Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK

I was talking about rock’n’roll movies with my oldest son and thought of another list, top 24 rock’n’roll flicks, so we came up with this one, some his, some mine, some both of ours.

1. AMERICAN HOT WAX
2. ALMOST FAMOUS
3. LAST WALTZ
4. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
5. QUADROPHENIA
6. HAIL! HAIL! ROCK’N’ROLL
7. SPINAL TAP
8. DON’T LOOK BACK
9. MONTEREY POP
10. WOODSTOCK
11. THAT THING YOU DO
12. THE COMMITMENTS
13. SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
14. STOP MAKING SENSE
15. KING CREOLE
16. PURPLE RAIN
17. THE DOORS
18. THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY
19. LA BAMBA
20. SID AND NANCY.
21. FILMORE
22. ROCK ROCK ROCK!
23. THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT
24. ROCK PRETTY BABY

Then I got obsessive and thought of an alphabetical one, which reminded me of several flicks we left off the 24 hour one above, though I’m at a loss for V and Z. Any ideas?

AMERICAN HOT WAX
BAMBA, LA
COMMITMENTS, THE
DON’T LOOK BACK
ELVIS, THAT’S THE WAY IT IS
FILMORE
GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, THE
HARD DAY’S NIGHT, A
IMAGINE
JAILHOUSE ROCK
KING CREOLE
LAST WALTZ
MONTEREY POP
NASHVILLE
O LUCKY MAN
PERFORMANCE
QUADROPHINIA
ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
SPINAL TAP
THAT THING YOU DO
U2 RATTLE AND HUM
V
WOODSTOCK
XANADU
YELLOW SUBMARINE
Z

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

OSCAR PS: WHATEVER YOU GOT, FLAUNT IT

Back in the 1960s and early’70s, there was a popular expression: “If you got it, flaunt it,” which I changed at the time to “Whatever you got, flaunt it!”

Because I noticed that people, women in particular, who were self-conscious about their weight or other supposed physical “flaws” often blamed the world for not responding to them because of “fat” and other body image prejudices.

They seemed unaware that there were women who weren’t self-conscious about being “big” or about their “too prominent” noses (etc.) in ways that made it clear they were comfortable with themselves—and it made those women very attractive.

Same with men, though obviously the standards were different, given the biological as well as “sexist” patterns of perception and values.

Nowadays, some of those old sexist formulas are gone, some not (witness the ridiculous idea that girls who look like they barely survived a hunger strike are considered the epitome of glamour), but there’s still this idea that only the near perfect (or cosmetically enhanced “perfect”) are “beautiful,” despite the fact that we all experience exceptions to that every day.

Like at this year’s Oscars.

As I said in an earlier post, there were, as usual, a lot of “beautiful” women and men there—Jennifer Lopez for one looked lovely, in fact lovelier than usual because she didn’t seem to be trying as hard as she used to at these things to look “perfect” in that phony fashion magazine way—and DeCaprio looked a little more his age this time, and cute enough.

But among the men, I found Forest Whitaker most attractive, despite his mismatched eyes, un-perfect body, and unglamorous looks. His manner and presence seem so humble and yet so full of zeal for the humanity we all share, he comes across to me as beautiful.

And, though I found his wife, whose name I don’t know, the most “beautiful” woman at the Oscars in the conventional sense, the women I found most attractive, and sexiest, were Helen Mirren, who is 61, and Jennifer Hudson, who has been called “a big woman,” because both seem so comfortable with themselves.

And from the responses I’ve heard from other men, I’m not alone.

Monday, February 26, 2007

MORE MEDIA MISSES

Check this out: nightlight

OSCAR WHO?

Was it just me, or did that seem like one of the longest and most boring Oscars ever?

Ellen Degeneres was funny and likable as always, and those dancers behind the scrim were pretty impressive, but a time consuming vacuum cleaning gag after almost four hours (or more if you count the half hour red carpet bit) was more tedious than witty, and why do we need dancers at these things again?

And who wrote the lines for the presenters to read awkwardly and again, tediously? Didn’t sound like Bruce (the big gay guy who looks like a muppet) Vilange who wrote most of the cutting campy comments of Oscars past. If it was him, hmmmm.

And why did we have to watch that gray-haired semi-host addition to Ellen backstage saying basically nothing and pointing to shelves full of Oscars? Talk about editing, who’s responsible for not editing that shit out and saving some time?

And talk about editing, the film montages that were supposed to serve as some kind of nostalgically moving reminders of the glory of cinema seemed weak, and oddly edited to not make chronological or emotional sense (the “foreign” film homage was the best, but even that was confusing, and not what I would have chosen to mark the most memorable scenes from fifty years of foreign films at all).

And THE DEPARTED winning in all the wrong categories?

Wahlberg was terrific, but best adapted screenplay (for what, most non sequiturs? or just being a total mess?) over NOTES ON A SCANDAL, CHILDREN OF MEN, LITTLE CHILDREN and even BORAT?

And THE DEPARTED winning for editing (again for the mess or the non sequiturs? or for just being able to make something out of all that?) as opposed to BABEL?

And as for best director and best movie, my guess is that there were so many contenders this year, they all split the vote and the sentimental one for making up to Scorsese for past losses won.

But shit, better directing than Alejandro Gonzalez Inariiiiiritu for BABEL, or Eastwood for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA? Or a better movie than those?

One of the few good things were all the great woman actors honored with nominations, though Judi Dench deserved the award more for what she did with her character in NOTES ON A SCANDAL. Mirren certainly deserved it as well, for anything she’s ever done for that matter, let alone THE QUEEN, which was a stunning portrait and rightfully restrained, but still as an actor fairly one note, while Dench’s performance was awe inspiring, stunning, unbelievably varied.

And as for supporting actresses, Jennifer Hudson certainly deserved it too, but more than Afriana Barraza or Rinko Kikinchi for BABEL?

And Alan Arkin deserves the Oscar for a lifetime of work as well, but no supporting actor was more of a surprise, and again, more varied in his take on his character than Jackie Earle Haley in LITTLE CHILDREN. (And Eddie Murphy, as much as he aggravates me, did kick ass in DREAMGIRLS).

Over all, a long, tedious, evening that seemed, to this viewer at least, less exciting and less glamorous than the “old Hollywood” of the 1940s and ‘50s, and less rebellious and original than the “new Hollywood” of the 1960s and ‘70s.

With the exception of Forest Whitaker’s remarkably unique presence and acceptance speech, Arkin’s surprise win and emotional acceptance (wouldn’t it have been a gas to see the also much passed over and deserving Peter O’Toole up there and hear what he might have had to say?) and the more international and “racially” mixed look of the nominees and some of the presenters—as well as the beauty of many of the women and some of the men—it was less engaging than the commercials. That’s pretty sad.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE WITH MY COUNTRY?

I’ve been asking that question for the past several years, but after catching the last half of the HBO documentary THE GHOSTS OF ABU GIRAD, or however it’s spelled, on the heels of reading ‘WHATEVER IT TAKES,” an article about the TV show 24 in the latest New Yorker, I feel like crying.

