Categories
Selected Writings

The Coming of the Great Darkness, Pt. 1

My mother cried
When president Kennedy died
She said it was the communists
But we knew better
We were born
Born in the fifties
Born, born in the fifties

—The Police, “Born in the Fifties”

jackiejfk

Jackie Kennedy cradles her husband after bullets shot by snipers on the grassy knoll blew half his head off. This act of war against the United States, of high treason, changed the course of American history. The assassination, and the failure of our country’s leaders to bring the killers to justice was, and remains, the central fact, the darkness at the core of our American Republic.


I was in eighth grade when John Kennedy was killed. I remember standing in the cafeteria with the whole student body as a teacher told us that John Kennedy was dead in Dallas. I will never forget that day, the shock, the sadness: who among us of my generation will? We loved John Kennedy and the great promise of America, for all Americans, not just the few, that he embodied. If you were not there, you cannot really know how exciting it was—the killers killed so much more than a man that day.

Of course, they had to kill again, not just RFK, who would have, as president, brought his brother’s killers to justice, and Martin Luther King, who inspired millions with his grand vision for racial harmony and economic justice in this country, but many others involved with the original assassination, over the next fifteen years.

Our parents, who still trusted the institutions that shaped our nation—government and the media, mostly— told us that Lee Harvey Oswald did it. And then somehow, a distraught patriot managed to sneak into the Dallas Police department and kill Oswald. Many years later we would learn that Jack Ruby was a well-connected mobster with strong ties to Sam Giancana’s organization in Chicago. Ruby died of cancer in jail. Even as a kid, I knew the whole story smelled.

Approximately fifty days after the killing of our beloved President, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles made number one on the US charts. So the pain was masked, but never forgotten.

By 1968, our nation was in full ferment. We were fully engaged in Vietnam; young men were dying for no reason. Our friends who had engineered the killing of JFK were, among other things, shipping massive amounts of heroin from the Golden Triangle to the ghettos of America.  Massive protests against the war and for civil rights—this was before political correctness split the left into a hundred pieces—rocked the nation’s campuses. Bobby Kennedy advanced steadily on the presidency. Martin Luther King’s rhetoric and influence had reached a new level of power and influence.

The very next day, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. For a plausible reconstruction of the plot to kill him, I recommend James Ellroy’s,”The Cold Six Thousand.” (More on that book later.)

On that tragic day, Robert F. Kennedy said:

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

Later, at Dr. King’s memorial service, Richard Nixon, the always Mob-friendly Darth Vader of twentieth century American politics, leaned over to whisper hello to Jacqueline Kennedy, black-draped in the pew ahead, and received an icy stare in return.

And the powers that be were getting nervous as the sixties came to a close.

While Richard Nixon was planning his political comeback, everyone knew Bobby Kennedy would be a shoo-in for the presidency. RFK was, of course, assassinated on June 5 of 1968. I recommend Ellroy’s book for a plausible reconstruction of how that plot developed. (As an aside, I came across an interesting article the other day about the RFK killing: Did the CIA kill Bobby Kennedy?)

Nixon was elected President. Four years of nightmares followed, although he was forced to do a few things, like create the  Environmental Protection Agency, which Bush has now nearly dismantled.

While running for re-election in 1972, Nixon apparently got very nervous about information that the Democrats might have about a loan Howard Hughes had made to Nixon’s brother Donald. A crew was dispatched to burgle the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. This led to the the near-impeachment and subsequent resignation of Richard Nixon as President of the United States.

Interestingly, many of the names in the Watergate investigation were also to be found in any history of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, thought by many to be the Mob’s attempt to reclaim Cuba from Castro, with JFK’s refusal to supply air support for the invasion to be the final straw, thus sealing his fate.

Right before the infamous eighteen-and-a-half gap in Nixon’s Watergate discussion tapes, Nixon instructed his aide, H.R. Haldeman,

“When you get in these people when you…get these people in, say: “Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that” ah, without going into
the details… don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, ‘the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again'”

“The Bay of Pigs Thing” according to Haldeman in his memoir, The Ends Of Power, was Nixon’s code phrase for the conspiracy surrounding John Kennedy’s murder. In the same conversation Nixon mentions “Project Gemstone” — intended as “a vast intelligence-gathering and dirty-tricks campaign” against the Democrats and (one would have to say) against the electoral process itself. Given the Republican theft of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, and the voter suppression and other dirty tactics of 2006, I sense a pattern.

All of this has been documented by much more serious researchers of recent American history than myself.

My obsession, if you will, has always been more about the spiritual betrayal of our American democracy.

