Tuesday, September 30, 2014

THE RULE

Caught this PBS documentary, THE RULE, last night about the high school—St. Benedict's Prep—I went to in Newark NJ back in the 1950s. The doc gives a quick history of the school, including a brief reference to the German and Irish immigrant battles that took place in the neighborhood in the 1800s when my maternal grandmother went to grammar school in a building later acquired by St. Benedict's, and her grandfather took part in those battles where the German butchers used heir knives in what was called in the papers back then "race wars" (because the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment saw the immigrants as different races) and an equally brief reference to the way the school was a day school for the sons of working-class immigrants from Germany and Ireland at first, then later from Italy and Eastern Europe too, as it was when I went there, with also a handful of African-Americans and Asian-Americans and a handful more of Latinos.

But after the urban disturbance of the late 1960s—called by some "the Newark Riots," and by others "The Newark Uprising" and other variations—the Benedictine Monks that ran the school, and lived in the abbey attached to it, split over whether to close down, move, or stay to serve the new community that took over after the late '60s: i.e. the "black" community.

When I went there from 1956 to 1960, St. Benedict's stood between an entirely "black" neighborhood of wooden row houses covered in asphalt shingles made to look like fake bricks, which ended basically across the street from the school, and the downtown Newark business area which began right behind the school with famous (to us) stores like Bamberger's and Klein's-On-The-Square, (where my mother took me and my brothers and sisters to get our Easter outfits), as well as movie theaters and burlesque theaters (New York City had banned burlesque houses for a while in the repressive and oppressive 1950s, so Minsky's and the other places moved to Newark for several years). The downtown area was predominantly "white" when I was at St. Benedict's, but after the Uprising became predominantly "black."

In the uprising, the row houses all burned down in the neighborhood where I got to see Daddy Grace sitting on his thrown in an ermine cape with nails longer than I'd ever seen before and a brass band that killed (the only white, let alone kid, in the place) or ate at Father Divine's Peace restaurant, and later dated a girl from the neighborhood, a couple actually, before I left Jersey for the military when I was nineteen, years before the uprising. Now where once there was a "ghetto" has a branch of Rutgers University as well as a government funded "middle-class" enclave of houses with grass and trees, though that didn't stop three African-American students home from college and hanging out in a playground that's part of the complex from being shot to death by some Puerto Rican teens a few years ago...

...anyway, this documentary mentions some of this in passing but mostly concentrates on how a small band of Benedictine monks, including a classmate of mine from the '50s, broke from the rest in their abbey, who all left, and instead stayed and decided to make educating urban teenage boys, mostly "of color," their mission, and after raising funds from an intensely active and committed alumni even added a dormitory for boys whose homes were just too hectic or dangerous, or their particular neighborhoods in Newark were, so that they could learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment.

It's a pretty quick-moving [and moving] and pretty hard-hitting [and at times hard] film, with boys and monks starring as caring and determined realists, despite the spiritual setting and atmosphere. I have to say, it made me proud (and also left me wishing when I was there they'd had some of the innovations the monks introduced in more recent times...)

[PS: My experience at the school wasn't great because in the years I was there it was only focused on academics (to prepare for college and a specific career, like for me engineering because I was great at math and science but not at languages, including English, at least the way they wanted it done) and sports (I played on the football team for a few years) and mostly ignored the creative arts I was already involved in and determined to pursue as my life's work, and also a lot of the students then were racist, like the rest of "white" society, so it's almost ironic that after the Uprising it became a school that fights racism—through education—and promotes the arts, especially those culturally relevant to "black" and "brown" cultures, etc....]

Sunday, September 28, 2014

MY (LATEST) THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER MOMENT



So last night I went to the performing center in the town I grew up in to catch THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER. I went mostly to see Cheryl Bentyne, because back in my Hollywood years, toward the last of them, she asked me to open for her at a Santa Monica jazz club, or at least a venue that featured a lot of jazz. She was doing a solo act and had a band that included her then husband on piano and a bunch of the best studio and recording and movie soundtrack musicians in L.A., led by trumpeter—and at the time king of the movie soundtrack—composer and arranger Mark Isham.

