Friday, July 31, 2009

JAN KEROUAC AND GERALD NICOSIA VINDICATED

As anyone who has read this blog for a while probably knows, I have always been a staunch defender of poet Gerry Nicosia's charge, on behalf of Jan Kerouac, that Jack's mother's will was forged and that Jack's intention was to keep his archives intact and away from his last wife's family, and that his nephew Paul Blake should benefit from whatever estate there was as well.

This battle has been going on for decades, but a court has finally ruled, that indeed the will was forged and that Jan (unfortunately long since deceased) and Paul Blake should have a claim on the estate.

The most unfortunate thing about all this is how many of the old Beats and their younger supporters and wannabes defended the Sampas family's grab of the estate, even when they initially were selling it off piecemeal against Jack's known, stated, and written, wishes. The reason being that Viking/Penquin had a huge stake in developing the Jack Kerouac brand and academics who wanted access to the archives or poets and authors who wanted their books published by Viking/Penquin and not to be ostracized from the inner Beat circles, needed to "go along to get along" as they say in politics.

I always believed the reason a book of mine that was accepted by Penquin was eventually not published when Viking, the mother company reversed the decision, had something to do with my defending Gerry and Jan's fight against the Sampas family.

I've written about it enough elsewhere, most recently in a post about the publication of a book about Jan here, so I won't go into any more details about the case. But check out these links here and here, and thanks to Ron Silliman's blog for them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

AIRHEADS

Watched this flick with my eleven-year-old today. perfect summer fare. Light, silly, fun and well done.

It made me think of TAPS and THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Not because either of them were as light or silly, but because all three showcased the next generation of movie stars before they were.

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW introduced most of us not only to Jeff Bridges and the Bottom brothers, but to Cloris Leachman as a serious actor and Oscar contender, and of course Cybil Sheppard and Randy Quaid.

TAPS is still fun to watch despite it's over the top story line, because here's Sean Penn, Tom Cruise, and the only before the title star billing young actor, Timothy Hutton (along with George C. Scott), before they became too big for this sort of thing (I mean star wise not age wise).

AIRHEADS stars not only Brendan Fraser but Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler in supporting roles, with David Arquette and Chris Farley in even smaller roles, close to a cameo in Farley's case.

And like I said, it's fun. I had forgotten how much I loved it when it first came out in 1994, but it's definitely the movie version of a beach book. If you haven't seen it lately, or ever, it could make you smile.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MERCE CUNNINGHAM R.I.P.

A seminal dancer and choreographer, Merce was a huge presence on the downtown NYC scene when I was coming up. And his partnership with the composer John Cage made that presence even greater in ways few avant-garde artists ever achieved.

He was ninety and still creative to almost the end.

Back in the 1970s, when the city was in terrible financial shape but the avant-garde arts scene was flourishing on many levels, there were times when it seemd like dance was the dominant art form downtown. All kinds of new and exciting choreographers were appearing, from Twyla Tharp to Sara Rudner (my alltime favorite).

If you went to any downtown arts event, like a fundraiser for a cause or a downtown arts institution, or the St. Mark's Poetry Project space for their annual New Years Eve marathon etc. there'd usually be some dance as part of the performances, and it would often be what stopped the show, impact-wise. At least for me.

Well the daddy of all that, and eventually the granddaddy, was Merce Cunningham. His experiments with "chance" as a tool for constructing any art, ala Cage in "music" or Jackson MacLow in poetry, created dances that contained gestures and movement and postures and poses etc. that no one had ever seen before on a dance stage.

To be able to create something entirely new out of something as mundane as human physicality or out of something as ancient as basic dance movements, was not only a sign of Cunningham's genuis, but of his humanity, which he seemed to me to surrender to completely, the most touching thing about his approach to dance that some critics initially found too cool, too abstract, too un-romantic.

But watch the video at the top of Ron Silliman's Cunningham's post for today, Wednesday, July 29th, (this link just goes to the blog so if you're reading this after that date, you can find it) which is one of his posts full of links (usually they're to poetry related topics but often to the other arts as well, this one is devoted entirely to Cunningham), which have become a primary source for me for news of what's happening in the avant-garde (lousy term for it these days, but "alternative" etc. works no better) poetry (and other arts) world.

It's a pretty good summary of Cunningham's methods and creative genius.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

LAST COMMENT (HOPEFULLY) ON THE "BIRTHERS"

McCain's birth certificate says he was born in Panama.

Obama's says he was born in the USA.

If McCain had been elected and anyone wanted to bring a lawsuit against him saying he wasn't born in the USA, the answer from the right would be: he was born to US citizens.

Obama's mother was a US citizen when he was born in Hawaii. But if he had been born in Panama?

The hardline rightwing will never be satisfied with proof. Reality has nothing to do with their arguments. or very little. The reality is, for them, Obama is "other" and "other" is frightening and one of the forms fear most often takes is anger.

Monday, July 27, 2009

LEGITIMIZING WINGNUTS

In the 1950s there were people in the United States who believed the world was flat, despite the fact that belief had been proven wrong centuries previous. But they were not given time to vent their belief in the national media, because their belief was not only ignorant, it was wrong—factually untrue.

After the first Americans walked on the moon forty years ago, there were many in this country who believed the whole thing was a hoax. They weren't given a voice on news shows in the national media because not only was their belief ignorant, it was factually untrue.

In the 1970s there were those who believed the world was created as stated in the Old Testament and that evolution was a hoax. But they weren't given time in the national news media to air these beliefs because they were not only ignorant, they were factually untrue.

But then something happened in the 1980s and '90s and '00s. First Ronald Reagan got elected with the help of a Republican base of rightwingers that he had helped create, and functionaries like Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes helped perpetuate and grow.

Then under the Gingrich-led Republican Congress during Clinton's administration, catering to the rightwing of the Republican party wasn't just a strategy but a reality. The rightwing had become the Republican Party, at least in Congress, and any leverage could be used to oust centrists and moderates including questioning their religious beliefs. It became a badge of merit among many Republicans to scorn a lot of scientific fact as "relative" (of course they used the opposite claim against liberals in the area of morality). They deliberately misrepresented—leading to much misunderstanding of—the use of the word "Theory" in "The Theory of Evolution" to imply it hadn't yet been proven, though it had. Just as the "Theory of Gravity" was proven.

And of course under the last administration the capitulation to the rightwing nuts was completed, no matter how ignorant and factually untrue, any rightwing nutty idea had to be catered to for fear of attack from the right and being cutoff from access to the White House (as well as being fired by the mostly rightwing owned media).

Which brings us to the present, where despite the factual reality of Obama's birth in Hawaii, those who question this FACT are not only given time and presence in the national news media, but so is every crack pot laughable red herring raised by the rightwing nuts. As in: Obama's health plan is socialist! The same argument Ronald Reagan made in the 1950s as a spokesman for the then marginalized right. He claimed that the creation of Medicare would lead to not just "socialized medicine" but to the government telling you where you would work and live, etc.

None of that came true of course, but the same arguments are being used and this time given not just a fraction of air time, but supposed "equal time" (although what is meant by that now is every time a centrist or moderate makes a factual point a rightwing nut has to be given "equal time" but not a leftwing perspective.).

If all these rightwingers don't believe in the climate changes that are factually occurring (rising seas, thawing tundra, melting glaciers and ice caps, stronger storms, etc.) fine, let them talk among themselves, but don't give them media time to pretend their perspectives have any scientific validity. (The only scientific argument is over what it means and how much humans are contributing to it, and even there the general consensus is pretty consistent.)

If the rightwingers don't dig socialized medicine, or what they call that (any plan that has the government involved in any way), then if they're veterans, like me, they should refuse any use of veterans benefits or veterans hospitals etc. And if they're on Medicare, they should refuse that too. If they're in Congress, they should refuse the plan used by our "representatives" and instead be faced with the same kinds of choices most working citizens of this country are faced with when it comes to health care as now practiced (and let the right wingnuts not be given media time to claim our system is the "best in the world" since factually, judged by most healthcare or healthy citzenry statistic, we come in way behind most and often all other "industrialized" countries and even many "developing" countries).

[Here's a link to news that doesn't get mainstream media coverage, and here's another related to climate changes.]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

SOME FAVORTIE TWO-WORD-STARTING-WITH-THE-SAME-LETTER BOOKS, RECORDINGS AND MOVIES

Remembering what a terrific read ANGELA’S ASHES was when Frank McCourt recently died, got me to thinking last night when I was falling asleep of other favorite books with two word titles in which the words started with the same letter ala ANGELA’S ASHES.

