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Sunday, December 30, 2012

XMAS season Road Trip

We were in DJ's wife's car a Hyundai Veloster which he called the "molester", and which we both re-named the LFC, or "Look-Fast-Car". However what the Veloster lacks in internal-combustive propulsion it makes up for in handling prowess, we were flying towards Ocho Rios, DJ's right foot firmly planted on the floor in order to arrive at Arosa Meat Processors before the appointed 12:30pm closing on Saturdays.

We slowed our progress through Port Maria the Parish capital of St Mary as is usually necessary to allow for Police checkpoints, and increased traffic. As we approached the bridge which led to the exit from the town's main drag I reminded DJ of the usual police presence on the western side of the bridge as one approaches the court house and Parish church where Ian Fleming was married (and DJ's brother too for his third time). Sure enough there was a Suzuki Jimny full of cops pulling over a Toyota Hiace minibus full of people.

 We slowly pulled around and as we did I spied ahead of us a white Mercedes Benz M Class of recent vintage and imagined I detected a faint trace of Appleton VX in the air. As we approached the Merc's rear I was more certain that the driver of the vehicle was indeed Dr Ron Duquesnay the president of the Sir Henry Morgan Angling Association aka the "Commodore" as I liked to call him. With the strikingly beautiful bay of Port Maria with its birthday cake island in the centre on our right and the double-apex turn around the headland ahead DJ decided it was a good time to overtake our friend at a less-than-prudent rate of speed. Ignoring the oncoming traffic, DJ pulled us level with a stunned Dr Ron and his side-kick Bob the Acct. and I waved and yelled as we overtook them at light speed, narrowly averting a certain messy death at the hand of an oncoming truck.

DJ put the hammer down as we blasted past Blue Harbour, Noel Coward's beachfront home in order to make up the time we lost as I called the Commodore on the phone and arranged a rendezvous at our terminus of Arosa Meats. Suddenly DJ veered off the road almost directly across from the entrance to Ian Fleming's home "Goldeneye" in Oracabessa. Stopping, he abruptly jumped out and declared me the pilot for the remainder of the journey. I took up the challenge, shrinking the oncoming Commodore Ron's image in the rear view mirror by some nifty overtaking of blocks of three and four cars at a go as we passed through Oracabessa, Boscobel, Rio Nuevo and Prospect until it vanished completely and we pulled into the Arosa parking area with minutes to spare.

We finished our pork product purchasing and like magic Dr Ron and Acct Bob rolled up and true to form and like good Boy Scouts they were travelling prepared. In the back of the Benz was 2 bottles of Appleton VX & Estate Special, 5 litres of coconut water and a cooler full of ice.

Finding some shade under the tailgate we toasted one another's health and the New Year and a good time was had by all!

Merry Christmas, Happy and Prosperous New Year to All!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I'll admit that when I was young I was sceptical of bars, but that was understandable as my entire knowledge of them was my mother's warnings about the evils of bars and the alcohol sold within. I never knew my father to go into a bar. Then I turned 18 the same year they changed the laws to allow 18-yo.'s to vote and drink, so I got to vote for McGovern (r.i.p.) and enjoy ice-cold Heineken as we commiserated on Nixon's self-destructive soon-to-be-Watergate-contaminated victory. We went to a bar to celebrate Nixon resigning too!
Really I grew to absolutely love bars in New York City. Nigel and I pounding pints of Guinness or lager, smoking cigarettes, & scarfing down chips.

It was going to Irish-owned and staffed bars in the island of Manhattan that made me understand and appreciate good bar tending. There is also for bar patrons a certain etiquette and code of acceptable behaviours and real men understand and adhere to these and pass them on to the next generation, like not annoying the staff or other patrons, holding your liquor, paying your tab and tipping your server appropriately. Bar tending to me is one of the world's most important, vital and perhaps underrated professions in this world. I am not talking about people who tend bar while they are waiting for a call-back(talking on the phone to their agent or other actor friends) for a show/movie/play or to pay their way through college (leaning up in the corner with face in a book) though these situations do not necessarily preclude being a good bartender.

Patrick Conways on 43rd near to Vanderbilt hard by Grand Central was owned by two young brothers named Clancy and they were nice though business-like fellows. Their bar was always staffed by fellow Irish people. The bar men were just that, bar men. I never saw a woman behind the gleaming, immaculate, mahogany. For sure the restaurant had plenty of young Irish girls waiting the tables and working in the kitchen and dining rooms including the owners' sister. In my time I remember 4 of the barmen who went on to own their own bar and each of these was an attempt at replicating Patrick Conways' gleaming brass, wood and tile. We became such regulars, my brother Patrick, my friend Nigel and myself, that Friday didn't feel like Friday if we didn't see Sean, Liam, Martin and Edmond. The clientele was almost exclusively business people and the bar staff behaved accordingly -friendly but resserved, attentive but not intrusive in other words professionals.
In fact, the brothers themselves opened a second bar at 34th Street and 3rd Avenue called Patrick Kavanaughs which was similar but more of a neighbourhood place. The two brothers sold out eventually and returned home to Dublin as the nascent Celtic Tiger began to roar.  There were great Irish barmen all over Manhattan from the Plaza, to the Abbey, to Dempsey's, to the Central, to The Blarney Stone, to Swifts. 

The great NY bars were places for men, and not in a chauvinistic institutionalised way, but in the sense that men could congregate, be at their ease, talk or be silent, get drunk or not, spend a lunch hour, meet old or new friends, kill time or make a rendezvous for further perambulation with or without the social pressures of female society as one chose.
A good bar is and should be too a shelter from driving rain, blistering heat, or importantly the cold, cruel world. I've never been one to bend a barman's ear too much with personal tales of woe, save the one or two who were my pals outside of their place of employment, and even then I thought it best to make sure those were rare occurrences. 
My teetotal wife doesn't understand bars further than the fact that I am happy in them  and it is where I meet up with my like-minded pals ("Why don't you go play with your friends?") and that's as ok with me as it is with her.

Brian part 2

I was recalling an evening in the "East Village" today which was spurred by seeing someone's immediate Facebook location needlessly displayed for all to see on Facebook.
The eveningin question I had taken the train into Manhattan I recall from Queens, where Antoinette and I were crashing with her sister Peggy after our return from Jamaica. This was 1982 and my brother Brian was living between friends' flats in the East Village and Brooklyn. We met up near the 8th Street Playhouse
that lost treasure of a neighbourhood movie house where I saw my first Jean-Pierre Melville films under advice from the late great Andrew Sarris who was then the film critic of the Village Voice in its heyday

What was nice in those times was that the crowds on 8th Street and Greenwich Village in general thinned out in the evening as you proceeded eastward (the opposite of Horace Greeley's exhortation!) and as you passed First Avenue you were away from the tourists, bridge-and-tunnelers, and other non-resident downtown revelers and entered a real New York neighbourhood. Brian suggested we eat over at the Odessa on Avenue A
In those times the Odessa fed emigrés from Eastern Europe the food from back home at diner prices and we had pot roast with gravy and pierogies for like 4 bucks. We then went up Avenue A to a bar near 10th Street that had a jukebox with a terrific selection of old R&B and rock and roll.We had a beer or two and then crossed over and stood in the park and burnt some rope as was our wont in those days.