And these guys were gonna back me, and did.  They improvised jazz behind me reading my poems to a full house through a dynamite sound system. It was one of my favorite and best readings in a lifetime of them. And then Cheryl came out to display some of the most fantastic vocal chops in the world. The entire evening was unique, for which I am still totally grateful. So I wanted to stop in to see her after the show to just say hello and tell her how much that night meant to me. I was also looking forward to the show, because it's always a pleasure when the pros do their thing, and what vocal group can out pro THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER.

But from the moment they came out on stage tears unexpectedly welled up in my eyes. Because they had all obviously aged since the last time I saw them, two decades ago, as have I. The older ones in the group, Tim Hauser and Alan Paul, are now senior citizens, though Paul looked as lithe and youthful as a teenager on stage. I found out later that Tim Hauser, the older of the two (born in 1941, while Paul was born in '49) had just buried his mother two days before the show, which no one could have guessed.

The women are younger (having been born in the 1950s) and Cheryl especially looked like she hadn't changed much. But still, there was the look and gravitas of many years having passed and I identified so much with that and then they started singing. Transformative. In the course of the show, Janis Siegel went from looking like a hip youngish grandmother, to moving and grooving like a teenager herself, and her voice was as amazing as ever. (Cheryl was moving like a teen from the first note.)

That's what impressed me the most about all of them, the vocal control and tone and range showed no signs of diminishment. Hauser is the same age as Bob Dylan, and Dylan, when I saw him ten years ago live, seemed only capable of hitting two notes, or the same note an octave apart more or less. He can get away with it. But these guys voices are as great as ever.

It's an intimate show—I think they call it their living room show—that includes some film and photos with biographical interludes and solos and their usual range of genres from classic popular music to jazz. But they made every song their own as always. If you see this tour is coming anywhere near where you might be, I highly advice you to catch it. There's something so poignant about seeing this group still owning vocalese after all these years. Too late to stop now.

Friday, September 26, 2014

AND NOW FOR THE NFL

I played football in high school and followed it for many years on TV thereafter but gave it up in the 1980s when it seemed to become more about corporate profits than sports and also started to become more brutal. When I played smashing your head directly into another player's head was considered a bad move, not because you could get a concussion, because the newer helmets supposedly prevented that, but because it was a move that could too easily be avoided and/or might miss stopping the other player. You were supposed to use your arms and shoulders for tackling and blocking and etc...

I've been the same weight since I was fifteen, between 145 and 150, but there was a brief period in my Hollywood years when someone convinced me I'd get more work as an actor if I beefed up and got muscular so I worked with a trainer five days a week, a combination of aerobics and weights and ate a body builder's diet (a pile of pancakes with eight scrambled egg yolks and a half a chicken was the breakfast) and as a result put on fifteen pounds of pure muscle.

I hated the way it made me feel, my upper arms seemed too tight against my torso etc., but the women seemed to like it. It didn't lead to what was predicted and I eventually injured myself when the weights got too heavy and went back to my old style not worrying about it and back to my natural weight (doctors would always tell me, as they have my two sons over the course of our lives, that we're underweight until I say I've been this weight since I was fifteen as my boys have also been very slim but toned and strong, ant men I call us, and then the docs would say, never mind).

The reason I bring this up is because the trainer, an Eastern European body builder who claimed to have worked for the CIA, would warn me after every session that the workout had increased my testosterone so I should be careful when I left the gym because if someone bumped into me accidentally I might overreact.

Point being, the violence in football, particularly in the NFL, that I noticed began increasing in the '80s and has grown, like the players, to unheard of proportions, which is obviously encouraged and promoted and even enhanced with drugs etc. also produces men whose testosterone is out of control so that they overreact to the slightest provocation, like a woman giving them a problem or even striking them, a la Ray Rice.

