Friday, September 28, 2007


I find the criticisms of Barak Obama for being “too white” that come from some “black” so-called “leaders” and commentators, unbelievably insulting and disappointing.

Except for the personal asides from his wife that he concurs with, I guess to seem more “regular” (like admitting to leaving his dirty socks lying around and having bad breath in the morning!), Obama displays the kind of erudition and dignity, intelligence and commitment, that was emblematic of many “black” men and women pre-mid-1960s, men and women who risked being beaten and jailed and even murdered, in the struggle to achieve civil rights for “black” people, equal to those of “whites.”

What is now often seen as “black” came partly from the Black Panther movement and the “Black Power” espousing student leaders of more radical “black” groups that began popping up in the late 1960s. Many of these leaders, though “middle-class” and college educated—what often was referred to during those times, and still, as “booshie” (short for “booshwa”—okay I’m not good at spelling French words) adopted the speech patterns and poses of black street thugs, the kind of “bad” n-words (how “booshie” does “n-word” sound?) that used to throw such a fright into most “whites” that they often ended up railroaded into jail and/or prison, or chased out of town or lynched by a mob, following usually false charges having something to do with “white” women.

That tactic, of adopting the bad street n-word speech and style, worked, especially at getting more media attention—and partly as a result, the “black” college-student posers influenced “black” culture, and the poets and proto-rappers of the time adopted much of that style, which in turn influenced the rappers and hip hoppers who followed.

Bill O’Reilly’s recent astonishment over the “normal”-ness of the diners in a predominantly black restaurant in Harlem (parodied beautifully on a recent John Stewart show), exclaiming over the fact that they were just like normal “white” people eating dinner in a restaurant, shows how well that “black” street image has permeated our society.

It’s ludicrous, of course, in the age of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas and Barak Obama, let alone the decades of Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Leontyne Price, to assume that African-American culture and society is represented by Snoop Dog and Fifty Cents.

And even if Snoop and “fiddy” represented what is most “real” about “black” culture, they aren’t the street thugs they may, or may not, once have been. They and/or most successful rappers own their own businesses—clothing lines and recording companies, etc.—and make more money individually than probably the entire populations of various urban “ghettoes” in cities around the U. S.

And as for the “blackness” of that style, there are probably more young white men who posture in ways that makes them more authentically “black” than Obama supposedly does. So “white” no longer means “white”—as if it ever did in this amalgamated culture—and “black,” as defined by too many knuckleheads like O’Reilly up until his recent epiphany that yes, “black” people do eat dinner sitting up and with knives and forks (as the Stewart show parody revealed), and reinforced by supposed “street” biases, has more to do with pretending to be lower class and regimented into allowing yourself only limited expressions and tastes, whether they be from the realm of rap or soul or down home or church

If it has to pass a litmus test of “black”-ness, it mis-represents what is actually and indeed authentically and non-monolithically “black” about this culture that we all share aspects of.

And that is, like I said, insulting and disappointing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


A trick. But it works. Using Beatles songs to tell a story of “the sixties” in a way that conveys the spirit and drama, the political and emotional roller coaster of those times, as well, or better, than any other movie ever made about them.

I dug it. Sure, there’s perspectives that were left out, or could have been expressed better in terms of story and character. But along the lines of Baz Lurman’s MOULIN ROUGE, this is a seriously successful movie musical—in acting, music, and cinematography.

Bono proves he could easily have a great career as a comic character actor, and Joe Cocker hasn’t sounded this good in years. But they just have cameo roles (as some other surprising stars do as well).

What makes the film work is the talented unknowns, or relative unknowns, who play the major roles. They sing the songs better than any other actors I can think of could do, and they act the songs and their lines and scenes, better than any other singers and musical performers I can think of.

I laughed, I cried, I thought for a minute there’s no way an audience that hadn’t been there could appreciate the emotional depth of this flick, and wondered if even I could identify emotionally, and become emotionally involved with people named after characters in Beatles songs and titles, who sing and speak lines from almost random Beatles tunes, and then I suddenly found myself sniffing away deep tears from just that kind of emotional connection I thought this kind of clever creative exercise wouldn’t provoke.

It looks like it was probably cut down from a longer version, since some of the tunes involving the characters, at least in terms of names—Maxwell, Sadie, etc.—don’t ever get sung. And it’s a pretty white perspective, with a few exceptions. But you can’t get everything into a two hour movie.

Of the movies I’ve seen so far this Fall, when the serious award contenders are brought out for our response, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and TWO DAYS IN PARIS are my favorites so far.

And interestingly, maybe even surprisingly, given the state of “the business”—both were directed and created by women, who also both happen to be named Julie: Taymor and Delpy respectively. You go girls.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


My friend, poet Robert Slater, tells me he heard an interview with Greenspan out of which came an interesting statistic: when Reagan became president a typical CEO averaged 43 times what a worker made, and when he left office that had grown to 400 times as much!

He also heard in a story on Air America, that between them, Reagan and both Bushes spent 90 percent of the money the USA has spent in its entire history.

Hmmmm. What exactly is it that conservatives conserve?