Our former block of E.3rd Street.

Tompkins Square Park and the streets around it were nearly deserted, this pre-dating the great homeless invasion brought about by Reagonomics and the ruthless gentrification of Manhattan by real estate interests.

The Joe Strummer mural memorial on what was King Tut's Wah Wah Hut bar w/yours truly.

Brian seemed glad to see me, glad I had come to hang out with him. He had been by this time suffering more and more from some inner angst or demon which could make him restless and of which his drug use, the heroin specifically was I now believe both a symptom and self-prescribed remedy. Brian was intelligent and perceptive and like most of my family extremely sensitive. He was that evening as usual well versed on almost every current topic culturally or socially - local news and international, music, books, film etc- and those that knew Brian knew he was a voracious and catholic reader and as likely to be carrying the Silver Surfer as William Burroughs under his arm or in his satchel and every time he changed addresses he left behind him a small library. In those times I saw him more than anyone else from our family and my trick was to limit my exposure to him so I could control my own sadness and feelings of impotence that grew inside me when I was around him.
His unease seemed to ebb and flow, sometimes Brian acted like he was hunted by or hiding from unseen agents-quiet, jittery, curt-but mostly he was easy to be around, good and interesting company, generous materially and spiritually.

This night was a good one, one that has stayed with me all these years, recalled many times over the years especially when we moved into that neighbourhood, Antoinette, Sean and me, and we witnessed first-hand the evolution and gentrification of the Lower East Side. In fact in a few short years I stood pushing Sean on the swings sweeping the crack vials and hypodermic needles aside with my Air Wear soles in almost the exact same spot, where the playground had been moved as a renovation of the park was under way.

Renovation of St Brigid's Famine Church under way, after the idiot Catholic Diocese tried to demolish it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tropical Storm

The sea has been fighting itself all day
pushing eastwards battling westwards, churning
Blue, black, grey, steel, silver
Now it's night and the sea heaves invisible
Lightning provides the amusement now
as bands of squalls shower us with rain
thunder booms Isaac's approach

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Harlem Brixton

Harlem New York, like Brixton London, both lie abutting the most expensive real estate (both near rivers) in their respective entire countries. It was only a matter of time before they both became  "gentrified" (do hipster f**kwads qualify as gentry?). Both areas were the the centres of Black intellectual and cultural life in addition to being their physical addresses in large metropolitan cities.
Harlem as an entity and of course subtracting the elements of human racism and fear of the unknown "other"was always a mystery to me, and anyone who knows me long enough will remember my wondering aloud and often on why the nicest geographical area on the island of Manhattan, that begins at the northern edge of Central Park known alternately as Cathedral Parkway or 110th Street (consider: Central Park West, Central Park South, Fifth Avenue all addresses of the world's wealthiest, the most powerful and the most famous), hadn't been "reclaimed" by the moneyed long, long ago.I say reclaimed recalling the fact that Harlem once was the summer residence of New York's wealthy when New York mostly existed below 42nd Street. It wasn't that I desired this occurrence, to the contrary, it was only that I had reached a certain age, had become more cynical and was looking at this situation coldly in the context of the City in which I lived.
When gentrification of Manhattan began in the early 1980's why was the Upper West Side and Gramercy Park/Chelsea done first when in reality Harlem, for me at least, the jewel of Manhattan was always the ripest for the taking by the infamous New York granite-hearted property developers.
Harlem has more brownstones than the rest of Manhattan put together, plus large, solid attractive apartment buildings, and row-houses fronting wide avenues and shaded side-streets, set on hills with excellent subway and bus connections on the east and west sides plus they were adjacent to the major bridges that afforded exit to the other boroughs, suburbs and countryside to the north, east, and west. The residents of Harlem largely do not own their homes (save the Jamaicans) making them easier to shift. In fact Harlem has everything necessary to become a "new improved" Greenwich Village, a more gentile Upper East Side or perhaps a New York version of what Notting Hill has become.
My wife told me I was mad when I suggested we buy in Harlem, mainly due to the attention and hassle  our racial "impurity" might bring us, though we had vaguely started planning with her brother Beres (who thought like me!) to buy a small apartment building or a house with 3 flats. To go even further back, Mr. Watson, my wife's father, had planned to come up to New York from Kingston and buy a building for his two youngest daughters to live in and manage. Oh how I wish he had lived long enough to realise that ambition! Jamaicans like my wife's family are believers in property ownership and his 2 daughters were paying landlords rent you see...
As I am writing this I see in the news that Sylvia Woods proprietor of the venerable Harlem soul-food establishment on Lenox Avenue has passed on. I ate at Sylvia's only once or twice and that was way back in about 1975/6. It was a neighbourhood joint for my friend Mike Davis who was the drummer in our band. He lived on 124th Street & Lenox Avenue just a few doors down from Rice High School, a Christian Brothers school which had the same order of Brothers that taught my 2 older brothers and me. The food at Sylvia's I found was good soul food, kinda like somebody's mom gave you if you stopped for dinner. I had heard it wasn' t the same recently as her fame and clientele expanded, but I enjoyed the fried chicken, collard greens and rice just fine when I had them.

Here's another sign of the shift from today's Sunday Times

Brixton lies almost dead geographic centre of London if one looks at a map. It was where many Jamaicans and other West Indians of the post-war Windrush generation (named for the steamship that brought many to England from the Caribbean) settled. Those brave souls that ration-era Britain enticed over to do the dirty work in the hospitals, bus and train yards, Postal Service, building sites etc.
Brixton and Stockwell were South London neighbourhoods that had lost their former glory and where there were rooms to let and landlords needy enough or greedy enough to forsake the usual policy indicated by signs found in the front windows of bedsits "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish".  Over the years it served many of the same functions for West Indians and Africans that Harlem did in the USA. It became a place where blacks felt free, were able to express their various cultures, could find their friends, their foodstuffs, their book stores, and importantly their music shops, in short, their cultural centre.
West Indians firmly believe in owning their homes and so many of the houses and shops in Brixton reflected their clientele. Now, several generations on after a profitable property boom, this is rapidly changing. My friend Nigel who has lived in and around Brixton since returning to England from his years in the USA tells me that many of the first wave of immigrants have sold off and taken their pensions back to live their dream life in Ocho Rios, Mandeville, Bridgetown or Port of Spain. The ones who remained, well,  their sons and daughters  have sold off their mum's and da's houses and moved to the suburbs. Those that remain who are unlucky enough not be able to afford to own their homes are finding it too expensive to stay.
These residents are fast being replaced by middle and upper-middle-class whites changing the entire complexion (pun intended) of South London and Brixton Market on Eddy Grant's Electric Avenue now has gourmet hamburger joints and the like....gone are many of the stalls where we shopped for snapper, callaloo, yellow yam, or goat meat. 
So the moral for both New York and London or wherever is I guess "Money talks..." One thing I do know is I cannot remember the New York Times ever doing an "EAT IN BRIXTON" column when the eating was West Indian!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Crosby, Bleecker, Red Stripe, Thierry Henry