I was called, by my newspaper reporter friends back in the day, paranoid when I would try to point out the non-coincidences surrounding Watergate, Nixon, the Bay of Pigs, the JFK killing, as we sat drinking at the M&M at 5th & Howard in San Francisco. Years later, the same reporters would say, “You were right.”

I still am accused of wearing a tin-foil hat at times. In truth, I look at the facts as best I can gather them and sometimes I must make intuitive leaps … over time my guesses have proven to be correct, every time. Not bragging: I get no pleasure out of seeing the things clearly, I can assure you.

I’m no “truther” – I don’t believe 9/11 was an inside job, though the gang of crooks in the White House was so busy planning the plunder of the treasury and the nation’s resources and probably the invasion of Iraq that they ignored the explicit and well-documented warnings provided to them. The simple fact is that they did not need 9/11 to use as a pretext for invading Iraq, suspending the Bill of Rights, or creating the modern security state in which we now live.

It’s funny … I thought this piece would be a few paragraphs. The following is what my original post was to have been, in my conception of it, anyway.

As many of you know, I used to drink. I drank for all kinds of reasons, I guess the main one being it sort of … runs in the family. I drank over Nixon and his evil machinations for years. In 1990, something happened and I was able to leave the drunk world behind. I’ve had many adventures since then and I’ve been able to think a lot more about the what they did that day and what they’ve been able to do since. The killers did a great job.

I shouted out
Who killed the Kennedys
When after all
It was you and me
-The Rolling Stones, Sympathy For The Devil

Some years into sobriety, I made the acquaintance of an ex-mobster who had managed to get out of the Life alive, and who later got sober himself. He told some great, funny stories and his transformation from a violent man into man of peace and true generosity was a great testament to the power of God. There are many such stories, of course.

Rod had been sober about thirty years when I met him. For some reason, he took a liking to me.

I ran into him one night about six years ago and he gave me the usual kiss on the neck and said in his gravelly voice,”How ya doin’ kid?”

And I said,”I am wondering if you can settle an argument I’ve been having for ten years with my sponsor.”

He said,”What’s that?”

I said,”Well, were you still affiliated with organized crime when John Kennedy was killed?”

And he said,”Yeah.”

I said,”Well, among your associates, who did they think killed him?”

And he got sort of a far-away look in his eyes and after a moment, a long moment, and then he focussed back on me, smiled coolly and said,”Are you having a nice night, kid?”

Click here to read part II of The Coming of the Great Darkness.

Categories
Selected Writings

The Coming of the Great Darkness, Pt. 2

jfkdead

” …fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words,
“So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked.
“But if you see what I see
if you feel as I feel,
and if you would seek as I seek,
then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight …
—V, V For Vendetta

So we are talking about the killing of President John F. Kennedy, the fact that his killers were never brought to justice, and the feeling that we are now, as a country, living in Bizarro-world, where everything is the opposite of what it is supposed to be.

We left off in Part One with my ex-gangster friend replying,”Are you having a nice night, kid?” when asked him who his associates in the mafia thought had killed JFK.

I smiled, but was silent, totally focussed on him and whatever he might say next.

And he said, finally, looking at me levelly,”I could tell you a story. I don’t like to talk about it that much. I knew at least fifty people who were involved who have been killed …”

America's Motorcade
America’s motorcade, Dealey Plaza, November 22, 1963

He went on to say that Sam Giancana, the country’s top mobster, had ordered the hit and that he himself had been invited to take part in the operation but had, for reasons he did not share with me, declined.

Needless to say, I was nearly ecstatic. After thirty years of the study of this great dark act at the heart of  American history, I believed I was getting close to the truths at the core of what William Burroughs called

“The last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.”

Over the next couple months I talked to him a couple times on the phone. At one point I asked him if we could get together to discuss the JFK killing.

He said:

–No, we won’t be talking about it anymore. Some people in Texas told me not to talk to you about it.

[I’ve often wondered about this. Do you think he called up “some people in Texas” and asked permission to tell a young friend about the darkness at the heart of the American century? I truly welcome a feasible explanation. I am just having a tin-foil hat moment with this.]

I was quite disappointed, but I didn’t give up all hope.I ran into Rod a few weeks later. He gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek as usual.

–Hey, kid, how ya doing? he smiled.

We went through the pleasantries and then I said

–Rod, I know they suggested you not talk to me …

And he said sternly

–They didn’t “suggest.”

I got his meaning and continued

–Well … could we talk about other things?

–Like what other things?

I said

–Have you read Ellroy’s books?

He said

The Cold Six Thousand.

I asked.

–Did he get it right?

–It was a work of fiction.