Sunday, September 23, 2007


In 1962, I was stationed in Greenville, South Carolina, which was so thoroughly segregated “Black Americans” couldn’t go to the drive-in movie theater in their own car.

Even the dances on the base were segregated, though that was illegal since it was federal property. I had to tell the guards at the door that my great-great-grandmother was “colored,” which as far as I know she wasn’t, according to the way that term was used then, but then again, in “America” who knows what some of our ancestors may have been or where they came from or who they descended from (even though as far as I knew most of my grandparents or their parents had come over from Ireland for the most part, and in one case from Bavaria, but even there, in Ireland and Europe, there had been known cases of “black Africans” arriving and mixing with local populations since before the Romans…)

The idea wasn’t that I was telling the truth, the idea was that I was telling a lie to get into a dance where the girls I wanted to get to know hopefully were.

Anyway, my best friend at that base, I met one night in the cafeteria, where most of our fellow enlisted men sat at self segregated tables, except us, who gravitated toward each other and became instant brothers, as though we’d known each other all our lives. The fact that he was supposedly “black” and I was supposedly “white” was just part of the richness of life that we shared an excitement for. And we knew, as well as any, that the mixtures we all are overflow into each other, and that beneath all that there are commonalities between individuals that transcend all that anyway.

Over the years we would lose touch, and then unexpectedly run into each other in the oddest places—the student union at the U. of Iowa where I was using the G. I. Bill to attend the Writers Workshop and he was passing through while working for VISTA, or in the middle of several hundred thousand people on the Washington mall at an anti-Viet Nam war protest rally, or on a street in Cambridge when I spotted Gene, as I knew him, and he said he “felt my vibrations”—he was street selling heavy wooden sculptures he had carved, and I was with a group of fellow poets on our way to doing a reading there—Terence Winch, Ed Cox, Tim Dlugos and me. Gene joined us, after telling me he was making the carvings to raise money to travel to “the mother country”—Africa.

Recently we’ve been back in touch, taking up where we left off as though we’d never stopped talking since that first night in that cafeteria at Donaldson Air Force Base outside of Greenville, South Carolina. He found me through this blog. And I immediately added his web site where you can view some of his sculptures, but more importantly, for me, you can now view him at the beginning of making one.

If you go to his site , and then click on “Shrike 91807”—you will see a small film of Gene beginning a sculpture, first with a chain saw and then with a wood chisel and some kind of hammer I’ve never seen before. He’s doing it to jazz he selected, and if you surrender to the pace of the music and the carving, I think, like me, you will become mesmerized by the act of artistic creation, even at this early stage in the process.

The film has that same quality I’ve been writing about in many posts on this blog, so much so I can see it has become a theme, and a theme I am happy to be emphasizing—that the sensual excitement and soul satisfaction, the inspiration to express your own artistic ideas and feelings and compulsions, the certainty that being who you are and expressing it as fully as you can without harming others, is what first drew me to any of the arts and continues to, not who is making the most money or has the most critical acclaim or has been accepted by the academy or the top museums and etc. What matters is the act, the creative process, the dedication and commitment and willingness to fail and to re-do to hone to abandon yourself once more to the creative force that flows through all of us, but most of us forget or repress or have beaten or criticized out of us by the time we are no longer children.

That’s the kind of art that has always grabbed me, the kind that makes me want to do it too, that evokes the spirit and feeling of doing it as I have experienced it, or turns me on to a different way of experiencing creating something new. This little film, like that matchbox I wrote of with Ray DiPalma’s poems, or the selection of Terence Winch’s poems referred to in my last post, or Rain Worthington’s CD of her early music when she was unknown and at the beginning of something, or Erik Freidlander’s BLOCK ICE AND PROPANE, or Dale Herd’s early collections of short stories, or Doug Lang’s blog(s), and all the others I’ve mentioned, and the others I will mention as soon as I can get to them, this little film is emblematic of what I am so excited and satisfied by in all these works of art.

Since I haven’t seen him in decades, it is also a treat for me to feel his presence through the film, the same young man, a few years older than me, I met that night forty-five years ago. I would know him anywhere, more by feeling than sight, as he said he did me that afternoon in Cambridge thirty-five years ago.

Life! And art. Wherever it may be found. Cherish it.


Innisfree online mag has a terrific selection of Terence's work from various published and unpublished poems. You will not be disappointed. (Hit Innisfree above, then hit "Current Issue" then hit "A Closer Look: Terence Winch" and don't stop reading until the end, and then let me know how much you dig it, because you will.)