That made me think of songs I dig that fit the same category, and then movies. So I came up with some couplets, or pairings if you will, of some favorites.

ANGELA’S ASHES by Frank McCourt (memoir written like great fiction)
TRACY’S TIGER by William Saroyan (fiction written like a uniquely “modern” fable)

BORSTAL BOY by Brendan Behan (the Irish playwright’s memoir of his time in a juvenile prison for IRA activity)
BAD BOYS (the Sean Penn movie about a USA juvenile prison)

LION LION by Tom Raworth
MONDAY, MONDAY by David Trinidad (both unique collections of poetry)

MOSCOW MANSIONS by Barbara Guest
SATIN STREET by Merril Gilfillan (two more unique collections of poems)

SUNG SEX by Kenward Elmslie & Joe Brainard
TOPIARY TREK by Kenward Elsmlie & Karl Torok (Elmslie’s poetry + the artists’ illustrations)

RIP RAP by Gary Snyder
PEACE PIECE—Bill Evans (the former poetry and latter solo piano, but both seminal works of art that had the same impact on me when first encountered)

SPLISH SPLASH—Bobby Darrin (my introduction to Darrin’s musical virtuosity)
SPLISHY SPLASHY—Lisa Hannigan (one of my recent favorite songs)

MRS. MINIVER
MUCH MORE—Barbra Streisand (a Hollywood classic movie + one of Streisand’s first recordings when musicians and music lovers alike were stunned by her chops and originality: what’s the connection? both have some deeper meanings in common)

RED RIVER
SEVEN SAMARAI

BILLY BOY—Ahmad Jamal
SEXY SADIE—The Beatles

BUT BEAUTIFUL—Bing Crosby
HIGH HOPES—Frank Sinatra (two wonderfully positive songs, despite their different musical moods)

FUNNY FACE (the movie)
FUNNY FACE—Fred Astaire (the song in the movie)

BLUE BAYOU—Roy Orbison
BLUE BAYOU—Linda Ronstadt

CRISS CROSS—Thelonious Monk
MONK’S MOOD—Thelonious Monk

KING KONG (the classic black-and-white original with Fay Wray)
DR. DOLITTLE (the remake with Eddie Murphy)

Friday, July 24, 2009

QUOTE (POEM) FOR THE TIMES

"Even after all this time
the sun never says
to the earth
'You owe me.'

Look what happens
with a love like that.
It lights up the
whole sky."

—Hafiz (the 14th-Century Persian poet, from a new translataion by Mahmood Karimi-Hakak and Bill Wolak)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

THE GATES INCIDENT

I’m sure you heard about the famous Harvard Professor and author Henry Louis Gates Jr. being arrested in his own home in Cambridge.

And maybe you read the posts throughout the web, like this one on Huffington that point out what many see as the obvious racism involved, since Gates is African-American and the cop was white.

No doubt the policeman’s behavior was wrong.

Once he arrived and could see that Professor Gates is an elderly man who needs a cane to walk he could have figured out he wasn’t a cat burgler, even if his “accomplice” was a younger man, Gates’s friend and driver, another African-American.

And once Gates showed proof that this was indeed his house and that he had simply misplaced his door keys after a trip to and long flight back from China, the cop should have just apologized for bothering him and left, even if Gates was cursing him out and calling him a racist for responding to a neighbor’s 911 call when she thought she saw a burglary in process.

And my heart goes out to Gates for having to go through something like this at his age and after a grueling flight etc.

But.

And this may be misinterpreted but I’ll say it anyway—BUT, I have experienced similar things, as have several of my white male friends, at the hands of cops, both white and black.

Once driving in Los Angeles at night two young white cops stopped me for speeding and when one came around to the driver side window where he could see I was a middle-aged white man alone in a Volvo, because I didn’t respond quickly enough, he pulled open the door and ordered me to get out and put my hands on the hood and spread my legs while his partner, gun drawn, aimed at me from his position on the sidewalk.

I did exactly as they said and was eventually let off with a ticket. But why the cowboy stuff? It wasn’t racism, since we were all white, nor was I any kind of threat obviously, but whatever was bugging them that night I got part of the brunt of.

If I had been black, and especially if I had been black and protested too much, they may have cuffed me and taken me in. But then again…

Once a friend of mine, a younger man was leaving his gym in Manhattan after a workout and when he reached his car parked out front the meter was just running out and a parking cop was already there getting his ticket book out.

My friend tried to reason with him, humorously. Also pointing out that he had a special badge from the New York police because he had operated on a policeman after the cop was shot a few years before. An operation he had let me take part in, as a spectator, since I was staying in his apartment at the time, visiting from L.A. (He gave me an extra pair of his scrubs and I got to see firsthand how poorly the Kings County Hospital was run at that time.)

So there it was, identification showing he was a doctor and supposedly the beneficiary of special police consideration. But when a squad car pulled up and asked the traffic cop if my friend was causing any trouble and the traffic cop nodded, the two cops in the police car emerged and did the hands on the hood, spread your legs, then hands behind back routine and cuffed my young doctor friend and took him into the precinct and put him in a cell until bail could be raised.

Just for questioning a meter cop.

I don’t remember anymore if he told me if the cops in the car were white or black or Asian or whatever other false categories we use to divide ourselves, but I know my young doctor friend is a white man and he was treated way unfairly by the cops for basically no reason other than objecting to a last minute parking ticket.

Sometimes the power cops have just goes to their heads, whether the victim of that is white or black. Or as Freud supposedly said, sometimes a cigar is merely a cigar.

[PS: This is not to say the cop wasn't an out-and-out racist, I'm just saying there's other possibilities.]

[And PPS: I've had plenty of black friends who have faced similar situations that definitely involved true racism.]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

HEALTH CARE DEALIO

They're saying the first president to try and create a national health care plan was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

I know FDR tried to include it with Social Security and other New Deal measures that saved the poor of this country from facing the kinds of starvation and death faced by the poor in many other countries during the Great Depression and beyond and thanks to medical costs being relatively low then and many hospitals being charity organizations the health care crisis wasn't as bad as the other aspects of the Depression.

I know Truman tried again after FDR was dead to get Congress to enact a national health care plan.

I know that since then, several other presidents made motions in the same direction but were defeated or gave up before anything even made it to the table. And the deregulation under Reagan pretty much destroyed the old style charity hospitals and left health care to corporations whose main motive is profit and therefore skyrocketing prices (and bigger and bigger profits) leaving the poor to use dwindling emergency rooms that the rest of us pay for et-endlessly-cetera.

I know that Clinton tried and failed to enact remedies for all that.

Now comes Obama pushing harder than anyone in a long time, trying to learn from Clinton's mistakes, letting the Congress start the process, keeping it all transparent, disarming a lot of the corporate opposition by constantly reminding them of the financial toll being taken by health care costs now and if nothing's done they'll only keep rising, but being met with the same kind of fearsome opposition on the right, along with criticism from the left for not doing more!

[Somehow lost this paragraph when first posted: The point is, there is no way a plan I would like to see, or any of the commenters on this blog would like to see will get enacted, because we all have different ideas about what might work best. And there are those that don't believe something is better than nothing. We need those dissenters. I have often been one myself in my life. But at the place I am in my life now, after all the experiences I've had and witnessed, I believe that something IS better than nothing. That a start is better than a failure to begin at all. That accomplishing anything that alleviates even a fraction of the pain and suffering caused by the healthcare system we have now, which is one of the worst in terms of outcomes among so-called "industrialized" nations, is better than continuing with business as usual, which means an even more and ever worsening situation.]

For some of the best analyses of all this, check out RJ Eskow's contributions to The Huffington Post or see them on his own blog, the link is on the list of some of my favorite blogs and sites to the right under A Night Light.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CHANGING THE GOALPOSTS

A few months ago, after Obama became president, my rightwing friends who comment on this blog, and the rightwing media spokespeople they parrot, were all pointing to the declining stock market as an indicator not that the previous administration had screwed up royally on the economy, but that somehow Obama was a failure because the stock market hadn't turned around in a month or two.

Then the stock market stopped declining and eventually started climbing. But no connection between that and Obama's policies has been noted by the same rightwing critics, they just shift the goalposts. Now it's the deficit, which their Republican leaders grew from the Clinton administration surplus. Back then, when Clinton defenders would point out the great prosperity that led to the great surplus, rightwing critics would shift the goalposts to marital fidelity and in fact spent more money on investigating Clinton's private life than on regulating the economy leading to...