Let me start by saying I used to love Crosby Street. It was one of those rare places where you could be alone in New York City. Amidst the hustle-bustle of Manhattan, blocks from Chinatown and Little Italy, one could walk unmolested in the night for a few precious blocks at least.
Crosby Street used to be empty, literally deserted, after 5 pm. Crosby Street's begin at Howard Street and runs north across Houston to its terminus at the eastern end of Bleecker.  Crosby well into the 1990's had wholesalers and what seemed to be mostly closed store fronts or the backs of premises that fronted east on Lafayette or west on Broadway. I used to frequent an illegal beer hall there named "Red Stripe" which was "licensed" to only serve beer basically and played loud reggae. The bar man, Chris, used see me coming through the front door, pop a beer and top it up with Overproof from a bottle they kept behind the counter for regulars. Yikes!
In fact I was in there watching the Knicks playoff game the night of OJ's Bronco ride with Al, and the game was cut to watch that stupid occurrence and I can recall my reaction being an angry bellowed "What The F**K?!?!?!" followed by a cry of  "Go back to the game!"  It didn't happen...

This is the link to a NYTimes article about French former Arsenal, Barcelona and currently NY Metrostars football superstar Thierry Henry's move to New York City, specifically to a 15 million dollar triplex on Crosby Street:

I looked on Google earth and using the street-view Crosby Street has become a place I no longer recognise.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Gem Spa et cetera

In New York City in the 1980's and 1990's we were fortunate to live near the Gem Spa a soda fountain and newsagent at the corner of St. Marks Place and 2nd Avenue. There is testimony from neighbourhood residents who could remember going into the shop as children before WWI.
The Gem was a holdover from the days of proper soda fountains where you could buy an ice cream or egg cream, a cup of coffee, or a root beer float or sundae. It is one of the very few left. They also were and still are an excellent newsagent. Oh and an "egg cream" is a particular New York fountain soft drink which was created in Brooklyn and which does not include either eggs or cream.
Way back in the misty past of the pre-internet days I would purchase my NY Times, Guardian, Independent, Irish Times and other papers from their extensive selection of papers in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Italian and Chinese. They were one of the vendors that received and sold the complete Sunday New York Times on Saturday evening.
Antoinette and I used to walk out of a Saturday evening to see and be seen taking in the human carnival that was the East Village in the late 80's leaving Sean at home sleeping soundly in the king position. We'd head up to De Robertis' pastry shop on First Avenue and 11th Street order a half dozen large cannolis and pass by the Gem to pick up the NYT before heading home to put on a pot of coffee. My wife would grab the News sections, I would grab the crossword and Arts sections and plunge into the coffee, paper and connolis.
What really excited me though was their magazine selection. For a narrow little shop they had a huge selection of magazines covering many interests and again in several languages. They had all the British music publications like NME and Melody Maker and The Face in addition to Rolling Stone and other US pop star mags, auto and racing magazines, news mags, fashion mags, glamour mags etc. and best of all they sold no pornography.
I used to eagerly await the arrival of the latest CAR magazine from England with its stellar staff of editors and contributors which included  George Bishop, L. J. K. Setright, Ronald Barker, Mel Nichols, Steve Cropley, Russell Bulgin, Philip Llewellin, James May, Alexei Sayle, its sister Sports Car, and what grew to be my favourite, Classic & Sports Car. The British auto mags had larger format trim sizes and the paper stock was of a higher quality which increased the effect of the photography on their pages exponentially. Classic and Sports Car over time became my favourite due to its focus on a wide variety of vintage vehicles, British, European, and American. It covered too, the vintage racing scene which was much more active in Britain in those days than it seemed to be in the USA and had fascinating classifieds.
They also employed an illustrator who did a dissection of the vehicle that was featured in each issue and they used it to point out places on the car that needed special attention for maintenance and for restoration. Expert restorers were consulted to contribute their opinions and experience. It made for a thorough and invaluable resource for someone like myself who was seeing some of these cars for the first time or for someone who was considering purchasing or restoring one. In short, terrific stuff for motor heads.

A visit to the Gem could cost me quite a bit as it could involve purchasing 2 British magazines at about 5 bucks a pop (the US ones -Road & Track, Car and Driver, Autoweek- fortunately I received gratis at work) a couple of newspapers at $3.25 each, the latest NME $3 and a pack or 2 of cigarettes.
Have I mentioned they were also tobacconists? They stocked Rothmans, Dunhill, Players Navy Cut, Gaulois, Gitanes, Craven A's from Jamaica along with all the US brands, cigars, loose tobacco, and cigarette papers.
In short a small slice of heaven for me and just a few minutes walk from our flat on East 3rd Street.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Re: All This Queen Liz Crap Johnny Lydon got it right

BTW do read Johnny Lydon's memoir, "Rotten: No Irish No Blacks No Dogs"

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming

Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future,
No future for you

God save the queen
We mean it man
We love our queen
God saves

God save the queen
'Cause tourists are money
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems

Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
All crimes are paid

When there's no future
How can there be sin
We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future, your future

God save the queen
We mean it man
We love our queen
God saves

God save the queen
We mean it man
And there is no future
In England's dreaming

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future,
No future for me

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future
For you

A poem for "Jimmy Sligo" et temps perdu

Larceny of Life
a pram by Donal Callum

It was a lunchtime like many
at that that particular time
perched on a stool reading
the Times the Independent or the Echo
Vicarious Byrne grinning evil
never less than 3 but it was always more

In those days we stole
moments of ecstasy
ripped from days of drudgery
extracted milliseconds of joy
from a subway ride
 a  newspaper article
 a carton of coffee
 a smile or a wink

The Heavy for me, the Tool for you
Stretching lunch hour to two
Creating an existence
separate and parallel
entire and complete
a universe Incomprehensible to others
however dear
So near, yet so far.
9th to 4th Broadway to Bowery

The poet the NYU admin the Boston loony the Turk
Books papers music football the lash
Paddies cops Brits musos firemen journos snow shifters
So good we often went back for afters shooting up again
what we realised wouldn'tcouldn'tshouldn't last forever
every moment precious though doomed to fade
But hey, tomorrow's Friday

Monday, April 16, 2012

Morning Murder, a short story


Something heavy hit the zinc fence hard in the yard next to Prong’s bar across the street.

Pi! Pi!

Two shots, two flashes of light.

Then dead silence.

And darkness.

