Thursday, April 30, 2009

THREE QUICK THOUGHTS ON RAISING MONEY FOR THE USA

1. Like many others, I'm for legalizing marijuana and taxing it, and making the legal age to obtain it twenty-one, or maybe a doctor's prescription, but legalizing it, thereby eliminating the criminal control of it and making it a legitimate business that would have to pay legitimate taxes, just like the alcohol and tobacco businesses (and it could be required to carry the same kinds of warnings etc.).

2. Religious organizations shouldn't be exempt from taxes, but in fact should be required to pay taxes on all property and profits. Why should we be outraged at the CEOs of banks and car companies riding in private jets and paying for million dollar bathrooms etc. that are at least taxed while CEOs of various religions and religious organizations fly around in their tax free private jets and build their multimillion dollar mansions etc. (I know there are many churches that do not make a profit or devote their profits entirely to provable charitable works etc. but the former wouldn't have to pay any taxes while the latter could make use of all the charity write offs that already exist etc.)

3. I think we should make it the law that if any individual is found to have avoided paying their fair share of taxes through offshore banking, they should lose their citizenship, and same for corporations that put their headquarters offshore to avoid paying taxes here, they should be banned from doing business in the USA. Maybe that would keep a lot of the wealthy and the corporate from using offshore banking and headquarters to avoid paying their fair share. (I know, the corporate part of this one would be difficult to enforce and some, rightwingers especially, will argue that it would lead to corporations leaving the USA altogether. But I doubt any corporation would want to be banned from this country and its consumers, even to save on taxes.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DEMOCRATS AS "BATTERED WIFE" QUOTE

"In recent years, the Washington political dynamic has often resembled an abusive marriage, in which the bullying husband (the Republicans) slaps the wife and kids around, and the battered wife (the Democrats) makes excuses and hides the ugly bruises from outsiders to keep the family together. So, when the Republicans are in a position of power, they throw their weight around, break the rules, and taunt: 'Whaddya gonna do 'bout it?' Then, when the Republicans do the political equivalent of passing out on the couch, the Democrats use their time in control, tiptoeing around, tidying up the house and cringing at every angry grunt from the snoring figure on the couch." —Robert Parry, Consortium News

[This is an analogy I've used myself and either posted it or was planning to. But Parry nails it much better than I did. It may seem with the Arlen Spector crossover and Obama's popularity that it doesn't still hold true, but just think of the assault weapons ban, or the fact that Obama wants to raise taxes to where they were under Reagan and for that the rightwing Republicans are declaring him either a facist or socialist or communist—they're not too clear about their "isms"—and in response, the Democrats are tiptoeing around these issues and more.]

DARRAGH PARK R.I.P.



Darragh was a handsome, kind, modest man whose paintings were similarly handsome, generous and modest. I first met him in the 1970s and though we became instant friends, I always felt a kind of shy self-consciousness around him, on both of our parts.

I know for me that was partly because I thought he was much older—or at least much more mature than I ever felt—(turns out he was only a few years older) and certainly much more refined—something I attributed to what I assumed was a wealthier background and better education.

In fact, I had no idea what his true background was. But he had a kind of preppy style and was always meticulously groomed and dressed, as opposed to myself and a lot of others in the downtown Manhattan art and literary scene of the 1970s who were either still clinging to remnants of the whole ‘60s hippie style or mixing and matching with the then dominant downtown punk style.

But Darragh went his own way, maintaining a sense of dignity and even humility in the face of others, like me, with a much more confrontational style, in every way. He was a painter who, at least according to what he told me, started late, or at least got serious about it in a committed way pretty late in life.

His teacher and model was Fairfield Porter, the artist closely associated with the first generation of “The New York School” poets, and artists, though his figurative and landscape canvases were anything but the style of the 1950s when that scene first really coalesced. In the 1970s, it was an even more unlikely approach to painting, but Darragh embraced it with all his heart and intellect, eventually making it his own entirely (as in the painting reproduced above of the view out his apartment’s front window done in the early 1990s).

And for my taste, pulled it off. I liked his paintings as I liked him, especially his commitment to his friends. I was always too busy changing locations, partners, day jobs, etc. to stay in as close touch as I would have liked to (closer friends like the poet Tim Dlugos before he passed away would always keep me up to date on Darragh and vice versa, acting as a middle man for our connection as Tim often did with many of us).

But, for instance, Darragh was a close friend of the poet James Schuyler and often assumed the role of caretaker when Jimmy was going through one of his bad periods. I remember distinctly a dinner one night at Darragh’s apartment in the West twenties. It was a first floor apartment so you could look out at the sidewalk and street activity while you visited in his living room or even eating at his dining table.

He had some canvases he’d completed leaning against a wall, and one he was working on still on an easel near the front windows of the view from there (an obviously favorite subject). It was just Darragh and Jimmy and I (can’t remember anyone else being there). Jimmy was pretty much uncommunicative, as he could be at times either from the meds or from his depression etc., so Darragh and I kept up the conversation and every now and then Darragh would defer to Jimmy, giving him a chance to offer his opinion of whatever we were talking about, but Jimmy remained silent.

Until it was time for me to go, when Jimmy spoke up, graciously declaring what a wonderful dinner it had been, especially the conversation. I miss them both.

Monday, April 27, 2009

COLORFUL TRINITIES

After a couple of posts concerned with things some might find petty, including me actually, I thought I'd get back to something serious, like listing favorite movies, books and music with a color in their titles. No way I cold come up with another alphabet list, or at least I couldn't last night when falling asleep. So I went for my other favorite list form, trinities, or triplets. Here they are:

THE BLUE DAHLIA
RED RIVER
BLACK ORPHEUS

THE SCRIPTURE OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY by Jack Kerouac
THE TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILION by Yukio Mishima
THE TEMPLE OF GOLD by William Goldman

BLUE MOON (the version Elvis Presley sings on The Sun Sessions where he sustains that little falsetto almost yodel)
BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR (The 1950s Nina Simone solo piano/singing one)
BIG YELLOW TAXI (Joni Mitchel''s early solo acoustic guitar/singing one)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ALLIUM

One of those words you don’t know how to pronounce until you hear someone else say it. It’s a “fine dining” joint in Great Barrington, the heart of the Berkshires.

I’ve written many posts about the Shire, as the skaters call it, all positive, because I love this area. But this one won’t be.

Last night at Simon’s Rock— a local extension of Bard—a mostly student cast, a few making their stage debuts, put on Michael Weller’s early ‘70s’ play MOONCHILDREN, directed by Karen Allen, the actress and movie star (and good friend).

One professional in the cast, Kale Brown, played Mister Willis so hysterically I could have watched him riff on that character all night. Some of the students were terrific too, especially Sinead Byrne as Shelly, running a range of emotions with perfect timing.

I agreed to meet several old friends at Allium afterwards, on Railroad Street, the swankiest commercial street in GB. The place is separated into two distinct sections. The one on your left as you enter is a normal expensive restaurant setting, elegantly simple d├ęcor etc.

