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An Unwritten Love Letter to Ruth Paine

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

(You can order The Kennedy Suite album now. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)

Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.

Ruth Paine and CHildren

Human beings are funny creatures. Beautiful and appalling. Vengeful and forgiving. Self-serving and self-sacrificing. Violent and merciful. Paradox after paradox. They are all present in the assassination story. One persistent human riddle found in the confounding folds of November 22nd, 1963 is this:

What lies behind our deep-seeded mistrust of goodness?

It would be difficult for me to relate how desperately I wanted to write a song from the perspective of Ruth Paine, the woman whose unconditional selflessness gave shelter to Lee Oswald’s wife Marina and her two children, Rachel and June, in the weeks before and days immediately after the assassination.

Ruth encountered Marina Oswald shortly after the former pharmacy student from Minsk and her husband Lee had arrived in Dallas after his botched attempt to defect to the USSR. Ruth had wanted to learn Russian, and she struck up a friendship with Marina when they met at a social gathering of Russian émigrés in Fort Worth. The group would quickly tire of Lee’s abrasive manner and political sullenness, and would cut ties with the couple in short order.

Ruth alone would remain actively involved in their lives. She became an emotional lifeline for Marina, whose isolation was further exacerbated by Lee’s refusal to allow her to learn English, stranding her in an anxious state of dependence. Through the lens of her own disintegrating marriage to her husband Michael, Ruth saw potential comfort for herself in easing Marina’s loneliness. In this circumstance, Ruth and Marina’s friendship deepened.

Their relationship was interrupted when Lee took his family with him to New Orleans as he struggled to find work. The Oswald’s marriage strained until Lee began threatening to send Marina back to Russia – pregnant with their second child, it was a prospect she dreaded. Emotional letters were traded until it was decided that Ruth would drive from Texas to pick up Marina and her daughter Rachel in New Orleans and bring them back to share her home in Irving, a Dallas suburb. Lee would take advantage of the situation to travel to Mexico City in an attempt to secure a visa to live in Cuba. He had no intention of reuniting with his family. Lee’s plan, like many other of his schemes fueled by political fantasy and self-importance, came to nothing when his application was denied. Laid end to end, years of persistent false starts, rejections and humiliations had taken Lee around the world and back to nowhere. At 24, his life was a staggering achievement in failure.

A disillusioned Lee soon followed his family back to Dallas. Now estranged from Marina, Lee would find lodging at a rooming house on North Beckley Avenue in Oak Cliff with visits to his family in Irving strictly kept to the weekends. Seeing his tenderness as a father during those visits stirred feelings of compassion. Wishing to ease his discontent buy illustrating that life could also contain acts of generosity, Ruth helped Lee find a job at the Texas School Book Depository. She could not have foreseen that her thoughtfulness was unwittingly laying the opportunity to make history at Lee’s feet as the President would soon pass below his warehouse window.

Less than 24 hours before that fateful moment, however, Lee, breaking his routine, made his way to Ruth’s home on a Thursday in an attempt to reconcile with his wife. But Marina had found a safe haven from his abuse and the squalor of his anemic provision, so once again, he was rejected. Early the next morning, November 22nd, 1963, Lee placed his wedding ring in a tea cup on Marina’s dresser, along with all the cash he had managed to save. He had a cup of coffee over the kitchen sink and left for work with a carefully wrapped package under his arm.

Later that afternoon, authorities would arrive at Ruth Paine’s home with a question for Marina – Did her husband own a weapon? To Ruth’s shock, Marina’s answer was yes. Reeling, Ruth led police officers to her garage where, unbeknownst to her, the rifle that would be traced to the President’s murder had been stored. Marina pointed to the plaid wool blanket in which the weapon had been wrapped. When the officer picked it up, it hung limp in his arms. Devastation. As a Quaker and, thus, a staunch pacifist, it would be a terrible betrayal of trust from which Ruth would never fully recover.

Despite this deeply personal violation perpetrated by a couple that she had supported with unwavering charity, Ruth would stand by Marina after the assassination of President Kennedy when her husband became the most infamous and hated man on earth. Ruth would also not speak to the press about the alleged assassin as she endeavoured to protect Lee’s right to a fair and impartial trail, a right she felt obligated out of conscience to defend, even if that guarantee was not being respected by the system sworn to protect it. Only after Lee’s death would she grant an interview because, in effect, he had been “judged quickly and hanged” and her only remaining obligation after Jack Ruby’s act of vengeance was to the historical record. You can watch her 1963 interview here:

And what was the result of Ruth’s extraordinary display of friendship?