But like too many cops in this country—as so many Internet videos and photos show—instead of being trained to recognize the potential for violent outbursts as a result of their physical training, these football players have been instead too often protected from their overreactions by corporate NFL money and power, until the Ray Rice scandal.

My friend RJ Eskow has a great column that connects all that to the ridiculousness of the NFL being a "non profit" corporate entity that doesn't have to pay taxes and in which the economic inequality between the bosses and workers is more extreme than in the rest of the economy. Check his post out here.

As for football the way it's run and played now, especially in the NFL, somewhere in the future people will look back, hopefully, and wonder what the feck "Americans" were thinking, or else just figure like the Roman Empire and its gladiators, we weren't thinking but instead were being distracted while the rulers took all the money and power until the empire collapsed on itself...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

MORE CORPORATE MALFEASANCE

Here is my response to this site's posting of an entire blog post of mine without my permission and in order to completely distort my original intent by making it seem my post is somehow connected to their phony version of what was originally created by Terence Winch and his brother Jesse, the traditional Irish-music band Celtic Thunder, but whose name has since been appropriated by a music touring machine that represents the opposite of the traditional irish music and Irish values Celtic Thunder once stood for. I tried to leave this as a comment on the site but it became too complicated. If anyone knows how to do it, please feel free to copy the below and send, or otherwise let the jive Celtic Thunder know they are unappreciated to those who cherish creative integrity.

The words in this Internet site post are all copyrighted and belong to Michael Lally (as the poems belong to Terence Winch)—and as the comment buried within this copyrighted blog post makes clear my words refer to the original Celtic Thunder band, not the traveling circus that ripped off the name and have used it to promote their money-making scheme that exploits the public interest in things Irish by giving the public a phony pablum commercial corporate version of music that has nothing to do with the original Celtic Thunder. And to have a photo of the original and true Celtic Thunder on the same page that when you click on it takes you to the schedule of the corporate-machine phony Celtic Thunder performance schedule is not only crassly deceptive and exploitative but akin to other corporate entities that benefit the few and impoverish the rest of us, in this case cultural impoverishment, substituting corporate GMO music for the real thing, while using the real thing to trick the public into thinking the false product IS the real thing, as in using my post on THE ORIGINAL AND AUTHENTIC CELTIC THUNDER to promote the lame corporate exploitation-machine that calls itself Celtic Thunder but is more like Celtic Traitor.  

[PS: My oldest son, Miles, checked out the site that did this and he says it probably came from a robot, a poorly designed supposedly music news site that is programmed to recognize names and reproduce posts and articles etc...though I notice since I posted this the site removed the photo of the original authentic Celtic Thunder that linked to the bogus Celtic Thunder's performance schedule and replaced it with a photo of the bogus band, so somebody obviously noticed either this post, or Connie Nicholson's great comment on the site denouncing it...]

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MORE HOLLYWOOD HITS

From my "Hollywood" years, here's shots that include Katy Sagal, to whom I send congrats for getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard recently, and Michael O'Keefe, also congrats for recently being added to the new HOMELAND cast, and an extra shot of the star of HOMELAND, Claire Danes, while we're at it:
That's me up top actually kissing Katy Sagal and beneath it my making fun of "Hollywood" kisses with Katy c. 1990
In the back that's Joel Lipman and me, up front it's Michael Harris, Hubert Selby Jr., Eve Brandstein and Michael O'Keefe c. late 1980s
That's Claire Danes and unidentified others watching as I read a poem at The Bowery Poetry Club c. 2007 I think

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CLIMATE MARCH NYC

So the first thing we noticed when we arrived on 72nd Street to join the climate march maybe ten or fifteen minutes before it was supposed to start was that there were already many hundreds of people stopped a ways before Central Park West, the street the parade was starting from. And hundreds more walking with us, and hundreds more coming behind us that over the next while became well over a thousand...

So when the Wall Street Journal and local network news shows and other media outlets said later today that "thousands" had marched, they must have been talking about the people we were among on 72nd Street and forgetting about the people packed like sardines into Central Park West from 59th Street to 87th Street waiting for the march to start, let alone the thousands like us waiting to feed into the march on many other cross streets...

