Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MUST BE MASS HYPNOSIS OR SOMETHING

Have you seen the story about the woman who was chosen to be the Rose Bowl Queen fifty years ago but when they found out she had what they called then "Negro blood" was denied the opportunity to ride on the float designated for her and now half a century later she's leading the parade?

The weirdest thing about it is when you see her photo from back then and now if you were just going by the standard perception of what "black" and "white" might mean in this society she appears to be "white" while my guess would be that many Rose Bowl queens who were designated as "white" were much darker skinned, or as I said in a comment where I first saw this posted:

"the dumbest thing about all this is that the article and most media and people use the terms 'black' and 'white' based on some arcane fantasy of non-existent 'race' supposedly based on the color of one's skin, when using terms like 'black' for a woman who looks like this woman and 'white' for the many dark skinned people designated as such is obviously a case of the emperor has no feckin' clothes on..."

Our peculiar history makes it very difficult to just drop the "black" or "white" designations because of how those perceived as "black" have suffered as a result of that fantasy (our president is a great example, his mother was "white" and he was raised by her and her parents, also "white," and thus his entire upbringing was as coming from a "white" family and obviously being "part white" and yet to his many domestic enemies he epitomizes what many of them hate about "blacks" who appear "uppitity" etc. just endless "black" vs. "white" stereotyping and demonizing.

So unfortunately we just can't dismiss these designations entirely, at least not in terms of history, but hopefully, and the younger generations seem to be demonstrating this, there is a slowly rising awareness of the absurdity of the entire set of classifications that have to do with supposed "race."

Monday, December 29, 2014

THE WIRE

So I'm finally getting around to watching (and binging) on THE WIRE, the HBO series that many of my friends strongly recommended to me from the start.  I tried to watch some episodes early on and just didn't dig it so abandoned the effort. But I saw it was available on demand and decided to try again to see what all the fuss was about (some friends, with experience in TV and film, had told me it may be the best series ever, but certainly of its period).

I still objected to what had turned me off originally, which included implausible scenarios, over-the-top writing and performances at times (the main character, as illustrated by the poster above, is a supposedly Irish-American detective who is "real police" but comes across as part stereotypical Irish-cop-alcohol-lover loner anti-hero, and part blowhard self-centered narcissist I find hard to sympathize with), the de rigour gratuitous exploitation of naked female bodies (why has every dead female been found nude it seems in the first season?) and caricatures close to stereotypes in many instances.

But, I also see why people were into the show.  It's great story-telling in terms of a plot that builds a network of subplots which demand to be resolved, and there are some incredibly memorable characters (even if they are often asked to perform improbably exaggerated scenarios) and conflicts. Plus the dialogue is often juicily quick and theatrically "street" in ways only cable can do (sometimes brilliantly poetic, like the scene where the main detective and his buddy analyze the scene of a murder doing the kind of thorough and ingenious forensic work usually reserved to TV and movie detectives, but only using the word "fuck" (though at times combined with other words like "mother") by varying the ways they inflect and pronounce and express that single term so that one time it's expressing surprise, another time resolution, another amazement and just about every way you can think of...).

Either way, I seem to be hooked and assume I'll be watching it to it's final episode.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT

The police who turned their back on the mayor of New York at that policeman's funeral today (or yesterday by now) did a disservice not just to those officers whose deaths were being mourned (the funeral of only one, but both were mentioned in most of the eulogies) and to the office of the mayor, the highest democratically elected office in the city they work for, but to the uniform. Their action was a rebuke to the mayor, supposedly, as if they get to choose which mayors they'll show respect to and which they'll turn their backs on, like who the people elect means nothing to them, as if they are their own entity and follow their own rules and get to decide who they will respect, and who they will not, the latter being not just the mayor but unarmed black men who object to the way they are being treated or who decide to use the unlit stairwell in their own building.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

INTO THE WOODS

I saw this on stage when it first opened and wasn't totally impressed. At least not enough to have a passion in my memory for it. Back then I saw it because when Sondheim is good he's the best and when he's anything less than the best he's still a seminal figure in the art of musicals. His innovations changed the form and changed the course of musical theater history.

I have quotes from lyrics of his over my desk and have for decades. I don't always like everything he does, but I always appreciate his attempts to do something I haven't seen or heard before. Or if I have, as in the case of the basic fairy tale stories INTO THE WOODS uses to riff on, Sondheim manages to  reinterpret them so they seem new.