For fear of her safety, Marina would be taken into protective custody a few days after the assassination. Cut off from Ruth, it was not long before those around Marina convinced her that Ruth was exploiting their friendship to feed her vanity. Ruth, they argued, was using Marina, the newly famous widow of the alleged assassin, to secure her own place in history and to satisfy a narcissistic craving for media attention. The fact that Ruth, for many trying months and through the birth of Marina’s second child, had been Marina’s sole and unwavering supporter when no one was watching carried no weight. Marina abruptly and coldly severed the friendship that had so often sustained her. She has not spoken to Ruth in the decades since. In her imagination Ruth remains a villain when in actual fact, Ruth may have been one of the only people in Marina’s tumultuous life who truly loved her.

In addition to this deep personal hurt and her painful place at the center of a historical catastrophe, Ruth Paine has suffered the inflammatory slings and accusatory arrows of many an enterprising conspiracy theorist. Unrelentingly defiled and defamed, she has been labeled a CIA operative, a vain spotlight seeker, a shadowy plotter, when her only true crime was kindness.

Despite all this, against a current of pain which does not subside, she remains loving, steadfast, open, principled, resolute.

Is that not a life worthy of song?

And yet, I could not find a way in. Try as I might. It is a love letter that seems fated to lie tantalizingly beyond my ability and desire to bring it into being. I remain caught between inspiration and destination within the paradox of human love and calculating indifference, within the question that asks:

What lies behind our deep-seeded mistrust of goodness?

And so, finding Mrs. Paine’s front door locked, the drapes of her bungalow’s front floor-to-ceiling window drawn, my imagination would turn to canvass her neighbors for their stories. I found three willing to speak with me: a young paper boy, a disconsolate police officer and a vivacious young girl who told me she had two sisters, one of whom went by the name of Ruth.

I knew I had knocked at the right door.

Scottie in front of Ruth Paine House

 

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Where were you when The Kennedy Suite was staged – part VII

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Over the next few weeks we'll present a series of 14 short videos inspired by the TKS stage show and album of songs composed by Scott Garbe and produced by Mike Timmins and Cowboy Junkies.

VIDEO: If you were there in the room you'll recall this extraordinary performance by Cowboy Junkies — replete with haunting vocal by Margo Timmins channelling the narrative perspective of Jacky Kennedy…

View this and others at vimeo.com/thekennedysuite

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Where were you when The Kennedy Suite was staged? – part V

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Another excerpt from the performance of The Kennedy Suite:

 

Charged with protecting the President, a Dallas police officer reflects on the tragedies that he has recently experienced as he rides directly beside Jackie Kennedy in the Presidential motorcade.

Includes Reid Jamieson's stage performance on 22/11/13 at Toronto's Elgin Winter Garden Theatre. Following is "26 Seconds", an audio collage by Scott Garbe and Doug Telfer based on the historic interview with Abraham Zapruder in the immediate aftermath of the assassination

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Where were you when The Kennedy Suite was staged? – part IV

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Over the next few weeks we'll present a series of 14 short videos inspired by the TKS stage show and album of songs composed by Scott Garbe and produced by Mike Timmins and Cowboy Junkies.

VIDEO: In "Dallas Youth Auxiliary", three love-struck sisters steal their father's car and head off to greet the President as he touches down at Love Field…

Watch it on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/95977926

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Where were you when the Kennedy Suite was staged? – part lll

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Over the next few weeks we'll present a series of 14 short videos inspired by the TKS stage show and album of songs composed by Scott Garbe and produced by Mike Timmins and Cowboy Junkies.

 

In "Secret Spy Decoder Ring", a young paperboy unwittingly witnesses Lee Oswald preparing his rifle in his neighbour's garage, then regrets being too young to be taken seriously or drive to the rescue of the President… with video excerpted from Harlan Pepper's stage performance on 22/11/13 at Toronto's Elgin Winter Garden Theatre.

Watch it on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/95977926

The Kennedy Suite — III. Secret Spy Decoder Ring from The Kennedy Suite on Vimeo.

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Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Over the next few weeks we'll present a series of 14 short videos inspired by the TKS stage show and album of songs composed by Scott Garbe and produced by Mike Timmins and Cowboy Junkies.