Friday, September 21, 2007


This time I was woken up by the cold, so I threw on an extra blanket and made an alphabet list of novels I’ve read more than once, in some cases many times, because I dig them so much:

AWAKENING, THE by Kate Chopin
CHILD OF MY HEART by Alice McDermott
EATER OF DARKNESS, THE by Robert M. Coates
GREAT GATSBY, THE by F. Scott Fitzgerald
HUMAN LANDSCAPES FROM MY COUNTRY by Nazim Hikmet (a novel in verse)
I’M NOT STILLER by Max Frisch
JUSTINE by Lawrence Durrell
KNOCK ON ANY DOOR by Willard Motley
MURPHY by Samuel Beckett
QUARTET by Jean Rhys
SEXUS by Henry Miller
TRISTAM SHANDY by Laurence Sterne
V. by Thomas Pynchon
WHITE MULE by William Carlos Williams

And then because that was a little too easy (except for X and Z), and I still wasn’t asleep, I did collections of short stories I’ve re-read, some of them many times as well:

CONTENDERS by Terence Winch
FARMERS DAUGHTERS, THE by William Carlos Williams
GRASSHOPPER FALLS by Merrill Gilfillan
IN OUR TIME by Ernest Hemingway
KAFKA: COMPLETE STORIES by Franz Kafka (okay, I’m cheating a little on the collected stories books of some of these writers by using their names first, as here)
LABYRINTHS by Jorge Luis Borges
ORCHID STORIES, THE by Kenward Elmslie
RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM, CARPENTERS and SEYMOUR AN INTRODUCTION by J. D. Salinger (this was always my favorite Salinger book, just two long stories, and still is)
TALES by LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka)
WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson

Thursday, September 20, 2007



1. On 9/11 the radios the NY Fire Department and Police Department were using, couldn’t communicate with each other, causing the unnecessary deaths of too many fire men and police officers.

This happened on Giuliani’s watch, because he failed to correct this problem even though everyone involved was aware of it and asking for the problem to be remedied.

And then on 9/11 itself, he allowed, or perhaps requested, the top police officials to act as his security guard and entourage, when they should have been busy coordinating the response of the police department with the fire department.

2. He also is the mayor who put the emergency response to terrorism headquarters inside the World Trade center, even though it had already been bombed once and was a known target for future terrorist acts, as he and his administration had been warned many times by the Clinton administration.

3. He has the same problem Bush Jr. has with hiring and firing according to loyalty to him, rather than competence, best illustrated by G’s elevating his personal driver, Bernard Kerik, to top police officer in his administration, and then recommending him to head Homeland Security for the entire nation, even though his record was not only spotty in terms of competence, but in terms of illegal activity, for which he is still under investigation, and which caused him to not be hired by Jr’s administration, despite the fact that this administration has never been shy about hiring known felons, and others with a criminal record (including Bush Jr. and Cheney).


1. He claims to be a committed follower of a religion that actually believes the real Garden of Eden was in Missouri, among other unbelievable tenets. It also believes in buying or otherwise acquiring the geneologies of everyone alive today and re-baptizing every one of our ancestors into the Mormon faith (although the rite is not exactly baptisim but a bit stranger).

2. He has proven himself not only one of the more egregious examples of politicians changing their positions to suit the time and tide, but also a blatant liar, trying to pass himself off as a “lifelong hunter” when he had never hunted before he began his campaign for president (much like Bush Jr. buying a “ranch”—with no livestock—in Crawford Texas, where he can have photo ops of him clearing brush, ala Reagan, and pretend to be a cowboy, with no cows, and a “ranch” brought just in time for his run for president).

3. John Edwards, who is being dismissed by some on the right for spending too much on haircuts and being a “Ken doll,” looks like a guy who cuts his own hair and doesn’t care how he appears compared to the slick as grease look of Mitt Romney. Not that appearances should necessarily matter, but if it’s going to be used against one, then lets be fair across the board.


1. Here’s the same old phony “regular good old boy” b.s. too many voters fell for with Bush Jr., e.g. the Thompson campaign uses the image of a red pick up truck as a symbol for this good old boy’s down home regular guy hominess quotient, despite the fact he regularly travels in limos and private jets, including “back home” in Tennessee.

2. He’s got no real program that isn’t just a continuation of the past seven years.

3. As a Senator he was one of the least successful lawmakers in the Seante. As an actor, he was more successful, but barely. The man has pretty much one reaction to everything, dour.

At least Reagan was personable. Thompson comes across like an old fart who’s doing us a favor by mounting a half-hearted campaign, as if the country has been begging him to run, and he’s doing the world a favor.


The bonus reason: they all want to continue Bush’s “strategy” in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Rain Worthington is an accomplished composer, with an MFA in music composition.

But back in the 1970s, she was a sculptor, who decided there were enough things in the world, cluttering it up, so she gave up working with wood and string and sand and other materials and bought an old upright piano, deciding the best art to make was music, because it didn’t contribute to the clutter of “things” in the world.

She began to slowly pick out notes that appealed to her, that said what she was trying to say, that expressed the deep desire in her to create art that was as truly her own as her sculptures had been (I saw some back then; they were unique).

Since she didn’t read or write music, she laboriously tried different combinations of notes until she found a phrase that suited what she was trying to say musically, and then she repeated it until she had it memorized. Then she’d do the same thing over again with another combination of notes.

We lived together, with my children, in a succession of lofts in what was becoming known as Tribeca at the time (see “The Rain Trilogy” in IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE), and I got to hear her putting her compositions together with such intense focus it sometimes overwhelmed me with admiration and appreciation.

