surprising upsets in presidential history beating Dewey.  Ironically, it was the Berlin Airlift that probably was the critical factor.  For independent voters it demonstrated that Truman could be tough in protecting America's interests.  For potential Wallace voters seeing the reality of the heartless face of communism in its willingness to starve millions of civilians, the American response to help those in need, and the Democratic party's attacks on Wallace as a tool of communism, blunted their progressive enthusiasm.  Early in the fall it looked like Wallace was going to get 6-7% of the vote, guaranteeing a Dewey victory, but the campaign collapsed in the final weeks and Wallace polled only 2.5% (1.15 million).  Even then it was close; the Wallace vote threw New York to Dewey, while if the Progressive candidate had received only 7,000 more votes in Ohio, and 18,000 in California the race would have gone to the House of Representatives, and 69,000 more in five other states given Dewey an outright victory.

The Western Allies knew winter would be their biggest challenge, as coal needs increased, and worsening weather restricted the airlift on many days.  And, in the midst of this, Berlin was scheduled to have its first municipal elections since 1946 in which a communist party faced three non-communist opponents.  The Soviets, knowing the communists would lose the election tried a mixture of threats, gifts, and force to intimidate Berliners.

(Airlift: Winter 48-49, from US Department of Defense)
Map of the Berlin Airlift Air Bases -Winter, 1948-1949

From the start the city's population, no matter how they disliked the Russians and/or communists knew that if the Western Allies abandoned them, they would have to live under Soviet domination, a fear the Soviets made use of by constantly reminding the populace of the consequences they would suffer if they supported the West, and then were left behind when the British and Americans withdrew.

On November 30 the city parliamentarians of the Soviet supported local communist party held an assembly in which they declared themselves the legitimate government of the city.  In conjunction with this, the Soviets accelerated their campaign to discourage Berliners from voting in the municipal elections scheduled for December 5.  Along with threats the Soviets made generous offers to those who agreed not to vote; Soviet ration cards, nearly a ton of coal to each household, unlimited amounts of electricity, and a half pound of candy for each school age child.  They also reminded Berliners, "if you vote on the 5th, you vote for war".

Meanwhile, General Lucius Clay, commander of the American garrison in the city, who had become the symbol of Allied defiance of the Russians, found himself stranded in West Germany where he had gone for meetings, because of days of thick fog in Berlin.  Worried that his absence would be taken as an indicator of weakened American resolve Clay and his wife boarded a flight during the night of December 4 taking off through the mist.  Arriving in Berlin before dawn the fog was so dense the controllers at Templehof refused permission to land because visibility was less than 100 feet.  According to Cherny, "Clay barged into the cockpit and grabbed the microphone from the pilot."  Permission to land was granted, the plane landed, skidded to a stop, and was escorted by servicemen with hand held flashlights to its stand, since the pilot could not otherwise see anything on the taxiway.

An overwhelming 86% of eligible Berliners cast their votes on December 5, with the Social Democrats, the strongest anti-communist party of the opposition winning more votes than the others combined.  Two days later the newly elected city government took power.  With the election, Berlin became divided, with East Berlin governed by the communist party, and the three sectors under Allied occupation having a different government.  Though some connections between East and West Berlin continued until the building of The Wall in 1961severed all contact, it would be 43 years before the city would be unified under one government.

One other significant event occurred in December involving the French.  Initially the French, suffering through the rise and fall of multiple governments in Paris and with the French Communists, a strong political force, supporting Stalin's actions, hesitated to strongly support the American and French response.  However, in August they agreed to build a new airport in their sector to support the airlift, completed in early November, built almost entirely by hand by 17,000 Berliners working around the clock, and having the longest runway in Europe.

There was a problem though.  About 400 yards from the runway were two towers of Radio Berlin, the Soviet propaganda arm.  They were not illuminated and posed a danger to landing planes.  The Soviets refused to move the towers, even though the Americans offered to pay for rebuilding in a different location.

On the morning of December 16, British and American officers at the airport were asked to come to French General Jean Ganeval's conference room for a reception.  They found plentiful food but no explanation for their summons.  At 1045 they were startled to hear a huge explosion and saw the two Russian radio towers collapse.  Ganeval, who had been grossly insulted by Soviet behavior earlier that fall, told his guests, "You will have no more trouble with the tower."

The Allies and the people of Berlin persevered through the winter; Stalin knew he could not prevail.  On May 12, 1949 the Soviets lifted the blockade, though the airlift was not declared ended until September 30, as the Allies continued flights in order to build up a three month stockpile of supplies in case the Russians changed their minds.

In the course of the airlift, the Allies made 280,000 flights to Berlin to deliver more than 2.3 million tons of supplies.  Seventeen American and eight British planes crashed during the effort, and 40 British along with 31 Americans died.

In the 1950s, Henry Wallace realized his 1948 Progressive Party campaign had actually been run by communists and expressed regret that he had not understood that at the time.

"Candy Bomber" Hal Halvorsen, a Utah Mormon, remained in the Air Force until 1974.  His final assignment was as group commander at Templehof Airport.  Hal recently celebrated his 98th birthday and splits his time between Utah and Arizona, where he winters.

Hal Halvorsen

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


You may recognize the feller I hung out with last night (THC is the guy on the right!).

James Hayney has portrayed our 16th President for the past fifteen years. He was asked by the Secret Service to play Lincoln at the 150th anniversary of the agency for an event at Ford's Theater, and portrayed the president at the National Portrait Gallery at President Obama's first inauguration.  And he lives near Gettysburg so you can imagine how often he's asked to make appearances there.

Last night at our Civil War Roundtable in Scottsdale he spoke, fully in character, about the lies, legends, and myths surrounding his life.  It was done with eloquence and much humor.  He closed with a stirring performance of the Gettysburg Address which, I must admit, dampened my eyes a bit.

It was one of the most well attended Roundtable events in our history, with almost 300 people present.

In my role as Program Chairman I had the pleasure of hosting James and his delightful wife, Beverly, at dinner the night before the event and can assure you James is very Lincolnesque in real life!

The White Sea - Baltic Canal

This month is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago (for background on the book read this). The passage below from the book remains the most vivid in my memory 40-plus years after reading.

The Gulag Archipelago is not dry history, instead brimming with passion, anger, contempt, caustic wit and acerbic asides. The accretion of detail on person after person, on trial after trial, on lawless and arbitrary decrees, on the squalid dehumanizing world of the camps is relentless, overwhelming, and the translation by Thomas P. Whitney captures it all.

