Thursday, April 14, 2011


A week from today, at 6:30 PM at the DIA Foundation on 22nd Street in Manhattan, I'll be giving the second poetry reading I've done since the brain surgery.

You're probably tired of hearing about that operation and its aftereffects but, they seem to be ongoing. My thirteen-year-old has recently started playing his drum set again, using the brushes to back me up on the jazzy riffs and interpretations of the few old standards I remember that I play on the old beat up upright 1800s piano that I grew up playing on and came back into my life when I moved to Jersey and one of my brothers moved to Georgia and left the piano with me.

The ivory on many of the white keys is busted, making some of the notes almost dangerous to play with their sharp jagged edges. But "the action"—as piano players call the touch of the keys and the way they rebound to that touch—is exactly how I remember it from my boyhood and so gives me the kind of pleasure comfort food that reminds you of your childhood favorite dishes do. Only with food, it's always impossible to get it just the way your mother made it, but with this piano it actually is exactly as it was when my mother was cooking that food in our little kitchen for me and my siblings and our father and our "crippled" grandma who lived with us and the boarder et. al.

I stopped playing piano when I was still in my twenties because of frustration with bands and gigs and clubs and whatever, plus I wanted to concentrate on my writing, and only started playing again in my forties. I even played some gigs (like one in Hollywood where Ray Manzarek from The Doors backed me while I read some poems, and after hearing me fiddle on the keys in rehearsals suggested I accompany myself on a few numbers, which I did).

After not having played for so long, I discovered my left hand was even weaker than it had been when I was young. I could comp chords and play some stride style and boogie woogie etc. so there was variety, but I couldn't transpose like I once could, forced to play mostly in C, the easiest key. But my right hand was still pretty facile and I could do runs up and down the keyboard that would impress you with their speed and accuracy and variety.

Not any more.

Since the operation, whenever I try to do some of my standard runs up and down the keyboard, my fingers mess up and the amount of notes I could once fit into a short run is greatly reduced, or worse, I hit the wrong notes.

And yesterday while playing with my little guy, I started playing "As Time Goes By" which I do pretty much the way Dooley Wilson did in CASABLANCA, but where usually I could play that tune old style with my eyes closed, I kept hitting the wrong notes because my hands were spread over the keys so far I couldn't see both hands at the same time and whichever I wasn't looking at would mess up so that I had to bring them closer together and instead of playing stride like with my left played what they used to call "block chords" bunched up in the middle range of the keyboard where I could watch both hands at the same time.

I've learned to accept all this and work with it, but these are just some of the many reminders that my brain isn't functioning as it once was in some areas. E.g. somewhere above when attempting to write "But the" I wrote "The the" and I do that kind of thing over and over again.

It's a lot better than it was those first few months after the operation, but it ain't what it once was. It's only been seventeen months as of yesterday, so a lot of this may yet improve and return to what was once "normal" for me. But in the meantime, I'll do my best to do my best and most folks won't have any idea of the changes inside my head and the ways they impact my life outside my head. But I will.

Kind of got off the subject, which was if you can make it to my reading next Thursday evening in NYC, I'd sure appreciate seeing you there.
(This is me after winning a talent contest at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane Washington sometime in the early 1960s. I actually won that tiny loving cup on top of the piano for "comedy" doing a routine where I played some common ditty like "Jingle Bells" or whatever was appropriate for the season as interpreted by Liberace, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, etc. and did it as though I were drunk as well, which I may well have been looking at this photo!)   


TC said...

Good for you, Mike. That'll be two more readings than I've managed in this century. I admire your courage.

Even if the parts aren't working the way they used to, it's good to still have parts -- even a bit part will do -- and even better if they're still working... at all.

Lally said...

Thanks Tom. I do realize how lucky I am considering so many old friends who either aren't with us anymore or are struggling with much greater physical challenges than mine. And though you may have done no readings in this century, your output on your blog BEYOND THE PALE, and others you contribute to, and in books etc. is impressive for anyone, let alone someone dealing with the kinds of challenges you've been faced with. Must be the Irish cops in our genes.

tpw said...

Great photograph. They allowed high waters in the Air Force?

Lally said...

I guess for talent contests! And not just high but tight too. And how 'bout those cockroach killers (i.e. the "kicks")?

Jamie Rose said...

Love the pic Lals! I'm going post on FB about the reading.


Lally said...

Thanks Jamie.

Jamie Rose said...

Just read the post. Before I had only just looked at the pic. Made me feel for you to read about the piano playing. Must be so frustrating--and disconcerting. Still, so glad to have you around Lals.


Robert Berner said...

Dear Lal--Love that photo, high-
waters and all, but your kicks aren't quite pointy enough to qualify as genuine winkle-pickers.And
your slice is neither high nor tight enough to pass as a genuine GI white
sidewall. Ah, well the Air Force
always did have a reputation for
being slack among the enlisted ranks.
Wish I could make it to your reading
on the 21st, but we'll be in France.
Love and La Dolce, and Break A Leg,
Bob B.

Lally said...

Bob, I had already been in for a couple of years when this was taken, and at the time I was actually stationed to the local civilian airport (Spokane) and living in an apartment in town, which wasn't approved (I just went into the base for inspections etc.). But I can tell you my last day in the service a few years later a Captain stopped me on the way to pick up my discharged papers and told me to go get a regulation haircut "by the numbers" and when I explained I was on my way out, he said he'd have me dragged back and thrown in the stockade if I didn't get a regulation haircut and report to him so he could approve it. Ah, fond service memories.

Robert Berner said...

Memories indeed, and even a few fond ones. Mostly we were just lucky enough to get through it and get out.
And what, exactly, is a "regulation
Bob B.