Now of course when critics question the morality and hypocrisy of white male Republican Senators who have extramarital sex and/or talk down to women Supreme Court nominees, they shift the goalposts again, to health care reform and pass memos (the Republican National Committee for one) about how they need to defeat any Health Care Reform, but refuse to offer alternatives.

Republican Chairman Michael Steele actually answered a policy question from a reporter at a news conference Steele called to ciriticize the health care reform proposals of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Steel said he wasn't there to discuss health care policy when challenged to suggest alternatives! Because he and his party have no alternative suggestions, except more of the same or back to the future.

And now there's TV ads showcasing a supposed Canadian citizen who claims she would have died under the Canadian health care system and had to come to the USA to get the treatment she needed and warns us about adopting the Canadian health care system for the USA like, it is implied, Obama and the Democrats are trying to do. Only that's not true, on almost any level (as I've said before my daughter-in-law's family is Canadian and they wouldn't trade their system for ours ever, nor would most Canadians), including that THE DEMOCRATS AREN'T PROPOSING ANYTHING LIKE THAT!

But it is good to see "Harry & Louise" back on the air, the ads that the corporate and rightwing opponents to health care reform under Clinton ran with a white couple worrying that the government was going to get between them and their doctor and "control" their medical options. I was friends in L.A. with the actor who played "Harry" and I'm happy to see him working again in the new commercial and even happier it's FOR health reform this time.

Sunday's NY Times had some great articles on the Op-Ed page relating to a lot of the above, check them out: Frank Rich here, and Maureen Dowd here, and an unrelated—but not entirely—and very entertaining take on the decline of our space program by Tom Wolfe here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

FRANK MCCOURT R.I.P.

Thanks to all those who alerted me to Frank McCourt’s death yesterday. I had heard from my friend Terence Winch that he was failing. Terence conducted what was probably the last interview with Frank. It was for TV so maybe it will appear on the web at some point.

I knew Frank a little before he wrote ANGELA’S ASHES and became famous. Back when he and his brother used to put on a stage show called A COUPLE OF BLACKGUARDS about their childhood in Limerick City, Ireland.

They did it in any venue they could find (if I remember correctly I saw it in a church basement). And the small audiences were made up mostly of people who knew or knew of Malachy, the famous McCourt back then.

Frank was a thin, small, already going gray seemingly shy man. While Malachy seemed like a giant in comparison in every way, over six feet, with beautiful red hair when he was young and a full head of white hair when he got older, totally outgoing, a born entertainer. [Terry Winch pointed out to me that Frank wasn't that small and Malachy wasn't that tall, the way I remember them. Maybe I was reacting more to their personalities than actual physicality, though there's no doubt Frank was thin, even slight in my memory, and Malachy was always in my experience a lot heftier.]

He was famous back in the ‘60s as a kind of showman bartender in Manhattan who somebody gave money to for a club of his own, Malachy’s. His reputation became so outsized he appeared as a guest on THE TONIGHT SHOW telling outrageous stories about his life. Out of that came an acting career on TV and in movies.

Through all those years and later, Frank taught school and made no splash until he wrote much of what became A COUPLE OF BLACKGUARDS and they started performing it, and out of which Frank pulled ANGELA’S ASHES.

There are people in the Irish community, on both side of the Atlantic, as well as non-Irish in the writing community, who had objections to ANGELA’S ASHES because of the novelistic style in which it was written, where Frank is giving exact quotes and dialogue and minute details from a time when he was only a little boy many decades before.

It seemed contrived to some to call it a “memoir” for that reason, but it won the Pulitzer and to my mind started the whole trend of “creative nonfiction” which later became so popular, in part because of the amazing popularity of ANGELA’S ASHES which whetted people’s appetite for more compelling true stories.

But it was obviously based on the actual facts of Frank’s life, as he saw it and his family concurred for the most part. And it is an incredible read, a perfectly written book, a true classic to my mind.

The books that followed didn’t work as well I think, though the one about teaching is the best of those. I heard stories about Frank after he became famous and to some extent wealthy, but whenever I read anything by him or saw him in an interview on TV or heard him on the radio, he still seemed kind of shy and delicate, if more sure of himself.

But I think even before ANGELA’S ASHES Frank was confidant, about what makes good writing, about how to help his students (even if he makes it clear he had no idea what he was doing in the beginning) and about what made people respond to writing either on stage or in a book.

When he and Malachy did A COUPLE OF BLACKGUARDS, they’d act out all the characters from their Irish childhood with Frank often donning a kerchief or shawl used as a head covering to play the old women they remembered, and he was very funny, a terrific actor actually (as was Malachy, underrated to my mind).

Malachy published his own memoir eventually, A MONK SWIMMING. I have a copy he signed to me when we gave a reading in San Francisco back in the ‘90s or early part of this decade.

I don’t think he remembered me, which he made only a little effort to cover up. But I didn’t mind, I can’t remember half the people I’ve met even though I want to and feel terrible when I don’t recognize someone.

But we ended up having a terrific time, reading and exchanging anecdotes and even singing a few songs, entertaining ourselves if not the audience in the upscale restaurant/bar where we gave it.

We walked back from the reading to the hotel where they were putting us up and had a good long talk, which I remember fondly. He gave me some good advise which I no longer remember (and have probably since claimed as my own).

I send my condolences to him and to all of Frank’s family. Having lost all my brothers, two of them not that long ago, I know the void that creates. But I suspect that Malachy and the rest of the McCourts know how to throw a good old fashioned Irish wake and funeral and gather strength from family and the old customs.

And I’m sure some wonderful stories about Frank will be told. Maybe there’ll be another book in it from one of the remaining McCourts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

FAVORITE TWO-WORD TITLE SONGS

Trying to get back to sleep after some cat wailing outside woke me up last night, for some reason Glen Miller’s “American Patrol” came into my head, a recording I always associated with my big brothers, all now gone.

That somehow led to my thinking a list of songs I love and have a deep emotional connection with might be interesting enough to help me fall back to sleep, songs connected to people and places that evoke such specific emotions it’s like a method acting sense memory exercise just to hear them.

Then I thought, to make my mind have to concentrate harder (which is what induces the sleep I guess) I limited it to only songs with two-word titles and only one song per letter. I could write an essay on each title, a bit memoir and musical history, but my posts are long enough as it is, so here’s the list with a few notes to clarify here and there:

AMERICAN PATROL, Glen Miller’s version, though my brothers played it on their saxes and clarinets and trumpet and I played it on piano when I was a kid, still do sometimes, though not as well as I once did.
BLUE MOON, Elvis Presley (from THE SUN SESSIONS)
CRAZY LOVE, Van Morrison
DANNY BOY, lots of versions, but the one that gets me most in recent years is the Charlie Hayden & Hank Jones instrumental version from their CD STEAL AWAY
ELEANOR RIGBY, The Beatles
FALLING SLOWLY, Glen Hansard (from ONCE) and the version my older son worked out for me to join along with on the piano to his guitar
GERTRUDE’S BOUNCE, Clifford Brown
HOBO’S LULLABY, Woody Guthrie (first heard when Tom Wilson played and sang it at PRIDE’S CASTLE coffee house in Spokane Washington in 1964)
IT’S OVER, Roy Orbison
JERSEY BOUNCE, Count Basie (one of the songs my older sisters taught me to jitterbug to)
K?
LOST APRIL, Nat King Cole
MOLLY MALONE, again an old Irish tune I sang and played and heard many versions of but recently it’s Sinead O’Connor’s version that tears me up
NAKED EYE, Luscious Jackson (even though they recorded this in the ‘90s I think, it evokes NYC in the ‘70s for me, a very creative and fulfilling time)
OLD FOLKS, Miles Davis (from SOME DAY MY PRINCE WILL COME)
PEACE PIECE, Bill Evans
Q?
‘ROUND MIDNIGHT, Thelonious Monk
SOMETHING’S COMING, Larry Kert (from the original stage cast recording of WESTSIDE STORY I first heard at 15 and it changed my life in some ways, at least my sense of what music and lyrics could do)
TAKE FIVE, Dave Brubeck
UTTER CHAOS, Gerry Mulligan (like all these songs, this one takes me right back to a specific time and place and feeling, thanks to Gerry, a too often overlooked genius of jazz, or music period)
V?
WHITE CHRISTMAS, Bing Crosby
X?
YOUNG LOVE, the ‘50s hit by Sonny James
Z?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

TGI TCM (ALEC BALDWIN INTERVIEWING GENE WILDER)

Anyone see the hour long interview [more like a conversation] Alec Baldwin did with Gene Wilder on Turner Classic Movies?

