Tuesday, September 30, 2014

THE RULE

Caught this PBS documentary, THE RULE, last night about the high school—St. Benedict's Prep—I went to in Newark NJ back in the 1950s. The doc gives a quick history of the school, including a brief reference to the German and Irish immigrant battles that took place in the neighborhood in the 1800s when my maternal grandmother went to grammar school in a building later acquired by St. Benedict's, and her grandfather took part in those battles where the German butchers used heir knives in what was called in the papers back then "race wars" (because the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment saw the immigrants as different races) and an equally brief reference to the way the school was a day school for the sons of working-class immigrants from Germany and Ireland at first, then later from Italy and Eastern Europe too, as it was when I went there, with also a handful of African-Americans and Asian-Americans and a handful more of Latinos.

But after the urban disturbance of the late 1960s—called by some "the Newark Riots," and by others "The Newark Uprising" and other variations—the Benedictine Monks that ran the school, and lived in the abbey attached to it, split over whether to close down, move, or stay to serve the new community that took over after the late '60s: i.e. the "black" community.

When I went there from 1956 to 1960, St. Benedict's stood between an entirely "black" neighborhood of wooden row houses covered in asphalt shingles made to look like fake bricks, which ended basically across the street from the school, and the downtown Newark business area which began right behind the school with famous (to us) stores like Bamberger's and Klein's-On-The-Square, (where my mother took me and my brothers and sisters to get our Easter outfits), as well as movie theaters and burlesque theaters (New York City had banned burlesque houses for a while in the repressive and oppressive 1950s, so Minsky's and the other places moved to Newark for several years). The downtown area was predominantly "white" when I was at St. Benedict's, but after the Uprising became predominantly "black."

In the uprising, the row houses all burned down in the neighborhood where I got to see Daddy Grace sitting on his thrown in an ermine cape with nails longer than I'd ever seen before and a brass band that killed (the only white, let alone kid, in the place) or ate at Father Divine's Peace restaurant, and later dated a girl from the neighborhood, a couple actually, before I left Jersey for the military when I was nineteen, years before the uprising. Now where once there was a "ghetto" has a branch of Rutgers University as well as a government funded "middle-class" enclave of houses with grass and trees, though that didn't stop three African-American students home from college and hanging out in a playground that's part of the complex from being shot to death by some Puerto Rican teens a few years ago...

...anyway, this documentary mentions some of this in passing but mostly concentrates on how a small band of Benedictine monks, including a classmate of mine from the '50s, broke from the rest in their abbey, who all left, and instead stayed and decide to make educating urban teenage boys, mostly "of color," their mission, and after raising funds from an intensely active and committed alumni even added a dormitory for boys whose homes were just too hectic or dangerous, or their particular neighborhoods in Newark were, so that they could learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment.

It's a pretty quick moving and pretty hard hitting film, with boys and monks starring as caring and determined realists, despite the spiritual setting and atmosphere. I have to say, it made me proud (and also left me wishing when I was there they'd had some of the innovations the monks introduced in more recent times...)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

MY (LATEST) THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER MOMENT



So last night I went to the performing center in the town I grew up in to catch THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER. I went mostly to see Cheryl Bentyne, because back in my Hollywood years, toward the last of them, she asked me to open for her at a Santa Monica jazz club, or at least a venue that featured a lot of jazz. She was doing a solo act and had a band that included her then husband on piano and a bunch of the best studio and recording and movie soundtrack musicians in L.A., led by trumpeter—and at the time king of the movie soundtrack—composer and arranger Mark Isham.

And these guys were gonna back me, and did.  They improvised jazz behind me reading my poems to a full house through a dynamite sound system. It was one of my favorite and best readings in a lifetime of them. And then Cheryl came out to display some of the most fantastic vocal chops in the world. The entire evening was unique, for which I am still totally grateful. So I wanted to stop in to see her after the show to just say hello and tell her how much that night meant to me. I was also looking forward to the show, because it's always a pleasure when the pros do their thing, and what vocal group can out pro THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER.

But from the moment they came out on stage tears unexpectedly welled up in my eyes. Because they had all obviously aged since the last time I saw them, two decades ago, as have I. The older ones in the group, Tim Hauser and Alan Paul, are now senior citizens, though Paul looked as lithe and youthful as a teenager on stage. I found out later that Tim Hauser, the older of the two (born in 1941, while Paul was born in '49) had just buried his mother two days before the show, which no one could have guessed.

The women are younger (having been born in the 1950s) and Cheryl especially looked like she hadn't changed much. But still, there was the look and gravitas of many years having passed and I identified so much with that and then they started singing. Transformative. In the course of the show, Janis Siegel went from looking like a hip youngish grandmother, to moving and grooving like a teenager herself, and her voice was as amazing as ever. (Cheryl was moving like a teen from the first note.)

That's what impressed me the most about all of them, the vocal control and tone and range showed no signs of diminishment. Hauser is the same age as Bob Dylan, and Dylan, when I saw him ten years ago live, seemed only capable of hitting two notes, or the same note an octave apart more or less. He can get away with it. But these guys voices are as great as ever.

It's an intimate show—I think they call it their living room show—that includes some film and photos with biographical interludes and solos and their usual range of genres from classic popular music to jazz. But they made every song their own as always. If you see this tour is coming anywhere near where you might be, I highly advice you to catch it. There's something so poignant about seeing this group still owning vocalese after all these years. Too late to stop now.

