Friday, February 13, 2015

Slow Train

“Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition
But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency
All non-believers and men stealers talking in the name of religion
And there's slow, there's slow train coming up around the bend.”
            “Slow Train,” Bob Dylan

Recorded in 1979 at Muscle Shoals with Mark Knopfler on guitar, “Slow Train” was also lead song on the 1989 live album Dylan recorded with the Grateful Dead.  If the train is a symbol of a coming apocalypse, the slow speed may indicate deliverance is not coming any time soon.  The reference might be a nod to Woody Guthrie and the traditional folk tune, “This Train Is Bound for Glory.” The song harks back to Dylan’s early “finger pointing” anthems with its indictment of man’s inflated ego and outdated laws that would have “Jefferson turning over in his grave” in “the home of the brave.”

At a MusiCares event in his honor Dylan thanked performers who first popularized his songs, such as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, The Turtles, and Jimi Hendrix.  Razzing those who took exception to the sound of his voice, he said: “They say I sound like a frog.  Why don’t critics say that about Tom Waits?  Critics say my voice is shot.  That I croak.  Why don’t they say that about Leonard Cohen?  What have I done to get this special attention?”  Dylan’s parting words, according to columnist George Varga, were: “I’m going to get out of here.  I’m going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it.  Let’s hope we meet again.  And we will, as Hank Williams said, ‘If the good lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise.’”

The first time Dylan played Merrillville’s Holiday Star it was during his born-again Christian phase. I didn’t go, only to hear that he performed many old hits, as well as songs from “Slow Train Coming.”   His second appearance I made sure to go, and he was great, playing with a tight-knit quartet of artists, including SNL bandleader G.E. Smith.  The warm-up band was so loud, however, that many folks walked out, including IUN professor George Roberts.

My favorite Dylan numbers are “When the Ship Comes In,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Monkey Man” (with the Traveling Wilburys), and “Idiot Wind.”  The latter, which references Woody Guthrie’s “Grand Coulee Dam” folk song, is on “Blood on the Tracks,” along with “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.”  Solid gold!

Nicole Anslover showed excerpts of an Eleanor Roosevelt documentary that candidly spoke about FDR’s womanizing and the First Lady’s passionate attraction to both lesbian Lorena Hickok and bodyguard Earl Miller, 12 years her junior.  Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook declared that Eleanor was probably bisexual and enjoyed ardent, romantic relationships with both women and men.  Cook might have added that bisexuality was somewhat in vogue among dynamic “New Women” of the 1920s, including poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and artist Georgia O’Keefe.  After O’Keefe married photographer Alfred Stieglitz, both had affairs with women, and, in the case of Rebecca Strand, the same women.
above, Edna St. Vincent Millay; below, Georgia O'Keefe

During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s Blues singers Bessie Smith and Gertrude “Ma” Rainey were lovers and had other affairs with both women and men.  Known as the “Mother of the Blues,” Rainey in 1925 got arrested in Chicago for allegedly participating in an orgy with women in her chorus and got bailed out by Bessie Smith.  Her 1928 song “Prove It on Me,” talks about going out in drag wearing a collar and a tie and contains these lyrics:

“They say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me. 
Sure got to prove it on me. 
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. 
They must’ve been women, cause I don’t like no men. 
Wear my clothes just like a fan,
Talk to the gals just like any old man.”
 Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

Blanche Wiesen Cook asserts that Eleanor encouraged the affair between her husband and Missy LeHand (almost as good a name as Cubs first baseman during the 1970s Pete LaCock), who inherited half his estate upon his death.  On FDR’s funeral train, however, upon learning that his old flame, Lucy Mercer, was with him when he died, she was upset that he had broken his promise never to see her again.

Nicole pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt continued to be a liberal force in the Democratic Party during the Truman administration and up to the time of her death.  She also repeated a trivia question asking for Eleanor’s maiden name; the answer was Roosevelt although her side of the family pronounced it as if it rhymed with two, not toe.

Searching the Gary collection in the Archives for Harry Hall’s autobiography,  “My Story,” I came across Margaret Cook Seeley’s “My Life in Gary, 1911-1956.” It was a Xerox copy of a manuscript I’d picked it up from Margaret Seeley in Hobart 30 years ago when she loaned me photos for Steel Shavings.  Born August 23, 1911, at St. Mary Mercy, Seeley starts the story on day 1 of her life:

  “I was in a front upstairs room next to one occupied by a mentally disturbed women.  She couldn’t stand to hear me cry so she came into Mother’s room with a knife ready to kill me.  My mother screamed to save my life.  She had already had a brutal delivery as many were in those days.  This, added to the threat of having her baby murdered, sent her into a high fever.  They packed her in ice.  Meanwhile, they had to find something to feed me.  Eagle brand condensed milk came to the rescue.

My brother Jack was born July 16, 1913.  Mother wasn’t taking any chances this time and had good Dr. Evans deliver the baby at home, 558 Connecticut.  As kids Jack and I took turns riding our Irish Mail cart up and down Connecticut Street.  We played with cardboard boxes in the backyard.  One time I bit Jack, so Mother tied me to the fence post and said if I was going to bite like a dog, I’d have to be tied up like one.  I never bit again.  Once I wandered away from home and ended up in Simpson’s Furniture Store.  They took me to the police station where I was reunited with my mother.

There was a butter and egg store near Sixth and Broadway where the clerks slid behind the counter on sawdust.  Jack and I thought that would be great fun.  One day when Mother went to town we buttered the kitchen floor with a pound of butter.  We slid and slid.  When she got home, she was horrified to say the least!

