I've begun writing a bimonthly series for Modern Farmer magazine called Old-Time Farm Crime. Here's the first piece, a look at an 18th century horse thief and highwayman named Dick Turpin and some contemporary examples of equine thievery.
Editor's note: A different version of this story appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 22, 2013.
Chris Ward was in the midst of trying to learn 40 songs at break-neck speed.
It was 1989 and five weeks after his release from a Marine brig in
Virginia, he was about to go on tour as the bass player for one of the
most influential, and by many accounts, the first punk rock group of all
time: The Ramones.
like ‘how did this ever happen?’ It was the ultimate … rock star dream,”
he said in a phone interview from his Long Island, N.Y., home.
in his early 20s and had been a fan of the band that was formed in
Queens, N.Y., in 1974 by Douglas Colvin, John Cummings, Jeffry Hyman and
Thomas Erdelyi, better known as Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey, and Tommy
Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey were still playing together, but had gone
through several different drummers. Mark Bell, AKA Marky Ramone, was the
drummer at the time.
was burned out from the road by this point, but continued to write songs
for the Ramones while Ward was hired to replace him as the band’s bass
player and sometimes-singer. Ward was reborn CJ Ramone and would end up
in the band until their retirement in 1996.
He said it was a strange sensation going from watching them from the audience to being on stage playing with them.
I'm bouncing up and down in front of Johnny, and the next I look over,
and there's Johnny and Joey and I'm playing on stage with them,” he
recalled. “I was 21 or 22. I grew up listening to them. It was
tremendous … overwhelming.”
CJ Ramone’s first show with the band was on Sept. 30, 1989, in Leicester, England.
I'm in a situation that's stressful … I just get out of my head,” he
recalled of his early days with the band and of his first show in
made some mistakes that night. … Johnny was mad as hell and yelled at
me for five solid minutes after the show. I stood there listening and
then I ran back stage, drank some beer and celebrated. I knew I had it. I
got the whole Ramones thing on stage, he said.”
other band members, the rock and roll lifestyle was commonplace, but for
C.J., who was younger by nine years and unused to it, he was enthralled
by the famous people they hung around with.
so not cool when I was in the band. … I was going on pure instinct,” he
said. “When I met Lemmy (the lead singer of English rock band
Motörhead), I was out of my mind. I told him, ‘We have to have to
party!’” They did, he said.
in the midst of rock and roll excess, he never “fell into the rock-star
thing” he said, keeping the same friends he had always had, living in a
small house and refraining from splurging on extravagant purchases. He
did buy himself a motorcycle, he admitted.
Following the break up of the band in 1996, Ramone stopped playing music altogether for a short time.
“My son [Liam] was born in 1997 and a year or two later was diagnosed with autism,” he said.
said he was told by his son’s doctors that his son needed him to be at
home. Ramone is heavily involved in the autism community.
Metallica asked him to play bass for their band twice, but he turned the
mega-selling and multi-Grammy-winning heavy metal band from Los Angeles
down after he was told by his son’s doctors that he would be doing his
son a great disservice if he took the job.
“So I packed it in,” he said.
He said he doesn’t regret the decision.
already done it all. Playing with Metallica would have been amazing, but
I already played with the greatest rock and roll band in history,” said
later started two other bands, Los Gusanos and Bad Chopper, both now
defunct, before recording and touring as CJ Ramone he had always hoped
The Ramones would re-form.
always waited for the [phone] call telling me we were going to get back
together and going on tour. … Instead, I got the other calls,” said
Ramone. “With Johnny and Joey, they were both sick [so] it was expected.
… Dee Dee’s death was probably the biggest blow because it was sudden.”
died from lymphoma in 2001. Dee Dee died from a heroin overdose the next
year. And Johnny lost his battle with prostate cancer in 2004.
Ramone said he was one of the last people to see Johnny before he died.
“I got the chance to say good-bye and thank him,” he said.
saw Dee Dee before his death in 2002. According to Ramone, in the past
Dee Dee hadn’t always been nice to him, but that night was different.
me, ‘You were always cool to me.’ It was out of character for him. I
waited for him to crack a joke. He didn’t and I didn’t know what to say.
A couple of weeks later, he was dead.”
dynamic of “fan/friend, friend/ mentor” between himself and the other
members was “like the ‘Twilight Zone.’ It was so odd. I’m still trying
to get my head around it,” he said.
first solo album recording under CJ Ramone, “Reconquista,” Spanish for
reconquest, is meant as a tribute to Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee, and was
influenced by that band’s sound, but, he said, there are hints of his
two later bands that come through on the album as well.
was recorded three times, said Ramone, and was released digitally last
year. After two attempts that ended in results he just wasn't satisfied
with, he called up his friend Steve Soto of The Adolescents, a punk band
from Southern California, who helped him produce the album that he had
intended to make.
in Orange County, Calif., with the help of a who’s who of punk and new
wave musicians from such famed bands as X, Bad Religion, Blondie and
Social Distortion, among others, Ramone said it was fun to record and
the results made him proud.
the recording session when Soto mentioned the list of people who wanted
to help out on the record, Ramone was at first a little taken-aback.
back of my mind I’m thinking: ‘How much is this going to cost?” he said.