Framing the scene ahead of JFK's arrival in Dallas, the ominous "Bullet For You" is sung from the narrative perspective of six different possible assassins… with video excerpted from The Kennedy Suite Singers performance on 22/11/13 at Toronto's Elgin Winter Garden Theatre.

The Kennedy Suite — II. Bullet For You from The Kennedy Suite on Vimeo.

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Where were you when the Kennedy Suite was Staged?

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Over the next few weeks we'll present a series of 14 short videos inspired by the TKS stage show and album of songs composed by Scott Garbe and produced by Mike Timmins and Cowboy Junkies.

The first showcases Hawksley Workman & The Screwed's version of "Prologue:" Origami Peace Corps Mischief Makers", with video from The Kennedy Suite performance on 22/11/13 at Toronto's Elgin Winter Garden Theatre.

 

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The Balm of Conspiracy

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

(You can order The Kennedy Suite album now. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)

(Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.)

The idea of conspiracy sprang to life the instant the third shot found its mark in Dealey Plaza with such dispassionate viciousness. “They killed him!” screamed Abraham Zapruder as the Presidential limousine was swallowed by the shadows of the triple underpass, his index finger finally slipping from the trigger of his Bell and Howell home movie camera. Bent over her broken husband, Jackie sobbed “He’s dead – they’ve killed him – oh, Jack, oh Jack, I love you.”

The enormity of the crime demanded the cold calculation of organized menace.

Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s personal secretary, made a laundry list of suspects as she was riding on Air Force One back to Washington from Dallas: Lyndon, KKK, Dixiecrats, Hoffa, John Birch Society, Nixon, Diem, Rightists, CIA in Cuban fiasco, Dictators, Communists.  

The idea that the President could have been killed by a lone assassin working in isolation was just as incomprehensible as that fact that he had ceased to exist.

Bullet for You sets forth a list of would-be assassins representative of the myriad entities during the early 1960’s that would have greeted Kennedy’s death with relish. In so doing, the lyric of the song strives to convey the tangible animosity that hung heavy in the Dallas air and had many people surrounding Kennedy strongly urging him not to make the trip. It also reflects how the idea of conspiracy, perhaps even the psychological need for it, has persisted to the present day.

  1. Disgruntled Cuban Exiles: The first would-be assassin in the song is a Cuban exile, positioned on a roof top over-looking the motorcade route. Criticism of the President was bitter amongst the exile community where it was viewed that his lack of adequate air support at the Bay of Pigs led to the failure of the CIA lead operation to over-throw Castro. The failed operation was an embarrassment for the young administration and left Kennedy famously vowing to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” Reportedly, even Robert Kennedy harbored suspicions that the CIA had been involved in the murder of his brother. Click here if you are interested about learning more about the Bay of Pigs.
  2. The Mob: Means, expertise and motive converge on this popular choice amongst conspiracy theorists. It is alleged the Kennedys used mob contacts to have ballot boxes stuffed in Illinois to help secure the Presidency. The mob then grew incensed when Robert Kennedy pursued the organization aggressively as Attorney General once his brother was in the White House. In addition, it is not just conspiracy talk when historians such as Robert Dalleck confirm that Kennedy had an affair with Judith Campbell, mistress also to mobster Sam Giancana, introduced to Kennedy by Frank Sinatra.
  3. Right Wing Extremists/John Birch Society: When the President arrived in Dallas, he was greeted by a caustic full page advertisement in the Dallas Morning News sarcastically addressing him as Mr. Kennedy. The article was financed by John Birch Society member Joseph P Grinnan and accused President Kennedy of being soft on communism and a friend to Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito.  The name at the bottom of the ad was Bernard Weissman, a JBS sympathizer who had not formally joined the society because he found that many of its members were anti-Semitic. Ironically, the name at the bottom of the ad was a prime motivator for Jack Ruby to later kill Lee Oswald. Ruby, who was deeply sensitive to anti-Semitism throughout his life, was dismayed that the ad and the subsequent assassination of the President could add to the already strong anti-Semitic environment in Dallas that he faced on a daily basis. Besides saving Jackie Kennedy the pain of returning to Dallas to testify in Oswald’s trial, Ruby reportedly had said he killed Oswald to show the world that, “Jews had guts.” To view the original ad, click here:
  4. Fidel Castro: In the closing months of his Presidency, Kennedy was involved in secret, back-channel discussions with Castro which aimed to find a peaceful resolution to the tension between their two countries. Things had been going so well, according to Thurston Clarke’s JFKs Last Hundred Days, that Castro joked he would be happy to come out publically for Barry Goldwater if it meant keeping Kennedy in office. Despite these overtures, Kennedy had authorized Operation Mongoose, a covert CIA operation that aimed to over throw the Communist government in Cuba and assassinate its leader. Robert Kennedy was directly responsible for running the project. According to Evan Thomas’ Robert Kennedy: His Life, former CIA director, John McCone recalled Robert Kennedy asking him directly if the agency had killed his brother. Later, McCone wondered if RFK’s emotional devastation was caused by personal guilt created by the knowledge that in actively seeking the life of Castro, he may have brought about the death of his brother.
  5. Emasculated Lovers: Published conspiracy suspects range from the plausibly ominous to the scurrilously ridiculous – from well-trained assassins of the Soviet Union to a Secret Service agent who pulls a hand gun out of the limousine glove box and turns to murder the man he had sworn to protect in full view of the First Lady and Governor Connelly. The aggrieved husband whose wife has left him “for a look-a-like Kennedy working in a traveling show” is representative of the most implausible of those theories that themselves conspire to turn catastrophe into carnival.
  6. Lee Harvey Oswald – Killer or Patsy?: In the final verse of the song, two versions of Lee Oswald serenade the listener, vying for their sympathies. Is he the killer standing in the 6th floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building, coolly awaiting the President’s arrival? Or is he the down-on-his-luck patsy, innocently sipping a Coca-Cola in the break room as the leader of the free world passes by?  