In the article, Jane Mayer writes about how the Dean of West Point, along with several other military and ex-military men, including a retired interrogator for the Army, flew to L.A. to meet with the makers of 24 to argue against the ways they depict torturing prisoners because, get this, it’s having a terrible influence on not only cadets at West Point who will be the future officers leading our military, but on the enlisted soldiers in Iraq, who have made DVDs of the show their favorite entertainment.

They cited examples of soldiers in Iraq using some of the techniques they saw on 24 for torturing prisoners, and using the same justification for it that “Jack Bauer” the hero of 24 uses: “Whatever it takes.” (despite the fact that they, like all professional military and police interrogators know, and endless studies substantiate, TORTURE DOESN’T WORK! PEOPLE JUST TELL YOU WHAT THEY THINK YOU WANT TO HEAR OR WHATEVER THEY CAN MAKE UP TO STOP THE TORTURE, unlike on 24 where it seems to always work, especially the more inventively sadistic it is.)

Jack Bauer is a “hero” whose methods would—according to the man who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders course at West Point—get him “prosecuted” because, “Jack Bauer is a criminal.”

If that’s the case, why aren’t these same military men pushing to have Rumsfield and Cheney and Bush and their henchmen all prosecuted for making this new policy of the U. S. military possible by their suspension of habeus corpus and whatever that “Military Act” is called that Congress passed before the last election giving Bush even more power and prisoners even less recourse to any kind of defense or fair treatment.

It’s not an accident that the methods used on 24 are loved by all the chickenhawks in the White House and the Cabinet and among their advisors who have never been anywhere near a real war. As well as by Rush Limbaugjh et. al.

As I said in a previous post (and despite the facts I’ve known since I was a kid, from family and friends in the service, and from my own service, that some forms of “torture” and criminal treatment of enemy captive or alleged “enemy” captives has been going on since at least Korea) the stated policy and practice of the U. S. Military was created by George Washington in the revolutionary War when instead of treating prisoners his troops captured like the English and Hessians treated some of the captured revolutionaries—torturing and killing them in the most cruel ways—he decided to treat all prisoners of war humanely, as we would want our troops treated if captured.

The HBO special is available on demand, if you haven’t seen it and can get it that way, but it leaves you with an even deeper sadness than you might already have over the ways our government and media and military rewarded the scumbags who created these new sadistic policies while throwing a few low level scapegoats to the public as either over-enthusiastic “Animal House” kind of hi-jinks-loving losers, or “just a few bad apples” as Rummy would have us believe.

Can we get our souls back? Hard to know, considering that the creator and master of 24 didn’t show up for the meeting with the military, he was busy schmoozing with Limbaugh, as he does regularly with the likes of Clarence Thomas and Karl Rove and the rest of the criminals who have brought us so low.

And he had the audacity in the article to pull the same shit the right wing always pulls by claiming it’s really brave of him to be an outright conservative in Hollywood, saying it’s easier for gays to come out of the closet there than it is for conservatives. “Cause Lord knows, there sure are a lot of out of the closet gay Hollywood celebrities, especially among the movies stars and TV stars and et-fucking-cetera, but all the conservatives have is Colin Quinn, Drew carey, Dennis Miller and half the comics in L. A. as well as almost all the producers, a lot of directors and writers, etc. etc.

So, the creator of 24, Joel Surnow, who’s never been in a real war or had to actually torture anyone himself, besides with his obnoxious personality (you have to read the article to see how that’s not opinion, it’s fact) ignores the military experts, who make it clear that they would never want to work with anyone who uses the methods this guy comes up with because that person would be a "psychopath" and therefore not someone they could trust in life and death situations.

But, the military guys didn’t seem to have any impact on the others from the show who did show up for the meeting, just like their counterparts who told the truth to Congressional Committees about how we needed twice as many troops to secure Iraq, or the Pentagon study group that drafted a report before the invasion predicting pretty much everything that happened, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

The Abu Girad thing really gets me, because in MARCH 18, 2003, that long poem I wrote for a reading on the eve of the invasion, I have some lines about exactly the same thing happening in prisons run by the U. S. military in Afghanistan, lines a lot of people when I first read the poem thought I had made up or were “over the top” when they are nothing compared to the reality—some of which is depicted graphically on this HBO special.

It’s enough to make you cry, or puke, or think maybe Jack Bauer is right, “Whatever it takes” to not just get these guys out of office, but to get them to tell the truth about their crimes, and then to suffer the consequences, like so many other people already have.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

INTENTIONS

After a great program of anti-war music, anti-war photography, an anti-war poem of mine and an anti-war extemporaneous lecture by Howard Zinn last night, I felt gratified and honored and lucky to have been a part of the event, full of zeal for peaceful solutions to the world’s problems not violence.

Then afterwards stepped into the rain and a wet Manhattan street to hail a cab for five—my little boy, his mother and aunt and his friend, and me.

The first cab—one of those new van size ones—was stopped on the opposite side of the street but kept ignoring me, so I began yelling louder and louder to him, and finally gave up and just cursed him out.

Then a regular sedan cab stopped, but when I said there were five of us he responded “no five, no five” and pulled off.

Then another sedan taxi stopped and when I went to open the front door, figuring I’d just get in the front seat and not even mention how many there were, he snapped the lock shut and waved me off, and I got so angry I started to slam the back door I had already opened for the others and didn’t realize my son’s friend was getting into the cab as I did it.

Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, but by then I was so pissed off at taxis in general and this one in particular I was swearing loudly and smacking my hand on the taxi’s window and cursing out the driver as he pulled off, scowling and waving me away like a pesky insect.

Suddenly I felt the embarrassment of being the only noise on the street, still swearing, so I stopped, and apologized to those around me, and was not the only one to get the irony of the peacenik poet ready to start a fight with a taxi driver only minutes after espousing peaceful solutions to everyone else’s problems.

I thought to myself how I hadn’t meant to do that, hadn’t meant to lose my temper, hadn’t meant to make an idiot of myself in the middle of the street, hadn’t meant to do anything but be kind to everyone and demonstrate the peaceful feelings in my heart.

But like someone said, I too often judge others by their actions—like those cab drivers who refused to pick us up—yet expect, or at least want, others to judge me by my intentions—just ignore the madman swearing in the middle of the street. And vote for peace.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

MY IRISH GRANDFATHER


I haven't used a photo since my DEADWOOD posts I think, so thought I'd add a little visual to the blog by posting this photo a cousin sent me awhile back of our Irish immigrant grandfather who, according to family lore, was the first policeman in South Orange, New Jersey, badge #1, but who was a hard old man of few words living down the street from me when I was growing up there. It's amazing to me that a man who looked like this was my grandfather, that my own father was born in 1899 (!) and that I am now alive in 2007 with a 9-year-old boy, my youngest, who can't remember a time when George W didn't reign and cell phones didn't take photographs.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Jailed Two Years, Iraqi Tells of Abuse by Americans

This story by Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet was in The New York Times today. It made me think of all I've learned about how humanely "America" treated prisoners of war, starting with George Washington's decision to not treat the Hessian and English soldiers his troops capured, the way they treated the revolutionary soldiers, thereby setting the precedent for a policy of treating others as you would want them to treat you, which to me sounds like what Jesus had in mind, though this administration, the only one in our history to claim Jesus as its guiding light, is the one to most blatantly disregard Jesus's precepts. Here's the story, edited slightly to focus on the main prisoner they're writing about:

Damascus, Syria - In the early hours of Jan. 6, Laith al-Ani stood in a jail near the Baghdad airport waiting to be released by the American military after two years and three months in captivity.