To the right is a long narrow room, a bar extending half way down the left wall and tables on the right going all the way back. This side serves cheaper food and is famous for its garage door front that can be raised to open the entire right side to the sidewalk on nice nights, like last night.

When I walked in, it was almost 10:30PM but the temperature was still close to 70 after having been in the high 80s all day. A typical hot summer day, only in early Spring. A small crowd filled the couches and chairs up front where the place opens to the sidewalk, and several people stood around outside on the sidewalk and even the street talking.

It was Saturday night, but most of Great Barrington was already closed down so there wasn’t much traffic. Once inside I noticed another small crowd of people at the table way to the rear. But across from the bar there was a series of tables with no one at them except for one friend, the first to arrive, reading a menu.

When I sat down next to him he asked if I wanted something to eat, to which I gave my standard reply, “I can always eat.” So we perused the menu for a few minutes until another friend joined us after which someone from the restaurant came to say the kitchen was closed. I didn’t ask them why my friend had been given a menu if it was closed, but I did ask if they were no longer serving dinner, was there anything else to eat?

He said we could order dessert and he went to get dessert menus. By then several others had arrived and we put most of the tables across from the bar together to accommodate our small crowd while shouting over the music that was blaring from behind the bar, or at least controlled from there and blaring mostly into our faces—a kind of techno-disco-wanna-be-edgy-and-new-but-failing which also, I noticed, seemed to be continually skipping in that weird way CDs can do.

Needless to say it was annoying. Especially after the waiter, or whoever he was, returned to tell us sorry, the kitchen was entirely closed, no dessert either. I only wished we were at Rouge, the much more friendly, accommodating and cheaper restaurant in West Stockbridge where I’d caught the tight little blues trio my oldest son plays bass in a month or so ago.

But I wasn’t going to suggest we all get back in our separate cars and drive twenty minutes or more. We’d just order drinks and not worry about food. No one came to take our order though. And after a while of yelling over the music to the person sitting right next to you, a friend got up to ask about a waiter and request the music be turned down. She encountered some resistance but eventually the bartender turned it down some.

She came back to tell us that we had to order drinks from the bar and generously offered to go get them with her sister. After they brought back our drinks and sat down to join us again, she and I tried to have a conversation, but the bartender had turned the music up again, this time even louder, and we were having a hard time hearing each other. The music was still skipping, which made no sense to me, if you’re gonna blast music wouldn’t you want it to be something that doesn’t skip? Or was that part of the mix, was it meant to keep stopping and starting?

I watched as an older gentleman entered and took an empty stool at the bar. In order to be heard by the bartender, he had to stand up and lean as far as he could over the bar while the bartender leaned toward him as well so that the old gent could shout in the bartender’s ear. It seemed so nonsensical, as if the bartender was trying to create a false sense of a gathering of multitudes rather than just turning the music down a little so he could hear what customers wanted to drink without their heads touching.

Meanwhile my friend and I were going hoarse trying to speak to each other over the music, and we were sitting side by side! I was stuck against the wall in the middle of our little crowd, so my friend got up once again to go ask the bartender to turn the music down. This time it was clear he was giving her a hard time, until finally he turned angrily away from her and turned the music down again, but so low and so abruptly it felt like coming up for air after having been under water holding your breath for too long.

It felt wonderful to merely talk to each other like humans again as my friend came back and said the bartender had insisted that the other customers in the bar were younger than our crowd (which I’d guess ranged from late twenties to mid-sixties but was mostly middle-aged) and would leave if the music wasn’t blasting.

I wanted to point out to him there was a reason when I first came his customers were all clustered to the back or the very front of the place and no one was sitting where we were now, where the music was the loudest, but I was stuck behind the tables.

I watched the bartender join two men his age, say late twenties, at the end of the bar and all three look over at us, and then, him suddenly shoot like a rocket back to the music controls and turn the music up even louder than before and then go back to his friends.

Now it seemed like a deliberate provocation, and personal. I pushed the two tables in front of me apart so I could squeeze through and go to the bar where I glared at the bartender and his two friends while mouthing some critical suggestions. He made a face like a little kid does when you tell him he has to turn off the TV and go to bed and then he went and turned the music down once again.

By then my friend had gotten the check and paid it, with a critical comment written beneath her signature on the credit card slip.

The thing that was so strange about this whole experience is that normally the businesses in Great Barrington, and the Berkshires in general, are very customer friendly, especially where regular local customers are concerned.

And my friend who’d been dealing with the bartender is a regular in this expensive restaurant, eating there often and bringing others, including me several times. And others among the artists and artisans in our little crowd, locals and weekenders both, often dropped by.

But even if none of us were regulars, it was still pretty cheesy to treat the “older” folks like they were a nuisance because they wanted to be able to hear each other talk. It’s not like we were at a nightclub with dancing or live acts. I expected to have my ear drums destroyed at CBGB’s and The Ritz when they both still existed. But a “fine dining” restaurant/bar?

I know I probably sound like an old geezer, but I’ve been objecting to this ever since restaurants started being designed and redesigned in the 1980s with harder surfaces to change the acoustics from seductively whispery to blastingly loud. I remember someone explaining to me back then that the idea was to not make it so comfortable that people would linger, but instead would feel pumped up and excited by the noise so would eat faster and leave sooner so new customers could take their place.

I didn’t eat in fancy restaurants until I was way into my thirties, and even then only rarely, and I loved the then soft and quiet ambience of most nice restaurants I first encountered. So the noisy vibe has always bugged me, even if now I may look like a geezer when I express that.

Anyway, if you’re ever in Great Barrington and want to rendezvous with friends for a drink and some friendly conversation, avoid the bar side of Allium, at least on a Saturday night.

Friday, April 24, 2009

PAUL MULDOON AT THE NEW YORKER

Ever since Paul Muldoon (I wrote about him being overrated before here) took over as poetry editor of The New Yorker, the poetry has gotten worse and worse, with only a few exceptions.

The New Yorker is in many ways the Mount Everest of the poetry world. Or to make another analogy, The New Yorker is to poetry what Carnegie Hall is to classical music, if, say, most if not all other venues where classical music could be played only fit fifty people and were in West Podunk’s grammar school or a very hip but tiny night club.

Not that there aren’t publications where better poetry is published routinely, but their audience is nowhere near the size of The New Yorker and most of them, ninety-nine percent or more, don’t pay anything, whereas The New Yorker has throughout most of its history been the highest paying venue for poetry.

It’s also a “career” booster to be in The New Yorker. Almost any poet who publishes there is quite capable of getting their next collection published by a major publisher, and vice versa.

It is true that throughout its history The New Yorker has rarely if ever been on the cutting edge of poetry publishing. Unlike its articles and cartoons and humor pieces and even political investigative pieces, where The New Yorker has been way ahead of most other publications in terms of quality and importance and breaking new ground. It’s even done that at different times with its fiction (though in recent decades the fiction too has often been quite conservative or just plain lame).

