Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Soul-Stirring Difference between Y & Z: Her Most Famous Roll

Elisa Boyer depicted herself as a humble receptionist, who would have never gone to Watts unless abducted. She ambiguously testified that she had met Cooke “on Thursday,” which suggested that she met Cooke the night of his death, but which could also mean just about any previous Thursday. She curiously described the meeting as “a dinner party.” Well, Martoni’s served both food and drink, but when one thinks of dinner parties, they usually think of something else. Moreover, she said that before they left, he started singing to everyone in the bar. No one remembers anyone singing in front of anyone at Martoni’s that night.

Boyer then said that they drove over to PJ’s in Santa Monica, where Cooke had an altercation with another patron over her. When PJ’s closed, Sam abducted her, instead of taking her home as he promised. According to her, she kept begging to go home, but Cooke insisted that he was “madly in love with her.” He then presumably laughed, “Mwuh-ha-ha-ha” as he twisted his handlebar moustache.

At the motel, Boyer claimed that Cooke dragged her into the office to check in. In her testimony, Bertha Franklin flatly contradicts this, saying that Cooke came in alone. If Franklin’s correct, this means that Boyer had ample opportunity to escape—especially if (as some have reported) Cooke had left the car running, with the top down. She could have also cried for help. But even if Boyer actually went into the office with Cooke, one might think that she would have gestured or signalled to Franklin that she needed assistance.

Boyer then said that Cooke dragged her into one of the hotel rooms. As corroboration, the coroner’s office produced a witness, a fellow Hacienda guest named Alexander Prado. Prado said that Boyer had put up a little “resistance” on the way to the room, but not much. While this indicates that Cooke wilfully put her in the room, it’s not really a description of dragging someone in there. And for reasons I will mention in the following post, we have reason to doubt Prado’s entire testimony.

Boyer then said that Cooke pinned her down and raped her. He never had a history of violence against women before that. And one would suspect that if Cooke signed his own name in the register (if he in fact did; as Erik Greene points out the registration card has long been missing), then it seems unlikely that he would offer evidence of his existence there that night if he had planned on committing a crime. Furthermore, the police note no physical injuries on Boyer that would indicate that she had participated in a struggle.

Boyer, on a receptionist’s salary, presumably hung out at the chi-chi Martoni’s to network and rub elbows with musicians, label executives and producers. At least, that’s how she explained her presence there that night.

At the same time, authorities probably knew Boyer’s true source of income. After all, the deputy coroner running the inquest, and the prosecuting attorney prevented Barbara Cooke’s attorney, Marty Machat, from asking a single question. The pathologist dismissed her from the stand while Machat was literally in the middle of his first question.

Later, however, authorities couldn’t deny that Boyer worked as something other than a receptionist. In January 1965, mere weeks after Sam Cooke met his maker, police rounded her up in a vice sting two blocks away from the Hacienda Motel. In their 1996 biography, You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, authors Daniel Wolff, S.R. Crain, Cliff White and G. David Tennenbaum discovered that Boyer had a long rap sheet under multiple aliases (Lisa Boyer, Lisa Lee, Crystal Chan Young, Elsie Nakama, etc.). She had a reputation in the underground as a ‘roll artist.’ Posing as a prostitute, she would lure a john into a motel. The minute he stepped out of the room, or fell asleep after the act, she would then rob him, and then take his clothes so that he would be less inclined to pursue her.

Police would dismiss the January 1965 charges against Boyer because of possible entrapment. That’s odd. After all, courts tolerate a fair degree of entrapment in the prosecution of prostitution charges. Nevertheless, the fact remained that she had been less than honest about her true occupation. Furthermore, she would seem to have known that area of Los Angeles fairly well.

Also contentious was Boyer’s claim that she met Cooke that night. Al and Joan Schmidt, whom Cooke came to meet at Martoni’s, had the distinct impression that Cooke and Boyer had known each other beforehand. As Joan told the authors of You Send Me:

When I saw them together [in the booth], I thought the girl was a friend. Because they were sitting side by side, and she had her hand on his arm, and she was kind of leaning, almost whispering to him--talking in an intimate way, smiling--and he was smiling. The picture in my mind at the moment was, ‘Oh, this is somebody he knows.’
Some of Cooke’s friends recognized Boyer. According to them, she and Cooke had been seeing each other off and on for the previous four years. Curiously enough, she presented into evidence a piece of paper that listed Cooke’s address and telephone number. One has to wonder why Cooke would give sensitive information like this to a woman he barely knew—assuming he actually gave her this information.

One would also have to ask why Boyer, a known prostitute and roll artist, called the cops after she had just raked in another victim. We know that she made the call because the police recorded it. The prosecution played that very tape at the coroner’s inquest.

The police investigation left much to be desired, seeing that it not only neglected to examine Boyer’s background, but Bertha Franklin’s as well. Franklin also had numerous contacts with the courts on myriad prostitution charges. Getting on in years, she allegedly worked for a number of pimps as sort of a manager, not only of seedy motels, but also of prostitutes. Boyer, therefore, would appear to have been a regular.

Of course, the mere fact that Franklin and Boyer are shady characters doesn’t necessarily change the story all that much. It would still seem that Sam hired a prostitute, who then rolled him. He went banging on the manager’s door, perhaps thinking that Franklin and Boyer were in cahoots. Franklin, confused about what was going on, got scared and shot him. Simple as that.

Of course, if it really were that simple, you wouldn’t be reading about it here on The X-Spot, now would you?

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Friday, June 27, 2008

The Soul-Stirring Difference between Y & Z: The Bite of the Small Dog

On December 9, 1964, Sam Cooke woke up with the flu. Instead of heading to the office, he decided to work from home, and review business documents.

Initially, Sam enjoyed a pretty triumphant year. His return to the Copacabana garnered the popular and critical success he wanted from his first engagement, but didn’t get. The success did not come easily. A lot of his time and effort that year went into woodshedding for the gig, trying out material on the Borscht Belt resort crowds, and attending to his other business.

