Friday, November 22, 2013

Black Crepe November - Invented, Irrefutable, Unknowable

My brother Mike steps in here to share some thoughts on that long ago time that is still with us - the time of the death of John Kennedy which comes up now for its 50th anniversary. I was home from school, sick, up stairs, when it happened on November 22, 1963. As I recall, yes, it was as my parents were at Zayres on the following Sunday morning that Oswald was shot. Back at home we heard that news on NBC Monitor radio reports. - J.V.

Invented Memory, Irrefutable Truth, Unknowable Truth - I was living in Racine, Wisconsin and had just turned three when President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. While I don’t remember that day specifically, the story is that my brother, sister, and I were watching Bozo’s Circus, a TV show on Chicago’s WGN that always came on at noon. Though I was small, I somehow still remember the time as very sad for Americans. For my parents, both Irish Catholics from Boston, it was extra devastating. With Kennedy being the first Irish Catholic president, he had given Irish and Catholic Americans the chance to be more than just perpetual back-seat ethnic types in America. To lose Kennedy so suddenly and so brutally, the loss was incalculable. My parents decided they needed to go and buy black crepe to thumb-tack to the frame of our front door.

I do remember watching the funeral on our black and white television, the solemnity, the drums , the horses, the black funeral attire, black veils, the fuzziness of live broadcast then, the 21–gun salute, the smoke from the shells, and having to be explained the significance of the 21-gun salute. I remember John-John saluting the casket. My mother had already drawn a parallel between me and him in that we were born a month apart and she tried to dress me in the same 3-year-old fashion he wore. That he had lost his father made us all feel more sad. Yet to this day, I can’t be sure that I truly remember John John that day or whether I gleaned that part of the memory later from photographs in library books and documentaries.  So I might have made some of this memory up.

On November 24th my parents went off to Zayre’s , then a dime-store chain a notch above Woolworth’s, to shop for black crepe. Word came from the television department that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot making him the first man in history to be murdered on live television. I always imagine my parents walking past a long row of television sets, the same guy getting shot over and over on each TV set. But I’m just making this up like I’m directing my own MTV video in my head.  They were there in the store but it didn’t happen that way.

It’s an irrefutable truth that John Kennedy was murdered that day in November 1963. But a lot of people don’t agree on who killed him. According to Gallup in 2001, 13% of Americans believed that Oswald acted alone while 81% believed “others involved, ” up from 52% in 1963, alongside the same number, 81%, in 1976 when the HSCA (House Select Committee on Assassinations) concluded that Kennedy was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy. For this 81%, the identity of the killers would be an unknowable truth.

Many years after 1963, I asked my father if he thought that Kennedy’s election had raised Irish and Catholics out of a then permanent second class status. He didn’t know what I was talking about.  So I might have been earlier expressing a hypothesis that was a pure invention of my head, totally made up.

I don’t remember seeing black crepe thumb-tacked to the front door of the house so that could be all made up, too.

I recently stumbled upon a crumpled beige paper bag in a rarely-visited dresser in what had been my parents’ bedroom. I had noticed the bag before but never bothered with it. It had something clumpy inside that seemed like paper or fabric. I flipped the bag over and saw the old logo for Zayre’s.  A cash receipt for 99 cents was taped to the bag. A close look at the tag rendered the date “10-24-63.” I opened the bag and pulled out a carefully folded pile of black crepe. There it was before me: silent, enigmatic, irrefutable truth. And we had held onto it for 50 years. - Michael Vaughan

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Oh let us live in joy again.

I did this before, but the widget .. once again...

Oh Let us live in Joy. When I first got to Las Vegas I wondered from casino to casino until there was no alarm. Now years later I could be anywhere. No matter where, ever pulling levers, Augustine come to heaven and hell. It was easy enough to keep drinking there, where tremendous illusion was rapping. We shared a table with L.A. grandma and her granddaughter to see the Tropicana floor show. Granma remembers the big lobster, the coldest coke, the dancing girls with the most perfect bodies. And we went from show to show and store to store until there was no alarm. Just thunderbird trinkets and cold chandeliers making the noise of coins in the fountain. Oh Let us live in Joy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues

First heard the Paul Butterfield blues band early in the summer of love 1967. We lent the record among our crew. For us they were something of a sleeper among the tremendous abundance of creative bands at the time.

Certainly different in that they were closer to the roots of street expression - more so than some of the crimson and chiffon butterfly "psychedelicists" that were about. That year I caught on to Taj Mahal, Canned Heat, the Dirty Blues Band and the Butterfield Blues Band, whose lead guitar player, Mike Bloomfield, was a very big notch above anyone else on an instrument that was coming to define the era.

He was the first rock guitar hero, ahead of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and held the mantle, Mickey, at least for a while. When I re-imagined Black Orpheus ( itself a reimagining of Orpheus in the underground) I imagined Mike Bloomfield as the Pan-like protagonist, probably having learned by then that his guitar was the transcendental and evocative lightning on many of Bob Dylan's great works.

It is with the Electric Flag- formed by Bloomfield after leaving Butterfield in '67 - that the Bloomfield ascendancy started to flatten - Electric Flag quickly broke up, as drugs took a toll there and across the electric land of the nascent renaissance. The slow ebb down and the exciting rocket up are closely shown in Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues - a 2013 Miller Freeman book by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenem. 

