Pete Hamill – Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative (1969), Brooklyn Revisited (2008)

“One cold spring I found myself alone in Rome, in a small room high up over Parioli, trying to write. The words came thickly, sluggishly, and none of them were any good. I quit for the day. For a while I read day-old copies of Paese Sera, the Communist daily, and the Paris Herald, and then, bored, I turned on the radio, lay down on the lumpy couch, and, half-listening, stared out at the empty sky. The music was the usual raucous Italian stew, mixed with screaming commercials, and I fell into a heavy doze. Then, suddenly, absurdly, I came awake, as an old song started to play. She kicked out my windshield. She hit me over the head. She cussed and cried. And said I’d lied. And wished that I was dead. Oh! Lay that pistol down, Babe … It was ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama,’ by Tex Ritter, and how it came to be played that afternoon, 20 years after Anzio, I’ll never know. But I did not think about the hard young men of that old beachhead, or about their war, or even about cowboys in flight from homicidal girlfriends. I thought about Brooklyn. When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, ‘Pistol Pack-in’ Mama’ was the first record we ever owned. My brother Tommy and I bought it for a dime in a secondhand book-and-record shop on Pearl Street under the Myrtle Avenue E1, and we played it until the grooves were gone. The week before we bought it, my mother had arrived home with an old wine-colored hand-cranked Victrola, complete with picture of faithful dog and master’s voice, and a packet of nail-like needles. It was given the place of honor in the living room, in the old top-floor right at 378 Seventh Avenue; that is, it was placed on top of the kerosene stove for the duration of the summer, and it was almost as heavy as the five-gallon drums we hauled home in the winter snow to feed the stove (steam heat, then, was a luxury assigned to the Irish with property). We thought that phonograph was a bloody marvel. The purchase of ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’ was something else again. We did not really lust after hymns of violence; we weren’t country-and-western buffs (we always preferred Charles Starrett, the Durango Kid, who was all business, to the saps like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, who played banjo as they rode after outlaws). It was something more complicated. …”
Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative (1969)
Brooklyn Revisited (2008)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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