And it’s true that for most of its history, the poetry in The New Yorker, again with terrific exceptions, has almost always been backward looking if not just plain backward. But even then, the quality has at least been relatively high and the exceptions have been higher, like poems by W. S. Merwin (this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner) or by more avant garde poets, like the now well established and accepted by the academics John Ashbery, or the more bold selections Elaine Equi, Sparrow, et. al.

But that seems to have stopped or actually been reversed in recent issues.

The kinds of poems published lately use techniques and structures and subject matter that for the most part are so old and overdone and used up, it would be as if the iTunes store only offered songs written by Stephen Foster, or only Al Jolson’s greatest hits, or music made in pre-microphone times, like Rudy Valle singing through a megaphone.

Or as if all the theaters in Manhattan only showed black and white silent films, but not the classics, only ones made these days by people who just prefer films with no sound and with outsized gestures and overdone make-up etc.

It might be an interesting change of pace to see something like that occasionally, or a technical challenge to a true genius to recreate old effects but do it in a new way, and just as in all the arts some contemporary poets are capable of using forms and techniques that are centuries old and making them new, though none have managed to surpass the classics that come from a time when those techniques were originally used (unless they transform them into something entirely different ala Ted Berrigan’s sonnets or Terence Winch’s villanelles, etc.).

No, the poetry Muldoon is putting into recent New Yorkers isn’t accepting that kind of challenge or setting that kind of goal, it’s just poetry that seems to be all about showing off the poet’s skill at using rhyme and/or meter and/or antiquated grammar/syntax/vocabulary etc. to express some incredibly mundane or petty or even deliberately obscure take on a deliberately boring subject.

I suspect the New Yorker bosses either have convinced themselves that they really don’t know anything about poetry so should abdicate all questions of taste to Muldoon, or are just intimidated by his having won awards and been praised in many publications for his own versions of all of the above, though he is better at it than any of the poets he’s chosen so far.

Hmmm, maybe he doesn’t want to be upstaged in his own area of expertise or be outshone by anything newer than the stilted style he uses and now obviously prefers in the poets he’s publishing in The New Yorker.

Here are just some lines from poems in recent New Yorkers:

“We sisters had the Vondorfer hair,
pink with ripples and electrodes in the right places,
wavy orange stuff environing our faces.” —Jana Prikryl

“In Walrus, Gmble, Mimsy, Borogrove—
Which lead to Dum and Dee and to that Wood
Where fury lurked, and blackness, and that Crow.” —A. S. Byatt

“…the boy passes by with his oxen, heading for the fields.
And the girl who loves him takes him fresh bread.
On the crest of the hill she sits down and says to her George,
“Come, sweetheart, eat some bread, eat your fill.” —translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley

“I spent the morning trying to remember
the joke about a peanut and assault.
People dropped bombs on each other elsewhere.
I knew that many of them were at fault…” —Dora Malech

Now, you might find some technical things to admire in some of the above lines, (I deliberately chose what I think are the most successful) but if the rest of the poem reproduced pretty much what those lines accomplish and nothing more or more meaningful or clear or exciting or provocative or new or etc. would you really want to keep reading them?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

SOME THOUGHTS ON TORTURE

During the Revolutionary War, the rightwingers were the Tories who stayed loyal to King George and fought on the side of the English, who used torture on their revolutionary captives.

When the revolutionary soldiers wanted to reciprocate with their English prisoners of war, Gorge Washington, their commander, made it a policy of the young country that we would be different from the old world and not use abusive methods on prisoners of war but in fact would treat them as we would want our soldiers to be treated.

And that became the policy of the USA, a country built on the idea that the law, and the human rights the law enshrined and protected—not any individual or group of people—would rule here.

Of course there was abuse of prisoners and slaves and indentured servants, but officially torture was forbidden. During wars that followed, abuses took place but were never a matter of policy and were always condemned when uncovered.

The technique known as “waterboarding” goes back at least as far as the Spanish Inquisition, representative of everything our young country stood against in the old world, and when it was taken up by the Japanese during World War Two, our government declared it to be a “war crime” and signed agreements, like the Geneva Accords, declaring that and swearing to never use it.

Other techniques that were not only condoned but promoted by the last administration, such as sleep deprivation and confinement in a box—where the prisoner can neither lie down nor stand but must remain in a constant crouch for hours and days and even weeks on end—were learned from the Chinese and North Korean Communists when used by them during the Korean conflict in the early 1950s.

That’s when our government started testing these techniques to learn if there was any way they could be resisted. During those tests it was discovered that information gleaned from these techniques was almost one hundred per cent of the time useless, so that for every one hundred leads ninety-nine, if not one hundred, would be false. A man would say anything in order to get out of suffering from them, or would be driven out of his mind and therefore incapable of giving any useful information.

As with the Inquistition, the tactic was used more to get the confession required than to get real factual information. Now it turns out that’s what the previous administration was attempting to do. When the CIA and FBI and military intelligence and other intelligence agencies declared that there were no weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq, the next best motive for Bush/Cheney and their cabal was a connection between Al Queda and Saddam Hussein, even though all these intelligence agencies insisted they could find none and that none existed.

But despite that evidence, the Bush/Cheney administration pushed the military and the CIA to use methods our country has resisted using since its inception—including in the face of the mightiest military machine the world had ever seen up to that time, Hitler’s, which was killing millions and millions of people, still we resisted the temptation to stoop to Hitler’s level and continued to fight from a position of believing legal and human rights trump vengeance and inhumanity.

The purpose now, was to force prisoners to reveal a connection between the “terrorists” who had caused the deaths of three thousand of our fellow citizens with Saddam, but even under the worst torture that didn’t happen. The FBI, the masters of interrogation methods that actually work (making a psychological connection, etc.) refused to take part in this and walked out. Many in the CIA and military and other intelligence agencies also spoke up or quit or wrote memos pointing out that these methods were against everything this country had always stood for, as well as illegal under our law and under international laws we had signed on to.

Now, when the facts are coming out about the use of torture being not only condoned but promoted by the Bush Junior White House and Cheney’s bunker, there’s an attempt to justify it by the “plots” that were foiled, even though the only arrests made in this country were of bungling amateurs who didn’t even have the weapons or other means to carry any of them out and had nothing to do with those who were tortured.

President Obama doesn’t want to dredge all this up but has been forced to by the reality that this is a land ruled by laws and the last administration broke the law, and in doing so not only tarnished the image of our country but encouraged more young Arab men to become “terrorists” to fight against a country that for a time (under Bush/Cheney) used the same tactics that the worst dictators in their countries have used against them.

[I read this article in today's NY Times after I wrote the above.]

