Thursday, September 30, 2010

QUICK UPDATE

If I just heard the news correctly, the stock market just had its best September in sixty years! Even if I misheard and it was sixteen, still! I'm sure Obama is going to get credit for this from all those who have been blaming him for the bad economic news, right?

TONY CURTIS R.I.P.

I never met the man [though I met his first wife Janet Leigh and knew their daughter Jamie], but like a lot of young males in the early '50s (really starting in the late '40s as the images below show) were impacted by his image on screen. And it was all about his hair.

Elvis admitted that what we called back then, if I remember correctly, "the Tony Curtis roll" was what he was going for in his hairstyle that went on to influence even more young males. But it was Curtis who started the trend.

No self-respecting juvenile delinquent ("j.d." was the common term) or wannabe "j.d." would want to be seen without that little twist of hair right above the middle of your forehead, which dramatically contrasted with the slicked back or "greasy" long (for the times) side hair that gave rise to the term "greasers" etc.

It may seem trivial to focus on the hairstyle of a man who was a Hollywood legend, as they say, and despite the guffaws at his Bronx accent in Roman epics (SPARTACUS et. al.) was in fact a terrific movie star actor who played an incredibly wide range of characters for one who was known mostly as a pretty face at the time.

But for men of a certain era, it was all about the hair, getting just the right twist in front and amount of grease to slick back the sides so that even a punch in the jaw wouldn't jar it. And no matter how much critics or more sophisticated adults made fun of the man, he was a hero, a role model, a class statement saying, like it or not I'm cooler than anyone looking down their nose at me, and we all knew it.

Here's the evolution of "the roll" (or as we'd say to the barbder in our little tough guy voice "gimme a Tony Curtis"):
condolences to his family, friends, and fans


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MICHAEL GIZZI R.I.P.

The charismatic, ruggedly handsome yet elegantly graceful and refined presence that was the poet Michael Gizzi has left us. He had his struggles and overcame most of them with the grace mentioned already, because it seemed to be so much a part of his person and persona from my angle.

He was a New England poet with one metaphoric and poetic foot in the New York School and one in the "L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E" poetry school, though he might have disagreed with that. But to my mind he evoked the poet Bill Berkson—who was at the heart of the first generation New York School poets, collaborating with Frank O'Hara for instance—not just because of their similar well-groomed almost old fashioned kind of attractiveness, but also the cryptic snippets of imagery and philosophical and real-world personal data that had the kind of surface tension that at first glance seems totally impersonal but resonates with a deeper completely personal take on their time passing through.

He was a teacher as well as a tree surgeon, as I remember it, and was associated with a lot of other New England and Berkshire artists and poets in particular, but he was a total original to my mind. He will be missed.

PS: Here's a poem I just found on the web that I think displays what I'm trying to describe above (I hope the lines breaks work):

[PPS: and a link to a brief but great interview with Michael]


CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT

The father in exile stripped of his sundial borrows the equator for a belt.
All his life his life had yet to start, coming of age was the end.
You think about genetics, would think, well,
maybe a whole other life is possible. Maybe noon would rather be midnight.
The humble Hellebore becomes a rock star thanks to intelligent design. Coziness
cradles him like rage. “He hid under his bed when he lived with his mother!”
One branch of the family is antiseptic, another a lecture on prickers.
Everything else is made up.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BLUSTER AND FAUX SENSITIVITY, THE RIGHT COMBO

I'm too tired unfortunately tonight to write what's been on my mind all day. But in brief, it's the combination of bluster (I'm shocked, shocked! etc.) and fake sensitivity (I'm hurt, deeply! etc.) while pretending to be so only for others, not selfishly (oh no) that marks for me one of the trump cards played by rightwingers who manipulate the media, who then fall for it all the time.

Nixon pretended to be a "man of the people" one of "the silent majority" representing the aggrieved regular working folk who were being taken advantage of by "East Coast Liberals" (i.e. The Kennedys and any other well-educated wealthy person who dedicated their lives to helping those less fortunate) and those making it necessary (i.e. the less fortunate, urban poor and later hippies et.al.) to restore "law & order" (i.e. repression of those who feel aggrieved who aren't white, Republican, etc.).

Reagan was much more subtle at bluster & faux sensitivity, but he had minions to do it for him. When it looked like his whole administration was going to collapse as a result of the lies and chicanery of Irangate, that total disregard and frontal attack on everything the Constitution stands for (that the bluster and fake sensitivity is all about now supposedly) and his cohorts were attempting suicide and trying to not go to prison for life, Ollie North donned his Marine uniform, even though he was long gone from the service by then, and acted all fake sensitive about his "honor" while he had his assistant shredding documents that would have proven how much he and many in the Reagan administration could have given two farts for the Constitution.

Every veteran I knew at the time despised his cheap shot, but the Congressional committee he was testifying before almost genuflected to not seem anti-serviceman or anti-flag and honor etc. and the press did the same and the Reagan gang were pulled back from the brink and Ollie North became one of the right's heroes.

W. was a master at it. In the primary debates with John McCain on TV when confronted with his organizations flyers used in South Carolina accusing McCain of having a biracial child and causing the deaths of family members and all kinds of outrageous lies, Bush acted all affronted, like who could dare accuse him of ever stooping so low, the same guy who called friends turdball was suddenly beyond reproach and the press bought it etc.

 Palin's a master at it, Gingrich isn't but he can't stop himself anyway, and now we've got tons of tea party nominees who seem to be capable of not much more than that. The guy who's running for governor of New York, Palladino, and may well win, is a supreme example. It's okay for him to e mail cartoons using the "n" word and depicting the president as a pimp and the first lady as a prostitute, or hardcore extreme pornography and if anyone complains, hey, he's in the construction business, or as I heard one of his supporters today on the radio say, if you're too refined to get the joke too bad for you.

But if you question his anti-government stance considering he has made most of his money from the government (it's always the same with the right, their strongholds are always the places that get most of our tax money and contribute the least, who yell loudest about morals and yet have the highest rates of divorce and family crimes etc. etc. etc.), he gets all fake sensitive about negative attacks.

Clinton knew how to play hardball with these tactics because he was great at it himself ("I feel your pain" "I did not have" etc.) and maybe that's what the Democrats need.

Okay, not so brief, but nothing compared to what's rolling around in my head on this topic.

Monday, September 27, 2010

TIME FOR ANOTHER QUOTE

"The truth can be spoken only by someone who already lives inside it; not by someone who still lives in untruth and only sometime reaches out from untruth toward it."  —Ludwig Wittgenstein (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

CONCORD PARTY POST BRAIN-OP OBSERVATION

Took the train to Concord, Mass., with my soon to be 13-year-old to visit an old friend and celebrate his fiftieth birthday. It was a pretty big party, new friends he's met in his fairly new home, old friends from where he grew up in Lowell, Mass. (Kerouac's home town, whom my friend can not only quote at will from poems and novels of Kerouac's, but sounds dead on like him as they have the same regional accent) and family.

He comes from a big Irish-American clan like mine, so even his siblings I hadn't met or didn't know at all seemed familiar. It was a fun time, great party, but despite the fact I've been mostly okay now for a while in crowded rooms, after maybe the first twenty people arrived, I found myself having a difficult time with the sound of their conversations filling the kitchen and other rooms. I had to remove myself to the front steps for a little while.

Maybe fifty people or so showed up, and I had some terrific conversations, but I noticed that I had to have them out of the way, in a room where there was no one else, or a spot at the end of the kitchen where no one else was, etc. But, despite being tired from having gotten up early etc., I found once the dancing started, I was fine.

I think it's because the focus was all on the music and the rhythm and other folks were moving to the beat so the distractions were minimal even though the music was loud, etc. Just thought I'd note that I'm still not completely back to "normal" (for me) and still find it very interesting.

Also interesting was that it wore me out and today, writing this back in Jersey, I'm having much more trouble than usual typing, having to correct pretty much every other word, sometimes more than once. I suspect once I get a good night's sleep that will improve again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

HOWL: THE MOVIE

Last Spring I was invited to a screening of HOWL, the movie, but asked not to write about it on this blog until it came out in the Fall, in fact, today.

I guess they were screening it so early in hopes of creating some kind of word-of-mouth build up of anticipation. But what it really led to was my memory of the film being a bit faded by now.

I can still highly recommend it for a few simple reasons.

First, it's the only film I know of based entirely on a single poem. That alone makes it worth seeing just for the exceptionalism of it.

