Tuesday, September 30, 2008


This show (at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Ave, 12th floor) closes Oct. 4th, so if you're anywhere near Manhattan before then check it out.

Ashbery's collages have been written up quite widely for this show, including a long, illustrated article in the NY Times Arts section Sunday before last. The most awarded living poet in the U. S. displays his artwork for the first and possibly only time. Historic, at least to those of us who care.

He says he made many back in the late 1940s when he was at Harvard (where he met Frank O'Hara, among others) but that most of them are lost. But there's a few from that period in the show, and extraordinary they are. He made some more around 1972, when I first met him and we became friends. We were both reading in a poetry series at The Smithsonian, so one of my favorites from that period I try to reproduce here, but for some reason my scanner isn't automatically cropping images anymore, and won't let me do it manually (sometimes I hate all this technology when it seems impossible to get it to work like it's supposed to). I like to think it's his interpretation of our meeting, two poetry super heroes (just kidding) in what in the original is a postcard size collage (actually collage on a postcard that echoes the duo theme by having had the color misapplied creating a ghostly echo of the original Smithsonian building).

[My friend Kevin suggests you can click on the image and see it larger and in more detail.]

Then there are more recent collages, the largest in the show, made on antique chutes and ladders boards and other childhood game boards. All of them I found engaging, appealing, witty, seemingly mysterious and yet in the end, at least to me, obvious in the most generous way—very much like his poetry.

The collages are displayed in the small adjunct room, while in the main gallery there's a slew of new Trevor Winckfield paintings. I met up with poet Simon Pettet after I cruised this show and when talking with a friend of his who didn't know Winkfield's work, I said it's what Charles Sheeler might have made if he dropped acid.

I meant the use of hard outlines and clear edges and a colorful pallette taken to extremes, the hard edges mostly curved rather than Sheeler's straight lines and sharp angles, the colorful pallete so bright and kind of loud, it's almost impossible to imagine any other thing on the wall if you were lucky enough to have one to hang on yours, and the figurative and decorative details like objects depcited in collages, juxtaposed for the whimsy or the personal symbolism impossible to decipher or the dynamic of the clashing shapes and depicetd objects or something beyond my immediate comprehension.

The reproduction here doesn't do justice at all to the color. In person the paintings truly make it difficult to almost think, they are so bright and demand your eye's immediate allegiance. But if you take the time, at least this was my experience, with each painting, they begin to settle down and their imagery and blasts of color begin to evoke all kinds of responses. My favorite(s) was a tryptich that had me entranced for a while standing a few feet in front of it and reading its shapes and colors randomly and then systematically from one side to the other and back again, or top to bottom or corner to corner diagonally.

It was a great afternoon's experience, both these artists inspiring the desire to create, and to appreciate the act of creation as well as the resulting art.


"I’m not holding my breath, but I would like to see the self-proclaimed conservative, small government, anti-regulation, free-market zealots step up and take responsibility for wrecking the American economy and bringing about the worst financial crisis since the Depression.

Even now, with the house on fire, the most extreme among them won’t pick up the fire hoses and try to put it out."

—Bob Herbert from The NY Times (9/30/08)

Monday, September 29, 2008


"There is imagining without doing and there is doing without imagining. Neither require much in the way of patience or courage." —Nick Piombino (from his blog fait accompli)

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I don't always agree with this guy. But this time, he seems like the only sane news commentator on TV.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


When I was a kid I used to confuse the young Marlon Brando with the young Paul Newman at times.

Though in many ways they couldn't have been more different, when they were both initially making an impact on the movies they did seem to have some things in common.

For one, they were both incredibly beautiful young men.

Not in the contemporary plastic suregery way, or pretty boy way. But not in the historic movie leading man way either. There was something feline and feminine in their beauty that had nothing to do with androgyny—it was all male—but had more to do with their vulnerability.

James Dean was around then too and the young Tony Curtis (not to mention Elvis) all of whom had a kind of beauty that went beyond the previous idea of male handsomeness. But Curtis had nothing really vulnerable about his looks or persona, while Dean was almost all vulernability, no matter how macho some of his movie star actions might have been intended to appear.

Brando and Newman were something else, handsome absolutely, vulnerable definitely, but also broodingly inscrutable in a way that still seduced audiences into thinking they could penetrate that with their attention and adoration.

For awhile there Newman seemed to be trying to compete with Brando one on one (or catch up with him since Brando was acting in movies and making a splash first). Brando's famous early screen triumph playing a fictional ex-boxer in ON THE WATERFRONT was matched by Newman playing a real life boxer (and one Brando had studied for his ficitonal one) in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME. The shuffling walk and dim bulb sincerity, even when seemingly arrogant, were choices almost the exact opposite of Brando's, as though Newman was saying, look what I can do to make my boxer totally different than yours even though they're contemporaries (fictional or real).

Newman also made his cowboy flick, LEFT HANDED GUN, about Billy the Kid as a brooding tormented soul, in competition with Brando's VIVA ZAPATA! or so it seems to me. Brando taking on the seemingly more difficult task of playing a Mexican hero, a famous historical figure, and turning him into something more contemporary more real and more conflicted than audiences were used to seeing in movies then. Newman did the same with his Billy the Kid, an historic figure depcited by many movie stars before Newman in the classic movie star way.

Then something changed. Maybe it was Joanne Woodward, who Brando acted with in THE FUGITIVE KIND, in which Brando met his match in the other female lead, the Italian actress famous for her own almost shockingly realistic acting a decade earlier in OPEN CITY. When I watch THE FUGITIVE KIND, I can see Brando beginning to almost sleep walk through his scenes with anyone other than Mangnani and Woodward. They were both so comfortable with the reality of their characters they almost made Brando look like he was "acting" for the first time in his early career.

Newman acted with Woodward as well, in his own angst ridden character studies, but instead of being intimidated by her seeming naturalness (in my experience the hardest thing to pull off on screen, which is why I admire actors like Redford and Woodward so much, who use almost no flourishes at all) he seems inspired by it. So much so he married her.

From then on Newman seemed no longer in competition with Brando, but rather on his own path of a klind of new movie stardom that seemed to have no ego and no self-consciousness, his beauty was just a given, his acting more and more natural and his own.

Brando went on to act like he regreted what his looks and personality had created, hiding his vulnerability inside that ever growing mass of flesh, or trying to, and his public dimsissals of his art and its place in the history of creative originality.

He had a brief reprieve in the middle stages of his decline, when he knocked out another triplet of masterworks—THE GODFATHER, LAST TANGO IN PARIS and BURN. But in the end, when I was living in L. A. and working in movies in Hollywood, partly because of how inspired I'd been as a boy by Brando and Newman, Brando was a sad figure, shopping in the allnight supermartkets at 3AM all alone and depressed looking. (I hung around with Shelly Winters for awhile—who had done the female version in many ways of what Brando had done with his youthful beauty, only she was proud of her accomplishments and Oscars—and she would often talk about "poor Marlon" and how depressed he was.)

But Newman went on to carry his beauty lightly, with grace and generosity. He seemed perfectly comfortable with it the older he got and the softer yet more striking his looks became. So comfortable in fact that he is one of the few movie stars, whose career is probably as much a result of their looks as their equally impressive talent, who would co-star in movies with an equally good looking and younger competitor—Robert Redford, in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE STING.

Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Newman chose to live near where I am now, in the Berkshires of Western Massachusettes (he was in nearby Connecticut) rather than Hollywood, where Brando remained—when he wasn't on his island—which is odd considering Brando ketp putting down the movies, and movie acting, and Hollywood.

Newman meanwhile stayed mostly far away from Hollywood, and treated his art not as something unworthy of comparison with other great art, nor as something superior, but instead as just his work, going about it with the confidence and comfortableness of someone who had been doing it long enough to not be intimidated by the challenges while at the same time not taking too casually the commitment needed to do it well.

His life was exemplary to me. The death of his son and subsequent involvement in charities and business projects to aid them seemed to turn his life even more toward others. From what friends who knew him pretty well tell me, what we saw is what he truly was, a man mostly unconflicted, whose only indulgence, besides a few beers, was racing sports cars.

He gave Woodward credit for keeping any star ego in check, but in fact he seemed to do that himself, with his choices (of where they lived, of who his co-stars were, of the projects he chose to do and the characters he chose to portray).

The main impression I always got from Paul Newman was that he knew how lucky he'd been, how great a life he had and appreciated every aspect of it. The key, of course, to happiness—gratitude. It made him seem so accessible on screen and off that it feels, at least to me, like a member of the family has died.

When I heard the news I felt tears instantly, which I wouldn't have expected. He was 83, lived a very fulfilling and accomplished life, with obvious hardships, like losing a child, and obvious triumphs, beyond what most of us ever experience. What more could you ask for?

I'm still gonna miss him.