{And then still later I read this related article and this one on Huffington Post.]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AND ANOTHER

After doing that some-favorite-book titles list that all began with “THE”—last night for my falling sleep exercise I thought I’d try a some-favorite-films list with the same requirement:

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE
THE BIG SLEEP
THE COOL WORLD (Shirley Clark’s)
THE DEAD
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE….
THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER
THE GODFATHER
THE HIT
THE INCREDIBLES
THE JUNGLE BOOK
THE KILLING
THE LAST DETAIL
THE MALTESE FALCON
THE NATURAL
THE ODD COUPLE
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
THE QUIET MAN
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY
THE SEARCHERS
THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE
THE UNTOUCHABLES
THE VISITOR
THE WILD ONE
THE X?
THE YAKUZA
THE Z?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

YET ANOTHER LIST

A few lists back I did one of two-word favorite book titles, but allowed for no articles, like “the.” So for last night’s falling back to sleep list I decided to make a list of some favorite books whose titles all start with “THE”—this is as far as I got:

THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin
THE BRANCH WILL NOT BREAK by James Wright
THE COHERENCES by Anselm Hollo
THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE by William Saroyan
THE EATER OF DARKNESS by Robert M. Coates
THE FARMERS’ DAUGHTERS by William Carlos Williams
THE GREAT INDOORS by Terence Winch
THE HEART IS ALSO A FURNACE by Magdalen Powers
THE IVORY CROCODILE by Eileen Drew
THE JUKEBOX OF MEMNON by Ray DiPalma
THE KID IN THE WOODS by Frank T. Rios
THE LATE SHOW by David Trinidad
THE MORNING OF THE POEM by James Schuyler
THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTA LAURIDS BRIGGE by Rainer Maria Rilke
THE ORCHID STORIES by Kenward Elmslie
THE PRINCE OF PRIDE STARRING by Robert Lowry
THE QUARE FELLOW by Brenda Behan (a play but also published as a book)
THE RIOT ACT by Geoffrey Young
THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES by Roberto Bolano
THE TENNIS COURT OATH by John Ashbery
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera
THE VILLAGE OF LONGING by George O’Brien
THE WILLOW TREE by Hubert Selby Jr.
THE X?
THE Y?
THE ZOO STORY by Edward Albee (another play also published as a book)

Monday, April 20, 2009

THREE QUICK THOUGHTS/DO THEY MEAN ANYTHING?

1. Any one but me ever notice that in the 1940s during the peak in Frank Sinatra’s first great wave of popularity when his audiences were mostly teenage girls (the famous “bobbysoxers”), the girls would swoon in their seats while Frankie crooned and then erupt in screams after he finished a song.

2. In the 1950s, during Elvis Presely’s first great wave of fame and influence, the teenage girls that made up most of his audiences would react to every curl of his lip, every lift of a shoulder or thrust of a hip with screams, and then subside until he made another move, so that for the most part, they could still hear the song, just with these slight interruptions of sporadic screaming.

3. In the 1960s, when the Beatles took the world by storm, their audiences too were composed of mostly teenage girls who would begin screaming the minute the fab four took the stage and not stop until they’d left, making it impossible not only for the audience—the girls themselves—to hear what the Beatles might be singing, but even for the four lads to hear themselves, which led to their stopping performing in public.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

QUOTE FOR THESE TIMES

"Well, listen, everything's weird. You tell me someting that's not weird." —Bob Dylan from an interview with Guitar World in DYLAN ON DYLAN

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NOT TO BEAT AN OBVIOUSLY NOT ENTIRELY DEAD RIGHTWING HORSE

Sorry RJ Eskow for making links to your blog posts my own lately, but RJ's latest is a necessary and important response to the phony victimization the right is claiming from Homeland Security (including on this blog because rightwing commenters are never original, just always spouting the latest party line, obviously, as in, when the market's going down it's all Obama but when it's going up um let's not notice that let's switch to Homeland Security picking on rightwing terrorists in latest report and pretend they didn't pick on leftwing terrorists in last year's report, etc.).

Anyway, for the clearest argument to expose the hypocrisy and phoniness of this latest rightwing red herring, read this.

Friday, April 17, 2009

IN BRUGES

This movie got some attention during the awards season and a lot of people went: huh? Because they hadn't even heard of it, let alone seen it.

But besides being aware of the nominations and awards (Colin Farrell got a Golden Globe) and some critical acclaim, several good friends recommended it, some with caveats about the violence or the ending etc. But I never got to see the entire movie all the way through until last night.

Yes there's some contrivances that you have to surrender to in order to fully enjoy this flick, and yes the violence at times seems a bit gratuitous. But man oh man the performances and the setting and the set up! Absolutely terrific for my taste.

I've often wondered about Colin Farrell, he seemed so promising and then fell apart, both as an actor and it seemed as a person. But in this film, he gives an Oscar worthy performance. It is so full of comic and tragic nuance underneath broader comic and tragic projection, it's like a lesson in expressing on film the entire spectrum of human emotion.

I'm serious. It's a teaching-worthy performance. Impeccable. And partly what makes it so impressive is the character he's playing is at least superficially a doofus, an Irish working-class guy trying to be "a hard man"—as the Irish say—but with few clues, yet with, as we discover, layers of intensity that in any other flick would be played strictly for emotional impact, but in this case swing so fast from comic to tragic and all the shades between it's like we're at home with a member of the family, or clan, at least in my case.

And Brendan Gleason gives yet another great performance in a history of consummate performances. Which makes watching him and Farrell together as delightful and satisfying as any other great movie pairing—Newman and Redford, Hepburn and Tracy, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, or the entire cast of SPARTACUS or LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, etc.

And then, like an extra dollop of dark chocolate sauce on your flowerless chocolate cake, there's Ralph Fiennes in a supporting role that he would seem to be totally miscast for, except that he turns it into a tour de force performance that is not only convincing and effective, it's totally entertaining.

I wish I caught the names of the director and screenwriter, because they obviously drew this performance out of Farrell and crafted this gangster fair tale that creates something new out of a very old idea in a way you've never seen before, or at least I never have. I'm very happy to have now.

[Duh. I just looked it up on that IMDB site and found out it was written and directed by the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh! No wonder it's so well crafted and so original. He's been recognized as a genius playwright since his first play was produced. And rightfully so. I'll have to see the only other movie he wrote and directed SIX SHOOTER.]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

RJ ESKOW ON PHIL SPECTOR

I think this is a brilliantly thought out and articulated piece of writing. The kind that makes all this blogging and internet connecting so instantly worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"ULTIMATE FAN BOY?"

That's a term used by "Butch"—a regular commenter on this blog—in questioning what may be seen as my uncritical stance toward President Obama.

Well, I am a big fan. Obama has proven himself to be not only very smart but very clearheaded and practical in his approach to using his office to accomplish several policy shifts that I believe are necessary if we are going to get this nation on a more healthy—economically, environmentally, educationally, diplomatically, and literally, as in physically—trajectory.