The passage is from a chapter entitled “The Archipelago Metastasizes,” which tells the sorrowful tale of the building of the White Sea-Baltic canal in the early 1930s. Stalin demanded a canal that would allow the passage of Soviet naval vessels from one sea to the other in order to avoid the Arctic Ocean, setting a 20-month deadline for its completion. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were assigned to its construction. The canal was dug by hand without the assistance of any mechanical equipment, under terrible physical conditions, and with brutal oversight from abusive guards. A quarter million human beings perished in the process. Poorly designed, the canal never functioned as planned.

Solzhenitsyn is unsparing in his portrayal of the debacle and near the end of the chapter recounts a visit he made to the canal in 1966 as he was completing research on the book which he was secretly working on.  He recounts the official tour he took:
“It’s so shallow“, complained the chief of the guard, “that not even submarines can pass through it under their own power, they have to be loaded on barges, and only then can they be hauled through.
And what about the cruisers? Oh, you hermit-tyrant! You nighttime lunatic! In what nightmare did you dream up all this?And where, cursed one, were you hurrying to? What was it that burned and pricked you — to set a deadline of twenty months? For those quarter-million men could have remained alive. Well, so the Esperantists stuck in your throat, but think how much work those peasant lads could have done for you! How many times you could have roused them to attack — for the Motherland, for Stalin!
It was very costly“, I said to the guard.
But it was built very quickly!“, he answered me with self-assurance.
Your bones should be in it!
The chapter ends with this summing of accounts:
My Lord! What canal is there deep enough for us to drown that past in?
(Prisoners building the canal)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Arch Of Constantine

Painting by Giovanni Canaletto, a Venetian, who visited Rome in the 1720s. Just to the right of the Arch can be seen part of the Colosseum.  The Arch was constructed in the early 4th century after the Constantine the Great's defeat of his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, just outside of Rome.  It was the last triumphal monument of the Rome Empire constructed in the city.  Even by that time the quality of monumental art had declined, with many of the statutes and facades of the Arch scavenged from monuments of prior centuries.

Within two centuries the city entered a period of sharp decline with the monuments, building, and palaces of the empire no longer being maintained and, in most instances, having their marble cladding removed or sometimes the very structure being dissembled for use elsewhere.

The city proper retreated to the banks of the Tiber with many of the outlying areas, including the former Forum and the area around the Colosseum left to decay, surrounded by agricultural lands, vineyards, gardens, and occasional churches, monasteries, villas, and strongholds for the quarreling families that dominated local politics for centuries.  For more on this period read Belisarius Enters Rome, which occurred on December 9, 536.

As late as 1870 much open land remained south of the Colosseum.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner

I've been in a Warren Zevon mood lately.

Patty Hearst
Heard the burst
Of Roland's Thompson Gun
And bought it 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Forgotten Americans: Reverdy Johnson

On April 5, 1864 Reverdy Johnson, 67 year old Democratic Senator from Maryland, rose to speak on the floor of the Senate.

Reverdy Johnson.jpg (Reverdy Johnson, from wikipedia)

Senator Johnson already had a long and distinguished career, as a lawyer in Baltimore where counted among his friends and colleagues was Roger Taney, later to be Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the U.S Senate from 1845 to 1849, as Attorney General of the United States under President Zachary Taylor, as the attorney representing the slave-owning defendant in the Dred Scott case, and as a prominent supporter of Stephen Douglas in the 1860 presidential election.

After secession began, Johnson was among those who prevented Maryland from leaving the Union.  In 1862, President Lincoln asked Johnson to go to New Orleans to review and revise the controversial actions of General Benjamin Butler.  In 1863 he was returned by the Maryland legislature to the Senate.

Johnson remained in the Senate until 1868.  In 1865 he undertook the defense of Mary Surratt, one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators though, despite his efforts, Mrs Surratt was convicted and hanged.  After the war, Johnson became the only Democrat to vote for the Reconstruction Act of 1867, though he voted against the proposed 14th Amendment.

He left the Senate to become Minister to the United Kingdom, then returned to law practice where he defended Ku Klux Klan members against indictments brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, and opposed Radical Reconstruction.  In 1876 while a dinner party guest at the Maryland Governor's Mansion he died after falling down stairs and hitting his head.

On that day in April 1864 Senator Johnson rose to give an address in "Support of the Resolution to Amend the Constitution so as to Abolish Slavery".

When the newly elected Thirty-Seventh Congress met in December 1863, Ohio representative James Ashley introduced legislation to end slavery, followed by a similar proposal from Senator John Hale of New Hampshire in the other chamber.  Both failed on the grounds that Congress did not have authority under the Constitution to take such action.

Debate over slavery resumed in February 1864, the following month the Republican controlled judiciary committee reported out a proposed Constitutional amendment banning slavery, and debate resumed in the Senate chamber.

For Johnson, a highly respected senator from a slave holding state, to break with his party and support the amendment with a major address was a significant moment in the debate.

He began by confronting the importance of the measure and setting out the terms by which it should be evaluated:
"To manumit at once nearly four millions of slaves, who have been such by hereditary descent during their lives, and who because they were such, it being one consequence of their condition, have been kept in a state of almost absolute ignorance, is an event of which the world's history furnishes no parallel.  Whether it will be attended by weal or by woe, the future must decide.  That it will not be followed by unmixed good or by unmixed evil, is perhaps certain; and the only questions in my view for a statesman to consider are, first, whether the measure be right, independent of its possible consequences, and secondly, whether those consequences may be such as to render it improper to do what is right."
In making his argument, Johnson stressed the same point as Lincoln during his 1858 Senatorial campaign, that the country's revolutionary founders, "considered slavery not only as an evil to any people among whom it might exist, but an evil which it was the duty of all Christian people, if possible, to remove because of its being a sin, as well as an evil".  This was contrary to the view of Justice Taney in his Dred Scott decision that the founders meant to exclude all Africans from the freedoms guaranteed in the Declaration and Constitution.

Johnson went on to state that if the Founders had anticipated the current condition of the country, "they would have provided by constitutional enactment that the evil and that sin should at a comparatively unremote day be removed."

Further, the members of the Constitutional Convention, though the majority opposed slavery, made the judgment that without recognizing its current status the Union could not be formed, but:
"Whether this opinion was right or not, it is now useless to inquire; . . . But, if it was otherwise, if the Union could have been formed without the recognition of the institution, if its gradual extirpation could, on the contrary, have been provided for, no one who is a spectator of the scenes around us and is a friend of humanity and freedom, can fail to regret that it was not done."
The Senator made clear he differed with some of his colleagues who blamed all the disasters of the U.S. since its founding on the institution of slavery.  Johnson believed the Civil War could have been averted but for the hot-heads on both sides; abolitionists in the North and the crazed secessionists in the South.