One of the best I've ever seen, in terms of understanding movie making from an actor's perspective.

If you love Wilder, which I do (I mean his work in movies since I never met him), you'll love this.

Or if you're just a movie lover like me, you'll love the insights into movie making and movie acting this interview reveals (just Wilder's explanation of his interpretation of Willie Wonka is worth it).

I hope TCM plans on having more like it, either with Alec doing them all, or pairing some other unlikely but surprisingly compatible actors—or directors, screenwriters and others who contribute to the making of a movie.

If you get TCM and they show it again, don't miss it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

IN PRAISE OF SUMMER DRESSES AND OTHER SEASONAL COMMENTS

I took a walk through our local park last night after sundown when it was still humid and warm but not as bad as during the sunlight hours.

I saw a wild rabbit, who paused to let me watch it, or maybe thought I couldn’t see it if it stood stock still.

I saw the big old turtle that lives in the duck pond, as well as the ducks and lily pads and the few geese that come around now and then and cause havoc.

I surprised a robin coming around a bush next to a curve in a path and instead of flying away as other birds usually do, like most robins it hopped away, or maybe scurried is the better word.

Lots of birds and squirrels as usual, and amazingly beautiful trees. The town has tried to vary the kinds of trees, some with little plaques telling what they are. The variety is stunning when they are blossoming earlier in Spring, but now they’re all mostly just green, with a few exceptions, but lushly so in a variety of ways—big leaves, five pointed leaves, tiny leaves, green needles on the firs, etc.

But I was most grateful for those billowy summer dresses some women wear when it starts getting hot and that seem like the flowering of some natural beauty I can’t resist smiling at.

But the conversations I overheard as I passed people—except for the lovers, not young either, who looked like their ancestry was Middle Eastern, sitting on a bench by the duck pond whispering words that made each smile—was almost all judgmental:

“She was wearing this horrible ‘80s style…” from one of two women in maybe their thirties or forties as they passed with their toddlers out front.

“They shop at Whole Foods and won’t let their kids eat candy, you can put your hands around…” from the woman in a couple in their twenties or thirties, both with very attractive faces, plump bodies and what that Spinal Tap song called “big bottoms” in the same style jeans.

Comments from teenagers about other teenagers taste or style and on and on. Pretty much everyone who passed by was expressing a criticism, a negative judgment of someone else.

That’s something I had to work hard to let go of—not judging myself and everyone else like the people I grew up around often did, but accepting most people the way they are while working to change circumstances or minds as best I can in a direction I believe will make the world a kinder place to live, and more free, especially of constant personal criticism of each other. Obviously, I’m not always successful at that, but it’s still a goal.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

WHITE HEAT

Caught this classic the other night for the first time in decades. Of course I’d seen the famous Cagney about-to-be-blown-sky-high-on-top-of-the-huge-oil-tank scene what seems like a million times, and almost as often the breakdown in the prison mess hall scene, but the movie from opening to end I hadn’t.

Despite what I consider the always uneven Edmund O’Brien in one of the two lead good guy roles (the other good guy role was John Archer who was mediocre at best) (no wonder kids always fall for the bad guys in movies and actors long to play them), Cagney’s amazing performance coupled with the rest of his thug crew (I’d love to have seen more of Steve Cochran as “Big Ed”—why didn’t he become a big star?) including his mom (the unique Margaret Wycherly) makes this an incredibly fascinating film to experience.

Not to mention Raul Walsh’s direction which kept the suspense so revved up at times I found myself squirming in my chair even though I knew what was going to happen.

Combine all that with the Greek tragedy plot and the attention to the latest (now so primitive) police technology details, made me realize WHITE HEAT is the MOBY DICK of film noir.

Top o’ the world ma!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TGIC-SPAN

I watched several hours of the Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination yesterday and today on C-Span. What a relief! I wish I had the time to watch the whole thing that way.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, without the usual network and cable news talking heads, but just watching the proceedings as they unfolded, I was struck with not only her reasoned and thoughtful her answers were, but with the same qualities in many of the Senators.

My father was a smalltime politician, he chaired the local Democratic Party much in the old “ward heeler” style of machine politics in mid-20th century New Jersey. What I learned from him and from observing (I started putting flyers under windshields in the church parking lot and handing them out at the train station at a very early age, and by ten was already working the phones to get out the vote—my older sisters and brothers driving people to the polls) the way the people I encountered through him worked, was not only a lesson in real life politics, but also the reality that most people who get involved in politics really do want to help people.

I believe that’s still the case. Even though there are limitations to how much can be accomplished given the variables of the two-party system and the legal and political realities, and the temptations of power (my father always warned me about how corrupt Washington DC was, not politically corrupt, but sinfully, as in extramarital—and what was considered then deviant—sex etc.).

Obviously there are those who fall prey to all of the power tripping and perks or who get into politics for just those things in the first place.

But I believe a majority are at least initially inspired by idealism. Those who become truly successful at politics, FDR is a good example as president, or Teddy Kennedy as a Senator, or despite his overplaying his hand and his elected career ending sooner than he expected, Newt Gingrich as a Congressman, are I believe pretty consistently motivated by ideals and ideas about what’s best for the country or the district they represent.

I think that was a given, accepted as a truism when I was a boy, but because of the vitriolic kind of partisanship perfected by the Republican strategist Lee Atwater (and denounced by him on his deathbed) too many citizens today believe all politicians as sell outs and only in it for themselves.

I didn’t like the condescending way Lindsay Graham kept asking Sotomayor a question and then interrupting her answer, lecturing her about “temperament” etc. (like Republican Supreme Court justices Thomas and Scalia haven’t displayed “temperament”!) but I appreciated the candor of his positions and I believe he truly believes them.

Another Republican I heard some of, Sessions, was hard to take since his record is one of vitriolic partisanship and as some see it real racism—calling the NAACP “un-American” when the exact opposite is true—or a fellow white man “a disgrace to his race” for standing up against discrimination, etc. But I believe he’s mostly standing up for what he thinks is right. Or that Oklahoma Republican today who kept trying to trap Sotomayer and cast her as some kind of leftist fanatic who would kill babies and take away citizens’ guns etc. (after he hypocritically criticized others for not treating her kindly even if they disagreed with her), despite his attempts to distort her record and statements, I got the impression he really believes a lot of what he was defending.

Of course the Democratic Senators for the most part displayed much more reasonable perspectives and more civil questioning, and a lot of that can be attributed to their being in the majority and this being a Democratic president’s choice, but if you look back on the Roberts and Alito hearings, even there the Dems were not as aggressive in attacking or trying to trap those nominees as the Republicans have been these past few days.

And that I almost lament. I’d like to see Democratic Senators and Congresspeople, as well as the President and VP go on the attack more often against rightwing Republicans and rightwing Republicanism as the threat to our democracy and traditions and founding documents it truly has proven to be. But, fortunately or unfortunately, it isn’t in the natures of the mostly moderate Democrats to attack, but rather to consider and try to draw reasoned and logical conclusions. Much like Sotomayer has been doing in these hearings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

KIDS’ MOVIES

After enduring the new Transformers movie the other night, it got me thinking about kids’ movies I’ve watched with my eleven-year-old, or his older sister and brother when they were kids, or even when I was a kid.

So last night’s helping-me-fall-asleep alphabet list was of favorite kids’ movies I’ve caught either in the theater or on TV over the years.

ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD, ANTZ
BUGSY MALONE, BIG, BILLY ELLIOT, A BUG’S LIFE
CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (Spencer Tracy as a Portugese fisherman!, but still brilliant after more than half a century), A CHRISTMAS STORY, CROOKYN (Spike Lee’s filmic memoir of his childhood), CHICKEN RUN
DROP DEAD FRED
E. T.
FINDING NEMO, FLUSHED AWAY
GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE
A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, HARRY POTTER (all of this series but especially the first)
THE IRON GIANT, THE INCREDIBLES
JUMANJI
KUNG FU PANDA
LITTLE FUGITIVE (this early inependent film is finally getting its due)
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (the original black-and-white with Natalie Wood as the child), MARY POPPINS, MY LIFE AS A DOG, MONSTERS INC., MONSTERS VS. ALIENS
NATIONAL VELVET, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
OLIVER!
THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE PARENT TRAP (Lindsay Lohan when she was still an amazingly talented kid actor)
QUEST FOR FIRE (not exactly a kids’ flick but fascinating to them)
THE RED BALOON
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, THE SECRET GARDEN (both the 1940’s black-and-white Hollywood version of this classic children’s story and the more recent English version from the ‘90s), SPY KIDS, THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH
TOY STORY, TOY STORY 2
UP
V?
THE WIZARD OF OZ, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCLATE FACTORY (The original with Gene Wilder), WHALE RIDER, WALL-E
X?
YOUNG TOM EDISON, THE YEARLING, YELLOW SUBMARINE
ZATHURA (the underrated space game fantasy)

Monday, July 13, 2009

THE ILLOGIC OF RIGHTWING PROPAGANDA

Okay so now, as demonstrated by the main "troll" on this sight, but elsewhere in the media like FOX etc., and from some Rightwing Senators and Representatives comes this idea that because Obama hasn't totally solved the economic mess and the 2 wars he inherited, he's a failure.

Interestingly, when the previous administration came in and the economy tanked for a while, the same rightwing mouthpieces and their dittoheads blamed it on Clinton, whose administration presided over the most prosperous and peaceful period in our history.

But the same rightwing propagandists tried to get people to believe that Clinton's success was merely the result of what Reagan and Bush Sr. created!

So they want it both ways.

The fact that the previous administration created the worst economic catastrophe WORLDWIDE, not just here, since The Great Depression, which was also caused by a Republican administration refusing to regulate the banks and corporations and other aspects of the financial system and Obama stopped that from going over the cliff, is ignored. (And by the way every economist I read or heard speak predictred, as did Obama, that the unemployment rate would go up because that's what it does after an economic catastrophe, it lags behind the other economic indicators, which it is doing, so thus far, it's true to historic financial crises, including those overseen and/or created by Republicans (which means most of them for that matter).

And those who refute most economists who say this is the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression, cannot refute that statistically its the worst at least since the one that occurred on Reagan's watch, another Republican administration!

They use the same double standard for everything. When Rush Limbaugh calls Chelsea Clinton "the White House dog" when she was a child and her father was president, and the entire rightwing propaganda arm accuses Chelsea's parents of murdering their best friend (Vince Foster) etc. That's okay. But when Sarah Palin tries to submit her lifestyle as better than those of us who don't believe abstinence is the only answer to teen pregnancy and then her teen gets pregnant, and the media give that attention, then poor Sarah is the victim of the media and has to quit being governor because....whatever.

It's all so desperate and confined to such a small minority now that it shouldn't even distract the rest of us from what needs to be done, but unfortunately they garner an inordinate amount of attention in the media (just look at their objection to Obama's Supreme Court pick, who unlike Roberts and Alito, the last administration's choices, has a record as a judge who has sometimes sided with corporations and the government versus citizens and consumers and sometimes vice versa, as opposed to Roberts and Alito who have almost one hundred percent sided with the government against citizens and with corporations against consumers, etc.).

And the rancor and vitriol they spout (look at this blog's "troll"—that's an internet term not mine—now accusing Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg of supporting eugenics and in fact saying most "liberals" and Democrats do, and that it was a "liberal" idea! Oh, I forgot what a "Liberal" Hitler was. Now I get it. NOT!).

The history of the rightwing is to support power over the vulnerable, economic greed over the needy, aggression over diplomacy, shouting and repeated lies over reasoned discussion and logic.

But like a husband who's a batterer, Democrats and many citizens are so traumatized by their brutal tactics (if you don't support their perspective you're a traitor or want to commit genocide or etc. and you can be thrown in jail or at least wiretapped etc.) they either continue to submit to them and give in, or they want to run and hide and avoid the whole issue.

No can do. Time to stand up and put them in their place. That's what the majority voted for. And even if they didn't, basic decency demands it.

[check this out for support of aspects of my argument, thanks to Alameda Tom for the link at his BIRTH OF THE COOL blog]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

SPEAKING OF THE SUMMER OF...

Got back to Jersey yesterday, in time for a two day weekend music festival our town throws every summer like a mini-Woodstock, with even a few headliners among the local bands (the "old"—his term—singer/songwriter Jonathan Edwards, and Marshall Crenshaw).

There's plenty of terrific local musical talent too, some well known at least in this past of Jersey and some not, but all proficient and each different from the other so there's enough variety to find something you dig.

People spread out on a grassy hillside in the local park, the bandstand set up at the bottom of it. They picnic on home cooked food or what they buy here and have coolers of beer and wine and soda. The little kids run around while the teenagers hover at the edges or stroll the pathways between booths with art and food and clothes and massage, etc. and face painting for the little kids as well as those blow up slides etc.

But the thing that hit me about the connection to the summers of '67 and '69, is the peaceful and all inclusive vibe. Our town is known for its population of gay couples, many with kids, and of mixed race couples (although we all know those old concepts of "race" are outdated by now).

But the big difference is, 1967 was the year the Supreme Court finally struck down the last state laws prohibiting marriage between the "races." Now here were all these mixed couples, most of them perfectly "middle-class" suburbanites, just like most of the other couples in this town, including the "gay" ones.

Back in the late '60s not only were couples like these rare, so much so most people wouldn't have even known any, but their acceptance was even rarer. Now here they are with their beautiful children, and a president who represents the child of a mixed race marriage to look up to.

We just have to get to the same place legally for the "gay" couples, where they too can get married anywhere in this country and have the same rights as the rest of us.

Another difference between the late '60s and now—around here at least—is in a lot of the families I know the woman is the main earner. A lot of the men work but at jobs where they don't make as much as their wives, and some of the husbands stay home and raise the kids (some out of necessity since they've been laid off, but nonetheless).

Back in the late '60s that also would have been rare, the whole concept of equality between the genders was still a novel idea for many if not most in this country, including among the hippies of those days. Now here we are, my friend Chris, a ruggedly handsome man in his forties who coaches all kinds of sports for his sons' teams and has for years, a total sports fan and ex-athlete himself, with earrings in both ears, a wife who is a lawyer and makes a lot more than him (though like many here also, she works in New York for the city's poor and oppressed).

And while Chris and I are talking in front of a booth run by poet Jerome Rothenberg's son and daughter-in-law (with a beautiful slim book of three poems by Jerry illustrated by her for sale at their booth among other art objects she created, while the poet, his son tells me, vacations with his wife in Ireland), I notice a beautiful skinny little "black" girl who looks to be about thirteen and reminds me of my first true love, strolling by holding hands with her boyfriend, a skinny cute "white" boy about the same age, and it brings a big smile to my face and makes me want to shout THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to all the folks who let go of the old prejudices and fears and "beliefs" to make it possible for people of all "races" and creeds, as they used to say, as well as genders, to love each other openly, without fear of jail or harassment or any kind of violent or oppressive reaction.

Now that makes this year here feel a lot like a real "summer of love."

Friday, July 10, 2009

IN THE 'SHIRE

Last night up here in The Berkshires, after spending the afternoon with my oldest child—my daughter—and her daughter and my eleven-year-old and my older son's little boy, and a beautiful afternoon it was, took the boys after dinner for ice cream at SoCo, the local homemade ice cream store I never miss when I'm here.

I've never been a big fan of pastries or cake (except for pumpkin pie and angel food cake, preferably with strawberries or some kind of fruit) or candy (except for dark chocolate), but ice cream has always sustained me.

My favorite ice cream for the past several years has been SoCo. Especially their special flavors like pumpkin and ginger. Last night I had a sugar cone topped with one scoop of Earl Gray with Honey flavored ice cream. A total taste delight.

The night before, we had all gone out to a roller skating rink in New York State that had a skateboard park in it too, which the boys mostly stayed in. I actually roller skated (old style skates) for a couple of hours. Not quite as disco dancing style as my older boy was doing or the boogieing dance moves my daughter was pulling off, but more like old guy's body trying to sense memory its way back into halfway feeling comfortable and confident in crossing feet on the turns etc.

Before we got there we stopped for soft ice cream at a roadside stand and I got a small one (out of three sizes, small, medium and large) and what they gave me was about twice the size of what used to be considered an ordinary cone with soft ice cream in it.

