Saturday, January 31, 2015

GOOD NEWS FOR SHOW TUNES

When I was in my late teens and twenties, especially my four years in the military, I often hid my love for great songs from Broadway musicals even though WEST SIDE STORY had had an enormous impact on me and even my writing, but then after I joined the movement for women's and gay rights as the 1970s began, I came out and admitted I loved a lot of show tunes.

This article supports the conclusion that singing show tunes can actually improve the minds of people with dementia and Alzheimers. I love science.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ROD MCKUEN R.I.P.

I didn't know Rod McKuen, but I certainly knew his poetry when I was a young man and he was one of the most popular poets in the history of the USA, or the world. In some ways he was the first "spoken word" artist to have an impact.

Back in the 1960s I knew very few Beat chicks, or later Hippie birds, who didn't have a crush on McKuen and his records in which he read his prosy personal conversationally lyric poems. And though I hated to admit it, when some young woman would insist on playing Stanyan Street or Listen To The Warm, I'd pretend to be too hip for it but would actually be moved.

The man had a voice that expressed his take on the dailiness of loneliness and love sickness better than a lot of more technically brilliant poets of the time. And he was a prize-winning composer and song writer. He had enormous popular success but was mostly dismissed by the academy and the book critics and his fellow poets.

Here's a great story about the poet and writer Aram Saroyan's encounter with McKuen when Aram was a young man. Goodnight Rod, you deserved to have been treated better by your poet peers, but at least you had a worldwide audience that loved you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ANOTHER OLD FAVORITE QUOTE

"While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light."  —Jack Kerouac (from The Scripture of the Golden Eternity)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Well after watching THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, I can see why Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, is the favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar, and has already won other Best Actor awards. He brings Hawking to life in a way that seems so solidly real you forget you're watching an actor transform himself and feel like you're watching Hawking himself. Brilliant performance.

But hopefully not lost in the warranted accolades for Redmayne's performance is the actress who plays his wife, Felicity Jones, whose performance is so nuanced and subtle it might be overshadowed but shouldn't be. It's an amazingly compelling performance, and the aging alone is impressive to watch considering so little of it is done with makeup but rather with attitude.

I wasn't expecting a domestic drama, but these actors make it work, along with the rest of the typically competent Brit cast. Well worth seeing.

STORM OF THE CENTURY, UM, YEAR, UH, WEEK

Just another January snowstorm it turned out. But because it seemed it might be worse, a lot of friends didn't have to go to school or work today, so a little mini winter vacation was had by all. Not a bad outcome. And, as always, better safe than sorry.

[PS: Friends in the Boston area and on the cape got slammed with what NYC was supposed to get, so here's to a quick recovery from the storm damage for all of Eastern Mass. and much of New England...]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

THE SAG AWARDS

I'm not going to comment on all the SAG awards that were won tonight, but just wanted to note that two of my favorite performances were recognized: Patricia Arquette for best supporting actress in a movie for BOYHOOD and J.K. Simmons for best supporting actor in a movie for WHIPLASH. Well deserved and who I voted for.

And their acceptance speeches were good too, especially Simmons's, which stated the obvious but you don't hear said much, which is that any production that uses actors, whether in movies, on TV or on stage, the success of the endeavor requires that every actor, even one with only one line, has to bring it for the whole piece to work.

I used to say having the kinds of small roles I did for years in films and on TV was challenging because it's like Picasso paints a canvas except for one little piece of the corner of the canvas which you are then asked to finish. It ain't as easy as just making your own painting.

Anyway, the rest of the awards were relatively predictable (I suppose some would say Arguette's and Simmons's wins were too, but they were both first timers I think, at least in that category and a few months ago neither were very high on the expected winners list) and I was happy enough for the recipients. Though BIRDMAN winning for best cast of a movie seemed a little bit of a stretch for me, as much as I liked that film and the performances.