He struggled to quell his hope. Other prisoners had gotten as far as the gate only to be brought back inside, he said, and he feared that would happen to him as punishment for letting his family discuss his case with a reporter.

But as the morning light grew, the American guards moved Mr. Ani, a 31-year-old father of two young children, methodically toward freedom. They swapped his yellow prison suit for street clothes, he said. They snipped off his white plastic identification bracelet. They scanned his irises into their database.

Then, shortly before 9 a.m., Mr. Ani said, he was brought to a table for one last step. He was handed a form and asked to place a check mark next to the sentence that best described how he had been treated:

"I didn't go through any abuse during detention," read the first option, in Arabic.

"I have gone through abuse during detention," read the second.

In the room, he said, stood three American guards carrying the type of electric stun devices that Mr. Ani and other detainees said had been used on them for infractions as minor as speaking out of turn.

"Even the translator told me to sign the first answer," said Mr. Ani, who gave a copy of his form to The New York Times. "I asked him what happens if I sign the second one, and he raised his hands," as if to say, Who knows?

"I thought if I don't sign the first one I am not going to get out of this place."

Shoving the memories of his detention aside, he checked the first box and minutes later was running through a cold rain to his waiting parents. "My heart was beating so hard," he said. "You can't believe how I cried."

His mother, Intisar al-Ani, raised her arms in the air, palms up, praising God. "It was like my soul going out, from my happiness," she recalled. "I hugged him hard, afraid the Americans would take him away again."

Just three weeks earlier, his last letter home - with its poetic yearnings and a sketch of a caged pink heart - appeared in The Times in one of a series of articles on Iraq's troubled detention and justice system.

After his release from the American-run jail, Camp Bucca, Mr. Ani and other former detainees described the sprawling complex of barracks in the southern desert near Kuwait as a bleak place where guards casually used their stun guns and exposed prisoners to long periods of extreme heat and cold; where prisoners fought among themselves and extremist elements tried to radicalize others; and where detainees often responded to the harsh conditions with hunger strikes and, at times, violent protests.

Through it all, Mr. Ani was never actually charged with a crime; he said he was questioned only once during his more than two years at the camp.

American detention officials acknowledged that guards used electric devices called Tasers to control detainees, but they said they did so rarely and only when the guards were physically threatened. The officials said that detainees had several ways to report abuse without repercussions, and that all claims were investigated.

Officials declined to give specific details about why they had detained Mr. Ani or why they had freed him.

"He was released because the board that reviewed his case didn't believe he any longer posed a threat," said First Lt. Lea Ann Fracasso, a spokeswoman for detention operations, in a written answer to questions. "He was originally detained as a security threat. I don't have anything more."

The American detention camps in Iraq now hold 15,500 prisoners, more than at any time since the war began. The camps are filled with people like Mr. Ani who are being held without charge and without access to tribunals where their cases are reviewed, the Times examination published last December found.

Mr. Ani, a women's clothing merchant, said he was detained in 2004 after American soldiers who were searching for weapons in his six- family apartment building found an Iraqi military uniform in the basement. His joy upon being released in January was short-lived. Days later, he said, a Shiite militia ransacked his home in Baghdad, looking to kill him. He hid, going from house to house, until he could move his family out of Iraq.

Now he is among the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who have taken refuge in neighboring Syria and Jordan, where sectarian rifts are springing up.

In one area of Damascus, Shiite refugees from Iraq have established a mini version of Sadr City, the Baghdad neighborhood. Sunni refugees, in turn, are forming their own enclaves. In interviews, former detainees seethed with rage at the United States.
...

Mr. Ani's ordeal began on Oct. 14, 2004, when soldiers brought him in for what he described as desultory questioning.

" 'Are you married? How many children? Sunni or Shiite? Which mosque do you pray in?' " Mr. Ani said he was asked. "I said I didn't pray, and they said, 'Are you not Muslim,' and I said, 'Yes, but I'm not praying and going to mosques.' "

"They never asked me about terrorism," he said. "I'm a normal person, just a usual man, and don't have anything to do with anyone who was fighting against the Americans."

Mr. Ani spent a total of 44 days at two other American facilities before being sent to Camp Bucca. In all, he said, he was questioned just once at each site.

Mr. Ani said the electric prods were first used on him on the way to Camp Bucca. "I was talking to someone next to me and they used it," he said, describing the device as black plastic with a yellow tip and two iron prongs. He said the prods were commonly used on him and other detainees as punishment.

"The whole body starts to shake and hurt," he said. "And you lose consciousness for a couple of seconds. One time they used it on my tongue. One guard held me from the left and another on my back and another used it against my tongue and for four or five days I couldn't eat."
...

The Times interviewed Mr. Ani at his apartment in Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he sat on a couch with his parents, wife and children. When he demonstrated how he had been held for the electric prod, his 4-year-old daughter, Al Budur, mimicked his actions.

Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a detention system spokesman, said: "Every use of less than lethal force, to include use of Tasers, is formally reported by facility leadership, ensuring soldiers are in accordance with proper use. Touching a Taser to someone's tongue is not one of the approved uses."

Mr. Ani said guards treated him kindly when he arrived at the jail on Nov. 20, 2004. He recalls being given soap, and, when his hands cracked from the cold, a soldier bringing him lotion and socks.

But soon new guards came "who had had special thoughts," he said. "They were not allowing us to talk. They cut off the salt, gave us food that was not fit for dogs. One guard named David sometimes brought us outside to stay in the sun, or when it was cold. He also didn't respect our faith, telling us not to pray here, and when we moved not to pray there."

The detainees also began fighting among themselves. Those who spoke to the American guards were ostracized. Long toilet lines further raised tensions.

One day the guards searched a makeshift prayer area, Mr. Ani said, "and they started to step on the Korans, which fell down."

"A fight started," he continued. "There was a huge demonstration. The prisoners started to throw their shoes at the guards, and we started to beat them with empty plastic bottles. The guards shot at us with rubber bullets, but then prisoners were killed and others were injured."

A Pentagon statement at the time described such an incident in January 2005, saying that four detainees were killed when guards were compelled to use deadly force to quell the riot and that it was set off by a search for contraband. Colonel Curry said an investigation concluded that a detainee leader had fabricated the Koran allegations to instigate violence.
...

Detention officials said they were also fighting radicalization at the camps and were trying to identify and isolate extremists. Former detainees said in interviews that the influence of Islamic extremists was still growing. At Camp Bucca, they said, hundreds of men formed a group called the Brothers. Members shaved their beards and otherwise masked their ideology so they would be placed with other detainees.