We also noticed that the helicopter(s) that flew overhead every now and then that caused the crowd to wave their banners and hands at whoever was in them, most people assuming they were news helicopters, actually seemed to be police copters, which I would guess is correct since the news stations that covered the march, and most of them pretty cursorily, had no shots from above, which would have laid to rest any doubts about the march only containing "thousands" pretty quickly...

Fortunately there were other news outlets that called the crowd at closer to a hundred thousand...also off but at least more honest than most...and then there were the ones that said it was the biggest climate march in history, over three hundred thousand, which sounded much closer...

...if you were in that crowd from 59th to 87th (or for all I know even further north given the size of the crowds lower down Central Park West) with the pressure of the feeder street crowds making the crowd at that time packed solid, you could count for yourself...or just notice that it took two hours for the march to move on 72nd Street after it began moving at 59th Street, because there were that many people flowing in from the feeder cross streets, and that many packed into those thirteen city blocks...

(You can see just from the shot above of the beginning of the march how many people were there, that doesn't even show the width of the street and yet I can count close to forty people across and right behind them, pressing in on them at that point is another forty to fifty, and so on, every foot or so for almost thirty city blocks, and that doesn't count the thousands on each feeder street...I know entire families that left before they even got onto Central Park West because they'd been waiting so long, and many more who dropped out once they got to 59th from twenty or more blocks away after waiting for many hours and then slowly making their way down the parade route, etc.)...

But that wouldn't be what you'd most likely be paying attention to, that would be the jubilant and determined spirit of the crowd, of all ages and ethnicities and sizes and shapes and styles and etc. yet united in the belief that the time for talking is over and there needs to be action taken to stop the corporate and government abuse of the planet and it's atmosphere...(with so many great handmade signs—like "THERE IS NO PLANET B"—and costumes and musical instruments etc...)

...I know, easier said than done, but if history is any indicator, the next step will be to not just march in a festive if committed-to-the-cause spirit on a foggy, humid, but lovely last day of summer Sunday when the city is mostly at rest, but instead to march on a week day when it will disrupt the business of the city and the state, of the country and the world...tough thing to pull off but it will be necessary if things continue as they are...

For now, today's demonstration showing how many people care enough about the earth and what corporate greed is doing to it and all on it (though the 1% do get to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change and all that contributes to it, i.e. drought, fracking, factory farms, etc....) to get together to protest the lack of urgency in governments and corporations that thrive on the profits of the very industries that are destroying the earth and the atmosphere....

...and who came even from other countries, or joined equally committed and determined protesters in cities all around the globe (something every news report I watched tonight ignored) or just traveled longer distances than me and my teenage son and his mother and some friends did from Jersey (there were native Americans from reservations in the far and mid West, as well as poverty activists from urban centers in the East, etc.)....

...just to be among so many like-minded and like-spirited people was a joy and a privilege, for which I will be always grateful...just to have experienced the moment when every one of those more than three hundred thousand people stood in silence to mark all of our concern for the earth and its atmosphere and then to hear the distant roar of the crowd slowly moving up from 59th Street to where we were on 72nd until it passed right through us as we joined in it and could hear it moving further up the parade route...

...it's too late and I'm too tired, or my brain is, to describe that experience as accurately as I'd like, but it's an experience I have never had quite like that but would love to again...only next time let's make it a million people...

[PS: For a great shot of some of the march, from high up in a building on Central Park West, click here... and scroll to the bottom]

Friday, September 19, 2014

THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY

There's one more episode to go in Ken Burns' new PBS documentary series THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY. But I can't wait to say that this is the best thing Burns has done since the Civil War documentary that made him rightfully famous.

It's a seven part series on the lives and interconnectedness of these three historic and related figures, Theodore, his niece Eleanor and their cousin Franklin (she and FDR were fifth cousins). I'm a history buff and thought I knew a lot about these three, and I did, but the revelations in this documentary have still startled me.