BOYHOOD's performances were more demanding (picking up the thread once a year for a few weeks for twelve feckin years, come on, that's challenging) and all the best movies had amazing ensemble work. But I won't argue with any of the awards, I'm just happy that Arquette and Simmons won. If you haven't seen their performances, please as soon as you get the chance check out BOYHOOD and WHIPLASH.

SOME GOOD ONES



Saturday, January 24, 2015

SIMON PETTET'S AS A BEE

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've seen Simon Pettet mentioned. He's an old friend and one of my favorite poets and he has a new book of poems out from Talisman House called AS A BEE.

As always with Simon's poetry, a lot of what makes his poems so evocative and provocative is what he leaves out. He's a minimalist lyric poet with a contemporary twist on what initially seems to be irony but turns out to be sincerity in a more subtle form.

Not easy to do, and not everyone can do it, and no one does it quite like Simon. Here's an example from AS A BEE:

"SEMPERVIRENS

I climb inside the Old Woman
and peak through the eye

I trace circles on the bark
on the varnished slice
that's so proudly on display

I look up hundreds of feet
into the sky
into the canopy
of branches
where other whisperers
and other trees are growing"

When he reads his poetry to audiences, Simon often will recite one of his poems twice, the second time—slightly different in rhythm and tone—will always bring out subtleties not noticed before. I would advise anyone reading this book to do the same. Read each poem twice and see if it doesn't begin to resonate in a new way the second time.

Simon's poems demand a kind of surrender to their seeming simplicity in order to become aware of the deeper complexities he's addressing or expressing. That's my take anyway. Here's another:

"A VOW

Each portion
of perfect beauty
is accurately noted,
deftly remarked upon
and
not at all dismissed.

Clap hands mouth cliches
When did you stop loving me?
I never stopped loving you
How could you possibly say such terrible things?
I don't. You do.

You do, sweetie, you do."

Friday, January 23, 2015

FROM THE HOLLYWOOD YEARS

The only time I rode a horse, on the set of Deadwood where I actually spent two weeks mostly on that sweet horse including night shots with me holding a flag and unable to see clearly without my glasses and galloping into town shots, most of which were left on the cutting room floor, but I thank the wrangler who picked the horse for me and gave me a quick lesson on how to go forward and backwards and left and right, the horse treated me right and I was grateful...

Monday, January 19, 2015

TRIBUTE TO MLK

Of all the tributes to Dr. King I've seen on the Internet today, my friend RJ Eskow's revised version of an earlier updating of King's vision strikes me as one of the best, you can read it here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

THE JUDGE

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Like watching Art Tatum and Max Roach trade fours (Duvall as Tatum etc.). Exquisite demonstration of movie acting chops. The story is at times predictable, but if you like family dramas and/or courtroom dramas, this is one of the better versions of both combined.

The entire cast is terrific. Including Vera Farmiga, who I often don't like except when she's playing a bitch, which seems to underlie every character she plays, even sympathetic ones. But in THE JUDGE she plays a competent, mature, beautiful, independent woman and pulls it off perfectly.

As Vicent D'Onofrio pulls of the big brother role, and especially Jeremy Strong as the mentally challenged brother (not really the best description since the character is in many ways more mentally capable than the "normal" characters). Billy Bob Thornton has a smaller role he performs in a surprisingly successful understated way. Everyone's good.

There were enough surprises in the otherwise standard story line to keep my interest and to satisfy the expectations of the genre, but the main reason THE JUDGE is worth watching is what I said at the top, Downey and Duvall. Let me know if you agree.

Friday, January 16, 2015

STILL ON THE MEND BUT HERE'S A LATE NIGHT ATTEMPT TO MAKE SOME SENSE OF THE OSCAR OUUTRAGE FROM MY PERSPECTIVE

So, the fact that the Oscar nominees acting categories had all white faces, and the director category had all white male faces, has a lot of my friends, and plenty of others, in the movie business upset. Now, my personal experience in Hollywood was downright stupidity when it came to diversity. I remember shooting a scene for a TV movie I was in on Hollywood Boulevard back in the 1980s and all the extras for the scene were what they call "white" while the actual street pedestrians they were holding back on the sidewalk until they got the shot, contained only a handful of "white" people with the rest spread around all the other shades of skin and physically designated ethnicities. I mean L.A. not that long after became a majority minority city (that's the kind of phrase that only makes sense in "America").