–Yes, but did he get it right?

–He can’t prove it. If he could have proved it, they wouldn’t have let him write it.

–Why do they care so much after all this time?

–It is a part of history that they do not want revealed.

–Well, how did they get away with it then?

He leaned toward me and said quietly but emphatically,

–They kill people.

–But it was an act of war.

He said nothing to this, but a sly sad smile spread across his face and he just looked me without blinking.

Agitated, I said

–Well … how deep does it go?

–Kid, you’ve got to understand something. We’ve always been part of it. They use us for things they can’t do. One time in the early sixties, there was a civil rights caravan heading for Vegas from California, to unionize workers or something and the powers that be wanted them stopped. So about fifty of us got on the highway with tommy guns and stopped the caravan, told them to turn around or there would be a massacre. They turned around and went home.

Which prompted a question from me, for which perhaps there is no answer.

–In that case, where is the dividing line between … you know … the legitimate corporate world and the mob …

Rod shook his head in resignation, said

–It used to be pretty clear-cut, but now it’s all fucked up

Then he could see the reaction I was having to all of this.

Overload.

He said, gently

–Just remember, Knox, when the going gets tough, the Devil eats his own.

Then he repeated it

–When the going gets tough, the Devil eats his own.

I nodded, taking some comfort in this assurance. He smiled. I had to run to take care of a few things and said

–Thanks, Rod, I’ve got to run. Talk to you soon & blah blah blah

He bid me farewell and Godspeed.

It was the last time I saw him alive. He was diagnosed shortly thereafter with terminal cancer. Before he died we had a few conversations.

I told him that a number of our mutual friends thought he was pulling my leg, making it all up.

He sighed

–They just don’t want to know.

He kept saying I should come visit, but by this time, I was on the lam in Hollywood.

After I got back from my first trip to Las Vegas, a city I had long associated with the killing of JFK … I had taken three HoneyBun girls, my voice coach and his boyfriend, ostensibly my partners in a plan to bring spanking kits to Western culture, to the International Lingerie Show where we had a booth … Rod couldn’t wait to hear my reaction to the city.

I had just finished reading two books, The Money and the Power, the Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold On America and Double Cross: The Explosive, Inside Story of the Mobster Who Controlled America, about Sam Giancana, wherein Giancana described the JFK killing as a coup d’état (“Nobody goes up against the Outfit and wins.”)

I was not prepared for Las Vegas. I don’t think anything can prepare one for Las Vegas. The trip and the books put me into a funk for a week. I told Rod so.

–Aw kid, he exclaimed, don’t let them intimidate you! It’s just another town with a hustle!

And, as he often did, to make sure I understood, he repeated

–Don’t let them intimidate you … it’s just another town with a hustle!” He laughed.

Rod died not too long after. Unfortunately, I never made it to see him again.

Categories
Reviews

Bullfrog on “Pop Down The Years”

popdown_cover_72dpiKnox Bronson is a Bay Area-based singer-songwriter who has used this release as a way of revisiting the 60s and 70s and making a tribute to the old school way of composing and producing.  More than that, he’s looking to re-invoke the days when music seemed like the doorway to all things right and beautiful.

He has done all the programming work himself, written and arranged the songs and sung them too (with some help from chanteuse Angie Harnell…note to Knox, next time, give her a bit more space to strut her stuff).  Sometimes, when an artist gives himself all the tasks, he loses sight of the goal and the album’s focus drifts.  Not so here; Bronson keeps his inner eye on the ball and delivers a piece of work that harks back to good times of Donovan and the Moody Blues, but maintains a foot in the here and now.

Bronson is the kind of guy who’s seen it, done it and even has the t-shirt, but gave it back.  He is literate, mature and thoughtful and this comes through in spades in this release.  He’s here to speak his truth in quiet, authoritative terms.

Bronson has a voice that reminds one of David Bowie in his good years.  He doesn’t have an especially melodious voice, but it is pleasant to listen to, authoritative and solid.  The music and lyrics flow around our ears, drawing us into another place.

The only cover song is “Celeste”, originally written by Donovan (and done better by Bronson), but we are treated to “Pop Down The Years”, an evocation of the days when the intellectual and the psychedelic could co-exist in the same song.

Summary: Get this album.  For mouldy oldies, this music is a throwback to the “good ol’ days”.  To the young and hungry-for-the-new, this release will come as a revelation.