A shadow moved through the door of the zinc fence out onto 6th street in Greenwich Farm and then was gone like it never was.

I had been up to the window in a flash, peering through glass and through the julie mango branches from the first creak of the zinc gate across the street, my wife just now only slightly stirred in her sleep, feeling my absence from her side. I heard her nephew move in the bedroom next door.

“Kenny?” I whispered.
“Yes, John?”
“Somebody get dead”
“Yes, man, seem so”

It was that time of the day when it is technically morning but it is darker than any hour of the night. It is the time when your worst imaginings seem as real as your last breath, when nightmares creep over your fence, and the yard dogs huddle together for safety on the verandah outside of your door.
It was that time of day in Kingston ghettoes that the only ones about were duppies or worse, gunmen.

Since this was 1981 and with general election war time recently finished, the JLP and PNP were sorting out certain movements which would still be felt 25 years later. Here in Greenwich Farm we were just a short walk down the train line from Tivoli, the JLP bastion of power, but PNP was strong here and even WPJ had headquarters up on South Avenue.

But now, one-and-a-half years since the election that ended Michael Manley’s Democratic Socialist dream and ushered in Eddie Seaga’s capitalist reality, politics was starting to take a back seat to the more stark realities of  turf, influence, extortion and something new into the mix for the first time in Jamaica, cocaine. Tribal war started to become a lot more brutal now it was fueled by coke.
Or as one local sage said to me “Guns deh about still, and shot mus’ lick, Massa John.” It was these "runnings" I had come back to Jamaica to document for a US newspaper.

Greenwich Farm had the geographic advantage of being  walking distance to the sea, the wharves, and Customs piers. A lot of the youths in the area used to deal in goods that fell off trucks coming from those piers, and that included staple commodities like flour, rice, cooking oil and gasoline.

“Kenny, you see anything?”
“No sah, me just hear the commotion”

I was still pressed into the corner of the room protected from any possible stray retaliatory bullets by the concrete at my back.

Kenny had now come through the connecting door and joined me by the windows facing the streets.
Both of our eyes strained to see.
My wife started, awake now.
“Wha happen, eh?”
“Just stay there, darling, something g'waan cross the road.”

The light was starting to creep in slowly, softly, as if it too were afraid of being heard or noticed, and all was dead still, almost as if the whole of 6th Street was holding its breath.
“John, yuh did see anything?” Kenny ask.
“ Boy, I hear zinc bang first, then me did see the two flash from the gun, then one man come out a de yard and gone toward Second Avenue. Since then, not a thing.”

Now, I would never admit to anyone outside of this house that I saw anyone or anything at all. It does not pay to admit seeing certain things in Jamaica.
A white Toyota Corolla arrived and pulled up outside the zinc fence  across the way. Three police, one with a big gun got out and went into the yard. They were in the yard for some little while but came out, one of them pulling a lifeless body by its heels. This was unceremoniously left in the dirt parallel to the road outside the zinc door to the yard..

People now started to arrive in their ones and twos, mostly women in curlers and yard clothes, drawn by the blue lights of the police car or by their curiosity about the early morning’s deadly sounds. Kenny recognized someone in the small crowd that had gathered and went outside. He came back in a little while to report:

“Is Danny”
“ Is Danny, from up further ‘pon 6th Street.”
“The youth ?” Danny to my knowledge was not yet 20 years of age.
“Yes man, dem seh dem shoot him over some thiefin’ business”
“What? There’s plenty thief roun’ here who don’t get shot...”
“Dem seh Danny did thief from the wrong local man”
“Oh, I see...”

Still, the police had been on the scene BEFORE anyone else had discovered the body, and since no one on this block even had a phone and they knew right where to look, too, I mused inwardly.
Recently a young, albino recording artiste, or “deejay” named Yellowman had put out a single called “Operation Eradication”. It detailed the exploits of an actual squad of police in Kingston whose brief was to “eradicate” troublesome “criminals” who had in brutal reality now outlived their political usefulness since the very tribal electioneering had ended and new lines had been drawn and scores were being settled. The single was banned from radio airplay, but played day and night on every rum bar jukebox across Jamaica, including the one right next to the yard ironically where Danny’s body now lay.

Danny’s remains laid there in the gutter of Sixth Street until the sun was well up and the ambulance came to carry him to the morgue.

Copyright Donald Callum 2006

Friday, April 13, 2012

Callums in Europe pt 1

Madame Callum on the Place des Vosges

The night after: Antoinette & the fellas relax at La Cartoucherie, Bois des Vincennes
Sebastien et moi-meme by IM Pei's pyramid at theLouvre

I met my girl by the old canal

The sun DOES shine in Dublin, here on Nigel & Sean on Wellington Quay

Maybe someday I'll go back again to Galway, if the sun ever comes out that is

Pyramids seem to be a theme, this one is in Merrion Square, Dublin

Bob Andy

Bob Andy and yours truly at Windfall our home in Jamaica

Keith Anderson more commonly known as "Bob Andy" is arguably Jamaica's most respected songwriter.
Interested, no let's make that "captivated" by music from an early age in Kingston Jamaica where he grew up, a chain of events led him to Studio One on Brentford Road. Studio One by the mid 1960's had become the Motown of the Jamaican music scene. Built and controlled by the estimable Clement "Coxsone" Dodd Studio One was  a recording studio, record label (dozens of labels in fact), sound system, music school and manufacturing facility.
Studio One launched the careers of dozens, perhaps hundreds of singers, musicians, and songwriters that created what the world knows today as reggae, and took that music from its status as obscure third world music craze to international cultural phenomenon a fact driven home to me in the 1970's when I heard my mom singing "Three Little Birds" while she was hoovering the living room.
There were other music labels and other studios and other producers in Jamaica and they all played a part, but it was Studio One that was first and foremost in influence and resonance.
It was here in this artistic hot-spot that Bob was able to foment his talent. The way he tells it recording at Studio One was a collaborative process with singers helping each other, the older ones schooling the younger ones the most well-known example of this being the established Joe Higgs drilling newcomers Bob, Peter, and Bunny aka "The Wailing Wailers" in harmony etc.
Bob Andy like many, many others in those times of the early 60's when vocal groups could be found on every street corner of the Bronx, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Kingston, started a vocal group called "The Paragons". They had a number one hit for Studio One penned by Bob Andy called "Love at last" and they were on their way. John Holt joined the Paragons but as Bob felt their voices were too similar he opted to go solo. He wrote and recorded a smash hit called "I've Got to Go Back Home" that became an anthem especially for the burgeoning Jamaican diaspora forced to leave behind their beloved island home. My wife  used to jokingly tell me to stop the car as she wanted to dance when she heard this song on the car radio.
Bob became friends with Jackie Mittoo the talented keyboardist and director of the Studio One house band and together they produced hit songs for themselves and many others.  Bob wrote hit after hit such as "Feeling Soul", "Too Experienced", "Going Home", "Unchained", :My Time", "Fire Burning" and after teaming up with Marcia Griffiths did a huge cover of Nina Simone's "Young, Gifted and Black" which was a hit in the UK as well. Bob has acted in films and continued to write and record and is in fact about to relaunch in 2012 with a follow up to "Reggae Songbook" his classic monster album for which he has not received one penny in royalties though that will hopefully change soon.
Bob's songs have been covered by over 50 different artistes and in Jamaica alone his hits are re-recorded seemingly by each new generation of singers at least by the ones who recognise great songwriting when they hear it.