Do I think he's perfect? No. No one is. Do I think he was the right choice in the past election? Absolutely. Do I think he can accomplish everything he has set for the goals of his administration. I doubt it. Do I agree with everything he plans to attempt to do and every policy position he has taken? Not entirely (for instance I thought his dismissal of the top suggestion in his internet town hall meeting that legalizing marijuana could help the economy was wrong, but I also understand that given the intensity of the rightwing attacks on his presidency his agreeing to that idea as legit would have caused a rightwing firestorm and distracted from the more important policies that need to be addressed first—and the same with gay marriage, which I am for and Obama has sidestepped, etc.).

Unfortunately, there is no room, or little room, for nuance in politics these days. Obama brings a nuanced intelligence to bear, but the rightwingers cannot abide it. They believe, obviously from their actions and their loudest representatives, that to take a stand against anything they are for, or for anything they are against, is to invite an all out war of words if not actual rebellion, including the taking up of arms against our legitimately democratically elected government. This from people who didn't see their man, Bush Junior, who LOST THE POPULAR VOTE AND THEREFORE WAS NOT ELECTED DEMOCRATICALLY, as illegitimate!

All this is dangerous, as was illustrated by that young man who shot and killed the three police officers recently because he was convinced by various rightwing talk show hosts and other rightwing rabble rousers that Obama was coming to take away his guns and he had to defend his right to own those guns by using them against these three family men and killing them cold stone dead to prove his fealty to the rightwing perspective he had been fed incessantly by Rush and Glen Beck and the lesser known but often equally influential rightwing commentators (like say Mark R. levin whose rightwing tirade LIBERTY AND TYRANNY topped the NY Times nonfiction bestseller list this week and who describes Obama as "dissatisfied with the condition of his own existence" and that's why he's out to take away our rights etc.!).

These and their ilk have been inciting their followers to view this administration and our government as illegitimate and therefore justifying any kind of opposition to, from libel to physical attack. A very dangerous trend, as it is proven from historical reality that rightwingers are much more prone to physical violence than lefties (the one leftwing "terrorist" the right constantly points to is Bill Ayers, the SDS "Weatherman" who planted bombs in unpopulated places causing some physical damage and almost no human harm, whereas the rightwing "terrorist" Timothy McVay (sp.?) and his cohorts blew up way too many innocent people in their expression of rightwing dissatisfaction with anyone other than rightwingers holding any kind of power in our society).

Just because these rightwing Republicans have tried to co opt Ron Paul recently, does not make them "libertarians" (ala their "teabag" demos today). Libertarians (as amorphous as that group of voters is) have a set of values they pretty much adhere to, whereas rightwing Republicans have shifting values depending on their use in getting them power. They have proven through their words and actions that power, the gaining of it and keeping of it, is their main concern.

What the rightwing accomplished in the past eight years in particular and in the past several decades in general (since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980) is the dismantling of almost everything that made this country "great' and "exceptional" as the rightwingers constantly insist it is! Given the chance to prove our greatness and exceptionalism, they created much more economic and educational inequality (taking measures to insure that a tiny minority, around 1% controlled most of our wealth, not seen since the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th Century), they reduced and almost eliminated the power of workers to unionize and use those unions to better their economic lives (what created the prosperity of the 1950s that made it possible for working people to own homes and put their kids through college), they alienated most of our allies and most of the world, they overturned or completely dismissed laws and principles upon which this nation was founded (eliminating habeus corpus for instance, allowing detention without trials, condoning torture, etc.), and so much more, proving that all they care about is getting and maintaining power at any cost.

As for Obama, his very life as well as his politics and policies reflect the idea of compromise and consensus, of doing what's best for the common good rather than the party or ideology etc. I believe that's exactly what we need right now, and in fact, may be our last best chance. Under the rightwing Republican influence in politics and the media, it has become almost impossible to have a reasoned discussion about any of the important issues of our day. I watch the media's idea of balanced reporting, i.e. having talking heads representing the right and the left, supposedly, give their opinions about, well just about anything in the news, and the rightwingers always imbed their comments with a criticism of Obama and his administration, and have been doing it since the first day he took office let alone the first weeks, and months, which we are still in. There is little actual dialogue or give and take, if any, it's all ideology based on whatever tactic will make it possible to create anger and resentment toward Obama and his administration.

The Democrats were too frightened or too "liberal" (meaning humanist and able to consider more than one perspective as possibly the best one) to respond that way to Bush Junior until well into his second term. But the right is relentless in its constant attack against any opposition, whether they're in power or out of it. That's why I'm so grateful to have a person like Obama in the presidency, a man who can keep his head and not get too distracted by all the red herrings the right throws out to try and distract the public from number one the great job Obama is doing (the economy had gone over the cliff when he came into office and his administration has at least gotten it back up onto the cliff, miraculously) and the ways in which his policies reflect the general feelings and wishes of the public and the common good.

Yeah, I'm a fan.

[Here's an article from today's Huff Post I don't entirely agree with but makes several good points re: today's tax demos—and here's another]

[And just for good measure, yet another Huff Post article that further articulates some of the above points I was trying to make, only this time in relation to the Al Franken win on every level and despite some of this blog's rightwing commenter's with Republican vote counters not just agreeing but certifying.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

HEY

Drove back to Jersey from the Berkshires this morning feeling pretty beat up from a serious cold or some kind of bug. Made it back in time to lay down and go in and out of a slightly fevered snooze, without the clarity or strength to write anything.

But here it is several hours later and feeling a tad better so thought I'd drop a line to say, listening to Obama today on the car radio, once again made me feel so grateful that this country made the right choice for a change (and also made the right choice, for a change).

But what a stack of challenges he has with the noisy rightwing opposition behaving like they're the only ones who know what the Constitution is about (poor Obama is only a Harvard educated Constitutional lawyer and professor of Constitutional law, what could he know) and then behaving like their interpretation is: if they lose an election the world is coming to an end, as opposed to when they won the last two and actually contributed greatly to the progress of that goal. But on the main media news shows tonight, the focus was on the new dog in the White House. No more than a few words of the Presiden'ts speech.

Oh, and even on NPR these days I hear newspeople referring to him as "Mister Obama" instead of "President Obama' (the rightwingers started that ploy when Clinton was president, refusing to call him President Clinton, calling him Mister instead, and then when their boy got in all pf a sudden it was "President Bush" etc. and the weak-kneed, slavish media followed and continue to follow that lead.

But I've written enough about that. I just wanted to say thanks to the voters who helped electe President Obama and made me proud of our president again.

Monday, April 13, 2009

CHECK THIS COLUMN OUT

Not to provoke my right wing commenters, but this op-ed piece in today's NY Times by the recent Nobel winner Paul Krugman kind of captures some of my thoughts about recent rightwing Republican trends.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS

Up in the Berkshires for the holiday and went to see this kiddie movie with the kiddies.

Like most animated films these days, it was as much for the adults as the kids, so I guffawed a few times and chuckled a lot. Also like most animated films these days, the voices weren''t those of obscure voice actors, working actors, (quick, name one of the actors who voiced any character in LADY AND THE TRAMP—Peggy Lee was the only well known one at the time) but of major stars.