Though he opposed slavery, absent the war, he would have been willing to wait for, what he believed, its certain demise at some point in the future.
"If there be justice in God's providence, if we are at liberty to suppose that he would not abandon man to his own fate, and suffer his destiny to be worked out by his own means, and by his own lights, I never doubted that the day would come when human slavery would be extinguished, either through the mild though powerful influences of that high and elevated morality which the Christian religion teaches, or by a convulsive and successful effort at their liberation on the part of the bondsman."
Johnson later references his 1847 speech in which he stated his belief that slavery will cease to exist "before a century shall have passed", and blames northern abolitionists for causing a reaction in the south.

The Marylander then undertakes a direct assault on the doctrine of the late Senator Calhoun of South Carolina with whom he debated during his first Senate term in 1847, recollecting;
"That distinguished statesman at that time endeavored to satisfy the Senate, having, I have no doubt, satisfied himself by his own sophistry, that republican freedom could not exist without African slavery, and proclaimed his attachment to the Union and to the Constitution upon the ground, chiefly, that the later recognized the existence of slavery."
Calhoun was proclaiming his theory of African slavery as a positive good, both for the slave exposed to the benefits of white civilization, and for the white man, who learned to value liberty and freedom because he had in front of him the example of what happened when these were not available.

Johnson concluded his 1847 response to Calhoun with these sentiments:
". . . I differ with the honorable Senator from South Carolina as to the conservative influence of slavery upon our free political institutions.  I do not hold with him that they depend in any degree upon the existence of slavery.  If I did, I should value them infinitely less than I do.  In my judgment, they rest upon the virtue and intelligence of the people, and have their firmest support in the blessings which they impart."
Calhounian doctrine appears again later in Johnson's address where he repudiates the South Carolina senator's view that the United States was formed by the sovereign states, rather than the people.

Returning to the present, the Senator states that although he would have opposed such an amendment prior to the war, "now, that that war is upon us; that a prosperous and permanent peace cannot be secured if the institution is permitted to survive", later adding:
". . . as we at present are, I cease to hope that the Government can be restored and preserved so as to accomplish the great ends for which it was established, unless slavery be extinguished.  If it be permitted to remain, it will ever continue a subject upon which treason may be able to excite the madness of the southern mind."
In his view neither Congress nor the Executive has the power to abolish slavery.  It can only be done by Amendment to the Constitution.

He proceeds to take on the view of some senators that the Constitution itself does not allow any amendments that would interfere with the right of property.  After responding to this claim on statutory and constitutional interpretation grounds, Johnson moves onto high rhetoric, which I will quote from at length:
"But further, looking to the preamble of the Constitution . . . can any reasonable doubt be entertained that the measure upon your table may be adopted?  What is the question before us?  It is, can an institution which deals with human beings as property, which claims a right to shackle not only the body but the mind and the soul, which brings, or may be used so as to bring to the level of the brute, a portion of the race of man; ceases to be within the reach of the political power of the people of the United States, not because it was not at one time within it, but because at that time they failed to exert it?"

"The very clause under which we now claim the authority to terminate slavery, the amendatory clause may have been inserted from a conviction that the time would come when justice would call so loudly for the extinction of slavery that disobedience to her call would be impossible, when the peace and tranquility of the land would demand its destruction, and when the sentiment of the Christian world would become so shocked at its existence under a government as far as the white man is concerned, one of the freest upon the habitable globe, and resting upon principles utterly inconsistent with slavery in any form, that the voice of that world would be spoken in thunder tones against its continuance, and that if not listened to it would cause us to be in all time in the view of an enlightened humanity the scoff and scorn of mankind."
The rhetorical stakes get higher:
"I am not to be answered, Mr President, by being told that our fathers considered the African race, because they differed in color from themselves, not entitled to the rights which for themselves they declared were inalienable . . . The present advocates of slavery in this country, in the South, and in some of the pulpits, preach the doctrine that slavery of the black race is of divine origin.  The moral and religious mind of the country has become nauseated by the teaching that scripture authorizes and approves slavery . . . Were the words of our Savior, which these men rely upon, when addressing Himself to the condition of master and servant, applicable only to servants or slaves of the black race? Was slavery at the period of His advent and His sojourn on earth confined to that race?  Were not the white races equally subjected to it?  We know that they were."

"The doctrines He taught, more ennobling and humanizing than any that the world, enlightened as it was before his coming, had been able to discover, will all be found inconsistent with slavery.  They taught man the duty of brotherhood.  They announced that he was to do to others as he would have others do to him, and these teachings were addressed to the whole human family . . . He came to save the whole. He came to effect the Christian civilization of the race of, and He Spoke to all upon earth, and His Book now stands as a promise of mercy upon duty performed by man to man and by man to God, to every being upon the earth or who shall be upon the earth throughout all time, without regard to the differences of complexion which climate or other causes may have created."
And the African race in America has demonstrated its common human traits in the ongoing conflict:
"Can it be said in truth that they are not fit for, because they are incapable of enjoying, the blessing of human liberty.  Are they incapable by nature, or has their treatment in our land made them incapable?  Are they or have they become so mentally and morally deficient that they are unable to appreciate the blessings of freedom?

"What do we see?  Wherever the flag of the United States, the symbol of human liberty goes, there flock around it men, women, and children flying from their hereditary bondage and praying for its protection.  Do they do this because they anticipate greater physical comfort, and do they remain because they obtain it?  The mere physical condition of the man in many cases whilst under the control of his master, was better than that which he at times meets beneath the protection of our flag; but whilst in the former the iron of oppression he feels had pierced his soul, in the other he is gladdened by the light of liberty  . . . with reference to the sentiment of love of freedom, all men are alike - are brethren.  Look to the illustrations which the times afford.  How do they prove that in that particular we differ from the black man?  Do we not see that he is willing to incur every personal danger, which promises, if successfully met, to throw down his shackles and to make him stand upon God's earth, upon that earth created for all, as a man and not as a slave.  It is truly an instinct of the soul.  For ages and centuries, tyranny may suppress it, the pall of despotism may hang over it, but the feeling is ever there.  Instead of being annihilated, it kindles into a flame in the very furnace of affliction, and avails itself of the first opportunity that promises the least chance to obtain it, and wades through blood and slaughter for the purpose, and whether succeeding or failing, vindicates in the very effort the inextinguishable right to liberty." 
Reading this last paragraph reminds me of George W Bush's stirring meditation on American slavery in his 2003 speech at Goree Island in Senegal, an address striking many of the same themes.  With its sentiments on the basic human feelings and aspirations of blacks it surprisingly also echoes ideas expressed by Confederate General Patrick Cleburne in his January 1864 proposal to end slavery in the Confederacy in an effort to achieve southern independence.