So I saw it on stage back then and wasn't that impressed and when I heard there was finally a movie in the works I had little interest in seeing it. But some friends have kids who performed in a stage version and they were going to see it with them Christmas afternoon, and another good friend was going too, so it seemed like a great way to spend an afternoon with people I love to be with.

But when the movie started, from the first beat to the last I was into it. Partly that's the actors, all first rate, partly it's the directing and editing, but mostly it's Sondheim's music and lyrics, with that mash up of cynical and romantic, funny and poignant, glib and deep. I don't know how I'd react if I'd seen it first on the small screen, but on the big one it had me laughing loudly and wiping away a tear at the end. I'm glad I saw it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

MY NEW FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIE

When I was young my favorite Christmas movie was the 1951 black-and-white version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim, then I rediscovered IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in my thirties and it was my fave for a few decades 'til Jean Sheperd's A CHRISTMAS STORY came along and displaced it for a few more decades. But a few years ago [actually 2003!] the Brits made a Christmas movie called LOVE, ACTUALLY and I just realized this season it's my favorite Christmas movie now. Here's a scene that might explain partially why (ignore the ending promotions but enjoy the Bill Nighy scene):

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

WHIPLASH

Friends have been telling me to catch this flick because, they have said, it has one of the greatest performances of the year in it by J. K. Simmons, an actor you might know from his playing the ironic but loving father in JUNO, or other such roles in film and on TV, but in WHIPLASH he surpasses all expectations you may have had of what his talent might produce. My friends were so right.

WHIPLASH is a coming of age story in terms of plot, a music institute student facing the challenges of competition on an extremely talented level and the machinations of his band teacher to push him to discover whether he has what it takes.

It reminded me of boot camp in the military, in terms of my own experience, but it also reminded me of people I've known who have gone to work in the top restaurants in the world or in Hollywood for top producers etc. and been overwhelmed by the level and intensity of the competition. The setting wouldn't matter at all, if it wasn't that the student (in a great performance by Miles Teller) is a drummer and drums add such a vibrant physicality to the performance and the music at the heart of the flick that that alone would have drawn me in.

But add to that the dynamic between mentor and student that builds to a level of tension that made me almost want to jump up and run out of the theater, and then brings that tension to an even higher level, in what amounts to an almost two character drama (though the other important characters to the story who have fewer scenes are all played perfectly as well), that I left the theater feeling emotional whiplash from the experience.

I brought my grandson and youngest son to see it, both drummers, and my oldest son, a bassist, and two of my youngest's friends, and they got the story and the drama and the tension and the greatness of the performances, but the one who was impacted the most, at least visibly, seemed to be me (as I wiped away tears, not of sorrow or even empathy, though some of the latter, but more of release, and I think maybe I caught my oldest son doing the same).

It's so good that despite the storyline being pretty basic and the devices pretty obvious I could go see it again tomorrow and I bet be equally blown away no matter what flaws my intellect might discern.

This is one powerful movie.

[PS: Much credit and hopefully some awards must go to the screenwriter and director Damien Chazelle as well.]

Monday, December 22, 2014

JOE COCKER R.I.P.

I never met him, but wish I had. Here's my take in this old post about how great his singing was only a few years ago. And here's what first got to me:

PS TO LAST POST (ANOTHER LATE NIGHT RESPONSE TO EVENTS)

The decision, whether ordered by a superior or spontaneous, for the cops to turn their backs on the mayor when he went to offer his and the city's condolences to the families of the officers who were shot and killed while on duty, further demonstrates why the cops's defensiveness is self defeating.

The police union chief, Lynch, and the ex-mayor Giuliani and ex Police Commissioner Ray Kelly et. al. do a disservice to good cops by making statements blaming the president and the attorney general and mayor Deblasio for the assassination of the two New York policemen in Brooklyn yesterday.

It could just as easily be claimed that the deaths of those policemen are a direct result of the bad policing by the officer who choked Eric Garner to death and was defended and justified by his fellow officers, or many of them, and certainly by the same spokesmen for the police.

It's the old trick of the right that the cops have fallen for just as the military seems to have, that because the job is dangerous at times and is purported to be one of protecting the innocent, anything done on the job is to be defended no matter what, by any means, including planting fake evidence, corroborating known lies, supporting bad cops who can't control their fear when it runs into violence, etc.