As well as it took off, and as high as it soared, 1964 ran into turbulence. At a family picnic that summer, Sam was visibly out of sorts, according to Erik Greene. His nephew, Eugene, overheard a conversation between Sam and his father about Allen Klein. The Reverend Charles Cook, Sr. apparently objected to Cooke's plans to fire Klein, saying that he didn't raise Sam to be a cutthroat. Sam, on the other hand, tried to stress the necessity of getting rid of Klein for business reasons.

The turbulence that summer wound up becoming a crash on December 9th, when in his review of documents he found irregularities. First off, a Rolls Royce supposedly given to him as a present from Allen Klein was charged to KAGS and Tracey, as was a billboard in Times Square advertising his return to the Copa--an expense he thought that RCA had paid for.

Cooke’s administrative lieutenant, a very capable woman named Zelda Sands, had brought a previous irregularity involving J.W. Alexander to Sam’s attention. It had to do with Alexander receiving writing credits for songs in the KAGS catalogue he didn’t co-compose. Sands said that when she told Cooke about this, it kinda upset him. But since he didn’t say anything about it, she didn’t belabor the point.

If Sands had any inclination to apprize Sam later, Klein took care of that by forcing her off of the Cooke payroll. Klein had pursued then up-and-coming artist Mel Carter. Carter didn’t trust Klein from the start, and subsequently asked Sands to manage him. Klein gave her an ultimatum: hand Carter over to him and stay at KAGS/SAR/Darby, or manage him and get the sack. Sam, at the time thoroughly engrossed by his schedule, didn’t have as much of a hands-on approach as he normally did. With him not around, Sands left.

And then, Sam saw the documents filed by Alexander for the State of Nevada. After reading them, and recalling the incident, Cooke must have figured that Klein had swindled him out of his business. and that he had a co-conspirator in Alexander.

On December 10, Cooke managed to suck it up and make a trip to the office. He called S.R. Crain to arrange a meeting with him in New York. The object: to get Klein. As Crain said in You Send Me:

The main thing was he was going to get his money out…I don’t know how much….I knew he had found out something, because all at once he said he was going to take his stuff in New York out of Allen Klein’s hands.
Later that day, Cooke went to Jess Rand to talk about Klein. Cooke never actually fired Rand. He simply reduced his duties so that Klein could do some things for him, like booking him at the Copacabana. But now, Cooke wanted Rand to take an active role in helping him take down Klein, telling him, “I want your dad to get me the best damn New York lawyer you can find.”

Sam then went to his bank and took out approximately $5,000 in cash. Most Cooke biographers explain that he had planned to use the money for Christmas shopping. But as Greene points out, Cooke had already completed his Christmas shopping, the bulk of it anyway. Most of the family received gifts that October (curiously Wolff and Tenenbaum acknowledge this, but still go with the Christmas shopping story). Family members thought that kinda odd. They also found something else odd about that. Cooke’s wife Barbara had called them in October to ascertain their receipt of the presents. According to them, something odd about her words and her tone of voice during these phone calls, led them to suspect something was wrong, either with their marriage, or with Sam.

Rand said the amount was $5,000. As Greene noted, Cooke went to the bank after leaving his office, so how would he know how much Cooke had withdrawn? Well, it’s possible that Cooke mentioned his intentions. Still, a 1999 E! special on “Mysteries and Scandals,” which interviewed Rand, stated that the manager actually cashed a check for $5k that afternoon.

Whatever Rand’s actions or motivations, Cooke clearly intended to use this money for something other than Christmas shopping. Most likely he mentioned the amount to Rand, for purposes related to the business at hand: namely, getting rid of Klein. We also know that he had an uncharacteristically large amount of money on him, because later that night, Joan Schmidt saw a fat roll (she estimated about $3,000) come out of his pocket to pay their bar tab at Martoni’s.

I’m just speculating here, but that much money would go a long way towards making travel arrangements to New York and retaining an attorney. Since he had already told Crain they would both be traveling to NYC in the very-near future, and since he told Rand that he wanted a lawyer in the Empire City, one might guess that his first stop on the morning of December 11th would have been a travel agency or ticket office.

Greene indicates that Sam might have taken the money out of a safe deposit box, instead of simply withdrawing it. This makes a lot of sense, for if he did, Cooke probably figured that Klein would have difficulty detecting a money movement of that size if it didn't come from an account belonging to KAGS or Tracey--no sense in tipping your hand. Furthermore, if he took it out of a personal account, the statement of which would have gone to his home, his wife Barbara could have noticed it. And as Greene asserts, Cooke had planned to seek a divorce after New Year's Day. Again, Cooke had every reason to play this close to the vest.

What’s not speculation is the fact that there were improprieties in how Klein handled Cooke’s affairs. Because of his meeting with Jess Rand and his call to S.R. Crain (both of these actions documented by diverse sources), we can safely assume that Cooke knew about Alexander and Klein’s duplicity. Furthermore, Sam only found out shortly before the 10th.

What this means is that Klein and Alexander had motive for murder.

I don’t say that lightly. Nevertheless, a man having an adulterous affair with another man’s wife has motive to kill the husband. That way, he can take control of his house (no divorce to split things up), and he can enjoy the widow’s company without treading on needles and pins. If the husband finds out, then the adulterer has added incentive to get the husband before the husband gets him.

In this case, the woman’s name is Tracey Ltd.

Motive is a fundamental part of a murder prosecution, and courts consider it evidence of a crime. In this case, it becomes vitally important, because when you parse down the official story, as told mainly by Bertha Franklin and Elisa Boyer at the coroner’s inquest, it simply cannot be true.