[PS: In editing some typos people pointed out, I noticed I didn't make my two main points as clearly as I might have, the first one being that these two guys, Brando and Newman redefined what it meant to be a movie star, Brando through his approach to acting style and choices and in his image as the brooding genuis to whom stardom and mastery of his art came too easy so he too easily dismissed their importance, and Newman who instead of sailing on his good looks and acting chops kept working on his craft while also turning movie stardom into a force behind charitable work and successful business ventures fronting for more charity work. And the second point, I not only love their movie acting, but whatever of their non-movie star individuality and common humanity comes through the screen as well. I can watch either of them in anything any time, even their failures.)


There's no question that Obama appeared more youthful, was more specific in his answers for the most part and held his own on a topic that McCain is supposed to be the expert on.

So ultimately, McCain didn't do any damage, and the result was that Obama looked like his equal on foreign policy, only younger, more self-possessed and reasonable, and more forward looking.

So I'd score it for Obama. (And the instant polls last night did too, though the polls today, I'm sure will be varied and skewed in some cases.)


It wasn't as exciting as it could have been.

Because McCain didn't make any of his usual more obvious blunders (confusing Iranians with Sunni Arabs, identifying the head of Spain as the leader of a hostile country, etc.) though at times he certainly looked pretty confused, or strung out a series of non sequiters that had me going huh?

And Obama was too nice. It's a good trait in a president, to keep calm and composed and focus on the facts and not react with personal attacks, etc. But McCain was often condescending and definitely went personal on Obama several times in ways that I would have liked Obama to get personal back (e.g. Obama didn't challenge McCain on his veterans credentials by pointing out that McCain voted against increasing benefits for Iraq veterans and has a record of voting against legislation which would benefit veterans as well as active troops).

He also didn't jump on McCain when McCain talked about solving the POW/MIA problem. What McCain did was get the Vietnamese to seal the POW records so no one could really find out about MIAs and coincidentally couldn't expose the records of McCain's time as a POW there.

But over all, he answered most of McCain's attacks with reasoned corrections and generous acknowledgment when there was agreement, while McCain seemed overly pleased with himself when he thought he made a good crack at Obama's expense, or when he thought he got something right.

The visual impression couldn't be missed though. Barack was calmer, handsomer, taller, younger, more articulate, made his points more clearly and connected them more logically.

But there's no doubt McCain was whiter, more smart ass, simpler, more repetitive, and meaner, which, obviously some voters will like, unfortunately.

The real sparks and fun, I'm hoping, will come next week with Biden and Palin. Can't wait.

Friday, September 26, 2008


"From the MANITOBA HERALD, Canada (a very underground paper):

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The possibility of a McCain/Palin election is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly. Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night. 'I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn,' said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. 'He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken.When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?' In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. 'Not real effective,' he said. 'The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk.' Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. 'A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions,' an Ontario border patrolman said. 'I found one car load without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though.'

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the McCain administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to shoot wolves from airplanes, deny evolution, and act out drills preparing them for the Rapture. In recent days, liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers on Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney hits to prove they were alive in the '50s. 'If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age,' an official said. Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies. 'I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them,' an Ottawa resident said. 'How many art-history and English majors does one country need?'"

PS Not sure who wrote this, it was sent to me without attribution. If anyone knows please let me know.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


It looks like some form of this bailout is going to happen. So here's the way I'd do it if I were running things.

Do to these financial institutions what they did to their customers: loan them the money at high interest rates.

If Paulson and Junior and their cronies, who think a big infusion of money is the solution, are right, the loans will work and the economy will improve and they'll be able to pay back the loans (to us, the taxpayers, via the U. S. treasury).

But if they're wrong and the financial clowns who caused this situation mess up again, then they lose their companies, just like people are losing their homes, and we (us taxpayers, via our government) take over their companies and auction them off to other companies for whatever we can get.

That way we're not out 700 billion, or whatever the final amount is, we're only out what the Wall Street genuises default on, and even that we get back something on, and the successful loans actually pay interest so we make money on them.

I'm no economist, or financial genuis (obviously) but I know how to live within my means, even when I'm broke, as almost every other person I know who makes their living with their "art"—or in day jobs that support their freedom to make their art—does.

Seems like the liberal arts majors once again know more than the business majors. No offense to all you MBAs but, come on, if the U. S. economy was a patient it would have been dead long ago from the malpractice of the money men.

To carry that medical analogy a bit further: if the "doctor" was a true conservative, he'd let the disease run its course and either the patient would recover or die. If neo-conservative, the doctor would let the disease run its course until it looked like the patient really was gonna die and then would infuse the patient with all the medicine it could get its hands on and hope for the best (but only if the patient was a friend, if it was someone the doc didn't know, well, then it would follow the conservative course and let it die).

If the doctor was a liberal, it would use all the latest scientific equipment and medicine, even if the patient then became dependent on that equipment and/or medicine for the rest of its life, better dependent on outside help than dead.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008


There’s a lot of different versions of “what if Obama were white” kind of speculations going around the internet, some talking about seeing things through the lens of “white privilege” and others calling out the obvious differences in racial perceptions, or perceptions of different races.

“Race” is of course an unscientific term, as most of us share a common ancestry not too far back and all of us share a common ancestry way back. It’s all the human race.

But, in this country especially, because of the uses of racial theories to justify slavery and then segregation, “race” is all too real.

We’ve made enormous progress since the 1960s when the last of the major Civil Rights legislation was passed and segregation and legal discrimination, especially at the polls, was finally addressed (not that it doesn’t still go on, the most obvious examples being in recent elections in crucial swing states where African-American districts had fewer voting machines, more i.d. checks and turn aways, etc. than affluent white districts).

But still, the overall impact of identifying “Americans” by their “race”—especially the two main ones that were at odds for so many centuries, “white” and “black”—is obviously impacting this election.

The obvious ways have been written about by a lot of people, but just to sum up:

If an African-American had graduated near the bottom of his university class (and gotten in through “affirmative action,” like say having an admiral for a father and grandfather when you want into the Naval Academy), would he even be on the ticket of a major party for president?

If an African-American had a record of crashing planes and starting fights in the service and being a hellraiser, drinking and carousing and womanizing, and then been captured in a war and under torture had broken and given a confession etc., would he be on a major party’s ticket running as president?

If an African-American was known for being a hothead and demonstrated that during a presidential campaign by saying he’d “decapitate” the white head of an agency who happened to be a personal foe of one of that black candidate’s black advisors, and it was pointed out that that agency wasn’t even responsible for the problem and was not someone a president could fire anyway…?

And if a black candidate did all that and was running against a white one who was the child of a single mother who was once on food stamps but who through hard work and intelligence had gotten a great education and come out at the top of all his classes and been elected head of the Harvard Law Review and then turned down offers to make millions in law firms and instead organized ordinary working people to better their neighborhoods and themselves and then went on to be elected a state Senator and pass legislation that cut people's taxes and helped get more health care for children and brought about ethics reforms and then went on to Congress as a Senator and passed and pushed for similar legislation and showed prescience in predicting exactly what would happen in an uncalled for war and made suggestions for how to deal with foreign adversaries and his opponents, though initially against it, eventually agreed this white Senator with the high intelligence and calm demeanor had been right all along, think that white guy would be ahead in the polls?

And what if the black candidate was known as a womanizer and had been having an affair with his current wife when he was still married to a previous one, and married a woman with an enormous fortune who could back his political ambitions, including buying a house in a district that had a vacancy for a politician to run even though neither he nor his wife had ever lived there before....?

If an African-American politician had a pregnant seventeen-year-old unmarried daughter, and the black teenage boy responsible had an internet site on which he bragged about liking to get his gun and “shoot shit” and how he loved to party and loved the women and never wanted to be tied down by marriage… Do we even have to go on?

Or what if an African-American had served as mayor of a very small town of mostly other African-Americans and had cut taxes for big corporations that their spouse worked for and raised taxes on everyone else and let development run rampant and destroy the local environment and looked into the possibility of banning books that portrayed whites kindly….

And then became governor of one of the least populated states in the country made up of mostly other African-Americans and took more pork from Washington than most any other state and hired black high school buddies to head state agencies even though they had no experience or credentials to do so, and spent most of their time at home (while collecting per diem from the state) or out shooting and killing animals….

Would that African-American, also with zero foreign affairs experience—not having even had a passport or left the country until a year before and then only to fly to one destination in a country bordering on one where our troops were fighting, but not going to the country where the actual fighting is going on (Kuwait, rather than Iraq) and claimed to have visited other countries as well, because the plane stopped in them for a few hours to refuel—would that African-American be chosen as a vice-presidential pick by a major party presidential candidate?

There’s plenty more, like what if an African-American candidate belonged to a church that believes the “end times” are near and that their state will be a refuge for all like minded believers when those end times come and destroy all the unbelievers including even members of the same general religion but who don’t believe the exact tenants of this small branch of that religion, and whose spouse belonged to an organization that believed their state should secede and have nothing to do with “America” and in fact labeled “America” as an enemy country!