And the music that resulted was unlike anything else. It was evocative of other so-called “primitives” like some critics had characterized Satie and his “furniture music” as he called it, and it had the serial, minimalist, repetitive effect that some of the other “downtown” composers were experimenting with at the time. But it was her own—more sensuous, more romantic, more mesmerizing—and ultimately unlike anyone else’s music.

As the only unschooled one among the downtown new music scene, she felt the impact of that, not getting the same kind of media attention etc. But, like so much else that I cherish in the arts, her music embodied the independent experimental spirit of a certain time and place much more so than the more famous creations from the more famous creators.

It was an especially productive time for so many artists in so many art forms, people you’ve probably never heard of, and Rain’s music of that time evokes everything that was meaningful and inspiring about those days. What it meant to be an artist then and there, trying to make something new.

She has long since gone to college and gotten her degrees and established herself as an important composer, whose music is performed by serious musicians. But this CD of her performing one of her early works for solo piano, on Charlemagne Palestine’s (another incredible composer, performer, artist, etc. who has not been given the props he deserves for being one of the most original creators of that time and place, or any time and place for that matter) Bersendorfer (or however you spell the name of the most incredible piano ever manufactured) in his loft on North Moore Street in 1977.

When I recently got this recording in the mail from CD Baby, (I bought several, to give to my grown kids and friends) it took only a few bars of “Part 1” to take me back to the origins of my own creative urges and the kinds of striving to express myself that I first felt in my youth and experienced in my early work and the work of others attempting their own creative breakthroughs.

But within minutes I was mesmerized once more by Rain’s artistry, and before “Part 1” was over, I was somewhere else, no longer here, no longer back in the 1970s, no longer anywhere material. It’s as if her music not only doesn’t add to the clutter in the world with more material “things,” but dissolves what things there are, including my material self, into musical imagery that transcends the dailiness of this life and world.

Ah, you have to hear it yourself. But don’t just listen to a small excerpt, surrender to the entire piece, and you’ll see.

I think I took this photo in one of our lofts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The other day on NPR I heard an interview with Erik Friedlander, the son of one of my favorite photographers, Lee Freidlander. Erik is a cellist, who started out playing folk guitar, and as a result does a lot of “picking” on the cello, a sound that seems pretty unique to me.

He played some tunes from his latest CD, BLOCK ICE AND PROPANE, and they knocked me out. He also improvised in the studio, live, on a passage the interviewer read from Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, and it too was terrific.

A lot of the music on the CD was created that way, improvising live in the recording studio. The music came out of Friedlander’s memories of criss-crossing the country with his family as a kid, riding the old two lane blacktops, looking out at the landscapes they passed through, or the passing lights or starry sky driving at night.

That accounts for the deep feeling in his music, at least on this CD, of an earlier time in the USA, not exactly a folk feeling, but that kind of “Americana” feeling you get from Aran Copland’s compositions, or Pete Seeger’s instrumental tunes.

I hope that doesn’t put anyone off BLOCK ICE AND PROPANE. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever heard, certainly in terms of music for the cello. Check it out, and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 17, 2007


"I remember what Braque said to me one day—As he went about copying the old masters in the Louvre, like all the other painters who went there to copy, he finally understood that he would never succeed; and that the same awkwardness would always be there to stop him from copying accurately. One fine day, he said to himself: well! I am my awkwardnesses! I must plunge into that. I had a slightly similar feeling in relationship to traditional literary schools, and I too decided to plunge into my difference." —Francis Ponge

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Another night of waking up too much, so another alphabet list to help me fall back asleep. (The reason for using the alphabet is that it’s the only way I can remember it in the morning.) Since my little boy just started back at school, I thought of movies that are set mostly in and around schools:

AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (the best of this list)
GREASE and GOOD NEWS (both hokey in their own ways, but charming in their own ways as well)
I? [IF—thanks to RJ Eskow]
MEAN GIRLS (brilliant) and MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS (one of the few times I dug Richard Dreyfus’s acting)
PUMP UP THE VOLUME (with some lines from a poem of mine in it) and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED
Z? [ZERO FOR CONDUCT, thanks to Ray DiPalma]

I couldn’t come up with movies for a lot of letters, obviously. Can you?

Friday, September 14, 2007


Another snap from back in the day. Elizabeth DiPalma took it in my Sullivan Street apartment in "Soho" in 1975. I'm sitting on the knees of poets Bruce Andrews (in glasses) and Ray DiPalma, and that's a Sylvia Schuster print behind us on the wall. Oh so many days ago, but they still glow in my heart.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Here's a photograph taken by Rain Worthington c. 1979. She is known mostly as a composer, but back then she was also a professional photographer, though she took this one as a friend of all of ours. It's Doug Lang, Terence Winch in the middle, and me in shades that I assume belonged to one of them and I put on as a goof. We were all doing the work we are still doing, our various "arts"—for the three of us in the photo, mostly poetry, for Rain her music. (Terry was also heavily involved in music, as always, in fact Doug is wearing a tee shirt with the logo of Terry's then band "Celtic Thunder.") How fortunate that Rain was there to snap us in our poetic glory. And yes, it does seem like only yesterday, and then again, not.