I only got to know Bob Andy personally over the past couple of years and I have always feared meeting people whose work I have admired as many times the human behind the work may not be...well, let's say the experience may be a disappointment. In Bob's case the opposite has been true and in fact I have gotten to see that he is a very special and charismatic person and in this case the art he has produced comes from an intelligent, thoughtful, caring man who is loved and appreciated by many and not just his fellow musicians.

Here's a couple of links to Bob songs and if interested you can do your own google and youtube searches, I believe you will be hooked too.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona!

Whew OK,a dear old friend kevin Barry mentioned Larry Kirwan to me today - Larry Kirwan Black 47 right?
Well there was a young Irish girl that worked at Saatchi & Saatchi with my wife Antoinette, must be late 80's when we lived on East 3rd Street in the East Village. Sinead who was a sweetheart from Cobh, used to mention she was in a band with her pal Mary (who possessed a balcony you could do Shakespeare from, if you follow my meaning) from Cork. Apparently they were the backup singers and tambourine bashers and more importantly Mary was keeping an eye on her boyfriend the drummer Tom Hamlin. She never mentioned the band's name until one Friday evening after work we were home relaxing having a few pops and all at once Sinead goes "Oops, I've got a gig, I had forgotten and I can't remember the address!"  Fortunately she recalled that it was to be in a small bar over near to Tompkins Square Park, a few short blocks away and I escorted her over and asked around until we found the correct door. I would see Black 47 occasionally when I stopped into Reilly's on my way back downtown.
One sunny morning a coule of years later I saw yer man Larry Kirwan plodding past our stoop looking much the worse for wear after a long hard night.

Now flash forward to the 21st century and my darling son Sean is living in Dublin and out in a bar having a few pops with his mates. Next to them a few hard looking characters one of which gives Sean the steely eyed stare and asks him who he is and where he's from. The fella hear's Sean's name and asks him where he got it and Sean explains that his oul fella is a New York Irish-American, and what's more drinks solely in Irish bars and puts money in the IRA donation tins.
This sweetens the other fella's complexion considerably and he now laughs & claps Sean on the back, turns around and drops his trousers far enough to reveal an IRA tattoo on his arse. After that, Sean and his mates' drinks were on him.

 Kevin mentioned his ancestors. Yeah BARRY would be from Cork wouldn't it? Like Tom Barry, the great republican, shame he sided with f*cking Dev though.

My oldest brother Jim and his son Brendan started up on the website "Geni" and we've been adding what we can find. Both my grandfathers were Irish and both my grandmothers were German.  My mother's father's name was William Doran and he was a teamster and was with Pershing when they went after Pancho Villa which were the first mechanised units in the US Army.  He went to Cuba next, and then to France where he saw action in the Ardennes and made Lieutenant (wartime). They lived on Grove Street in Greenwich Village when my mother was born and later moved to Brooklyn. Wild Bill Doran died in 1951 so I never got to meet him. Sean shares his same birthdate.

My father's father William Callum I did know. As to his origins or his father's when he died we found letters from his cousin in Armagh from 1921/22 or so. The name must have been McCallum at one time but I could never get a straight answer out of anyone on it. He worked for Otis elevator and had hands like hams, which he passed along to my father, and to me and to Sean.

As to Parnell, Kevin my friend, yes a great man, but who underestimated his own people's hypocrisy, and their conservative views and ways, which by the way, haven't changed all too much over the decades in my humble experience.
Those who think Parnell blew some terrific chance to change Ireland's course peacefully forget one important factor: The British would NEVER, ever ever, allow Ireland a peaceful, political separation, never. It was always going to take arms, and struggle and death, so it is with them and so it always was. I offer in proof the Malvinas, that story isn't finished yet, they've found oil there.  Ireland is where they began their empire, where they practised all that they ever did later around the globe- Jamaica, India, Kenya, China...

Friday, March 16, 2012

who are celtic gods?

Tuatha Dé Danaan

It is God who suffered them, though He restrained them
they landed with horror, with lofty deed,
in their cloud of mighty combat of spectres,
upon a mountain of Conmaicne of Connacht.
Without distinction to discerning Ireland,
Without ships, a ruthless course
the truth was not known beneath the sky of stars,
whether they were of heaven or of earth

The Ulster cycle

an Fhiannaíocht

Modern celtic gods bore names like Jimmie Johnstone who was also called "The Lord of the Wing", and Kenny Dalglish later called "King Kenny" and also George Best of Ulster who one might say was Best by Name, Best by Nature.

Once upon a time in the East, Village that is...

Back in 1993 when we lived in the East Village in NYC, I used to park our car in a lot in order to save my new BMW 325is from the inevitable dings, nicks, and scrapes (and tickets!) street parking would inevitably bring.
The lot I used was on First Street between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery and it had 4 enclosed aluminum garage spaces. One day I was picking up my car and there was a chap wrenching a Ducati 851 motorcycle with one of the garage doors open. Peeping in I noticed 3 sexy shapes n the darkness. Though extremely curious, I was in a bit of a hurry so left without further inquiry.
The next time I saw the chap he was under the hood of one of the sexy shapes now sitting exposed in the sunlight which turned out to be a silver Aston Martin DB6 drophead. I said hello and asked him about the Aston which he said was being sold soon, however he brought me into the garage and there, making up the other dark sexy shapes I had seen previously was a Maserati Ghibli and a DeTomaso Pantera. Now Panteras I was used to seeing growing up, besides I could never sit upright in them, being 6'2" and a lot of it in my torso. The Ghibli an altogether much rarer beast, was dark blue with a cream leather interior, sat on 4 flat Michelins but was complete and in very good nick from my vantage point and I have always had a soft spot for Maseratis- all of them.
The chap asked me if I was interested in making a deal on the Maser but in the interest of continuing in my current healthy marital and physical state, told him "no, thank you".
Soon after, all the cars and the chap were gone never to be seen again.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


You came second, I came third, middle.

So... you were always there 5 years older, cooler, locked in. You had the devil in your eye at times, your own sense of humour. My first day freshman year Brother Shannon (the one you almost gave a stroke to when you corrected him in history class) with a wry smile telling me "Ah yes, Brian, he was a special one." It wasn't until later when you were gone that I noticed the sadness that was always there in your eyes too.