And if the official story isn’t true, then you have to think of who really had a reason to kill Sam.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Soul-Stirring Difference between Y & Z: Limiting Tracey

In 1963, Sam Cooke, already the owner of a publishing company and record label, decided to incorporate himself as Tracey Ltd. (named after his daughter). As Erik Greene wrote, this gave Cooke tremendous tax advantages:

Tracey Ltd. was a production company designed to protect its owner against taxes. All of his songs released by RCA would filter through Tracey first, and Sam would withdraw money from Tracey as needed. On paper, the idea was ingenious—Sam would become his own self-contained company by being able to write, record, publish and manufacture his own music. RCA’s role would be to serve as the distributor of Sam’s records.
Cooke happened to be especially close to his family, and trusted them implicitly. Thus, it should shock no one that he named his father, the Reverend Charles Cook, Sr., to Tracey's board of directors. As far as his family knew, Sam owned Tracey lock, stock, and barrel. Yet, when biographers Daniel Wolff and David Tenenbaum checked into this, they found paperwork indicating that Tracey not only belonged to Allen Klein, but was founded by him as well.

The ownership of Tracey Records became a serious issue for the Cook household. Sam’s brother-in-law, Eddie Jamison, worked for Chicago’s Office of Public Administration. His job consisted of finding out what a deceased person owns, and giving his or her estate a chance to reclaim anything lost before ownership reverted to the state. He was therefore well equipped and trained to find out who owned Tracey. Oddly enough, when Jamison looked into the matter, he received threats against his safety. Greene writes:

He got a couple of phone calls telling him to mind his own business. They said ‘stay out of things that don’t concern you….We know where those two children you have go to school, and we know where you are, so mind your own business.’
Nevertheless, Jamison waited years for the heat to cool off, and resumed the search. Eventually, he found that little by little, ABKCO had taken Tracey.

Several photocopies of documents provided by Greene show how this occurred. Cooke, and principal officers Senior R. Crain and James W. Alexander, originally incorporated Tracey in New York State. The notarized signature page from the Articles of Incorporation bears the date September 27, 1963. Notary Public Adrienne Goldfarb confirmed the date, the signatures, and the identities of the signers.

Cooke subsequently incorporated Tracey on October 4, 1963 in the state of Nevada. Curiously, Nevada’s Office of the Secretary of State couldn’t find the original list of incorporating officers for Tracey—someone had apparently misplaced the microfiche containing it. Nevertheless, the office had retained information supplied by the original documents. The officers listed in the October 1963 finding consisted of Crain, Alexander, Cooke, and Cooke’s father. The document also lists the addresses of each officer, with the exception of Cook Sr..

As with the New York filing, there’s no mention of Allen Klein, whatsoever.

The third and fourth documents produced by Greene were probably what other Cooke biographers saw: namely, a list of "Officers and Directors" for Tracey Ltd. The first, dated October 14, 1963, lists the officers and directors as Sam Cooke, James W. Alexander, and Allen Klein. Charles Cook and S.R. Crain apparently got booted off the board after only ten days. Of course, one would have to wonder why Cooke would do this, since there didn’t seem to be any animosity brewing between Sam, Crain and his dad during the time. Furthermore, the address listed for Cooke--1271 Avenue of the Americas; New York, NY--didn’t belong to him, but to Klein. As an officer of Tracey, listed on the Articles of Incorporation, Alexander filed this document.

The fourth document, filed April 27, 1964, lists only Alexander and Klein as both officers and directors. Sam is listed in a separate section under the heading "Officers Who Are Not Directors."

So, if you believe this, Sam apparently demoted himself.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? I don't suppose it made much sense to Cooke either, when he found out about it. . .two days before his death.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Soul-Stirring Difference between Y & Z: I, Me, Klein

When people think of Allen Klein (left), they usually focus on his management of four big-name artists--The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bobby Darin, and, of course, Sam Cooke.

In addition to managing musicians, he owned two noteworthy businesses. The first, established in 1961 as Allen Klein & Co. (later renamed ABKCO in 1968), served as an umbrella corporation for all of Klein’s holdings. In 1967, he added to his business empire independent label Cameo-Parkway, which held the rights to a number of hitmakers, among them The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, ? and the Mysterians, and Chubby Checker.

Klein’s involvement with artists fell into a fairly predictable pattern. He would study them, their careers, their work, and find out everything he could about them. He would then approach the artist, and offer to do something for them that would either involve them getting money, or helping them realize some desire, all the while boasting about what he did for former clients. Initially, things would have seemed to work out. But as time went by, the artists represented by Klein would have grave reservations about working with him. He would separate them from their previous business associates, and then, something would go wrong, and before you knew it, everyone would wind up in court.

A good example of how Klein operated is his relationship with George Harrison. Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord,” and gave it to Apple artist Billy Preston to record. When the song went nowhere on the charts, Harrison recorded it himself. A third recording, by Dion and the Belmonts, however, got the notice of a publishing company called Bright Tunes. The Belmonts version combined the Harrison song with an earlier one, “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons, which Bright owned. Only then did it become apparent to both Bright and Harrison that the latter had unconsciously plagiarized the former’s 1963 hit.

Figure 1. A comparison of "He's So Fine" (Chiffons) and "My Sweet Lord" (Harrison)



Figure 2. A recording of "My Sweet Lord" by the Chiffons



Bright sued, and Harrison immediately offered $100,000 in settlement. Bright, at the time struggling financially, could have used the money from this and subsequent offers, yet they refused to bite. The reason? Harrison’s manager, Allen Klein, had secretly met with Bright executives and convinced them that they could get even more money out of his client. Bright went into bankruptcy in 1971, at which time the court froze pending legal proceedings against it for a period of five years. In 1976, a judge found Harrison guilty of unconscious plagiarism, and ordered him to pay the firm $1.6 million, whereupon ABKCO immediately purchased Bright for $587,000. Harrison refused to pay, alleging that Klein illegally conspired against him to gain the rights to “He’s So Fine.” In 1981, a US district court agreed, and dismissed the money verdict, in the process ordering Harrison to purchase the Bright catalogue for the same $587,000 that Klein paid the original owners.

In this case it worked out for the artist. Harrison not only wound up owning “My Sweet Lord” free and clear, but the song “He’s So Fine” as well. Yet, it took a lot of doing. The Rolling Stones also wound up suing Klein, as did John Lennon. The Stones received an undisclosed settlement, but in the process, ABKCO wound up with the rights to most Stones recordings made before 1971.