Towards the end of the speech, Johnson returns to this theme attacking the hypocrisy of those who now object to end slavery on the grounds that blacks are currently not capable of handling freedom:
"The unimproved moral and intellectual condition of the slaves is urged as an objection, and to a certain extent it is, to their immediate emancipation.  They are uneducated, in a great degree; their moral sense instead of being awakened and improved has been designedly kept in a state of perfect paralysis . . . Why have these poor creatures been kept in absolute ignorance? Why has education, the most trivial, been denied them?  Why penal, severe penal laws, forbidding it? Why have the Holy Scriptures been kept from their hovels?  Why has it been made to them a sealed book?  Why the sacrament of marriage and its holy ties denied them?  There can be but one answer, and that palpably exhibits the unlawfulness, the immorality, the irreligion of the institution.  It is that if they knew what knowledge imparts, if they knew what the good and the great and the pious teach, if they knew what the Gospel of our Saviour inculcates as the duty of all men, they would sooner of later obtain their freedom by violence or die in the effort."
Reverdy Johnson closed with a reminder of the freed blacks already fighting for the Union.
"That some material evils may temporarily result from the measure upon your table, may be true; but they will be, I think, but briefly temporary . . . Slavery is already fatally wounded, If permitted to survive at all, it can survive only to fester and to trouble us.  That many thousands of its late victims are at present free, and will remain free, no man with a heart not ossified will deny.  We have called upon them to aid us in maintaining the Government.  We have brought them around our standard, and have marched and are marching them under its folds to assist in its protection, and to aid in its triumph.  To suffer these men to be reduced to bondage again would be a disgrace to the nation . . . Upon a question like that, the heart gives the answer in advance of the intellect.  It would proclaim at once in a tone that would fill the land, carrying rebuke strong and crushing to whoever may assert the contrary, 'no, no, never; freedom once enjoyed, none but a brute in this age of the world would take away." 
You can read the entire speech here.

The proposed 13th Amendment passed easily in the Senate, with only six Democrats in opposition.  The House was a different matter, and it was only with a further series of machinations that it passed in January 1865, an event portrayed in the 2012 movie Lincoln.

Reverdy Johnson's speech and his entire career are yet another reminder that the figures of the past did not live in our 21st century world.  They were of their time and the configuration and constellation of their views may look odd to us today, but we need to understand them in the terms of their times. He was a strong adherent of the pre-Civil War constitution which strictly limited the scope of the Federal government; in that regard his views were similar to the founders of the Confederacy; but he believed the Union indissovable and, once war occurred, slavery needed to end.  His post-Civil War career demonstrates an ambivalence about the scope of freedom for the newly liberated slaves, or at least a higher relative value on preventing federal interference with the rights of the states compared to ensuring full freedom for blacks.

There is a value at looking back through a modern lense but if it the only set of lenses we use our vision will be blurred, flattening our history, reducing people to cardboard figures designed to fit predetermined categories, and, in the end, making our history and our humanity less understandable.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Missing George V Higgins

I ran across this clip today.  The expression has been credited to many people but its real source is George V Higgins' first published novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

I've written before of my love for the work of Higgins. (A post I spent more time on, including numerous rewrites, than anything else on THC).  He passed in 1999 and I still miss the comforting delivery of his annual novel, a rhythm I could rely upon for two decades.

As a reminder of his talent here is a recent article from CrimeReads.  An excerpt:
The Friends of Eddie Coyle may not have been the first crime novel set in Boston, but it’s the first one that matters. George V. Higgins couldn’t have known he was launching an entirely new subgenre when his fifteenth attempt at writing a debut novel was accepted for publication in 1970, but Coyle’s DNA is imprinted on everything that followed, from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser to Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro to the glut of Boston-based crime movies starring marble-mouthed actors pronouncing “car keys” like “khakis.”
Enjoy this scene from Eddie Coyle with Robert Mitchum playing the title role.  The actor with Mitchum below, and in the clip at top, is Steven Keats who played thugs or troubled characters in many movies during the 1970s and 80s.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

No Hang Gliding For Me

This guy on his first day of vacation in Switzerland.  He handled it with better humor than I would have.  Watch until the end.

Hey, I've got a better idea for his next trip to Switzerland - how about jumping off a cliff and into an airplane!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Smart Comeback

For admirers of snappy responses, here's something not to emulate.  From the classic film Dodgeball ("if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball").

Classic in this case means THC will rewatch it if he comes across it on cable.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Rockin' The 70s

1970s that is.  A continuation of my post on concerts I attended during the 1970s.  I'm certain I'm forgetting some from this decade.

May 23, 1970
Jefferson Airplane
U of Wisconsin Field House
Madison WI

From the date, this is probably the last thing I did in Madison before leaving.  I spent my freshman year of college (1969-70) at the University of Wisconsin and then decided to drop out.

We sat in the bleachers in the field house for an afternoon show.  The school year had been disrupted by demonstrations, strikes, and violence, and then collapsed in the wake of the Cambodia invasion and Kent State, so it was appropriate that it ended with the Jefferson Airplane in its peak craziness phase playing songs from the overwrought Volunteers album. 

1970 or 71
The Kinks
Wesleyan University
Middletown CT

As readers know I am a yuuge Kinks fan.  My dim recollection is this was a typically shambolic Kinks show - they were probably drunk - in a gym like building.  That's all I got for you.

June 26, 1971
Allman Brother Band
J Geils Band
Albert King
Fillmore East
East Village
Manhattan NY

Last night of the Fillmore East.  Amazing show.  Went to hear J Geils and Albert King (who were wonderful) but came out a fan of the Allman Brothers who were astonishing - they hit the trifecta with Hot 'Lanta, Whipping Post, and most of all, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.  Here's my full recollection. As I left the first show that night I probably walked past the future Mrs THC who was in line for the second show.

1971 or 72
Chick Correa
Clark University
Worcester MA

Held in a lounge area on campus.  Was not familiar with the pianist at the time but really enjoyed it.  

1971 or 72
Jesse Colin Young
Clark University
Worcester MA

One of the most underrated bands of the 60s was The Youngbloods, founded by Jesse Colin Young, who did one of the best, and least known, songs of the 60s - Darkness, Darkness. By the early 70s, Jesse embarked on a solo career.  The man had a gorgeous voice.

1972 or 73
John Lee Hooker
Sir Morgan's Cove
Worcester MA

The legendary king of the one chord boogie (for more read this THC post).  Great show.  The man was an intimidating presence.

The venue was a small club in Worcester, where acts usually played for 4 or 5 nights in a row.  In another incarnation, after Sir Morgan's moved down the street and changed its name, it was where The Rolling Stones launched their 1981 US tour with a surprise tune up.

(Yep, this is the place)

July 1972
The Rolling Stones
Stevie Wonder
Madison Square Garden
Manhattan NY

The Exile On Main St tour.  In the balcony for this sold-out show.  At the time I liked Stevie Wonder but was not a true fan.  Today, I am and have a lot of his music in my iTunes library.  The Stones were good, not great.  Towards the end of the show they turned the lights on in the Garden and the crowd went nuts for the rest of the concert.

