Monday, December 30, 2013

A QUOTE STILL RELEVANT FOR OUR TIMES

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist."  —Archbishop Helder Camara (he made this comment in the in the 1960s or '70s, but it still holds true, and you can replace "Communist" with socialist, or liberal, etc.)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

I missed Tracy Letts' play on Broadway, highly recommended by many friends. But I watched the movie of it on my computer tonight (new thing this awards season is downloads rather than DVD for many of this year's movies) and wished I'd seen it on stage, where I think the melodramatic elements may have been less obvious.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to praise in this flick. Especially Julia Roberts' performance and Meryl Streep's as well. Chris Cooper, as always, doing an impeccable and impressive job in an almost thankless role. Everyone was good, really. That's a tribute to John Wells' direction (full disclosure, I knew him in my Hollywood years, and always liked him).

But I would have cast several roles differently if I'd had the chance. Julianne Nicholson does a beautiful job as Ivy, performance-wise, but casting her as the pushing-fifty old maid of the trio of daughters, well, I ain't buying it. And though Abigail Breslin has proven her acting chops, oh what a young Juliette Lewis would have done with that role.

Though as the third aging sister Lewis is devastatingly good. But the dysfunction of this family and the ways in which plot points are strategically doled out was just too much for me. I was moved by a lot, but ultimately disappointed when the credits rolled. Though I won't be surprised if Tracy Letts gets nominated for Best Screenplay Adaptation (from the play) because most Hollywood folks I know love this kind of over-the-top emotional bloodletting stuff.

But I'd still like to see Roberts, Streep, Cooper and Lewis get nominated in acting categories. Something tells me it'll only be Streep and Roberts.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

HARRY E. NORTHUP SCORES AGAIN

My friend and fellow poet Harry E. Northup scores another hit with this video reading of one of his poetic homers (gotta listen to the end):

Friday, December 27, 2013

OUT OF THE PAST

Probably the tenth or twelfth time I've watched this maybe greatest of all film noir flicks. Mitchum is impeccable in it. Jane Greer has been the ultimate movie bad girl ever since she made this. No one has topped her yet in my book. Kirk Douglas as the ultimate bad guy is pretty interesting. And the rest of the supporting cast are pretty much perfectly on the mark.

I've written about it enough, and I'm sure already on this blog. But I watched it from beginning to end (the end still pisses me off but that's part of its unique impact) tonight and once again loved every minute (except for the end, which I still loved as movie making just not as the outcome I ever want to see…). If you've never seen it you're in for a treat.

I'm so grateful for TCM! (And I have to say, OUT OF THE PAST has become a favorite holiday movie, and there's not a holiday in it.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT

Me and Jamie Rose, best friends for thirty years, at another best friends' house (Sue & Jeannie's in Milburn NJ) earlier tonight, Xmas eve 2013. How lucky am I, and all of us, to have best friends and Xmas eves. Always so much to be grateful for.

Monday, December 23, 2013

YUSEF LATEEF R.I.P.

Sad to see him go, but he had a good long life, playing music that touched so many. This recording was made around the time I first was digging him. Lex Humphries is on drums, someone I met a few times that year (1961) and dug, Barry Harris on piano and Ernie Farrow on bass.

Lean, crisp and straight ahead version of one of the great movie themes (Spartacus), seemingly made for jazz (Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans interpreted it beautifully as well). I first heard Lateef live on sax and flute, but here he is on oboe (and a few years later my first wife, Lee, and I named a stray kitten we took in Yusef! You remember, Willy?):

AH YES

I always appreciated the cleverness of the music and lyrics, and the set up etc. but happening on this scene again tonight on TV was the first time I actually began to identify with the characters! Quite moving for this old post-brain-op dude. The song comes in around two minutes in, but this is the best selection because it gives you the set up in case you never saw it or don't remember.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

HMMMMM...

In the 20s two days ago, 60s today, expected to be in the 70s tomorrow and back down to the 20s two days from then.

Just like when I was a kid at the end of Decembers.  NOT!  NEVER!

The climate patterns have changed, drastically, as we all know and either are in denial about it, have decided to ignore it, or are fighting those who have contributed and continue to contribute to it: i.e. oil corporations et. al.

Drastic times require drastic measures.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

Would you believe I never saw this until a few nights ago?  Now I know what all the fuss is about.  A fun ride.  But the best thing about it is Jeff Bridges.

From the first time I saw him in a film I kept telling friends he was the greatest movie actor of his generation.  And he has proven it over and over again since then, leading to a lot of other people agreeing.

He makes this flick work. Otherwise it would just be another "quirky" independent film with eccentric characters etc. But instead it's a classic.  All the acting is good.  But Bridges is great. The dude does abide.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

ME & ME

This is a shot the incomparable Jamie Rose took of me standing in front of a shot Gus Van Sant took of me a few decades ago. Aging's a trip. Cool shot though.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

HOMAGE TO HORACE

There was a notice of Horace Silver's death yesterday going around the Internet that turned out to be false.  But it made me realize how much his music meant to me when I was a young musician trying to make my mark as a jazz piano player.