Categories
Press releases

Press release for “Pop Down The Years”

Dedicated to bringing back the golden era of pop songcraft via a unique mix of rock, electronic and classical influences, Bay Area based singer-songwriter Knox Bronson has long subscribed to the whimsical spiritual notion that “we don’t write the songs. They already exist. If we are lucky, we are able to go down below where the music is and bring fragments back—and then more fragments. And with a little luck, patience and discipline, we end up with something worth sharing.” The compelling songs that comprise his latest album to Pop Down The Years, have been swirling around and inspiring Knox have manifested themselves with a sound that’s something like The Beatles filtered through Bowie, with some Donovan, French impression composer Claude Debussy and the legendary German electronic band Kraftwerk added for good measure.

If Knox’s unique approach seems like a throwback to 60s and 70s–a tribute to the old school way of composing and producing–make no mistake, it’s purely by design. He came of age in those days and can remember a time when music mattered, the roots of rock were blues and the Brill Building and Tin Pan Alley influences ruled the charts. After recording but not officially releasing two previous classical/electronic driven albums—including Deus Sex Machina and Flight Of The Atom Bee, a companion piece to his novel Flapping—he returned to his lifelong love of pure, heartfelt songwriting. His goal: to maintain that level of composing while blending in and exploring the unique tonal colors made possible by today’s incredible technologies. The result is a timeless collection that, first in his mind and now in the spirits of music fans everywhere, brings back the magic that’s been missing in pop music for too many years.

“Just as the title track is a love song to both that era and a girl, the idea was to make something beautiful that people can enjoy listening to as much today as ten or twenty years from now,” says Knox, a veteran of the Bay Area dance club and café performance scene. “It goes against the grain of ‘flavor of the minute’ that has been part of pop music for a long time. I’ve always loved working with electronic and orchestral sounds, and while I didn’t start out with an overall concept, I always made sure to get out of the way of the song so that the honesty and emotion of each could shine through.”

While Knox did all the arrangements and orchestration for the backing tracks on a Macintosh and played most of the instruments on Pop Down The Years, his sound is greatly enhanced on certain pieces (such as the Bowiesque “Old Man Cold Man”) by drummer and percussionist Shoji Kameda, well known for his work with the popular jazz fusion group Hiroshima. The project was co-produced by Knox’s longtime friend Andy Crisp, a veteran studio musician who has worked in Los Angeles, London and New York. Knox was building some powerful musical steam by mid-2007 when he hit a creative block and the project briefly stalled. He knew the songs were strong but wasn’t quite hearing the magic for which he was striving. Crisp’s input and development contributions, as well as his idea to bring in live drums and soulful vocalist Angie Harnell, brought life back into the sessions; Harnell appears on four of the nine songs. Another factor in catapulting Pop Down The Years into its ultimate form was the expertise of veteran mixer Charles Stella, who has lent his brilliant production skills over the years to albums by everyone from Norah Jones to Thievery Corporation and the Brazilian Girls.

The album’s overall diverse vibe is captured by a few key tracks, beginning with the trippy and summery, Beach Boys meets Europop bubblegum tune “Hey Little Earthgirl”; an outer-space love story with intergalactic space imagery, the cheery tune chronicles the journey of leaving one’s home solar system to find true love.  The metaphysical mini-suite “Old Man Cold Man,” which Bronson said was his first attempt at arranging for string bass, cello, violin, and frog, is a tone-poem, an other-worldly response to David Bowie’s song “Bewlay Brothers” itself an allegory detailing the closing down of the 60s in another dimension, while the propulsive “3 Seconds Before Maia Smiled” (whose meaning is purely up to the listener’s interpretation) is in the permanent collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art as part of a multi-media show. The instrumentation of the title track, a lilting Pop Down The Years, is a loving tribute in and of itself to legendary Beatles’ producer George Martin; the song is about the experience of being part of that musical generation that truly felt it could change the world, and acting as witness to that part of history.

“The underlying current running throughout Pop Down The Years is this idea of recalling a time when pop music was all about hope and promise,” says Knox. “These songs are about trying to open up that whole energy channel again. It’s a true, straight from the heart culmination of a lot of my life experiences and thoughts and dreams, about a sense of romance that never has to leave us despite the passage of time. It’s not all peace and love, believe me. There are forces of darkness that are more with us than ever. I’m trying to evoke and share that ‘glad to be alive’ feeling that I used to get when I was young and first listening to the music that changed my world.”

Categories
Music

Pop Down The Years

popdown_cover_72dpi

Pop Down The Years
Original release date: February 14, 2008

Songlist:

  1. Hey Little Earthgirl
  2. Old Man Cold Man
  3. 3 Seconds Before Maia Smiled
  4. Take Me Down
  5. Bordertown
  6. The Quark And The Jaguar
  7. Stay
  8. Celeste (Donovan Leitch)
  9. Pop Down The Years