Talk about a case of be careful what you ask for, because you might get it. I complained about a non-fiction book I recently reviewed, saying that it ran wild with unverified facts and the author’s opinions substituted for historical truth. Well, those are not among the faults to be found in Andrew Grant Jackson’s new book “1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music.” Whether it has other faults depends upon how seriously a reader takes the subject of popular music. This book is footnoted and indexed. It also contains the best four-page summary of the Vietnam War I have ever read. If you are a music freak with a love of rock music and the soul of a librarian you will enjoy Jackson’s work. For those who hated school and couldn’t wait to escape back to the stereo in their bedroom or to the garage band practice space, I’d say check out something else.
I admit to bias on this question. I’m one of the garage band kids. But they gave me this book to review, and I’m going to review it. I also enjoy the study of history, and as I said, the author’s non-musical thumbnail sketches of events like Vietnam are excellent. I won’t argue about Jackson’s ‘Most Revolutionary’ subtitle, either. I could, and if I did, I’d use one of those 1950’s years that contained Little Richard, Wanda Jackson, Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis all making music at the same time. But the year 1965 included Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” and that song by itself brings a lot of weight to the argument. Besides, if you’re talking decades instead of years, the 1960’s wins the revolutionary award hands down, and ‘65 is as good a year to select from it as any.
“1965” is well-written and packed with information. It will help you in your next ‘best of’ argument with a fellow music geek. You know: who’s the best band, best guitarist, best vocalist. I’d look forward to a future book from Mr Jackson titled “Most Revolutionary Performer”. My vote would go to Little Richard, with runner-ups Elvis, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. I say this to encourage Mr Jackson. But lighten up a little next time around.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret on RI Free Radio)
Notes From The 3rd Shift: Book Review - “Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group”
“Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!...My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group” by Dennis Dunaway, Alice Cooper’s bass player in his original ‘60s-early ‘70s band, is a must-read. Not only because it will send you scurrying like a musical retro-rat to the dusty box at the back of your closet to dig out Alice Cooper CDs with names like Easy Action and Love It to Death and
Billion Dollar Babies, but because this book also has the Black Juju power to send you out the front door to the nearest dive bar in search of live music.
Really. At least it’s true if you held a lighter instead of a smartphone in the air at arena rock shows. It might even be true if an old person gave you the book for your birthday, and you’re actually trying to read it because they grounded you, and took your phone away for doing something really fun and really stupid, and you’re bored. People do lots of fun stupid things in the book. Dunaway could have added a whole extra set of exclamation-pointed words to the title: “Drugs! Sex! Chickens!” He disinters an era of music and demented goings-on that deserve to be relived. And the music needs to be heard, because of its quality.
In that box at the back of my closet, along with the best of Alice Cooper, are CDs of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, MC5, Lou Reed, and Paul Butterfield. Dunaway knew many of the musicians in these bands personally. His stories about them, especially Jim Morrison, are highlights in the book. So are his accounts of the girlfriends, groupies, GTOs, and assorted freaks and geeks of Hollywood Boulevard.
But it’s obvious he still holds a special love for his own Alice Cooper group. Especially for his high school buddy Vince Furnier (aka Alice), and guitarist Glen Buxton. According to Dunaway, Rolling Stone Magazine named Buxton one of the hundred best rock guitarists. Listen to the Love It to Death album and judge for yourself. Read the book and judge that for yourself, too. I think you’ll be glad you did both.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret on RI Free Radio)
Notes From The 3rd Shift: Book Review - “Just A Shot Away: Peace Love and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont”
The Grateful Dead are more to blame than the Rolling Stones for the concert at Altamont, and the murder of Meredith Hunter by the Hells Angels did not take place during ‘Sympathy for the Devil”, but four songs later during “Under My Thumb”. These are the two major takeaways from Saul Austerlitz’s new book, “Just A Shot Away: Peace Love and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont”. So the Stones lose a bit of evil lustre. There goes the satanic ritual/human sacrifice angle so dear to the hearts of suburban 16-year-olds listening to “Beggars Banquet” in the 1970s on their cassette players, arguing about which rock band was the most evil.
The illusions of youth must die sometime.
Austerlitz describes the Stones as disinterested, not diabolical. The Hells Angels are brutal thugs. The concert organizers are both incompetent and self-interested. The audience of 300,000 is drunk, high, and delusional. All the elements for what the author calls a ‘misbegotten’ show are in place (great word, if used too many times).