I would have told you back then, and since, that my main influences and jazz piano icons were Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal.  I would have left out Horace Silver (and I later realized Errol Garner) who impacted me equally but because Silver (and Garner) were such low key nice guys, (Silver I know for certain, Garner I'm guessing) and I was a troubled young cat, they didn't register in the way say Miles did with his self-designed suits and shades and cool image etc.

But Silver was and is a giant of jazz, as those of us ho care have always known of course.  And I wanted to say thank you to him as a fan and admirer and appreciator of all he not only brought to jazz but to my young manhood.

And here's one of my favorite tracks from back then.  Listen to the whole thing, but especially when he begins to solo around three minutes in and with tact and taste swings the tune off its hinges with seemingly no effort.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

JIM HALL, RAY PRICE R.I.P.

The great jazz guitarist, Jim Hall (leaning on piano above with Bill Evans at the keys) will always be associated with Bill Evans for me. His recordings and gigs with Evans were where I first discovered Hall and was knocked out by his understated genius on his instrument. Like Evans in many ways, only less troubled and thereby long lived. The great thing is his music lives on.
Come on. Who hasn't been impacted by Ray Price's musical genius. "Make the World Go Away" would be enough to put him in any musical pantheon I had anything to do with. But that's just a drop in the bucket of his many knockout songs. Another one who beat the odds and had a long and productive life. And his music too will live on.

Monday, December 16, 2013

JOAN FONTAINE, PETER O'TOOLE AND BILLY JACK R.I.P.

Maybe best known for Rebecca, and deservedly so, she was most luminous and sympathetically beautiful to me in her smaller but necessary role in The Women.  Starred in movies in the 1930s and was still acting on TV in the 1990s!  Almost made it to a hundred.  Good for her.
Looked that good and could still act, though he could also overact. Lawrence of Arabia is of course what everyone is referring to in his obits and tributes. But amazingly, my favorite performance and I think in many ways his best was just a few years ago in Venus, playing an aging matinee idol at the end of his life. His most understated and for me most powerful performance.
Tom Laughlin created Billy Jack. Though not as great an actor as the two above, he made as strong a mark on his generation of movie goers, or I should say mine. The first action movie hero to stand up for hippies and peaceniks getting the brunt of the violence in the 1960s, despite revisionist histories trying to make it look like the other way round. The movies were low budget and looked it, the acting often stiff or unrealistically "natural" etc. But revolutionary in their stance and message. John Wayne types can fight for lefties too!

Thanks to all three and what they gave me as a movie lover.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

MOST RECENT FAVORITE QUOTE

"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"  —Pope Francis (from Evangelii Gaudium)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

STEPHEN SONDHEIM'S FINISHING THE HAT AND SIX BY SONDHEIM

The other night I watched SIX BY SONDHEIM, an HBO documentary about the lyricist/composer who's had more of an influence on modern musicals than anyone. Like all his own work, the documentary was a mixed bag. But the best part of it for me, as is often the case in docs about individuals, especially creators, was his own words.

Excerpting bits of interviews from throughout his career, the director James Lapine, Sondheim's main directing collaborator on his musicals, was able to edit together bits of explanations and stories about Sondheim's creative process, personal history and influences. Sondheim is one of the most honest, articulate and at times eloquent artists you probably will ever hear explain their own work.

As those who read this blog know, or even just my last post, anyone doing their best to create any work of art is appreciated by me. And when what they create is good it's a bonus. And when it is original in any aspect, I'm overjoyed. Sondheim, of course, not only does all that, he hits the highest goal for my taste, and that is creating something that changes the game in any art.

The documentary had interviews with others, as well as the subject, and several production numbers (must have been six, I guess) that were, like his work, highly original but a mixture of satisfying and almost aggravating, or at least disappointing. His work, for me, lifts the spirit with the genius he displays in his craft: the melodies he creates and the words to go with them, or vice versa.  But at the same time challenges any possible joy with a bit of cynicism and disappointment that can almost taste bitter.

The triumph is in the overcoming of life's disappointments, or maybe just outliving them, as in his song "I'm Here," which is delineated and examined from every angle and then given a production number that is in your face obvious and weirdly unexpected at the same time. The song was written for an older female character as a proud but sad declaration of survival despite the vagaries of life, but was sung cabaret style, more or less, by a man of indeterminate age [Jarvis Cocker mostly in shadows or dim lighting] with many in the on set cabaret audience older and elderly women heavily made up and looking either proud or deeply saddened by their reality reflected in the song. [Just found out that number was directed by Todd Haynes!]

I should have written this earlier when I could be more articulate about what I mean, but hopefully you get the idea. That production number left me both moved and confused, which often seems Sondheim's objective. But to hear him talk about how he structures his lyrics was such a pleasure for me. I love to hear artists who are able to clearly explain their process. It not only enlightens me about how others work, but delights me in ways it's hard to explain, partly because of the joy it gives me to hear someone describe strategies I've used (and thought I discovered), and partly the sheer pleasure I get from the commitment to the work that ends up bringing so much to so many.

I'd already read what is one of my favorite books about creating works of art, Sondheim's own recent (well, a few years old now) book Finishing The Hat, Collected Lyrics (1954-81) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. A title worthy of Sondheim.  The main title comes from one of the songs in his Sunday in the Park with George. My favorite musical of his, even though I'm not crazy about the second act and think it doesn't live up to the promise of the first. But even that act is better than most other creators' efforts.  But the first act.  For a while in the 'eighties I  would insist women I was dating watch the DVD, or listen to the CD, of that musical with me and their response would determine if I wanted to keep dating them or not.