In fact the structure of the movie is basically the reading of "Howl"—the poem that made Ginsberg famous and brought attention to the whole burgeoning "Beat" scene, i.e. Ginsberg and his friends—and it mostly works as a movie despite that enormous challenge.

The reading is interspersed with excerpts from later interviews with Ginsberg and with scenes of the 1957 "obscenity" trial of the book HOWL AND OTHER POEMS published by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights. It was that "obscenity" charge and the trial that made the poem and poet just about household names at the time.

That's how the teenager I was at the time first heard of Ginsberg and "Howl." If I remember correctly, TIME magazine quoted some profanity-free lines from it, that were still powerfully unexpected and revelatory opening me and so many others up to possibilities for writing poetry we had never thought of, let alone viewing my life and the times I was living in drastically differently.

The movie has every word of the poem in it, Franco reading them as Gisnberg reading to a small audience of San Franciscans, including some of the more famous early cohorts in the whole "Beat" thing, as it became known, and he gets so much of it right, it's like performance art.

The trial scenes make for a more dramatic commentary on the poem and work for the most part as well, with John Hamm as the defense lawyer and David Striathorn as the prosecutor without a clue. It's a terrific snapshot of the times and the about to burst bubble of 1950s conformity and repression that eventually led to the "'sixties" and a few actors shine in their roles as the real people involved saying the real lines, verbatim as they say, from the trial. Jeff Daniels is, as always, a revelation, an amazingly underrated actor because so many of the characters he has played don't come across as seriously dramatic as the usual suspects.

I'd like to see John Hamm do Kerouac in a film that included Jack's influence on Ginsberg and the rest of the so-called "Beats" and on the poem "Howl" etc. Kerouac and Neal Cassady were weak points in the film, having no lines and the actors playing them seeming totally miscast to me.

I understand the directors' (Rob Epstein nd Jeffrey Freidman) probable desire to not pull focus from Ginsberg and his poem by including any of Kerouac's or Cassady's words from letters to Allen or from interviews, but casting the almost beautiful Franco as Ginsberg and a couple of nondescript actors as the ruggedly charismatic Cassady and movie-star handsome Kerouac seems disengenuous at best and deliberate at worst.

As for James Franco. I love Franco's film acting but doubted he could pull off playing Ginsberg, who I knew and was friendly with, since Franco is more handsome than James Dean (another iconic 1950s figure he's played) and even though Allen had deeply attractive, even beautiful you could say, eyes and knew how to use them, he was no matinee idol.

But Franco pulls it off. For the first minutes of the film I wondered if he could do it, even with the '50s style haircut and heavy black framed glasses and something behind his ears to make them stick out more and an obvious attempt to capture Ginsberg's voice and gestures, but then...

...I was hooked and Franco became, in more ways than mere imitation, the poet himself.

So it's also worth seeing this film if you love good film acting as I do, and even more so if you know something about acting. It's a tour de force award-deserving performance.

The one thing about the flick that I haven't read much about in all the reviews and articles that have come out about it since I saw it last Spring (guess those writers didn't get the "wait until September 24th" memo) is the animation part.

In order to make the reading of a very long poem palatable to a movie audience, many of the most famous lines of the poem are animated in a style that is relatively generic and becomes pretty repetitive after a while. Some of the correspondences between some lines and the animation work so well it's breathtaking.

But some become too repetitive and fall way short of the power of Ginsberg's images and emotion, while others just made me laugh with pleasure at the creativity of the juxtapositions. It's interesting that in the official trailer below, they don't include almost any of the animation at all, though it takes up what seemed like at least a third of the film.

But no matter what minor quibbles I might have, the main point I'd like to make is that this movie is a one-of-a-kind event. Don't miss it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PPS

I left the comment on my last post and decided to respond here, because it is such a good example of the way rightwingers work and think. I've told this one before to leave my family out of his comments. Though we come from the same town, my memories are much different than his. We lived in different neighborhoods and came from different backgrounds, except for the common Irish heritage. I haven't commented on his father or family and don't want him telling me what my father was like or felt or thought.

My father was a staunch FDR Democrat, who despised the kinds of people and ideas rightwingers like this one champion and defend, wherever he found them, and fought hard against them. In fact, he was responsible for turning my hometown from a bastion of Republicanism due to the large number of wealthy people who lived on the hill and in neighborhoods like Tuxedo Park back in the 1950s, into a Democratic stronghold during the years he was the Democratic Party chairman there. And he did that by activating the working people—mostly immigrants and children of immigrants like him—to vote and to fight for candidates who would look out for the best interests of working people, instead of the interests of only the rich.

And as for him being an "entrepeneur," he lost his business twice, the first time at the start of The Great Depression, when as he would say "the big boys bought" everything he owned, his house his business etc. "for a dime on the dollar, or five cents." He and my mother and three older brothers ended up living over a garage.

He started another business under FDR's tenure and bought another modest home in a neighborhood of street cleaners and butchers and mailmen and supermarket cashiers, etc. where I grew up. But after "Ike" got elected, he lost that business in another downturn, and then started the home repair business I grew up working in.

He would tell me that you knew there was a Republican in the White House if there were a lot of "for rent" signs in store windows. And I have found that to be true ever since. Obama inherited one of those Republican administration eras when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and he's being blamed for not fixing it fast enough, despite avoiding another Great Depression.

My father and many of his generation would have been incredulous over the Reagan and Bush/Cheney administrations' economic blunders that led to the two biggest recessions since he passed, not to mention "homelessness" (of which there was little, especially of children, before Reagan and his union-busting, corporate catering to, completely hypocritical (the two presidents who expanded the federal government since my father passed were Reagan and Bush Jr., the only one who actually made the federal government smaller was Clinton) presidency) and several unnecessary wars, etc.

You want to argue politics on this blog, stick to facts and opinions and leave deceased relatives out of it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BOARDWALK EMPIRE


The photo above was snapped sometime in the early to mid-1950s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. The two boys in the light pants are the police chief's son from my Jersey town (the shorter of the two) and his cousin, and that's my old man in the background with his spiffy shoes partially on view and his back turned to the camera.

I'm the glum faced kid in the dark pants holding what I suspect is the program for the famous "Steel Pier" where we saw the even more famous diving horse. I loved that experience so I suspect the glum look is my not wanting to be associated with the squares beside me with their top buttons buttoned and their sleeves unrolled as mine obviously aren't. Markers, tiny as they may be, of distinguishing those who got it and those who didn't at the time.

A time before Disneyland (or right around when it was first built) a place my family wouldn't have gone to anyway, and Atlantic City was still America's playland, even if close to its zenith (though we didn't know it, or at least I didn't) almost at the penultimate moment of its sudden decline before its resurrection in the age of casinos that came a few decades later.

What the new HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE gets is that the most interesting time in A.C.'s history began when Prohibition did, as does this series. It's gotten either raves or pans from the reviews I've read, all of them comparing it to either THE SOPRANOS (the creator of BOARDWALK EMPIRE won an Emmy writing for that seminal TV series) or producer (and director of the first episode, which is the only one that's aired and I've seen) Martin Scorcese's trademark gangland films like CASINO or both. Either saying BOARDWALK EMPIRE compares well with them or falls short of them.

My opinion falls somewhere in between, and the film I'd compare it most closely to is Scorcese's GANGS OF NEW YORK. Like that, I find BOARDWALK EMPIRE gets a lot of the history correct and yet still messes some of the key ingredients up, mostly through miscasting, at least in my opinion. In GANGS OF NEW YORK Daniel Day-Lewis was extraordinary, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz as Irish immigrants were, despite their best efforts, kind of a joke. And Liam Nissan's screen time was way too brief.

In BOARDWALK EMPIRE some historical bits are not only accurate but perfectly rendered while others seem lost. I hardly recognized Dabney Coleman as "The Commodore" who pushes Henry Ford's anti-semitic tome on Steve Buscmei's character— "Nucky Thompson"—but Buscemi ignores it because his Thompson has bigger problems than the "The International Jew" as Ford's diatribe was titled. Coleman doesn't get near enough screen time for my taste.

Buscemi on the other hand is in what seems like almost every scene. And in many ways he's wrong as the real life "Nucky Johnson" who ran Atlantic City back then. Johnson was 6'4" they say, which in 1920 would be like being 6'8" now. And not skinny! A real hard, tough, typical Jersey political machine guy (my father was an atypical one, very low on the totem poll in the Essex County Democratic Party only years after the photo above was snapped, so I know a little about these guys whatever the era).