The book is fascinating. Who knew the Grateful Dead were responsible for most of the
organizing, and that they turned chicken and ran to a helicopter to escape the violence they’d helped bring about? Or that they and others behind the fiasco tried to put together a major event in less than a week? Or that Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane got punched in the face for swearing at a Hells Angel who complained the fans were knocking over and vandalizing the Angels’ motorcycles? Or that Meredith Hunter, the murder victim, was a junkie and not such a nice guy? Almost 300 pages of entertaining incidents and details.
Good job so far. Then, Austerlitz goes astray.
The story of Altamont has holes in it. Facts that will never be known. Of course it does. How could it not, when most of the witnesses to the event are guilty of criminal or at least irresponsible behavior, stupidity, and being loaded with alcohol, weed, and acid?
Unfortunately, Austerlitz chooses to fill in the narrative gaps himself.
He puts thoughts in people’s heads, words in peoples’ mouths. Describing the last moments of Meredith Hunter’s life, with music playing at rock concert volume amid screams of enthusiasm and terror, Austerlitz claims the dying Hunter, lying on the ground after being stabbed six times, said, “‘I wasn’t going to shoot you.’” He further claims the dying man said this “softly”. No source is given for this direct quote. It’s a shame Austerlitz chooses to discredit himself this way as a writer of fact, while writing about a subject he claims to care so deeply about.
Read the book, but don’t trust it too much. Just like Meredith Hunter and several other violence-and drug-induced casualties at Altamont learned the hard way not to trust all those professed ideals of peace and love preached by the ‘60s counterculture.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret on RI Free Radio)
So here we are at Terror Con, the crew of Rhode Island Free Radio.org. Also in attendance: evil clowns, a couple of zombie Star Wars troopers, a killer car, a battered Jurassic Park jeep, and aisle upon crowded aisle of merchandise vendors, food vendors, artists, authors, and a bunch of ‘B’ movie and TV show celebrities not getting as much attention as they’d like for their 30 dollar autographs and 50 dollar photos. It does my heart good to see the clowns, dead stormtroopers, and a faux Batman and Wonder Woman getting more attention than the grizzled oldster who played Danny Torrance in The Shining once upon a time. (You remember, the kid with the stupid haircut that rode the Big Wheel and talked to his finger.) There’s also Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees), some folks from The Walking Dead, the Cenobites from Hellraiser(minus Doug Bradley), Adrienne Barbeau, a Freddy Krueger pinball machine (Our own Tony Jones has his eye on the pinball machine), and last but not least a table full of RI Free Radio stickers, pins, CD’s and candy that needs to either be given away or thrown away by 5 pm Sunday afternoon.
Saturday, 9 am. We dose ourselves every hour with caffeine and sugar. Our self- promoting outgoing natures do not manifest without help before 2 pm. My outgoing nature threatens not to manifest at all after a conversation with the owner of Christine, the car I mentioned at the top of the first paragraph. Sad to relate, I found the present owner to be just as obsessed with the evil auto as the kid in the King novel and Carpenter’s movie adaptation. Can’t sit behind the wheel, can’t lean on it, can’t touch it. Oh, well. Just a missed photo op for Tony Jones and me and the rest of the RI Free Radio crew. My real concern is for that man’s family. I hope one of the demonologists at this event notices the state of affairs around that car and takes the proper steps.
11 am My mood revives with the arrival at our booth of two Lasik Girls. Cute, eager, intellectual. By the time they finish their pitch to restore our 20/20 vision, and the second one has discussed the conditions and problems threatening our world and their solutions, we have also been visited by robed cultists, a fanged leather-clad female vampire, Michael Myers, and Santa Claus. We give out CD’s, buttons, and stickers. I convince our Dj Psycho Eddie, a large man in prison garb and face-paint, to stop asking little kids if they want candy because it’s creeping me out. Ask the parents about the candy, I tell him. Give promo stickers to the kids to stick on mommy’s car. We try to talk somebody into slapping a RI Free Radio sticker on Christine’s back bumper, but nobody’s brave enough.