Chicks dug you-you had your own style, interesting women appreciate that. Though you never looked completely comfortable in the tight collars and neckties that the times demanded. Years later, looking back at photos I realized we looked Irish, not like the English mods we imitated. The hair never laying quite-so always a wave or a curl out of place, necktie slightly askew, a bit rougher around the edges perhaps. More at home running through the woods like savages than posing for pictures all suited up.
I always appreciated  the way you didn't treat me like the idiot younger brother that I was, nor my friends either. So many of things I  value in life I got from you not from parents or teachers or friends. History, birds, reggae, cars, politics, science fiction- things to this day I love. I hope you would be proud to know that I tell people I am who I am because of you, especially when they wonder why I am interested in so many things. Sean is like that too, Brian.
I loved you for taking me to that concert at Wollman Rink in Central Park, (John Sebastian!?!) What I really loved was that you made me feel that you wanted to be there with me, not that you took me because none of your friends were around. Remember too, as we left the venue, there was guy with a stolen carton of LP's who worked for Island Records. It was Traffic's new release “John Barleycorn Must Die” and was selling them for a buck. I'll never forget that you turned to me and asked “Are these guys any good?” I said yes and you bought the record and became a fan. I was surprised firstly that you hadn't heard of Traffic already and absolutely stunned when you asked for my opinion and followed it. I can still remember like it was yesterday you bringing home the soundtrack to The Harder They Come after you had seen the film in New York. We played it until we wore it out, and its replacement too. I already had heard of Desmond Dekker but had noone to talk about it with until then. You gave me my introduction to Jamaican politics too- Manley, Bustamante, PNP, JLP.
I remember borrowing your jeans because they were flares and none of my friends had them and your SDS jacket with the red fist on the back-no one had one of those for sure!. The MG, the Austin Healey that you almost killed yourself in up in Maine, the yellow Fiat spider that you would turn up in and actually let me drive! I mean rugby, Brian? Who the heck was playing rugby in the US in 1970?

The way you could relate to any other person you encountered, complete strangers regardless of age or sex or colour or class I counted that for a lot in you. You could also tell an asshole to fuck off if it was needed, too, but I rarely ever saw you angry.

I remember you telling me about seeing Lightning Hopkins giving guitar tips to people backstage and urging me to do the same, and well, I did it. I saw Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells at the Bottom Line and waited until after their set went over and introduced myself and bought them each a drink at the bar, and they just chatted with me as if I was somebody too. Amazing. I recall being flattered when you told me to come down to Soho where you and Allen Ginsburg and others would meet with the latest Indian guru, the one that liked cognac (was it Remy or Hennessy?) and teach those hippies how to play guitar properly.
Mom and Dad couldn't deal with you Brian, you were too free. They were from a different time, a time where blending in and toeing the line was a goal in life. They loved you though, I am sure of that. They just couldn't fully understand or accept. I don't think our other brothers could either.

When Antoinette and I went to live in Jamaica, I wished you had come with us. Her family has a farm, way up in the Blue Mountains where the air is sweet. You would have been safe there, lived a clean, healthy life, gotten fit, learned new birds and seen ones you already knew that come for the winter's visit. I regret still not sending for you after we got settled.
After we returned o New York and were living at 23rd Street, and me having to go find you in the East Village, hoping, that you're ok. Finding you sad, we had lunch on St Marks Place. Did you know it was Mom asked me to look for you sometimes?
Weeks later on I brought you home for dinner, for a shower, for some cash, but I will always regret not making you stay. At least for a little while. I was worried what my new wife would say, though now I know her better and I know she loved you too. She still shakes her head when she remembers how you used to tickle her feet. I know now I should have made you stay. At least for a little while.
Because just as you left us all, Sean came. You would have loved him and he would have loved you. Like I do.

Sir Henry Morgan - Pirate or Patriot?
By Donald Callum

Arrrrrghhh! Shiver me timbers!