Which got me thinking about all the obesity and waste in this country and how simple it would be if we just dialed back to the standard sizes of my youth when an ice cream cone meant one scoop of ice cream, not even overflowing but a neat small circle of ice cream, with two scoops being an extravagance and even then not making you feel too stuffed because they'd be two small circles of ice cream, not overflowing extra large scoops more like a pint of ice cream on a cone.

Think if a box of candy at the movies was like they were when I was a kid, about the size of a deck of cards only a little more elongated. Today, when I buy my little guy some candy at the movies it's enough to keep several kids in candy for a week.

Part of the reason for all this, as has been written about extensively, is the government price supports for corn that makes growing it so profitable and buying it so cheap so that the sweeteners made from it can be used liberally and in everything. Let's not even get into corn fructose syrup, the result of a relatively recent process the long term impact of nobody knows, though the short term is obvious since any graph of the use of it in the food supply matches the graph of obesity, both rising dramatically once it became a staple ingredient in almost everything (though since much attention has been brought to that reality it's been removed from a lot of otherwise good products).

Anyway, wandering around Great Barrington eating SoCo ice cream cones, checking out the array of hippie styles outside The Mahawie Theater where a well known string band was performing, I noticed a lot of the young hippies/punks (the two styles conjoined around here) didn't just have piercings, but also had those ear lobe things, like giant wooden buttons stuck through their lobes stretching them out. But nonetheless, the vibe was so mellow and friendly and sensual it felt like it could have been The Summer of Love, same disastrous kind of world events going on, though a much worse economy, but that vibe of peace and love creating an aura over everything making the evening seem precious in the best sense of that word, a beautiful night to be alive.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

Took my eleven-year-old and his ten-year-old nephew to see this the other night in Millerton in New York State, the only place it was playing within an hour's drive from where we're staying in the Berkshires.

The theater was full of teenage boys, maybe forty or fifty of them, with another bunch of younger boys, and two females: one mom and one teenage girlfriend. Which made sense. The movie is made for young males, obviously.

It depicts college (those scenes shot at Princeton, where the three of us along with my older son had spent a day on the set last summer thanks to the movie's still photographer Robert Zuckerman and the boys had met several of the cast members including a brief exchange with Shia LaBeof) as populated by nothing but the foxiest young women in the world, as though it was college for models, and all seemingly horny for not only the nerdy and childish but nowhere near as attractive young men but also for the only professor, played by the actor from the office who plays "Dwight"!

The one actor who I felt when I met him in person last summer has the kind of old fashioned good looks and star quality needed to carry a movie—Ramon Rodriquez—ends up playing the whiny nerdy ridiculously over the top sidekick. LaBeouf, who is a good actor but just doesn't have the star charisma for my taste, is of course the action hero of the flick whom the foxy Megan Fox (hmmmm) as her co-star-with-LaBeouf character is adoringly in love with (how come these nerdy looking guys, sorry Shia, in contemporary flicks always have these impossibly beautiful women head-over-heels for them?).

I saw the way the young girls in Princeton lined up for days just to get a glimpse of LaBeouf, so they obviously see something I don't, but what I did see in this flick, besides a way-too-long (almost three hours but it felt like seven) hodge pogdge of non sequitors, was a rightwing perspective that gives the lie to the rightwing myth of Hollywood being controlled by "liberals" and "leftists."

I've been trying to puncture that myth for years, if not decades, but the myth continues. My experience of working almost twenty years in Hollywood and another decade or so in the movie and TV business outside of Hollywood is that there are way more rightwingers in positions of power in that industry than moderates, let alone lefties.

The right always trots out the same handful of Hollywood "stars" as proof of "liberal" control of "Hollywood" like Barbra Streisand (as if she's even a controlling figure in Hollywood anymore) and Alec Baldwin, etc. Never mentioning all the rightwingers among the producers and directors and writers and stars there.

But this movie couldn't be more rightwing. Unlike most of these action flicks which normally have a stand-in for the president, a generic white guy, and almost never mention a real president by name (did the first TRANSFORMERS movie—which actually wasn't that bad, had some humor and a consistent plot and acting in it—name W. in it? I don't remember that happening).

But in this sequel, not only is Obama mentioned by name, but his representative (a bespectacled arrogant but ultimately cowardly young Robert MacNamara looking white guy) insists that diplomacy should be tried over force in the fight against the horribly powerful (until the ultimate showdown of course) bad robots (um I mean "Decepticons") and is therefore not only proving himself and Obama to be wimps but idiots as well.

The military, meanwhile, especially this special outfit that doesn't usually answer to anybody but their own sense of duty and comradeship, is always right and has to actually ignore the president's orders to save the world. Dangerous ideas to plant in the minds of teenage boys, I'd say, but planted they were.

How could the boys resist the mix of action (giant robots portraying a kind of armed conflict that is actually the arms themselves battling each other, and doing it with so little delineation it was difficult to tell not only what was happening but to whom or what) and simplistic representations of honor and duty and good (the military) and cowardliness and deception and evil (the Decepticons and Obama and his administration).

Especially when the plot makes it clear that nothing but foxes attend college and all they want is nerdy boys who play with computers and/or drive hot cars (the foxiest actually being on the side of the bad guys as played by Isabel Lucas, who even made Megan Fox look, uh, well, not quite as foxy).

This is one of the top grossing movies of all time already as I understand it, and the message is clear. Obama and those who work for him are misled wimps incapable of defending not only the USA but the entire jeopardized world so it's necessary for the military to act on its own and ignore him and his presidency and the democratic will of the voters [ala the recent military coup in Honduras or the use of the military, especially special units not beholden to the people, to defend the Mullah dictator and his puppet in Iran]!

And the even longer lasting message that only the military is capable of stopping the bad guys and defending all that is good against evil (the exact opposite of the lessons learned in Viet Nam and Iraq, i.e. the military alone cannot accomplish this but in fact only make matters worse, it takes diplomacy and infrastructure investment and the creation and/or shoring up of an independent judicial system and democratic institutions etc. to have any lasting impact, let alone even short term positive results.

I left the movie feeling down about all this, as even the teenage boys who were mocking it for being "cheesy" admitted (as one boy put it) "I'm not saying I don't like cheese."

[Forgot to mention that it's kind of racist as well, he military leaders all being white officers, their NCO loyal sidekicks black and the two comic-relief robots sound like stereotypical not-too-bright "black" buffoons.]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

TED BERRIGAN TOM CLARK TERENCE WINCH ROBERT MACNAMARA AND ME ETC.

This is more or less to catch up on some topics folks have been asking me about.

1) July 4th was the anniversary of Ted Berrigan's death in 1983. Anyone who knew and especially loved Ted remembers where they were when they got the news (I was in the kitchen of a house I was renting in Santa Monica with my second wife and two older children from a previous marriage when poet John Godfrey called from New York to let me know, followed shortly by calls from others).

It was a way too early death for a great friend and great poet. Not that it couldn't have been predicted. Ted, in fact, predicted it to me himself when we both first moved back to New York from various points in the mid-1970s. Standing outside St. Marks one night before a reading he told me he had come back to New York "to die."

His death had a great impact on me not just in losing a friend, but in losing one too soon and being angry about that which reinforced my only weeks old resolve to stop doing drugs for good (I had already stopped drinking, an earlier addiction). In fact, three deaths all close together that summer of '83 seemed like an omen for me, as Ted's death was joined by David Blue's (a singer/songwriter born David Cohen who was sort of the poor man's Bob Dylan, though in person he was much taller, handsomer and easier to get along with) and Tom Baker's (an actor who was predicted to be the Marlon Brando of the baby boomer generation but overdosed on heroin instead—he was played, if I remember correctly, in the Doors movie by Michael Madsen, though in real life Tom was much more classically handsome than Michael).

(For poet Terence Winch's take on Ted click here—Terry is the guest blogger at Best American Poetry this week and all his posts are illuminating, so check them out. For poet Tom Clark's take on Ted click here.)

2) Robert MacNamara's death (Tom G. got me going on this) drew an enormous range of responses, the most critical I read (thanks to poet and friend Bob Berner turning me on to it) was Alexander Cockburn's here (I don't always agree with Cockburn and there's stuff here I would argue with, but it gives you a pretty clear picture of MacNamara's critics from the left).

I had a visceral hatred of MacNamara during the Viet Nam war and my activist days trying to stop it, but when not many years after it ended I was in a book store near DuPont Circle in Washington DC where Terence Winch worked at the time, and I was in the stacks looking for some political tome I was interested in, I turned a corner of one of the tiny corridors between massive book shelves and ran smack into MacNamara. I was only inches away from him and had the instinct to at least smack him if not pummel him, but as I stood there staring at him, he looked so old and frail and deeply sad, even depressed, I actually had a feeling of sympathy for him, or at least pity, so I just moved on and ignored the man.