Sunday, 1 pm The day goes on. The pile of internet radio station merch in front of us goes down. We meet several possible recruits to our RI Free Radio Family. We teach you the internet radio ropes for free, we tell them, you won’t owe us any gigantic student loan amounts when you’ve finished learning. This is true. We take the commitments we make seriously. Less seriously do we take the inflatable T-rexes bopping down the aisle, or the Crypt Keeper’s voice screeching over the announcement intercom.
3 pm I have a problem of my own: for every single dollar in my pocket, there’s a Ben Franklin worth of stuff I want to leave with. Posters and Godzilla action figures, autographed books and signed pics, a set of erotic female monster stickers that stick to anything. That Freddy Krueger pinball machine (maybe I’ll talk to Tony about going halfsies on that)... Lasik eye surgery. Christine.
5 pm I settle for the erotic female monster stickers that stick to anything. For the rest, there’s next year.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret)
Fog creeps in the small hours of morning among the old grey buildings of Providence’s business district. It halos streetlights, and the headlights of the occasional wandering car or city bus. The salty tang of Narragansett Bay has drifted in with the fog. I can taste it when I go to the door for a breath of outside air to escape the mustiness of the building lobby. I’m halfway through the Third Shift on Tuesday morning, deciding if I have the balls to leave the security desk for another trip in the freight elevator down to the basement men’s room. I don’t want to, not after what I heard earlier tonight, but I washed down a small pepperoni pizza with three Diet Cokes and a Ginger Ale just after midnight, and there’s really no question I need to answer the call of nature.
The freight elevator door slides open at basement level, and I walk along a corridor lined with trash bins and maintenance doors to the men’s room. The bathroom door is ajar and the lights are on just as I left them. If anything’s waiting in there, I want to see it from the outside corridor. Not that I saw anything the first time, you understand, it’s only what I heard. But that doesn’t prevent me from imagining the possible owner of the mouth that hellish noise came from. I cross the tile floor to the urinal and unzip. Waiting for my bladder to agree that it needs to piss more than it wants to get out of here takes a minute or two.
I transferred to the Kurd’s Head Building from the apartment complex three weeks ago and up until now everything has been peaceful. Even the water cooled, century old boilers have not overheated, and the water pit that supplies them with water has not overflowed. The shriek I heard, that turned my spine to water just after I came on duty at eleven, does not reoccur by the time I finish my business.
It’s been two months since that night, and the shriek, enraged and nearly ultrasonic in its fury, has not been repeated. The most disturbing thing in that men’s room is the stained tile from a leaking urinal. Which explains, I suppose, why weird events become stories around campfiresand at Halloween parties and not documented phenomena. They don’t operate according to schedule. People who claim to collect solid evidence like detectives of the paranormal find their cases shot full of holes in the ordered scientific laboratory. This pleases me. Not everything in this world should be correlatable like an accountant’s business figures.
I’ve found myself in the neighborhood of life’s strange and unverifiable incidents several times. Sometimes it’s disturbing, sometimes amusing, a few times downright terrifying. I blog about some of them, use others in my short stories, or as material for my Haunted Cabaret internet radio show. Sometimes I decide it’s best to keep quiet and not tell at all. I do this not because these things are unspeakable, because nothing is unspeakable in our present day culture. Political correctness deals only with social indiscretions, not atrocities. Atrocities are reported with glee, by the media and in private conversation, with an affection that used to be reserved for adolescent love affairs.
Most of what you’ll see on the news that’s described as shocking and tragic: ISIS, the shooters killing children are media created. A small factual item is taken a terrorist attack, the murder of a kidnapped or abused child and amplified and glorified until it spawns a string of sequels. We love sequels, whether it’s Star Wars, Freddy Krueger the pedophile and cultural icon, or ISIS finding new and painful ways to kill people (The people we are fascinated to watch being tortured and killed lately are Christians, gays and women in general so much for America’s progressive agenda).
It’s impossible to describe, in suitable words, the feeling of waking in the pitch dark from a nightmare, frozen with terror, and feeling the indentation that sinks down the mattress as something heavy sits down at the foot of your bed. I can tell you about it, but I can’t describe the experience to make you feel what I felt. Even though this has happened to me several times, and once, something much worse.
