Why am I doing this? Each of these postings takes me several hours at least to write, time which might be spent on any number of evidently more productive tasks: calling my mother; mowing the lawn; making money; enjoying life with my charming companion Helen. Some of the motivation comes from the music that issued from the 1960’s in an unparalleled wave, and the incomparable feeling of nostalgia ( a mixture of joy and sadness, dear reader) I experience whenever I am exposed, either in memory or audibly, to certain songs played on WBCN in those days. To slightly paraphrase J. – J. Rousseau: “….non seulement plusieurs de [ces] chansons me sont toujours restées dans la mémoire, mais qu’il m’en revient même, aujourd’hui que je l’ai perdue, qui, totalement oubliées depuis [ma jeunesse], se retracent à mesure que je vieillis, avec un charme que je ne puis exprimer. Dirait-on que moi, vieux radoteur, rongé de soucis et de peines, je me surprends quelquefois à pleurer comme un enfant en marmottant ces petits airs d’une voix déjà cassée et tremblante ?” * So it is to bathe, as it were, retrospectively in the melodies and memories of those years, half remembered, that I create these little vignettes.
“In the dime stores and the stations
People talk of situations
…in the terrible summer
Bloody red sun of fantastic L. A.
…like butterflies above our nation”
I also need to emphasize to myself that I was there, in a time and place and that these things really happened. If I forget I will lose an essential piece of myself. I really did work for WBCN. I really was in front of the Hines Auditorium on the night of March 18, 1971, arms locked with other demonstrators against Spiro Agnew, who was making a speech inside. Of course my account of what is “real” will conflict with the memories of others whose memory is better than mine and who can speak more authoritatively than I about certain events and personalities of the day. But that does not mean that my experience was not real.
At the same time that we had locked arms against the police in front of the Hynes, inside “Frank Sinatra joined Vice President Agnew in cocktails [before] Mr. Agnew’s appearance next door at the Sheraton Boston”, reported the Boston Globe the next morning. The front page contained the image above and a story headlined “45 Americans Died in Vietnam Last Week”. The Boston Herald Traveler also covered the near riot outside Agnew’s speech, but, unlike the Globe, gave extensive front page coverage to the disastrous defeat and retreat of South Vietnamese troops following their incursion into Laos that week. Buried inside both papers were stories about a race riot at Boston Girl’s Latin. The Herald carried a touchingly detailed story about a suburbanite father who found his son dead of a heroin overdose in an upstairs bedroom.
In the late summer of 1971, when the Union was well on its way to being installed at WBCN; when I was in a relationship with a woman, J., who for the first time in my life I could say I loved, I walked through the streets of Somerville near Inman Square on an early Saturday afternoon, on my way to J.’s apartment on Webster Avenue.
I cut from one street of rickety three deckers to another, crossing a hot, dusty playground. Two young men were crossing a ball field in front of me. I could hear rock music playing from the street across the playground. One of the men was carrying a ten inch nickel plated crescent wrench. They were happily talking to each other. One made a quick gesture with the wrench. “Why”, I asked myself, “have they painted that crescent wrench with patches of red paint?” I walked on to the street at the other side of the playground. There was a small crowd of excited children and a couple of adults. A man knelt on the ground holding a ten year old boy in his arms. The boy seemed to be unconscious. He had been beaten around the head and shoulders and was covered in blood.
* “…not only have some of these songs remained in my memory, but what I had lost is even coming back to me today, totally forgotten since my youth, re-impressed to a certain extent as I grow older, with a charm that I cannot express. Could it be said that I, in my dotage, ravaged by pain and cares, surprise myself by weeping like a child while murmuring these little songs in a voice already broken and trembling?” Confessions, Vol 1.