And Burns' style in this is often very understated, so that these revelations are not made a lot of, just dropped as another fact and then the narrative moves on. The actors voicing the various characters, and Peter Coyote's overall narration, are impeccably well matched to the task at hand, as is the writing and editing. Just a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking.

I feel connected in a way to these three historic figures like no others, at least not ones that played such significant roles on the world stage and at crucial moments in the history of the USA and often the rest of the world. My father was a nine-year-old newsboy in 1908 when Taft came to New Jersey to campaign and decided to shake the little ragged Irish immigrants' kid's hand for the reporters.

For the rest of his life when my father shook someone's hand for the first time, or most people's, he'd say: "Shake the hand that shook the hand of President Taft in 1908 on Scotland Road in South Orange, New Jersey." I knew Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt and that Roosevelt was Taft's friend and supported him during that campaign but then turned against him in the next one. Because my father told me that.

By the time I was a kid my father was a politician too, working for the Democratic machine of Essex County New Jersey and called himself an FDR Democrat. FDR was a hero to him and to most of my clan when I was born during World War Two in which my two oldest brothers served. He was my hero as a boy as well, and in the history books we read in my Catholic grammar school which back then depicted FDR, Churchill and Stalin as the leaders who won that war, Stalin even affectionately referred to as "Uncle Joe" until new textbooks in the 1950s revised that perspective.

So through my old man I felt I had a connection to both Teddy and FDR. But Eleanor was all mine, or mine and my mother's. Eleanor Roosevelt seemed to be talking directly to me on the radio and in newsreels. Because, despite her upper crust accent, her sentiments and her causes were already mine as a boy, she shared my empathy and even identification with all sorts of oppressed and downtrodden and discriminated against people. She was my personal hero, and despite what most saw as her homely looks, I had a boyhood crush on her because of her mind and her courage in speaking it.

Myabe that's why at several points in the stories of the extraordinary lives of these three iconic figures, I found my eyes tearing up, overwhelmed by the way they overcame their own challenges and suffering partly by committing themselves to alleviating the suffering of others—despite their wealth and backgrounds which could have given them much easier lives had they fallen back on money and privilege. We could use some examples like them now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

THOSE WERE THE DAYS (OR I GUESS THAT WAS THE DAY) MY FRIEND

I think this shot was taken by my old friend the photographer/poet Bobby Miller of my then significant other and Tribeca (I hated that real estate term so usually called our neighborhood Washington Market) loft mate, and now old friend, composer Rain Worthington and me after we decided to try and make a living as professional actors and Bobby was doing separate head shots for us, and decided, or we asked, for one together...c. 1979.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

Maybe it's my age or maybe it's something else, but watching Bogart and Bacall tonight in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, the film where they first met and fell in love on screen when she was only nineteen and not just in her first film role but starring opposite the already movie icon Bogart, who was forty-four and married for the third time...

...whatever it is, I laughed louder and more often during this umpteenth time watching it tonight than I ever have. The dialogue is so quick and smart and fun and witty and adult it made me mourn for the time when even a teenager could come across as a grown up (and why not, it was made during World War Two in which my two oldest teenage brothers were in the military)...

Bacall was a sensation in it and it's so easy to see why, she's gorgeous yet down-to-earth, witty yet unpretentious and instantly iconic herself. Just to see her do that little boogie boogie dance at the end of the film is worth watching it all the way through. Oh how I wish they made movies with this kind of dialogue these days (though the diner scene in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK came close)....

Whenever the world is too much for me, a Bogie and Bacall flick, especially the first two when they were still falling in love but not together in real life yet—TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP—will make me forget any troubles and laugh loud, and a lot, not just out of delight but gratitude...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

FRUITVALE STATION

Wish I'd seen this on the big screen when it came out last year and was getting all kinds of Oscar buzz. The story still works well on a TV or computer screen, making me uncomfortable in ways only a powerfully told story can while I watched it on a cable channel on my TV. But the shots were so exquisitely framed and filmed I wanted to see the details even bigger and get lost in them. (And the acting is mostly excellent as well.)