Woops, according to Doug Lang's poetry blog it was 1978. He has a different version of this same moment on his "Lally" post (the link is on the list to the right).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


These two flicks are like genre films of the 1950s. THE NANNY DIARIES is like films they used to call “women’s movies” and 3:10 TO YUMA is actually a remake of a 1950s Western.

I went to see THE NANNY DIARIES, which I hadn’t read, because I love Scarlett Johansson. It had other terrific actors too, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti.

But the direction—by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini—was too heavy-handed, so even though Linney was mostly terrific as usual, both she and Giamatti seemed like they were pushing at times (him in every scene he was in), what actors call “indicating” rather than just being.

Johansson was as adorable as always, comfortably allowing her natural sexual charisma to be clothed in regular-ness, as she often does in flicks. But her character too seemed unbelievable at times, especially for a “Jersey girl” (way too submissive to her boss etc.).

The only actor in the movie who seemed not to have been pushed too hard by the director was the little boy—Nicholas Reese Art. Whereas child actors often seem the only ones in movies to be directed with too heavy a hand, in THE NANNY DIARIES it was Art who was the heart of the movie, seemed the most genuine, and made it work as well as it did.

But it wasn’t just the direction that seemed heavy-handed. Like a lot of those old “women’s flicks,” the story was a little too pat too (the screen play is credited to the co-directors), villains villainy, innocents innocent, and what before the 1970s used to be called “a Hollywood ending”—meaning everything tired up in a neat little bow.

That didn’t stop my eyes from tearing up, I get tears watching commercials, and I laughed several times too. It wasn’t a “bad” movie, just not a great one.

3:10 TO YUMA, originally based on an early Elmore Leonard story, appealed to me more, maybe because it’s one of the genres that used to be seen as “men’s movies”—i.e. Westerns and war movies (which now fall under the broader category of “action” movies I guess).

It too had some Hollywood conventions, leftover from the Leonard story and the 1957 film made from it, but tried to pump them up with more contemporary blood and guts, literally, as well as more twists and complications in the plot and a heavier moral in a not quite so old-style Hollywood ending.

It also had some great actors, Russell Crowe for one, as great as always, and Peter Fonda as good as he’s ever been, in the role of a tough, mean, old codger. Christian Bale held his own with them, though he was slightly miscast, a little too heroic looking and behaving, even when the script called for something else.

Though the direction by James Mangold was pretty consistent (with a few missteps), again, the revelation of the movie was a “child actor.” This time a teenager—Logun Lerman—playing Bale’s character’s rebellious adolescent son, in a role that demanded a wide spectrum of emotion, which he managed impressively.

There also was Ben Foster in the kind of star-making role, as an unpredictably evil bad guy, that made Richatd Widmark’s career in KISS OF DEATH or James Woods pulled off in THE ONION FIELD.

But maybe in the end, the reason 3:10 TO YUMA got to me more than THE NANNY DIARIES is simply that I have had a teenage son and will have another in a few years, and I couldn’t help identifying with that father son relationship in ways that gave me a stake in the story’s outcome.

Unlike THE NANNY DIARIES, which telegraphed it’s direction and ending from the beginning, and seemed to portray all the grown “straight” males in it as either fulltime selfish assholes or absentees, with one exception—a “Harvard hottie.”

Not much to identify with there, like most men I know, I’m only a part-time selfish asshole—and I didn't go to Harvard.

So I say, if you’re interested, wait to see THE NANNY DIARIES on cable or DVD, but, 3:10 TO YUMA is worth seeing on the big screen.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Osama Bin Laden is still out there doing his thing. (Because we stopped short of getting him in order to invade Iraq.)

The Taliban are making a come back in Afghanistan. (Because we didn’t do any of the things we promised we would do to rebuild the country and/or make it safe, partly because we had to pull troops and strategists etc. out of there for the invasion and subsequent war in Iraq, etc.)

Nothing has been done to stop Saudi Arabia (where most of the 9/11 terrorists came from) from supporting and financing the fundamentalist/radical Islamic schools for boys all over the Arab world that are the breeding grounds for terrorists and their ideology (or for that matter from oppressing their citizens, particularly women). In fact, we just made a deal to sell them, was it 20 or 30 billions dollars worth of weapons, to protect a country that was more behind the events on 9/11 than Iraq. (Because, as has been known seemingly forever, the Bush family makes a good portion of its multi-multi-millions from doing business with the rulers of Saudi Arabia.)

And once again, as in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is refuting, ignoring, dismissing and denying the facts that their own panels and committees and agencies and etc. have come up with that say the situation in Iraq has not improved and in fact has gotten worse in many ways. But hey! Anbar Province (where Junior visited last week for a few hours in one of the most highly fortified bastions of US military might in Iraq) has seen the violence subside a little because we are now arming the Sunni insurgents who recently were bombing and killing our soldiers and marines. No news reports, that I’ve seen, point out or even notice that Anbar province contains only five per cent of the population of Iraq anyway!