In reality he was at the time running the World Bank and according to his critics (see Cockburn again) using it to prop up murderous regimes and destroy poor people, or from the perspective of his defenders (see this editorial in today's NY Times from LBJ's nephew) doing more to help the world's poor than anyone else!

Someone should do a play or movie about MacNamara (not Earl Morris' documentary FOG OF WAR which exposed MacNamara's mistakes to some extent but also let him off the hook). It could be Shakespearean. This know-it-all brainiac technocrat who has all the statistics and educational wherewithal to analyze to death the last detail of war or money lending, but no instinct or higher intuition to grasp the realities on the ground and create a vision for progress and improvement out of those realities rather than the statistics the realities generate. In other words, as my dear old friend and mentor Hubert Selby Jr. used to remind me, MacNamara couldn't let go of the image in order to see the vision.

3) The Honduran situation and the irony of a leftist president being ousted ala the good old American imperialism days, only this time as far as we now know without the usual CIA push (though who can know for sure). Obama's decision to stay neutral, I'm sure comes partly from his usual pragmatic instincts but also out of fear of the right using any support for a leftist president intent on holding on to his presidency through changes in the Honduran constitution (ala Chavez in Venezuela) along with fear of the idea that the military can be used to oust a sitting president whose popular support might well have legitimized his attempt to hold on to his office (through the national referendum that the ouster precluded).

Like the situation in Iran, where the protesters could be said to be the left of the regime there (and the irony of our rightwingers wanting our government to somehow intervene on their behalf) the protesters in Honduras are to the left of the regime put in by the military. So if Obama were the "socialist" or "communist" or any other kind of leftist the rightwingers here keep saying he is, he would have intervened on behalf of his fellow leftists in both countries.

But in fact, he's a pragmatist and realizes that any intervention from the USA will only feed the opposition's justification for their actions. In the case of Iran, some US secret agencies were undoubtedly funneling support to the regime's critics and would be reformists. In Honduras, there may well have been some secret interference against the leftist president as well. Nothing on the scale of this country's imperialist interventions of the past (the democratically elected Allende's assassination in Chile and the installation of the dictator Pinochet, the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran and his replacement with the "shah" as dictator, or Guatemala in the 1950s or Nicaragua in the 1980s, etc.) and Obama may be doing his best to subdue our various secret agencies and their outside contractors etc. but not being a dictator unable to totally reign them in. Hopefully he'll have two terms and time enough to replace many of the rightwingers who now run and populate our various secret agencies and military. Hopefully.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

FAVORITE SUMMER SONGS

I’m up in the Berkshires for the week while my little guy’s at a morning skateboard camp here with his nephew, my grandson.

On the way up listening to the radio I got to remembering favorite songs that I first heard in summer and that became summer anthems at different points in my life.

So last night, falling back asleep after the dog barking woke me up, I made a little alphabet list, or as much as I could, of my favorite songs that I associate with a particular summer of my life:

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE, The Beatles (the summer of…)
BOYS OF SUMMER, Don Henley (I ran into him at a Restaurant in Hollywood that summer and complimented him on the song and video which I have to admit I dug a lot, not that he needed kudos from me)
CALIFORNIA GIRLS, The Beach Boys, CRAZY, Gnarls Barkley
DANCIN’ IN THE STREET, Martha and the Vandellas, (and then several years later, in 1972, Laura Nyro’s incredible version)
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE, The Police
FEVER, Peggy Lee (it was banned from the radio when it first came out for being too sexually provocative! So when it finally got back on the air one summer in the 1950s it seemed like it was coming from every portable radio on the beach, those old big ones before transistors)
GROOVIN’, The Rascals, GOOD TIMES, Chic
HEY GOOD LOOKIN’, Hank Williams (I remember falling in love with this song as a boy during a Jersey summer, especially the line about “I got a hotrod Ford” or something like that), A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, The Beatles (the summer of ’64, the film changed my life, or at least my taste in music and what I was playing), HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME Sly and the Family Stone
IN THE SUMMER TIME, ? [had to look it up: Mungo Jerry!)
JERSEY BOUNCE, Count Basie (although I think a lot of swing bands did this tune, the first Jersey anthem I was alive for, or at least I remember my sisters teaching me to jitterbug to the 78 one summer when I was like five or so, though the record could have been from much earlier since my brothers were already teenagers when I was born)
KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE, The Carter Family (I wasn’t around when they first did this, but the summer I married my first wife Lee, she brought a Carter Family album with her, among many other great music she turned me on to, and this song became one of our favorites of that summer)
THE LOCOMOTION, Little Eva
MOONGLOW AND THE THEME FROM PICNIC (still some of the most romantic music I know for me, I listened to the 45 a lot one summer), THE MESSAGE, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five (?), MY SHARONA The Knack
NANCY WITH THE SMILING FACE, Frank Sinatra (Jersey homeboy’s paen to his wife and daughter, as I heard it, just before he left them for Ava Gardner, sort of like Billy Joel’s reaction to JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, fast forward to UPTWON GIRL)
ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, Billy Joel (one summer in a loft in what became known as Tribeca my older boy who was eight or nine at the time was in love with Billy Joel’s music so we played it a lot) OFF THE WALL, Michael Jackson (it seems like it was the same “Tirbeca” summer that I couldn’t get enough of this LP and it became the soundtrack for every party I threw in my loft that summer, which by the way was illegal and rented for two hundred a month! And was almost 2000 square feet which my son and daughter would roller skate around in! and Indian Larry parked one of his motorcycles in while he worked on it most afternoons that summer)
PALISADES PARK, Freddy Canon (a Jersey summer anthem that year)
Q?
REMEMBER, The Shangra Las, ROCK THE BOAT, (? I forget that group’s name, but this song always reminds me of the late great poet Ed Cox and DC disco joints we danced in those early ‘70s summers [The Hues Corporation! I looked it up])
SUMMERTIME BLUES, Eddie Cochran, SUMMERTIME SUMMERTIME, The Jamies, STAND BY ME, Ben E. King, SURIN’ USA, The Beach Boys, SUMMER WIND, Frank Sinatra, SUMMER IN THE CITY, The Lovin’ Spoonful, SITTIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY, Otis Redding
THEME FROM A SUMMER PLACE, Percy Faith (or Heath?), TWENTY-SIX MILES ACROSS THE SEA, The Four Preps (I thought of this song every time I looked out across the sea from Santa Monica the summer I moved to Southern California, even though most days the smog kept Santa Catalina hidden from view, but the summer it came out when I was a kid I couldn’t stop dreaming about that “isle”), THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER, The Lettermen (also from the ‘50s and another song I found highly romantic at the time), THOSE LAZY HAZY CRAZY DAYS OF SUMMER, Nat King Cole, TAKE IT EASY, The Eagles
UNDER THE BOARDWALK, The Drifters, UP ON THE ROOF, The Drifters (I associate both these songs with summer but can’t remember exactly which ones)
V?
WILDWOOD DAYS, Bobby Rydell (another Jersey anthem one summer by a guy I later met as he was a friend of a friend of mine from Philly—Rydell’s real name if I remember correctly was actually Riderelli, later used as a name in GREASE), WIPE OUT, The Safaris
X?
YOUNG LOVE, Sonny James?, YAKETY YAK, The Coasters, YOU SHOULD BE DANCIN’, The Bee Gees
Z?

Monday, July 6, 2009

QUOTE[S] FOR TODAY

"She can hunt wolves from the air and field-dress a moose, but she fears being a lame duck? Some brickbats over her ethics and diva turns as John McCain's running mate, and that dewy skin turns awfully thin." —Maureen Dowd (in Sunday's NY Times)

[And this juts in from today's Huffington Post: "I disagree with some of my friends who say this is 'out of character' for the good governor. Sarah Palin quit five colleges in her otherwise unremarkable collegiate career, before finally graduating from the sixth. She quit her job in television. She and Todd quit their snow machine dealership in Big Lake. She quit as chair of the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. Now she has quit the governorship of the state she supposedly loves. Sarah Palin is a quitter. When the going gets tough, Sarah Palin quits." —Geoffrey Dunn]

[For another take on this from RJ Eskow on today's Hffington Post click here.]