Inspiring and enacting change generates hatred. Palpable hatred. This is a reality for those chipping at the mountain of social prejudice in anonymity and those moving effortlessly through the rarified air of privilege. Through the romantic haze of nostalgia, it is difficult to appreciate from a distance of 50 years just how much President Kennedy was reviled by a broad range of adversaries. He was despised as passionately as he was adored. As Mrs. Lincoln wrote on the back of her note: "There is no end to the list of suspected conspirators to Pres. Kennedy’s murder. Many factions had their reasons for wanting the young president dead. That fact alone illustrates how the world suffers from a congenital proclivity to violence".

Though the assassination provides the context for The Kennedy Suite, this song cycle is not a “Who Done It?” Bullet for You is expository in its treatment of the many conspiracies surrounding the murder of President Kennedy. It is not meant to elucidate or accuse. My belief in conspiracy died with my interest in it. My interest in conspiracy died in this realization:

The identity of the killer is of far less consequence than the consequence of the victim’s destruction. Amidst all the mystery and metaphysical wonderings, that is a truth which is deep, sad, and immovable whether the life taken belongs to the President or a child bent worriedly over his times tables.

Endowing catastrophe with meaning diminishes its power to a point where our survival of its cruelty seems possible. That is the balm conspiracy offers.

Its failure to soothe may be conclusive proof in and of itself that Lee Oswald acted alone.

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“The past is prologue….”

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

(You can order The Kennedy Suite album now. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)

Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.

Once I had found my thread, I wrote three new songs in very short order.

The first would revolve around the life of the police officer riding in the motorcade directly beside Jacqueline Kennedy at the moment of the assassination. The next, from the perspective I imagined as the First Lady. It was upon finishing this second song that I realized slaying my Minotaur would involve the creation of an entire collection of narratives that, when strung together, would follow the chronology of that tragic weekend in Dallas. A suite of songs. The Kennedy Suite was a title that came almost immediately and involuntarily. That inspirational spark was closely followed by my first structural calculation.

Newton’s third law of motion states that “when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.” The same is true for physics of storytelling. The profound loss I had felt when I discovered President Kennedy had been murdered found its power in the deep sense of awe that had been generated in me as I explored his life. If I was to help the reader appreciate that same experience to any degree, songs addressing the assassination and its aftermath would need to be preceded by a vivid depiction of the palpable excitement and tangible possibility for change his ideas generated.

And so I set to work on a prologue.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…”

President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address was, and is, a thrilling listen. If you have never taken the time or had the opportunity to do so, you can treat yourself by clicking on this link: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/BqXIEM9F4024ntFl7SVAjA.aspx.. Look through the transcript. Stunning. It was clear very early that nothing I could create could match hearing the President speaking for himself, and so it would be that both the demo I would set down with my friend Doug Telfer and the final recording produced by Michael would begin and end with him doing so.