Here’s one I haven’t seen going around: What if a bunch of African-Americans had taken over some businesses and gambled with millions of people's money while they collected fees in the hundreds of millions and then when the businesses lost everything, they came to us taxpayers and asked us to bail them out?

Or if a "black" man went to Congress and asked to be given more money than has ever been given to any entity, let alone one man, in the government, an unelected man, and the conditions he put on this handout were that the government could never question his decisions or regulate them or even bring them up before a court if they were found to be illegal, that in fact he would be prosecution free forever concerning anything to do with this $700 billion dollars he was asking for?

Think he’d even get that far?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Here's one of the better articles on the bailout, from a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter (despite the typos). It's more questions than answers (though the answers are often implied), but now's the time to be asking them.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Turner Classic Movies had two old black and white undderrated movies on tonight, both of which were knockouts, for different reasons.

When I was twenty, I picked up a used paperback copy of the novel PORTRAIT OF JENNY, originally published in hardback in 1939. It was a romantic fantasy about an artist struggling to sruvive in Depression New York in the 1930s, almost the obvious stereotype of the starving artist living in a garret.

But as he says in the book, and in the narration to the movie, he wasn't feeling bad because he was hungry for food, as he puts it: "There is another kind of suffering for the artist which is worse than anything a winter,or poverty, can do;it is more like a winter of the mind..."

He goes on, and the writing is sometimes just ordinary, nothing special, though sometimes it is close to poetic. But it's the story that's captivating, at least it was to me, as much of a romantic then as I still am. Because the "Jenny" he ends up making the portrait of, is an apparition, but an appration of a real, once alive, young girl, who when he first meets her is little more than a child, but in each subsequent meeting, she has grown years older even though only days or weeks have passed.

The cover of the paperback, as you can see, looks like maybe they were planning on redoing the movie with Sophia Loren, but the 1949 movie I watched tonight starred Jennifer Jones as "Jenny" and Joseph Cotten as the artist. With Ethel Barrymore playing the "old maid" art dealer who recognizes Cotton's character's artistic potential, maybe because she has fallen in love with him from the distance of her years and that love generates a faith in his capacity to find some source of inspiration, which he does in this phantom that no one else experiences but him.

It's a fantasy, a parable of sorts, and a highly romantic metaphor for for the power of creativity to fill the hole loneliness makes, only in this story the metaphor seems to be a real woman.

I could never convince any of my friends to appreciate the book as much as I did. And no one I know includes the movie among their top favorites. In fact, I always felt the friends I tried to impress with the book or the movie, felt sorry for what they maybe perceived as a weak link in my own character, this endlessly romantic conception of love and even of the power of art. (I think I may have written about this flick once before on this blog, or had it on one of my many lists and don't remember anyone responding to it).

But tonight, when Robert Osborne, the white haired host of most of TCM evenings introduced PORTRAIT OF JENNY as one of his all time favorite movies, he added that in 1954 when a bunch of European film directors were asked to list their favorite Hollywood movies, Bunuel put PORTRAIT OF JENNY near the top of his list. That made me feel vindicated, though I'm sure it was more the surreal touches in the movie that impressed him, more than the romance, but who knows (the movie has a storm scene as it climax and when it occurs the black and white turns to green! starting with two bright green flashes of lightening, and Osborne explained that in theaters that were capable of doing it, the screen actually widened for the storm scene, an early experiment with wide screen filming).

There were other surreal effects, like scenes being introduced initially as though projected on a blank canvas, giving them a texture unlike any other movie scenes I've seen before or since, and the eerie music and repetitive ditty about not knowing where we came from or where we're going, and other touches I'm sure Bunuel loved. I loved it since I first saw it, as I did the story since I first read it, so I don't need vindication, but it's nice to share a love of this film with Osborne and Bunuel.

[I went back and read the first few chapters of the book again, after I wrote this, and realized it's a very spiritual book, and that the artist in it is Jewish, although he doesn't say it outright, but he has a cabdriver friend, Gus, who in the movie is Irish, or "Oirish" as we say of actors playing that stereotype broadly, and there's a whole subplot with a mural painted in an Irish bar in exchange for free meals and in the movie the mural's all about the Irish hero, to most, Michael Collins, whereas in the book the cabdriver's obviously Jewish, and the mural is a picnic scene and the bar owner possibly Jewish himself and the cabbie raises questions about why his and the artist's people were "chosen" and when asked about Jesus points out he was a Jew too, etc., and in fact the theme of the book seems to be as much about belief in God and the question of what God wants of us, and for us, as it is about the power of art and love, in fact, those are the vehicles through which those questions are raised and possibly answered.]

The movie that played after it (like an old double feature) was STARS IN MY CROWN, a Western unlike any I've ever seen before. Made in 1950, Joel MacCrae came out of retirement working on his ranch to play the lead role of an initially gun toting parson who is about as homey and good a man I've ever seen on film.

The movie is full of little delights. Like the parson's wife using an apple coring machine, or a little rotating fan device to keep flies off a cake she's made, etc. And Dean Stockwell plays the orphan the parson and his wife are raising and through whose eyes, and the words of his older self in the narration, we see the story.

The most amazing part of which is a subplot about a slave, freed by the Civil War and now an old man living alone on his property that the town rich man merchant wants because of the "mica" I think they kept saying, that's on the land. He's threatened first by "nightriders" who eventually don white hoods and burn a cross and finally come to lynch him. The character is played with dignity and realism, and there's no condescension expressed toward his character really by anyone other than the rich merchant. He's known as "Uncle Famous" and is treated more equally than the town's most childlike adult, named "Chloraform" by his mother, a white man.

That was one of the things both these movies had in common, the African-American roles were played without an ounce of what is often thought of as the typical condescension or stereotypical cartoony characterization of films of those times, but instead with the kind of naturalism a lot of people think only came about in recent decades. And the subject of race was treated as an accepted reality that most people dealt with the same as they did with everything else (not entirely untrue, as I learned when reading Theodore Dresier's DAWN the first volume of his autobiography, about growing up in the late 1800s, after the Civil Wat, and seeing in his first theater shows, comedies that made fun of African Americans, and German Americans and Irish Americans pretty much equally).

At any rate, it was refreshing to see these two movies handle that subject matter in a way that no one could object to, except racists. Another thing the two movies had in common was narration. I always love narration in a movie, when it works. In recent decades it fell out of favor and has been used most often to cover up problems in the story line or with the editing etc. I've written or rewritten narration for several movies, the best known probably being DRUGSTORE COWBOY, so I know a little about it, but I always dug it. As a kid it always filled me with anticipation and interest when a film opened with a voice beginning a narration that set up the story to come.

Joel McCrae isn't one of those Hollywood stars most people think of when they think of old Hollywood, and for too long I didn't fully appreciate him myself. I thought his acting was always a little stiff, and his star charisma a little less than those who still are the most famous of his times, Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne et. al. But in recent years I've begun to appreciate the subtlety of his acting more and more, and STARS IN MY CROWN, convinced me completely that McCrae was a consumate film actor, as good as any. Watch this film if you can and see if you don't agree.


Or, "The Shire" as the kids in the region call it. Two more examples of the creative outpouring that's going on all around us (or at least me) either through original efforts, or friends and family and even strangers turning me on to stuff I was unaware of, giving me some guidance through the plethora of creative abundance (etc.) include a young white rapper entertaining at the Peace Day festivities yesterday, who calls himself "The Aposoul" and wowed the crowd and got them moving to a new rap called, I think, "Peace Vibration."

It's not on the net anywhere yet, and what is there of his is obviously the work of a young man, a young white man, in The Shire. But the new one, "Peace Vibration" was smart, original in it rhymes and beat, and put over with the kind of charisma you have to have to stand on a stage alone with nothing but a beat track and your voice as it transmits your ideas through your rap. He was as self assured and yet humble at the same time as any rapper I've noticed yet, refreshingly so. Maybe these times are just what's needed to generate some original creativity in our society.

The other example was a young, fresh face of the future, skateboarding expertly and with that confident ease that those who do what they do very well often have, and I recognized him from some videos my little guy and his younger but incredibly hip nephew, my grandson, had enthusiastically turned me on to. Videos that had very few of the expected youthful cliched attempts to get a laugh, and a couple of which could have been transferred immediately to Saturday Night Live and been some of the best of that shows' recent skits.

To see for yourself (hope I didn't build him up so much your expectations will ruin the fresh originality of this when you see it's just kids having some fun with a movie camera), but check out this example and then hit the one call "Losers."

Sunday, September 21, 2008



It was one of those Berkshires weekends where the weather was beautiful and so were the people and the things they turned me on to.