Buscemi obviously doesn't come close to that kind of guy, physically, or tempermentally. So he's miscast in terms of authenticity and historical truth. But he's such a fascinating actor to watch, with that hang dog mug and voice like like a screeching needs-to-be-oiled train wheel, and just his whole weasely presence when he plays these kind of characters, that even if you do know anything about the kind of character he's supposed to be playing, or the actual one, you let that go to just watch a master at work.

I can't say the same for all of the rest of the cast or all the writing they're given to mouth (unless they got to improv some). Like Michael Pitt as a fictional character—an ex-Princeton man who fought in the trenches of WWI which changed him in ways this first epidsode seems conflicted about, either he's suffering from Post Traumatic Distress (which in those days they called "shell shock" and did little to nothing to help) as he seems to be in a few minutes of one or two scenes, or he's lost his moral compass, which he seems to be saying in other bits of scenes, as a result of what he saw and experienced in the war, or he's just a true "wise guy" which he seems to be coming off as in other bits of scenes.

But whatever he is, in some scenes he seems not only out of place as a character but as an actor, coming across as way too contemporary or as a fictional device to satisfy TV viewers' need for simple explication and give Buscemi a younger more handsome acting partner to fill some scenes or give Buscemi's Thompson a foil and device to explain what might otherwise be too calculatingly self-aggrandizing and nasty for the introduction of a lead character (like the device in THE SOPRANOS of Tony seeing a shrink and of his mother being the epitome of evil so he comes off more human etc.).

I don't buy Pitt as any kind of war veteran, let alone a doughboy suffering from the horrors of battle, or as any kind of Roaring Twenties F. Scott Fitzgerald Princeton type. Though he is interesting to watch on screen at times, at other times he's just distracting for my taste.

And the actor playing the young Al Capone seems like another device, but not well used at least in this episode, coming across as a weaker junior member of THE SORPRANOS, even sounding like he's more from the 21st Century or THE JERSEY SHORE than the Jazz Age.

There are a lot of historically inaccurate figures of speech and mannerisms, which I suppose can't be avoided, though they were for the most part in another HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE has been compared to accurately because it too was based on historical fact surrounded by fictional embellishments: DEADWOOD.

Hopefully BOARDWALK EMPIRE will live up to that standard in historical eras epically serialized on TV. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

AND THIS

"And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say 'we,' they mean 'you.' Sacrifice is for the little people."

—Paul Krugmn in today's NY Times (for full article, well worth reading, go here)

Monday, September 20, 2010

HERE'S A GOOD QUOTE

"The problem that I've seen in the debate that's been taking place and in some of these Tea Party events is, I think they're misidentifying sort of who the culprits are here...As I said before, we had to take some emergency steps last year. But the majority of economists will tell you that the emergency steps we take are not the problem long-term. The problems long-term are the problems that I talked about earlier. We had two tax cuts that weren't paid for, two wars that weren't paid for. We've got a population that's getting older. We're all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down.

So the challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify, specifically, what would you do?...It's not enough just to say get control of spending. I think it's important for you to say, I'm willing to cut veterans' benefits or I'm willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits or I'm willing to see these taxes go up. What you can't do, which is what I've been hearing a lot from the other side, is we're going to control government spending, we're going to propose $4 trillion of additional tax cuts, and that magically somehow things are going to work..."

—President Barak Obama

ANOTHER STRANGE POST BRAIN SURGERY DEVELOPMENT


I've written about some ways my thinking and even taste changed after brain surgery. Like how I used to be a compulsive list maker and now that's totally gone. And how I never found Meryl Streep attractive—and still don't when I think of her—but if I catch her in a movie when I'm changing channels on the TV I instantly feel this attraction to her.

Well now I've discovered that same thing with another movie actress I never found attractive and still don't when I think of her: Mitzi Gaynor. But the other night I was surfing my favorite channels and SOUTH PACIFIC was on, about halfway through. I stopped because I appreciate the music, the artistry of the melodies and lyrics and most of all I always appreciated the message, which was very radical in the 1950s when it came out, that relationships between people from different nationalities and different ethnic groups or "races" (in this case "white" "Americans" and "Tonkanese") is not only okay but can be beautiful (an almost revolutionary sentiment in a time when laws against interracial marriage were on the books of all but thirteen states in the good old USA).

And I always appreciated the musical and acting talent of the cast. But the only woman in the movie who appealed to me as a teenager at the time was France Nuyen ("Liat"). In fact I fell in love with her the first time I saw this flick. But Mitzi Gaynor, even though I could see she was talented is so much not my type I could hardly understand how any man could be attracted to her.

I still feel that way, and yet, when I stumbled on SOUTH PACIFIC the other night and paused to watch it for a while, I couldn't help feeling attracted to her! My reason said no way, but something else was responding as if I were falling in love! I kept thinking Man is she talented and beautiful and lovely and I just want to wrap my arms around her... The same way I feel when I catch Streep in a movie on TV and yet thinking of either of them right now I feel no attraction whatsoever!

What's that all about? Interesting though, isn't it.

[PS: The reason I'm writing this in the middle of the night is my soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old woke up feeling badly from a sore throat and other things so I'm staying nearby (the little alcove I use as an office in our apartment is right next to his bedroom) while he falls back asleep.]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

PS

In my response to Jerome on the last post's comments thread, I didn't really address his question re: the whole old time religion aspect of many of the right's adherents.

When I was a child, the pledge of allegiance didn't contain the phrase "under God" so the "indivisible" was what was emphasized, especially since the pledge was created closer to the Civil War than the Cold War issues of the 1950s.

But because of the emergence of a rightwing fringe that was beginning to have an impact on what had been a relatively moderate Republican Party and president—the man who'd won World War Two in the eyes of most of country, Dwight Eisenhower, or "Ike" as he was affectionately known by his countrymen—he and the Congress were pressured by the right to add "under God" to supposedly distinguish "God-fearing America" from "atheistic Communism."

In fact, one of those rightwing fringe groups, The John Birch Society, accused "Ike" of being "a Communist" (much the way rightwingers today accuse Obama of being one, or any other label considered "them" and not "us").

The difference was that the right had an influence on the media then, frightening even the most powerful elements of it (TIME magazine, the NY Times, etc.) into conservative posturing and supporting conservative positions etc. but now they often ARE the media (FOX News et. al.) and therefore have an even wider and more direct influence.

But in the 1950s, a belief in God and organized religion mostly meant mainline Protestant churches—Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians (which a lot of presidents seemed to be) et.al.—with the more immigrant Catholic Church still often distrusted and the Southern Baptists and Pentecostal, more "fundamentalist," churches also suspect to the "established" mostly WASP ("White Anglo-Saxon Protestant") "establishment" that ran the country.

Other religions were for the most part not even recognized, with the exception of Judaism when incorporated into the idea of our country (and even government) coming out of a "Judaic-Christian" tradition, when actually the Founders ideas came out of the Enlightenment and its ideals and if any "tradition" was involved or evoked it was the Greco-Roman one, especially the Greek philosophers and proto-scientists.

But back when only white male property owning (which included slaves, as a result of the first concessionary compromise the left/liberal/progressive factions of the Founders made to the right/conservative/reactionary factions) men of a certain age were able to vote (shades of Athens and periods of ancient Roman history) the place of "God" in the Founding ideas, ideals, writings and policies, including The Constitution was minimal at best or completely nonexistent.

So a "return" to some sort of Constitutional fundamentalism the Tea Partyers espouse would actually preclude those among them who see what's needed to "take our [i.e. their] country back" as a religious revival or any kind of elevation of "God" [by which they mean theirs of course] to a central position in politics or government.

But that incompatibility of "ideas" isn't a problem for at least those Tea Partyers who have expressed what they believe in and want as far as I have read/heard and witnessed personally or on TV or in documentaries, because their history is filtered through rightwing propagandists like Beck and Rush and Palin and now O'Donnell et. al. who actually claim things like "creationism" is based on more real "evidence" than evolution [O'Donnell] or that the Founding Fathers were all believers not just in a Christian God but founded the country on Biblical ideas, when most of them either did not believe in God or believed in an indifferent God who made the universe and then left it to evolve however the laws of nature prescribed but almost to a man none of them believed in "Jesus as their personal saviour" and other tenets of the kind of revivalist Christianity the right and many in the Tea Party now profess.