August 1972
The Kinks
Dr Hook & The Medicine Show
Berkeley Community Theater
Berkeley CA

Another Kinks show I don't remember well except they did a lot of material from their fine Muswell Hillbillies record.  Dr Hook & The Medicine Show were best know for On The Cover Of Rolling Stone and the execrable Sylvia's Mother.

1972 or 1973
James Cotton Blues Band
Sir Morgan's Cove
Worcester MA

I also saw at least one other, perhaps two shows at the Cove; pretty certain one was Les McCann, and the other may have been Muddy Waters.

Cotton, who passed in 2017, was one of the finest harmonica players, and a talented singer and songwriter.  Here he is.

Fall 1974
Al Stewart
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

Stewart performed the historical songs from his Past, Present, and Future album.  The emotional highlight was Road To Moscow, his epic song of the Eastern Front in World War Two (and the subject of one of THC longest posts, The Annotated Roads To Moscow), backed by a three part screen spanning most of the stage showing scenes from that conflict, capped by projecting a photo across all the screens of Alexander Solzhenitysn as former soldier, imprisoned in the Gulag; a climax given added poignancy with the publishing of The Gulag Archipelago in December 1973 and Solzhenitsyn's expulsion from the Soviet Union the following February.

The Opheum was the big rock concert hall in Boston, where established acts came to perform.

December 9, 1974
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour, the last before Peter Gabriel left, leading eventually to the band's superb prog rock drummer, Phil Collins, becoming its front man for the recharged and more pop oriented Genesis of the 1980s.  I was a fan of early Genesis except did not care for the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  Bizarre show with Gabriel wearing his odd costumes; the highlight came at the end - The Musical Box from the 1971 Nursery Cryme album - watch and behold the glory and absurdity of peak prog rock!  Here ya go, and don't miss the last three minutes.

Jonathan Edwards
Multiple venues in Boston area

From 1975 to 1978 I lived in Maynard, MA and two of my roommates were full time musicians.  One had just started as pianist and arranger for Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards had one big hit, Sunshine, in 1971, but remained a popular live act, particularly in New England.  I saw Jonathan and the band play several times and they put on a great show.  Unfortunately, I can't find any video from this time period.  Kenny White was, and is, an incredibly talented pianist.  He went on to a two decade career arranging and producing commercials, many of which you will remember, and for the last 15 years has pursued a solo career and is currently opening for Stephen Stills and Judy Collins on their tour. Jonathan is also the link connecting me with Elvis Costello (for more see below).

Sometime between 1975 and 1978
BB King
Worcester MA

What a pleasure listening to that man play and sing.  There were better guitarists but no one ever had a sweeter tone.

February 20, 1975
Roxy Music
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

One of my favorite 70s band.  Wild and loopy stuff.  By the end of the decade their shtick became boring.  To sample the work of Bryan Ferry and the gang try Do The Strand, A Song For Europe, and In Every Dream Home A Heartache

1976 or 1977
Cambridge MA

The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet.  A regional Northeast favorite for many years, featuring Al Anderson on lead guitar.   Raucous and fun.  This was the best I could find on YouTube but doesn't really capture their full power.

Summer 1977
Doc Watson
Paris France

I fell in love with Doc's voice and guitar playing a few years before listening to Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  His warm voice enveloped the listener.  Seeing him live was a similar experience.  

December 9 or 10, 1977
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Boston MA

You can read how I learned about Elvis, and that first show here.  He was electrifying.

Just came across this audio of the December 9 show.  This is not exactly the playlist we heard.  He played every song listed but at least one other, (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea.  To understand what it was like, listen to the last two songs, Lipstick Vogue and Watching The Detectives, starting at 31:40, though the audio understates how loud The Attractions were that night.

The Paradise Club opened on September 22, 1977 and was up Commonwealth Avenue, just beyond Boston U.  Seating a few hundred (my recollection is less than 500) it was where bands on their first US tours often played.

May 4, 1978
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

On the heels of This Year's Model, Elvis and the band were quickly back in Boston playing a much bigger venue.  Another show filled with tension and excitement.  Elvis was beginning to master how to control large audiences.

June 18, 1978
The Jam
Lyceum Ballroom
London UK

There were two other forgettable bands on the bill for this show headlined by The Jam, who I already knew from In The City.  Concert was sold out.  We stood at back for entire show.

I had arrived in Europe in late May, not returning until the end of September, and spending time in France, UK, Italy, and Greece.  The future Mrs THC was in Paris.  Had a friend living in London and went to see him and another U.S. friend who came over and the three of us went to the Lyceum.

February 23, 1979
Dire Straits
Paradise Club
Boston MA

In the fall of 1978 I heard songs by two new bands that immediately captured me.  The first, Roxanne by The Police, the second, Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits.  When Mark Knopfler's band came to Boston for the first show on its first US tour I had to see them.

March 29, 1979
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

The acoustics were lousy for this concert,  so it's the only of the eight times seeing Elvis I left disappointed.  Too bad, because Squeeze were on the bill and did not impress me since could not hear them well, though I later became a fan.  Elvis would totally redeem himself with a masterful performance upon returning to the Orpheum in 1981.

Summer/Fall 1979 (?)
Boomtown Rats
Paradise Club
Boston MA

Uncertain about the time here, could have been in '80.  An Irish Band, fronted by Bob Geldorf.  Their only hit in the US was I Don't Like Mondays, but I preferred Rat Trap, their attempt at a Bruce Springsteen anthem.

The Boston Bands

During this period I saw a lot of fine local acts in Cambridge and Boston bars, like the Pousette Dart Band and Zamcheck, but remember most The Estes Boys, a country rock band, because my other roommate musician, Eli Nelson, played pedal steel in the group.  Went to many of their gigs, many of them at Jonathan Swift's a bar in Harvard Square, at one of which I sat with Red Sox pitcher, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, who was very funny, and very hammered.  This is what the Estes Boys sounded like.  Eli went on to play pedal steel on tour with Mickey Gilley's Urban Cowboy Band.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Spirit Of The Season

Out with the neighbors today putting up holiday decorations in the 'hood.  Arizona winter is pretty nice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Rockin' The 60s

1960s that is.

Before forgetting more about those years, I'll attempt to reconstruct the bands I saw in concert during that decade.  I have the nagging feeling a few are missing.

March 1966
The Byrds
White Plains, NY

My favorite American rock band of the 65-66 period.  This was just after Turn, Turn, Turn became a #1 hit.  My dad took me to the show (thanks dad!). The auditorium was less than 1/2 full, and The Byrds played for only about 30 minutes, which was the norm back then.  How things would change within the next three years!