I could go on, for days, for months, probably as long as this war will, but what’s the point. The troops are obviously going to stay there, some of them probably for many decades to come (ala Korea etc.) and if they by some amazing political turn around are actually all removed from Iraq any time soon (like before the 2008 election, highly unlikely) and the country splits into three separate entities, or the right wing Shiites take over, or the civil war there continues for a few years, the right-wingers will insist that the war could have been “won” if only the defeatist liberals hadn’t lost it, even if the right wing Republicans were in charge of every branch of government and agency and every aspect of the war itself (where MidEast experts were dismissed and replaced by right-wing political loyalists, sometimes barely out of college, or as in the White House and other administration strongholds, like the Justice Department, barely out of a right-wing Christian fundamentalist college.)

God bless “America.”

Sunday, September 9, 2007


The Republicans keep insisting, as they have all along, that only they are tough enough to take on the terrorists and protect us all. Giuliani is especially guilty of this.

But what exactly are their credentials for claiming this?

As others have said, and a recent letter to TIME magazine from Ron Speigel of Philadelphia put most succinctly:

“…on 9/11 the terrorists boarded planes in a state that had a Republican Governor and did their worst damage in a city that had a Republican mayor and a state that had a Republican Governor—all while a Republican was in the White House.”

Friday, September 7, 2007


Okay, another alphabet list thought up last night when having trouble sleeping (“extreme” chocolate ice cream on a “sugar” cone maybe?) of movies that had scenes in them that were the most “realistic” in terms of what I have seen and/or experienced in my own life:

AMERICAN HOT WAX (most realistic depiction, in most scenes, of early rock’n’roll as I remember it)
BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (though somewhat overdone and melodramatic, in a few scenes comes closest to depicting the giant gap that developed between the last generation for whom some form of “jazz” was the popular music and the first for whom rock’n’roll was)
COMMITMENTS, THE (the wedding scene at the beginning comes closest to the way I remember “Irish” weddings with little kids running around and old gents and drunken aunts and all; and the scenes in which “rabbit” keeps answering imaginary interview questions about his imagined future success in the shower and bathtub reminded me of my own Nobel and Oscar acceptance speeches and post-award interviews in the tubs and showers of my youth)
DON’T LOOK NOW (most realistic love making scene, when it’s really good)
ERASERHEAD (even though the movie was more surreal than real, some scenes evoked the Jersey industrial landscapes of my youth better than any attempts at realism)
FIELD, THE (Richard Harris’s performance as the Irish peasant “hard man,” as they used to say, comes closest to an aspect of some of my own Irish elders I knew as a boy)
GOOD WILL HUNTING (as hokey as some of this film was, and the terrible miscasting of Robin Williams, who did his best but no cigar, the gang of working-class guys Matt Damon’s character is a part of seemed to me pretty accurate to my memories of being part of a gang like that, and it’s definitely the best work Ben Affleck ever did)
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, A (most realistic lovemaking scene, when the passion stems from the conflict between attraction and anger)
I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (though I wasn’t a teenager trying to get to the Beatles in their NYC hotel room at the time of their first U. S. appearance on Ed Sullivan, I was only a few years older, working as a musician and feeling the impact of the fanaticism of these mostly young girls, and worked at a mental institution where one was confined after her freak out at their Shea Stadium appearance a few years later—for the most part, this underrated comedy nails a lot of their behavior and style and energy, etc.)
JACOB’S LADDER (despite it’s faults, captured for me much of what “the 60’s”—1966-74—sometimes felt like, especially on drugs)
KING OF NEW YORK (most realistic death scene, when the detective dies on the subway car)
LAST TANGO IN PARIS (comes closest to the reality of sexual excitement fueled by the mystery of partners not yet known and the let down on discovering, or in this case, with Brando’s character, revealing their actual ordinariness)
MENACE II SOCIETY (the party scene in this flick comes closest to what I remember in my teens and early manhood encountering at many parties in black neighborhoods in Jersey and for that matter all over the country)
NAKED (thanks to Ray DiPalma for reminding me of this flick in a recent email—one of my favorites, directed by Mike Leigh whose famously unique methods have created some incredibly realistic films, and in this one David Thewlis gives a completely compelling performance as that kind of manipulatively charismatic abusive personality we’ve probably all encountered, and maybe sometimes been)
ON THE WATERFRONT (the gang kid who succeeded Brando’s “Terry Malloy” as leader of the Golden Warriors came as close as anyone in films to what a kid like that was really like and looked like back then, because it was a real Hoboken kid, not an actor—there was a similar familiarity with some of the older guys too, like “Two Ton Tony” who came from my area)
PERFORMANCE (most realistic rendering, especially in the love making scene, of my 1970s experiences with the effects of drugs and experiments in androgyny)
QUIET MAN, THE (I know many find this John Ford movie clichéd, in terms of Hollywood stereotypes of the “Oirish,” but I find an element of truth in every character in it, no matter how minor, in terms of my own experience with the Irish of my youth)
RESURRECTION (most realistic married-couple-talking-in-bed scene)
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (the 78 record store scene, exactly like the one in our town my big sisters would drag me along with them and into the booths for sampling new recordings etc.; pretty accurate depiction of trains in the 1940s as well)
2 DAYS IN PARIS (most realistic depiction of the kinds of confusion and craziness I encountered in many relationships)
WEEDS (Nick Nolte’s mixture of gratitude, sensual ecstasy and an almost spiritually transcendent sense of being alive, when he makes love for the first time after being released from prison, matches my memory of that experience on being released from much shorter periods of confinement or other circumstances preventing me from making love for a time)
Z ?