So maybe there is such a thing as unspeakable. Not in terms of social taboos, at least not in this country, but in terms of words being insufficient to convey the extent of terror, like the time I saw the thing in the kitchen that almost stopped my heart. I can’t tell you about that any better than I just did. Words fail me...a terrible failure for a writer to admit. But they failed H. P. Lovecraft, who often resorted to piled up adjectives attempting to describe the ultimate horror, and St John the Divine, reduced to describing Paradise in terms of white bathrobes and golden stairs, so at least I’m in good company.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret)
Working 3rd Shift, I have experienced horrors: Walking security rounds at the apartment house of the Hissing Woman; listening to the 2 am dead voices at the burnedout Lincoln Mill Building; the shrieking in the basement men’s room of the Arab Head Building in downtown Providence.
When I got hired to work a 1st Shift sorting room job at the Christian Army building on the East Side of Providence, I thought I was leaving such experiences behind. But I learned differently the afternoon a woman at sorting table two started screaming about opening the trashbag of human body parts. You’d think a Christian institution would be less prone to horror. However, the CA is not Christian. It’s a business masquerading as a religious organization. Maybe that’s why Dora Kyle found the pieces of her dead son, or thought she did, and embarked upon her oneway trip from sorting room to Butler Hospital. I don’t know.
I got the job at the CA because I needed cheap furniture for my new apartment. I stopped by the CA’s second hand store on Central Ave. in Pawtucket. On the door I saw this sign: Help Wanted. Truck Drivers & Sorting Room. My night vision and depth perception don’t allow me to drive a big truck. Sorting room? Well, I enjoy flea markets. I told the hiring manager during my job interview the following week. She laughed and explained the sorting room was where they dumped out the bags of donations onto wooden sorting tables and separated the cloths from the shoes and the books from the toys.
She asked if I wanted to give the job a try. I said sure... and regretted it.
(To be continued...)
The Haunted Cabaret
On another 4th of July a long time ago we decided to find the best possible vantage point to watch the city fireworks display. One of my cousins suggested we sneak past the barriers and the security guards and lay up on the hill directly beneath the spot of sky where the fireworks would ascend and explode. So we did. Weed and alcohol were cheap and plentiful then, leading to great ideas. The rockets launched and the flowers bloomed and the white flashes thundered. When a smoking rocket fragment impacted next to my cousin Susan’s head, somebody, I think her friend Lisa, said maybe this is a bad idea. Somebody else said maybe we should move. But we held our places in the fallout zone because of course the falling piece of rocket had missed Susan’s head not hit it, missed by a good two feet, and the only thing actually hitting us so far was scraps of hot paper ash that didn’t even burn the skin if you brushed them off quick, not even the sensitive skin of the inner elbows as we lay with our hands behind our heads, looking up at the fireworks that flashed brighter and louder than they had any right to flash. Because that night, on another 4th of July, we were eighteen years old, and dodging the fallout, and the magic was in us and not in them.
The Haunted Cabaret
Sitting here at the security desk on third shift at the apartment complex. The elevator dings, the doors open, and out into the lobby rides Marine Bob on his motorized scooter. He takes a turn around the lobby, and pulls up next to the security desk.
“I’ve got cabin fever,” he says.
I don’t. I just got here an hour ago. “Those were good times,” he says, continuing a conversation nobody started. He looks at me.“This was down in Texas, back in the late 50s. The ranch foreman had me supervising this black work crew. He told me to make sure they called me Mr. Bob, and for me not to talk to them. You wouldn’t believe how they talked to their black workers down there. So one day I go to the store, and he sees me coming out with five sodas. He says, ‘I knew it! You’re talking to the blacks!’ Only he didn’t say blacks. You wouldn’t believe what he called them. And this was like 1958, 1960. So he says, ‘You’re staying here.’ Meaning right here at the ranch house. He puts me to work painting the ranch house.
“Now they have all these toads down there. I got bored painting the house so I started painting toads white. Pretty soon there’s all these white toads hopping around.“That night the ranch foreman says, ‘You got to get out of here!’ Turns out the family that owns the ranch is from Texas, but they originally came from New Orleans. All these white toads hopping around are giving them a fit. Something to do with Voodoo. They believe in black magic and all that stuff. They’re really superstitious...So between that,” Marine Bob concluded, “and me taking advantage of the Sheriff’s 15-year-old daughter, it seemed best to get out of town.” He waited for me to ask about the Sheriff’s daughter. I didn’t. Eventually he said goodnight, and piloted his motorized scooter back onto the elevator. Don’t worry. It doesn't matter that I didn’t ask. I’m sure I’ll be hearing the story of Marine Bob and the Sheriff’s daughter very soon.