In Our Uncle Sam, Erik Greene points out that Klein’s work for Bobby Darin was much less stellar than he claimed. Klein had approached Cooke with the story that his audit of Atlantic Records found $100,000 in back royalties for Darin. Later biographers would cite this, and other Klein doings, as the reason why Darin left for Capitol. To debunk this, Greene quotes Darin’s former manager, Steve Blauner:

Allen Klein did do an audit for us, and turned up practically nothing. The relationship with Klein was a disaster. It had nothing to do with Bobby’s split from [Atlantic subsidiary label] Atco.
Unlike the Stones, the Beatles and Darin, Sam Cooke didn’t live long enough to haul Klein into court. Yet, some of the alleged abuses Klein committed against Cooke went beyond the pale.

I say alleged. Greene, in fact, included some pretty interesting photographs in Our Uncle Sam, namely of documents concerning what should have been Cooke’s key business, Tracey Limited. These photocopies offer compelling evidence that Klein attempted to steal Tracey right from under Cooke’s nose.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Soul-Stirring Difference between Y & Z: The Bark of the Small Dog

The police seemed to treat Sam Cooke’s homicide with indifference. Of course, the detectives were older, and didn’t know much about rock and roll. Then again, they did wonder about the crowd of onlookers watching outside. They conducted only a perfunctory investigation, and closed their books in a hurry.

In his 2006 biography, Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story from His Family’s Perspective, Cooke's nephew, financial analyst Erik Greene (left) countered what many in his family saw as inaccuracies in previous accounts of the singer’s life. The people who knew him best saw a number of outright mistakes in these well-regarded reports. But what started out as inattention to detail, according to Greene, developed into an inattention to Sam himself, in deference to a caricature of him, a stereotypical story of a talented Rastus, who couldn’t control his sexual lust, or manage his affairs.. As Greene told David Krajcek of Crime Library:
The ‘Twist’ picture of Sam dancing onstage with his niece is a perfect example of how slipshod the coverage of Sam's life has been. In a recent biography, my cousin Ophelia was misidentified as my mother even though there's an eight year age difference between them! Sam's younger brother L.C. was mistakenly identified as Sam in the early pages of the same book. How credible are the book's intimate details if the subject can't be identified correctly?
Cooke’s friends, family and associates knew that he had enemies, shadowy factions Sam referred to as "small dogs." These were people who routinely extorted protection money from black entertainers and businessmen, and they’d issued vague threats for months.

SAR and Darby had made some headway in the music industry, and in fact had signed artists who would later become very famous (e.g., the aforementioned Bobby Womack, Billy Preston, and Cooke’s long-time pal Lou Rawls). The formation of Tracey Music, a corporation that shielded Cooke from a few tax laws, could greatly enhance his income. And because he wracked up hit after hit (some thirty-four total), KAGS Publishing increased in value.

The Mafia had reputedly barked around the entertainment industry in LA for quite some time, and some say it wanted a piece of everyone's action. If so, Sam's enterprises would have made tempting targets, as did so many other small independent labels. Cooke, however, was a bit of a control freak, whose mentality would likely make him decline any such offer. The mob also ran prostitution and other vice rackets in L.A. County during this time, and had allegedly corrupted elements of the LAPD.

In addition to small dogs, Cooke also had cause to worry about threats to his business from inside. As Greene explained:
He had discovered irregularities in the way his businesses were set up and was planning to fire his accountant-turned-manager and his long-time business partner. He had made up his mind to divorce his wife. Not to mention, it wasn't uncommon at the time to see start-up record labels with large insurance policies on their artists—policies which could be 'cashed in' in times of economic need.
The “accountant-turned-manager,” Allen Klein, reputedly met Cooke in 1963 in Philadelphia, where he promised to do a free audit of RCA’s books to see if the major label owed Sam any money. He claimed to have done a previous audit for singer Bobby Darin in which he uncovered $100K in back royalties. Sam allowed him to do this on his behalf, with the tacit understanding that he might reduce the workload of then-manager Jess Rand, and transfer some of his responsibilities to Klein.

The “business partner,” James Alexander (nicknamed J.W.) was an old friend, whom Cooke had known since his days in gospel. Alexander sang for and managed a rival group called the Pilgrim Travelers, and, like Sam’s good friend Lou Rawls, their paths seemed to constantly cross, over the years, eventually blending into one.

Cooke made it a point to honor family first, and then friends. So he took on a number of his gospel buddies with him in the move to rock, among them S.R. Crain, Rawls, and Alexander. He felt that he could trust them. After all, they’d been through a lot together.

And Klein made good on his initial promises. He not only uncovered $120,000 in back royalties owed by RCA, but also pulled some strings to get Cooke a second booking at the Copacabana, which as Barry Manilow could tell you was one of the hottest rooms north of Havana--a stage for A-list celebrities only. Cooke failed to impress the audience in his first booking, which got miserable critical reviews. It had become one of his lifetime goals to make a triumphant return to the club. And a triumphant return he made, thanks in part to Klein.

So, Klein and Alexander would really had to have done something major to make Sam fire them. Whatever could that be?

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

1964

There’s more than one way to sing rock and roll
—Sam Cooke, consoling a young Dionne Warwicke
For many years, Liverpool has served as an important port town (40 million tonnes per year), thanks to the River Mersey, a waterway that empties out into the Irish Sea. Along with other wares, phonograph records arrived from the US, among them those made by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and other notables.

Teenaged musicians around the Mersey began learning the tunes they got from such records, and their peers throughout England caught on fast. The Merseybeat (or ‘beat,’ for short) style of r&b had become a major part of the British club scene by 1960. American musicians subsequently began to tour the UK to capitalize on their popularity there, and would sooner or later encounter the Merseybeat--either in their warmup acts, or in clubbing after gigs.

Some, like Muddy Waters were astonished at the degree to which young British musicians could mimic his guitar riffs. At the same time, Muddy felt that his own music contained something that theirs didn’t. He couldn’t place his finger on it, exactly, other than to say that the difference wasn’t so much sonic as it was visceral.