Mr. Ani generally slept in a wooden barrackslike structure, with a mattress on the ground and a nail on the wall for hanging clothes. Once, when the guards found an improvised needle that he said was used to repair clothes, he was taken to an isolated cell, where he was kept for 24 days.

"You cannot see the difference between day and night," he said. "There was no opening, not even in the door."

Colonel Curry said it was standard to discipline detainees when they did not follow procedure.

Mr. Ani despaired of ever being released. His letter that was printed in The Times ended with, "I hope I can be dust in the storms of Bucca so that I can reach you."

"I didn't see any kind of solution for me," Mr. Ani said after his release. "The only solution was to die," he said, his eyes welling with tears. "I was hoping to die."

In releasing Mr. Ani, the American military transferred him to Camp Cropper in Baghdad and gave him $25, which he and his parents used to hire a taxi. Along the way home, they had to dodge Shiite-controlled checkpoints, and just days later, he said, he narrowly escaped capture by a Shiite militia. Mr. Ani and other Iraqis say they believe these militias have found a way to learn when Sunni men are released from jail and then hunt and kill them.

Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner, commander of American detainee operations, said that he had heard such concerns and that he was trying to alter the process of releasing detainees to improve their safety.

Mr. Ani said that for him there was only one way to stay alive: flee Iraq.

He said he was scared and puzzled about his next step. He said he felt that he could not stay in Syria, if only because work was scarce. But he must compete with other refugees for the attention of another host country.

"Until now, I can't sleep, really," he said. "Whenever I hear something noisy I stand up. I'm in a very bad psychological situation. I can't stop thinking of what we should do. I don't have a future here. How should we live?"

When his uncle put on Al Zawra, the satellite television station, Mr. Ani turned to look at the scenes of Sunni children who had been killed and the attacks on American soldiers.

"I am an Iraqi," he said. "I love my country. Of course, everyone who is an Iraqi at the moment, we are thinking how can we support our country."

"The United States through its actions made people hate the Americans much more than before."

Friday, February 16, 2007

EACH OF US

"And actually the best exercise for each of us is the one we can create for ourselves, built to strengthen that which is weakest about us, no secret to each."
—James Haining from A QUINCY HISTORY

Thursday, February 15, 2007

ANOTHER SLEEPLESS LIST!

5:23AM and the phone’s ringing. I forgot to bring it into the bedroom. I get my glasses on and get up and stumble around in the dark, finally find it and turn on the light to read the numbers to punch in and see who just left a message before I could get to the phone. It’s a “class mother” for my little one’s third grade, no school today due to the mix of snow and sleet and ice and wind.

Now I’m awake. Again. So, lying in bed trying to get back to sleep, after I turn the alarm off since we won’t be needing it, I do another one of the alphabet lists I’m so fond of (people ask me how I remember them the next day, and that’s the point, if you do it with the alphabet it stays in your mind, as opposed to other things I think of writing in the middle of the night and usually can’t remember any of when I wake up), only this time, for some reason, hmmmm, what pops into my mind is a list of movies that impacted me politically. So here’s what I came up with:

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (the 1930 one I watched as a boy on TV; it challenged my budding gung-ho young male’s desire to be a war hero like John Wayne in all those WWII movies I had already been influenced by)
BATTLE OF ALGIERS, THE (the 1965 film a lot of us experienced as a documentary even though it was a scripted fictional rendition of the Algerian rebellion against the French, predicting much of what is happening now in the Middle East, but back then influencing me and many others to rebel against the growing war in Viet Nam)
CASABLANCA (Mostly a romantic flick, but the politics in it influenced my young brain, especially the scene where the free French and the Nazis compete in Rick’s club by trying to sing their national songs louder than the other and of course the French win, my heart still soars when I watch that scene)
DAVID AND LISA (the 1962 “independent” film that made me rethink the little I knew about mental illness and institutions)
EDGE OF THE CITY (1957, I was fifteen when I saw this flick with John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier working on the docks together, Cassavetes character an army deserter, but what hit me the most was their integrated relationship, much like I was encountering and feeling like the only one at the time so the movie confirmed some things I was intuiting from my own experience, and challenged others)
FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (Despite the criticisms, a great indictment of the Bush legacy)
GRADUATE, THE (when everyone else was raving about this film, I reviewed it for the U. of Iowa newspaper, or one of the alternative newspapers I wrote for then, can’t remember which, but caused a stir as I pointed out how Dustin Hoffman’s character, in his pursuit of the upper-class white girl, tries to offend her by taking her to a club which is the only integrated place in the movie, translating as therefore “bad” and in which a working-class girl trying to survive as a stripper is degraded by Hoffman’s character’s pushing her, or whatever dismissive action he takes after the upper-class white girl runs out in tears; I pointed out had the stripper been black it would have been seen as racist, but since she was only lower-class white it didn’t matter)
HELTER SKELTER (Steve Railsbeck was incredible as Charles Manson in a film not as politically revealing as say poet Ed Sanders’ book, called I think THE FAMILY, still impossible to avoid the implications of the whole hippie-thing-gone-wrong as well as the manipulation of some political theories being thrown around in the ‘60s)
INCONVENIENT TRUTH, AN (not as depressing as I suspected, and nothing I didn’t already know but put together beautifully, the connections all made clearly and illustrated simply, the work of director Davis Guggenheim who directed me in that episode of DEADWOOD I did, one of the nicest people I ever worked with in Hollywood)
JACKIE ROBINSON STORY, THE (the 1950 scripted bio, that came off as a documentary when I saw it as a boy, had a major impact on my already budding rebellion against the standard racism of the time; I already loved Robinson and this movie confirmed why)
KILLING FIELDS, THE (Although I usually don’t care for Sam Waterson’s acting, this film was so powerful it worked; I had a Cambodian poet friend who was caught in this mess so it had a personal impact, reliving the powerlessness over that holocaust)
LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (Saw this c. 1962 black and white flick just after I joined the service and was already rebelling against the enforced conformity; Kirk Douglas plays the last of a dying breed of rugged individuals (i.e. “cowboys”) destroyed by the encroachments of modern life, set in the time of the film, it resonated for me as a manifesto of individualism)
MARAT/SADE (the abbreviated title it’s most known as, of this film adaptation of the Peter Weiss play THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM AT CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS de SADE; it had such an impact on me and many others, that at a demonstration at the U. of Iowa not long after it opened in Iowa City in 1967, I started singing a song from it “Marat we’re poor, and the poor stay poor” etc. and others joined in and before long the whole crowd was singing this Kurt Weil style song about class revolution! The cops couldn’t figure out what the fuck was going on, but we could)
NOTHING BUT A MAN (one of the first all, or almost all-black flicks I ever saw not made in Hollywood, with none of the usual CABIN IN THE SKY Hollywood black stereotypes, a very powerful flick at the time, though I haven’t seen it since)
ON THE WATERFRONT (even though the politics behind it were a defense of those who gave names to the house UnAmerican Committee in its attempt to destroy the lives of leftists by branding them all communists, one scene in this film really hit me between the eyes as a kid because I instantly got it, when the trial starts going badly for “Johnny Friendly” and a quick cut to the room of an obviously wealthy home as a white-haired rich guy who we only see from behind tells his butler something like “If a Mister Friendly calls tell him I’ve gone out and you don’t know when I’ll be back” and the butler says something like “Yes sir” and even as a kid I got the point: that there are always fat cats behind the scenes pulling the strings and when things don’t go their way they just cut the strings)
PIXOTE (early ‘80s Brazilian flick about homeless street kids who I’d already read about but this fictional story, using real street kids in an almost documentary style, knocked me out so much I saw it several times, bringing friends, and, in my enthusiasm, but poor judgment, even my kids at the time, who were confused and freaked out by the realism, for which I was and am sorry, but we didn’t have VCRs and DVDs back then so I figured this foreign film wouldn’t be around long so if I wanted them to see it…sorry kids)
QUO VADIS? (my first date movie, second grade, eight-years-old, with an Italian-American girl named Lois Mercadante, and the Hollywood spectacle was about a Roman soldier—played by Robert Taylor, about as “Roman” as I am—falling for a Christian—Deborah Kerr—and trying to avoid the consequences; my first encounter with “art” addressing mixed-religion-race-ethnic-group-etc. romance on my first mixed—in this case ethnic group—date!)
REDS (Nothing in the story I didn’t already know, but the interjected interviews with the aged survivors of the early 20th century struggles for freedom for more than just some rich white men I found incredibly poignant and bracing and affirmed my own struggles)
SORROW AND THE PITY, THE (a four-hour documentary that came out in the early 1970s with footage from WWII and interviews with survivors from all sides, unbelievably compelling, especially the old white-haired English gay man who as a young man voluntarily parachuted into enemy territory to spy and to show that gay men could be brave too, as he says in the flick, but everyone in it makes you wish it would go on for days and not just hours)
TO DIE IN MADRID (documentary about the Spanish Civil War I saw in the early 1960s that made me think about people’s loyalties since, as I remember it, it starts out with the crowds in Madrid giving the loyalists the closed fist salute and ends with Madrid crowds giving the conquering Franco forces the fascist salute.
UNMARRIED WOMAN, AN (1978 was a little late for the feminist wave that began in the late ‘60s, but nonetheless, one of the few Hollywood movies to get it almost right, thanks to the acting by Jill Claburgh and Alan Bates etc. and Mazursky’s directing)
VIVA ZAPATA! (Brando and Anthony Quinn in one of the best for each, the perils of revolution)
WILD BUNCH, THE (another movie I reviewed controversially at the time by pointing out that the more scummy and evil and cowardly the character the more redneck his accent, I got a lot of flack for that, but was also hailed as a hero in the “hillbilly” neighborhood of Chicago and others like it, which is not to say I still don’t dig this incredibly well-made movie, despite the “poor white trash” prejudice in it)
X (once again at a loss, any ideas?)
YOUNG SAVAGES, THE (this 1961 flick impressed me at the time as the only Hollywood movie to get the whole 1950s white juvenile delinquent scene right, and some of its causes—still the same for many black gangs today—although the earlier Blackboard Jungle came in a close second for a ‘50s kind of realism that seemed to be busting up the old Hollywood Andy Hardy Date with Judy kind of take on teenagers)
Z (The 1969 film about the Greek generals and the repression and oppression of their regime, backed by the U.S. naturally, in which long hairs like those of us fighting similar militarism in the US were rounded up and beaten and jailed, not unlike what a lot of us were going through, if not always with such drastic or dramatic results)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to allow about 7,000 Iraqi refugees to settle in the United States over the next year, a huge expansion of a program at a time when this country is facing international pressure to help some of the millions of refugees who have fled their battle-torn nation.