My older son put Beck’s new—what do we call them now that they’re no longer CDs and haven’t been “albums” for a long time, and even when we called them that they weren’t, they were LPs still referred to as “albums” from the days when 78s were collected in what looked like photograph albums or scrap albums only with pages that were empty sleeves for 78 records to be slid into and out of, uh where was I? oh yeah—whatever on (from his iPhone to his car radio) and as soon as the first chord hit I thought this is Beck’s Brian Wilson project, and then when his voice cut in I thought, well, Brian Wilson meets Kurt Cobain.

There are other influences on MODERN GUILT, Beck’s latest collection of songs, all West Coast, mostly California based, the influences that is (I thought I heard a little nod, or not so little, to Jim Morrison e.g.). But Beck is one of those artists who, even if he really is a Scientologist, his work still demands attention, at least from me. It’s always thematically compelling and musically unique, if not entirely original.


Later when my young son and I went to The Garden, the skate shop (skateboard shop that is) in Great Barrington, to get a new deck, because they’re going out of business and we won’t have that convenience when we’re up there anymore, or the pleasure of hanging with Steve, one of the skaters who works there and is also a stand up guy, a stand up bassist and amazing skateboarder himself.

And while he transferred the trucks from my boy’s old deck to the new one he played his latest passion, the music of a band called Sunset Rubdown.

Each selection was so distinct from the previous one, I kept asking “Is this still Sunset Rubdown?” But right from the first cut, I was impressed by the range of sounds they get from their instruments and trying to figure out what some of the instruments were even though they were mostly the usual.

I love these new I-don’t-know-what-they-call-them bands that are like a combination of funky folk roots hippie avant post modern kind of X game jam bands or something even more difficult to define (though I’m sure there’s a marketing term trying to bind them all into a movement or new genre).

There’s tons of them, all over the world, big combinations of traditional rock instruments and traditional folk instruments and avant ideas of anything goes combined with your grandmother’s ethnic folk roots gumbo. Whatever. I dig them. Like:


If you google them, there’s a YouTube video that’s not that impressive. But this afternoon, at the skate park in GB they had a Peace Day festival at which the latest incarnation of this band played, with our friend Steve on base. He’s good. And so were they.

There were a banjo player, an electric guitarist, a fiddler, an accordian player (the only female, the keyboard kind of box), the front-man vocalist, who also played some electric and acoustic guitar, a drummer (just snare, bass, high hat and cymbal) and upright acoustic bassist Steve.

The music sounded at times like it was in Yiddish or Polish or maybe Russian, but definitely Eastern European, with the front man doing the lead vocals and the accordianist backing him up, and man did she have a voice.

The video doesn’t do her justice at all, or else she’s just improved radically. But her voice was so strong she sounded like someone from another era, another culture entirely, who had lived a lifetime already and knew what it meant to face down death and sorrow.

The front man was almost comic in his vocals, delivering them like an old time Jewish comedian, but one who when not gesturing like Henny Youngman looked more like a rock star and could probably hold his own in an arm wrestling match. The odd mixture of old man gestures and young man good looks, especially with a voice that was unashamed of its power and theatricality, was missed, it seemed to me, on this beautiful afternoon, by the folks out to enjoy the weather and celebrate the idea of peace. But not on me.

Even if you don’t like what someone else tries to turn you on to, isn’t being introduced to any kind of creative output you either didn’t know about or were only vaguely aware of almost always touching in some way? It’s like there’s so much good work out in the world these days in the first place, because there’s so many more people (I mean population wise) and so many in our society have grown up able to devote a lot of their time and energy to the arts, there’s just more music and art and movies and videos and books and poetry and memoirs and all this stuff, a lot of which is really good, and some of which is amazing.

I know I’ve got pretty broad taste and unless something really offends me in some way, I’m generally impressed with at least the effort, and that goes for the effort to have the nerve to share something you really love, like Steve did, or I did about this local Great Barrington band, or my older son was doing with the new Beck collection.

It’s touching, to me at least, to see people still care enough, aren’t cynical or afraid to be seen as too passionate or not following the latest group think or whatever. That music and art and poetry and movies and all that can still get people riled up and standing up for their taste and preferences and caring.

I always say poetry saved my life, and it did, many times. So I take this stuff seriously. But I also take it lightly, in the sense that I try not to get bogged down in “schools’ and cliques and scenes and the competition for attention and the few rewards. The true reward is doing the work, and the perks are getting to share it and experience the work of others’ sharing theirs. At least when you dig it. But even sometimes when you don’t, caring about sharing that opinion seems to me to be its own reward as well.

I don’t wanna get all HIGH FIDELITY here, but isn’t that what made that movie moving and not just aggravating?

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Friends have been telling me to catch this flick since it came out last year. But somehow the idea of Ben Kingsley playing a Polish-American, alcoholic hitman from Buffalo, trying to get sober in San Francisco, uh, well, no thanks.

But, I stumbled on it last night while channel surfing for a laugh before bed (somewhere in the past I read or heard that a couple of good laughs before bed makes for a healthier and longer life, I often get them from books, but just as often from The Daily Show or Colbert, et. al.) and there it was, just starting.

I figured I’d watch it long enough to prove my movie instincts correct (which they usually are) and at first I felt vindicated. Kingsley made an almost ridiculously unbelievable Polish-American from Buffalo.

The mother of my older kids came from Buffalo, and had a Polish aunt that epitomized that particular ethnic reality. I have a brother-in-law ex-cop who is the son of Polish immigrants. I attended the wedding of one of his daughters not long ago and encountered his brothers and sisters, people I knew well growing up and hadn’t seen in awhile.

Kingsley wasn’t getting it. And then there was Dennis Farina playing an Irish mobster, and that portrayal was way off too, and the depiction of the Irish hoods under him was even more offensive to me, the stereotype of the heartless Irish thug an insult to the memory of many I’ve known. I’m thinking, man, was I right about this fiasco.

But before I could change the channel, there was an actor I recognized but couldn’t identify immediately, playing a character I recognized as well, but never saw that broadly and yet unbelievably realistically portrayed.

Then it hit me—it’s Bill Pullman, and actor I hugely admire, only this time with thick lensed glasses with thick black frames and a choppy aging nerd haircut and a stalker/flasher raincoat and gait and the manner of someone who has no understanding or respect for personal space or scruples about imposing his obviously unjustifiably condescending attitudes on people much more authentic and honorable and probably more intelligent than he obviously assumes he is.

Man, it’s a brilliant performance. And it cut the Kinglsey and even the Farina performances down to size and got me to get that they weren’t meant to be “realistic” or even “naturalistic” but hyper-realizations of popular culture stereotypes gone slightly askew until the underlying brilliance of the naturalistic acting reveals the metaphor in the “types” and their interactions for the surprises and inconsistencies in the struggles we all face in life.

If that isn’t too convoluted. And then along comes Tea Leoni (as well as Luke Wilson underplaying the “gay” character in a way that makes him the most realistic gay character in a movie yet). Leoni is the Katherine Hepburn of these times, for me. If you dig Hepburn, which some of my friends don’t. But to me, she’s one of the three greatest screen actresses in movie history (the other two being Gena Rowlands and Vanessa Redgrave).

Like Hepburn, Leoni can bring pathos to comedy and comedy to pathos, and as it turns out, this is a very funny comedy, that nails everything it’s laughing at. It’s an instant classic, like GET SHORTY or O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?—movies that take genres and bend them back on themselves in ways that not only are eye watering hysterically funny, at least to me, but also smart and poignant and nail their exposures of the truth beneath the cultural stereotypes.

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this when I’m tired. All I mean to say is, YOU KILL ME, as many friends have been telling me now for a year, is a terrifically funny and satisfying movie experience. Bill Pullman’s performance is worth watching it for alone, but throw in Tea Leoni, who has never disappointed me in any movie role, and Kingsley’s ability to make me let go of my criticisms of his portrayal and accept it as a sincere homage to the movie type, making the humor of the performance even more resonant.

YOU KILL ME is a new addition to my all time favorites list. If you haven’t seen it, it might be on yours too when you do.

Friday, September 19, 2008



Republican administrations deregulate which causes financial institutions to disregard fundamentals and gamble with others’ money racking up huge profits until they lose a lot or everything. Then some Republicans want to bail them out at more expense to others (including us taxpayers) while other Republicans want “the market” to work it out, which means those without means will have to suffer through very hard times, losing jobs and homes and health care and money for food and necessities as the economy bottoms out.

Democrats believe in regulations and oversight, and if anyone is going to get bailed out, they believe it should be, or at least must include, those who suffer the most from corporate and/or financial institutions mistakes, or actual criminality, working people and the poor.

It’s not the Great Depression again—yet. Even though that collapse of the world economy that began with our stock market crash in 1929 has some similarities to recent events, like occurring under Republican administrations that don’t believe in regulating and overseeing the banking industry or insurance companies or mortgage or brokerage firms until it’s too late and continue to spout “the fundamentals are fine”, “the economy is strong” bromides in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, until it’s too late and then they want a handout from the rest of us.