The blame for the death of those two policemen is to be laid at the feet of their obviously unbalanced assassin. If we are to blame protesters because the assassin left messages saying he would take the lives of two cops for the one life of Eric Garner that was taken by a cop, it ignores the exact supposed evidence (in the eyes of the police union leader and others in the police establishment) of his message.

He didn't say I'm going to kill two cops because protesters said I should, he said he was going to kill two cops because it was a cop who took Eric Garner's life. If we are going to speculate on what was in his mind, I would posit it was the video of Garner unarmed and saying over and over that he couldn't breathe because he was being choked to death.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

MY TWO CENTS

My grandfather was a cop. One of my brothers became a cop when I was a boy and he was still living at home. He moved away after he married the daughter of a cop.  One of my sisters married a cop. One of my cousins next door became a cop and so did his son. One of my nephews and godsons is a cop. Etc.

So, I feel deeply for the families of the two cops who were assassinated yesterday in Brooklyn. They sounded like dedicated cops, the kind that are there to help. Their killer got off too easy.

That said, I am embarrassed by the police union spokesman who immediately blamed it on the mayor and the U.S. Attorney General because they have expressed sympathy for the victims of police violence and their families and those who are protesting that scourge.

Yes police officers who aren't behind a desk generally face danger pretty regularly. But so do a lot of other people in a lot of other professions.  Do tax drivers act as if they have a more special right than anyone else to be honored and never criticized etc. because there are periods when more taxi drivers are assassinated than any other profession?

I noticed that NBC doctor/reporter who broke her quarantine because she'd been exposed to Ebola was criticized righteously especially by right-wingers, as was the nurse who Christie confined despite her showing no signs of the disease. Let's see, have any doctors and nurses and reporters died from trying to help with and expose the Ebloa epidemic? Have they acted all righteous about deserving special treatment and demand never being criticized for mistakes they make?

Rather than saying that others have "blood on their hands" and will be "held accountable" for the assassination of those two police officers, that police union spokesman and any of his fellows who threaten a work slowdown and other illegal actions to protest police behavior or procedures being criticized, should put the spotlight on himself and his fellow officers who don't work to expose and expel the few bad cops who give the rest of them a bad name.

Friday, December 19, 2014

PS TO LAST POST

In response to critics of my last post (suggesting Sony should have released the film for free on the Internet) who think the comedy film that was pulled should never be seen because it might incite someone to actually attempt to assassinate the North Korean dictator...I said in a comment that by that logic there should be no cartoons of Muhammed and we all should fight back against those who have declared war on Xmas and et.endlessly cetera...I don't like most violent flicks and I think there's way too much violence in way too many of them...and I don't think violence is the answer to almost any question...but I support the attempts to assassinate Hitler and wish they had succeeded and if someone got the idea from a movie to assassinate him I wouldn't have objected....but if we're talking media that moves people to violence there have been assassinations committed by people influenced by Fox News and other rightwing propaganda outlets, and attempts on our president's life. I don't hear any liberals calling for Fox News and Rush and others to be censored or taken off the air forever etc. [well, maybe calls for the latter]...but in the case of a dictator responsible for the torture and death of hundreds of thousands etc. we don't want to show a movie that might incite someone to assassinate him?...like I said, a dumb idea to have green lighted but I still say release it online for free so everyone can see and other evil characters won't think that all they have to do now is threaten to hack networks or bomb theaters or etc. and people will back down...not a good precedent at all...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ANOTHER LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT (THIS TIME ABOUT SONY'S STRATEGY)

If I were running Sony, when I learned AMC and other theater chains were refusing to carry the movie, instead of saying we'd never release it, I'd let the world know we were releasing it free for streaming on the Internet. (I know I know people would be afraid if they downloaded it they'd be hacked by the same flunkies that hacked Sony, but a lot of people would do it anyway and eventually enough would that they'd have to shut down the worldwide web to prevent people from seeing it...but as it is Sony, for now, and the theater chains, just surrendered to a third rate dictator's chump demands....)

Monday, December 15, 2014

THEN THERE WAS THIS

I didn't feel up to making it to this on Saturday, but sure would have like to have been there, and happy that many friends were.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG

I wasn't sure I wanted to watch this HBO documentary about Susan Sontag. I did a reading back in the 1990s in New York with her, David Mamet and Ian Frazier, and I didn't find her very nice to be around. But I decided to watch the beginning of REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG and see if it was a snow job or if it was an honest appraisal.