And studies have shown that the Academy needs to diversify as it has some ridiculously high percentage of white males (though I know "non-white" friends who work in films who have never applied for various reasons including feeling it's a closed club so why bother). So to find the Academy nominating a slate of white faces isn't surprising, but to blame it on racism is going a bit too far for my taste. Maybe that factored into some people's voting, but the fact is SELMA was nominated in the Best Picture category and it was written and directed by a black woman and has a mostly black cast, so how does that fact fit with the accusation that the nominations are lily white?

I understand the anger that the picture was nominated but the director and her star weren't, but that happens often now because there are more picture nominations allowed than in the director category, so some directors of best picture nominees have to be left out. Now I have friends, especially women directors, who believe many of the male directors nominated aren't as good as the director of SELMA, so they're raging about the situation righteously, and I understand and totally agree that the Academy hasn't given women directors a fair shake for most of its history.

But, the way I hear it, the producers of SELMA didn't send DVDs of the film to Academy members early (though they would have received them I assume eventually) so my guess is a lot of the older members didn't get to see it soon enough if at all, and by then the director was on the defensive for altering the facts a bit to heighten the drama (having LBJ opposing MLK at a time when he was actually collaborating with and supporting MLK's efforts and goals) and her explanation in interviews for that is that she's the artist and interpreting this story from her perspective and others can now do their own interpretations if they see it differently, and that sometimes comes across as arrogant in the face of historians' objections. And she cast a Brit to play King.

My guess is, and it's just a guess, that older Academy members in the various categories (each branch nominates its own, actors actors, directors directors, etc. and then the entire Academy votes for the actual Oscar selection) who remember the Civil Rights struggle and were moved by LBJ's risking his presidency to support the Civil Rights Voting Act (I know exactly where I was when I heard him give the speech about it, where he said "We shall overcome" and it choked me up a bit to hear this white Southerner who was at the pinnacle of "American" power do that) and maybe felt a little reluctant to award what many historians of the period are saying is altering the historical facts. Even the Ralph Abernathy family and their supporters are upset that he's virtually left out of the movie when he was by King's side every step of the way and can be justifiably considered as big a part of the story, of the Selma march at least.

Maybe I'm wrong and the same Academy that awarded TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE best picture last year as well as one of it's actors the Best Actress award is being racist this year, but the reality for me is that most of the nominations can be justified from my retired-professional perspective, and that there's always films and people who I feel should be nominated who never even get close and it's because of all kinds of factors, like who is liked and who isn't inside Hollywood or who has the power at the moment or who so obviously should have won for a previous performance that members are struck guilty and nominate them for a less important performance, etc. My guess is that if Sidney Poitier had played King in his prime, he not only would have been nominated but would have won handily. But many don't know the work of the Brit actor who played King in Selma nor have they probably ever worked with him.

If I were talking to the director of Selma and the Brit who played King, I'd be saying "It's not personal, it's just business." That's my two cents.

[PS: if you object to my not naming the nominees I write about above, my excuse is that, though better I'm still knocked out by whatever I've been fighting for the last week and I don't have the energy or mental ability to look them all up and be able to write their name correctly etc. tonight....]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

COMING OUT FROM UNDER

My lifelong goal of simplifying my life has been reinforced once again by illness. There's nothing like feeling like even if you're not dying you might as well be. I feel so fortunate that I'm still here and able to read and write and talk and walk and still dig all the things I do. Especially the "you" I've been writing to since I learned to write, some secret sympathizer who understands and shares my perspective on what's important and why.

May everyone of you be blessed with a heart full of gratitude to be open to this new day.

[and this is just from a bug or whatever's going around and the complications thereof, but I guess the new "sick"—at my age—is a lot more kickass than the version my younger, healthier, stronger self had to deal with...]