This is an oral history, with comments by Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Natflin, Elvin Bishop, Carlos Santana, B.B. King and many others. Their stories have a blues poetry about them. Bloomfield's comments, too, appear from time to time, bracketed in grains of salt – the other contributors, though largely showing warm appreciation of Bloomfield, help establish the notion that he tended to exaggerate, if not outright lie, for the sake of a good story or good time.

The pages show Bloomfield as true blues scholar, an advocate for the original blues players from whom he learned often at first hand, a  temperamental artiste and a very open hearted musician. His sense of dynamics and cutting on guitar were unmatched. His performance with Electric Flag (Wine, Wine, Wine) at the 1967 Montgomery Pop Festival is a visual representation of his vibrant attack. As Norman Dayron comments in the book (p.31), "The music just danced out of him."

Bloomfield (p.23) describes the Chicago SouthSide blues clubs noisy and electric (something that, in the late '70s, I saw, and that I was surprised by, after myself  hushing loud people in crowds for blues shows in the East). Even though they might all share one amp, it was loud, not like folk music. A great acoustic piano player like Otis Spann had to play electric piano to be heard. Bands played from 10 to 4 - 7 sets. Bloomfield was down there well before he turned 17 and he fell in love with the blues music and life.  He and like white blues players of Chicago got tremendously good – the Butterfield band then, it seems, when they got to San Francisco and the Fillmore in 1967, were way better musicians for the SouthSide experience and they - particularly Bloomfield – were mentors for the San Francisco bands.

The commentary narratives  ring true. Bloomfield (p.25) describes the effect of the music of Muddy Waters:

I would go down the street, and from two blocks away I'd hear that harmonica come out of the club. I'd hear that harp, and I'd hear Muddy's slide. I'd be tremblin'. It be like a dog in heat. I didn't know what to do. I'd get into that place and I'd be all a-quiver.

The book has plenty of room for Bloomfield colleagues to tell their own stories along the way. Charlie Musselwhite, for example, (p. 55) comes up from Memphis. Gets to playing harp. Waiting for a bus and gets a job at the Jazz Record Mart on Grand and State. Bloomberg comes to hang out. They play records all afternoon. Laughing. [Oh the days of Goofitude!]

But Musselwhite mentions that Bloomfield could be strange too. He didn’t really respect other people's property (or even his own, really), to the extent that he would take Musselwhite's record, and leave them at the next place he stopped. Musselwhite would find his own records at other friends' houses as a result. Says Musselwhite: "Mike never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

The genre of oral history has its pros and cons. It certainly is a quick read. In Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues, the pacing and variety of the sources is exceptionally handled, in order to form a comprehensive narrative of Bloomfield's sparkling musical ascent and, in the end, his tragic personal failure. If you love the blues, I'd expect you would quite appreciate this book.

Note 1.  Butterfield, Bloomfield and their buddies were certainly a special class of beatnik hipsters.  Muddy Waters and B.B. King were the gurus in the stupa.  And the young players were there evangelist disciples. People I got to know via the Soulville record shop in Racine, seventy-five miles north of Chicago, were also of this school. One, Norman Wilde, did his best to evangelize with 45s the blues gods to me, for which I am so grateful.
Note 2. I'd seen bits from a conversational Bloomfield bio in process years ago. This was done or curated by Larry Sloman, maybe for High Times magazine. But it was incredibly sad piece. Focused much on the boasting of a probably inebriated Bloomfield, and focused on the downside and slop of the ghetto – a slop that is there but very often redeemed. Some of the underpants of the underside is in Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues but it is much more tenured here with human compassion.
Note 3. The note about missing records above (Musselwhite) resonates here. I lent 20 to 30 records to S. McF in 1977 for a party and, that is all she wrote, expect its always on my mind (Big Brother, Buffallo Springfield, and so on). Of course, McF did hip me to Mission Hill, and it was probably "the girlfriend's fault."
Note 4. My Dragon voice recognition software heard something in the ether – it seldom gets to write its own story so:
"And him and him only a you and you run a you a you a their own affairs.
"Stuff a rental record label is as you see you are were were little white lie is usually a you are you
" presently you are well only one jersey one moment the the are shooting only one brave enough to
"so is really and I have neglected already is using a country as an emotional show today
"at all and ahead and you will a you a you yeah and will you
"him him him him him him him him him and him and him and him (coughing)

"and he he is is is is is is is is is is a you are him and him and him him him him on. "

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moondog - Whats my line?

From the late 1940s until 1974, Moondog lived as a street musician and poet in New York City, busking mostly on the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. He was not homeless however, or at least not often—he maintained an apartment in upper Manhattan for most of his life.[3] In addition to his music and poetry, he was also known for the distinctive fanciful "Viking" garb that he wore, which included a horned helmet. He partially supported himself by selling copies of his poetry and his musical philosophy. Because of his street post's proximity to the famed 52nd Street nightclub strip, he was well-known to many jazz musicians and fans. (From Wikipedia)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Superstition East of Phoenix City

For R.

i saw a rainbow
doughnut floating
down in the cloud wisps
streaming over
the superstition mountains
flying into phoenix
looking for a sign of you
one sunday morning.

-Jack Vaughan, Nov 3, 2013

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