Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Scribbles in my notebook: Vietnam Stories

Hopefully you've been following The Reporter's series on local residents that gave their lives in the Vietnam War. It's in honor of the Vietnam Moving Wall visiting the Hatfield American Legion June 27-July 1.
I felt a strange connection with Lansdale native Albert "Buddy" Finn. He died in a helicopter crash near the DMZ on Sept. 20, 1970, six days after I was born. Lt. Finn was also a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal, where my family went to church from the '70s through the early '90s.

One of the first phone interviews I did for this series was with Fred Johnson, a Wisconsin resident that was flying in a separate Huey during the mission that took Finn's life.
I was too young to have a grasp on what was going on during this time period, however Johnson framed the Vietnam era in a refreshingly balanced way that I had never heard before.
After the war heated up in the mid-'60s (and started getting transmitted to televisions around the nation), he said, the music on the hit parade noticeably changed. Upbeat pop from The Beatles and The Beach Boys gave way to darker fare like:
 Barry McGuire "Eve of Destruction"

Buffalo Springfield "For What It's Worth"

Creedence Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son"

Marvin Gaye "What's Going On"

Bob Dylan "Blowin' in the Wind" (Peter, Paul & Mary and Stevie Wonder both had hit covers)

The Animals "Sky Pilot"

The Doors "The Unknown Soldier"

"The students didn't want to go ... (into what) at the time was the country's longest war," said Johnson, referring to the draft.
"There's an expression that Vietnam veterans like to use: 'When I left, we were winning'," he said.
The year Johnson graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and got married, 1968, was a "pretty tough time" for America, he said, because of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
Deteriorating support of the war morphed into outright hostility toward those in a military uniform. "I came back from the war, and got spit on in Seattle," said the former Army Ranger.
In a conversation he had with a reporter that day, Johnson was told frankly that people weren't interested in good-news stories about returning soldiers, and that the war's growing unpopularity was the news story that would sell.
Overcoming symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Johnson went on to found his own business, and he is recently retired.
The Vietnam veterans got a raw deal because they fervently believed they were doing their duty. Hopefully our series somehow contributes to a better historical legacy for the Vietnam vets.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

XFest: Scribbles in my notebook

On rare occasions I encounter musicians whose music I've never heard, but are just so stinkin' nice that I just have to seek it out.
That's what happened in the "reporting" phase of a preview story I wrote for the 2013 version of the annual Xtreme Folk Scene festival, XFest.
The Grand Slambovians, who often play the Sellersville Theater and have entertained at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, are the headlining act Saturday, and the band's Joziah Longo and Tink Lloyd seemed pleasantly surprised to learn that they were the headliner.

Lloyd emailed to me:

"Will be in touch at 3:15. BTW, we were watching an old episode of 'Fringe,' which was taking place in Lansdale, Pa. just before we saw your email yesterday!!!!

We thought that was significant, and should definitely do this interview!" 

 Longo (pictured above) took me through his life's journey of being kicked out of Catholic school in Philadelphia and winding up at C.B. West while living on a commune that resided in the octagonal barn in Whistlestop Park, on the Montgomery County side of County Line Road.
Now of course, I have a hard time believing that Montgomery Township or the Central Bucks School District would be at all OK with that arrangement. Time has not allowed me to independently confirm that the barn was ever used as a residence. However, in Googling info. on the barn, I did learn that it was severely damaged in a storm in 2004 and rebuilt.
I heard about Longo's original band, The Ancestors. "We'd play Carnegie Hall one night and the next night we'd be at CBGB's," he said.
Founded in 2000, The Grand Slambovians have such a following that they have their own line of coffee!
Longo was drinking some sort of calming tea during our chat, which must have transferred over the phone because I felt comfortable enough talking to Longo to let it slip that my own folk 'n' roll duo, Raspberry Tea, performed at the 2010 XFest. He was genuinely interested in hearing more about that.

And it turns out the Slambovians' songs are quite fun.That's Tink Lloyd on the accordion.

I also spoke to John Weathers of Stolen Thyme, who will play the same Saturday opening slot that Raspberry Tea played three years ago. He let me in on the dirty double entendre of his group's name, taken from an old folk ballad, "Let No Man Steal Your Time." Weathers, who has a Ph.D. degree and reminded me of talking to a college music professor, revealed that the herb thyme has been used to symbolize virginity. Needless to say, "let no man steal your THYME" takes on a whole different meaning.