June 10, 1966
Soundblast '66
Ray Charles
Stevie Wonder
The Beach Boys
The Byrds
The Gentrys
The Marvelettes
The McCoys
Yankee Stadium, NY

Sounds like a great show, doesn't it?  Well, it wasn't.  Only about 10,000 in attendance and each act played 3 or 4 songs with long breaks in between.  I remember Stevie Wonder performing Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind and Uptight. I could swear I previously wrote a post devoted to this show but can't find it.

For you young 'uns, The Gentrys were one-hit wonders selling a million copies of Keep on Dancing in late 1965.  The McCoys had a giant #1 with Hang On Sloopy in '65.  Their lead guitarist was Rick Derringer who went on to have a big solo career (Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo) and become a session guitarist for, among others, Steely Dan (he plays the solo on Chain Lightning).  The Marvelettes were a Motown girl singing troupe that had a monster smash in the early 60s with Please, Mr Postman and then a string of minor hits - at the time of Soundblast '66 they were charting with Don't Mess With Bill.

August 1966
The Lovin' Spoonful
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

My mother was vice-chair of the Norwalk Democratic Party Committee at the time and they were seeking to raise funds.  I can't remember if she asked me, or I suggested, a rock concert.  I do know I was the one who suggested The Lovin' Spoonful who had a couple of Top Ten hits.  By the time of the concert, in the high school gym, Summer In The City was #1.  If memory serves the party made $900 on the show, not bad for the time.

August 1967
Neil Diamond
Jake Holmes
The Bitter End
Greenwich Village, Manhattan

I was a fan of Jake Holmes and have written previously about this and the next show on the list.  Holmes was terrific and early Neil Diamond was very good.  Led Zeppelin (specifically, Jimmy Page) lifted Dazed and Confused from Jake.

September 1967
Van Morrison
Jake Holmes
The Bitter End
Greenwich Village, Manhattan

See above, except that Van Morrison was unbearably horrible.

October 10, 1967
The Doors
Danbury High School
Danbury CT

Held in the high school auditorium.  The Doors were booked after release of their first album but before Light My Fire became a huge hit in the summer of 1967.  Sold-out show.  Though tame by their latter standards it was still pretty wild for high school kids in 1967.  I found this recording of the show on YouTube.  Sound quality is poor but gives a flavor for the brooding power of Jim Morrison and the band.

Late 1967/Early 1968
Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels 
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

This show remains the murkiest in my memory and I can't find any independent documentation of it.  Not well remembered today, Ryder & The Wheels were an outstanding rock n soul band with a series of hits from 1965 to 1967 - Jenny Take A Ride, Devil With A Blue Dress, Sock It To Me Baby, and Little Latin Lupe Lu.

Early 1968
Staples High School
Westport, CT

A half-full auditorium to see Cream tour in support of its recently released Disraeli Gears album.  They opened with Tales of Brave Ulysses.  When they hit the first chord, fuses blew and the auditorium went dark.  After restoring power, the concert went well.  Those boys could play!

August 6, 1968
The Doors
JFK Stadium, Bridgeport CT

The 1967 version of The Doors was crisp and powerful.  By 1968 the rot had sunk in.  An obviously stoned Jim Morrison was incoherent during the first part of the concert.  He abruptly snapped out of it in the later stages but the show paled in comparison to what we saw the prior year.

Late November 1968
Jefferson Airplane
Buddy Guy
Fillmore East
East Village, Manhattan

What a showman Buddy Guy was, playing guitar behind his back as he came off the stage and walked down the aisle.  Based on their albums was a fan of Jefferson Airplane but liked them even better live.  A much heavier sound in concert driven by Jack Cassidy's bass (see this prior THC post to hear what they sounded like at the Fillmore).

Spring 1969
Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

Our senior class was raising money for our prom.  In the fall of 1968 I'd spoken with the William Morris Agency about booking The Who for their planned tour but it was postponed (if you're wondering it cost $6500 to book The Who for a concert) and eventually we settled on Gary Puckett who'd had several monster hits.  Of course, as sophisticated seniors we weren't big fans but the sophomore and junior girls loved him.  He played in our gym and when he sang Young Girl we had to link our arms together to protect Gary and the band from being overrun by the surging girls.  The song would probably have difficulty getting airplay today; actually Gary might be arrested today.

May 17, 1969
The Who
It's A Beautiful Day
Fillmore East
East Village, Manhattan

The Who came to America in May 1969 in support of their new album Tommy, which broke them as a big act worldwide.  This was the second of a three night stint at the Fillmore East.  One of the best shows I've ever seen.  They opened with some of their older material, then ripped right through the entire Tommy album, and then started a wrap up.  It was astonishing, Keith Moon in constant motion on the drumkit, looking like he had no bones in his arms, Townshend windmilling on the guitar, and Entwhistle's thundering bass.

As the band and the audience grew more frenzied we noticed smoke in the theater.  Some type of announcement was made to exit the place but we ignored it.  Then we saw a guy in a suit wander onto the stage, grab a microphone and started to talk.  Roger Daltrey pinned his arms back and Townshend walked over, all the while continuing to play his guitar, and kicked the guy in the privates.  Actually, it sounds better when Roger Daltrey tells it, which he does in his recently released autobiography, Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite:
" . . . this bloke jumped up onto the stage and grabbed the microphone off me.  I grabbed it back and told him to fuck off, but he kept struggling.  As we were wrestling with it, I noticed Pete crossing the stage toward us, doing a Chuck Berry duck walk.  Perfectly on beat, he kicked the bloke in the balls, then I grabbed the mic, and we finished the song." 
The next thing I remember dozens of New York City policemen flooded down the two aisles, the side doors flew open, and they pushed us out along each row and onto the street.

It turned out the building next door caught fire and they were worried about the Fillmore catching fire.  We didn't care.

Daltrey and Townshend were arrested for assaulting the guy who grabbed the mic, who turned out to be a plainclothes police officer.  

Of the opening acts, I preferred It's A Beautiful Day.  To listen to their best song see this THC post.

June 1969
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

The band that played our senior prom.  Take a listen.  Not bad, eh?

August 1969
Woodstock (2nd Day)
Country Joe McDonald
John Sebastian
The Incredible String Band
Canned Heat
The Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin
Sly & The Family Stone
The Who
Jefferson Airplane
Bethel, NY

First time I'd heard Santana and Soul Sacrifice immediately stood out (love Carlos Santana's guitar tone and Michael Shrieve was a helluva drummer).  UPDATE: Here is full version of the Woodstock performance including Shrieve's entire drum solo] The closing acts from Creedence on were phenomenal.  Show started at 2pm on Saturday and ended shortly after dawn on Sunday.  Let's end with Sparks from The Who.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Get Back In The Line

For anyone who's ever been beholden to a boss.
Will I go to work today or shall I bide my time
'Cos when I see that union man walking down the street
He's the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve, or I eat
Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine
Then he walks right past and I know that I've got to get back in the line

Now I think of what my mamma told me
She always said that it would never ever work out
But all I want to do is make some money
And bring you home some wine
For I don't ever want you to see me
Standing in that line
From The Kinks; composed by Ray Davies and recorded in 1970.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Don't Play Their Game

Several times recently I've seen a meme purporting to show the diversity of newly elected Democrats compared to Republicans.