And pretty much in the opening moments, people she was close to—ex-lovers, her sister, close friends—were voicing on camera some of the criticisms I had, so I knew it wasn't going to be a whitewash and watched the whole documentary.

Sontag, in my experience, was one of those people who are always looking over their shoulders to see if someone more important or more interesting (at least to them) is around while they pretend to be talking to you. And in fact, while in conversation with me before the reading, she spied Mamet over my shoulder and just walked away with no explanation or apology to grab him and whisper conspirationally. 

Like many in the 1960s, I had a crush on her and read everything she wrote back then, and through the two decades that followed. But I often ended up disappointed. My take was that she didn't seem able to recognize intelligence unless it was packaged in fame or reputation, or she had been first to recognize it. 

Though I did appreciate her attempts in her nonfiction to clarify ideas not many were expressing at that moment in a way a general audience could comprehend, her novels were a slog. She did seem to challenge herself, and her diaries and some other writing, and much of this documentary, show that, as well as reveal her disappointment in her not achieving the kind of artistic immortality she grew up yearning for.

I actually can identify with a lot of her insecurities and self-obsession and ambitions, so I'm not being critical in a holier-than-thou attitude, just disappointed that she often buried personal honesty in language meant to be profound and impress rather than just humbly express. I know there are those who disagree (I felt and still feel the same way about Norman Mailer's writing, and several others held up as somehow intellectually or creatively superior to most even though I find them nowhere near as good as so many who have been overlooked or judged not as good as them).

In the end, except for a few attempts to find correlations to her words in film imagery that ended up being overly precious or obvious, REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG is worth watching for the cultural history so central to it and for the revelations of the struggles of a determined woman to surpass the world's expectations.

The last line of hers they quote in the movie is, for my taste, a great example of the best of Sontag's writing and capacity for profound intellectual expression, that I wish she had done more of:

"Death is the opposite of everything."   

Friday, December 12, 2014

RUDY BURCKHARDT SHOW AT TIBOR DE NAGY

If you're anywhere near Manhattan between now and January 10th, drop by Tibor de Nagy Gallery (724 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor) and see the show Rudy Burckhardt Subterranean Moments: A Centenary Celebration.  It includes some of Rudy's photographs and short films, the art he was most famous for, but also paintings and more.

"Subterranean Moments" is a perfect title for this show, as it doesn't so much emphasize his most iconic photographs or short films, but rather captures what I always felt and still feel is the most impactful aspect of Rudy's art: its unpretentiousness.

Yes, it was "underground" in the sense of "indie" or "Alternative" culture etc. but more importantly it was grounded in exposing the layers of social and cultural interactions from top to bottom, or vice versa: photos and paintings of manhole covers, film of Manhattan's streets and walking feet or building tops against the sky making abstract patterns.

His art seems to me to always be about the contrast of shapes and light and surfaces and movement: i.e. juxtapositions often seemingly banal, yet take your time to visit with an image or a few minutes of film or a painting and something more subtle and poignant begins to emerge, as in how incredibly present the images, in whatever form, become, despite their obvious datedness. Rudy always had the capacity to transmit the viewer back into the time the image was made, or discovered or commented on, through a photo or film or painting.

It's also fun to spend time with a photograph of an urban landscape or one small piece of it and then spend time with a painting Rudy did based on that image. His technique often seems almost amateurish, in the sense of snapshots vs. art photographs or raw figurative depictions vs. artistic statements etc. but that's his grace, to always be the beholder rather than the explainer or glorifier.

All Rudy's work seems to say: I was here and this is what I saw, or how I saw it. Sit and watch the few short films in a small room off the main show and you will see what seems like raw footage of Manhattan scenes from earlier eras that look like deteriorating home movies shown through a bad projector, but if you stay and watch for a while, what begins to emerge is the beauty of the shapes and silhouettes and neon at night et. al.  It's a rough beauty, a mostly urban beauty, and it is in the eye of the beholder: Rudy's. I am grateful he took the pains to find the means of sharing it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

JANE FREILICHER R.I.P.

I just heard that the artist Jane Freilicher passed yesterday at 90. First of all I had no idea she was that old, the last time I saw her was a few years ago, or so it seemed, and she looked as stunning as she always did to me. She had such a grounded aura of strength that exuded calm and confidence, to me, that I always thought of her as outside normal age.

