Saturday, August 18, 2018

TOM CLARK R.I.P.

Tom and I knew each other through correspondence and the Internet for many years, but I feel his loss as though he lived around the corner. He was a poet and critic and unique blogger as well as a friend. He died from being hit by a car, something that had occurred once before not that many years ago and left him permanently damaged. He complained about the serious problems for pedestrians in his area of Berkeley California, both in his poetry and in his correspondence. Which he obviously was right to.
Here is a blog post I made eight years ago about his poetry and more:

Friday, August 17, 2018

CRAZY RICH ASIANS

CRAZY RICH ASIANS is an epic romantic comedy. It has some of the tropes and expectations of a traditional rom-com, but it's scale and achievement makes it epic. Set mostly in Singapore, it has some local critics saying the movie doesn't get their city state, and the mix of its inhabitants, correct. But watching it, I felt like others have reacted, I actually welled up, overwhelmed by the reality of an all Asian cast getting to light up the screen with joyful charisma unfettered by martial arts displays or any of the usual Hollywood Asian movie cliches (well, for the most part).

As others have pointed out, one of the breakthrough aspects of the movie is the leading men, all Asian, and mostly hunky and handsome and totally holding the screen as movie stars. If I had my choice for the next James Bond it would be Idris Elba, but if not him Henry Golding (the leading male in CRAZY RICH ASIANS) or Harry Shum Jr. (Golding's character's best friend in the film).

And any one of the women in the movie could carry their own film as a lead, including the marvelous Awkwafina who stole OCEAN'S EIGHT and would almost steal CRAZY RICH ASIANS if she wasn't up against such powerhouses as the iconic, legendary Michelle Yeoh, and the younger stars Constance Wu and Gemma Chan.

Sitting in the theater, moved by the magnitude of a genre movie's impact in normalizing what Hollywood generally marginalizes, I remembered sitting in a crowded theater on the other coast back in the day watching an audience respond to the Irish movie THE COMMITMENTS and thinking, this is a game changer, the real Irish culture and landscape is being not just accepted but celebrated. And though CRAZY RICH ASIANS is mostly limited to the class the title refers to, it still represents an acceptance and celebration of real individual Asians in a movie unrelated to the non-Asian perspective of almost any other Hollywood movie to date.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

ARETHA R.I.P.

In my late teens, from 1958 to 1961, I spent a lot of nights drinking wine in a paper bag sitting on the sidewalk with my back to a metal grate out of which came live music from the bandstand directly below the grate in the Village Gate which was a nightclub in a basement under what was called a "bum hotel" in those days.

I had a crush on Nina Simone who played there regularly, and when I had the money I'd sometimes get into the club to hear her sing and play piano. I was playing piano in less well paying clubs in those days and someone hipped me to a new act performing there that I should get inside to catch, so I got the dust (short for "gold dust"—one of the many hip terms my fellow jazz musicians used for money in those days) and went in to see this teenage girl with the cool name Aretha play and sing.

She and I were the same age and in my memory we were both sixteen or seventeen, so it would have been before her first album came out, but maybe we were eighteen and this was her tour for it, either way I'd never heard her. When she sat down to play I dug her basic blues chops, and then she opened her mouth and filled that little space so powerfully that all the usual nightclub chatter that went on during sets and musicians hated, but was common in those days, ceased.

I remember it just being her and the piano, alone on that stage, blowing everyone's minds with the intensity of her talent. I never stopped listening to her and never stopped being blown away by her talent. Rest In Peace Aretha.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

EIGHTH GRADE

For his first feature film, the multi-talented Bo Burnham wrote and directed EIGHTH GRADE, and mostly nails it. Lots of great editing and storytelling and music and set ups in the story of a girl's last days of middle school.

Elsie Fisher gives an incredibly committed performance that spans the spectrum of emotional and psychological moods with comic and poignant and enlightening moments of pure originality. She should win an Oscar for Best Actress.

Monday, August 13, 2018

BURT BRITTON R.I.P.

Burt Britton was a good friend of mine. I'm not posting his photo here because the only one I could find online isn't great, and because he was a very private guy in his last several decades, and because his true and best self-portrait is the book he produced, called SELF-PORTRAIT, which changed his life.

Burt was an ex-marine and an actor before he became a fixture at The Strand bookstore in lower Manhattan in the 1970s when I was raising my oldest boy on my own there and scuffling to get by. One of the ways I paid the bills was writing book reviews for papers like The Village Voice and The Washington Post. As a result, a lot of authors and poets sent me their books or their publishers did. I'd sell bags of these books to the many booksellers in the book district which The Strand was the heart of.

