And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin' . . .”
We graduated. Tomasino waited for the high school boy-gangs to break up before pulling his men together. Bobby Siers was on the mend – TEE’s wound was not, yet. Our 'hood was more than just guys and girls who knew each other; we were family, protected by our fathers until they left us. Even though graduation elevated us to be “older guys” – TEE and his were “men”. People who lived outside the ‘hood were not in the family and fair game to retribution. Bobby told TEE that he didn’t know any of the three attackers – which I think made him angry. Bobby was trying to man-up by saying he didn’t want and need his help. Of course, some thought we should just let it be but that’s not in our genes or TEE’s way of living in peace. He needed payback.
Revenge was never
the motive of Eugene
Bull figured that the folks of Birmingham needed protection so he watched over them while they fire-bombed the Greyhound bus and the mob beat the freedom riders until they left – bloodied and bruised – and that was the end of the ”freedom ride”. The ride started in the spring from D.C. and got to South Carolina where the riders suffered their first beating - someone needed to piss and went into a “white only” bathroom. Martin Luther King did not participate in the ride, but generously granted a dinner with the riders and cautioned a reporter “You will never make it through Alabama”. Well, I guess you could call him prophetic; Marie’s dad called him something else.
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Joey fed my growing awareness between music and what was happening down in the south. Seems that I too quickly rejected the importance of coffee house music when I learned that Pete Seeger folk-guy re-wrote a song popular in the tobacco fields and called it “We shall Overcome”. The student non-violent committee adopted it and Joan Baez recorded it and it became the anthem for their movement. Marie’s father bought the record. The more I read about Seeger, I realized he had some other big hits “Turn Turn Turn” (later recorded by one of my to be favorite bands The Byrds) and “If I had a Hammer” recorded by (and bought by Marie’s father) a trio called Peter, Paul and Mary. It was about danger and warnings and freedoms. These were not popular songs in the ‘hood and we didn’t sing ‘em on our streets but many roadways came alive to the tune of “we shall overcome some day”. These were not songs about kisses and lovers – these were songs about social justice and brothers and sisters.
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Rock and roll only appeared to be dead and the established adult radio stations were releived. Whenever it was that rock and roll started, it is clear that racial tension was knotted to it and both were rising. This musical form combined the elements of black and white and it was no co-incidence that my music provoked such strong reactions all across America. The connection was, in fact, so fundamental in my being that with the downfall of the back-beat rhythm I became miserable. Marie tried to pull me out of it but didn’t she understand that I became worse-off seeing that my soul mate didn’t hurt like me?
I re-called how good it felt back in the late-fifties when a new record came out every week and our energy would invade the soda shops and pool halls and street corners. We had our own quartet that spent hours singing last weeks tunes while learning the newest; we would ask them to croon for special occasions like when you asked a girl to go steady and kids in the ‘hood came to hear the proposal – not so much for what she would say because she always said “yes”. It was the song – and I heard the call. There was musical excitement in the restless streets and passion in my soul. There was no social or political theme then – only energy. Maybe it’s a good thing that it lasted only two years because it began to take over every movie (Jailhouse Rock) and every dance (All Shook Up) and the airwaves (That’ll be the Day and Hound Dog and Peggy Sue and Long Tall Sally and Maybellene) - and me.
BUT, along came Perry Como and “Catch a Falling Star” and Kay Starr with her “Rock and Roll Waltz” and it seemed like it was Elvis versus the world. I can’t tell what happened; confusion gripped me - suddenly I could feel what was about to happen – she didn’t.
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“Summertime” is a song of the South – this summer the livin’ would not be easy.
The “freedom riders” would not just go away. The second interstate ride began in Nashville; destination, Birmingham. The seven men and three women had a date with Eugene Connor and “Bull” was prompt. Stopped at the city limits, all ten were arrested for violation of segregation laws. They were put in jail and it hit the news. The Presidents brother, Bobby, got on the phone with the governor of Alabama and several calls later a bus and driver were dispatched, under protection of state troopers, to Birmingham. Bus at the station and prisoners to be released from jail, the troopers went home. The ten riders had only a short walk to the Greyhound – between them a large white mob that beat them badly; some left with permanent injuries. The police finally showed up, with an injunction for the beaten to cease any rides to freedom. Like a bird on the wire, MLK called down from Chicago and had the riders go to the Rev. Abernathy’s church. He got there, a bit later, and gave a speech outside the church and god blessed him with a mob greater than the one that beat the ten riders. Reverand King ducked into the church; called Bobby Kennedy asking for government help and the National Guard tear gas photos propelled him to new heights of prominence. It was the first time he ever heard that song “We Shall Overcome”. Yes, the riders limped home while ML went off to make more speeches and the summer of 1962 had just begun.
TEE found out!
Time to make his move on those who have harmed us.
It wasn’t till Bobby Siers got out of the hospital that I found out I knew these guys – at least two of them. Bobby warned me that they were the black guys at the Christmas Eve party we went to. One of them was on the second string varsity basketball team and I would always play with these guys in summer league at Marillac House. Once this big guy named “juice” gave me a shot right in the center of my chest and knocked me down flat because I stripped the ball away from him. I looked up at him, saw him grinning and he said “nice move, get up – your ball”. Summer ball didn’t need referees; it had its’ own rules and more so in the last couple years those rules included not crossing each others turf. I guess when Bobby and me went to that party, we crossed some line and now I realize that the only reason I was spared a knife attack was that I played ball. I had to ask Bobby if he told TEE about any of this and Bobby told me he had to 'cause TEE was gettin rough. That's how TEE fond out and was he going to get my ass, too?
And what about Darryl? I had to warn him. I left Bobby’s house and went looking for Marie. I knew she’d be O.K. with me talking to her dad about doin the right thing. ‘How’ to let Darryl know; ‘should’ was never the question.
Marie’s dad looked straight into my eyes and asked for Darryl’s address – I didn’t know it but I knew where he lived and I could point it out to him. He took me to his car telling Marie to wait in the house until we got back. We didn’t speak except for me saying some directions and “that’s his house”. He got out of the car. I was scared shitless he would ask me to go with him – I was hoping he could. At the doorway, he turned to look at me before he knocked and waved to me to come. I had to piss. On my way up the stairs he knocked on the door and quickly a slightly built but tall black man opened up. So here it was, two “men” lookin to forget about what happened past and needing to talk about what should happen next. They talked, without me hearing, and then the black man called to me;
“You need to go away for a while and you better go fast. If this TEE guy gets anybody, they’ll be comin after you. And you best thank "juice" that you're not dead already". Marie’s dad nodded that this man was right. Now we had to leave, without thanks, because the black father needed to care for his son.
“a time for peace, I swear it's not too late,"