I know this is all very personal, “reality”—”truth”—“the way it was”—is different for everyone, usually, so I hope you add your own take on what seemed most real to you in terms of your own experience and the films you’ve seen.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


“Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.”

—Walt Whitman
“Song of Myself”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


A couple of years ago I went to a screening at the Writers Guild East for BEFORE SUNSET. There was a question and answer period afterwards with the co-writers, and co-stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

I knew Hawke a little, having worked with him in the film WHITE FANG when he was still a teenager, but already a very successful and competent movie actor. I liked him, and admired the choices he had made in his life and career since then. And his thoughtful, bright, honest answers in the Q&A after the film, made me even more impressed with the man he had become.

As for Delpy, up until that screening, I had been vaguely aware of her as a beautiful French actress. But watching the film, I realized she’s an amazingly great actress. And then, in the film, she sings and plays a song she composed herself, and I suddenly understood the depth and commitment of her creativity.

I was even more impressed, when during the Q&A a writer asked how much of the dialogue was improvised, (remember, this was an audience of screenwriters, asking questions of two actors) and she and Hawke made clear that because it was shot in “real time” there was no room for even the slightest deviation from what was written in the script, down to sighs and coughs and awkward pauses.

It wasn’t only that they had written a script that was so in the moment it seemed totally improvised on the spot, but during the Q&A they were equally in the moment, and Delpy came across as completely natural, open, honest—as un-movie-star-like as only a handful of movie stars I’ve ever known or encountered in person have been.

I fell in love with her right there, the way I do, and maybe you, with people I don’t really know, but feel I do from the art they create.

So when I saw that she had not only written, and starred in, but directed, edited and composed the music for a new film, 2 DAYS IN PARIS, I couldn’t wait to see it. Before I could though, I saw some reviews that claimed she was derivative of Woody Allen and/or disparaged the film for being too nasty or too long or too self-indulgent, etc.

But I wasn’t worried. I’d seen already that she wasn’t afraid to take chances, to expose herself, not in the usual sexy movie star way, but in the unusual truthfully human way, with all the faults that implies. Something most people are too afraid to do.

Talk about being pleasantly proved correct. I know we all have our own taste that’s influenced by our personal histories and beliefs etc., but how any film critic could not be elated by the appearance in the film world of a new filmmaker with Delpy’s obvious gifts is beyond me.

Not only has she created one of the most honest depictions of a relationship I’ve ever seen in a film—including using shots that show the natural wrinkles in her forehead, or are unflattering to her figure in ways no Hollywood star would ever allow, but which make the worries of a real woman her age expressed in the film all the more real and poignant—but the dialogue is so fast and witty and contemporary, it’s as if one of the old screwball comedies of the 1940s had been translated into contemporary terms. Exactly what so many critics have been lamenting they’re missing, and then they miss this!

I not only highly recommend your seeing it, I predict you’ll want to see it more than once. It’s an instant classic. And if you agree with some of the critics and don’t dig it, then my guess is you’re in denial about your own reality.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of taste.

Monday, September 3, 2007


I check into the blogs on that little list of recommended sites on the right just about every day. And RJ Eskow's Nightlight last post "Party in the sky" just hit me as something I'd been meaning to say, but wouldn't have done it so lyrically. It's a beautiful piece of writing, as well as an insightful observation, partially about these times, not just that place. Another beautiful piece of writing and all of the above is Doug Lang's recent post on his poetry blog about his Swansea youth and early reading. Check'em out.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


On this 50th anniversary of the publication of ON THE ROAD, Viking has just published the “original scroll” manuscript that was the basis for the much edited novel that won fame for Kerouac, but not the critical acclaim his fans believed he deserved.

The famous quote from Truman Capote, a rival “fiction” writer of that era, was that what he did was writing, what Kerouac did was “typewriting,” the assumption being that Kerouac just sat at a typewriter and speed wrote his thoughts without revision or forethought.

That myth developed in part because of the “scroll” version of ON THE ROAD that Kerouac wrote in a matter of days, speed typing on a “roll” (as he called it, not “scroll,” according to Gerald Nicosia, author of MEMORY BABE, the great biography of Kerouac) made from taped together sheets of drawing paper, while all the time consulting notebooks and other scraps of writing collected over several years, to help him with the facts of the basically true story of his adventures “on the road.”

Because he supposedly brought the roll into his editor and unrolled it on the office floor, recounting his speed typing it in only a matter of days—to which the editor supposedly responded by telling Kerouac to go and retype the manuscript on conventional single sheets and bring it back—the legend was created of a single burst of unrelenting energy creating a full blown masterpiece.