I was so moved by it, because it's about that commitment to the work, that drive and necessity to create something you can never be sure anyone will even get, let alone appreciate, and yet you do it anyway, with all your heart and soul. So many have experienced that and ended up with so little appreciation and recognition. Including me at times, and many I know and whose work I find among my favorites and feel everyone should love though sometimes very few do.

There are terrific poems being written and read all over this country, all over the world, at this very moment, and most of them will never be seen or heard by more than a few people. Just as there are all kinds of books and plays and paintings and sculptures and songs and etc. that anyone of us would be proud to have created and yet may never be seen or heard or etc.  Sondheim captures what that means in Sunday in the Park with George, and makes, I think, an audience feel it, whether they've ever tried to create a work of art themselves or not.  That's a hell of an accomplishment.

Although Sondheim now feels the lyrics he wrote to Leonard Bernstein's melodies for Westside Story were not what he would have written if he controlled the story and music, those lyrics changed my life. I was a teenage boy who'd never been exposed to a Broadway musical or play and thought of the live theater as some rich peoples' boring high fallutin' elitist exclusive nothing-to-do-with-my-reality jive.

But then at a rich girl's house whose parents brought her to Broadway plays I heard the cast album to Westside Story, which hadn't been made into a movie yet, and I was shocked at how relevant the lyrics were to my life and how I felt, and the lives of friends and our reality. I thought, oh wait, this is what art can do?  I want more. And I want to do it.  I was already writing poetry and playing piano and fantasizing about acting in movies, but I had no models for what I was trying to do 'cause all the poetry and music and movie acting I knew, even when I dug it, never fully represented who I was and where I came from and was coming from.

I never forgot Sondheim's name and the impact his lyrics in Westside Story had had on me.  But I was often disappointed by him in later years because so much of his work seemed cold or bitter or like I said cynical. But in this documentary and book so much is made clear about the reasons for that. His mother's cruelty (she wrote him a note the night before she had open heart surgery that said she only had one regret: giving birth to him!) and as revealed in an interview when he was old, he fell in love for the first time when he was sixty!

I don't know who besides Sondheim fanatics, or those with a deep interest in the creative process, will bother to work their way through his book, Finishing the Hat, or even the documentary Six by Sondheim. And there's a lot in both that can disappoint. But the rewards, the good stuff, the revealing and moving and inspiring parts, make the effort well worthwhile.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that I have kept above my desk for decades now, from lyrics out of Sunday in the Park with George:

"Stop worrying if your vision
is new.
Let others make that decision—
They usually do.
You keep moving on."
        

Friday, December 13, 2013

ANOTHER NIGHT OF CREATIVE WONDER

Just got back from Brooklyn to see my friend the writer William Lannigan read a piece of a memoir focusing on Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  The evening was a reading by over a dozen finalists in a contest for the best short nonfiction about Brooklyn. Most of it about a Brooklyn that once was.

Bill's piece knocked me out both as written and read. In many ways it was one of the most challenging pieces of the evening because he put himself out in a way that was so personally honest about race and ethnicity and changing concepts of both that made some of the other attempts to address that seem almost generic and over sentimentalized.

But all the writing was good, some of it brilliant, and the variety of approaches to Brooklyn and the writers'  personal relationships and histories with Brooklyn was almost as varied as the borough itself. Though the evening would have worked better had it been broken into two evenings, or even three.  As it was it tried the patience of a large crowd that showed up despite the sub freezing weather.

But most of the audience stayed with it and engaged with the offerings and responded warmly to them. I came away juiced by and grateful for the commitment to the creative urge that led these various writers—old and young, Jewish and Irish and Italian and Caribbean and Asian and African and more—to do the work necessary to make it to being a finalist among some pretty terrific writing.

Don't you just love all the creativity in the world there is to engage with and be rewarded by?  I do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

MEMORIES

Anyone who's read any of my work knows I care a lot about getting history correct, at least as I've lived it and witnessed it.  But whenever I do more research, I discover new evidence for the need to correct something I thought I knew well.

Photos can be like that too.  Someone sent me this photo through the Internet earlier today, Colleen Halsey, a friend from my L.A. days who I met through her twin sister, Jo An Kincaid.  It was taken at her wedding to Richard Halsey, and that's me standing with Bob Chartoff with the glass in his hand.

I almost didn't recognize myself.  Partly because I'm wearing an oversize oil slick pattern suit coat I thought made some kind of absurdest statement about style constrictions.  (Possibly influenced by David Byrne's giant suit STOP MAKING SENSE period.)

In this shot it makes me look like I weighed a lot more than the 150 pounds I've weighed since I was fifteen (and still do) except for a brief period when another L.A. friend talked me into working out and building another ten or fifteen pounds of muscle. Which the ladies seemed to dig but made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Anyway, there I am, in a shot I almost thought was someone else. In a moment in my personal history looking like I wouldn't have remembered if I hadn't seen this photo. Not only because of the brain operation and aging in general, but because candid snapshots like this often surprise with their this-couldn't-be-me unexpected reality.