I knew she was from the generation of my oldest siblings, who were in their teens when WWII started and I was born. But for me she was like someone out of a book. Maybe because the only women I'd ever heard of like Jane were ones I read about in books. When I first met her in the early 1970s, she was already legendary among those who were fans of "The New York School" poets (John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch—Barabara Guest also, but usually overlooked in the sexist fashion of the times).

I had been taken up by some of the original New York School poets back then and in the process invited into their social scene in ways that I was overwhelmed with, because it seemed to represent everything I had a chip on my shoulder about when I was growing up and did still then. Much of their humor was arch and sophisticated in ways I'd often miss, the irony and understatement depending on what was then called a campy perspective on high and low culture.

I translated my insecurity into arrogance, a familiar formula, behaving as if it was a given that they would include me in their scene so generously, and it wasn't until I moved back to Jersey fifteen years ago, after almost two decades in L.A. and environs, that I got the chance to tell Jane how grateful I was that she had included me in for awhile among what was a small circle of gifted and special friends. And I let her know I regretted my arrogance and lack of graciousness and gratitude at the time.

She seemed slightly amused by my confession and verbal amends for behavior she might not even have remembered, but she also was gracious in accepting it and letting me know she remembered me fondly from those days. I was smitten then, as I was when I first met her, by the strength and independence and intelligence that shone from her eyes (and I believe you can see in her paintings, despite some having dismissed her art as too light or simple or "easy" etc. back in the day and sometimes since).

Here's the NY Times obit with a good take on her life and work and a photo of how she looked in recent years, and below is a photo I first saw around the time I met her though taken years before, her "star" pose, which she always was and will remain in my mind and heart:
 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

SOME MORE QUICK THOUGHTS

Watching live coverage on CNN of the protests last night I noticed an upscale looking "white" woman in a red coat carrying a shopping bag passing protesters lying in the street (I don't even know which city it was in). She stopped for a moment and then walked to where they were spread out on the pavement and got down in her pristine long red cloth coat, obviously getting it soiled and obviously not caring as she too laid down on her back for the last few minutes of that moment of protest.

I'm heartened by the diversity of the crowds taking part in the protests and by the discipline of the organizers at keeping them peaceful yet still active and committed to letting the world know there is a movement to challenge the different standards applied to crimes by different groups, i.e.—and mostly, though not exclusively—"white" and "black."

For decades every time something happened that the media noticed and involved incidents different groups saw differently—the O.J. case, George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin et. al.—the TV talking heads would bring up how it was time for a national "conversation about race" etc. which wasn't what happened, rather it was a national "he said she said" conversation in which one "race" was "he" and another was "she"...

...but this time actually does seem different, what with the hash tag about "criming while white" and other indications that finally it's not just one "race" that understands the racism so prevalent in policing in the USA (my "white" sons have certainly been around or involved in petty victimless crimes at some points in their lives that ended up with no or very little consequences that my "black" sons, if I had them, may very well have entered "the system" for and ended up even doing some jail or prison time for).

It is especially heartening to see so many young people, who have been accused of sitting on their butts playing with their smart phones and other devices while their world deteriorates around them, not just getting off their butts to protest injustice and demand changes but using their smart phones and other devices to coordinate their protests and give them fluidity and creative nonviolent actions for shifting locations that keep the media paying attention not just the day after a demonstration but going on several days now.

It makes me feel it's too late to put this genie back in the lantern—or this jack back in the box or whatever metaphor works for you—to indicate there's no turning back this time. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

LATISH NIGHT MINI-RANT

Others have said it better, but why arrest someone for selling loose cigarettes because the government doesn't get to collect taxes on that kind of transaction, why not just fine them the pennies the tax would add up to?

And if we're gonna go after people who do business without paying the proper tax, and go after them to the point of murdering them, then what about all those corporations that the law says are people and don't pay taxes? Can we get some lethal force applied to those mudderfrackers?

Monday, December 1, 2014

WHITE PRIVILEGE PERSONIFIED

As you probably already know, the "white" woman who worked for a Republican politician and sent a social media post criticizing our president's daughters for the way they dressed and their facial expressions at the cheesy turkey pardoning ceremony in the White House the other day, while also totally dissing their parents—the president and first lady—well, she apologized and then was fired.