“None of them asked for a dime. They did it because of The Ramones
name. In honor of them. That's the power of the Ramones.”
The album was released through PledgeMusic, an online direct-to-fan, fan-funded music platform which bypasses record companies.
“It’s about as DYI as you can get,” said Ramone. “It's anti-corporate music business.”
wife, Denise, and three kids — Liam who is 15, Lilliana, 12, and
3-year-old Mia Dove — he has scaled back his touring schedule and when
he can, brings the family on tour with him.
“We're playing at Fuji Rock Festival in Japan this summer and I'm bringing the family,” he told The Eagle.
As if on
cue, his 3-year-old daughter broke in to the interview with a question
for her father about “Dora the Explorer,” a children’s TV show. And by
the sound of it, Ramone was washing dishes as we spoke by phone.
two older children were with first wife, Chessa, Marky Ramone’s niece
from whom he’s divorced, and his youngest was by his second wife,
oldest daughter, who herself is a multi-instrumentalist, was into punk,
but is listening to progressive music these days. “But every once in a
while, she breaks out some Green Day,” said Ramone.
happy to see punk attain such popularity in the 1990s with bands like
Rancid and Green Day, but inevitably, the music industry got its hands
on it and helped produce mediocre music, said Ramone.
Punk rock was originally created by and for disenfranchised youth, he said.
“As long as their are young, angry and alienated teenagers their will be punk rock,” he said,
Beyond that, punk surmounts age differences, he said. At his shows he has fans both young and old.
“I don’t think there is another type of music that transcends the generations, … and that’s a very wonderful thing.”
when he played in Glasgow, Scotland, he met several people in their 50s
who were had been in the scene since the 1970s and were still dedicated
to the punk ethos.
“For them it’s not a musical style, it’s a lifestyle,” he said.
Ramone hopes to continue to play and record for “the rest of my days.”
“I’ll always play The Ramones’ songs live. [The fans] love to hear it,” he said. “I do The Ramones justice.”
Editor's note: A different version of this story appeared in the Jan. 22 edition of the Berkshire Eagle.
Two years before his famous "I Have
a Dream" speech and seven years to the month before being cut down by
an assassin's bullet, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Berkshire
County, MA. and gave three talks to Williams College students in a single day
to explain his ideas on civil disobedience.
"Frankly, we are breaking laws in the South," King told one rapt
audience at the college in Williamstown on April 16, 1961. "But there
are two types of laws -- just laws and unjust laws. I believe that if
society brings into being unjust laws, a moral man has no alternative
than to rise up."
Six months earlier, King had backed up those words when he was
arrested, along with about 300 other protesters, during a sit-in at the
segregated restaurant at Rich's, a department store in Atlanta. King was
sentenced to six months of hard labor at the Georgia State Prison, but
was released through the intervention of then-presidential hopeful John
F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy.
King's visit to Williams College in April 1961 was part of a barnstorming tour of colleges in
Western Massachusetts. His visit to Williams came a day after he was at
Smith (where his daughter, Yolanda, would later receive her bachelor's
degree) and a day before an appearance at Amherst College.
At Williams, King addressed a dinner for a student religious group,
gave a sermon at the college chapel, and participated in a
question-and-answer session with students. In total, more than 1,000
people saw him during his visit to the school.
King told his listeners that the idea behind the sit-ins
concerned resistance without violence, hatred of segregation without
hatred of the segregationist, and a desire to raise the consciousness of
the opponent rather than to humiliate him, according to a Berkshire
Eagle article that appeared the next day. The reporter described King,
then 32, as "a short, handsome man" who was "an intense, direct and
The sit-ins of segregated lunch counters began in 1960 with four
black college students in Greensboro, N.C., and quickly spread
throughout the South.
"This movement is more than a lot of noise about hamburger. I
don't think these students are hungry. It's a demand for respect," King
told his audience.
King invoked the Boston Tea Party in his discussion, calling it
"one of the highest expressions of civil disobedience" and said that
"those of us who break segregation laws feel we are in noble company."
The response from the students was overwhelming.
"Dr. King's talk at the dinner drew a standing ovation of more
than a minute for its spiritual and intellectual quality," the Eagle
reporter, Arthur Myers, wrote.
It would be three more years before a federal Civil Rights Bill
was passed that banned discrimination against blacks at hotels and
restaurants, barred employers from discriminating based on race and
allowed the federal government to sue school systems that refused to
desegregate. King continued to fight for the rights of minorities and
the underclass until his murder on April 4, 1968 as he stood on the
balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tenn.
In 1974, Massachusetts, along with Connecticut, passed laws
making his birthday a state holiday a decade before it became a federal
holiday. Illinois was the first state to make King's birthday a legal
If you are like me and wonder how accurate a historical film or bio pick is (sometimes to the detrement of fully enjoying the movie) historian Dr. Will Swift will be discussing that very subject in regard to "Hyde Park on the Hudson," a film that premiered this fall at the Toronto Film Festival and went into general release last month.