Because of the recession that began much earlier in the entertainment business (e.g. music CDs etc.) and the writers' strike over a year ago and the delay in SAG (Screen Actors Guild) finalizing their contract with the producers (it's months overdue with the threat of a strike still possible) there's been a lot less movie work so movie stars have less to do and earn.

Not that they don't earn more than their share to begin with (though like top athletes, they're worth it because they're the draw and fill the seats etc.). But there it is. The up side of this (not as the working film and TV actor I was for decades, because those days are over but if I were still depending on it for my living I'd be in bad shape like most non-stars these days) is that the characters in the film have a resonance to them, like the small but hysterical role Stephen Colbert plays as the voice of "The President"—worth watching the movie for that alone.

If you have kids, you might not mind seeing this one with them. Or even on your own when it comes out on DVD. (Or in a theater that has 3-D, which the Great Barrington triplex unfortunately doesn't—I think it would have been even more of a kick with that added dimension, literally.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

FEMALE RECORDING ALPHABET LIST

I’ve had Lisa Hannigan’s song “I Don’t Know” rolling around in my head for weeks now. And then on a recent trip to the Berkshires, I heard Chrissie Hynde on the radio singing “Brass in Pocket”—”gonna use my arms, gonna use my legs” etc.) for the thousandth time at least and suddenly really heard it, realizing how amazing her vocal chops are on this song where before I hadn’t really noticed how unique her control and interpretation is.

Then yesterday, after days of news about gun violence I got to thinking about Cheryl Wheeler’s “If It Were Up to Me” and posted about it.

All that led me to thinking about female singers the other night when I was woken up by a bunch of the Indian guys from the restaurant across the alley from my bedroom, who decided at close to 2AM to pull their cars into the alley and leave them revving while they discussed something very loudly that I couldn’t make out over the noise of the cars.

I actually opened my bedroom window and “Shushed” them saying “My boy’s trying to sleep” although his bedroom’s further back in the apartment away from their noise and he was sleeping to Vince Guaraldi’s A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (an eminently replayable recording which is the mark of a classic) so it probably wasn’t disturbing him.

Anyway, to get back to sleep after they finished their discussion and got back in the cars and pulled out, I started making an alphabet list of favorite recordings (the original recordings) by female singers over the years and found it pretty fun as well as great at helping me fall back asleep. I didn’t get too far that night, so I decided to keep adding to it in my head the following nights when other stuff woke me (the leaks in the lady upstairs’s apartment starting to impact mine, etc.).

So, over the course of a few nights I came up with a lot, though I’m sure there’s plenty I’m forgetting. I’d start by thinking of singers I’ve dug over the years and then try to think of my favorite recording of theirs. I ended up last night getting this far, with only the “Q” unfilled, in what might be described as an alphabet i-pod list of female recordings, if I owned an i-pod:

ALL I WANT Joni Mitchell
BRASS IN POCKET Chrissie Hynde, BIRTHDAY Bjork (first thing I heard her voice on when she started out with The Sugarcubes and blew me, and everyone else away), THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME Gladys Knight (with the Pips of course)
CRAZY Patsy Kline, CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU Lauryn Hill (my Jersey hometown girl knocking out our fellow Jersey native Frankie Valli’s hit)
DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE The Shirelles (also Jersey homegirls), DRREAMS Dolores O’Reirdon (w/ The Cranberries), DON’T KNOW WHY Norah Jones
EMBRACEABLE YOU Sarah Vaughn, EVERRDAY IS A WINDING ROAD Sheryl Crow
FEVER Peggy Lee (another iconic recording of hers that I love, later in her career, was “Is That All There Is?”—but FEVER is the one that got the censors in an uproar when I was a kid and turned me on to her amazing vocal control)
GUESS WHO I SAW TODAY Chris Connor (her best I think)
HEY JOE Patti Smith (from her first recording, a 45 put out by Robert Mapplethorpe and I think the, unfortunately, defunct Gotham Book Mart when she was still only known as a poet), HOW INSENSITIVE Sinead O’Connor ((FAMINE is my favorite of hers, but it’s more of a rap and doesn’t showcase her amazing vocal skills like this does, but so does PADDY’S LAMENT, and so many others), HOPE AND FAITH Janet Robin (it’s her guitar work on this that nails it)
I DON’T KNOW Lisa Hannigan, IF IT WERE UP TO ME Cheryl Wheeler, I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE The Waitresses, I’M LIKE A BIRD Nelly Furtado, I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW Tegan and Sara (the Quin twins, at least I think they’re twins, this is a pretty original take on the eternal teenage perspective)
JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS Anita O’Day
KISSING IN THE DARK Memphis Minnie
LITTLE GIRL BLUE Nina Simone (the original, just her voice and her piano, not later overproduced versions or the horrible club remix, ugh!), LAST DANCE Donna Summers (either this or her version of MACARTHUR PARK!), LET IT BE Jill Scott
MOOD SWING Luscious Jackson (not sure which of the women in this band is singing on this, but always dug it, along with their only hit, I think it was, NAKED EYE), MRS. BROWN YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER Phranc (a friend from my LA days and a great singer, musician and entertainer, if you don’t know yet)
NO ORDINARY LOVE Sade, THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY Irene Kral (a mostly forgotten now jazz vocalist I first dug in the 1950s)
OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY Dinah Washington, ON AND ON Erykah Badu
PIECE OF MY HEART Janis Joplin, PAPER BAG Fiona Apple [and I forgot my latest favorite, Neko Case's PEOPLE GOT A LOTTA NERVE]
Q?
RESPECT Aretha Franklin, RESTLESS Alison Krauss
STRANGE FRUIT Billy Holiday, SMILE Lily Allen, SAD EYES Natasha Kahn (who sings and plays under the name Bats for Lashes, a new discovery, whose voice I love on clean songs like this, but whose musician skills sometimes lead to over produced recordings), SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME Emmylou Harris
TWISTED, Annie Ross (there’s better examples of her amazing range, but this has got to be the all time favorite Ross vocal), TOO MANY CREEPS Cynthia Sley (she was the singer for the Bush Tetras, one of the early punk bands and first all girl one I knew of)
UNSENT Alanis Morissette (most of her stuff is too overproduced for me, but this really allows her voice to shine, and her songwriting skills, or whoever wrote this)
VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, THE Nancy Wilson
WHEN SONNY GETS BLUE Dakota Staton, WHEN I’M GONE Mary Wells (this one shows off her much underrated interprative brilliance for me), WHITE RABBIT Gracie Slick, WHAT I AM Edie Brickell
X-RAY MAN Liz Phair (and not just for the “X”—it’s a vocally and instrumentally interesting tune)
YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND, Carole King, YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME Alicia Keys
ZOMBIE Nellie McKay (maybe not her best, but I needed a “Z” and she does do some interesting stuff with her voice in the lower registers on this one, but to hear her at her best, if you don’t know her work, check out WON’T U PLEASE B NICE)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

IF IT WERE UP TO ME

Not to make the rightwingers even more nervous than they already are (have you seen the fantasy claims FOX commentators and talking heads have been making (and that nutty rightwing Republican congress woman whose name I won't even mention)? They're claiming Obama is a "tyrant" who is setting up "re-education camps" and "concentration camps" and has "torn up the Declaration of Independence" and etc.