Jerome's right, it is a nostalgic sense of "God" and "country" based on aspects of our history that are unrelated to the Founding principals, just at the second amendment is unrelated to owning a personal submachine gun or the first was meant to cover corporations or the tenth means states can ignore whatever laws they don't agree with or find in the Constitution (that's one we fought a war over and the ones who believe as many of the Tea Partyers including the most bombastic one who comments on this blog were on the losing secessionist side!), et-endless-cetera.

But this isn't about actual history or reason or logic or scientific evidence or even beliefs as the rightwingers prove over and over again, because in Delaware and elsewhere they just voted in people whose lives and actions are diametrically opposed to what they say they stand for, but because they make the right sounds and are against Obama and all he stands for, they are embraced as one of the Tea Party family. God bless the USA.

Friday, September 17, 2010

UNFORTUNATELY, IT'S NOT ABOUT TRUTH

Hopefully, the obvious lies and misrepresentation and hypocrisy of the new Tea Party darling who won the Republican primary in Delaware will ensure a Democratic victory in the Senate race there in November. But don't count on it, even if she's behind in the polls.

This isn't about what the Tea Partyers say it's about, at least not for enough of them to elect anyone. It's about identification and visceral reactions.

This new darling,Christine O'Donnell, could be one of my cousins or nieces. Her Irish mug—still pretty if not as beautiful as when she was younger—her "Irish" brand of Catholicism (whether actively practiced or not, the residue of that upbringing still resonates in most of my clan)—the delight and openness in her childlike smiles seemingly so innocent and honest, her plain-spoken conversational speaking style, her slightly widening figure as she ages, making her attractiveness more accessible, more common, more nonthreatening.

Everything in this woman's record shows what a hypocritical manipulative liar she is, and yet everything in her presence, at least on TV, makes her seem sincerely genuine and completely well intentioned. Innocently naive perhaps, but not calculatingly phony.

So when her critics raise the question of what qualifies this woman for a seat in the Senate that she says she deserves because she wants to set the nation's fiscal house in order, when in fact she has been unable to do that in her own life throughout her entire adult years so far...

...and when those critics point out that she is running as a "real" person, an ordinary citizen, against professional politicians, but that is all she has been since she was a teenager, creating and running a political organization presented as a religious one, and living (illegally it seems) off political campaign funds for years, even when those years weren't election years, etc. etc. etc....

...and when they point out all the many contradictions and hypocritical positions and actual failures of judgment and execution of almost any of what she claims she stands for...

...a lot of folks who don't read or watch any real news but just watch FOX News (and that's A LOT of folks) or listen to Rush et. al. or don't even do that but just live their lives and get their information in bits and pieces from friends and family and just don't like the way things are going or feel Obama has let them down promising hope and change but not delivering that in their experience for them because he's too intellectual and thoughtful which they read as aloof and because he's obviously handsome and now wealthy and now powerful in many ways and went to Ivy league universities and often talks and acts like he is and did...

...and because he wisely gave them a tax break that only came through as a reduction in taxes on their pay stubs which they may have never even noticed, or if they did, quickly began to take it for granted, and though economists say that's the best way to help the economy—i.e. tax cuts in what's taken out weekly or monthly in pay checks for working people, rather than all-at-once refund checks in the mail one time only, the latter is what people remember and notice, even if they don't spend it but put it away or pay off old debts with it which doesn't expand the economy etc. so they don't connect any tax break with him Obama and his fellow Democrats...

...and because as Bill Maher said in that interview on Larry King the other night, I think it was him, the Democrats have done more to help more people but the Republicans tell a better story, or as others have said, they know how to frame the issues to make themselves look good and the Dems bad, whereas the Dems get bogged down in subtleties and nuances and wonkish or just dry statistics and theories and bigger-picture explications whereas the right just keeps it simple—government bad/people good etc....

...and frankly because the Tea Party has also fielded folks who are more telegenic, like Palin and now O'Donnell, but even Joe Miller, even that nut case in Nevada is more telegenic than Harry Ried...and because most people respond, as new brain studies have shown, to simple messages that cast topics in black and white simplicity, and to faces that are pretty and childlike (O'Donnell looks sometimes like an overgrown infant or little girl and Rand Paul often looks like an excited school boy)...

...and because most people feel overwhelmed by all the information and technology that is the atmosphere we move through every day and their inability to make sense of it they not only grasp onto anything that keeps it simple and makes simple sense to them, but they also identify with those who seem to have the same troubles...

...so that O'Donnell's financial troubles don't disqualify her to handle the nation's troubles but just makes her more like them. And the Buffalo multi-millionaire who won the Republican primary for governor of New York doesn't seem crude and angry (as Rachel Maddow unsuccessfully tried to cast him in last night's show, disappointingly, even when she ultimately made it clear she thinks that's just an act for political gain and she's right about that I believe) despite his record of sending not just hardcore porn to friends and associates through e mails but bestiality etc. which would seem to put him at odds with his fellow Tea Partyer O'Donnell who came out against not just any kind of abortion including in cases of rape and incest but against any kind of sexuality outside of marriage including masturbation etc. but DOESN'T in the minds of many of the Tea Party supporters and sympathizers because it just makes Palladino seem more real, more working-class, more of a man and a regular guy even though he is worth more than more of the tea Party followers put together...

....and if he isn't that lady who ran the wrestling empire with her husband who won the Republican primary for Senator in Connecticut sure can, she's richer than entire states, but because her husband also exemplifies the crude and lewd and over-the-top simplicity of fake wrestling and fake emotions and fake almost everything it seems, but she can say "yes he's colorful" and chuckle and dismiss it because "he's not running for office, I am" as she put it last night on one of the news shows, she can come across as just "real" and not a phony like that Obama who had to walk a fine line between two racial perspectives and expectations and learned to bridge gaps and defuse stereotypical perceptions and the judgements that went with them, etc. but rarely seems like he fought his way out of poverty and prejudice to achieve what he did, which he did, but comes across more like he was entitled to what he has because he's smarter and handsomer than most of us, etc...

...and because the media has turned politics into a horse race and a beauty contest and a sound bite competition for the most part and relinquished their responsibility to just present the facts which indisputably refute almost every claim the Tea Party candidates make for why they would be better at running the country...

...for all those reasons and more, don't be surprised if what the Dems and some of the media are trying to marginalize as "fringe" or "extreme" or "out of the norm" Tea Party candidates actually do decide whether the Congress ends up controlled by Republicans come November. It's not like it hasn't happened before with Reagan ousting Carter (in a party that professes to be Christian and anti-Hollywood!) and Bush/Cheney winning two terms even if illegally, the vote was close enough that they could get away with it in a situation where they should have been trounced, etc. etc.etc...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

HMMMM ONCE AGAIN


Here's an entire post from Paul Krugman on his blog yesterday noting the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the financial free fall (only stopped after Obama and the Dems took over). It was titled "Happy Lehman Day!":

"I’m puzzled: shouldn’t the papers this morning be full of retrospectives about The Event That Ended The Economy As We Knew It? (Not to mention the event that guaranteed an Obama election win.)

Or have the financial media decided to go along with the prevailing public view that none of this happened until after Obama was inaugurated?"

Krugman's correct. I watched the news on several networks and cable and saw almost no mention of this anniversary, as opposed to Katrina and 9/11, which of course were more spectacular and immediately catastrophic, not to add deadly. But all three were significant bellwethers of what was wrong with the Bush/Cheney years and policies and each has had a lasting effect but none on more people worldwide than the collapse of Lehman Brothers and all it augured.

(And another thing the media never mentions, but Bill Maher pointed out the other night on the Larry King Show in a really terrific interview, the most appealing I've ever seen Maher, someone I often agree with but whose personality bugs me, this time it didn't, he seemed almost subdued and definitely a lot less snarky and or willing to go for the cheap shot as he too often does—anyway, as he pointed out, Obama has gone for twenty-one months now with no attacks on the US so he has "protected" the country and "kept us safe"—to use their terms—for over twice as long as Bush/Cheney did).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TIME FOR A BLAKE QUOTE OR TWO

"No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings."

"Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps."

—William Blake

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

TEN MONTHS SINCE BRAIN SURGERY

So here's a good indication of the progress my brain has made in the ways it works over the past ten months. Back when I was early on in recovery from the brain surgery, I watched the movie (500) DAYS OF SUMMER and it presented all kinds of problems.

The film tells the story of a young man falling in love with a young woman who doesn't reciprocate in kind. She likes him, and they initially have a lot of fun together including sexual intimacy, but she always withholds that final surrender of commitment to anything more.