The United States has allowed only 463 Iraq refugees into the country since the war began.”

Note my earlier post where I predicted this as a political strategy. The Republicans are already blaming Democrats for the Iraqi mess and loss of the war etc. I hope they don’t get away with it, but they’ve gotten away with much more and much worse.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

TV REALITY

I like to surf the network news on nights when I’m home for it, because that’s still the news that reaches the largest audience. Like I said previously, I miss Peter Jennings. He had that Canadian born internationalist perspective, and the news under him showed it more than the other two, despite his corporate bosses. His intonation always made it clear where he stood, despite the corporate limitations.

As opposed to Tom Brokaw who for most of his career played it even more safe than most, coming off neutral-leaning-to-the-right most nights, until his last few years when he seemed to loosen up a little.

Over at CBS it was always more “liberal” thanks to Edward R. Murrow, and then Walter Cronkite. Dan Rather was so folksy blathery it was sometimes difficult to tell where he stood or spun, though at times he certainly was the only one willing to take on the rightwing powers that have always ruled the airwaves despite the liberal leanings of Cronkite and others.

But Katie Coric seems to be blowing in the wind (and what’s with her face these days? Did some one do one of those old fashioned tighten-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-head temporary face lifts to make her eyes seems suddenly very slanted?) while Charlie what’s his face at ABC has turned so sharply to the right, I’m confused. I thought it was just his corporate bosses who suddenly okayed that documentary a while back that blamed everything on Clinton. But then Charlie nice guy himself started doing stories with a decidedly rightwing bent and I was like oooooh, he’s outing himself as one of them.

Then, last night, much to my chagrin, Diane Sawyer, who I’ve always had a thing for as one of the women from afar you rarely ever really meet but still feel somehow connected to through more than a crush or simple lust, but something deeper, or more lofty, or wider or you get the idea. But last night, in a head scarf, she pummeled that little dude who’s president of Iran—and whose name I can’t just whip out off the top of my head—not for denying the holocaust, not for saying Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, not for failing to follow through on his economic promises to his country men and women who elected him, but for supposedly supplying parts for roadside bombs to Iraqis who then used them to kill “170” (or some other specific number as if anyone really knows) “Americans” (she caught herself and then said “coalition forces”) fighting in Iraq.

She was questioning him relentlessly on the basis of anonymous intelligence from the fucking Bushies, and a display of evidence that every other reporter who was there for that particular briefing said proved nothing! Et tu Diane!?!

As if that isn’t disheartening enough, I didn’t watch the super bowl, but people told me of beer commercials that were not just mean, even cruel, but outright nastily vicious, and then I read an article saying that the beer companies sales have been going down and they realized the old message of beer good, sexy girls and beer better, etc. wasn’t working and that a very large percentage of all alcohol sales, including beer, goes to a small percentage of drinkers (i.e. alcoholics!) and that the way to get them and those like them to buy more is to create ads that make it clear nothing matters—not spouses, children, other people, pets, etc.—nothing, matters more than getting the beer and keeping the beer for yourself!

Just when thing’s couldn’t seem worse, I turn on NBC to that Brian guy, who replaced Tom, and whataya know, he’s come over to our side, obviously, as he’s running a story saying the supposed “intelligence” about Iran contributing bombs to insurgents in Iraq is even more worthless than the intelligence that got us in there in the first place. You go Brian. I gotta go read a book.