This left British r&b musicians in a bit of a quandary. Many wondered if they were actually playing rhythm and blues, or something else. Some began to see beat as something different than r&b. Others were quite adamant about their authenticity as true r&b. There wasn’t really a fierce debate between 1961 and 1963 about what they were. At the same time, there seemed to be some consensus vis-à-vis the terminology. Rhythm and blues represented the authentic or pure expression. Beat was something that could be r&b, or a British type of r&b, depending on whom you asked. Rock, was simply popular, or commercial music. A group claiming to play r&b might come off as sounding either a bit pretentious, or downright cocky. Likewise, if you referred to a band at this time as r&b, they would have considered it a compliment.

Melody Maker consistently referred to one of the Merseybeat bands as an r&b group from 1962-1963. Many of the US r&b’ers who heard them play during this time agreed, noting that they had the visceral component of rhythm and blues that Muddy Waters found so lacking in their peers. Little Richard, who toured with them, considered them point-blank an r&b band, and attempted to get them a deal with his label, Specialty Records. Sam Cooke, who saw them in 1961, said, “I like them. They sell emotion.”

Of course, we’re talking about the Beatles, here. You know the story. They break it big in the US in January and February of 1964, and explode as an international cultural phenomenon.

The Beatles’ initial success, however, wound up having an interesting effect on the folks back home, who found themselves suddenly in the spotlight as possibly the next big international superstars. Many of them became somewhat self-conscious of their identity as rhythm and blues musicians, and intimidated over the prospect of comparing their own work to those of artists they admired, and in some cases revered. In a 1964 Melody Maker article, Ray Coleman interviewed some of the most prominent young musicians on the UK club scene, and asked them, “Are you a rhythm and blues group?” Their replies:

[Manfred Mann] Yes. Most definitely we are an R&B group...Somebody who had followed us for a long time came up to me recently and said, ‘Ah, you’ve gone commercial’. He meant [the hit song] ‘5-4-3-2-1' of course. I asked him if he had heard the ‘B’ side, which sold well, a quarter of a million people have the chance now to hear the real thing--pure R&B, on the ‘B’ side....

[Chris Curtis (drummer for the Searchers)] Until we recorded ‘Needles and pins’ you couldn’t have said we played R&B from listening to our records. ‘Needles’ is the closest to R&B we have come on records....However, records are one thing, stage work another. The sort of thing we do on stage is beatier, far more R&B-flavoured material...We don’t call ourselves an R&B group. We play some R&B, some rock. In other words, we’re a beat group.

[Mick Jagger]....We are not original R&B, but if you are referring to R&B as it’s understood in Britain, then yes, we’re R&B.

[Ray Ennis (founder of the Swinging Blue Jeans)] We definitely do not play R&B. I’m sorry people have to pigeonhole everything. It seems that when they’re short of a pigeonhole they put it into R&B....I can only describe what we play as popular music. I can’t think of any groups in Britain that play genuine R&B.

[Allan Clarke (lead singer for the Hollies}] We don’t label ourselves. We don’t profess to play R&B--just our own stuff. We use numbers that we think audiences will like--not the stuff of the moment.
Since the five musicians above, and the bands they represented, shared a certain commonality in terms of sound, their diverse understandings of the term ‘rhythm and blues’ are noteworthy. Some UK musicians saw rhythm and blues as a style. Others saw it as an indication of origin. On the question of how closely they related to rhythm and blues, Clark said that he did not “profess” to play it; Ennis believed that no Brit band could play it; Curtis seemed somewhat apologetic, insisting that their records were not, but their stage shows were; Mann uttered an unqualified yes, and Jagger offered guarded affirmation.

These musicians had no plan of action concerning how to solve the problem created by taking on a persona that they would later feel uncomfortable with. So, when a solution came up, how could you expect them to do any thing else but go with the flow?

The established US music industry had continued to use the terms ‘rock’ and ‘rock and roll’ since 1955 to denote r&b records, even if the term had acquired a somewhat negative connotation as watered-down. If subsequent British r&b bands found themselves labeled as ‘rock,’ at least they wouldn’t have to compete against what they considered authentic r&b. Thus, most of them simply acquiesced to the term ‘rock’ when applied to them. (Some, e.g., The Who, never did, and continued to consider themselves r&b for many years.)

Although terminology might seem like a really trivial thing, it had a profound impact on the pop music industry in 1964. Rock’s initial identification with African Americans in 1955 broadened to include white fans and musicians, who could identify with and contribute to the music. Until the advent of Beatlemania, rock and roll knew no boundaries of race, class, or—because of such “girl groups” as the Shirelles--gender. And that’s precisely what infuriated the KKK, the White Citizens’ Council and other anti-rock organizations of the 1950s: the music’s tendency to foster social intermingling among groups forbidden (in some cases by law) from having contact with each other.

But Beatlemania and the subsequent British Invasion changed that. Rock became increasingly identified as white music. At the same time, black musicians found pressures to divorce themselves from rock and roll, and concentrate not on mainstream markets, but rather racially restrictive ones. In a 1964 editorial, Cash Box announced the arrival of a new label, “soul,” to describe not rhythm and blues, but rock and roll. The writer touted soul as high-quality rock worthy to share the charts with other, established white pop artists:

For the trade, ‘soul’ music has evolved into one of the staple sounds of the pop singles market. It is, in a sense, rock ‘n’ roll’s answer to the ‘good music’ pop ballad, which also qualifies as a pop chart ‘common-denominator.’
Ironically, the article used the term “soul” to distance black music from rhythm and blues, over which, in 1964, whites and blacks staked competing claims. It also encouraged black musicians and fans to accept the term ‘soul’ as a sign that rock and roll had taken an evolutionary step toward greater mainstream success among a diverse audience. But far from integrating pop charts, ‘soul’ immediately and irreversibly demarcated the lines between black and white music. A year later (1965), when the Righteous Brothers took the charts, they were not described as soul artists, or rhythm and blues performers. Instead, they were billed as a “blue-eyed” soul group, indicating the anomaly of their ethnicity within the genre.