But did you know that that "white" woman is seen as a teen in a photograph circulating on the web with a beer bottle in her mouth and that she was also arrested for shoplifting and running a red light as a teen? What would make a woman who works for a Republican Congressman in the capacity of a communications person (!) think she could insult the First Lady and the President and their two teenage daughters with impunity, implying that they are dressed for a "spot at the bar" rather than a corny presidential jokey ceremony, while at the same time insulting their parents as bad role models, when she herself, this very "white" woman when she was the president's daughters ages, or actually even older so she should have known better, let someone take a photo of her with a beer bottle hanging from her mouth (yeah, that's right) and was arrested for shoplifting at 17 and running a red light at 19?

White privilege that's what.

Here's the post, followed by the shot with the beer bottle that's supposed to be the "white" woman when she was younger:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

QUICK THOUGHT

I heard on the news that this year's "Black Friday" brought in less money and fewer people than last year...could it be that all the calls to boycott shopping on Thanksgiving (that day's profits were also lower) and "Black Friday" were heeded by enough people to make a difference?...let's hope...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I can't recommend this PBS TV series (which I think you can watch online here) highly enough. Gates explores the ancestry of a variety of highly accomplished people—from Derek Jeter to Ken Burns to Nas—in ways that almost inevitably brings tears to my eyes.

When a so-called "black" guest discovers roots that reach back beyond the Civil War and slavery, and sometimes that their European ancestors were not slave holders who raped a slave ancestor but in fact a European-American who married a free African-American, and other incredible revelations, to see that guest's stunned expression and then the relief and release as it sinks in is inimitable.

There are revelations that go in the other direction as well, with ancestors who were on the wrong side of an issue or event. But the main thing that almost all the guests end up sharing is at least some quotient of ancestry. Something that gives the lie to the categorizing of humans that's been going on throughout history and has played such a significant role in the history of the USA.

I think it might contribute to not just a better understanding but better relationships if every student in this country had to watch an episode of FINDING YOUR ROOTS and then have a classroom discussion about it afterward. I'd rather see that then all this core-course, teach-to-the-test robotic learning dysfunction that has seized our schools.

If you haven't caught an episode and you watch one and it doesn't move you, watch another and I guarantee it will.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MICHAEL BROWN GRAND JURY DECISION

Not finding any "probable cause" at all to at least bring the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Wilson to trial: predictable but still unconscionable (were they allowed to take into consideration the fact that Wilson was dismissed from another police department because of the too blatant even for the South racism on that force including Wilson) (and did you see the photos of a supposedly injured Wilson whose face looked fine to me but had been reported as having his eye socket broken or whatever, I looked worse after teenage fist fights...).

The behavior of those setting cars and buildings on fire with lighter fluid or looting stores etc.: despicable and contrary to everything Michael Brown's family had asked for and so many local residents had prepared for.

The behavior of the authorities, especially all the supposed city, county, state police (and national guard troops that seemed nonexistent): dumb, ill planned or at least badly executed and adding fuel to the fire literally initially...

The solution is in the restructuring and training of the police and the requirement that all police everywhere wear POV cameras when on duty, period.

Monday, November 24, 2014

ALLAN KORNBLUM R.I.P.

Allan was a smiley guy so this photo doesn't capture his constant sense of whimsey, but it does reflect his constant dedication to printing, not just books but broadsides as well, which he's doing in this photograph in the midst of a party at Coffee House Press, the publishing venture he founded and ran for decades.

Allan moved to Iowa City in 1970, the year after I left it, but when I returned for a visit I met him and we became instant friends, as folks often did with Allan. He was a witty, curious, ex-New Yorker who went on to become a pillar in the small press community in its burgeoning years and on into the present. He first published poetry, including mine, in his early small press magazine TOOTHPASTE out of which he created Toothpaste Press.

But when he moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul, he started a new small press publishing venture, COFFEE HOUSE, that challenged the major New York publishers in quality of the authors and consistent breakthroughs in style. Many of the books he edited and published garnered rave reviews in The New York Times and other major media.

When he published my 1997 poetry collection, CANT BE WRONG, I was interviewed for it on NPR's "Book Worm" show with Michael Silverblatt. The prestige of Allan's good taste is what drew that kind of attention to his authors and their books.