Monday, February 12, 2007

VALENTINE’S DAY SLEEPLESS SONG LIST

Finally, from that recent restless night, some favorite “romantic” songs I came up with, for an alphabetical list to put me back to sleep:

ALL THE WAY (Sinatra’s version of course)
BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE (Johnny Mercer’s own version)
CRAZY LOVE (Van the man Morrison, no better “rock” love song; Patsy Cline’s CRAZY came in second in my head that night, did Willie Nelson write that?)
DON’T BLAME ME (I couldn’t think of anyone in particular, just dig the song)
EMBRACEABLE YOU (Sinatra, who else)
FEVER (Peggy Lee)
GOD ONLY KNOWS (The Beach Boys)
HOW SWEET IT IS TO BE LOVED BY YOU (Marvin Gaye)
IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT (I think it was The 5 Satins? Does anyone remember? My second thought was I’M THE MAN by The Proclaimers, not exactly a romantic melody but an intensely romantic sentiment to “walk five hundred miles” etc.)
JUST YOU, JUST ME (Bill Evans version)
KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, A (Louis Armstrong’s version is one of the most memorable)
LET’S GET LOST (who else but Chet Baker)
MY FUNNY VALENTINE (Sinatra’s and/or Miles’ version)
NO ORDINARY LOVE (Sade)
O NOSSO AMOR (from the film Black Orpheus, because the whole soundtrack is incredible and for Doodle)
PLEDGING MY LOVE (Johnny Ace, this was my immediate first thought, followed quickly by the much more recent Corrine Bailey Rae’s PUT YOUR RECORDS ON)
QUIET MAN, THE (A romantic soundtrack only because I love the movie pairing of Wayne and Maureen O’Hara so much, the only real match he ever had with a female star)
ROXANNE (The Police, it seemed romantic at the time, of course the ROB ROY Soundtrack I also find very romantic because I found the movie so romantic)
SOMETHING (The Beatles)
THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME (Fred Astaire, of course, but Ella or anyone else is almost as good, because this Gershwin brothers song is so good)
UNFORGETTABLE (Nat King Cole, the original version, not the remake with Natalie)
VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, THE (Tony Bennett does this one nicely)
WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME (Nat King Cole’s version especially)
X (I couldn’t think of one, can you?)
YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG (Sinatra, what can I say, and then I remembered Willie Nelson’s YOU WERE ALWAYS ON MY MIND, how beautiful is that?)
ZING WENT THE STRINGS (The Skyliners!)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

ENLIGHTENMENT

"Swami said that enlightenment is not loss of individuality but enlargement of individuality, because you realize that you're everything."
—Christopher Isherwood from My Guru and His Disciple

Friday, February 9, 2007

READINGS (& AUDIO)

Just figured out a way to put a recording of a short poem of mine from the 1960s on my profile, check it out, or go to the source, a web site that has the only spoken word recording out there of mine, from a 1978 reading I did at The West End Bar, the old Beat hang out up by Columbia University, unfortunately, that reading isn't very emblematic of my usual readings for that time, except it was packed, standing room only, which they often were, this time because an alternative newspaper, The Soho News, had done an article on me with a very seductive photograph taken by my then mate, the photographer and composer Rain Worthington, that attracted an even larger crowd than usual. But the only people in the audience I focused on were the few who were creating a new force in the poetry world with the magazine L=A-N=G=U=A=G=E they were just starting, Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, the latter I was reading with as at the time I was promoting his work to a lot of fellow poets who weren't interested until I insisted they check him out, and reading with him made that even more of an imperative. But to impress what would become "the language poets" (or "language-centered" or other similar terms) I read poems of mine that were more in that style, rather than the crowd pleasers I was known for, so, all that to say the reading on that site isn't typical, but the site also contains a recording I made in the early 1990s, from which I excerpted the short poem on my profile.

And for those in the New York area, I have the honor of reading with the great "People's Historian" Howard Zinn on February 20th at 6:30 in The Great Hall at Cooper Union in downtown Manhattan. Check it out if you can, Zinn is in his eighties so catch him while you can.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

SOME SHORTER LISTS

As I said in an early post, I have a tendency to link things in threes, due to Catholic (Trinity) or Irish (shamrock) or other early influences. So here’s three lists of threes:

Three recent movies that linger in my consciousness in ways that make me feel they may be lasting favorites:

1. VENUS (worth it if only for Peter O’Toole and Vanessa Redgrave’s tour de force performances, as always, but the rest of the cast is great too and the story not bad either)
2. NOTES ON A SCANDAL (ditto for Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy, and if aspects of the story have been told before, never like this)
3. BABEL (despite my earlier questioning of the screenplay, the acting is impeccable, the direction transcendent, and the story(s) compelling)

Three recent books I’ve read that should not be overlooked:

1. BITTERSWEET KALEIDOSCOPE, Poems by Bill Mohr, a poet whose work is honest, engaging, well wrought and from a unique perspective: his.
2. THE SNOW ANGEL, A Novel by Michael Graham, a “police procedural” but also an original Christmas fable, that not only offers hope in the form of serious redemption, but from the perspective of an experienced detective and investigative reporter, as Graham was. I laughed and I cried, as they say, but I really did.
3. DAYS BY THEMSELVES, Poems by Brooks Roddan, a poet who uses very few notes to sing his songs of self-and-surroundings awareness, and observes the aging process with restrained precision and depth, as well as the indispensable gratitude.

And three recent documentaries not to be overlooked or forgotten:

1. WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, Spike Lee’s HBO documentary about Katrina and its aftermath could have been edited down to a feature film and been one of the all time best, but even as is, it’s full of details, both personal and historical, that should never be forgotten.
2. BASTARDS OF THE PARTY, another HBO documentary, about the history of black gangs in L. A.—from their origins in the mid-20th-century response of black youths to racist white gangs, up to the ongoing rivalry between crips and bloods. Some of those interviewed have more screen presence than any movie star, and there is so much intelligent analyses, from gang members themselves, as well as lyrically honest riffs on feelings and experience, it almost seems scripted by some genius poet. But more heartrending than anything a poet might write, because of the overwhelming reality of this seemingly unstoppable “madness.”
3. HUBERT SELBY JR./IT’LL BE BETTER TOMORROW, this documentary on my old friend and mentor is a little off when it comes to a few of the talking heads (of which I am briefly one)—some of them seem hardly to have known him and just included because they’re famous—but there are extended scenes of Selby talking, being interviewed, living his life, reading from his work (as part of an un-credited reading series Eve Brandstein and I ran for almost eight years in L. A., which Selby read at almost every week), and those scenes of the man himself are beyond anything the rest of us could add to the picture. He was a unique and incredible human being. It’s already available on DVD in Europe, where he seems to have been much more appreciated (his death made the front pages in Paris and London and Tokyo, not here) and will be available in the U. S. next month. I already pre-ordered my copy from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