Ever since 1955, rock had given many a major record label executive acid indigestion. On the one hand, huge profits were there for the taking. On the other hand, if the music were simply a flash-in-the-pan, they might not be able to woo back anti-rock buyers after over-committing themselves to rock. For nine years the majors simply wished the music would just go away. But in 1964, thanks to Beatlemania, they realized that rock was real, it was here to stay, and they’d damn well better do something about it. Otherwise, such small independent labels as Motown and Atlantic would kick their corporate asses.

It would take several years for the majors to make the transition to youth-oriented music. But for all of them, the efforts to retool the record industry began in 1964. The development of terminology (‘rock’ vs. ‘soul’) made it easier for them to deal with one of the thorniest aspects of the music, mainly the stigma of racial inclusiveness. To put this crassly, marketing accomplished what the KKK and the White Citizens’ Council could not: the segregation of rock and roll into black strains (soul) and white strains (rock).

At the same time, the majors would have to deal with their competitors, the small independent labels who had developed the music since the 1940s, and had a clear leg up on them in terms of production and distribution channels. That problem would take them a couple of decades to work out.

In the meantime, the chain of business command would have severe problems if the artists could, by and large, exercise significant control over their production and finances. On one level, they would have considered this the equivalent of the lunatics running the asylum. On a deeper level, however, artist independence cut into profits.

These enormous changes within the music industry occurred in 1964, the year of Sam Cooke’s death. I’m not saying that they caused his death. However, this is the situation Cooke found himself in at the end of his life: the owner of a small independent label (SAR/Darby), a publishing company (KAGS), a major-label contract (RCA), and a corporation (Tracey Music). Moreover, he remained committed to recording for, performing for, and selling to racially diverse listeners. After witnessing the contested struggle over his hit record “You Send Me,” and the shoddy compensation given to his former labelmate Little Richard, he vowed to take control of his musical career down to every last note, and every last penny.

Here’s what I’m asserting: Sam Cooke’s insistence upon maintaining control over his livelihood could very well have played a significant role in his death.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whadaya Mean, “Rock?”

The identity of rock hadn’t yet crystallized by the end of 1963. Rock (or rock and roll--contemporary writers, fans and musicians used the terms interchangeably throughout the 1950s and early-1960s) denoted the same thing from person-to-person. If you asked people off the street during this time to list rock and roll artists, they would probably hit upon the same names: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and so on.

But the connotation of the phrase varied greatly over time. When disc jockey Alan Freed brought his radio show from Cleveland to New York (via Newark, NJ), he referred to the artists and records he spun as ‘rhythm and blues.’ He planned to use the same Moondog persona he had used in Ohio. Unfortunately for Freed, Thomas Hardin, who created the character for his song “The Moondog Symphany,” successfully sued Freed for copyright infringement. Freed subsequently named his show “The Rock and Roll Party.”

Despite Freed’s claim that he invented them in 1951, the terms ‘rock’ and ‘rock and roll’ had been found in a number of rhythm and blues records from the 1940s. The phrase itself, an African American euphemism for sexual activity, predates its inclusion in such songs by at least twenty years. By the 1940s, it had evolved to mean anything that felt as good as sex, like dancing, or listening to music or having a blast with friends.

When Freed gained popularity on New York’s WINS, listeners began to equate the term rock and roll with the music regularly heard there. Thus, Freed actually popularized the usage of the term rock in reference to a particular style of music, which he still privately called ‘rhythm and blues.’

After awhile, however, Freed realized that popularizing the term rock and roll had bigger benefits than simply protecting him against another Hardin lawsuit. Since rock and roll broke big in 1955, it had come under an intense backlash that was mostly racial in nature, thus compelling Freed to defend the music time and again, as he did in response to Billboard critic Ruth Cage:

To me, this campaign against rock and roll smells of discrimination of the worst kind against the great accomplished Negro songwriters, musicians and singers who are responsible for this outstanding contribution to American music.
During a time when conservative critics referred to rhythm and blues derisively as ‘jungle music,’ and the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations threatened to bomb radio stations playing it (and their sponsors), Freed and other people in the music industry saw huge negatives in continuing a line of music clearly tied to African Americans.

The industry had to respond. After all, r&b record sales shot through the roof beginning in 1955, so dabbling in that market seemed oh-so-tempting. One response, favored by major labels, was to record r&b using such established Tin Pan Alley stars as Perry Como and Patty Page. Another involved “covering,” or re-recording the work of the original black artists using the same arrangements and such white popsters as Pat Boone. In some cases, record labels sought such white musicians as Elvis Presley, who had a good feel for the r&b sound.

Freed believed that calling the music ‘rock and roll’ would sufficiently distance it from a purely African American identity, because the word “blues” had become associated with black music since the 1920s. As John Jackson wrote in his 1991 biography of Freed:

Freed maintained that he originally thought of the phrase ‘rock & roll’ after he and [his partner, record store owner] Leo Mintz argued that the racial stigma of rhythm and blues would have to be eliminated in order to cultivate a broader audience for the music.
History would ultimately prove Freed correct, even though it had a roundabout way of doing so. You see, Freed’s constant hawking of the term had a side effect that he didn’t foresee. By 1960, many equated the term ‘rock’ with ‘pop,’ i.e., a watered-down version of rhythm and blues, sanitized for the protection of parental sensibilities. In other words, the phrase ‘rock and roll,’ connoted for many a form of selling-out.

Between 1955 and 1964, that wasn’t so big a deal for American teenagers, who really only wanted to dance to music they could call their own. But it would mean something to others; in particular a young generation of British musicians who, in the late-1950s, began their own rhythm and blues scene.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Emerging from the Dark

If you’ve noticed, I haven’t visited your site or my own much this week. We’ve had storms on the East Coast that knocked the power not once, not twice, but seven times since Tuesday. Combined, we had about seventy-two hours of downtime, or, as I see it, about three-days worth of eighteenth-century living.

The blackout gave me the opportunity to read Erik Greene’s book Our Uncle Sam, which arrived lightening quick, and with the coveted autograph. I’ve also done some additional research, and will continue the Sam Cooke series soon.

But before I do, let’s take a little trip to yesteryear.

