Thursday, May 21, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME

Me in early 1964 after winning that little loving cup trophy on the piano in the Fairchild Air Force Base (outside Spokane, Washington) talent contest for comedy! I lost to another guy, a vibraphonist named Rick (I think) in the jazz category, but for comedy I played some commonly known song (either Jingle Bells or Happy Birthday) in different pianists styles (Liberace, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Floyd Cramer, Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, et al.), exaggerating their styles for comic effect and then ended with singing and playing Jon Hendricks "Gimme That Wine" and as I was drunk at the time that too somehow worked as comedy. Wish we had smart phones back then and someone had recorded it. (I used the photo for the cover of THE VILLAGE SONNETS)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

SUSAN ROTHENBERG R.I.P.

This is the only photo I could find online (don't know who took it) that comes close to how I remember the great painter in the years when we were close friends, the late 1970s-early '80s. We both were living in what was becoming known as Tribeca before John Belushi and Robert DiNiro started buying buildings there changing the real estate values and population of the neighborhood.

I paid 200 bucks a month to occupy (illegally then) 1800 square feet of an old industrial loft space (toilet in the hall) for me and my son Miles pre-1980 and then my daughter Caitlin as well post-'80. My girlfriend Rain lived with us for part of that period too. Susan and I first bonded over being two of the few single parents in a sparsely populated area back then. Her daughter Maggie was a familiar presence in our lives.

I have a lot of stories about that time, but here's two that came to mind first. Susan told me how she and her husband broke up after a female gallery owner came to their loft to see his work and ended up more interested in Susan's work, taking her on and in the process wounding her husband's ego (she didn't put it that way but the circumstances confirmed it for me).

Another time she came over to my place very upset because she had been invited to a dinner party uptown with wealthy art collectors and other VIPs and her gallery owner wanted her to go. She was angry about the pressure of having to be on display and what she would wear and how she'd have to behave, to the point she became determined to quit the gallery and leave New York.

I reassured her that my experience (having gone through some version of that a few years before as a downtown poet) helped me see that they didn't expect her to dress like them or behave like their upper class jive but instead to be the artist and be nothing like them. So she could go as she was, with her seemingly home-made pixie haircut in her usual jeans and sweatshirt smoking her unfiltered cigarettes and not say a word if she didn't want to. She calmed down and went to the dinner, but a decade later after marrying fellow artist Bruce Naumann, she moved with him to the dessert Southwest leaving New York for good.

Condolences to Maggie and all of Susan's family, friends, and fans of her art.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

SOME BOOKS

Books, movies, and music saved my life when I was a kid and young adult, over and over again. I still rely on them to comfort my spirit and soothe the turmoil of a restless mind and soul. Over the years I've gotten great solace from reordering my bookshelves by author, or by era, or by subject, or by taste, etc. but in recent years I've gotten less OCD about it and now can't locate books sometimes. Anyway, I decided to list some shelves and piles just for my own amusement and comfort. Here's the top shelf of a bookcase containing some poets and writers whose work had an impact on me once, or books with some special value, arranged more or less chronologically:

THE ANALECTS OF CONFUCIUS translated by Lionel Giles (a leather-bound Easton Press edition given to me for my 50th birthday with a loving inscription from Sharon Stone, so despite my critical take on Confucius after studying him in college, where my minor was in Asian Studies, this volume is a precious object connecting me to my longtime friend)

THE LETTERS OF WILLIAM BLAKE edited by Geoffrey Keynes (a wonderful hardcover from 1956 discovered in a used bookstore in Great Barrington earlier in this century)

THE POETRY AND PROSE OF WILLIAM BLAKE edited by David V. Erdman (a thick trade paperback (the large format) I bought in 1970 to replace earlier volumes of Blake's work)

LEAVES OF GRASS by Walt Whitman (a coverless bound test edition of the 1892 "deathbed" version from The Franklin Library in 1979 when I briefly worked there, with iconic 19th Century photographs)

SPECIMEN DAYS by Walt Whitman (the 1961 first printing of the 60-cent Signet Classics paperback edition I bought at 19 when it first came out)

THE WORKS OF WALT WHITMAN In Two Volumes As Prepared By Him For The Deathbed Edition Volume I The Collected Poetry (Minerva Press paperback 1969)

THE WORKS OF WALT WHITMAN In Two Volumes As Prepared By Him For The Deathbed Edition Volume II The Collected Prose (Minerva Press paperback 1969)

WALT WHITMAN: A LIFE by Justin Kaplan (the 1982 Bantam Books paperback trade edition) (I have many other books by or about Whitman scattered throughout my bookcases)

WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson ($1.45 trade paperback 1964 edition of the earlier Viking Press version)

U.S.A. by John Dos Passos (the 1963 beautifully designed trade paperback edition from Houghton Mifflin of the 1946 version of the novel trilogy with illustrations by Reginald Marsh)

DUST TRACKS ON A ROAD by Zora Neale Hurston ("the restored text established by The Library Of America" in 1995, Harper Perennial Edition trade paperback of this autobiography) (her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of my top favorite books, must be in another bookcase)

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (the $1.25 1950s(?) trade paperback from Scribner's)

IN OUR TIME by Ernest Hemingway (the $1.25 1950s(?) trade paperback from Scribner's)

SAVAGE MESSIAH by H. S. Ede (gorgeous 1931 large format hardback edition (no dustcover unfortunately), with great photographs, that I bought in a used book store in the 1960s and have cherished ever since)

GAUDIER-BRZESKA A Memoir by Ezra Pound (1970 New Directions trade paperback, also with photos)

THE CANTOS OF EZRA POUND (New Directions hardcover version)

THE POUND ERA by Hugh Kenner (much annotated (by me) trade paperback edition from The University of California Press in early 1970s)

SPRING & ALL by William Carlos Williams (1970 Frontier Press paperback edition of the 1923 Contact Press edition)

IMAGINATIONS: Five Experimental Prose Pieces by William Carlos Williams (1970 MacGibbon & Kee hardcover edition)

WHITE MULE by William Carlos Williams (1937 New Directions hardcover edition, unfortunately dustcover long gone, but still a beautiful book in every way)

WHITE MULE by William Carlos Williams (a New Directions hardcover reprint (with dustcover) from the 1960s)

IN THE MONEY by William Carlos Williams (1967 New Directions trade paperback edition)

THE BUILD-UP by William Carlos Williams (1968 paperback edition of the third novel in his "Stecher Trilogy")

PATERSON by William Carlos Williams (trade paperback edition from 1963 an inscribed Christmas gift from my then wife Lee in 1966)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

MEMORIES

My brother Jimmy (called "Buddy" in the family since our father was also Jimmy) and his wife Catherine, two terrific musicians, early in their marriage (wed in 1949 and I was the seven-year-old "ring bearer"—scandalous at the time because she was of Italian descent and he of Irish). You can see why I had a little boy crush on her. He passed in the last century, she in this one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

WE'RE HERE

My new favorite show. The premise is simple: three well-known drag queens (from TV and film) show up in an unexpected place (Gettysburg Pennsylvania, Twin Falls Idaho, Braxton Missouri, so far) to put on a drag show, with local residents participating, and often healing old wounds and family divisions or misunderstandings, but not always.

Like a lot of reality shows, it is intrusive at times, sometimes uncomfortably so. But unlike a lot of reality shows it never seems, at least to me, exploitative, and often is so moving it has me in tears. It's a poignant, funny, often outrageous, revelatory, joyful celebration of one branch on the tree of the infinite possibilities of life. I can't wait for the next episode.