Everybody and his brother’s cousin knows that Henry Morgan was a pirate or more correctly, a privateer, but not many know he was a patriot too.
There were differences between pirates or buccaneers, and privateers. Pirates were “loose cannon” (pun intended), in that they owed allegiance only to themselves and their comrades and their looting and pillaging was done strictly for their own benefit.
Privateers were raiders, usually merchantmen that were given a guise of legality by a letters of marque, or, lettre de course, in French(giving us the word “corsair”). These documents were issued by governments to vessels allowing them to attack and capture enemy vessels and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale, thereby disrupting their enemies’ sea trade. This practice dated back to at least the 1500’s.
The word ‘buccaneer’ itself comes to us as an Anglicisation of the French use of a Taino word. Got that?
Please let me try to explain: The Tainos used wooden barbecues called “buccans” to smoke manatee meat on the beaches. These “buccans” became “boucans” (pronounced: boo-con) in French and those hunters in Hispaniola who practiced smoking beef and pork, were called “boucaniers”(boo-con-ee-ayr). When the Spanish chased them from what is now Haiti they fled to Tortuga and joined English, French and Dutch sailors attacking Spanish shipping through the Windward passage.
Now back to Morgan. Henry was descended from an old Welsh family of warriors called Morgan who owned estates around present-day Cardiff. He was born in
1635 in Llanrumney (in Welsh, Llanrhymny). Young Henry was said to be better with a lance than with a book so a life of action was early on indicated.
Henry did not reach the West Indies as an indentured servant as has been long-rumoured but was in fact a junior officer in Penn and Venables’ expedition sent by Cromwell to the Caribbean to damage the Spanish hegemony in the region.
This expedition was unsuccessful in capturing Havana in Cuba, and then Santo Domingo in Hispaniola. Fearful of the wrath of Cromwell the Lord Protector if they returned from this very expensive sortie with nothing to show, Penn and Venables attacked the lightly garrisoned island of Jamaica which having no gold, silver, or jewels was used as a provision depot for the returning Spanish treasure fleets.
By 1660 with the monarchy restored, Henry’s uncle was sent out to be the Governor of Jamaica. Henry who was still in Barbados followed his uncle to Jamaica where he was already famous from his exploits with Penn and Venables, married his uncle’s eldest daughter and two of her sisters married his closest friends.
Morgan apprenticed at sea one might say under Commodore Christopher Mings, sailing as one of his captains as they attacked and looted Santiago de Cuba, and a couple of years later in 1663 down the Mexican coast attacking Campeche’s two forts and coming away with 14 Spanish ships as prizes.
Hollywood glamourises pirate sea battles but the truth is these encounters were costly and therefore largely avoided. Most of Morgan and other buccaneers’ successes came on land. In 1663, Henry Morgan the leader of a small fleet of 6 ships that set sail to attack the Spanish Main and did not return until 18 months had past. Morgan must have possessed great leadership skills because time and again he rose to the head of joint efforts involving disparate individuals, possibility due to his background as a soldier. This expedition left Port Royal and headed to New Spain first to the Yucatan and down along the Central American coast landing at Frontera. Morgan’s force marched 50 miles to attack the town of Villahermosa only to find that after capturing and looting the town their own ships had been taken by the Spanish. This forced them to capture 2 Spanish ships
and several coastal canoes to carry them back against the currents to regroup at the Yucatan. They then set out again down the Central American coastline to what is now Nicaragua and again inland to surprise the wealthy town of Granada which was taken with the assistance of local Indian tribes. In 1668, Morgan sailed with ten vessels to Cow Island off the coast of Hispaniola (modern Haiti). Here the Oxford, a warship sent out for the defense of Jamaica by the British government, found the French privateer ship Le Cerf Volant. The British master of a ship from Virginia had accused the French vessel of piracy so the Cerf Volant was arrested and condemned as a prize by the Jamaica Court of Admiralty. After the Oxford was blown up (in an explosion said to have killed 250 people) while Morgan dined in the great cabin, the Cerf Volant ultimately became his flagship, under the new name of Satisfaction. After cruising east along the coast of Hispaniola and attacking coastal towns along the way, Morgan turned south to sail across the Caribbean again, making for Maracaibo in the Gulf of Venezuela. This he took, together with the more southerly town of Gibraltar. On their return journey, the privateers were bottled up at the lake of Maracaibo by several large Spanish warships and a reinforced fort. Morgan had to use great ingenuity to escape and doing so added to his treasure yet again. In 1670 he met off modern-day Haiti with his captains and with their 1800 men decided to attack Panama, the legendary city of the Indies. They landed at Chagres and had to fight their way through the jungle first before reaching the first of three fortifications. Remember this was attempted by the legendary Sir Francis Drake who failed miserably. Morgan succeeded in capturing Panama, during the siege the city caught fire and was burned to the ground. Morgan and his comrades returned to Port Royal with hundreds of slaves and chests of gold and silver and jewels. As happened often in Europe during the 17th century, politics had taken a turn back in England, attacking Spanish ships and cities became for a time an embarrassment for the English government and Henry Morgan and his protector, the Governor, were summoned home, but not punished. After three years
England’s attitude toward Spain again changed and once again Morgan was sent to relieve the threat against Jamaica. Morgan at the age of 45, returned as Lieutenant Governor organized the island’s defenses and survived political treachery, whilst expanding his estates and their value. He also still enjoyed the company of his former colleagues a bit too much in the rum bars of Port Royal and his once admirable physique became bloated and his pallor yellowed. Morgan was said to have been faithful to his wife from the day they were married, but they were never able to have children He died on the 25th of August 1688. For many decades, Henry Morgan’s name meant only the name of a romantic "pirate" of yore, but there are recent signs of a re-evaluation by scholars. As John Weston asserts Morgan is being looked at “as one of Britain's most successful military strategists and as a man with the leadership qualities of an Alexander. He gained the loyalty of the buccaneers, who followed him without question, and the respect of kings and princes”. P.S. As I finished putting this piece together, there came news reports in the media about an amazing discovery near the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama. It appears an archaeological team from Texas State University who had been researching Morgan’s lost ships for the Panamanian government, have retrieved 6 iron 17th century cannons from the wreck of a ship they feel might be Morgan’s flagship, the Satisfaction. There are crates and boxes within the perimeter of the remains of the ship’s hull and so it appears this episode of Caribbean History may soon have much new evidence to fill in the 300-year-old story. The company that sells Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum is helping to fund the research for publicity only as all artifacts will become the property of the government of Panama for display at the Patronato Panama Viejo.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kenny Dalglish

Lower East Side Ruminations

It started off a place where I used to meet Brian, my peripatetic brother, to eat or to drink, then it became the place in which Brian lived, then our mom told us it was near where she was born, and it took on a new resonance altogether. Later it became the place where Brian died, and shortly after that it was the place that my family lived, where we made new friends, where our son attended school, where we were part of a true neighbourhood.
The Lower East Side, or the East Village, Alphabet City or Loisaida,  it was/is referred to by all these names. What you called it depended on when you came to know of it, or how you came to know of it or from where you viewed it-  inside or outside. It was the northern part of the Lower East Side to generations of immigrants- Irish, Italian, German, Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Puerto Rican and their descendents. A couple of their bath houses still exist, one on St Marks Place near where WH Auden lived.
New York City's first public housing was built in the 1930's on East Third Street at Avenue A and was declared open by Fiorello LaGuardia and Eleanor Roosevelt.

It became the East Village in the 1960's when the the 'real' Village, Greenwich Village, filled up and became expensive. As is usual it was gentrified by white artists, musicians and hippies looking for cheaper rents. While the gringos were now calling it by a different name, the Spanish-speakers had one, too. Loisaida became home to the generations of Puerto Ricans that emigrated to New York after WW II, settling there in the tenements and the housing projects mostly between Avenue A and the river, playing baseball and having cookouts in the narrow fingers of parks that grasped that southeastern part of Manhattan between the FDR Drive and the East River.
The later epithet Alphabet City, was what gringos called Loisaida in the late 70's and 80's when heroin was king. The name comes from the four avenues -A, B, C, & D- that lay east of First Avenue. In this period one could see curious lines of people leading into ostensibly abandoned tenement buildings on these streets and avenues, queueing up brazenly, impatiently, night and day, to score and shoot smack. I would see the little envelopes with brand names like "daze out", "black flag" or "poison" in the park or on the sidewalks.

Geographically it is a small place but it possessed a staggering diversity. It has always been a place on the fringe and OF the fringe. Immigrants, agitators, gangsters, communists, gays, anarchists, hippies, yippies, artists, punks, poets, Hare Krishna devotees all lived and felt free within its confines. Its northern boundary is East Fourteenth Street, its southern, East Houston Street. Bordered to the west by Broadway and to the east by the FDR Drive and East River.

It was always Greenwich Village or uptown Manhattan, the Upper East Side that had the cachet, the money, the style; the Lower East Side had life.

It is in fact a small urban village with only one proper park or green space, Tompkins Square Park. There weren't many tall buildings, so there was light, and there was air. You knew there was a river not-too-very-far-away.
Founded in 1850 and named for Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), Vice President of the United States under President James Monroe and the Governor of New York (1807-1817) it has been at the center of the labor and socialist movements from its creation. 1857 saw food and job riots by immigrants, in 1863 there were Draft Riots that threatened anarchy to the entire City of New York, in the1874 Tompkins Square riots police brutally broke up a workers demonstration of thousands of people, and in 1877 the National Guard was called in to break up a crowd of 5,000 who had come to listen to Socialist and Communist speakers. Robert Moses changed the layout in the 1930s to its current state, mostly in an attempt to prevent further mass gatherings.
Still, in the 1960's there were anti-Viet Nam war demonstrations and in 1988 there was a riot by neighborhood residents against the police when they tried to remove the homeless that squatted in the park. I remember that one, I was there for that. Now it is a safe, clean, gentrified park, suitable for...well...the gentry. It has a formal dog area with water available. This in a park that had rank toilets and no functioning water fountains for humans for many years.
At the northeast corner of the park stands The Christodora, originally built and intended to assist women from lower economic classes at 145 Avenue B, was converted to luxury condos. I can remember sitting in my apartment at E. 3rd Street reading the New York Times Real Estate section and seeing the developer's ad in the New York Times. It was in the NY Times I saw a realtor when asked what longtime residents who could not afford the new gentrified neighborhood should do flippantly replied "They had better learn to swim", indicating that their time was up on the island of Manhattan and should swim away to the other boroughs.
Imagine, we thought at the time, million dollar apartments in the Lower East Side. Little did we know what was to come.