Eventually he becomes discouraged and they break up. But the movie resolves itself in a quite delightful way that isn't entirely improbable but still magical in the way a good movie story can be.

Even though the story jumped around in time—with cards between each jump indicating which of the 500 days it was of his relationship with the girl "Summer"—I didn't have any trouble following the story of their relationship the first time I saw it only weeks after the operation. I think without the cards marking the division between each jump in time I may have.

But I had enormous difficulty in figuring out where the film was shot. It seemed to be indicating L.A. but the scenes weren't the L. A. I knew, way too many "white" people and not nearly enough of other ethnicities for that city that is minority "white" for one, and also the landscape often seemed like it was being shot somewhere else, etc. That drove me crazy seeing it back then, and caused me such distress it pretty much ruined the movie for me.

I also could not figure out what the other roles in the film were doing, the young man's two best male friends and his little sister, all of whom would comment on how the affair was going etc. They seemed totally extraneous and made no sense to me, entirely unbelievable at the time.

I also was still having perceptual problems so that the busier scenes were way too visually complicated for me as well, because my brain could not fluidly meld the various components of those busy scenes and so they overwhelmed me with too much sensation, too much information, too much to consider and try to integrate into the story or to appreciate as a whole.

But I watched it again just a few days ago to see how it looked to me now, and I got immediately, because the dialogue makes it clear, that it's set in L.A. and understood the main character's sister and two best friends all of whom made total sense to me, and I loved the busy scenes like the partly animated dance number the morning after the first time they make love.

It's a sweet little movie that entirely works on its own terms and I was able to appreciate it and enjoy it with no caveats this time. So, I am totally grateful for having that capacity back working in my life.

There are still ways in which my mind works that are different from before the operation, some which may be permanent and which I've mentioned before (the most bizarre being my sudden attraction to Meryl Streep after the surgery, which still seems to be operative even though writing this I can say I never found her attractive and still don't, but whenever a movie comes on the TV with her in it my mind and body react as though I now do!), and writing and playing the piano are still more difficult than they were pre-surgery, and I notice my vocabulary has changed (interestingly, I use more of the kinds of multi-syllabic, linguistically sophisticated terms I avoided in my speaking and often in my writing most of my life (except when hired to ghost write or do some technical or academic critical writing job etc.).

And, for the first time in my life I sometimes stumble over words when I read them aloud, something I rarely if ever did in the past which made it possible for me to do voiceover work and nail scripts on the first take. I also often encounter blank spaces in my brain midsentence, as if someone suddenly turned the TV off, and the moment—whatever I was in the middle of saying—is permanently lost.

None of these things are that bad, and I know plenty of people who share some of them and haven't had brain surgery. But still, for me, it feels like my brain has been altered in some fundamental ways that I am still getting used to and I miss the old ways my brain worked that were so familiar.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

TAXES AND ME

The debate over whether or not to extend the Bush/Cheney tax cuts for the richest among us is silly. The only defense for doing so is the idea that the more money the most wealthy among us can control, the more they will spend and somehow that will benefit the rest of us.

It's silly because all the statistics show that only once for a brief period did cuts in taxes for the wealthiest benefit the rest of us in any measurable economic way, and that was back in the 1960s when taxes for the rich went from the extremes of the '50s where once you made enough to last you and your family a few lifetimes you were taxed to the point of most of your money going to the government.

As that tax rate was reduced under both parties, loopholes (i.e. legal ways to get out of paying your fair share) grew until Reagan came along and reduced taxes on the wealthiest to the point of no matter how much they made most of their money would not go to the government, and allowed even more loopholes so that even that amount could be reduced to almost nothing, while taxes on the rest of us expanded and did not offer the kinds of loopholes the rich got so that from Reagan onward the gap between the rich and the rest of us grew until under Bush/Cheney it reached proportions that made that gap greater than it had ever been since the Great Depression, before which we found ourselves in the exact same position vis-a-vis taxes and the gap between the rich and everyone else as we did under Bush/Cheney.

If I had dictatorial powers I would make the taxation system fairer by making it simpler—no loopholes, no exceptions—and restore the graduated aspect of income taxes to its and the country's original idea of fairness, i.e. the richest pay a lot more than the non-richest. And use as justification the fact that when taxes were more fairly distributed in terms of percentage of income, this country was at its most prosperous and working people could afford to own homes and send their kids to colleges on one income!

I only paid at that highest level one year in my life and because I didn't own a home, was single at the time and my two older children were grown and my youngest not born yet, the government took what felt like a huge bite out of the money I made that year. I felt pretty bad about it after wealthy Hollywood friends scolded me for not coming to them because their accountants would have found ways for me not to pay that much or not to pay any at all.

But then I prayed and meditated on it and realized that I had been using the interstate highway system to drive around and across the country for decades by that time, I had enjoyed the benefits of our military (shelter and food and healthcare and some education etc.—totally "socialist" by the right's terms—while serving in it for over four years, and keeping our country safe, etc. the rest of the time) all my life, my parents enjoyed the benefits of Social Security which before FDR in the first years of the Great Depression under Republicans they had lost their business, home, and most of their possessions etc.), and so much more.

After that I felt good that I had paid my fair share for all that and more. It's obvious that the wealthy, who enjoy even more of the benefits of this country while often hiding their wealth in overseas accounts and companies or shipping jobs overseas or doing other things with it that does not benefit the rest of us at all (as the "dribble down" economic theories have proven to always grow the wealth of the richest and either stagnate or reverse the money the rest of us can use to live on etc.) should be taxed at a fairer rate, including the wealth they make from investments (the non-or-minimal-taxation of which is the reason Warren Buffet pays less taxes than his secretary as he has pointed out).

And just one last point, the taxes not paid by the wealthiest under the temporary tax cuts for the richest among us put in by Bush/Cheney not only did not create more wealth for any of us below the most wealthy, but add up to just about the exact amount of money spent on the Iraqi war, an amount that not only turned the surplus under Clinton/Gore into the deficit under Bush/Cheney, but contributed greatly to the economic mess Bush/Cheney got us into and Obama/Biden are now getting us out of.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

THE AMERICAN


I love George Clooney. Love watching him on screen, or the one time I encountered him in person. He reminds me of an old style movie star, like Cary Grant or Paul Newman, whose good looks and charm coupled with the ease and comfort with which they carry those attractions, just sets me up to be in favor of watching them act out the leading role in a flick.

Not everything Clooney does has been as great as say his roles in MICHAEL CLAYTON or SYRIANA, or as fun as the OCEAN'S ELEVEN franchise, but I have never seen a movie he was in that disappointed me. Though some weren't as compelling as others, I've always come away glad I went, because he's also pretty smart about what he chooses to be in.

THE AMERICAN is more or less a departure. It has elements of his character's darkness in SYRIANA and technical competence in his Danny Ocean roles, and even a flash of charm for a few seconds here and there, but over all it's the kind of character a movie star with his screen charisma would usually turn down.

But he obviously likes the challenge. The story itself has one of those completely improbable movie plots where things happen that work for moving the character to the end of the story but don't necessarily make sense in any world any of us live in. But if you accept that it's a more or less action/suspense movie, a kind of thriller, and therefore you're along for the ride not the veracity—and if you can also accept that this is basically a European film with all that implies, slow-moving and deep meaning implied in camera angles (the many close shots from behind on the back of his vulnerable head raises the tension exponentially as the camera changes the distance from which it is following him) and glances exchanged with little or no dialogue, etc.—as I did (and also aren't afraid of a movie that doesn't have the old style Hollywood ending), well then, for my taste it's well worth catching.

Clooney does a great job with his character, giving him the most subtle and sparse physical traits to make him seem both familiar and unknown, a trick rare among contemporary male movie stars but common in the heyday of classic Hollywood. Like his character's not too obvious but almost constant gum chewing, or the dread and disappointment in his eyes and the mostly lack of any facial expression that becomes effectively expressive.

Like I said, I love watching him work on screen. Having acted in a lot of films and even as the lead in several—almost all of which were not well made or that well written and most of which weren't ever even released on DVD—I know how hard it can be, the challenge of carrying that weight and making it seem effortless while still accomplishing everything you mean to in order to make the entire story work. Clooney is a master at it, maybe the best we have and have had for a while now.