Freed from having a rhetorical toe to toe with my hero and avoiding a disastrous Dan Quayle moment (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWXRNySMW4s ), I began to play – an activity that is, for me, the essence of the writing process.

One of the games I like to play most is to turn a phrase, especially a cliché – something I learned to love in Elvis Costello’s writing (“Who’s making Lover’s Leap safe again for lovers?”) Needless to say, one of President Kennedy’s most famous phrases from that speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” immediately piqued my sense of linguistic mischief.

One of JFK’s great qualities was his ability to question the status quo with skepticism and intelligence. In the final days of his presidency he was looking to extract the country from Vietnam, he had beaten back the hawks encouraging him to use military force in Cuba and was quietly pursuing a back-channel dialogue with Castro. The unofficial overtures had gone so well that Castro had joked he would publically back Republican Presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater if it would help Kennedy get re-elected in 1964. Furthermore, the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis had fostered a growing understanding with Nikita Khrushchev that, more than adversaries, they were partners in holding back forces within their militaries that were advocating for preemptive nuclear conflict and presenting that strategy as not only advantageous but reasonable. Kennedy’s challenge to instigate meaningful change and his ability to express that challenge with an eloquence and incisiveness that made change seem not only possible but inevitable was infectious. To put it another way, the new Commander in Chief was a shit disturber of the highest order, and his rhetoric, as audacious as it was erudite, was a clarion call for others to aspire to the same level of progressive insubordination.

Ask not what your country can do, ask what it’s done.”

I had turned the phrase, and in so doing, had found a probing disposition that I felt was not only representative of the times and of the Kennedy presidency, but would also weave its way through the writing of the entire project.

The prologue of The Kennedy Suite would be entitled Origami Peace Corps Mischief Makers. Its first and more succinct title was Make Us! My friend Adam Faux had encouraged me to trade it for interest’s sake with a line I had created for the chorus. Though the title changed, that spirit of “progressive insubordination” would remain integral to the song.

It was at this moment that the development of the lyric, as it began to take on a life of its own, took a funny turn.

I could think no greater example of steadfast courage, dignified resolve and unflinching defiance than in the stories of hundreds of ordinary Americans who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. The song began to head full stream in that direction. While there were references to Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon and his almost subversive use of diplomacy to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, references to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders and the murder of Emmett Till (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxK8u58PqTE) began to take over the page. What was interesting for me was that a song celebrating Kennedy’s zeal for societal change was running into an area where Kennedy was roundly criticized for his lack of action – the area of Civil Rights. For conservatives who were safely removed from the crippling degradation of racism, he was moving too fast – for those suffering the hourly indignities and horror of state sponsored brutality, he was inching reluctantly at a pace which was only exacerbating the suffering.

A confluence of events would push President Kennedy to conclude that the struggle for Civil Rights was, in fact, a moral issue that would need to be addressed, whatever the political consequences. He would lay his convictions before the American people on June 11, 1963, five months before his death. Two of those ordinary heroes, Vivian Malone and James A. Hood, were attempting to enroll in the University of Alabama and the state’s Governor, George Wallace, was blocking their way. Kennedy would be forced to send Federal troops to resolve the issue. In his speech explaining his actions he would say in part that, “…this nation, for all its hopes, and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.” (the full speech can be seen at: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/LH8F_0Mzv0e6Ro1yEm74Ng.aspx )

When the song had found its feet, it had aggressively turned the tables. The man who boldly challenged others would himself be boldly challenged. And sometimes political pragmatism would mean that he would not rise to meet that challenge until the actions of those less powerful, even powerless, forced his hand.

Was President Kennedy all I had imagined him to be?

The ode to the penetrating skepticism of a man I had admired since I was a young boy was now poking its thick finger in my chest, looking into my eyes, wondering if I was willing to go where it may lead me.

Its probing disposition had me wondering the same thing.

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The National

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

The National is Canada's premier national news broadcast. We were very honoured that they took an interest our little corner of the world and created a very substantial news item about The Kennedy Suite, which aired last Friday night. They came in to our studio during rehearsal for the Winter garden shows and went out to Scott's school and filmed him at work as well as doing extensive interviews with me, Scott and Andy. It's a terrific piece…, please give it a listen, if you have a few minutes in your day.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV%20Shows/The%20National/ID/2420128719/

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