But even if it were to become that bad, which is doubtful given the effort of some of the world’s strongest economies to avoid it by any means at this point—which is more apt to cause inflation or even hyper inflation with the printing of so much money and the accumulation of even more debt, which means the declining wages of the past eight years under the Republicans would continue even more so—

the good news is some of our parents and grandparents got through The Great Depression okay. They may have lost their houses and their jobs, but they didn’t starve to death or die—unless they jumped off a building out of fear and shame at having caused or contributed to the financial wipe out of so many working people’s homes and savings and livelihoods etc. Nowadays those guys just take their golden parachute and jump out of the pilot-less plane. (Here’s a link to a pretty good take on some of this.)


It’s not World War II, the bloodiest conflict of the 20th century, much more violent and destructive than anything we’ve seen since. And some of our parents and grandparents survived that too, though not many without knowing personally someone who didn’t. It was a sad and difficult time, but everyone, or almost everyone pitched in to help defeat some of the most evil movements the world has ever known. And while they did it, others wrote songs and movies and made other kinds of art to inspire them and make them laugh and give them a break.

Bin Laden is not Hitler and the Iranians are not the Japanese. But our military is overextended and McPalin’s statements (they both do it) about wars they might want to fight if elected do give one pause, if one is thinking clearly. A larger conflict sure is possible if you have leaders who believe in military action as a solution to the world’s problems. (And here’s a link to show why that isn’t just a possibility but a probability, made before Palin was chosen, but one could be made showing her being even more militaristic than McCain.)


It took a Democratic administration, FDR’s, to create the programs that provided the oversight and safety nets to insure that we didn’t have to go through a financial collapse like 1929 and the Great Depression ever again, and that could mobilize a nation to enter a war that our enemies were winning, hands down, at the time and to defeat them and eliminate the evil they were purveying.

But Republican administrations ever since have done everything they can to undo FDR’s programs that created the regulatory agencies and safety nets that kept financial institutions and corporations in line while protecting working people and the poor (the corporations and financial institutions still made plenty of profits, but they paid a fair share to the government to fund the agencies that oversaw their practices making sure they didn’t risk so much that working people could lose their savings and pensions etc.).

Reagan was particularly successful at it, until Junior got in almost eight years ago and outdid him. Under Reagan’s deregulations, we not only had weaker unions—meaning corporations and businesses can get away with hiring part time help with no health insurance at lower pay and so ons—but we also had the last giant collapse of financial institutions that had to be bailed out by us taxpayers, the deregulated Savings and Loan debacle (that McCain was a part of but was let off the hook by his fellow congress folks).

Once again Republicans have gotten us into a financial and military mess that they created and want the rest of us to not only bail them out and pay the price for their losing gambles and destructive mistakes, but they want us to vote them back in for four more years! It’s a no-brainer, for most of us.

But I have members of my extended clan who, like a lot of our fellow citizens, live in areas of the country (and again, no accident they’ve become Republican strongholds) where they don’t have access to NPR or even MSNBC. They get a steady diet of Rush and O’Reilly and Fox News (has any show on Fox News run footage of Palin lying about her response to “the bridge to nowhere” by showing her standard stump speech where she claims she said “no thanks” to it against earlier footage of her speaking in favor of it when she wanted the money or pointed out that she still took the money for the project and has been spending some of it on plans for a, you guessed it, bridge to the same “nowhere”) (oh, the answer is no of course) and the only alternative is mainstream media, the big three networks, which pay more attention to personalities and the horse race aspects of the campaign than to the issues, and when they address the issues they bend over backwards to try and be balanced but often end up just avoiding the objective facts of McPalin lying about Obama raising taxes on most of us (they say raising “your taxes” to crowds full of folks whose taxes would actually be lowered under Obama’s plan) etc.

So those folks aren’t stupid, any more than I was before I went to college on the G.I. Bill where I learned facts that I’d never seen before about Viet Nam and how we got into that war and who was profiting from it and how our government deceived us. We need more “teach-ins” like in those days, not only on college campuses but in high schools and communities the way so many college students and professors went out and did during the Viet Nam War that led to a turn around among those “middle Americans” from being blindly supportive of a failed policy to being against it.

Unfortunately the divisions among Democrats and on the left led to Nixon’s election, helped by voters who believed him when he said he had a plan to end the war, even though the details were sketchy at best and mostly non-existent, and in fact turned out to be a lie, much the way McCain now says he has a plan to straighten out the economy and win the war(s) but the details are sketchy at best and mostly non-existent and he has already been proven to lie about those things over and over again. (See this link for confirmation.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008


"While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light." —Jack Kerouac from THE SCRIPTURE OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY

"I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do." —Willa Cather (can't remember where I got this one from)

"Imagination though it cannot wipe out the sting of remorse can instruct the mind in its proper uses." —Willaim Carlos Williams from KORA IN HELL

[I may have posted these before, but today they seemed relevant and useful to me so here they are]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Obviously, I haven’t been posting about the momentous financial and political (interconnected anyway) events of recent days.

To keep my head and heart as sound and sane as I can, I’ve been spending more time than I even usually do with the arts—poetry events, music performances, movies, books, (hopefully soon a few galleries and museums)—and making my own.

It helps, I recommend it. I’ve received a lot of calls and emails from people who are angry, disturbed, disheartened, and all the other forms fear takes including just plain frightened, over the events on Wall Street and in the presedential campaign.

I’ve also been bombarded, as I’m sure you have, with all kinds of emails and links and articles etc. with ever more emerging facts about more lies from Palin and even more disappointing reversals and denials and flip flops and lies from McCain.

The fact that the BIG LIE technique works is obvious or Junior wouldn’t have been able to steal two elections, they would have been landslides in favor of the other guys. And the polls would be showing another landslide for Obama and Biden.

But we know it works. It’s working right now in China, where the younger generation has no political freedom but still feels the Chinese so-called “Communist” system should not be questioned or criticized and has become one of the most nationalist generations in China’s history. The same can be said for Russia, two places that mastered the BIG LIE technique.

Palin has said in her one interview in the weeks she has now been running for vice president, that Georgia, the country, should be protected by NATO even if it means a fighting war with Russia.

Somehow we were able to avoid a nuclear holocaust with Russia over their missiles in Cuba aimed at our cities, but we can’t avoid it over a country on their border they have a dispute with. Nor can we avoid the hypocrisy of Cheney claiming no civilized country can be allowed to invade another country, um, except if its us and we’re invading Iraq.

At least China has been smart enough to not start any wars outside its borders in the past fifty years and so has been able to husband its recent financial gains (much of it thanks to our gluttonous consumerism and debt) in ways that allowed it to rebuild Beijing, a lot of it in the last months before the Olympics, turning it from part ancient ruin and part “Communist” blocky utilitarian but ugly 20th Century city into a 21st century architectural wonder with an efficient mass transit system etc., while the USA under the Republicans who supposedly put “country first” can’t even rebuild a couple of small neighborhoods in New Orleans in the years since they failed that city in the first place.

Or the fact that Palin is seen as an emblem of patriotic and Christian rectitude, but we all know if Barack and Michelle had a seventeen-year-old daughter who got pregnant by a black teenage boy who bragged on his MySpace page that he liked to take guns and “shoot shit” and that he liked lots of ladies and didn’t want to get married—wait a minute, didn’t a black boy the same age, who didn’t brag about philandering or shooting guns but in fact was a local well-loved football star, get sent to jail for getting his steady teenage year younger girlfriend pregnant? Yep.

It’s a disgrace that a lot of people don't understand or even know all this and more, but it’s a result of a public educational system (and unfortunately in terms of colleges a lot of private educational institutions as well) that does not teach logic and how to reason and to think for yourself and how to avoid being manipulated by propaganda (whether corporate or political party or government generated), let alone history (a friend of mine taught his first college art class a few days ago and told me when he started talking about the Middle Ages he saw blank expressions on their faces so asked if anyone knew when the Middle Ages were, and only one student raised her hand, and when he pointed at her said “Back in the caveman times”) etc.

This is partly because of the lack of respect for the teaching profession and the underpayment for their services, which began under Republican administrations (as I’ve pointed out before by Nixon’s and his hatchet man Agnew’s relentless attacks on the “elitism” of the well educated and the rightwing anti-tax proposition 13 in California that led to property taxes not being used for public education there anymore—which reduced their public educational system from one of the finest to one of the worst, it’s no accident that where the rightwing Republicans are most actively supported is in states with public educational systems that rank near the lowest) that began classifying teachers as a “special interest” as if paying the people who teach our children is the same as giving oil companies that were doing just fine on $50-a-barrel days giant tax breaks even when they’re making over $100 dollars a barrel.