Here's the way his hometown newspaper (Minneapolis not New York) reported his passing. I think he'd be very pleased. My condolences to his wife, Cinda, and his daughters and extended family and friends. His energy and input into the world of writing and publishing will be sorely missed.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

STEFAN GIERASCH R.I.P.

Stefan was a friend who I saw pretty frequently in my L.A. life (or as I like to say, my "Hollywood years") but hadn't seen in the years since I moved back to Jersey. A really good guy, smart and interesting, and a wonderful actor (or "character actor" as they always classify non-stars).

His best known roles are listed and linked to in this obit, and keep him alive in the world of movie history and reruns on TV and the net. He had a good long life and many dear friends and accomplished much that he wanted to, so here's to you Stefan, with condolences to your family and many friends and fans among whom I am grateful to be counted.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

PS TO LAST POST

First of all the sound on this video doesn't come close to the sound in the room (I can hardly hear my son's bass in this iPhone recording, or the other instruments very well for that matter, and they were crushing it) and I recorded, I thought, an entire song that was the most dynamic of the night, but it ain't on my phone, so this will have to do as a taste of Edith Pop.

Her influences are Edith Piaf and Iggy Pop, but she reminded me more of Lydia Lunch back when I saw Lunch perform her first show, or what I remember as her first show, in New York, only Pop is more dynamic in person, and ultimately more appealing despite the intensity of some of her lyrics and vocalizing and performing, unfortunately not caught on this clip. You had to be there. So next time, not a bad idea to try to be.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

EDITH POP TOMORROW IN NYC

The Brooklyn band my oldest son, Miles, plays bass in is performing tomorrow evening, Friday the 21st at (le) poisson rouge on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, "8PM sharp"... They have been called one of the best new bands on the NYC music scene today. Check out their song "Money" at this link that gives details of their gig tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

IRISH (THAT IS, THE LANGUAGE) SHORT FILMS

My friend Bill took me to see an evening of short Irish language films at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan last night and it was a delight. The best part was a row full of Irish speaking folk of all ages in front of us, so we got to hear current speakers of a language the English fined, beat, jailed, tortured and murdered my ancestors out of.

There's all kinds of oppression, and losing the language of your ancestors seems to me to be one of the worst. Today in Ireland there are very few Irish speakers who grew up in a household where that was the only language, let alone the first language. Thankfully the language was saved before it disappeared entirely, and when at least some of the Irish finally won their freedom from England, in the early 20th Century, Irish became the official language of the government and began to be taught to all school children.

Nonetheless, few people, as I said, speak it as a regular way to communicate with others. Which was why it was so moving to hear these ordinary looking New Yorkers—or people who could be taken for that—sharing a laugh and gossip, or whatever they were sharing, in the language that was lost to my family generations ago (though even my mother and father would use an Irish-language expression here and there, as I suspect many other Irish-American families did too).

I couldn't find any of the short films I saw last night on Youtube, so here's an interview in Dublin searching for Irish speakers among the Irish, so you can at least hear what a distinct language it is:

And here's another, more official, Youtube video that explains the history of the language and its present state (depicted as much more of a presence than I, and the video above, imply):

WORTH WATCHING TO THE END, ESPECIALLY THE END

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THE GUNFIGHTER

Caught this 1950 Western on cable tonight and though I've seen it before, including when I was eight and it first came out, tonight I was struck by how incredibly understated and subtle yet almost existential everything about this movie is as it unfolds the story of a "gunfighter" in completely unexpected ways, including the ending.

I've seen it a few times over the years and been impressed with Gregory Peck or with the cinematography and the directing and eventually, tonight, with everything about it, particularly the writing, which I hadn't even thought about until this evening. It's a classic and I never realized that before.

I had the great good fortune to have seen Gregory Peck up close once, back in the 1980s. I had finished a day of shooting a TV show I was on (it only lasted a half a season so never made reruns in syndication) that was mostly filmed on the MGM lot (this was before Sony bought the lot) in an old sound stage where some of my favorite movies from my boyhood had been shot and some of my favorite stars from back then had worked.

We had been shooting in downtown L.A. on location in a garment factory (I played the evil owner of the company) and had been driven back to the MGM lot where our cars were (one of the greatest thrills of my life was driving on to that lot for work every day and having the guard at the gate wave me through with a "good morning Mister Lally" or later "Michael" when they got to know be better).