Memories. Almost as good as making new ones.

Friday, December 6, 2013

VIVA LA DIFFERENCE

So, think there's no difference between the left and the right, between Dems and Repubs?

Try to remember that most on the right opposed the release of Nelson Mandela (including some praising Mandela now!) and sanctions against apartheid.

It was the left, and initially exclusively Democrats, supporting Mandela's release and the sanctions against South Africa that ended apartheid and led to Mandela's freedom.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

FRED HAMPTON R.I.P.

On this day, Dec. 4th, in 1969, Fred Hampton, the young Black Panther leader in Chicago, who I loved and admired, was shot to death by the police while he was sleeping in his bed with so many bullets it made the ending of Bonnie and Clyde look like a picnic.

Originally claiming they were only returning fire, it was immediately clear by the evidence that the only shots fired had been from the police, though of course they tried to cover it up.

I wanted to type up a poem I wrote on the day it happened, but it was only published in one of my smaller books (Stupid Rabbits I think), the only copy of which is in my archives at the NYU library and I don't have easy access to it at the moment.

So let me just say, it was one of the most egregious displays of the misuse of the police and the FBI ever in this country. But also a perfect example of what happens when the police—local, state and national—are used for political ends rather than for what they are meant for, to protect and serve.

This wasn't like more recent murders of young black men by police, where the police were simply too frightened and ill-trained and dumb to recognize the mistake they were making. This was a planned assassination.

Hampton did nothing but help people. He was a really sweet cat, and young. Only 21. I met him when he was 19, and he was just an intelligent, caring and gentle soul in my experience. He remains one of the unforgettable martyrs for peace and justice, an icon of my 1960s, and a reminder that no matter what, we have to stay alert to injustice and fight it as much as we are able.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NEW QUOTE

"One well-established fact is that polarization in Congress maps onto one measure better than any other: economic inequality. The smaller the gap between rich and poor, the more moderate our politicians; the greater the gap, the greater the disagreement between liberals and conservatives. The greater the disagreement between liberals and conservatives, the less Congress is able to get done; the less Congress gets done, the greater the gap between rich and poor."      —Jill Lepore (from "Long Division" in The New Yorker Dec. 2, 2013)

Monday, December 2, 2013

TWO ICONS

Billie Holiday of course, and Martin Luther King. two giants in my personal iconography.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

THE SEARCHERS

Caught this for the eighth or tenth time last night on TCM's "Essentials" with Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore.  I knew Drew a little back in my Hollywood days when she was still a teenager. An incredibly bright, mature and competent person even then. Watching her grow as a film commentator on TCM's Saturday night showcase for movies Robert Osborne and her select as "essentials" has been a treat.

Last night particularly because Osborne for the first time (in my perspective) was reacting to aspects of THE SEARCHERS, which as he pointed out is considered by many critics and the American Film Institute as the greatest Western film ever, like a kind of grumpy old fogey. For instance saying he didn't like the technicolor and preferred the way the director John Ford shot the same locale (Monument Valley I believe) in black and white in his other Westerns.

He said that in response to Drew's enthusiastic response to the deep and bright primary colors in the film. Osborne also objected to Natalie Wood getting movie star credit and then not appearing in the film until very near the end which he felt distracted from the story and more or less predicted the outcome for her character.

But Drew again said that was one of the things she liked most about Wood's character, though hardly on screen Wood gave the character a kind of depth and fullness just with her movie star presence and stature. Only Drew said it better.

THE SEARCHERS is definitely high on any list I used to make (pre-brain op when I constantly made lists) of favorite Westerns and movies of any genre. But like the majority (probably more than ninety percent unfortunately) of Hollywood movies set around the time of The Civil War, this one three years after it, the ex-Confederate soldier is always cast as more noble, a better warrior and battle strategist, more honorable and more dependable and braver than anyone else and the Yankees, especially the soldiers are either shown to be fools or devils or slobs or unreliable or devious or incompetent or cowards etc.

It's despicable and partly came from early movie people sympathetic to the South, like D. W. Griffith, and partly from the post-Reconstruction period's attempt to placate the losers' bitterness and revenge fantasies by capitulating to the myth of the supposed honor and nobility of their cause. But in fact their cause was the perpetuation of an evil, the institution of slavery, and the facts show that more Union soldiers showed nobility and bravery and honor than their enemy.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE should be required viewing after any of old Hollywood's movies that mythologize the Confederacy and its defenders (as John Wayne's character is in THE SEARCHERS). But that major caveat aside, THE SEARCHERS is still a pleasure to watch for everything else about it, including the vibrancy of its technicolor and the beauty of Natalie Wood's cameo performance and presence. As well as the entire cast of great Hollywood character actors.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

WATCH TO THE END

Almost worth it just for the music and first several seconds, but you have to watch it to the end.

Friday, November 29, 2013

FAIR SHARE

As the new pope made clear, along with historians and those who truly care about the poor and struggling, the disparity between the wealthiest among us and the poorest has to be addressed and corrected. It's right up there with climate change and the oppression of women in too much of the world.