Monday, January 12, 2015

TAYLOR NEGRON R.I.P.

Only 57, way too tragic a loss. I knew him from both L.A. and NYC but not as well as many of our mutual friends. We shared a stage once or twice or maybe more, I'm still battling the flu or something so not as clearheaded as usual, if then.

He had a beautiful smile, as you can see above, which expressed what I saw as his good heartedness, but like a lot of comics he could be caustic sometimes in ways that seemed personal but weren't, just going for the obvious jokes that I seemed incapable of not setting up for any comic friends.

But more importantly, he was an amazing creative spirit who brought something tangibly unique to every role he played, every stand up routine or story-telling performance or painting he made and more. Truly, his like will not be seen again.

[Here's a relatively thorough career obit.]

Friday, January 9, 2015

MIKE GRAHAM R.I.P.

Mike Graham was a good friend of mine in my L.A. years and beyond. Around my age we shared different experiences but somehow came out at the same place. Mike was a Detroit native who became an intelligence officer during The Viet Nam War and ended up confronting the brass about the pointlessness of that venture.

I was in the service before that, and a low-rank enlisted man getting in trouble for more private battles with authority, though some were political, like ignoring segregation laws in the South etc.

Mike went on to become an award-winning crime reporter for The Detroit Free Press as well as a criminal investigator for the courts for a few years. He continued to practice investigative journalism well after we met and became friends in L.A., where he had also become a script writer for TV and movies.

Some people called him "Angry Mike" because he always was pissed off at some inanity in the world he was constantly exposed to (he naturally wrote for cop shows etc. so did a lot of ride alongs). I was an angry man for decades myself—and still was at times when we were friends—so it was a relief to be buddies with someone known as angrier, especially as I worked hard to find out what I was getting out of my anger so I could finally give it up. At least much of the time.

I remember someone calling me and Mike "bookends"—meaning we were alike but also opposite in some ways. Which was true. But when I found myself in the hospital for the first time as an adult, it was Mike (along with Hubert Selby Jr., another L.A. close friend) who I woke up to sitting at the end of my bed where I learned they'd been for hours. And except for going home to sleep they were around for my remaining days in the hospital.

We used to talk on the phone now and then after I moved to Jersey. We kept up on each other's lives, including the publication of Mike's first novel: The Snow Angel, which I wrote about in a blog post he let me know he greatly appreciated:

"THE SNOW ANGEL, A Novel by Michael Graham, a 'police procedural' but also an original Christmas fable, [...] not only offers hope in the form of serious redemption, but from the perspective of an experienced detective and investigative reporter, as Graham was. I laughed and I cried, as they say, but I really did."

But in recent years his health deteriorated. We had telephone conversations about that, since I'd been through a few health challenges and operations since moving back East in 1999. But then the calls stopped and I learned Mike had suffered a serious stroke and was unable to speak much, if at all as his condition worsened. I got reports from mutual friends, and earlier today found out he had passed.

The good news is he's no longer suffering. The bad news, that another good friend is gone from the bodily realm. But like all writers, his words live on. Check out The Snow Angel and see for yourself.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

JUST WONDERING

How can God, or Allah, be "great" and "all powerful" if that same God, or Allah, needs you to get a gun and shoot someone who you think has insulted God, or Allah? If God, or Allah, wanted to take vengeance on that alleged insulter, God, or Allah, could just "smite" them, right?

So every time one of these indoctrinated or misled so-called followers of God, or Allah, says they're acting in their God's, or Allah's, behalf it's like admitting their God, or Allah, is actually weak and indecisive and incapable of taking vengeance for His or Her or It self.

Thus the attack in Paris proved once again that the God, or Allah, of these kinds of attackers is too lame to act without their help. Some weak ass deity to my mind.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

KEYBOARD MASTERS

Thanks to my friend Doc Burke for hipping me to this little segment of a documentary about some of the great pianists of the 20th century in jazz (and pretty much any other style for that matter):