VALENTINE’S SLEEPLESS LIST CONT’D

I didn’t quite finish this list in my head the other night, so had to add a few today. I started out with the WCW poem, but couldn’t remember the names of some other poems, so made it a mix of some favorite “romantic” books as well:

ASPHODEL, THAT GREENY FLOWER—W. C. Williams’ famous “older” love poem
BELLS ARE RINGING FOR ME AND CHAGALL, THE—Terence Winch, whose “love poems” are never ordinary, never expected, always original, like this one from his book THE GREAT INDOORS
COLLECTED POEMS—Frank O’Hara, not all “love” poems except in the sense that his love of his friends and lovers and cultural icons, and most especially of poetry, permeates these unique “odes” to the romance of being fully alive, but also because it contains one of my top ten favorite love poems—“Steps”—but I wanted to reserve the “S” for Shakespeare’s Sonnets, since several of them are among the greatest love poems ever
DUMP, THE—Geoff Young’s serial poem about the end of a relationship, which may not be romantic in the traditional sense, but getting dumped is often how romance ends, and he nails the experience
ELLYN MAYBE POEM, AN—Ellyn Maybe, about as unique a “love poem” as you’ll ever read, from her book THE COWARDICE OF AMNESIA
FLEA, THE—John Donne, the original master of seduction—this is one of his most successful pick-up poems, where he argues that there is no honor to be lost by giving in to him, since a flea has already bitten him, and her, and therefore in its tiny body their bloods already mingle etc.—the great “metaphysical” poet was writing in the late 1500s and early 1600s in ways that many a “gangsta rapper” could learn some things from (I was also thinking of FINNEGANS WAKE—James Joyce’s most difficult “novel” that not just exemplified his love of language, but his love and lust for his wife Nora, which seemed apparent to me when I read and reread it as a young man, I was certain I saw in it obvious references to a female “bum,” as the English would put it, and I would rant about that to anyone who would listen, then decades later scholars got access to his letters to Nora and began to reinterpret his late masterpiece as a paean to Nora’s behind, among other things. Hmmmpf).
GUITAR, THE—Gail Dusenbery, a San Francisco bay area poet few remember I suspect, this sweet, memorable for me, short love poem from the only book of hers I know—THE MARK—still evokes certain women I’ve known and makes me smile to remember
HERS—John Godfrey, one of several “love poems” by him that always impress me, this one from the collection DABBLE
I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC—Walt Whitman’s famous paean to love and the human body
JUST LET ME DO IT (Love Poems 1967-1977)—Michael Lally (!)
KABIR BOOK, THE—Robert Bly’s “versions” of “Forty-Four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir” is not about “romantic love” as such, though some of the poems refer to that, but more about love of God or the Unknown or Unconditional Love, but written like hip “love poems”
LIEDEN DES JUNGEN WERTHERS, DIE—Johann Wolfgang Goethe, which I read in translation as THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER, but as I said above I knew the “S” was reserved, thus the German title for the first, great, desperately romantic novel—about a young man so infatuated with a woman that her rejection leads him to suicide—an act so controversial at the time, 1774, that Goethe published the book anonymously—a book that influenced youth throughout Europe when it came out, to not only mimic the young protagonist’s wardrobe, especially his “yellow pants” but to commit suicide as well—and a book that influenced the Romantic movement that followed in the next century, with its subjective and passionately individual and rebellious perspective on life and all its “Romantic” possibilities.
MORNING POEM #5—Wanda Phipps, from a series called WAKE-UP CALLS, 66 Morning Poems, this one my favorite, as honest and true and sexy, and descriptive of the whole bohemian artist creative coupling thing, as any I’ve seen
NOMAD FLUTE—Merrill Gilfillan, a short story from the collection SWORN BEFORE CRANES, it epitomizes for me that unfulfilled romantic yearning that now and then is fulfilled by a connection so distant from the usual carnal coupling that it almost passes for something else, but in the end, is just what romantic love is all about I suspect
OUT OF OUR MINDS—George O’Brien, one of my favorite writers, this is the last in an autobiographical trilogy about growing up in Ireland in the 1940s and ‘50s and coming into his own, including romantically, in 1960s “swinging London” in this third volume (the previous two, VILLAGE OF LONGING and DANCEHALL DAYS, I would often open to any page and read a paragraph to some guest I had cornered and declare there was no better prose anywhere)
PORTRAIT OF JENNIE—Robert Nathan’s short achingly romantic novel from the late ‘30s (made into a less successful film in the 1940s)
QUEER NATION—Bobby Miller’s poem manifesto isn’t exactly ‘romantic’ except in the sense that it is full of self love and self acceptance and the romance of that often difficult accomplishment
REUNIONS—Harry E. Northup, not every poem in this collection is a “love poem,” but like his more recent book, RED SNOW FENCE, it includes some of the most humble and poignant love poems to a spouse you’ll find anywhere
SONNETS, THE—Shakespeare, simply the best
TRACY’S TIGER—William Saroyan, this novella is my favorite romantic fable
UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING—Milan Kundera, this famous novel may be his masterpiece, but anything by Kundera is worth reading, to my mind, and everything he writes is realistically “romantic”—or romantically “realistic”
VITA NUOVA, LA—Dante’s mix of love poems and the prose that explains them
WALKING YOUR FARM—Judith Hemschemeyer, another poet no one I know remembers, though her first book, and the only one I ever saw—I REMEMBER THE ROOM WAS FILLED WITH LIGHT—is one of my all time favorite books of poems, others in it more powerful than this small quiet love poem, but all of them memorable to me still, after first reading it over thirty years ago
XXIXB—from “Book Two” of Sextus Propertius’s poems, as translated by Vincent Katz, this one in particular, of his many poems about his mistress Cynthia, captures the essence of a romantic’s inability to resist love no matter how painful it can be at times, or always
YELLOW QUILT—Terry Kennedy, from a short book of poems called BANGALORE BLUE that I received a few years ago out of the blue and was grateful
ZWEITE ELEGIE, DIE—Rainer Maria Rilke’s Second Elegy from the DUINO ELEGIES—my favorite translation is Stephen Mitchell’s—Rilke’s romanticism is so transcendent, yet so deep, and his expression of that so lyrically articulate, he makes most contemporary poets seem arbitrary and weak-minded in comparison, but why compare, even though I just did, and will continue to by saying the resonances from his heart’s perceptions out-poet all of us, to my heart’s mind

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

MERILENE M. MURPHY

The poet, Merliene M. Murphy “made her transition”—as poet Meri Nana-Ana Danquah put it in the e mail she sent me—on Friday, February 2nd.

I had previously heard from Meri that Merilene woke up on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago to discover that she had lost her vision. At Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills they found cancer in one of her lungs and it had already spread elsewhere.

Merilene was not only a unique voice in poetry, she was a unique influence, and initiator, in the poetry world.

We first met when I was running a weekly poetry reading series in L. A. with poet, and multi-talented, Eve Brandstein. We did the series every week for over eight years and meant to produce a yearly journal out of it, a riff on the Paris Review we called The Hollywood Review. Unfortunately, Merilene is not in the first and only one we published.