Here's three things I'd like to see more action on (including protest campaigns from activists):

1. Religious organizations should be taxed proportionally (as should everyone else, including corporations).

2. Professional sports teams should be not given tax breaks for new stadiums and arenas that taxpayers are forced to subsidize (or like spoiled brats the teams will take their balls and go elsewhere etc.)

3. Corporations that rely on taxpayers to supplement their workers' meager pay and benefits through food stamps and Medicaid etc. (like Walmarts) should be required by law to pay their workers living wages (like Costco does I understand) or be banned from doing business in this country.

Just another late night rantlet (and mini-list!)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

MIKE TYSON: UNDISPUTED TRUTH

This one man show was filmed for HBO and I finally caught it tonight and was pleasantly and movingly surprised.  I knew Tyson was bright from the first interview he had on a late night TV show after he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history, because when asked about boxing his answers revealed an amazing knowledge of not just the art but the history, in depth and enlightening.

But still I didn't expect a lot from this one man show venture. But he knocked me out, in the show biz sense. He's funny, poignant, humble, brutally honest, self-aware and totally engaging. He imitates all kinds of people in ways that bring them to life and make it feel like it's a multi-character show. If there's any rationalizing of some of his bigger life mistakes, or self-justification, it's layered in as I said humility and the honesty at the core of humility.

The show is really well shaped and flows so well I wasn't bored or disinterested for a second. Spike Lee's done a good job of directing, but it's Tyson's show all the way and he makes it well worth your while to watch it.

[PS: For those wondering about this post for these holi (holy) day(s)...it is quite appropriate since the ultimate message in Tyson's show is gratitude, as it is in Thanksgiving and Hanukkah...]

Monday, November 25, 2013

TWO OLD FAVORITE QUOTES

"and in a sense we're all winning
 we're alive"
                                     
 —Frank O'Hara (from the poem "Steps")

"but it is good to be several floors up in the dead of night
 wondering whether you are any good or not
 and the only decision you can make is that you did it"

—Frank O'Hara (from the poem "Adieu to Norman,/Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul

Sunday, November 24, 2013

HMMMM...

So the storm that just whipped through the Southwest was another "historic" one breaking all records in some areas and some weather folks didn't even know how to name it because of how erratic and unusual some aspects of it were.

And there's still not just wing nuts but their political leaders and mouthpieces arguing against climate change, or that global warming has contributed to it.

Meanwhile even lefties are condemning Obamacare wholesale, forgetting how much of it is already working well, like not letting insurance companies deny you if you have a pre-existing condition, or covering your kids until they're twenty-six or covering previously uninsured and uninsurable children, etc.

It seems sometimes like the Facebook like button, or the Internet in general along with contemporary news bad habits (and contemporary bad news habits) (except for Al Jazeera America, which though a lot less flashier often covers news old style, in depth and with reporters covering a story, not talking heads commenting on one or manufacturing one) has created an environment where only generalities and blanket statements get heard...or seen...

Just another redundant hmmmmmm.... moment.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

WANDA COLEMAN R.I.P.

I just got word from Harry Northup that Wanda Coleman passed. If you don't know who she is, you should read at least one of her books (betcha can't read just one). I knew her well and got to see her often in my L.A. years. She was in many ways the best known and certainly the most enthusiastically appreciated poet in L. A. We read together several times and it was pure joy to share the podium or stage or whatever with Wanda.  Black Sparrow published several of her books that won fans around the country and the world.

She was a no b.s. presence who said what she thought and wrote what she felt and even when righteously angry made you feel like she still loved you and would soon make you laugh or at least make herself laugh, amused by it all. My thoughts go out to her family, and to her friends and fans, who will miss her terribly.

Here are two poems from a series she did called AMERICAN SONNETS and best express, for me, what made Wanda's words so compelling:

4.

rejection can kill you

it can force you to park outside neon-lit
liquor stores and finger the steel of
your contemplation. it can even make you
rob yourself

(when does the veteran of one war fail to
appreciate the vet of another?)

the ragged scarecrow lusts in the midst of
a fallow field

and the lover who prances in circles envies me
my moves/has designs on my gizzard/kicks shit

this is the city we've come to
all the lights are red all the poets are dead
and there are no norths


5.

rusted busted and dusted

the spurious chain of plebeian events
(aintjahmamaauntjemimaondapancakebox?)

which allows who to claim the largest number of homicides
the largest number of deaths by cancer the largest
number of institutionalized men the largest number of
crimes of possession the largest number of functionally
insane the largest number of consumers of dark rum

largely
preoccupied with perfecting plans of escape

see you later alligator
after while crocodile
after supper muthafucka




[and here's a taste of her reading style when I knew her best:]

WHERE I WAS



NOVEMBER SONNET

On a perfectly clear Fall day, heading back to
Fort Monmouth, I watched as other cars on
The Garden State Parkway veered onto the
shoulder and stopped, the drivers not getting
out, just sitting there. At the toll booth the man
said The president's been shot. As I drove on,
more cars pulled off the road. I could see their
drivers weeping. Back in the barracks we stayed
in the rec room watching the black and white
TV, tension in the room like static. When they
named Lee Harvey Oswald, I watched the
black guys hold their breath, hoping that meant
redneck, not spade, and every muscle in their
faces relax when he turned out to be white.