Sunday, July 5, 2009

NURSE JACKIE

I've been resisting this new Showtime show starring Eddie Falco from THE SOPRANOS. Not because I don't think she's a great actress, but because the ads for it turned me off.

But the critics seemed to all declare it the most unique TV show ever set in a hospital, so when a mini-marathon came on last night and my boy was at his mom's and I wasn't tired, I watched four episodes over two hours, like sitting through a movie.

Falco is still a great actress. But the show is not nearly as original as critics have been saying it is. The most original thing about it is the lead's a nurse rather than a doctor and a woman rather than a man (though ER had plenty of female doctor leads and a female nurse who became a doctor etc.).

In fact, the show is full of hospital show cliches and tropes that we've been seeing on TV for decades, almost since the first hospital setting shows back in the '50s (the angry patient who the lead subdues with kindness or understanding etc. the young person who dies tragically from a hospital mistake etc.).

There is more cursing—it's cable—and the sex and drug scenes go further than network TV as well, but nothing we haven't seen before in films and even some TV shows (THE SOPRANOS for one).

If anything's original about this, it's the way it seems to be glorifying, or at least romanticizing addiction to pain killers and infidelity. If the lead had been a male these aspects of the show would be harder to take. But there is, interestingly, at least for me, a certain leeway because the star is a woman who's unfaithful and a prescription drug addict.

They justify her behavior with back pain caused from the stress and strains of her job which also lead to the need for extramarital sex etc. But coming from a man those excuses would be dismissed by most women I know.

Also the show is terribly uneven. In films it's usually the director who has the most control, though with exceptions, depending on how powerful the star is at the time or who the producers are and the studio etc. (Disney used to be famous for over controlling etc.).

On TV shows it's different, since no single director could do every show the power is more with the producers, and the star if they're at a peak power period in their careers. Though I noticed Steve Buscemi directed some episodes in which case he'd probably have more control because of his name value etc.

The producers are usually also the writers or at least creators of the idea, which is why TV series ofen end up more of a writers' medium than films, where writers are generally considered an unplesant necessity but stripped of all power, with few exceptions.

So, I guess we have to blame the writer/prpducers on NURSE JACKIE for why it's so uneven. Some of the acting is terrifically realistic and moving, Falco's most prominently, but others are so off, so pushed they're almost cartoony (like Anna Deveare Smith as a hospital administrator who was once a nurse, she's all over the place as others have noted).

And having just spent several days in the emergency room and then on a hospital ward a few weeks ago, I found most of the action on NURSE JACKIE (which is set mostly in the ER) unrealistic and way too familiar from previous hospital shows (some still on the air).

But, if you're into great acting, it is still a pleasure to watch Falco work out in this complicated role (as well as some of her fellow regulars on the show who do great work as well, especially the young actress playing the new student nurse, the men playing Falco's love interests, and the lead male nurse played by Haaz Sleiman an actor I have always dug who here has to play what already seems like a new cliche, an Islamic gay male who seems to be half Hispanic from the character's name—Mohammed De La Cruz—but who somehow Haaz makes work).

I'm still waiting for BIG LOVE to return to satisfy what little interest I still have in TV series.

Friday, July 3, 2009

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

When this came out last year, a lot of friends recommended it. So did a lot of critics.

The latter seemed to me to be mostly impressed by star Jason Segel's fearlessness in doing the first-act scene that sets up the plot—naked. I had heard so much about that, I think if I saw the movie at the time I would have found it distracting.

But catching it last night on cable, I was able to laugh out loud at a few ways he uses his nudity in the scene to comic effect, but also not be distracted by the seemingly precedent setting boldness of it (actually, if I remember correctly, Richard Gere in AMERICAN GIGOLO was the first male move star to brave full frontal nudity and that was decades ago).

At any rate, I suspect hearing so much about that specific scene and the praise Segel got for it (he's an imposing physical presence because of his height, and not bad looking, but no Richard Gere—I mean he doesn't have that kind of movie star glamour physicality) I might have been disappointed had I seen it when it first came out.

If you missed it too, I highly recommend catching it on cable or DVD. The screenplay was also written by Segel, and it's really well done. It's the same old Hollywood romantic-comedy formula, but the way Segel wrings new twists and turns out of it is pretty original. Several times I found myself anticipating the usual resolution of a particular boy-girl scene and found myself pleasantly surprised to see it go either in a more realistic direction (from my experience in the world the story is set in—Hollywood, TV and stage performers, stardom or proximity to it, career ambitions vs. friendship and/or love, etc.) or an unexpectedly funnier one.

And the cameo appearances by various "stars" in minor roles in this flick make it even more enjoyable, e.g. Paul Rudd as an aging stoned surfer-without-a-clue is hilarious, as is Billy Baldwin as the male lead in a TV crime series. Among the leads Aldous Snow is a standout as an obnoxiously self-centered, but still impossible not to like, Brit rock star, and Jonah Hill does his usual great job, this time as a suck-up-to-the-rock-star, wannabe performer, waiter. The women are pretty perfectly cast too—Kristen Bell as the Sarah of the title and Mila Kunis as the other female lead.

It's a funny movie that was produced by Judd Apatow and has in it many of his usual suspects (Rudd, Hill, etc.) but somehow rarely descends (or more rarely than most of these Apatow flicks) into the obvious and for me often cheap shot land of adolescent boy humor, but remains, mostly, more mature in every sense of the word without sacrificing the laughs.

I laughed out loud several times and went to sleep satisfied I'd gotten my recommended daily dose. I suspect this flick is so good at what it does, it'll become one of those comedies I can watch more than once, way more.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

ROBERT ZUCKERMAN

Went to an event for my friend Robert Zuckerman last night at an exclusive Manhattan club that was hosting an exhibit of his photographs.

Robert makes his living shooting stills for movies (some of which end up being the posters for films, like TRAINING DAY, NATIONAL TREASURE, TRANSFORMERS and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS just to name a few).

He also takes portrait shots of the famous and unknown, from David Bowie to my eleven-year-old. He took the photo of me that's most often available on the web and that I used on my books in the '90s (and I'll stick in here as an example).

But what he's become best known for in the art world and among many of his friends as well as strangers discovering him for the first time, is a continuing series of photographic portraits with little essays beneath them describing the circumstances of the shot—how Robert encountered this person, and what that encounter was like etc.

He used to email these shots and mini-essays (or I guess you could call them maxi-captions) to friends and I (and I suspect others) encouraged him to collect them into a book. Which he did (and I wrote one of the prefaces for) called KINDSIGHT.

I've touted this book before on this blog, but it's worth recommending again. Seeing these portraits and the prose that accompanies them in one book, and reading through them from cover to cover, is like the best spiritual retreat you could experience. Not only is each entry like a little epiphany, but the accumulated impact of the book, or seeing and reading them in an exhibit, or going to his blog KINDSIGHT and reading several of them in succession, is the best counter to the lies and cynicism and hypocrisy we encounter every day in the media (including in comments on this blog) and from so much in the world.

It's what has always been life saving and life transforming about any kind of art done not just well but originally. Experiencing Robert Zuckerman's KINDSIGHT series, whether in book form or on his blog or in upcoming new collections in book form or at an exhibit, makes you, or at least me, remember how good people can be, how kind and generous and thoughtful and un-judgmental and loving, even to strangers.

As Robert has always been since I first met him in the early '90s in California. His big heart matches his big presence (he's well over six feet, I would guess several inches over) and the gentle nature he meets the world with in all its variety.

He showed that last night, when despite the obvious pain and difficulties he's been having in recent years with his legs, needing to use a cane to get around and having trouble with steps etc., he still stood, leaning against walls and such, to make himself available to his friends and admirers who showed up for the event, and made sure to give my little boy a prominent role at an otherwise very adult occasion (he had his portrait in the slide show of photographs that was projected onto a big screen at one end of the room where otherwise framed photographs were on exhibit and for sale, and he introduced him to the audience when he was asked to make a little speech to the crowd—and my son was thrilled that people came up to him and knew his face and name from the portrait and essay Robert did about him).

I'm sure the book is still available on the internet, and his blog is always there as well (listed among those I recommend at the right side of this page). Robert Zuckerman, a name I think should be a lot better known than it is.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

ARCHITECTS OF DISASTER QUOTES

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." —Dick Cheney, Vice President's Speech to VFW National Convention 8/26/2002

"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and East, West, South and North somewhat." —Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense in an ABC Interview 3/30/2003