Home > 1, Music, Puerto Rico, The Music Business, The Virgin Islands > Book 1. Isla Grande #7, El Ultimo Trolley And Book 4. Juxtapositions…

Book 1. Isla Grande #7, El Ultimo Trolley And Book 4. Juxtapositions…

Book 1. Isla Grande #7,  El Ultimo Trolley

In the Dark Age just before Gale found our salvation in Rock and Roll, one day out of the blue our Pop or, the man we knew as “Frankie” showed up ah… came to visit. He peeked in on Howard, in bed with a bottle of Don Q, spoke “be-bop jargon” to Mother (Gale and I had some sort of linguistic flashback, we hadn’t heard “be bop” since we were babes in arms, all in all, considering the wild and varied verbilations that we sprang from and were steeped in, it’s  wonderly that we speak any Angleish ‘tall. “Fee is uk and foo is ock mon! No?”

Frankie wasted no time in showing us how much fun that we’d been missing, Laughing, joking, singing, punch ball, stoop ball, stick ball. Hey ya want some ice cream? Sure, why not! He spent two days with us and when he left, we were so frigging turned inside out, bummed and depressed that it was beyond words. What the frig are adults thinking?

It wasn’t that Howard was a bad guy it’s just that he was chronically disabled by the rum, he was a drunk guy that stayed in bed drinking and throwing up, Mud scrambled all over the place juggling Howard, Little Larry (who was home from the hospital and sleeping in a drawer) Gale and me and whatever freelance typing jobs she could find in Puerto Rico for secretaries who don’t speak the language, and God help us,  her own wants, needs and dreams.

I accept the possibility that I may have been somewhat pre-occupied with self  at ten, nevertheless, I loved my Mudder and even I knew that this life was not what she had in mind when she and her beautiful twin sister Lea, skipped blithely away from the life they knew, to the Frangipangi scented trade winds, blue seas and blue skies of the Bonny Bongo Isles. Mud was a Jazz baby (in fact Baby was her nickname) and music was a central part of her heart and soul. Her most prized possession by far was a steamer trunk filled with her “Jazz baby” collection of 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s 78’s. This is Billie Holiday, Early Sarah Vaughan, Ella, Julie Christy, Dakota Staton, Billy Eckstein, Mr. Five by Five, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan, Gale’s own God Father Dizzy Gillespie, and many many others.

To any hip music lover, the trunk was worth ten times its weight in gold. A local department store agreed and allowed her to use her collection as collateral for a loan, a loan which she eventually could not repay and one day in the dark ages they came and took Mother’s mother lode of music and happiness away.

I will never be able to explain to you what that means if you don’t already know, and if you know, you know.

I was not able to understand how Howard would allow that to happen. Why he didn’t stick up a Muelberia, or a Lechonirea,  or ultra leverage heaven and hell somehow, someway, anyway, to get it back. That is until years later, in St. Thomas, all grown up and talking with him about music, he proudly announced to me that his favorite musical artist/singer of all time, was Edie Gorme.

Anyway, shortly after Frankie’s visit and the loss of Mother’s most centrally important possession, we lost the pad on Ashford Avenue and moved to a part of Santurce called Ocean Park.

Ocean Park was a “working class” neighborhood very light on anglish and very heavy on macho. And, to tell you the truth, (even though it was always maximo stressful to maintain) macho worked for me. Although I was significantly undersized and underweight, I could run and leap and field and throw and bat and all around play ball with the best. We were going to “Santa Terisita” (I had just started the sixth grade) and los Guapos (the tough guys) in the neighborhood  were amazed and proud that “Ocean Park” had a “little Gringito”  who seemed fearless and could and would catch “all the fuego” that they or anybody else could throw. Ocean Park had a little Guapito Gringito to call it’s own.

As a little white boy in the West Indies, my basic defense mechanism was an absolute commitment to death over dishonor, to dying rather than to be thought of and treated as less than. The boys from Ocean Park and I had good times playing ball in the school yard at Santa Teresita (where even though I was the smallest, I was one of very few who could hit the ball over the wall) and at a poetically named place that resides in my imagination still, like some perfect Spanish three word  haiku “El Ultimo Trolley”.

This field of dreams was a sandlot large enough for a traditional baseball diamond, along the right field line was an actual old trolley car (the last trolley car in PR, or El Ultimo Trolley). Why a thing like that would stimulate such romantic feelings in me even as a boy, is a fine mystery. (My imaginings relating to it run more to Panama hats and Pan Am Clippers,  than to baseball caps and the Yankee Clipper), in spite of the fact that it was the first place that I had ever actually played on a baseball diamond. I, up to that time had great and highly developed skills for alley ball or coconut trees in the middle ball or a sock with a rock in the middle ball, but…diamonds? Fortunately my skills as a stone throwing ragamuffin were transferable, and the baseball diamond was grooveland for me.