(C) 2013 Michael Lally

Thursday, November 21, 2013

HOLLY PRADO'S OH, SALT/OH, DESIRING HAND


This latest collection of poems by Holly Prado is for my taste her strongest yet. Oh, Salt/Oh Desiring Hand is a terrific book, beautiful to look at and hold and read. Despite it's wide page format to fit Prado's sometimes very long lines, and good size print, it feels like an almost delicate work of art.

But "strong" is the word for Prado's humble honesty in confronting her age, her losses, her gratitude for the small delights of everyday life. Some of the best poems are in the first section with the longest lines, which I'm not going to try and reproduce in this post because I'd want to convey the way they look and read on the page not on my computer screen and its limitations.

But I'll type up two shorter poems with shorter lines so you can see the power of her unique poetic strategy and the ways it serves her subjects so well in this highly recommended collection:

ANOTHER

our own housecat
who has forgotten

the kitten births but years later
mothers me    settles where I am
makes sure of me

this cat we call Rose who wants to know
us and now and then in sleep she
with others has spoken clearly

why do they have language
only when we can't remember?

once in the canopy above
the forest we knew each other
everybody knew each other


MY HUSBAND SAYS, "I'LL JUST KEEP DOING IT"

so few experiences now    each one then
huge    today's is glare off the parking lot

nothing like appalachian murder ballads
or wild orchids    but summer glare
does recite the effort of groceries    many car
doors opening the drivers shapely in sleeveless
well-fitting tank tops

how huge?    I'm writing it down so
it's that huge because it's what I have
for Thursday's blank page

we know everything:
how to dress ourselves
how to choose a ripe avocado
how to raise our hands    palms out
to rebuke the useless

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

WORTH REPEATING

I know others have pointed this out, as have I, over many decades, but still, how come old white men continue to get away with stuff young black men would be thrown in prison for and end up destroying their lives over.

I'm talking about that Republican Senator from Florida who voted to force anyone on welfare to take regular drug tests, and now has been caught buying and using cocaine in DC and only gets a slap on the wrist and sympathy for his addiction problem. (Remember the same for Rush Limbaugh after his decades of demanding drug addicts be prosecuted to the full extent of the law blah blah?)

The double standard for a drug that is used way more (the statistics are there) by whites than blacks (so-called, I hate both terms as they are so stupidly inadequate for the many shades skin comes in etc.) and yet black persons, especially men, get sentenced to prison way more than white ones.

Jim Crow is alive and well in the criminal justice (so-called) system, and especially in the for-profit prison system. Young white people need to protest widely and massively about this, 'cause they'll get much more media attention that young black people doing it, unfortunately ('cause Jim Crow is also alive and well in the mass media)...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

WHOOPI GOLDBERG PRESENT MOMS MABLEY

I first heard Moms Mabley on a record in 1960 and dug her from that moment on. Recently she seemed to have been forgotten, like a lot of pioneers often are, especially if they were women, let alone "black" (a term I still feel belongs in quotes, just like "white").

But that's been corrected now with a great HBO documentary directed by Whoopi Goldberg who conducts interviews with a great group of folks with terrific insights into Moms's genius and impact.

As much a Civil Rights pioneer as anyone, she was also a women's rights pioneer as well, and it's nice to see that acknowledged in this film that mixes interviews with original footage of Moms doing her act.

And it was an act, but one that depended on a lifetime of overcoming obstacles to bring some hard truths to a nation divided at the time (sound familiar?) but united (more than at any time probably) by TV and its few channels and vast audience. And she did it by making people laugh, no matter what side of the divide they were on.

Her records and live act in "black" nightclubs were known for their rawness, not just of language but of facing reality with a few jabs and an uppercut. She influenced so many it would be a list too long to include on this post, if I were even able to make a list (my challenge these days).

If you don't know her, check out this film, and if you do, well, I know you're gonna check it out. And kudos to Whoopi for making it happen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

ANOTHER FAVORITE OLD QUOTE

"...the second half of life is a long process of getting rid of things..."  —F. Scott Fitzgerald (from "Three Hours Between Planes")

Sunday, November 17, 2013

LAST NIGHT IN ORANGE

Last night I went to the opening of an installation called TAR at a community art works place called Ironworks in the city where I was born: Orange, New Jersey. Thanks to Mindy Fullilove and her daughter Molly, who helped create and run Ironworks, a lot of artists from Orange and environs were invited to paint with only black paint or markers on white walls.

At the reception last night others were invited to take part as well, while one of the artists created and cooked (in an outdoor oven) homemade pizza. You can see one person adding to the artwork at the place where two walls joined in one of these unfortunately not so hot photos I took on my iPhone that don't capture the vitality and spirit and good conversation and sense of community I enjoyed at the event (the shot of me in front of Gandalf the Girl was taken by Mindy).

But at least I've finally figured out how to take photos on my iPhone and with the help of my teenager how to get them on to the computer! If you're anywhere in the area (406 Tompkins Street, Orange NJ) stop in some afternoon and check out the artwork. Its pretty impressive up close.

THIS SAYS IT BEST

Alec Baldwin (who does happen to be an old friend) says in this Huffington Post blog entry what I would have said in his defense had anyone asked me.