For those who consider themselves “liberals”—which despite the rightwing Republican propaganda means to be in the center in terms of political movements and beliefs—part of the reward is in living a life based on humanist principles, like the golden rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” including people whose styles and accents and ethnicities and looks and sexual orientation and jobs and etc. are different from yours, and even animals and all living creatures as well.

That’s actually the revolutionary idea that Jesus introduced into his own society and times and others have into theirs over the centuries. To live by that as best we can is its own reward. And that includes exposing Palin as the kind of hunter that believes its good sportsmanship to shoot defenseless animals from a helicopter and to deprive polar bears of their habitat if it will enrich oil companies even more, etc.

But it also means not calling Palin dumb or people who support her stupid, like Bill Maher has a tendency to do.

Palin didn’t get to where she is just on her smile and sarcasm. She understands the power of that smile and her looks and her image as a “hockey mom”—but she also understands politics, at least as its practiced in Alaska, and she understands maintaining power, replacing competent professionals in most of the top jobs in the state with loyal friends who have no experience for those jobs or understanding of democratic governance and therefore never question her orders—sound familiar?

Like “Brownie” and all the other incompetent political hacks Junior appointed to head government agencies that in most cases was a deliberate attempt to make those agencies impotent so that they wouldn’t be regulating the products and practices and industries they were created to, but instead would give them a pass so that people will die as a result and no one will be held accountable, and financial institutions will crumble and no one will be held accountable—was anyone at Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae fired? Let alone fined and/or jailed? Etc. etc. etc.

No she's not dumb, she’s politically and instinctually savvy about power, as Junior is, they’re just not intellectually curious. They have their beliefs and they understand their party’s politics and how to intimidate the media and even the Democrats into backing off any criticism or attempts to put any restraints on or try to control their drive to gain and maintain power.

Palin isn’t frightening because she doesn’t know zip about foreign policy or government or even obviously the Constitution or Bill of Rights or our country’s history, she’s scary because she knows how to get power and keep it, like Junior, but is even more to the right than he and Cheney on many issues and like Junior and Cheney doesn’t care to involve herself in a lot of important issues or even to ask experts but prefers to take the direction of handlers (Rove and now his minion in McCain’s campaign, and others even further to the right) otherwise there wouldn’t have been that quote from Westbrook Pegler in her speech, a man that despised any aspect of democracy that allowed anyone to the left of his neo-facist theories not just to govern or influence government but to even be allowed to live!

Robert F. Kennedy says it better: “Fascist writer Westbrook Pegler, an avowed racist who Sarah Palin approvingly quoted in her acceptance speech for the moral superiority of small town values, expressed his fervent hope about my father, Robert F. Kennedy, as he contemplated his own run for the presidency in 1965, that "some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies."

It might be worth asking Governor Palin for a tally of the other favorites from her reading list.”

Pegler also wanted to see FDR and Harry Truman and even Ike suffer and die for not living up to his rightwing theories.

That’s who she, or according to all accounts, her handlers chose to quote, and if elected and she ascends either through the next election or through replacing McCain if anything happens to him, that’s who will be directing her in office. And McCain is even worse because he knows better, or once seemed to. But he too will be beholden to the furthest rightwing of his party and either through his own defects or failings or just through the pressure of needing them to stay in office and keep not just the party faithful but the party rightwing oligarchy satisfied, he has proven during the course of this campaign and before, as Palin has, that they will do whatever it takes to gain power, including misuse the power they already have.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008



My old friend Michael O’Keefe is right, Melissa Leo’s performance is Oscar worthy. And so is her co-star Misty Upham’s. But so is everyone else’s performance in this film, including Michael as the state trooper.

In fact, this gets my first nomination for best ensemble of the year. Even the not yet walking baby was perfect! (The only exception might be Mark Boone Junior who has a couple of moments when his bad guy is too over-the-top for me.)

The story had me guessing where it was going and holding my breath half the time. Written and directed by Courtney Hunt, it has that little independent movie edginess and reality that can sometimes seem precious but in this case just seems true.

The performances are so compelling, and the story so satisfying despite the sometimes hardened perspective of the characters, the movie opened my heart and gave me that satisfying kick of a great flick on top of the pleasure of watching great film acting.

If it’s anywhere near you, I’d check it out, or rent it as soon as it’s available on DVD. FROZEN RIVER—in my Oscar picks.


"So the Republicans have decided to run against themselves. The bums have tiptoed out the back door and circled around to the front and started yelling, "Throw the bums out!" —Garrison Keillor

Monday, September 15, 2008


A hot and humid couple of days around here. Made it a little difficult to fall back asleep after being wokeN up by the usual weekend bar closing arguments and laughter. So, still mindful of my recent post on Joanne Kyger’s collected poems, it occurred to me how many “collected” works I’ve read and dug and continue to re-read and get much pleasure from. Couldn’t come up with an alphabet list, so used couplets to remember them, matching books with something in common, some obvious, some maybe not:

















Did I leave anybody out? Definitely. But had to stop somewhere.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Two writers:
one "white" (Wallace) one "black" (Shepherd);
one a "poet" (Shepherd) one a "novelist" (Wallace);
one died "by his own hand" (Wallace) one not (Shepherd).

But both voices unique in this world of endless media, including more books published each year than ever before.

Both "died too young"—in their mid-forties—Wallace born in '62, Shepherd in '63.

Both will be sorely missed by not just their families and friends, but their many fans.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Speaking of poetry. I always loved Kyger’s poetry from the first time I read it. And now here’s the biggest collection of it yet, from the National Poetry Foundation. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but never devoted a post to it exclusively.

There’s a visceral and emotional presence in her work unlike that of any other. She’s one of three women on the “alternative” side of the poetry world who emerged in the 1950s with distinct voices that marked them as not only unique writers, but as unique people, and whose work I was immediately drawn to and still am.

I’m talking about:

Barbara Guest—a poet first associated with the original New York School Poets (otherwise all men, being Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler).

Diane di Prima—one of the very few women among the “Beats,” and whose work was instantly recognized as new and important, at least by readers like me, at the time.

And Kyger—the only woman associated with a group of West Coast poets who had various group identities, but mainly with Gary Snyder—who I think she was married to for a time—and Philip Whelan (although Kyger’s poetry didn’t really get noticed until the 1960s).

Guest refined her abstract disjointed poetics into a fiercely unique voice that influenced, or at least impressed, many in the later “Language Poetry” movement.

Di Prima constantly reinvented her line and approach to the poem to suit the phases of her life and often her political development (the three main stages represented by her 1950s’ hipster streety prose poems collected in DINNERS & NIGHTMARES, her ‘60s reincarnation as in many ways the voice of the spirit of those times in REVOLUTIONARY LETTERS, and her ‘70s and beyond reincarnation as the voice of a kind of earthy alternative feminism exemplified in her LOBA series—all of which are worth reading not only for the writing but for the way they are like perfect time capsules, like Cassavettes film SHADOWS or the early more obscure films of Robert Downey Sr. or Shirley Clark’s films, they capture their times unfiltered by Hollywood or the academy or trendiness or any distractions from the realities of those moments as they were experienced by chroniclers who weren’t afraid to tell the truth as they experienced it).

Kyger remained the most constant to her original poetic discoveries and approaches, in which the private and the public, the spiritual and the emotional, the literary and the anti-literary, all meet as if meant for each other and destined to be family, like it or not.

I can’t think of another poet outside of Emily Dickinson who is as cryptic and yet totally revealing of her inner life as Kyger.

Nor can I think of any poet except Kyger whose work I could read every night before bed during the tough last weeks of the Democratic primary before it was decided, and then the campaigning and conventions and their aftermath, or whose work could have removed from my mind all the concerns and reactions and thoughts and schemes and unwritten editorials or letters to the editor or emails to the TV talking heads etc. during this exciting but tiring political season.

Her poems centered me in the spiritual, emotional, and experiential place she wrote each one from, almost all seemingly artless in the best ways, like a series of sometimes succinct, sometimes more discursive diary entries, the pages smudged and torn over time so often only fragments of the original message make it through to now.

Or like the fragments of Sappho’s poems as they’ve come down to us, or the Dead Sea Scrolls, or some other message from past times we have to decipher for ours.

Only her past times begin in the 1950s and come down to the present, and communicate more than spiritual concerns and notes on lovers and friendships and the dailiness of this particular poet’s life. Though they do all that, they also articulate a whole person. And what makes us, or at least me, want to keep reading about her, is how in her particulars I find my own resonance with the particulars of my so different life that in the end isn’t as different as I might have thought.

I’ll leave you with one example written in 1996 that isn’t typical, nor atypical, of her work, and which is left margin justified so that it also isn’t too difficult to reproduce:

Poison Oak for Allen

Here I am reading about your trip to India again,
With Gary Snyder and Peter Orlovsky. Period.
Who took cover picture of you three

With smart Himalayan mountain backdrop
The bear?