I'd usually stick one rare book in each bag to entice the booksellers who'd buy the bag as though they hadn't noticed that one book was actually worth something. Burt's station was in the basement among the rare books. When I approached the counter one day in 1975 with my five-year-old son, Miles, Burt said, "You're the poet Michael Lally," which surprised me since I wasn't famous.

He disappeared in some book stacks and came back with copies of the several books of mine that existed then, to sign for him. After I did, he pulled out a bound sketch book and opened it to a blank page and asked me to make a self-portrait. I gave Flynn the pen and he drew a picture of himself (in patched jeans) writing his name on the figure's shirt, then I sketched a thought bubble coming from the figure's mind and put a little sketch of my bespectacled face inside it.

When we were done, Burt flipped through the sketch book showing me self-portraits by famous writers—e.g. Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Susan Sontag, and Kurt Vonnegut etc.—and unfamous ones like me. It turned out everyone in publishing knew of Burt's sketchbooks full of similar self-portraits and wanted to publish a collection of them. But they all wanted to do just the famous ones, and Burt refused to let anyone publish them unless they included everyone.

Eventually Random House agreed to his terms and the book came out in 1976. It was an instant success and garnered a full blast of media attention (meaning newspapers and network and local television) turning Burt into a star. He was married to the late, model-beautiful Corby (before there were model opportunities for stunning African-American women, their wedding celebration if I remember correctly in their apartment on a New Years Eve), but the publicity created challenges as women came out of the woodwork to entice this manly ex-marine book loving bright and ruggedly handsome newborn celebrity, and they divorced.

One story he shared was about the late Margaret Trudeau, the ex-(I think at the time) wife of the Canadian Prime Minister, and yes, mother of the current Canadian Prime Minister. She came to New York and called Burt from her hotel room relentlessly until he went and spent some time with her there.

He also was approached by a book lover who thought his newfound fame could help make a success of a new bookstore they opened near the old Whitney Museum on upper Madison Avenue. It was called Books & Company and one of their first window displays included all my books at that time (it was before smart phones and I didn't own a camera and never thought to ask anyone to take a photo so...).

Burt was now in a position to order any books he wanted, to sell in the store, but he loved too many books and before long the upstairs office spaces were crowded with boxes of unopened books, as was eventually the room where readings were given (I did a few there), and all the profits were being plowed back into Burt's obsession, so his partner bought him out.

As fame faded and the bookstore everyone thought of as his wasn't his anymore, he retreated into almost the life of a hermit (though eventually fortunately he and Corby got back together before she passed a few years ago). In 1982 I moved to L.A. with Mies and my oldest child, Caitlin, but when in New York (and after moving back East in '99) our mutual friend the late poet Ray DiPalma would call Burt and the three of us would sit in the living room of Ray's apartment and talk books and acting (Ray had done some theater acting too, like Burt) and share stories about writers and poets and book people and actors we'd known.

We did that the last time not too many years ago, and afterward Burt walked me to the subway and hugged me goodbye. He had a gray beard by then and wore dark glasses and a knit cap and a seemingly too large overcoat and in general looked like an anonymous vagabond. But Burt was always uniquely iconic, so even incognito you couldn't miss the power of his presence. He was someone no one who met him at any point in his life ever forgot. Including me. And I never will.

[here's a link to his NY Times obit]

Sunday, August 12, 2018

ANOTHER GRATIFYING EXPERIENCE

The charity events at Author's Night in Amagansett, Long Island, yesterday make me grateful to still be around to have such experiences. And more than grateful to longtime friend Alec Baldwin for making me a part of it (out of the close to one hundred authors signing their books, I was the only one with a book of poems).

Alec made sure I was seated next to him and his amazing wife Hilaria (both of whom had great books (which I highly recommend) to sign (You Can't Spell America Without Me and The Living Clearly Method), and every now and then he'd shout something like: "Make sure you buy my friend Michael Lally's new book. He's the greatest living poet, and pretentious too!" or some other Irish humor that always makes me feel at home, literally.

Many people heeded his advice, and other folks bought a copy of Another Way To Play because they had a family member who likes and/or writes poetry, or in a few instances, because they were old friends or ex-students I hadn't seen in years. (All proceeds of the tickets to get into the events and the sales of books went to the libraries out at the end of Long Island.)

It was extremely crowded, and the line for Alec to sign his (written in the first-person persona of 45 with, and according to Alec mostly by, Kurt Andersen) was huge when the event began, and never diminished for the over two-and-a-half hours Alec engaged each buyer in conversation and jokes and posed for selfies etc. (it's hard work being a celebrity, as I've learned from being around him and others over the years).

It was an honer to have been included for this charity extravaganza which raised over 350,000 dollars. As usual, I feel like an awfully lucky guy. Here's some photos taken by Rachel E. Diken who drove me all the way out there and back and took photos and footage for the documentary she's making about me and my life and poetry (and needs more funding to complete):