ANOTHER ONE TO MAKE YOU SMILE

Friday, November 15, 2013

PS TO LAST POST

Now the Republicans are playing a smart game, flanking Obama and the Dems with the Healthcare thing by saying if Dems vote for the Bill the Congress just passed they're supporting their president cause it backs up what he promised (though of course it goes much further and basically recalls Obamacare) so then if he vetoes it, he's going against what he promised, but if they vote against it they're going against their president and the voters who had their insurance policies canceled.

The Repubs are smart enough to use either position any Democrat whose running for office will have a hard time defending, while the Dems and Obama have left themselves open by trying to get the insurance corporations on their side etc. only once a corporation sees a weakness it goes in for the kill (Barnes & Noble putting up stores they'd lose money on but were close to independent bookstores doing well, Walmart destroying mom and pop stores, etc. etc.).

Like I said in the previous post, Obama and the Dems should have immediately pointed out how the problems with the Obamacare rollout were corporate caused, the computer problems were the fault of the privatization of the computer rollout to corporations and the insurance cancellations the fault of insurance corporations trying to destroy Obamacare (why would they otherwise not have waited to cancel policies when it's time next year to meet the new standards).

Obama and the Dems have been mugged once again and don't even know what hit them. But they should at least know WHO hit them. Same as it always was.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

IN A WORLD WITHOUT BRAINS

It's starting to feel that way. It's not just the Sarah Palins and Glen Becks, the Hannitys and oh basically everyone on Fox News and speaking out for the Tea Party etc., but what bozos do the Dems get to run their media connections...

This whole Obamacare thing has been handled first by denial and then by strained and piecemeal and fragmented complicated stutter start explanations that comes across as either gobbledy gook or jive.

If the Koch brothers money was running the Democrats' show and they had the think tanks talking heads and strategists, Obama's people would have been making it clear all along that there'd be a rough start, a la Social Security, Medicare and the original Obamacare, i.e. Romneycare.

They all had the same kinds of confusion, minimal participation and glitches that eventually got worked out and now a majority participates and supports those programs, just as they will Obamacare unless the right succeeds in reversing it—with enormous help from the media.

I can't even watch NBC News anymore on this shite, the adjectives used sound like my teenager when he gets emotional, like there has never been any greater mess up than this, when just a few weeks ago we were in a government shutdown that cost us all 24 billion dollars!

But Obama and the people he surrounds himself with have blown the message on this one. Someone should have been immediately out front about how a single payer plan wouldn't have all these problems, and how the insurance companies were the ones causing the trouble in the first place, and how this plan, originally created by Republicans depends too much on outside contractors to do the computer set ups.

The best defense is to say hey, if we had a government agency doing this, like the ones that handle Medicare or Social Security, we wouldn't have had these problems. They were caused by privatization! Corporations! Surprise surprise!

Too tedious that a lone old man sitting at his computer can come up with a better media strategy than all those thirty-five-year-old administration minions running around blocking access for people like, well not me, I'm past it, but friends who are still in the political game and on the Dems side.

Another late night rant I'm afraid. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A QUOTE FROM THE 20TH CENTURY

"It is my responsibility to teach others how to treat me by the way I treat myself."  —Rokelle Lerner (from Daily Affirmation)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: JFK

Didn't catch all of this last night and tonight on PBS due to interruptions, but what I saw was the best take on the man and his presidency I've seen yet, even with a few quibbles where I disagreed on some interpretations of some events. Engrossing for those of us who lived through it and were impacted, as they say these days, by the experience. If it's repeated, or is available online, I recommend it highly.

ALWAYS THOUGHT THIS WAS PRETTY HEAVY


Sunday, November 10, 2013

VETERAN'S DAY PIC

Me at 19 in February, 1962, at basic training camp in Texas with my friend Murph:

CLIMATE CATASTROPHES

There are still people in positions of power who propagate the fallacy that "global warming" and the climate change it causes is a myth, or if pushed by the overwhelming facts to the contrary, insist it's not man made but just one of the weather cycles nature has had throughout history.

But they never have an explanation for why we have had weather events in recent years that have been either the worst in history or are occurring every ten years when throughout history they occurred every hundred or five hundred years. The devastating impact of the latest "historic" storm, the typhoon that hit The Philippines has been called the most powerful in history (and the death toll may rise to the highest in history).

If it is already too late to stop these changes in severe weather events, the next best action is to start moving beach and shore communities inland to avoid the kinds of death tolls we are seeing unfortunately from this storm. My heart goes out to the victims and those who lost their homes and to my friends who have relatives in The Philippines.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

PS TO FOOTBALL FAREWELL

Jack Kerouac won a scholarship to Columbia University, but he ended up giving football up for a couple of reasons: he didn't think the coach used him properly or enough, he met Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and not least of all he had his leg broken in a Freshman game against Saint Benedict's Prep, a Catholic, boys, day school in Newark created to help working-class ethnic kids get an education that might get them into colleges.

I played for St. Benedict's a decade later and one of the traditions there was for team members to throw money in a hat, and the guy who knocked the other team's star out of the game got the money. I remember feeling like that wasn't cool. The team had a few ringers on it, twenty-year old running backs who were given post-grad scholarships after they finished high school elsewhere, and for that reason we were never eligible to win real championships. But The Newark Star Ledger named us "undeclared champions of New Jersey" because the team almost always crushed their opponents.