Friday, September 12, 2008


Wednesday evening I went to the Bowery Poetry Club for a reading by some of the contributors to the latest issue of Vanitas magazine.

It was one of those experiences you could only get there, and I was glad I went.

Vanitas is poet Vincent Katz’s baby, he publishes and edits it (with help, like this time from Elaine Equi and Martin Brody). This third issue had for its theme “popular music” which gave rise to some terrific writing as well as to this lively evening of poetry and performance.

Vincent kicked the evening off like a true impresario, he took charge of the microphone and gave a rousing introduction to the m.c. of the event, the artist/writer Jack Pierson, who designed the cover for Vanitas 3 and has more art reproduced inside.

The poets who read are all originals and included the always trenchant Elaine Equi (a fitting adjective for her work, though not always fitting in all of its meanings for her presentation of it, which can sometimes be very subtle) and the always witty, sometimes obviously but often not, Charles North.

I could listen to either of these poets anytime, not just for their writing, but for the ways they speak. They each have a unique approach to language, including when they share it in conversation that always leaves me smiling and grateful to have ears.

Others read as well, Cliff Fyman and Raphael Rubinstein, both astute observers of poetic realities, Fyman’s openness to revealing his inner life braver than most, Rubinstein’s insights into the lives of others more precise and pungent than most.

Then there was Alix Lambert (does she really pronounce her last name likes it’s French, like Colbert in the Colbert Report as Jack Pierson kept pronouncing it—“lom-bare”—?) who read her one poem in the magazine, but since it’s only six lines she preceded it with a short film she made—“Icarus”—in which she portrays a female version of the one who flies too high and falls to the ocean and drowns, entangled in her glamorous costume, which she tries to cut herself free of but not in time to prevent her drowning (much heavier than the poem, which was light and whimsical and delightful, while the movie was dark and intense and deep-thoughts provoking).

Lambert is someone whose work I’ve only discovered since reading with her at THE POEM I TURN TO anthology event on Tuesday. It seems she’s not only an incredibly gutsy documentary film maker (spending months in Russian prisons to make her Spirit-nominated THE MARK OF CAIN about Russian prisoner tattoos, or spending a year getting married and divorced four times, to three different men and a woman—I can’t wait to see both of those), but also a poet, an artist, an actress and screenwriter (she played a whore on DEADWOOD and then ended up writing one of the episodes and from there went on to write for JOHN FROM CINCINNATI), as well as a musician and songwriter (sometimes in quotes) who made a CD—RUNNING AFTER DEER—for which she "conceived" the project and contributed samples, which include dialogue and ambient sounds from the gym she boxes at! (She sounds like the Lee Miller of these times, only more so.)

(There’s so much more in Vanitas 3 that makes it the most varied and stimulating literary magazine available at this exact moment, at least in my life, from contributors who weren’t able to participate, I couldn’t list them all, but another great David Trinidad poem is one of them, as are several great Ray DiPalma poems and a Jim Dine remembrance of music in London in the late 1960s and encounters with George Harrison, “Jagger and Keith” etc., and two great pieces by Alcir Pecora and Helio Bittencourt, translated from the Portugese by Vincent Katz, as well as deft comments and work of his own by Vincent and tons more, buy it and see for yourself.)

But the most surprising part of an evening full of surprises was when Vincent got back on stage and read a poem about a general strike in Madrid (I think it was there) which had a refrain in Spanish (I think it was Spanish—no habla Espanol unfortunately) which basically meant: Support the general strike, as I caught it, and was backed by his two little boys on a loose mic behind him (and they were helped by poet and owner of the Poetry Club Bob Holman) leading the audience in shouting out the refrain after every stanza while a musician (whose name I only heard in passing and can’t remember unfortunately) who had just demonstrated his unique and amazing musical skills on an array of instruments he made himself (!) which went from sounding like bird cries to more traditional sounding, but still exotic enough, stringed instruments and percussive ones as well and blew us all away, and now he was backing up this righteous political poem of Vincent’s that was more like a new Internationale.

And as if that wasn’t enough of a crowd stirrer, when Vincent stepped down and Holman took the mic from him, he asked the Katz boys to stay on stage and back him with improvised sounds and words as he read a poem that began in a jungle in a dream and the musician with his self-created instruments made appropriate and unexpected music in accompaniment.

It was so spontaneous and casual and comfortable and at the same time so poetically magical and creatively unique, it defined for me the reason to attend events like this, beyond the poetry and old friends and the deeply bohemian atmosphere that not only supports but encourages everyone’s talents hidden or obvious.

And then it got even better as the audience called for an encore and Holman did a more rap like poem with short staccato rhymes that he began to improvise along with the musician and the boys, (one of whom yelled just “YEAH!” into the mic at one steller point making us all react with even more delight) and it was like all the times in the living rooms of what we once called pads and cribs and digs and whatever else back when any social gathering in anyone’s domicile meant making music and poetry and art out of whatever was at hand with everyone participating.

It was like capturing one of those divine occurrences and reproducing it right before our eyes and ears here at the Bowery Poetry Club—one of the last bastions of what the Bowery once was now that CBGB is gone and where it was is surrounded by new high-rise condos and upscale restaurants and clubs—and then they did it again, one more encore, and topped even their previous efforts.

I’ve never seen or heard Holman so lost-in-the-moment-jam-session good, and the added element of Vincent’s boys and the music creator on his homemade instruments, man, it could’ve been a mess or an indulgence but instead was an epiphany elevating the entire room to the level of creative transcendence and a reminder of WHY WE DO IT!

Hope there’s something happening in your neck of the woods you can fall by and release the creative juices at, or just enjoy someone else’s, ‘cause it sure helps you (or at least me) get through these sometimes trying and too often lying times, as it always has.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I lost a friend I admired and care a lot for in one of the planes.

I lost someone I knew and admired but had only a nodding acquaintance with in one of the towers.

Seven years later and there's still a hole in many hearts, including mine, where they once were,
as there still is in the ground where the towers once were (and where nearby I lived in a loft
with my two oldest kids years before when the towers were their playground).

Bin Laden is still free and still plotting. The towers have still not been replaced.

Life goes on, until it doesn't.


“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

That old saying has been used quite adeptly by the rightwing Republicans to start a faux controversy, not because they thought it would stick to Obama, but because they knew the media would fall for it and the public would either get tired of it or be disgusted by it.

They knew that some of the public would buy it as what the Rove surrogates put out that it was, Obama dissing a woman and that some of the dittohead rightwing camp followers would look no further than their leaders’ claims and buy it.

They knew others would pay attention and become aware that it’s an old saying used not only by John McCain in campaign appearances when referring to Hilary’s and Obama’s healthcare plans, but also by a former Bush speechwriter, as well as General Patreus’s right hand man (in describing Iraq policy) and many others on the Republican side. But they also know those kind of people are more informed anyway and likely to vote for Obama as a result.

But others, they figure, who may become aware that it wasn’t intended as “sexist” or aimed at anything other than the Republican so-called “economic plan”—which consists mainly of continuing the tax cuts for the rich and letting corporations have even more freedom to reap even greater profits while the rest of us see our incomes diminish—might be so fed up with the endless campaign and the way it has become more about lies and mudslinging and unfounded slanders etc. (and more divisive tactics about Hilary, which have mainly been generated by Rove and his surrogates, see how those who once referred to her even on my blog as "Hitlery" now try and make a case for why she would have been a better candidate for either the top or second position, even though they know that if that had been the case their charges of "extreme leftwing liberal" etc. would have stuck much more than it has to Obama and Biden) they will become disgusted with the whole political process and stop caring.

And they figured right. I’ve run into or heard from a lot of these kind of folks—“independents” or Democrats or more moderate Republicans—who are just tired of and disgusted with the presidential race and plan on writing some friend in or just not voting.

And that “my friends”—as McCain likes to say as if—is the point. The Rove strategy was always based on the reality that the Republican base, especially the rightwing base, is not only not large enough to carry an election but doesn’t even believe the same things most “Americans” do. So the strategy has always been to make the whole process seem not worth the bother, because their base will hold their noses and vote anyway, but a lot of independents and dissatisfied Democrats and more moderate Republicans might just give up and not vote.

If only a fair portion of the young people Obama’s campaign has inspired and turned on to election politics get cynical about the way it’s playing out and don’t vote, Obama loses. If only a fair portion of “liberals” do the same, the same result. So, expect more and more outrageous slanders and misinformation and distortions (like the ad posting Obama as some kind of sexual predator for wanting young children to be given an education in how to protect themselves from predators!) that will turn people off from paying attention to what’s really going on and what the real differences are on the issues and why their vote really does count.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Here's a few questions for Palin from a list Maureen Dowd had in today's NY Times:

"What kind of budget-cutter makes a show of getting rid of the state plane, then turns around and bills taxpayers for the travel of her husband and kids between Juneau and Wasilla and sticks the state with a per-diem tab to stay in her own home?