I had a great arm, (trained and fine tuned in St. Thomas “teefin” mangos by knocking them out of the tops of trees)  so I was a Center fielder and a pitcher. (Frankie was a great pitcher too and tried out for the “New Yawk G’ints”, his dream of dreams was to be the boy in his poem “Now Pitching For New York!” (a poem unfortunately lost to the depredations and natural disassemblage of life and the things of life in beer can ridden rusty trailers on the skeeter riddled edge of the western Everglades). Were it not for Jazz, ball might have been Frankie’s thing, And were it not for “just around the corner Rock and Roll”, ball might have been my thing also.

Around that time Gale and I were put out of school for the family’s inability to pay the tuition. Mud tried kitchen table school  but with the afore-mentioned set of responsibilities that she had, good old book larnin’  went the way of the wind.

Meanwhile, Shortly after Father’s visit, he sent us a smiling photograph of himself standing next to an almost new car with a beautiful Blonde woman and a brand new little baby in his arms. Gale and I felt pretty much completely abandoned.

 A couple of things occurred to cheer things up, one was me smacking the neighborhood bully in the face so hard that he burst into tears, and the other was Howard finally landing the Civil Engineering job that had been the carrot that had brought us all to La Isla Grande two and a half years earlier, in the first place. Continued…..

 Book 4. Juxtapositions…

 Last night a young man brought a pristine copy of “SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES” to the Saturday night gig at the Collective (The Middletown Area Arts Collective or MAAC), for me to sign. Digital Dave took an interesting photograph of the young gent and me holding the record between us and shaking hands.

What a frigging “Plur-iverse” of thought and emotion the occasion stimulates and unleashes in me.

The young man was interested in talking about what happened with “SOON” (My January 1971 Broadway produced Rock Opera and the backlash that it created in the music business towards my writing partner Joe  and I) You can be sure that in time I will exhaust all there is to say about SOON, but in the meantime, “SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES” in itself was a good illustration of how wide the chasm between “show” (meaning the art of show and the show of art) and “Business” was and is.

 In 1967, Jerry Shoenbaum was the head of Verve-Forecast, the hottest “Folk-Rock” label in the world, My manager at the time, Herb Gart (who I had signed with in hopes of rubbing noses with his client Buffy Saint Marie,) shopped SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES to Jerry, he loved it and was about to sign me and the album to Verve-Forecast, when ATCO (who wanted to get in on the Folk-Rock market), offered Jerry the presidency of ATCO and Bo-coup fazools if he would leave Verve and come there. Jerry said Ok, but I’m bringing Scott Fagan and “SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES” along to be my first release on ATCO, so… while Jerry negotiated his deal, it was decided that I should go ahead and sign with ATCO, which I did. However, ATCO never came to terms with Jerry, Jerry Schoenbaum never signed with ATCO. And there I was. It happens that I loved ATCO because Ben E. King and The Drifters, who had been my favorites for years were there, but ATCO, basically Ahmed Ertigun, was not well inclined towards me, or my album (To Ahmed I was “the kid who sings with a lisp”), and on the other hand, I considered him a jiveass racist thief) and naturally, the new incoming head of ATCO Jerry Greenberg, (one of Ahmed’s protégés) was not at all inclined to elevate and promote Jerry Schoenbaum’s pet project. In short, “SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES” got buried at ATCO.

Folks can argue the reletive merits and quality of the lisping, the songs and the recording back and forth all they want (and they do) but Jasper Johns discovered “SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES” in a cutout bin, listened and fell in love with it. Jasper did a lithograph of the A Side of the album and immortalized it as “SCOTT FAGAN RECORD” a lithograph that wound up in the permanent collection of the National Gallery, MOMA, The Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, The Israeli Museum in Tel Aviv, and many others, among them perhaps most ironically, the personal collection of Ahmed Ertigun himself.

 In my view, “SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES” is a good and interesting, first album or “record” by and of a sincere and fairly unusual artist at a particular time and place. The follow-up album was to have been the Rock Opera “SOON” (which we will finally be able to release this year, better a little late than never)

I am in it for the music, the impact that it may have for the good, and the hope for positive change in the lives of my little ones and the worlds that they live in. That’s how it was, that’s how it is and that’s how it will be…   

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