February 2, 2019
A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
You have to be almost as old as God herself to remember this, but 60 years ago today Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Richie Valens died in a snowy plane crash at Clear Lake , Iowa. I, too, learned about it from the headlines I read during my paper route the following morning. It’s a long, long time ago.
January 24, 2019
When I was eleven years old I lived in Ruislip Gardens which is a tiny suburb of Ruislip which, in turn, is a small suburb hanging on to the western edge of London. I had a newspaper route which I took care of seven days a week starting at six each morning.
In London in those days we had a dozen or more daily newspapers and each subscriber to our delivery service could receive any permutation of papers. Most houses took two papers, and some many more. Sorting the right papers into the the right order in the right bags was a vital part of each morning’s routine at the shop.
By Christmas 1960, I was one of the senior delivery boys and had thus inherited a long route that covered the main road from Ruislip Gardens to Ruislip and included several side streets along the way. It took almost two hours and I sure earned my breakfast every day. On school days, it was split between two boys.
One of the side streets to which I delivered newspapers every day was Cranley Drive. And at 45 Cranley Drive lived a Canadian couple, Helen and Peter Kroger. I know I delivered papers to them but I don’t recall them at all, not even from the Christmas tip. However, in January 1961, the Krogers were arrested, and I do remember the street being closed off one cold morning by police cars and constables. It was revealed over the next few months that the Krogers were really Russian spies Morris and Lona Cohen, and that their basement on Cranley Drive included a sophisticated radio communications setup with Moscow.
It seemed exciting to a young kid in those dangerous days of Atom spies, the Third Man, Checkpoint Charlie. And I have kept my fascination with moles and sleeper cells ever since.
January 15, 2019
Today we celebrate the remembrance of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, but it is also the 90th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King jr, a true American martyr, and a genuine hero to so many of us.
He never claimed to be perfect, but he sure made us think. Hard to imagine he’s been gone more than 40 years.
January 15, 2019
One hundred years ago today, on 15th January 1919, the Spartacist heroes Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were tortured and murdered by fascist Freikorps mercenaries of the German social democratic government.
Who remembers that government today? No-one. But the memory of the two heroes lives on in glory. As Luxemburg wrote on the day of her death, speaking as the embodiment of the masses: “I was. I am. I shall be!”
November 22, 2018
Fifty-five years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car. It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.
I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter. The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed. I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said. John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.
Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him. He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents. We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.
Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver. We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.
November 19, 2018
Today is the 103rd anniversary of the murder by the state of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.
A minute’s silence, and then back to the important work that still remains unfinished.
November 18, 2018
Forty years ago today, in the jungles of Guyana, an extraordinary event took place: the mass suicide (along with some murders) of more than 900 followers of the Reverend James Jones. Almost all the victims were Americans, voluntarily drawn somehow into Jones’ mix of mysticism and socialism, drawn somehow to follow him, mostly willingly, even over the cliff of death into “revolutionary suicide.”
More than half the Jonestown population were women, many with infant children whom they obediently fed kool-aid and cyanide on that last day, forty years ago today.
Cyanide takes a few minutes to kill and it is not a pleasant way to go. But if you are ever tempted to romanticize these deaths, perhaps it is best to remember the radical brainwashing needed to bring hundreds of mothers to the extremes of mass murder and suicide.
Jones joined the “revolutionary suicide” with a bullet to the brain, his ideas forgotten, his death glorified as a gratuitous cult. Guns and knives did for several more about whim no-one speaks. Not many survived, not many at all. The people fade into the background, but the event remains.