Why was Sarah for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against the Bridge to Nowhere, and why was she for earmarks before she was against them? And doesn’t all this make her just as big a flip-flopper as John Kerry?

What kind of fiscal conservative raises taxes and increases budgets in both her jobs — as mayor and as governor?

Does she really think Adam, Eve, Satan and the dinosaurs mingled on the earth 5,000 years ago?

Why put out a press release about her teenage daughter’s pregnancy and then spend the next few days attacking the press for covering that press release?

As Troopergate unfolds here — an inquiry into whether Palin inappropriately fired the commissioner of public safety for refusing to fire her ex-brother-in-law — it raises this question: Who else is on her enemies list and what might she do with the F.B.I.?

Does she want a federal ban on trans fat in restaurants and a ban on abortion and Harry Potter? And which books exactly would have landed on the literature bonfire if she had had her way with that Wasilla librarian?

Just how is it that Fannie and Freddie have cost taxpayers money (since they haven’t yet)?

What does she have against polar bears?"

I could add my own, like how can she and McCain lie about Obama's tax plan raising taxes for working families when it lowers them, that Obama has been responsible for no legislation when he has sponsored and co-sponsored tons of it and been responsible for ethics reform in politics, tax cuts for working families and extending health care to more children etc., and that he is too partisan and "liberal" to work with Republicans when all the legislation he sponsored was with Republicans and he has a record of being more moderate on many issues than his party, as opposed to Palin who has a record of being more rightwing than her party, as in suing the current administration to get polar bears off the endangered species list just when their habitat is melting away as a result of the gloabl warming she doesn't believe in.

Another would be how do she and McCain get off repeating the story that she sold the former governor of Alaska's luxury jet on E-Bay and made a profit, when it didn't sell on E-Bay but through a broker and lost money rather than made a profit.

I doubt Charlie Gibson will ask them because his network, ABC, has made clear its bias in favor of Republicans and McCain in its coverage of the campaign so far, e.g. in the debates they've hosted or covered, drilling Obama on why he didn't wear a flag lapel pin (though sometimes he did and sometimes he didn't) but not asking Hilary or McCain why they also weren't wearing flag lapel pins in several televised debates and speeches etc.

[PS:And to the rightwing commentors on this blog, but most specifically the one who goes by the name "another lally"—I don't let people come into my home and insult me or my family or my friends. I ask them to stop and if they don't I throw them out. Anyone who continues to call the oldest party in the world "The Democrat Party" when it calls itself the Democratic Party, and has been called that by everyone else throughout its history pre-Rush/Rove, is a partisan ideologue who is not interested in a dialogue or even argument but only in bullying folks through insults, lies, and verbal belligerance. Despite the use of my last name, you ain't family, so enough's enough (and by the way, pretty much every statement you've made against Obama and for McCain/Palin can be refuted with facts, either you misrepresent what critics of Palin and McCain have stated or you just have your information wrong (as Rush and Rove often do and knowingly). This is my blog and I don't intend to spend my time and energy responding to your lies and misrepresentations and insults to me and my friends as if it's yours.]

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


It was supposed to be in Bryant Park, but got rained out and moved to an old library room in The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen building on 44th St.

An interesting group of folks showed up, both to read and to listen. The anthology (which I’ve written about already on this blog) is a selection of poems chosen (one or two each) by a diverse group of people in mostly the movie business (the subtitle of the collection is “ACTORS & DIRECTORS PRESENT POETRY THAT INSPIRES THEM”).

The reading was organized by Michael O’Keefe, a longtime good friend, who did a great job as Sidney Pollack’s henchman in MICHAEL CLAYTON but is best remembered by older viewers as the teenage boy in THE GREAT SANTINI who Robert Duvall (playing his father) bounces a basketball off of to provoke him (and for which I believe Michael was nominated for an Oscar) and the caddy in CADDYSHACK.

But he’s also a terrific poet and writer (and I remember some great songs he wrote and sang back in the day as well) and has directed and produced. His selections were as personal and kind of quirky as everyone’s in the book (which is what makes it a pretty fascinating collection, I’d like to see more anthologies like this, say poems musicians turn to, or painters, or plumbers or electricians or etc.).

They were a short poem of Pound’s, “In a Station of the Metro” (misprinted as “at” instead of “of” in the anthology), and one of Dennis Johnson’s, “Passengers,” who most folks know as an incredible novelist, but who I first knew as a poet back at the U. of Iowa.

Carol Muske-Dukes, the well known poet and poetry teacher read a poem to her late husband, the “actor’s actor” (as O’Keefe put it) David Dukes, (this poem is also in the anthology) and dedicated it to the editor of the anthology, the poet and teacher Jason Shinder, who passed away just as the anthology came out. (O’Keefe was an advisory editor with Lili Taylor.)

In fact the entire reading was a tribute and kind of memorial to Jason who was a fine poet, but also a beautiful spirit, and who is much missed by his many friends.

The other readers were Matthew Maher, who you’d recognize from one of my favorite recent movies GONE BABY GONE and elsewhere; Alix Lambert, a documentary film maker who is one of those creative people who seems to do everything and do it all not only really well, but uniquely (one of her best known documentaries THE MARK OF CAIN was nominated for a Spirit Award); and Melissa Leo, who’d you’d recognize from TV (e.g. HOMICIDE) and who I’m told gives an Oscar-worthy performance in the recent film FROZEN RIVER, which I haven’t caught yet but intend to.

Their selections were unexpected and choice, as we used to say. Maher read Yeats’ “The Song of Wandering Aengus” and an “Eskimo” (I think that’s now Inuit) poem by Nakasak (translated by Edward Field) called “The Invisible Men” that’s about as unique a poem as you will ever read, or hear.

Lambert read a poignant but realistic poem by her uncle Stanley Kunitz, “Touch Me.” Leo read her two choices, Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 64” and Sylvia Plath’s “Point Shirley”—both about love and death but in entirely different, of course, ways, and she threw in a little poem by A. A. Milne as an extra.

I read the two poems I selected for the anthology, William Carlos Williams’ “Danse Ruse” and Terence Winch’s “Faith” (from his most recent collection BOY DRINKERS).

The conversations afterward were, like the reading, lively and funny and creative and smart and deeply interesting, It was one of those perfectly satisfying gatherings from start to finish, at least for this participant, and I wish you could have joined us. Maybe next time.


A little long but worth it:

"...the Republicans were back at it last week at their convention. Mitt Romney wasn’t content to insist that he personally knows that “liberals don’t have a clue.” He complained loudly that the federal government right now is too liberal.

“We need change, all right,” he said. “Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington.”

Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.

There would be absolutely no chance that a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin could make a credible run for the highest offices in the land. Conservatives would never have allowed it.

Civil rights? Women’s rights? Liberals went to the mat for them time and again against ugly, vicious and sometimes murderous opposition. They should be forever proud.

The liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance, both of which were contained in the original Social Security Act. Most conservatives despised the very idea of this assistance to struggling Americans. Republicans hated Social Security, but most were afraid to give full throat to their opposition in public at the height of the Depression.

“In the procedural motions that preceded final passage,” wrote historian Jean Edward Smith in his biography, “FDR,” “House Republicans voted almost unanimously against Social Security. But when the final up-or-down vote came on April 19 [1935], fewer than half were prepared to go on record against.”

Liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Medicare and Medicaid. Quick, how many of you (or your loved ones) are benefiting mightily from these programs, even as we speak. The idea that Republicans are proud of Ronald Reagan, who saw Medicare as “the advance wave of socialism,” while Democrats are ashamed of Lyndon Johnson, whose legislative genius made this wonderful, life-saving concept real, is insane.

When Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law in the presence of Harry Truman in 1965, he said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine.”

Reagan, on the other hand, according to Johnson biographer Robert Dallek, “predicted that Medicare would compel Americans to spend their ‘sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.’ ”


Without the many great and noble deeds of liberals over the past six or seven decades, America would hardly be recognizable to today’s young people. Liberals (including liberal Republicans, who have since been mostly drummed out of the party) ended legalized racial segregation and gender discrimination.

Humiliation imposed by custom and enforced by government had been the order of the day for blacks and women before men and women of good will and liberal persuasion stepped up their long (and not yet ended) campaign to change things. Liberals gave this country Head Start and legal services and the food stamp program. They fought for cleaner air (there was a time when you could barely see Los Angeles) and cleaner water (there were rivers in America that actually caught fire).

Liberals. Your food is safer because of them, and so are your children’s clothing and toys. Your workplace is safer. Your ability (or that of your children or grandchildren) to go to college is manifestly easier.

It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned."

—Bob Herbert in today's (9/9/08) NY Times Op-Ed section