But she became a major presence in these readings. Already older than most of the poets we helped discover, Merilene was not only a plain speaking, tough, but generous-spirited personality, she was also a bridge between several schools of thought and approach to the poem, not only in L. A. but in the poetry world in general.

She discovered her voice with us, and took it to much higher and broader levels of expertise and audience through her creation of what she called “telepoetics”—using video and phone hook ups and the internet—and whatever means of communication she could—to create access to poetry in all kinds of far flung locations, so that each may share and communicate and exchange poetry and poetics as widely as possible.

She was an innovator with both language and its transmission. And an entrepreneur, while all the time maintaining her own unique voice in her own unique poems. She is one of only hundreds I can think of who should have gotten one of those so-called MacArthur “Genius” awards, instead of the usually more well-connected or well-positioned, or in rare cases other well-deserving folks, who seem to get them.

Merilene and I had a good time playing on the connotations of her Irish last name. She was a woman our world would call “black” or “African-American” but like most described by that term, she had a lot more ancestry than just what that would denote, as those of us called “white” or “European-American” have from other continents and so-called “races” as well.

The fact is, we’re all a mix and descend from the same original source, and are just variations and shades of “color”—from those rare few whose skin actually does appear to be “white” and the equally few whose skin does appear to the eye to be “black”—most of us being somewhere in between on a scale ranging from pink to deep brown.

Meilene’s passing reminds me of a resolution I made to myself decades ago when the D.C. poet Ed Cox died after years of not being in touch with him, that I would try and make my amends to those I owed amends to for any pain I had caused them, while they were still alive. That I would express my gratitude to those who had helped me or just been kind to me throughout the course of my life, or who had given me an example to model my own work or behavior on, or who had inspired me, or consoled me, or just given me some pleasure through their words or art or creative endeavors.

I should have praised Merilene publicly before, beyond the words I used when introducing her at readings or told her in our private conversations. I should have acknowledged her contribution to poetry before this, but let her passing reinforce my resolve to do that with those still living as much as I possibly can before I too make “the transition.”

Let me leave you with a few lines from an incredible poetry-performance piece Merliene called DARCHITECTURE:

“where light comes i come love/yes feigning my absences is a cheap cosmic trick/i am here aware anywhere/a room a tomb a womb a djun djun//i am here with you/my other self/necessary & not needy/familiar with a thousand darchitectures/a thousand taos/a thousand holdings at point zero to be/& knowing”

Monday, February 5, 2007

ROME

I love the HBO series ROME, even if it is a soap opera version of Dynasty crossed with the Sopranos, and all done in togas, with the old Hollywood device of snooty Brit accents for the upper classes and Cockney for the lower, as if the old Roman Empire were Victorian England.

Although, as often with old Hollywood, the Brits are often Celts—Irish or Scots or Welsh actors putting on the stage English, like Burton and O’Toole and the rest often did. In fact half the cast of Rome seems to have red hair!

But despite all that, I’m addicted. And although the history is sometimes iffy, even fantasy, especially the private conversations and shenanigans, sometimes the writing is exquisite and the acting superb.

In between those stellar moments, it’s just soap opera spectacle fun, but not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

OBAMA 2

Check this out, especially the date. And thanks to Maureen Barry for directing me to it.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

OBAMA

I’ve had a lot of friends tell me he’s too inexperienced to be president, or to win the presidency, echoing what is rapidly becoming “conventional wisdom.”

But wasn’t there another Illinois state senator with little national experience elected during another dark moment in our history? Like say, Abraham the-president-considered-by-many-to-have-been-our-greatest-one Lincoln?

Friday, February 2, 2007

TIME FOR MAX

"...if you're a humanitarian, which most artists are, instead of getting in a fight or breaking something up, you take it out on yourself. In fact, I would say that most creative people who are self-destructive are trying to protect other people from their outrage. If you live long enough, though, you learn you have to be a humanitarian with yourself as well as with everybody else."
—Max Roach in The Village Voice, Dec. 1979

Thursday, February 1, 2007

WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED 2

So, did you, like me, believe it when you saw the news footage of the big battle between the Iraqi Army and supposed insurgents in which "250" insurgents were killed, and one of our helicopters shot down that had been strafing and bombing these so-called insurgents in a grove of palm trees not far from an important Shi'ite Mosque?

It made no sense at all. Why would insurgents, who have been carrying out more and more sophisticated suicide bombings and remote controlled bombings and guerrilla style hit and run attacks suddenly arrive where they know the Iraqi Army is for a stand up face to face battle.

No. It was clearly complete nonsense. Which our wonderful media reported as if they were there.

Turns out it indeed was complete nonsense, as this Truthout article documents.

A SLEEPLESS LIST (FOR VALENTINE’S DAY)

Another restless night—2:11AM on the digital, realize my son left a shower faucet not quite off and the lever that closes the bathtub drain on, so it’s slowly filling up, the PLOP PLOP PLOP waking me.

I fix the both, get back in bed wide awake, think of new alphabet list to lull my mind to sleep, a friend suggested I make a movie list for Valentine’s Day, so I do.

Almost finish it in my head before falling back to sleep, then, every time I wake again during the night and go back to it, books and songs keep coming up too. Decide to do a list for each of them as well.

Here’s the movie one—some romantic favorites alphabetized in the traditional way (not counting “a” “an” and “the”):

AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, AN (sappy but Cary Grant makes it work)
BLUE DAHLIA, THE (Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, my favorite movie couple)
CASABLANCA
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO
ENGLISH PATIENT, THE
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
GROUNDHOG DAY
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
JULES AND JIM
KING KONG (the original, where you gotta admit he’s pretty romantic with Faye Wray, in his clumsy na├»ve “monster” way)
LAST OF THE MOHICANS, THE (Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeline Stowe, whoa)
MOONSTRUCK
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
OUT OF SIGHT (George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, before she turned into Barbara Streisand)
PRINCESS BRIDE, THE (the first time I saw Robin Wright (now Wright-Penn) and was so taken I stayed through two showings, she and Cary Elwes made a perfect couple, and I predicted great things for them as huge stars, but I guess they were too quirky, though their performances in whatever they’ve done since are always great)
QUIET MAN, THE (sexist moments maybe, but still powerfully romantic)
ROB ROY (Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, my new favorite movie couple after this, before her face work turned scary)
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet, just for starters, in a Jane Austen romance, thank you movie gods)
THIS GUN FOR HIRE (Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd together for the first time)
UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, THE (a little much, but definitely romantic)
VENUS (the one out now, with Peter O’Toole and Vanessa Redgrave)
WEST SIDE STORY (yes the “whites” are mostly miscast, as is Natalie Wood as a Puerto Rican, but it’s a musical, people burst out singing and dancing, if you can accept that you can accept the casting and give in to the romance of the Romeo and Juliet story it’s roughly based on)
XICA (okay, I was reaching for straws here, and had to look this one up)
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (cornball, but I always dug the romance of the “Cohans”—“For It was Mary, Mary”)
ZORRO (the one with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, they were both hot in it)

Some favorite romantic books and songs to follow