There are some aspects of the story that manipulate the truth it's based on—and the audience as a result, just for narrative or explication reasons—but the basic truth is intact and the point of telling this story more relevant than ever after Ferguson and Trayvon Martin et. al. Because, as I'm sure you know—and the reason I was squirming from the first shot, because I knew the inevitable was inevitable—its about another young "black" man executed by another "white" policeman for behavior that a "white" college kid probably would have been merely reprimanded for.

My first thought after it ended and I wiped away some tears was that every police officer in the USA should have to watch this to see how not to overreact to fellow human beings no matter what they look or act like.

But then I read some of the commentary and stories about the shooting the movie's based on, and about the movie maker's few additions to that story that I must admit do come across as deliberately manipulative (like the main character's trying to rescue a loose pit bull hit by a car, an incident that occurred in real life but to the subject's younger brother, and meant as a metaphor for the way many "whites" react to and treat young "black" men, as always dangerous and ill intentioned etc. so the movie's lead character identifies with the dog etc.)...

...and I realized that even if every cop in the country was forced to watch this flick and discuss it, there'd still be plenty of rightwing Internet sites they could go to that would manipulate the facts in a way to misdirect the reality of young "black" men facing much greater odds in this society often because of policing tactics and attitudes toward incidental aspects of individual cases (a la Michael Brown's supposed "thug" behavior in Ferguson etc).

It isn't like all "white" cops are evil, or racist, or inherently murderous, I still have cops in my clan and grew up with them in my home, and they were and are all good people who truly do want to help and serve others. It's that the training both the cops get or don't get, and the training that many young "black" males get or don't get makes for an explosive mix when they clash...

But like I said, just as a creative endeavor, especially the filming itself, FRUITVALE STATION is worth watching.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

GRATITUDE LIST

I've been getting requests on Facebook to make a short list of things I'm grateful for.

As I've written here, and elsewhere, after my brain operation in the Fall of 2009 my compulsion to constantly make lists was not only gone, I couldn't even force myself to make a list beyond two items, at least not without help.

But that seems to have lately been changing a little. So over the past several days I have been pushing myself to find more than one or two general things to be grateful for. And now I have come up with three:

1—I'm grateful for all the things I thought of at the time as "good" that happened in my life so far, even those that I later changed my mind about and thought of as "bad"...

2—I'm grateful for all the things I thought of as "bad" that happened in my life so far, especially those that I later changed my mind about and thought of as "good"...

3—I'm grateful for the practice of gratitude, that I developed with much help over the years, that has led me to almost always find a way to be grateful for whatever happens in life and attempt to see it as neither "good" nor "bad" but just what is...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TRIBUTE

"Aren't we all gonna die?
Are we obsessed with the denial of that reality?
As a kid did you, like I, feel
you owned death, like a furry little pet
sitting on your shoulder, and any time you wanted
you could turn your head and see it, or kiss it,
or pet it, or remind yourself how close it was,
but in truth, you thought of it rarely,
more frequently of everyone else's,
because theirs seemed more imminent
even though back then you felt it
breathing on your neck in reassurance?
Or is that just me because I've seen
a lot of people pass, or die, as you might say,
from one thing or another, including my mother,
in a way that seemed unfair and certainly
unnecessary and arbitrary and cruel?
But what death isn't?
Those I remember that were no surprise,
though devastating anyway in their
now-you-see-me
now-you-never-will-again
finality?
Is that why now it's life I'm obsessed with?
Or is that because when I watched
the second plane crash into the second tower on TV
a thin blue tube hung from my urethra,
attached to a clear plastic bag, the remnant of a
cancer operation the week before,
unaware an old friend was on that flight,
at that moment incinerated,
a woman who was kind to me when
she didn't need to be?
How many people have died
before you got the chance to tell them what you meant to?"
(from MARCH 18, 2003)
(Berry Berenson 1948-2001)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ONE OF MY ALLTIME FAVORITE QUOTES

"There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business...to keep the channel open..."   —Martha Graham (to Agnes deMille)