It’s one long paragraph that pretty well rushes by like an exhaustive road trip, with interludes of lyric calm, or at least a slightly slower paced speediness. But he wrote some of it by directly copying from the pocket notebooks he carried with him constantly, and other sources, and he had already written several other versions of the story, which he’d been mulling over and talking and writing about for years.

Nonetheless, this roll was produced over a period of mere days and as such is an amazing feat of human will and endurance, let alone energy (perhaps speed infused).

The real revelation for me in finally being able to read Kerouac’s initial intentions for this version of this story he was trying so long to tell, and of the new novel form he was trying to create to tell it in, is how different his voice sounds in this version, how much more contemporary, more intimate and vulnerable and honest and deeply aware he comes across as, more so not only than the 1957 version of ON THE ROAD, but of any other book he wrote.

I was always frustrated with the academics and critics and others, especially among my contemporaries, who dismissed Kerouac, sooner or later, for being too self-indulgent, too ill formed, too unaware, too naïve and adolescent and out of control to be considered a truly major artist, like all the game-playing obfuscation of their perspectives and favorite writers’ was somehow more worthy.

But as the essays that preface this publication prove—two in an accessible but no less intelligent way (if anything more so, by being able to translate complicated ideas with clarity and concision) than the other two do in that pompous self congratulatory “post-modern”-jargon way—Kerouac knew exactly what he was doing, much better than his editors and critics, and also knew that the latter would eventually catch up to him, which the publication of this original version of ON THE ROAD, with these four essays, demonstrates perfectly.

Kerouac wasn’t a “primitive” or “diamond in the rough” who needed the help and guidance of editors and those more intellectual or better educated or from a higher class background to smooth out his edges or channel his energy or polish his writing and ideas.

In fact, the opposite is true. He was the evolved one—not in terms of his alcoholism or what it did to him and others, but spiritually, mentally, and artistically—he was the light that was reflected in the diamonds in the rough he wrote about, as well as those who thought they were superior in intelligence or creativity than him, he was the more intellectually advanced (only decades later were some of his experiments with the novel acknowledged as pre-dating more academically approved “experimental writing”) and better self-educated, with a more refined sensibility (when not a victim of the alcoholism, but often even then) whose edges were central to his art, whose energy no one could have channeled as well as he himself already was doing and continued to longer than seemed humanly possible, and as can now be discerned from his letters and notebooks and sketchpads etc. was constantly polishing his writing and ideas, but in a unique and new way that was often too unique and new for many critics and contemporaries to appreciate.

But he knew.

Nor was ON THE ROAD the simple product of his having met Neal Cassady, though the 1957 version was edited, by Kerouac himself, eventually, to make the novel more about Dean Moriarty, the name for Cassady in that version. And the author himself claimed to have been inspired by a now famous letter Cassady wrote to him recounting his sexual adventures, the seemingly unedited speed of his observations and comments and asides stimulating Kerouac to make the roll he could type without page breaks and rip through his own account of his own, as well as Cassady’s and the rest of their crowd’s sex and drug and booze adventures, and more importantly in Kerouac’s perspective, what he saw as his and their quest for a deeper meaning to their lives and to life in general.

But what most readers didn’t know was that Kerouac had been contemplating this novel before he even met Cassady, and that the method he devised after reading Cassady’s letter, can be gleaned in Kerouac’s earlier writing as well, from letters to notebooks, to earlier versions of ON THE ROAD.

This “scroll” version has the real names of the people he writes about in this and other “novels”—like Ginsberg and Cassady—and the real incidents of drugging and sex, as has been mentioned in reviews and publicity for it. But more importantly for me, it has more of the author’s ideas about what he is doing, or trying to do, not just with his life but with his writing, how he sees himself among these people he’s writing of, what makes their actions and experiences important, or not, in his eyes, and how he really feels about it all, in the moment, as it’s happening.

There is an equivalent rush to the seemingly unedited torrent of words and images and thoughts and observations etc. that may have been inspired by Cassady’s letter, but all you have to do is read what was salvaged from that letter, or other letters of his, to what Kerouac was writing at the time and to this scroll manuscript of ON THE ROAD to see how different they are, to see the artistry and intellect that’s lacking in Cassady’s approach, not that it was completely artless or not intelligent, but any version of Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD we’ve had access to, especially this latest scroll version, proves that Kerouac could well have altered the novel forever, as he did, creating an entirely new approach to form and content, whether he’d met Neal or not.

Early on in this scroll version of ON THE ROAD, he even makes it clear why he ended up making it more about Cassady than anyone else (though all versions in the end are obviously and always more about Kerouac) when he writes:

“I felt sheepish rushing off with Neal---Temko insisted he was a moron and a fool. Of course he wasn’t and I wanted to prove it to everybody somehow.”

Exactly the way I often felt, and still do, when people would denigrate Kerouac as less than brilliant or a drunken clown etc.

Later on in the scroll, he explains what he was really up to, and in a way explains as well why the critics and academics missed his genius for so long:

“He wondered what Hal saw in me; and still did in Denver that summer and never really thought I’d amount to anything. It was precisely what I wanted him and the whole world to think; then I could sneak in, if that’s what they wanted, and sneak out again, which I did.