Friday, September 26, 2014

AND NOW FOR THE NFL

I played football in high school and followed it for many years on TV thereafter but gave it up in the 1980s when it seemed to become more about corporate profits than sports and also started to become more brutal. When I played smashing your head directly into another player's head was considered a bad move, not because you could get a concussion, because the newer helmets supposedly prevented that, but because it was a move that could too easily be avoided and/or might miss stopping the other player. You were supposed to use your arms and shoulders for tackling and blocking and etc...

I've been the same weight since I was fifteen, between 145 and 150, but there was a brief period in my Hollywood years when someone convinced me I'd get more work as an actor if I beefed up and got muscular so I worked with a trainer five days a week, a combination of aerobics and weights and ate a body builder's diet (a pile of pancakes with eight scrambled egg yolks and a half a chicken was the breakfast) and as a result put on fifteen pounds of pure muscle.

I hated the way it made me feel, my upper arms seemed too tight against my torso etc., but the women seemed to like it. It didn't lead to what was predicted and I eventually injured myself when the weights got too heavy and went back to my old style not worrying about it and back to my natural weight (doctors would always tell me, as they have my two sons over the course of our lives, that we're underweight until I say I've been this weight since I was fifteen as my boys have also been very slim but toned and strong, ant men I call us, and then the docs would say, never mind).

The reason I bring this up is because the trainer, an Eastern European body builder who claimed to have worked for the CIA, would warn me after every session that the workout had increased my testosterone so I should be careful when I left the gym because if someone bumped into me accidentally I might overreact.

Point being, the violence in football, particularly in the NFL, that I noticed began increasing in the '80s and has grown, like the players, to unheard of proportions, which is obviously encouraged and promoted and even enhanced with drugs etc. also produces men whose testosterone is out of control so that they overreact to the slightest provocation, like a woman giving them a problem or even striking them, a la Ray Rice.

But like too many cops in this country—as so many Internet videos and photos show—instead of being trained to recognize the potential for violent outbursts as a result of their physical training, these football players have been instead too often protected from their overreactions by corporate NFL money and power, until the Ray Rice scandal.

My friend RJ Eskow has a great column that connects all that to the ridiculousness of the NFL being a "non profit" corporate entity that doesn't have to pay taxes and in which the economic inequality between the bosses and workers is more extreme than in the rest of the economy. Check his post out here.

As for football the way it's run and played now, especially in the NFL, somewhere in the future people will look back, hopefully, and wonder what the feck "Americans" were thinking, or else just figure like the Roman Empire and its gladiators, we weren't thinking but instead were being distracted while the rulers took all the money and power until the empire collapsed on itself...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

MORE CORPORATE MALFEASANCE

Here is my response to this site's posting of an entire blog post of mine without my permission and in order to completely distort my original intent by making it seem my post is somehow connected to their phony version of what was originally created by Terence Winch and his brother Jesse, the traditional Irish-music band Celtic Thunder, but whose name has since been appropriated by a music touring machine that represents the opposite of the traditional irish music and Irish values Celtic Thunder once stood for. I tried to leave this as a comment on the site but it became too complicated. If anyone knows how to do it, please feel free to copy the below and send, or otherwise let the jive Celtic Thunder know they are unappreciated to those who cherish creative integrity.

The words in this Internet site post are all copyrighted and belong to Michael Lally (as the poems belong to Terence Winch)—and as the comment buried within this copyrighted blog post makes clear my words refer to the original Celtic Thunder band, not the traveling circus that ripped off the name and have used it to promote their money-making scheme that exploits the public interest in things Irish by giving the public a phony pablum commercial corporate version of music that has nothing to do with the original Celtic Thunder. And to have a photo of the original and true Celtic Thunder on the same page that when you click on it takes you to the schedule of the corporate-machine phony Celtic Thunder performance schedule is not only crassly deceptive and exploitative but akin to other corporate entities that benefit the few and impoverish the rest of us, in this case cultural impoverishment, substituting corporate GMO music for the real thing, while using the real thing to trick the public into thinking the false product IS the real thing, as in using my post on THE ORIGINAL AND AUTHENTIC CELTIC THUNDER to promote the lame corporate exploitation-machine that calls itself Celtic Thunder but is more like Celtic Traitor.  

[PS: My oldest son, Miles, checked out the site that did this and he says it probably came from a robot, a poorly designed supposedly music news site that is programmed to recognize names and reproduce posts and articles etc...though I notice since I posted this the site removed the photo of the original authentic Celtic Thunder that linked to the bogus Celtic Thunder's performance schedule and replaced it with a photo of the bogus band, so somebody obviously noticed either this post, or Connie Nicholson's great comment on the site denouncing it...]

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MORE HOLLYWOOD HITS

From my "Hollywood" years, here's shots that include Katy Sagal, to whom I send congrats for getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard recently, and Michael O'Keefe, also congrats for recently being added to the new HOMELAND cast, and an extra shot of the star of HOMELAND, Claire Danes, while we're at it:
That's me up top actually kissing Katy Sagal and beneath it my making fun of "Hollywood" kisses with Katy c. 1990
In the back that's Joel Lipman and me, up front it's Michael Harris, Hubert Selby Jr., Eve Brandstein and Michael O'Keefe c. late 1980s
That's Claire Danes and unidentified others watching as I read a poem at The Bowery Poetry Club c. 2007 I think