But even if you aren't crazy about Clooney and don't like intense but slow-moving little European movies like this, it's still worth watching for his co-stars, all of them Europeans, especially the incredible Violante Placido (that's her with Clooney above). I haven't been this smitten by a European actress since Dominique Sanda in Bertalluci's THE CONFORMIST.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

AND FOR A HUMOROUS INTERLUDE

[I had a video embedded in this post but you can't open the blog without it starting up, so I switched to this link. It's worth watching (and as I say in a comment below, I only wish they'd had this technology when I was a book critic at The Washington Post back in the '70s).]

TO PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

Just a quick thought to balance out the recent over-long posts: After weeks, and months even, of the media blaring about Obama's unpopularity and poll numbers descending, it might help to realize that as of last week, Obama's poll numbers were higher, HIGHER, than Reagan's or Clinton's at the same point in their first terms.

Obviously their futures improved, poll-wise, partly because the media gave Reagan a pass ("the Teflon president") and Clinton improved the economy and other things so much it was hard to complain (except for the right's fantasies). Obama is facing a much tougher situation because of what he inherited from Bush/Cheney.

PS TO RIMBAUD POST THREAD

Thinking about the point I was trying to make, or Jerome elicited from me with his questions in the Rimbaud-post thread about deadend innovators, I thought I'd try to clarify and simplify.

If we look at "modern" "American" (i.e. U.S.A.) "poetry" (part of the argument about that label in modern and post-modern poetry is what exactly IS "poetry"—just as in pretty much any modern and post-modern art form) the three main or most influential innovators were T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

The first and most influential was Eliot through the impact "The Wasteland" had on English-language poetry. But "The Wasteland" was an anomaly and partly the result of Pound's editing and suggestions. After it Eliot resorted to a much more accessible use of language and references and rhythms and structures.

That (Eliot's post-Wasteland poems) is what ended up having the widest and longest-lasting influence in many ways, leading to Auden and the most critically and academically accepted and championed poetry.

Pound's initial poetic output based on his idea of "imagism" had some impact, leading to subsequent generations of poets writing Chinese and Japanese influenced compact poems, and to "American" poetic ideas about what a poem is like the "deep image" poetry of Robert Bly and James Wright that became another strain of academically and critically acclaimed poetry.

But Pound's CANTOS, his lifelong work, an unending series of "Cantos" incorporating political and philosophical ideas, or rather snippets of the arguments for those ideas, as well as snippets (a word I would never have used I don't think before the brain surgery, so it's distractingly interesting to me that I've just used it twice) historical documents and dialogue, etc. Basically anything that was on the poet's mind or caught his attention.

The juxtapositions of these "snippets" (!) throughout the individual cantos work to create a unique form of verse—or any kind of writing—that generated great excitement among poets interested in "making it new" as well as creating an original way to document one poet's mind. The notational aspect of that technique can be found going as far back as the Greeks and Romans (e.g. Catullus) but for American progenitors (another word I don't think I've ever used before) it begins for me with Emily Dickenson. But the cut-up, juxtapostion from all kinds of sources approach was Pound's.

That too was picked up on by many poets considered "avant-garde" or "alternative" or even "anti-academic" right up until "The Language Poets" took it to its deadend extreme of no juxtaposed words or phrases that lead to any kind of linear explanation or development etc.

There were masters, like Ted Berrigan (who I remember saying to me in one of our first meetings "No ideas but in juxtapositions" altering the famous W. C. Williams' dictum "No idea but in things") combined that Dickenson playful succinctness with Pound's more expansive inclusion of random but seemingly-relevant-to-him "snippets" from various sources (Berrigan including lines from Rimbaud, for instance, in his "cut-up" poetic sequence THE SONNETS).

But it wasn't academically accepted at first (and mostly still isn't) nor critically acclaimed outside of "alternative" venues. Even though it's most famous practitioner, who preceded Ted Berrigan—John Ashbery—has won the critical and academic accolades, he is the exception to the rule (John too takes bits from various sources, including lines from others, but in his case they are usually from more "pop" kinds of writing including badly written novels or turgid technical writing etc.). (Ray DiPalma is another poet who has created something different for himself partly out of THE CANTOS "tradition" or inspiration, and there are others I could cite whose work I dig.)

Then there's Williams. His influence seems to me to have been the greatest and longest lasting, though only the simplest and most basic aspects of what he originated. Mostly the conversational, every day language of simple description of objects—"no ideas but in things"—and people's interactions with them without the poetic imagery, for the most part, or philosophical glosses etc.

But at first William's was the least influential, it seemed, and certainly the least recognized (not until the end of his life really, outside of "alternative" scenes, like "The Beats" et. al.). Early on, Williams too used that juxtapositioning of disparate forms and approaches, but unlike Eliot in "The Wasteland" and Pound in THE CANTOS, Williams' source material was almost exclusively "American" and even local (Northern New Jersey) and mostly from his own hand (with exceptions, as in what people took as his response to THE CANTOS in his never quite finished multi-part long poem PATERSON).

All three of these guys were basically what they call "middle-class" (I don't use that term ever since an older radical said to me back in the 1960s, "The working class works, the ruling class rules, what does the middle class do—middle?"), college educated, etc. But if we had to distinguish by background and the work they did, Williams was the one most grounded in what I see as "working-class" values.

In part because of his ethnic heritage, through his Puerto Rican side (thus his middle name "Carlos") and his profession, doctor to working-class mostly ethnic families in and around Paterson NJ (Ruhterford was his home town out of which he worked). Thus he was exposed to things the Idaho-born Pound and the St. Louis merchant class Eliot (who early on became a resident and eventually a citizen of England, and a high church one) were not.

So it makes sense to me that he would be the one who would dismiss the academy and critics and instead of emulating or even borrowing from England or Europe's poetic traditions, for the most part he would resort to relying on what he experienced among the working poor for Northern New Jersey (a conscious decision on his part as expressed in his essays and letters).

This was a more expansive view of what poetry could not only be about but what it could be, i.e. as simple and direct and "objectively" rendered as a doctor's report. Whereas Eliot's eventual approach demanded academic credentials to practice and understand, and Pound's demanded avant-garde values and goals, Williams' poetry accomplished the same things (his SPRING AND ALL is an early classic example of modernist—almost "cubist"—structuring) but always in a language and perspective that are accessible, not just referencing the classics the few times he does outright, but contextualizing them in an easily accessible descriptive language that conveys the meaning whether you get the reference or not (as opposed to Eliot and Pound, though it can be argued that Pound didn't really expect anyone to get all his references, except the academics he expected to keep busy, (as Joyce said he expected for his later work)).

In the end, because it's poetry, at least for my taste and interest what matters is the music in the language, and ultimately all three are masters of that. Read out loud almost anything written by any of them and you can't miss it, each with their own unique rhythms and melodies and harmonies created by nothing more than words. I can dig any of them that way.

But it is Williams who leads to much of my work as he does to so many, and whose influence is the most open-ended, allowing for variations and innovations that also lead to more open-endedness. Whereas I think the innovations created by Pound in THE CANTOS reached a point of diminishing returns and was always limited to those who really cared to make the commitment to that kind of demanding content and deliberate structural distancing. But it's Eliot's work after "The Wasteland" that led to the most imitation but least innovative variations.

Wow, I didn't keep that as simple as I meant to. And I didn't mean to sound so lecture-y, I know there are others who have different opinions about all this and can articulate it better than I just attempted to, and who probably have a better education concerning all this as well, but what the hell, it's my blog and I got the urge to expand on the questions provoked by Jerome (one of those better-educated others).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

EDMUND WHITE'S RIMBAUD


This relatively short, but substantive, biography of Rimbaud came out a couple of years ago but I'm only getting around to it now.

It's part of a series of short bios edited by James Atlas and now under his name ("Atlas & Co."). I love biographies, and a series of short ones written by great writers who have an interest or a connection to that writer is such a great idea I bought most of them when they first came out in hardcover under the "Penguin Lives" logo.

And just for "full disclosure"—White and I were good friends back in 1970s and early '80s New York, when he was still writing fiction (FORGETTING ELENA was the novel that introduced me to his writing after we had first met and it still has a place of honor on my bookshelves). I still consider him a friend though we haven't been in touch in years.

He eventually became well known as a writer of nonfiction focusing to a large extent on his experiences as a writer and a gay man, and a gay writer who spent many years in Paris, teaching at the Sorbonne as I understand it. So his Rimbaud bio is a perfect fit and White brings much of his personal story and studies into his writing of it.

Rimbaud, of course, was not just a major influence on French poetry—and eventually English-language poetry and modern poetry around the world—he also became a worldwide symbol, his name an emblem, for youthful revolt.