The gentrification of the Christodora rankled. This building was a symbol. It sparked demonstrations in 1986 and it still looms over the northeast corner of the park. Iggy Pop has a flat there now. Just a couple of doors away is where Charlie Parker lived with his family at 151 Avenue B. A few doors further down at the corner of Ninth Street, the Irish Famine church, St Brigid's miraculously stands yet, having just escaped its own gentrification death sentence from the ArchDiocese of New York despite the vehement opposition to the Church's plan by the current and past residents and parishioners. This close escape is only and solely through the kindness of a wealthy philanthropist. My friend Jimmy and I stood one day almost in tears helpless as we watched workmen demolish (not remove) the stained glass windows of the church built in 1848 by the hands of those who had escaped the Potato Famine in their new home across the Atlantic.
Many of the cafes, shops, stores, bars and even gas stations that struggled through the tough times and that made this place precious are now gone. I mean I realize this is New York after all, things do change fast here. However what I object to is that they seem to have been replaced mostly by replicas of shops and restaurants from elsewhere. These new ones don't feel like they fit like the old ones. For instance, when my wife, son, and myself moved to East Third Street in April 1986 we had 2 neighborhood bakeries-one ON our block across the street and 3 doors down, the next just around the corner on First Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Both were gone within 2 years. One replaced by a bar that I never really liked much, the other by a restaurant favoured by Egyptian taxi drivers that I did like. The bakeries were not fancy or exotic. Just neighborhood bakeries where the woman who made the bread would smile at you and your kid when you came in and give you 10 rolls when you ordered a half dozen.
On that block ('our' block in my mind still) is Mary House, a refuge for elderly women (there was one who would bum cigarettes off me) provided by the Catholic Worker, a Socialist organization whose newspaper my family subscribed, and whose publishing offices were two blocks away on First Street.
3rd Street between First and Second Avenues was like the United Nations, then. There were Ukrainians, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, Polish, Argentinians, West IndiansMexicans, Italians, Chinese, French. Quentin Crisp was our neighbor, and at the complete other end of the spectrum so was the NYC Chapter of the Hells Angels.
It is a prettier place now. Few if any lots left with abandoned hulks of wrecked cars, the weedily infested deserts with shards of glass embedded in the earth trod by generations to which this area was their first home any place in America. The city provides services now-the streets are cleaner for one. There are no more lines of drug addicts visible except maybe at the velvet rope of a lounge on a weekend night.
Now you see doormen wave down cabs for white people in Alphabet City.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Grant Green Sookie Sookie

One often hears that things never change. Well, I think things do change...though rarely for the better. Take for example media and its role in today's society.
Today, the real power is money, not democratic politics. Multinational conglomerates have no national allegiances. This is really what globalisation is all about. It is less about "Free Trade" and more about no comeuppance. Look at a list of donors to US political campaigns and you will see donations made by the same individual or corporation to each of the opposing candidates in order to ensure influence whatever the outcome of the election. As to the electorate, apathy rules. This is how powerful business interests-those in real power like it. Numb your minds with hundreds of tv channels that broadcast empty entertainment while news and information is minimized or sterilized. Reality tv indeed!
The challenge to this voter apathy is where the 2008 US presidential election offers a change of the status quo. Barack Obama has galvanized support and generated real excitement around his candidacy that has not been seen for many years. If Obama wins it will remain to be seen how much real change one president can effect. Change in the current US political reality is dependent on the backing of the Congress and this means the Democrats must first have viable majorities in both Houses and secondly, they must have the political will to change the course set over the past 8 years by perhaps the most damaging, and corrupt US administration ever.
I grew up a child of the first tv generation in the US. Needless to say it was all broadcast television at the time. I lived in the New York City area so we had 7 (!) channels 2(CBS), 4(NBC), 5(local WNEW), 7(ABC), 9(local WOR), 11(local WPIX), 13(PBS) which was more than in many areas of the country at that time. From 6pm to 7:30pm if your tv was on, you HAD to watch news on any of the networks and even the local stations to some extent. News was important and was treated as such. There was another similar news report at 11pm to recap the day's events.
The owners of these networks and local stations were media companies, that is to say, independent companies whose business was television and radio and sometimes newspapers too, though there were laws in place which prevented any company from owning newspapers and television stations in one market. These laws, enacted to prevent any entity from being too influential, have been circumvented since Rupert Murdoch's assault on world media turned its attention to the US in the 1980's. 
The people who presented the news in those days while famous, were not "stars". They were newspeople, many with long distinguished print or radio journalism careers stemming from WWII coverage of the London blitz and the front lines. Most were disciples of Edward R Murrow. They were not pretty-boys. You got the news straight, as impartial as possible, and as quickly and accurately they could get it. The news divisions were separate from the entertainment divisions and would brook no interference from anyone. The companies they worked for were not owned by multi-national conglomerates replete with their own large sharp axes to grind like GE, Murdoch, VIACOM or Disney.
Over the past 8 years all of these modern major media outlets-New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.-abrogated their Fourth Estate responsibility ( I wonder how many have heard of Thomas Carlyle or Edmund Burke) becoming active enablers of an illegal and immoral war and the serious encroachments on Constitutional and Human rights that followed. Their coverage of this important presidential campaign, again focusing on nonsense instead of the very important far-reaching issues that face the country and the world, does not give one much hope for any real change for the future. Remember, the media in this country helped make the case for the impeachment of a powerful president for a lot less serious offenses than this administration has been found guilty.
And what of PBS you might ask? Well, during this recent period the Public Broadcasting Stations were just about the only place one could hear dissenting or even questioning voices on television. As part of the Corporation for Public Broascasting, PBS depends on the US government for its operating budget plus donations from its viewers. Succeeding Republican administrations starting with Reagan have year after year slashed their budgets, forcing the stations to rely on more and longer fund-raising drives to bridge the gaps. The Bush administration went further appointing Ken Tomlinson to the CPB whose brief was to root out the left-leaning bias. Tomlinson was Reagan's head of Voice of America, and former editor of Reader's Digest, in other words a right wing activist for a long time. To illustrate how things have changed, when Nixon complained about PBS coverage of him and the Viet Nam war, the chairman of the CPB resigned in protest, and a Republican Representative from Texas led the national effort to stop the meddling. 
Imagine that happening today