"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: British Rockers & the Dream of Childhood; or Tragedy at Pooh Corner

"The true subject of English psychedelia was neither love nor drugs but nostalgia for the innocent vision of the child. ...Pop's late-60's preoccupation with the lost domain of childhood [was]... initiated by Lennon and McCartney with the single, 'Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane'.

"The revolutionary spirit then abroad in America and Europe was never reciprocated in Albion, where tradition, nature and the childlike view were the things that sprang most readily to the LSD-heightened Anglo-Saxon mind." Ian MacDonald Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

From Pink Floyd's references to Wind in the Willows, to John Lennon's unending fascination with Lewis Carroll, to the Small faces stoned-out fairy tale, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, British rockers were obsessed for a time with the vision of childhood. "Show me that I'm everywhere/Then get me home for tea," George Harrison sang. Most evocative of all were the Incredible String Band, for whom the eyes of a child were a lens for viewing the hidden beauty and strangeness of the world.

Many of the great creators of English children's literature were people who felt themselves seriously, sometimes desperately out of place in their world. It's why they could create golden alternate worlds, tinged with palpable magic. The best of their work--like Wind in the Willows or the Mary Poppins books-- aren't just works of the imagination--they're works of vision. When psychedelia hit Britain, it was as natural a source for artists to look to as the Anthology of American Folk Music was for American musicians.

Cotchford farm in Sussex is where Christopher Robin Milne grew up-- the Christopher Robin, the inspiration and model for the central character in the Winnie the Pooh stories, which his father, A. A. Milne, wrote. The woods that stretch backward from the house are the 40 Acre Woods. The Enchanted Place on Top of the Forest is there. The bridge where Pooh and Eeyore invent Pooh Sticks is there. The garden of the house is maintained as a shrine to childhood, with rights of access granted in perpetuity to the Winnie-the-Pooh Society, and so to all Pooh- lovers.

It was here that Brian Jones, the most debauched and dangerous of the Rolling Stones and the band's founder, came in 1969 to try to pull his life back together, away from the mad Saturnalia that was pop star life in "Swinging London."

It was here that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came to tell Brian he was no longer a Rolling Stone. The Stones wanted and needed to tour the United States, where they had not made a live appearance for several years. Brian, in his drug and booze raddled shape, could not possibly undertake the rigors of extended touring. He could barely play in the recording studio. Plus his two drug busts would effectively bar his entry to the States.

This was the Stones tour that ended in the debacle at Altamont. Things were turning dark all over as the 60s began switching off the lights.

Friends began to remark to each other that the benevolent atmosphere of Cotchford Farm was doing Brian good. Brian would allow no drugs in the house, (though he apparently still drank heavily from time to time). He talked about starting a roots rock band, what we would now call Americana--and was listening endlessly to Creedence. His housekeeper, Mary Hallett, who had worked at Cotchford Farm for decades, grew increasingly fond of him. She though he was a lost boy who needed a stable home. Sometimes, something in the way his hair fell over his forehead made her think of another golden-haired boy who had lived there long ago. Brian had wonderful, instinctive good manners that he could call on when needed and his relation with those younger and older than he were often very tender. It was with his peers, and himself, that the problems lay.

On the night of Wednesday, July 2, 1969, Brian had a few friends around--a girl friend, the contractor who had been doing repairs at Cotchford, his girlfriend. Maybe one or two others. They were sitting around the pool at the back of the house. Late in the evening, Brian announed he was going for a swim. He went inside to change, came back out, and dove in. As it was getting dark, and cooling off, the rest of the group went inside. A moment later, one of the women went back outside to get Brian. She found him lying face down on the bottom of the pool.

Brian was asthmatic. He was in terrible shape. He was probably drunk, and may have taken some sedative medication. There's nothing terribly mysterious about his death. Yet dark speculation--some of it verifiable--has swirled around the events ever since. There was some kind of bad blood between Brian and the contractors. Frank Thorogood, the head contractor, had apparently been trying to collect a debt from Brian for some time. He was the last person to see Brian alive. And someone was burning something in several small fires, in the small hours of that night, at Cotchford.

Something called to Brian Jones from Cotchford Farm, as the world of childhood, remembered or imagined, called to British rock and rollers toward the end of the 60s. Many of them would visit that country. Few of them paid so high a price.

"By-and-by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest..."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

In Music: Rhett Miller Bares His Heart to Someone

Rhett Miller
Shout Factory

"Indie" as a label for a band should be used in a strictly limited sense to refer to a band unaffiliated with the major labels. Used to suggest a sensibility, or a sound, the word is layered with unfortunate associations.

For instance, it's easy to say that Rhett Miller's band, the Old 97's of Dallas, Texas, have, for over a decade, been a beloved indie/alt-country fixture. And that's a shame.

Because the Old 97's aren't an indie/alt-anything band, but rather a near great rock & roll band within the broad river of tradition that flows from the Byrds. They practice certain lost arts, like the high-energy hook, that few know anymore They come on with a buzz and a whack and gorgeous melodic fillip. They command power chords and distortion as well as really from-the-heart sweet melodies and consistently diverting songwriting from frontman Rhett Miller--Miller, wearing his bleeding heart on his sleeve, love-obsessed, gangly, held together by twining strands of heartbreak and pugnacity. And there seems to be no reason for them not to sell large quantities of records. Except that their leader still seems to be a prisoner of the indie mind.

Indie cults are based on the myth of the beautiful loser, often personified in the pale ruined boy who fronts the band. As a band, the Old 97's don't seem interested in being beautiful losers. But Miller? If his new solo album is an indication, he sounds prepared to milk the personae of pale ruined boy for all it's worth.

Read the rest in the BlueGrassSpecial.com.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Secret History Readers: Choose Your Free One-of-a-Kind CD

These one-of- a-kind cd's are custom programmed, full of rarities and other artfully selected tracks, with original cover art. They are available only through the Secret History. Starting today, the first four readers to post comments on any story, current or archived, in the Secret History, will win the cd of their choice.

The first four readers who respond to any comments will also receive their choice of cd.
And finally the next four readers to sign up as followers will get a cd.

Take Your Choice...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley!

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”

Percy Shelley
(4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822)