Don’t play their game. The relevant question is why do Democrats vote against minority and diverse candidates election after election if they are Republicans?

This year saw several firsts for Republicans despite Democratic opposition. Marsha Blackburn (R) became the 1st women senator elected from Tennessee and Kristi Noem (R) the 1st women governor of South Dakota.

Did Democrats support African American John James (R) competitive bid for the Senate in Michigan?

What about the reelection campaign of the daughter of Haitian refugees, Mia Love (R) in Utah? (Fortunately, it now looks like she will win).  UPDATE: Mia Love lost to a pasty, white, male Democrat.

Were Democrats rooting for Young Kim (R), who would have been the 1st Korean-American women to enter Congress?

Would they have been happy if Elizabeth Heng (R), daughter of Cambodian refugees, had been elected to Congress from her California district?

Why do they studiously ignore that the first Indian-American female governor (Nikki Haley) and first Latina governor (Susanna Martinez) were Republicans?

It’s nothing new. They probably don’t even realize that Tim Scott (R) was the first African-American elected to the Senate since the end of Reconstruction from the states of the former Confederacy and that Scott got his start in national politics when the Tea Party supported his insurgent bid to gain the R nomination in his congressional district running against Strom Thurmond’s grandson.

It’s nothing new. In 2006, when Barack Obama was elected to the Senate, Democrats refused to vote for viable R African American candidates for governor in PA and Ohio and for Senate in MD.

It's nothing new.  Democrats put extra effort into defeating diverse Republican candidates in order to continue to claim the GOP lacks diversity.

It’s nothing new. In 2002, Teddy Kennedy openly boasted about successfully blocking the nomination of the eminently qualified Miguel Estrada to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit because he didn’t want to give GW Bush the opportunity to elevate him to the Supreme Court and have the Republicans appointing the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

Get Democrats to admit they will vote for a pasty, white, male D over any Republican no matter how diverse. It’s the truth, after all.

By the way, there's nothing wrong with valuing ideology over diversity.  There is something wrong with denying that's what you are doing.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Layla (Redux)

Eric Clapton, now retired from touring, has performed many variations of one of the greatest rock love songs, from the straight-forward explosive classic riff version of the 1970 Derek & The Dominoes recording, to a shuffle, to a fantastic New Orleans take (with Wynton Marsalis), and here's a quiet one from his final 2014 tour.  A marvelous song any way he does it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Cooz And The Babe

Image result for bob cousyImage result for babe ruth

Eighty three years after his retirement, Babe Ruth remains the most dominating (relative to his time) athlete in American history and, by most modern sabremetrics, still considered the best player since the professional game became organized into leagues in 1871. Matching his prodigious on the field accomplishments with a gargantuan personality and that distinctive face makes him instantly recognizable to most Americans today.

Bob Cousy, The Houdini of the Hardwood, the first superstar of the National Basketball Association, gained fame by introducing an uptempo and flashy style, featuring incredible dribbling and behind the back and no-look passing. He's credited with saving the NBA.  And, once teamed with center Bill Russell, Cooz's Celtics won six NBA titles in seven years.  Unlike Ruth, off the field Cousy lived a fairly normal life, and today, unless you are a Bostonian or a hardcore NBA aficionado, he's mostly forgotten.  Here's a reminder:

Both are the subject of new biographies and the differences in their lives and in the nature of the information available to the authors makes for two very different books.

Jane Leavy, author of one of the finest sports bios I've read, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, and of The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, which though well-written and researched is depressing because of Mantle's wasted talent and what Mickey felt at the end was his wasted life, has now produced The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created.

The challenge in writing a Ruth biography is how to come up with something new.  There are already many, many biographies of the Sultan of Swat, including best selling recent books like Leigh Montville's The Big Bam (2007) and Robert Creamer's Babe: The Legend Comes To Life (1992), along with more specialized studies like Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star (2018) by Edmund F Wehrle, and The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs (2007) by Bill Jenkinson (if you love Ruth and baseball get this fun book).  Moreover, Ruth died 70 years ago and none of his contemporaries are alive to be interviewed.

Leavy's solution is to, for the most part, eschew the details of Babe's baseball career.  Her book contains no breathless recounting of the Colossus of Clout's "Greatest Hits", nor a chronological accounting of each season.  Want to know how and why Babe was a great pitcher before becoming a full time outfielder?  This book won't tell you.  Want to understand the possible reasons for his incredible hitting feats?  Again, this is not the book.

What Leavey concentrates on is the books subtitle; "the world he created", by which she means the world of sports management and entertainment.  The Babe was the first team sports figure to become a nationwide media sensation.  He was also the first to hire a full time manager to promote and manage his finances, in the person of Christy Walsh who Leavey devotes considerable attention to.  It's that side of the Babe, more than what happens on the field, that dominates The Big Fella.

Along the way, the author also provides the best account of Babe's childhood, dispelling some of the myths of his upbringing in Baltimore and his childhood, mostly spent at St Marys Industrial School for Boys where he came under the tutelage of Brother Matthias, of whom Creamer, in his biography wrote:
"Ruth revered Brother Matthias ... which is remarkable, considering that Matthias was in charge of making boys behave and that Ruth was one of the great natural misbehavers of all time. ... George Ruth caught Brother Matthias' attention early, and the calm, considerable attention the big man gave the young hellraiser from the waterfront struck a spark of response in the boy's soul ... "
The Babe's real family life was a nightmare, with four of his five siblings dying prematurely (an abnormal rate even for those times), an alcoholic mother who didn't show her son affection, and a father who ran a saloon and died in a street fight when Babe was a young player with the Boston Red Sox.

Leavy reaffirms that the Babe we've heard about who unstintingly gave of his time to charities and impoverished children was the real thing, and she writes well on racial matters.  Because of his appearance, the Babe was often taunted by other players and fans as being at least part Negro (which Leavy establishes is not true), but Babe also seems to have been without prejudice himself, a rarity for the time, visiting Negro orphanages despite the cautions of others, enjoying barnstorming with and playing against Negro Leaguers, and would have been fine with integrating baseball.

The Big Fella is a very good and informative book, but lacks the baseball detail and emotional resonance that might have made it the equivalent of Leavy's Koufax biography.