But it wasn't his poetic innovations that made his name synonymous with rebellion, at least not for most (like Sylvester Stallone's re-imaging of "Rambo"), it was the legend of his life.

A young provincial, with crude manners at best, arrives in Paris seemingly all alone in the world and scandalizes society with his social and sexual transgressions, including his infamous affair with an older, married, well-established and respected poet, Paul Verlaine, while at the same time revolutionizing the art of poetry forever with his unique approach to not just traditional verse but what had never been attempted in poetry or any kind of writing before! And then while still a teenager gives it all up and disappears into Africa where he becomes "a gunrunner" before dying, still only in his thirties, never having written again after nineteen!

It's a great story, and a lot of it is true, though not entirely, and not so neatly, yet still quite inexplicably.

There is no question about Rimbaud being a kind of "child prodigy" (or at least "teenage prodigy") and poetic genius, nor is there about his widespread influence. Though I believe in our own time he is more known than read (like other literary icons, say Jack Kerouac for one, whose story also overcame his actual writing and who, like Rimbaud, was intricately tied to his mother despite the lone rebel image).

I have no doubt that two of my own contemporaries, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith—who Whites cites as part of the continuing line of poets and artists impacted by Rimbaud's poetry and life—actually read and absorbed at least some of Rimbaud's literary approach and techniques. But I suspect a lot of others impacted by Rimbaud's legend skipped the actual poetry.

I read him when I was fairly young, though I didn't really get into him until I married my first wife when I was still in the service and she brought a shelf full of New Directions with her including the two Rimbaud titles: ILLUMINATIONS and A SEASON IN HELL. They had an instant impact on me, as they seemed to on so many of my contemporaries—and generations before and after—when we were young.

But as with many innovators who seem to change the direction of history, sometimes that direction turns out to be a dead end. And that's the conclusion I came to before I was out of my twenties. I ended up loving the idea of Rimbaud and a handful of lines and stanzas and one or two poems much more than the main body of his work or the possibilities of writing anything like what he created.

[I was asked for examples of my point above about dead ends etc. Obvious examples of favorite writers of mine are Joyce and Beckett. Anyone who tried to imitate or even extend the incredibly original approaches to the novel that those two writers took failed, at least for me with maybe a handful of exceptions, whereas those who took the innovations for the novel of say William Saroyan or Jack Kerouac, and extended them in various directions often came up with their own approaches that were equally good to my taste. And as for Rimbaud, just taking the prose poem—which if he didn't invent he perfected and marked indelibly with his proto-surrealist technique—again, after well over a century I can only think of a handful of prose poetry that rises to the level of "genius" for my taste, and those take an entirely different route to their fulfillment (like say John Ashbery's THREE POEMS or Mark Terrill's BREAD & FISH, etc.)]

But I kept reading new translations and any biographies or critical books about his work and his life. In part because I was hoping to have that old flame—the excitement of discovery and kinship I first felt on reading Rimbaud as a young man—rekindled, or discover an explanation for why that wasn't happening.

White's book—subtitled "The Double Life of a Rebel"—reinforces in a conversational and personable way, the idea of Rimbaud's sui generis genius. But his examples from Rimbaud's poetry—though they illustrate his points very well and are interestingly and succinctly translated by White himself—still didn't generate a desire to reread the Rimbaud classics again.

I did anyway, just because I wanted to see what I felt about them now. And once again I found lines and stanzas and occasionally entire poems that struck me personally and strongly as genius. And almost all of his limited poetic output is obviously original, unique in ways nothing before and a lot since is not.

But I don't have the feeling I will be dipping back into Rimbaud's poetry again any time soon, if ever, as I do with so many other books of poetry. But any new biographical information that might further clear up what little mystery is left about Rimbaud is welcome, or any new perspective, which in some ways White's is as he uses all the previous bios both in French and English to summarize a lot of the more recently uncovered evidence of what Rimbaud's life in Africa was like, as well as aspects of his most prolific years in France and London, a lot of that time spent with Verlaine.


It's still a fascinating story, and the poetry is still deeply original, and I will never get rid of my old New Directions paperbacks of A SEASON IN HELL and ILLUMINATIONS, and who knows, maybe some time I WILL pick them up and reread them once again and find the connection to the young man I was who found the promise of youthful genius an inspiration and solace for my own teenage troubles and struggles.

Monday, September 6, 2010

MICK LALLY R.I.P.


The first time I used a credit card in Ireland, in a little store in a little village in the West—back before the "Celtic Tiger" days of economic growth, when the country was economically pretty much where it had been for centuries—the store owner I handed it to checked out my name and said to his wife "Look ma, it's the famous Mick Lally" and we all laughed.

The laughter came from the fact that I look nothing like "the famous Mick Lally" and we all three knew it. "The famous Mick Lally" was at that time a well known stage actor whose theatrical company—which he co-founded—The Druid, was based in Galway. But he also appeared in Irish television and in Irish films, and was known for being an "Irish speaker" as well as the standard "English" one, acting in plays entirely in that language, now spoken fluently by fewer and fewer people every year.

I, unfortunately, never met the man, nor saw him on stage. I knew him mostly from one of my all time favorite films, THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH, in which he played the fisherman grandfather (at 48!—the photo above is from that film), and the Irish TV series from the '80s, "Glenroe" and the later '90s Irish TV series, "Ballykissangel."

But I am often linked with Mick because our film credits are often linked incorrectly on various movie info web sites as if we were the same person, along with another Michael Lally, also deceased, who acted on TV and in movies (there's still some of the latter's credits—"The A-Team" and "Dynasty"—on the IMDb site page that has my movie credits, under my full name "Michael David Lally" which I had to use when I started acting because of all the other "Michael Lallys") and his son, Michael Lally, also involved in the movies (mostly behind the scenes, including on almost all of John Cassavettes' films) who I met after I moved to L.A. and stay in touch with.

He went to see Mick Lally in a play at his theater company in Galway and introduced himself afterwards as another Michael Lally and Mick invited him out to a pub to exchange family histories and find the clan connection and after that whenever the Southern California Michael Lally was in Ireland he got together with Mick. I wish I had thought to do the same. He sounded like a wonderful man, and obviously was a wonderful actor.

He was only 64 so it's all the more sad that he's passed. But if you want to experience his kind and and subtly powerful presence, just watch THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH and he'll still be alive for you. Thank God for the movies.

[There are plenty of fine obits you can find by googling, including this extensive one in the NY Times, but the best is this account of his funeral from The Irish Times.]

Sunday, September 5, 2010

JUST A FEW RECOVERY ACT STATS

The "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009"—Obama's "stimulus" (NOT to be confused with the Bush/Cheney "bank bailout" TARP)—has already achieved a lot and is on target to continue, though if Republicans retake control of the Congress, or eventually the federal government, much if not all of these achievements could be reversed.

Unfortunately, Obama's "non-drama" style (he should be holding a press conference at the site of a Recovery Act achievement every other day if not every day, which would be possible as there have already been thousands and thousands of projects created, from new factories opening or old ones re-opening to highway projects etc.), the right's manipulation of the media, and the media's tendency to trivialize the news to the level of viewing all politics as a horse race while ignoring substantive and in-depth reporting has left most of our fellow citizens partially if not completely ignorant of the extent of the Obama administration accomplishments so far (beyond healthcare reform and new regulations of Wall Street and ending combat operations in Iraq, and even those have been dismissed or mostly ignored as Obama achievements).

So here's just a few things the stimulus has achieved (from the Sept. 6th TIME) (and I'm not saying all these are what I would want to see done or couldn't be done better but they have been or are being accomplished nonetheless):

"saved or created 3 million jobs, helping avoid a depression and end a recession" (though if the stimulus were twice as big—as many economists suggested it should be (e.g. Paul Krugman)—we wouldn't be possibly heading back into a recession and more jobs would have been created, and yes I know it "feels" to many like the Great Recession never ended, but according to the definition of "recession" it did end as a result of Obama's policies)

"cut taxes for 95% of working Americans"

"bailed out every state"

create "record amounts of unemployment benefits and other aid to struggling families"

"funded more than 100,000 projects to upgrade roads, subways, schools, airports, military bases and much more"

it's "the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund"

by "pouring $90 billion into clean energy"

"including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S."

"triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes"

"quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet"

"finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the internet"

"a tenfold increase in funding to expand access to broadband"

"sequence more than 2,300 complete human genomes—when only 34 were sequenced with all previous aid"

"$8 billion for a high-speed passenger rail network"

"$4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants to promote accountability in public schools"

"$20 billion to move health records into the digital age"

and create "solar arrays"

"zero-energy border stations"

"eco-friendly Coast Guard headquarters"

"an 'advanced synchrotron light source'"

"spread successful quit smoking programs"

"$249 million to build two [lithium battery] plants in Michigan" to "supply the first generation mass-market electric cars"

"$529 million...to help Fisker Automotive reopen a shuttered General Motors factory in Delaware" (for electric cars)

and more for "electric trucks in Indiana"

"boost the number of U.S. battery-charging stations by 3,200%"

"expanding U.S. production capacity from 1% of the global market [for advanced batteries for electric vehicles] to 20%"

"$3.4 billion for clean coal projects aiming to sequester or reuse carbon"

"on track to exceed [EXCEED!] Obama's goal of doubling renewable power by 2012"

"the wind industry added a record 10,000 megawatts in 2009"

"The stimulus is also supporting the nation's largest photo-voltaic solar plant, in Florida"

"and what will be the world's two largest solar thermal plants, in Arizona and California"

"plus thousands of solar installations on homes and buildings"

"helping scores of manufacturers of wind turbines and solar products expand"

"funding dozens of smart-grid approaches"

"truckloads of batteries for a grid-storage project in California"

"re-cycled electric-car batteries for a similar effort in Detroit"

"launched the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy...blue sky fund"

"The stimulus will help...create a kind of reverse aluminum smelter to make [battery] prototypes the size of a hockey puck..."

"The Recovery Act is weatherizing 250,000 homes this year"

"gave homeowners rebates for energy-efficient appliances"

is" retrofitting...server farms, factories and power plants"

and "3 in 4 federal buildings"

"18 million...new smart meters...will be in use by 2013"

etc. etc. etc.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

PAUL KRUGMAN: CORRECT AGAIN

I always liked Krugman's occasional columns in the NY Times. But then my oldest son, Miles, turned me on to his daily blog with sometimes multiple posts in one day, many as witty as anything on The Daily Show, and some with links to, or embedded videos and music and other articles, including from The Onion, that add another smile to my day. Now he's part of my daily reading and always hits the mark (as in this column from Thursday's Times).

He's a really intelligent man, not simply a brilliant economist. He not only deserved the Nobel Prize he received in economics, he deserves a bigger voice and more influence in the Obama administration.

But because the economic evidence he constantly offers to back up his appeals for specific political choices and policies often go against shortsighted corporate greed in favor of the greater good, he is naturally systematically attacked by rightwing mouthpieces and their dittoheads (see the attacks on Krugman that appear regularly from the right in the comments threads on this blog).

However, anyone with any capability for reason and logic will have a hard time disagreeing with Krugman's conclusions nor deny his mastery of economic theory and fact. Ignoring him has proven to be a mistake from the beginning of his career. Even more so now that his abilities have matured and he's acquired even more evidence in support of his arguments for the kinds of policies that will benefit all of us instead of just the wealthiest few.

Friday, September 3, 2010

ANOTHER MUSICAL GATHERING IN THE 'SHIRE

Drove up to Great Barrington with my twelve-year-old son to catch my oldest son, Miles, and the newish band he's been playing with, BELL ENGINE, playing a pig roast at the Route 7 Grill.

The regular menu's hit-and-miss for some folks (the wings are always terrific and so are the sweet potato fries) but the service is great, including the owner's jumping in to help wait tables and generally make you feel like you're in his home.

The pig roast was enjoyed by a good sized crowd at tables outside, under a tent-top, open-air kind of set up, with the band at one end. Me and some friends and family (I know grammatically that should be "I" but idiomatically "me" sounds more natural to this "I") sat on the "patio" as they called the deck where we ate from the regular menu and could see the band as they did their three part set.

Basically the band does a very old-fashioned, deeply traditional big band, traveling show kind of format. They start out with just the two singer/acoustic guitarists, John and Lisa, playing as a duo some of John's compositions and the effect is celestial. That's because they're harmonizing is angelic. Their voices blend so well you feel you know their music, as if it's already part of your life, at the same time you recognize it's uniqueness.

Miles joins them on bass adding depth and a groove for a few more numbers and then the rest of the band—Sam on drums and electric guitarist Dan—complete the entire group broadening and expanding and electrifying the sound of John's songs until you feel the musical genius of his creations.

For the third part of the evening John and Lisa, who started the musical evening by themselves, step out and let the instrumentalists have the bandstand as they improvise jams that never last too long, never repeat themselves (if one extends a funk groove, another might embody the coolness and nuances of an original extended jazz riff, etc.) but always make you move.

They started around six and went 'til around ten and pretty much everyone stayed for the entire show. And picture this all happening with a big stretch of green lawn that ends with giant trees extending up into some Berkshire mountains as the day fades and the light coming through the threatening clouds that never do more than threaten reflecting off the lush and various shades of green, kids of all sizes running around on that lawn and between the tables under the tent top and around the band and dogs too, it was the perfect end-of-summer evening.

Especially for me, watching and hearing my oldest son groove on bass, while dancing and catching up with my daughter Cait, my oldest, as her daughter and Miles' son and their uncle, my youngest, run around laughing and smiling in the midst of a gaggle of other kids, and my daughter-in-law joins us and good friends from Jersey are there too as well as friends from up here in the Berkshires. This is my idea of heaven. The only thing missing is just the rest of my friends and family that I love and love to be with.

I couldn't help thinking that in different clothes and minus the electronic devices that weren't in sight for the most part, this could have been a hundred or three hundred years ago or more. The simple, but basic, things have always meant the most—family and friends. At least to me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

WINTER'S BONE


Everything I'd read about this movie proved pretty true in watching it.

The lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence—playing a seventeen-year-old "hillbilly" as rural folk in the Ozarks and Appalachia were disparagingly called when I was a boy—gives an award-winning performance. The stark "realism" of the story, the direction (and therefore acting, including several non-professional locals), the cinematography, etc. is brilliantly conveyed (even if the lack of any real humor undermines the idea of total "realism" for this locale where by the film's lights everything is deadly serious). And so on.

This was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival and I can see why. It's so well-executed it's hard to believe that the director, Debra Granik, hasn't done much before this. She also wrote the screenplay with another neophyte screenwriter, Anne Tosellini, adapting it from a novel by Daniel Woodrell.

Though there are quibbles I could make with some aspects of the moviemaking, including some confusing elements in the plot, and there are similarly small, independent films it evokes—FROZEN RIVER being the most recent—WINTER'S BONE stands alone as an artistic achievement for my taste.

No matter how manipulated I felt by the soundtrack (including live music performed on screen) it was totally appropriate for the story and location and so good I intend to add it to my iTunes library immediately. And no matter how much I was aware that the man playing the lead's uncle "Teardrop" was an actor (John Hawke, who played almost the exact opposite type as the hardware store owner on DEADWOOD or Garret Dillahunt playing the sheriff's deputy who we've seen in many TV episodes but most effectively on another David Milch production JOHN FROM CINCINNATI) he did such a great job, or was directed so well, I was moved and startled and impressed by his performance and taken in by his character anyway!

I could go on with other aspects of the flick that had me observing the artistry as it was happening, but in the end the movie is completely worth watching, especially that justifiably much heralded lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence. If it's playing near you, try to see it on the big screen so you can totally immerse yourself in its ambiance.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

EDUCATION IN NEW JERSEY

My twelve-year-old goes back to school in our Jersey town in a few days and he's facing a diminished school system thanks to the new Republican governor, Chris Christie.

One of the first things Christie did was cut education funding (one of the other first things was push for tax cuts for the wealthy, sound familiar?).

And though he objects to Obama and the Democrats policies and thinks the federal government should stay out of the state eduction system, he was savvy enough to know he had to follow through on Jersey's attempt to be one of the recipients of Obama's Education Secretary's "Race to the Top" funding for the top ten states to qualify.

Turns out, Jersey qualified. But Christie's Republican appointed Republican members of the committee in charge of applying for that money messed up. And then Christie blamed Obama!

Here's Rachel Maddow's take on the events that followed. You have to watch it to the end to see the extent of Republican hypocrisy and how the "big lie" technique is always the political weapon of choice. And after watching it all the way through, think about how many rightwingers and those they influence will never see this tape but will hear about Christie's lie and believe it. The beat goes on.