My grandmother rushed into the parlor where I sat watching Sesame Street. She hurried to the curtains and pulled them closed even though it was a bright fall day. I had been sitting warm and comfortable in a healthy patch of sunlight on the rough embroidered rug in front of the TV.
“Shhh!” she said. “Be quiet!” My grandmother peeked through the curtains. She stepped back and made sure they were completely closed. She sat down on the couch. She got up again. She came over and lowered the volume on the television set to a whisper. This was 1970, a time before cable and remotes. I was 7 years old. She returned to the couch.“Shhh!” she repeated. “Come here!” “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Shhh! Don’t say anything. He’s coming up the stairs.”
I didn’t hear anything. What was coming? I sat, puzzled by my grandmother’s behavior. I felt... I’m not sure what. It’s all these years later. But perhaps I didn’t know then, either. I know I didn’t feel scared. She looked toward the closed curtain, an expression of contained fear on her face, then straight ahead at no particular object. Nothing seemed wrong except I couldn’t hear what Oscar was singing about on Sesame Street. This made me argumentative.“What’s the matter?” I asked. “What’s the matter?”“Shhh!” my grandmother said in a whisper.“A black boy’s outside on the porch. He’ll hear you!”
Black boy? I pictured a boy colored black, like the black crayon in my crayon box. I started to feel real impatience. I couldn't hear Sesame Street. Now I watched a silent Cookie Monster.
A knock on the kitchen door. Pause. Another knock. We sat in the drapery-filtered dimness. My grandmother fought dread. Is dread too strong a word? Substitute plain fear if you like. But I still remember the look of trapped helplessness on her face, and I deny any charge of false memory. When you’re seven, bizarre behavior from a trusted adult makes a lasting impression.
I couldn't hear Sesame Street. Finally, I grew impatient enough to stand up. My grandmother also stood. I felt her relief. The atmosphere in the room lightened. She said, “He’s leaving.”
My grandmother came over to the TV. She gave the Sesame Street muppets back their voices. Then she hurried to the kitchen. I walked to the window, parted the heavy curtains, and looked out. The boy the color of a black Crayola crayon, the dreadful thing that scared my grandmother, had gone. I’d missed it. There was nothing to see out there now except a boy a couple years older than me with brown skin knocking on the door of Aunt Clara’s house across the road.
I heard my grandmother coming back and closed the curtains. I don’t recall, but I’m sure she brought a snack, cookies and chocolate milk perhaps, to reward me for being quiet the day the terrifying black boy came to visit.
For the third time tonight I turn the corner and she’s there, glassy eyes bulging. The staring thing. Shuffling forward in green slippers and black nightgown along the stained carpet of the third floor hallway. She stops when she sees me. The right eye sees. The left eye is filmed over, like an Edgar Allan Poe story. She hisses deep in her throat. I wait until the reptilian sound fades. Finally she stirs herself, and speaks. From a dry throat, without much apparent practice at human speech. “I don’t know what’s the matter. I can’t sleep.”
Speaking, she becomes the non-supernatural resident of room 307 here at the Blessed Name apartment complex, where I work security weekends, 3rd shift. Doreen Lange. 85 years old. Lucky at Thursday night bingo. A bummer of change for the washing machine. With a strong resemblance to the dead woman in the bathtub in Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
On nights she can’t sleep, mind locked in semi-dementia, she plays scare the bejesus out of the security guard with me as I make my occasional rounds through the quiet corridors. I’m walking along, thinking of music, or sex, or maybe calling Domino’s for a pizza. Minding my own business. She likes to meet around corners.
Did I call these hallways quiet? I guess usually they are. But I’ve told you before about the noises in the small hours of morning. The voices raised in whines and pleading. Other voices raised in cadenced prayer. Not in a language I can understand, it’s not English or Spanish or Portuguese. A Russian friend stopped by long enough to tell me it wasn't Russian, then left in a hurry. “I’ll tell you: better you here than me,” he said. “You couldn't pay me.” Well, he has a pension. I need the money. Besides, it’s just old people in the hell of senility.
What do people in hell pray for? I wonder in idle moments. Eight hours of idle moments, sitting in the lobby staring at a reinforced glass door locked against the outside world. I make my round, come back to sit and
stare again. Thinking about what waits around corners. Staring like her. But at least I blink.
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