When Gary Pomerantz began work on the book that became The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End, he wasn't intending to write a biography of Bob Cousy, which is what The Last Pass is, despite the ambiguity of its title.  He was planning a book on the great Celtics dynasty of 1957-69 when they won the NBA title 11 times in 13 years, a companion piece to his prior book, Their's Life's Work, about the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s.  Unlike Leavy, most of the principals in the Celtics story are still alive as were many of their competitors, members of the media who covered the team, and family, and several of those who had already passed had been interviewed by Pomerantz for an earlier book project.

It was only after his first interview with Cousy in 2015 that Pomerantz realized his book should focus on the 6'1" guard who captained the Celtics from 1951 to 1963.  Eventually, the author conducted 53 interviews with Cousy, many extending over several hours,

The Cousy who emerges from Pomerantz's well-crafted book, is introspective, intense, intelligent, a voracious reader, and a decent man, who at 90 years of age still questions his life and his actions.  The result is a fine, thought-provoking and, at times, moving biography I rate up with Leavy's Sandy Koufax.  It's also a meditation on the aging process, as Cousy talks about panic attacks, increasing physical frailty, and the loss of his beloved wife of 63 years, who suffered from dementia in her final decade; Pomerantz describes Cousy's large home in Worcester, MA, as a virtual shrine to Missie Cousy.

The Last Pass touches on all of the biographical way stations; Cousy, the only child of French immigrants, raised in struggling circumstances in New York City, watching as his mother regularly hit his father who never retaliated.  Finding refuge in the world of basketball he obtained a scholarship to Holy Cross College in Worcester, and eventually ended up on the struggling Celtics franchise of the early 1950s, under coach Red Auerbach, who plays a prominent role in The Last Pass.  And how could it be otherwise since Red is one of the most unique and entertaining characters in American sports?  And you get a good vividly described portrait of Cousy's game style and career.  We also hear and learn about his teammates, Bill Sharman, Satch Sanders, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff and, of course, Tommy Heinsohn - Gunner Tommy, running into the locker room at halftime to smoke as many cigarettes as he can before the second half, carousing much of the rest of the time, and then quietly sitting in his hotel room painting with watercolors.

The raw and ramshackle early NBA is fun to hear about it, though maybe it wasn't so much for the players.  The Celtics locker room in the Boston Garden had a hook on a wall upon which the players could hang their clothes during the game while an attendant came round with a bag into which the players placed their wallets and valuables.  The bag was stored under the bench during the game!  Cousy organized the players union which extracted from the owners the first improvement in working conditions.

The story reaches its peak with the relationship between Cousy and Bill Russell or, more precisely, in Cousy's attempt to make sense of that relationship and his guilt as he's gotten older over not doing more to support Russell, the first black NBA star and the greatest winner in sports history, with 11 championships in his 13 seasons as a player and then he first black player-coach in professional sports, on racial issues during his troubled time in Boston.

(Cousy & Russell hug after Cooz's last game in 1963)
Image result for bob cousy bill russell
Cousy was not overcoming any prejudice.  In his early years with the Celtics he roomed with Chuck Cooper, the first black ever drafted by an NBA team.  He and Chuck went out to jazz clubs together and became life long friends.  But Cooper, like Cousy, was a quiet guy. 

Bill Russell was another matter.  Joining the Celtics in 1957, the 6'10" center was a transformational player with his defense, rebounding, and outlet passing.  If LeBron James is the best NBA player since 2000, and Michael Jordon #1 between 1975 and 2000, Russell was the best during the NBA's first 25 years.  He was also very smart, very proud, very sensitive, not willing to quietly suffer racial mistreatment, unapproachable at times (refusing to sign autographs) and with a personality that could change abruptly from gregarious to closed and wary.  Auerbach once remarked, "The real Russell is a very difficult man to know, but one worth knowing".  I also learned, surprisingly, one of Russell's biggest fans was Ty Cobb who praised Russell as Boston sportswriters as the greatest money player of any professional athlete he had ever known, "other than myself".

During the late 50s and into the 60s, Bill Russell was outspoken on issues of racial justice both in American society in general, and Boston specifically - and the issues he spoke out on deserved to be addressed.  Russell suffered personally for it with numerous incidents of vandalism, and some truly disgusting acts, at his home in the Boston suburbs.  Those events scarred Russell, leading him to insist for decades that he played for the Celtics, not the city of Boston, once saying, "I'd rather be in jail in Sacramento than be mayor of Boston."

Cousy and Russell respected each other, played together seamlessly, and never had any personal conflict.  But they were not close, making even more surprising the often-reserved Russell's gracious words for Cousy on his retirement:
Cousy is outstanding.  We see each other as brothers not as great athletes.  Cousy, just by being himself, has given me so much . . . You never got the impression - 'This is Bob Cousy . . . [and] this is the rest of the team . . . You meet a Cousy not once in a month, but once in a lifetime.  Bob Cousy has made playing with the Celtics one of the most gratifying things in my life . . . Like the guy [at Bob Cousy Day] said, 'We all love you, Cooz,' and we really do.
Russell and his wife also presented the Cousys with a bronze desk clock with the engraved inscription; May The Next Seventy Be As Pleasant As The Last Seven, From The Russells To the Cousys. It was the only retirement gift he received from a teammate.

For many years Cousy has wished he had a better relationship with Russell.  He has stayed in touch with many of his former teammates, black and white, but only occasionally run into Russell and continually plays over the events of those years in an effort to figure out what went wrong (Russell would still occasionally call his white teammate Heinsohn and tell him "You are one of the few people I still like").  It finally broke to the surface in 2001 when Cousy did an interview with ESPN for a documentary on Russell.  Asked about racial issues, Cousy said:
"We could've done more to ease his pain and make him feel more comfortable.  I should've been much more sensitive to Russell's anguish in those days.  We'd talk - uh . . ."
And then Cousy broke down weeping.  Later, he reflected on his relationship with Russell.  After recounting his friendships with Boston's first black players:
"Then I run into literally my first angry black man.  And Russ to this day is angry.  It's obvious from the get-go, and now in my Psych 101 analysis, I think this simply scared me off.  I still think it was my fault.  I'm six years older, I'm the Man.  I'm in charge.  I'm the captain.  It was my responsibility to reach out, but it intimidates me for whatever reason.  I don't know how to deal with this.  Like so many times in life, when we are unsure, or stumbling, and doing the wrong thing in establishing a relationship, I do nothing.  Obviously nothing is not good enough.  At the end of the day, Russ doesn't know how to take me, and I don't know how to take him.  We don't have any confrontation.  We get along, but it's like a couple that decides to stay together for the sake of the kids, you know?"
Cousy returned to time and time again to his relationship with Russell in his interviews with Pomerantz, and the author relates Cousy's attempts through teammates and others to reach out to Russell.  To find out what happens read The Last Pass.  This book will stay with you after you finish.