I was with the actor Eddie Velez, who also was in this TV show (it was called BERRENGERS and was mostly set in a family owned department store, go figure) and we both noticed the big kleig lights, or whatever those giant searchlights that sweep the sky at openings are called, so we went to see what was going on.

This was one of the most surreal set ups anyone could have imagined. There was a red carpet leading down one of the lot's alleyways between sound stages, from the MGM commissary to the MGM screening room, which had been rechristened the Cary Grant Theater by the studio as they were trying to lure Grant out of retirement to make a movie with them.

About every ten feet down this I'd guess fifty yard red carpet were old violinists in tuxedos leaning against the wall smoking cigarettes or just looking bored, and on the other side of the carpet there was a velvet rope, like they have at night club doors, only enough to cover the length of this carpet and keeping us behind it.

One of the writers for the show, I think it was Diana Gould, and a producer were the only other people there, so we asked them what was going on, and they told us about the theater being renamed and that there was a dinner with MGM stars at the commissary which was about to end and the stars would be walking down the red carpet to the renamed theater to see a screening of MGM's latest film. And sure enough the commissary doors opened and stars in formal wear, tuxes and gowns, started filing out and walking down the red carpet chatting a smoking as the violinists threw away their cigarettes and began serenading them.

There were some photographers suddenly down where the carpet ended at the theater and I assumed some reporters, but otherwise the only people to witness this fifty yard stroll by these stars were Eddie and me and Diana and the other lady producer. So we stood there as Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr, and Dean Martin, and of course Cary Grant, and other famous movie stars from Hollywood's golden years walked by and nodded or smiled or ignored us (I'm sorry I can't remember any of the women stars right now).

And then suddenly there was Gregory Peck, standing out because he was the tallest and turning to look right into my eyes from just feet away and give that famous half smile as his eyes stared into mine and he gave me a nod, to my mind acknowledging that we had something in common, because as a boy and young man I had thought we did, even if it was just our tall, lean, black Irish looks (a bit arrogant of me maybe, but at the time it seemed true to me).

I felt if I never had another experience in Hollywood I'd be happy because I'd had that one. Cary Grant didn't make the movie, and by the time I left Hollywood a lot of the folks I saw that night were either at the end of their lives or already gone. And I got to meet some of them at parties and dinners and other events in ways that were more intimate or personal or informative, but none as thrilling as that strange scene with fifty or so Hollywood icons strolling in their formal wear by serenading violinists as a crowd of only four people looked on.

I got a little sidetracked, but the point is simply that Gregory Peck has always been a bit of a mystery as a movie star, in many ways, not only because sometimes he seemed so stiff and almost self-conscious he didn't seem like a movie star at all. But he was, and a unique one, and tonight I saw again why as he helped elevate THE GUNFIGHTER in my mind to the level of the top classic Hollywood Westerns only maybe even more so.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

JUST A QUICK THOUGHT (OR OBSERVATION I GUESS)

Last night a friend gave me a ride home from a great poetry reading (see two posts back) and dinner with old and dear friends (as well as a few new) afterwards, and as we drove down West Broadway in Soho—my old neighborhood (in the 1970s)—there was the new "Freedom Tower" aglow in the near distance (that contradiction is the only way to describe its visual impact) and I couldn't help observing that it made me feel like I was in Dallas, or on a highway heading to an underpass or beltway around some smaller Southern or Midwestern city with a couple of skyscrapers (no offense to Dallas or any other city, but they ain't New York).

It may look a little more original in daylight with its curved facade of nothing but glass windows, but at night, when those curves don't really declare themselves and all there is is that needle tower and antenna on top of a squat lit up block, it made me miss the Twin Towers and their simplistically unoriginal but nonetheless iconic double and slimmer straight-edged shapes.

I don't mean to be unpatriotic or insensitive to what the new building represents, but to be the highest building in the Western hemisphere (though the extended length of the antenna makes the whole building look more like a structure at the end of an airport runway) and be as ugly in its nighttime appearance (and after taking over a decade to even complete) is, well, not a mark of New York's importance but rather it seems to me a sign of its (hopefully temporary) decline (no matter how many more wealthy people populate it now, or because of)...

...it sure doesn't, to my mind, look like it's the highlight (let alone high point) of the cityscape of a world-class city, let alone one that often purports to be the world's most important city. And it doesn't say much culturally either. That's my take at any rate.