And their insistance that Obama is going to "take away" their guns has led to at least a few of these recent gun rampages (including the one in which three cops were killed, it's interesting how the right wing always claims to be on the side of the military and law enforcement but always cuts the budgets for both and raises the death toll). [Check this link for a good take on all this]

But even so, this song is still as timely as when my daughter Caitlin turned me on to it several years ago now. I'm assuming this link I found is legal, where you can hear Cheryl Wheeler singing her great song/rap IF IT WERE UP TO ME (just hit the play arrow in the upper right corner).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I LOVE YOU MAN

That whole Judd Apatow schlubby, boy-men, buddy-movie-turns-into-boy-girl-romance thing (KNOCKED UP may be the best example and Seth Rogan the emblematic representative actor) is what I expected I LOVE YOU MAN to be.

And it is, in general outline terms. But, it also isn't. Partly because John Hamburg who wrote and directed I LOVE YOU MAN was doing this before the Apatow phenomenon became dominant (see Hamburg's ALONG CAME POLLY, which he wrote and directed, or ZOOLANDER which he wrote, both before the big Apatow ascension, though Apatow's been around as a producer for a lot longer).

No one making movies, certainly not comedies, is as consistently successful as Apatow, nor does anyone make films that are as consistently well worked out as Apatow (there's rarely, if ever, a missed beat or plot point in Apatow's funny films, they're like perfect comedy machines, at least for these times and certain age groups).

And Hamburg's movies contain some of the elements Apatow uses in his (and some of the actors etc.) so I'm not trying to set up a whole separate camps kind of thing here. I'm just pointing out that to my taste and critical eye, Hamburg's movies are much less predictable outside the general outline of these comedies.

For instance, the whole "gay" joke box of tricks all these comedies use for an easy laugh, Hamburg uses as well in I LOVE YOU MAN, but at least in some ways we haven't seen before (probably the best adjusted male character in the film is played by Andy Samberg playing Paul Rudd's character's gay brother, but playing him as straight as any character in any movie ever gets, so ordinary and so not stereotypical it elevates that subplot to a much more realistic and even in some ways enlightening level than these movies hardly ever achieve, and that's just one example).

Casting Jason Segal as the co-lead (to Paul Rudd) was smart too. His character is bigger than life, but also vulnerable and typical of the boy-men in these types of comedies, but Segal has such a unique presence on screen, he extends this type of character's usual obviousness into such a specific kind of realism of unpredictability and particularness he seems like a real person most of the time who just wandered onto the set.

Rudd has this attribute as well, but not in the Segal-uniquely-individual way, more in the Tom Hanks everyman way. Rudd's been a stalwart presence in these kinds of movies for years now, but when I first noticed him in the comedy CLUELESS back in the '90s, he came across as so authentic, such a fine actor, and yet so charmingly egoless, that I expected him to become one of his generation's major stars in serious movies.

But it's taken this long and this movie for him to become a true movie star, as it's his character that is at the heart of this movie, and with the help of Segal and the love interest, as they say, played by Rashida Jones—another unique screen presence that grounds the movie in a kind of realism these flicks usually don't have—Rudd and Hamburg, and the other collaborators that made this movie, pull it off.

It's not a run-out-and-see-immediately movie, so you can wait for it to go to DVD or get on cable. But if you run across it, don't ignore it. They say a good laugh every day helps the body heal and keep the immune system strong, well I LOVE YOU MAN worked for me like the flu shot is supposed to. I laughed out loud so much I was afraid I was disturbing the few other people in the tiny section of our local multiplex it was showing at. Not a bad recommendation for a comedy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TODAY'S QUOTE

"All art is a collaboration." —John M. Synge from his preface to The Playboy of the Western World

Sunday, April 5, 2009

KINDSIGHT


I've written about and recommended my friend Robert Zuckerman's collection of photos with commentary called KINDSIGHT. It came out several years ago, but he's been steadily continuing the venture and hopefully there will be a new collection soon.

The project is unique as "art" and powerfully moving. Sometimes even provocative, as the last one he sent around, which is receiving strong reactions from the usual suspects. I've added his blog where he posts his newest photos and commentaries, most as inspirational as you could ever need, to my list of mostly good friends' blogs and sites down to the right, but since the latest isn't posted yet I'm reproducing it here. If you click on it, it will get bigger so you can read it.

[I should add that Robert makes his living as a still photographer on movies. You've seen his work, as I'm sure everyone has in this country as well as around the world, because many of the movies he's worked on have been big successes and the image used in ads and on posters etc. is a photo that Robert took. So saying what he does in this post and sending it out to friends and colleagues in the movie business is not only provocative, but extremely courageous, because it could cost him jobs. But he's one of the most honorable, as well as obviously thoughtful, people I've ever known, so I'm not surprised.]

Saturday, April 4, 2009

DYLAN ON DYLAN


This collection of interviews with Bob Dylan is in many ways much more revealing and sometimes more interesting than CHRONICLES, the first volume of his official autobiograhy. Not as literature, or personal myth manipulation, or sustained life story (no matter how choppy CHRONICLES was, it still cohered as a piece of writing). But as autobiography.

The interviews are ordered chronologically, from a radio interview in 1962 to an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 2004 (the book itself came out in ’06, though I only recently picked up the paperback version because it’s now available at a big discount).

There’s something about celebrity interviews that usually comes across as phony or canned. But a lot of the time—especially with someone as evasive yet uniquely direct as Dylan—an interview can expose angles of perspective on an “artist” that otherwise we’d never encounter.

That’s the case here. Because it spans almost his entire performing and recording career, and because the interviewers are varied and the setting and intent of the interviews equally varied, and because of the variety in Dylan’s personas and intentions and capacity for normal conversation, it adds up to an enlightening series of what seem like attempts by Robert Zimmerman to truly tell his story, or at least the story of his role as Bob Dylan musical original, even genius.

I’ve had an ongoing mental review of Dylan and his approaches to his music and his persona since before he recorded his first album when I ran into him in the Village where we were both hanging out but with different crowds (him the folkies, me the jazz scene) and I pegged him for an arrogant phony from in front (which easily could have been said of me at the time).

But when I heard his early recordings (introduced to me by my first wife, Lee, who brought them with her from Buffalo to Spokane, Washington, where I was stationed at the time of our marriage) I realized no matter how he came across in person to me, on record he was a genius, doing what I was trying to do with my poetry and other writing, but doing it so much better and so much more successfully.

I was envious, but I was also in awe. And I continued to view Dylan and his music with a double perspective, part blown away by his amazing musical shifts and surprises, while at the same time being critical of his public personas.