Mother was pretty slick.  We ate calves liver because she told us it was special beef steak.  We ate rabbit and thought it was the breast of chicken.  We didn’t complain too much when served corn meal mush because she said that was Santa Claus’s favorite meal.  The only spanking I ever had was when I refused to eat the fat on a pork chop. We were supposed to clean our plates.  Yes, we heard about the poor starving children.

Most millworkers carried a large aluminum lunch pail to work.  There was an upper tray for coffee and a lower part for lunch.  When dad came home from work, we kids would run to see what surprise he had in his lunch pail for us.  Sometimes it would be huckleberries he had picked along the slip that was the inlet to the mill from the lake.  Sometimes it was sassafras bark he had dug along the E.J. and E. tracks.  We loved sassafras tea; Mother called it pink tea. Sometimes it was just leftover food, which we ate.  Once it was a little gopher he had caught.  He got a kick out of surprising us.

Dad smoked one cigarette a day, and that was in bed.  Just as I passed their bedroom one night, I noticed smoke coming up from the side of the bed.  I asked where the smoke was coming from.  He jumped up and began pounding out the fire with his pillow.  He never smoked in bed again.

Our company house was so hot in the summer.  At night I’d pull my bed to the window so I might get a breath of air.  If that didn’t work, I’d take my pillow and sheet downstairs.  Doors were left open.  The milkman would wake me up in the morning with his clattering bottles.

At Cressmoor Lanes James Smith rolled a 300, then got nine more strikes in a bid for a second perfect game.  He finished with a 797 series, almost twice my total for the night.  Teammate Frank Shufran, 82, bowled a series in the high 500s.  He works out daily and takes long walks with his dog, sometimes carrying the pet if it tires before Frank.  he once rolled 17 strikes in a row over two different games.

“Say It Ain’t So,” headlined the Chicago Tribune in reaction to Little League officials stripping Jackie Robinson West of its title as U.S. champs.  The offense: recruiting players outside its district and then covering it up with a fraudulent district map.  “Say It Ain’t So” supposedly is what a boy said to Chicago White Sox player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the aftermath of the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series scandal.  One wonders whether the South Korean or Las Vegas rosters would stand the same scrutiny.
George Van Til; Post-Tribune photo by Jim Karczewski

Judge James Moody sentenced George Van Til to 18 months in federal prison for actions that are probably standard practice for public officials.  While Van Til admitted to wrongdoing, he claimed (and I believe him) that he never took a bribe or threatened anyone.  My heart goes out to him, as his enemies bearing a grudge against him pretty much destroyed his reputation and his health.  Ed Bierschenk of the NWI Times reported: The government pointed to a document that contained a report of a phone call made to the FBI in June 2012 by Speros Batistatos, president and chief executive officer of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. According to the report, Batistatos told of a conversation on a trip to a White Sox game where a worker in Van Til's office spent her time doing political work.”

Home due to lake effect snow, I caught up on “The Americans” (my favorite TV show) and checked out the new AMC series “Better Call Saul,” a “Breaking Bad”  prequel about a shyster attorney.  I’ve been partial to lawyer shows since “Perry Mason.”  The Bulls defeated the Lebron James and the Cavaliers in Derrick Rose’s best game of the season.  In his summary of 2014 humorist Dave Berry wrote: “Lebron James decides to return to Cleveland, revealing his decision in a heartfelt and deeply personal first-person story written by Lee Jenkins.  Overjoyed Cavalier fans rush to purchase Lebron James jerseys to replace the ones they burned when he left.”
above, Derrick Rose; below, Tony Zale and mom

“Tony Zale: The Man of Steel” by Thad Zale and Clay Moyle contains a wealth of photos, some from the Archives and many I’d never seen before.  One with his mother shows the fighter sporting black eyes. On “Boxing Glove” website Peter Silkov mentioned that in 1915 when Zale was two years old, his dad died while bicycling to get medicine for him at a pharmacy.

Ron Cohen told me that historian Vicki Ruiz interviewed Ed Escobar’s mother Carmen for her book on cannery worker.  Checking in Index of “From Out of the Shadows,” I noticed Carman also appeared in the article on “Flappers and Chaperones,” telling Ruiz that she could entertain boyfriends at home only if her mother or brother were present.  During the 1930s Carmen worked for California Sanitary Canning Company and is quoted in a chapter entitled “With Pickets, Baskets and Ballots.” A union stalwart, Carmen told Ruiz, “My father was a busboy and to keep the family going in order to bring in a little more money my mother, my grandmother, my mother’s brother, my sister, and I all worked together at Cal San.”

On day one of the Jeopardy teachers tournament all three contestants went into Final Jeopardy with about $13,000.  The category was World Geography, and the question asked for a river that, though only 1569 miles long, has 29 cities of over 100,000 on its banks.  Two knew the answer, Ganges, but the third first wrote Danube (my guess), but only got down the first two letters of Ganges and lost $10,000.  On day two the final category was Names on a Map and asked for the name of an English explorer whom nothing is known about prior to 1600 or after 1611.  I knew the answer was Henry Hudson but none of the contestants did.  With his ship Discovery trapped during the winter of 160-16112 in Hudson Bay, the crew mutinied when Hudson wanted to resume efforts to discover a Northwest passage rather then return home and set his and his son aboard a small boat.  He was never heard from again.

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