In my junior year, playing defensive end (I was easily distracted when trying to catch the ball) our team was so good on offense we ran up scores that embarrassed the teams we played. A lot of it was just intimidation. One of our guards had a bridge for his front top teeth which he'd take out and then give his opponent a toothless grimace when they first lined up, etc. Most of our players were Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans and Polish-Americans, all proudly dismissive of fear or pain.

But then in one game we met a team that wasn't intimidated, and had better strategies, and I watched as the senior stars' eyes glazed over and they gave up. I played my heart out, and I'm sure some others did too, but it felt like I was the only one. I was so saddened by the loss, they beat us something like 42 to 6, the reverse of our usual scores, that in the bus on the way back to Newark the unusual silence comforted me.

And then one of our biggest stars, I think it was the quarterback, spotted a car next to the bus with a family in it, and doing what these guys often thought was hilarious and I found childish, he dropped his drawers and mooned the unsuspecting kids peering out the window at us. That got everybody laughing and, for the rest of the ride back, mooning the passing cars.

By the time we got to Newark I had decided not to go out for football my senior year. I worked after school and on weekends for my father after football season, for room and board as they used to say, and had other jobs at night to make actual money for myself, this way I could make more.

But though the football stars I'd once thought were so cool and tough I now saw as juvenile and too quick to give up when their toughness was truly challenged, I kept watching football on TV because I understood the game and appreciated the great plays and players. But at some point, the game changed for me.

I used to love throwing my body into the air to try and wrap my arms around a runner's legs or ankles to bring him down. But suddenly, or maybe it was gradually and just felt like suddenly, the equipment became so supposedly protective, it became routine to try and bring a runner down by running into his head with your head! And at the same time, it seemed, the players mysteriously, or not, grew gigantic, so that the combination (equipment and giganticism)  made it more like a demolition derby or tank battle than the game of skill and finesse I'd dug when I was young.

So I stopped watching. And now it seems like there's a story in the news almost every day exposing the brutality, exploitation, racism, bullying, self-destruction, debilitation and all around stupidity of a sport the ancient Roman gladiators probably would have found excessive.

Yeah, soccer (the real "football") and baseball can be pretty boring in terms of scoring, but along with basketball and every other sport, even rugby, none of them endangers, exploits and brutalizes the players anywhere near as much. But it's big business (I once wrote an essay about how professional football was a corporate game etc.) so my guess is, it ain't leaving. And I have plenty of family and friends who will keep watching it. Not me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

THIS OLD QUOTE SEEMS APPROPRIATE AGAIN

"The trick is in what one emphasizes...We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."   —Don Juan (from Journey to Ixtlan)

Monday, November 4, 2013

AL JAZEERA AMERICA

Don't like the logo or the station identification vids, but otherwise, this is turning into the best in-depth news network on TV. A lot of their longer segments remind me of the early 1950s TV news documentaries. They are covering topics no one else is, as well as most of what everyone else is, but with—like I said—more in-depth reporting, not just talking-head-both-sides-are-equal cop outs.

It's not flashy or trendy or vacuous, but rather clearheaded and straightforward. I can see why Public TV's Ray Suarez has left Newshour for Al Jazeera. I look forward to hopefully more in-depth reporting on so many aspects of our country and society too long neglected by the other news shows and networks.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

12 YEARS A SLAVE

Wanted to wait a few days after I saw this before I posted about it. I agree with all the critics and friends who are calling it a great movie and predicting and calling for Oscar nominations.  It is a powerful and extraordinary and painfully beautiful movie.

I only hope it is widely seen in the South and supplants to at least some extent the hundreds of Hollywood films, with GONE WITH THE WIND at the top, that have portrayed the Southern Confederate states secession and armed rebellion as somehow noble and worthy of admiration.

Maybe the individual bravery of certain soldiers is worthy of respect and honor in some way, but to cling to the institution of legal human bondage to the extent of taking up arms to defend it is not honorable or noble or in any way anything other than evil.

This movie, and the book it is based on, is testimony enough to that fact, though I know there are way too many who will not get that. I would love to see double bills of 12 YEARS A SLAVE with GONE WITH THE WIND in theaters all over this country, but especially in the South.

Unfortunately, it would probably lead to too much disruption and possibly even violence as the champions of each perspective defended theirs against the other, though only one, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, is actually based on real history (but as we know, facts have never gotten in the way of any ideology based on lies, misinformation and myths).

I thought while I was watching it that 12 YEARS A SLAVE could easily be nominated for an Oscar in every category the movie fits. The only small quibbles I have with it are some minor inconsistencies in the writing and acting. But the cinematography, art direction, wardrobe, make-up, soundtrack and editing are all Oscar quality, as is the acting of most of the performers, but especially Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o for best actor and actress (two of the greatest film performances of all time), and Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard for best supporting.

And Steve McQueen, the director (not the long deceased movie star that some members of the audience I saw the movie with confused him with) should and will be nominated for best director. As for the writing I had the few small quibbles with, I am now reading the book the film is based on to see if it's in the original or the screen adaptation, but either way, the writing too is mostly nothing less than excellent.

If you haven't see this yet, please do so while it is still in theaters so you can get the full impact of the story and the artistry of the filmmakers.