Like in an interview not included here that I read in the Village Voice in 1964, not long after I first heard his early recordings, when he described himself as “just a guitar player” as I remember it. I was offended by what I took as the faux humility of a guy who was being touted as a “great poet” and breath of fresh air not just in music but in our entire society because he was telling the truth to power, but the truth of the moment was he had become so much more than a mere guitar player, or musician, or even songwriter/singer, he had become the uncrowned king of his generation.

In later years I was always bugged by the spin that was put on the first big changes in his music and persona after he “went electric”—what others, and sometimes Dylan, described as an attempt to throw off the designation of “spokesman for an entire generation” I saw as just a change in the drugs he was imbibing, just like most of the rest of us in and outside the music world.

So as much as I have always loved and been amazed by Dylan’s musical “genius,” I’ve been upset or at least put off by all the subterfuges, as I saw them, he employed to avoid responsibility for what he had wrought, or at least majorly contributed to.

This collection of interviews goes a long way to resolving that conflict I’ve had with this contemporary. Watching Dylan go through his changes over more than four decades, big and small, and try to explain or avoid explaining them to a regiment of interviewers ended up endearing him to me. I can read in his answers, even the deliberately opaque ones, a pretty clearheadedly consistent attempt to be as true to his interior music and vision as the times and circumstances of his life allowed, while doing his best to not let anything get in the way of that.

After reading DYLAN ON DYLAN, I feel more sympathy and empathy for his personal struggles with fame and his creativity and the problems and opportunities and plain business surrounding both from the beginning, and I appreciate all that much more, like I always have the music. If you dig Dylan, I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

MICHELLE OBAMA

Anyone see that talk she gave at the girls' school in France yesterday?

It had me all teary eyed (as it did her).

The thing I love most about Obama and his wife is their honesty. It's seemed all my life like politicians speak a different language, and their spouses too.

There's a kind of diplomacy or tact that I understand most public figures need to keep in mind—when I'm asked to speak on or contribute some writing about topics that involve real people and their experiences, I have to calculate if anything I say or write will hurt anyone. so I understand this. [My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to say "Honesty without love is attack."]

But aside from being conscious of not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, there's another layer of language padding that surrounds most statements from politicians and their spouses that compounds the distance and differences between us and them, and resonates with phoniness, or at least unreality.

This isn't true most of the time when Obama speaks. And none of the time when Michelle does.

She not only seems to speak spontaneously from her heart (even with notes) but to be aware of the reality of her unprecedented position on the world stage. She has to be the tallest, most athletic, most self-made woman ever on the world political stage. And she definitely is the darkest, at least from any developed country.

But she transcends the differences between her and her predecessors as well as between her and those of us who aren't tall, athletic, independent dark-skinned women, with the most disarming honesty I've ever heard from a public figure, at least among our country's political elite.

How unbelievably refreshing. Or actually, finally, believable. I hope she's setting a standard that we will all (including the media) hold future politicians and their spouses to.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY

Another HBO series that makes network TV seem obsolete.

I never read the books this one’s based on, though I heard good things from friends who have. But there were definitely some things about the two-hour pilot that might have been done better, or at least differently.

Like the broad humor that sometimes is reminiscent of old style sitcom playing-to-the-lowest-common-denominator type of stuff, or the sanitized background and setting that eliminates anything that might turn an audience away (not just deep poverty and deprivation and the things that go along with all that, there weren’t even any flies in the pilot as far as I could tell), etc.

But all this seemed pretty deliberate, and the ensemble cast is terrific, and the main stars—Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose—are a delight to watch, even when they’re deliberately over the top they’re able to make it believable thanks to the magnitude of their talent and commitment, and I would assume the direction of Anthony Minghella (the pilot was the last thing he directed before he died).

Jill Scott, the singer (and songwriter) is a revelation. She is the star of the show, the number one lady detective, and like a true star she carries the entire two-hour pilot like it doesn’t weigh more than a feather. She is described by various people in the show as “fat”—but on her it’s a compliment, she couldn’t be more attractive in every way.

She and her co-star, Anika Noni Rose, are the reasons I tuned in in the first place. Rose is one of my favorite actresses (she just about stole DREAMGIRLS) and Scott is one of my favorite music makers. To see them playing native Africans (the show is set in Botswana) and seeming as comfortable as if they were born there (I have no idea how accurate their accents were, but they made their accented English and the characters’ native tongue sound convincing) was impressive.

The arc of the show was a little messy for me, some things seemed a little farfetched or too easily resolved, which I tend to blame on the writer (or more accurately adapter). But other parts were delightfully satisfying either as comedy or drama. I laughed several times out loud, and I got teary eyed at other times, even though I could see right through the obvious devices being used to elicit those responses. That’s because Scott and Rose and the rest of the cast were so good at making even the most obvious and/or absurd moments real.

It’ll be interesting to see where the show goes. This first episode was more like a film, everything wrapped up nicely at the end. Which didn’t leave much for future resolution, more like old mainstream TV sitcoms and even some dramas than more recent mainstream and HBO and other cable series, where we are enticed into sticking to a show to see how various story lines work out.

But it’s entertainment first, and for this viewer the pilot was entirely entertaining. The show also looks like it will attempt to make some points about some of the more challenging aspects of life in Botswana, and by extension, in much of sub-Saharan Africa. And just to watch a show set in any underdeveloped country, let alone Southern African, is not just a first, but feels overdue and necessary.

I couldn’t help but think of our president’s father (though he came from further North on that continent) and African relatives. And how finally fiction TV is catching up with documentary and news TV in terms of globalization and how we are all interconnected and share so much more in common than ever before.

Now someone’s got to find a way to write a series set in the Middle East that balances perspectives and experiences. Wouldn’t that be right on time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NORM COLEMAN: A NO CLASS ACT

Here’s a pretty good expression of a class act: Al Gore, who won the popular vote for the presidency in 2000 and may well have won the electoral vote as well if the recount in Florida had been allowed to continue, concedes the win to Bush Junior in order to avoid a long drawn out battle that might divide the country and handicap any incoming administration in taking the reigns of government.

Fast forward to 2008 and the race for one of the senate seats in Minnesota. After a close election in which a recount was called for (and mandated I believe by state law), the Democrat Al Franken is shown to be the winner. But his Republican opponent Norm Coleman, instead of conceding,—even after the state voting officials, bi-partisan voting officials, etc. declare him the loser—vows to appeal the election results through the court system in a process that should take years. Leaving his state underrepresented in the Senate all that time (as it has been for months now).

It’s like the old Bible Story about King Solomon and the two women who claimed the same child as their own. When he said his verdict was to have the child cut in half, the real mother pleaded to let the other woman have the child in order to save it. Al Gore cared more about our country than his political ambitions or his party’s bid for power. Norm Coleman cares more about his political ambitions and his party’s bid for power than he does about his home state.

‘Nuff said.