The career, life and death of Sam Cooke happened within a context that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere else. I therefore feel obliged to say something about it.

The year of Cooke’s death, 1964, would become a pivotal point in the history of the music industry in terms of recording, publishing and marketing. Much of the change came from a source you probably suspect--namely Beatlemania--but for reasons you might not have imagined.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Saying “No” to Your Facebook

Recently, some rather weird synchronicity has resulted in several of my cyberfriends sending me invitations to join Facebook during the past week. People have invited me to join before, and I have always politely declined, hoping that no one got offended. Okay, so I’m a bit anti-social by nature. Still, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m slapping them in the face.

You see, there’s a reason why I don’t use Facebook. Actually, there are a lot of reasons, not all of them coming at one time. The first struck me right away when I came upon the company’s terms of service:

...by posting Member Content to any part of the Web site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, reformat, translate, excerpt and distribute such information and content and to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such information and content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.
As a musician and writer, this is particularly problematic, for this clause grants Facebook pretty much a free hand in using anything creative that I might post. Compare Facebook’s policy to the Google one that regulates Blogger:

You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
Sure, both claim an irrevocable and perpetual right to re-display or perform your work. But note that Google’s license is limited to use by the company itself for the express purpose of promoting its services. You can see this clause in effect when someone translates your page to another language, or when someone accesses your blog through Google Reader. Facebook, on the other hand, reserves the right to transfer license, and to sublicense your work to third parties. What’s more, this is a fully paid worldwide license.

Actually, I could possibly live with that. I just wouldn't post anything I intended to sell in whole or in part on the site. The real deal killer for me was the privacy policy:

Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (eg. photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience. By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.
In other words, if you agree to these terms, you are giving Facebook the right to spy on you.

Think I'm paranoid?

Consider this. Facebook’s initial funding ($500K) came from PayPal CEO Peter Thiel, a radical right-winger who sits on the board of VanguardPAC, an elite and well funded neo-conservative lobby. Secondary funding came from Accel Partners, headed by James Breyer. Breyer formerly served with Gilman Louie on the board of the National Venture Capital Association, and with Dr. Anita Jones on the board of R&D firm BBN Technologies. Breyer was also the head of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital proprietary firm established by the CIA in 1999. It’s mission was to find investment opportunities that could further the Agency’s agenda. BBN, which played a key role in the development of the Internet, served for decades as an important defense contractor, mainly for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the Defense Department. Before her stint with BBN, Dr. Jones served as a Defense Department advisor, and also sat on the board of In-Q-Tel. Breyer and Louie also served on the board of BBN.

In 2002, DARPA quietly began its own agency. Blandly named the Information Aware Office (IAO), it’s mission consisted of gathering:
...as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver's licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.
At the time, the Big Brother implications of this were quite clear to me. Congress agreed, and consequently defunded IAO in 2003.

Of course, what did DARPA care? If it could get the public to volunteer the necessary information, and allow cross-referencing from other sources, then they could very well fit this into their little black budgets, especially if the CIA chips in a fair share through its investment capital arm.

While there are only twenty million Facebook users worldwide, the numbers can grow exponentially, if one person invites two friends, and they invite two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on (as the old commercial used to go). Then again, perhaps it would suffice if they only managed to capture a broad swath of the college-educated, the men and women who will serve as our future leaders.

Facebook encourages the volunteering and sharing of personal data. It has financial links to the CIA, and its effect will become perilously close to what a discontinued DARPA project would had been, given time.

So forgive me if I say “no” to your Facebook.

If you find this post a little dense, data-wise, click here to see a video presentation of this information and more by Vishal Agarwala.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Now Playing at the COPA: Bobby K.

The live stream from the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Conference should kick in about 10:00pm EDT. We're just setting things up so that they are ready in time.



Web TV provided by Ustream




We've been testing this. If you should experience a disconnection, try refreshening the page. If it's just not working for you, biew the stream live at the COPA website.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

2008 Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Conference

Tomorrow, at 10:00pm Eastern Daylight Time (7:00 Pacific Time), The X-Spot will host a live stream of the opening night proceedings of the 2008 RFK Assassination Conference, hosted by the Coalition On Political Assassinations (COPA). If I can successfully negotiate the html, we’ll also have a chat box, so if anyone’s inclined to interact, they may.


Guest speakers:

Robert Joling—attorney, forensic expert, and author of An Open and Shut Case.

Philip Van Praag—audio expert who could verify that thirteen shots were fired in the Ambassador Hotel pantry at the time of the assassination. (Sirhan Sirhan had an eight shot revolver, that bystanders prevented him from re-loading).

Paul Schrade—RFK assassination researcher, and an eyewitness to the event, Schrade, standing between Sirhan and Kennedy, got shot in the forehead, one of five casualties that night.

William Pepper—attorney who represented James Ray and Martin Luther King’s family in civil suits designed to aid Ray’s exoneration.

Former US Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga)—Currently a Green Party candidate for the US presidency, Representative McKinney has never backed down from addressing sensitive and politically suicidal issues, from her questioning of the official events of September 11, 2001, to DynCorp’s and Halliburton's alleged practice of trafficking sex and labor slaves.

Subsequent panelists and guests include assassination researcher Lisa Pease (not the person who keeps impersonating her online), former FBI Special Agent and Sirhan private investigator William Turner, and British documentary-maker Shane O’Sullivan.

In other words, it sounds fascinating. If you’re in the LA area, I’d recommend attending. If somewhere else in the world, pull up a chair, sit down with your popcorn, and camp out at The X-Spot to catch the first night.

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We Interrupt this Interruption....

Sorry for the delay in posting and for not visiting. I haven’t been around that much recently. Things have been a bit busy lately.

I didn’t plan on posting on this topic. But my last surviving grandparent died while I was preparing the series I originally planned to present. I couldn’t let that pass. So, I interrupted my previous plans, and decided to go with this. I embarked on this series because (a) I really love Sam Cooke’s music, and (b) because my grandmother was such a big Cooke fan, and this was all I could think of to honor her here.