The film, starring Bill Murray as President Franklin Roosevelt and Laura Linney as his cousin, and lover, Daisey Suckley, recounts a weekend in 1938 in which King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were
guests of the president at Hyde Park, the Roosevelt's family home in Dutchess County.
Swift, the author of "The Roosevelts and the Royals," will parse out truth from fiction and give the real story of that well-known weekend.
The event will be held this Saturday January 19th at 3 p.m. at the Chatham Public Library
The program is sponsored by the Friends of the Chatham Public Library. A reception will follow WillSwift's talk. For more information go to http://chatham.lib.ny.us/.
Editor's note: A different version of this story appeared in the Nov. 10, 2012 edition of the Berkshire Eagle.
Jerry Thundercloud McDonald recalled the first time he entered his clan’s longhouse when he was 12, following the death of his mother.
"It was like watching a moving picture show," he said of the dancing and singing. "I was very inspired to learn about the tribal history of our people."
He recently shared the history of the Mohawk Nation and the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy through song, dance and storytelling. The versatile singer, storyteller, dancer, choreographer, and actor,
was dressed in traditional costume, which included a headdress and a variety of hide clothing.
McDonald is a member of the Wolf Clan and lives in the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, a tribal area along the banks of the St. Lawrence River that straddles upstate New York and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
The longhouse, the center of tribal activity at Akwesasne and elsewhere, is a place of "joy and inspiration" where McDonald learned "a great deal of respect," he said.
McDonald discussed the various traditional instruments used in Mohawk ceremonies, from the water drum, which as the name suggests is filled with water, to the big drum, a moose-hide-covered instrument you can feel in your chest when he beats out a rhythm.
McDonald described how the Great Law of Peace, the oral constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy -- a union of five tribes that some scientists believe dates back close to a thousand years, (a sixth tribe joined the confederation in the 18th century) -- helped inspire the Founding Fathers in their writing of the U.S. Constitution, including the ideas of checks and balances and the separation of powers. Several of the nation’s symbols, including the Eagle holding arrows (look for it on the back of the dollar bill) comes directly from the Iroquois tradition, according to McDonald.
McDonald was also a so-called "skywalker," one of many Mohawk men who have worked in New York City doing skyscraper construction work, scampering along thin steel beams thousands of feet in the air. His last job was on the new Yankee Stadium, he said. He once fell several stories while working and woke up to find he has crushed his left clavicle.
His father, whom he never met was also a skywalker, as had been his father before him.
John Cowper Powys was happy. He was cold,
but happy. He stood watching the sunrise from his Hillsdale, N.Y. home that
December morning in 1930 taking the moment in.
He and Phyllis Playter, an American he had met in Missouri nearly
a decade earlier and who was 22 years his junior, were now living a
much different life, far from the crowds of New York City and his hectic
schedule. No more crisscrossing the country lecturing on other, much
more famous writers. Now the 58-year-old Powys would be focusing on his
own work in this Utopian setting thanks to the success of his novel
Born in Derbyshire, England in 1872, the son of a
vicar, Powys seemed to be destined for the staid life of a country
schoolmaster. By 1904 he was married and a father, but America — and the
freedom from restraint and convention — called.
In the United States, Powys became an itinerant, and
much sought after, lecturer. Over the course of the next two decades he
would speak on a myriad of subjects, from philosophy to politics to
literature, especially literature. During a lecture on the writer Fyodor
Dostoyevsky, where Powys first met Playter, two of the other attendees
allegedly fainted from the sheer sensual power of the presentation.
Powys gave about 10,000 lectures in his career by his
own account and also picked up a number of influential friends and
admirers along the way, including the writers Theodore Dreiser and Henry
During his time as a lecturer, Powys also wrote
prodigiously, but didn’t find success until his 1929 novel “Wolf
Solent,” a 900-page epic that became a bestseller, opening the way for
him to take up writing full-time and to move to the hamlet of
Harlemville, which lies in the town of Hillsdale.
In their little farmhouse at the foot of Phudd Hill,
which Powys dubbed “Phudd Bottom,” the couple spent four productive and
happy years. Powys would write two novels, “A Glastonbury Romance” and
“Weymouth Sands,” as well as an autobiography and a book on philosophy:
“A Philosophy of Solitude.”
While Powys was busy with his literary efforts, he
still had time to explore the area and found joy in the county’s flora
and fauna, old farms and his neighbors.
Some of his neighbors, according to at least one
account, thought Powys a bit odd. The writer was idiosyncratic to say
the least. The often disheveled-looking Powys was known to tap his head
against his mailbox in the belief it would ensure the safe delivery of
his mail and he would bow to the rocks and trees on his sojourns.
He was adverse to technology, drawn to the abnormal
and multi-phobic, but to many he was, and remains, an overlooked and
important writer — a “gigantic mythopoeic literary volcano” in the words
of poet Philip Larkin.
For four years Powys made Hillsdale his home. He and
Playter would move to England in 1934 and then to Wales the following
year where Powys remained until his death in 1963, a few months shy of
his 91st birthday. Playter followed him to the grave in 1982.