As personally as it began, the series came to mean much more, thanks to the participation of Cooke’s nephew, Erik Greene. I saw the impressive reviews of Our Uncle Sam, and intended on reading it. I thought I'd just do the series, read it later, and post updates if needed. After thinking about it, however, I really would like to consult with this book before posting my conclusions. I have therefore ordered it, and will suspend the series until I have read it. I’m hoping that the process takes less than two weeks (depends on when it arrives).

I don’t usually do this, but I have once before, and for the same reason. When writing about the Gemstone file, I suspended the series in order to review a recently published book on the topic from Stephanie Caruana. As the only surviving principal of the Gemstone story, she was the closest source to the topic who could actually write about it. Likewise, Greene is the closest source to Cooke who has written about it.

I highly value such sources, because complex stories are often simplified to distortion—not unlike a game of telephone. I sense, from Greene’s comments here, that Our Uncle Sam takes a necessarily unique approach to the subject. Because there are certain issues I wish to raise (specifically, those raised by the contemporary black presses that disbelieved the official story from the start), I think that a delay might give me an opportunity to put them in a more coherent context. So this is what I will do. Please forgive me if this adds an element of melodrama or suspense to the series.

In the meantime, we’ll look at other things.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Soul-Stirring Difference between Y & Z: We’re Having a Party

The powers that be,
That force us to live like we do,
Bring me to my knees,
When I see what they’ve done to you.

But I’ll die as I stand here today,
Knowing that deep in my heart
They’ll fall to ruin one day
For making us part.

--The Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde), “Back on the Chain Gang”
During his last few hours, Sam hung out with a couple of friends, RCA executive Al Schmidt and his wife Joan, at Martoni’s, a Los Angeles bar/restaurant just off of Sunset Strip. While there, Sam saw an acquaintance, Jim Benci, a man described by Al as a luggage salesman with connections to the music industry (specifically to Liberty Records). Benci dropped by, and introduced Sam to his companion, a twenty-two-year-old “receptionist” named Elisa Boyer. Cooke eventually excused himself from the Schmidts to talk to Benci, who then left, leaving Sam alone with Boyer. Sometime, over the course of their stay at Martoni's, the Schmidts and Cooke agreed to meet up later that PJs, a Santa Monica nightclub featuring live music, to see if there were any musicians worth recruiting.

Boyer and Cooke left together much later. By the time Cooke and Boyer arrived at PJs, the Schmidts had left. After a brief exchange of heated words with another patron after trying to pick Boyer up, Sam and Elisa got into his Ferrari and drove off.

What happened next has been, and perhaps will always be, a point of contention.

According to the official version, Cooke had promised to take Boyer home. He abducted her instead, taking her to the Hacienda, a fleabag motel on the outskirts of Watts. Sam entered the manager’s office alone, having parked the car some distance away, leaving Boyer alone to catch up. The clerk/manager, Bertha Franklin, checked them in. He first signed the register “Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cooke.” But Franklin apparently didn’t buy that Cooke wanted a room for his wife, and since L.A. County had laws about renting out hotel rooms to unmarried couples, she advised him to use an alias, whereupon he crossed out the first entry, and re-signed.

Boyer claimed that Cooke then dragged her into a cabin (a point contradicted by Franklin’s inquest testimony--the manager, who had walked out to observe the two, didn’t see a struggle). Once inside, he allegedly pinned her to the bed, and forcibly stripped her to her underwear. Then, in the middle of an attempted rape, Cooke went to use the bathroom. When he shut the door, she grabbed her clothes, accidentally picking up most of his by mistake, and rushed out to a nearby payphone to call police. In the middle of her conversation with the dispatcher, she heard shots coming from the office.

Franklin stated at the inquest that she was in the office, on the phone with Evelyn Carr,* the motel’s owner, when Cooke banged on the door, demanding to know if Boyer were there. He then kicked in the door and approached her. She grabbed a handgun, which she kept for protection. He walked over to her despite her admonition to stay put. When she thought he had come too close, she fired three shots, striking him once. He went down, yelling, “Damn woman! You shot me!” Franklin then took a broomstick, and beat him.

A coroner’s jury deliberated for all of fifteen minutes before ruling Cooke’s death a justifiable homicide, based largely on Franklin and Boyer’s account. This still serves as the official explanation of Cooke’s death. Police officials quelled speculation of a cover-up and/or an indifferent investigation by maintaining that both Boyer and Franklin passed “lie detector tests.”

We’re supposed to assume that by “lie detector tests,” the LAPD meant polygraphs. Whether they did or not doesn’t matter. There were numerous inconsistencies in Bertha Franklin’s statements. In fact, she changed her story four times in the week between Cooke’s death and her presence at the coroner’s inquest.

Meanwhile, we have a ton of evidence that proves Elisa Boyer lied…about a lot of things.

*Some sources give the owner’s name as Evelyn Card.

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Ganesh Map
Click to know more Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6Episode 7Episode 8Episode 9Episode 10Episode 11Episode 12Episode 13Episode 14Episode 15Episode 16
  • Alien Abductions
  • April Fool's Day
  • Mae Brussell
  • Cause-Stalking
  • Chappaqiddick
  • The Children of God Cult
  • Sam Cooke
  • Culture Jamming
  • Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake
  • Exploitation Movies
  • The False Memory Syndrome Foundation
  • Fox, Monsanto and Mystery Milk
  • Games
  • The Gemstone File
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  • The Golden Ganesh (History)
  • The Golden Ganesh (The Radio Drama)
  • The Gulf Breeze UFOs
  • The Grail Mystery
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Hitlerism vs. Nazism
  • The International Church of Christ
  • Janis Joplin
  • Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie
  • Lyndon LaRouche and Jeremiah Duggan
  • John Lennon
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • McMartin Preschool
  • MJ-12
  • Nurse Nayirah
  • Ode to Miss Texas
  • Operational Finance
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor, Revisited
  • Perverse Science: Biological Determinism
  • Project MK-ULTRA
  • Ruminations on the JFK Assassination
  • Anne Sexton
  • The Summer of 1947
  • The Tate-LaBianca-Hinman-Parent-Hinman-Shea Murders
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