Tuesday, May 31, 2016

EARLY AHMAD

The holy Trinity of my piano icons when I was young and attempting to play jazz piano in clubs were Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. I couldn't come close to Monk of course, but I bent down over the piano in imitation of Evans and did my best to get his light touch (though no one can match it, Bill Charlap comes closest), but Ahmad Jamal I was most able to sound something like now and then when I was lucky.

Here's a rough and mislabeled and badly edited but nonetheless historic clip from a live TV performance with jazz greats looking on as the young Ahmad impresses his elders with his skill and innovative genius:

Monday, May 30, 2016

MEMORIAL DAY

This day was intended to honor those who died in war while in the military. Sometimes people get confused and use it to honor all military veterans and those still on active duty, which is fine, but not what "Memorial Day" means.

Having served four years in the military myself, I hate the way our society insists all who serve are somehow brave and/or honorable and do it for the highest most selfless reasons. I joined the service to get back at my girlfriend at the time and because I knew the draft would get me eventually anyway (back in the day when they still had the draft).

And many I met while serving were not selfless or honorable or brave at all. Though some were. I'm not denigrating anyone else's service or saying those who saw combat, which I didn't, aren't to be honored and cared for because of their sacrifice, they should be. Like the woman I tried to memorialize in this post two years ago.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

Another delightful Jane Austen adaptation. This time of her early novella, LADY SUSAN, adapted and directed by Whit Stillman, a filmmaker I was a big fan of back in the day and am happy to see him in fine form in LOVE & FRIENDSHIP.

But the heart of the movie is Kate Beckinsale's impeccable performance in a role that requires speaking so many lines of perfectly devious but brilliantly manipulative English it's almost hard to keep up with her and her brilliance.

The rest of the cast is also up to the usual Brit-Jane-Austen-film-adaptation excellence, but two in particular dazzled me with their performances: Xavier Samuel as the prize, Reginald DeCourcy, and Tom Bennett as the rich but dimwitted fool Sir James Martin.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is not based on the most perfect Jane Austen book (that would be a tossup between PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, or for some Austen fans EMMA) but even her minor efforts are better than many writers' best. Same for this film, a minor but most entertaining movie experience.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

MY 50TH

that's me wearing glasses in the bottom left corner, at my 50th birthday party in the home I rented in Santa Monica, with some of my friends who were there, like actor Jeff Kober (China Beach at the time, Walking Dead more recently) hovering over me, his son Henry holding Jeff's finger, behind Henry is actor Michael O'Keefe (The Great Santini, Caddy Shack etc.) and behind me sitting on the floor is Christopher, then boyfriend of Sharon Stone, who is beside and slightly below him, with actress Jamie Rose (of  Falcon Crest, Lady Blue and Biker Chicks in Zombie Town fame) in the doorway talking to my daughter Caitlin...not sure who took the polaroid

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

THE MEDDLER

This is one of those 50/50 movies. If you go in expecting an hour and forty minutes of light entertainment with some good laughs and tender moments, you'll leave satisfied and smiling. If, on the other hand, you go in expecting a hilarious movie (as one critic called it) or a great drama, you'll leave somewhat disappointed.

The acting is mostly terrific, which is almost guaranteed for Susan Sarandon and J. K. Simmons. Rose Byrne is good too, but why can't movies and TV these days find "American" actors to play "Americans?"

Also, coming from and living in Jersey and having lived in New York, the accents that are supposed to be Jersey and Brooklyn in THE MEDDLER start out horrible. Though they do get better, or I became more accepting as the movie went on.

All in all, a nice little escape movie with, like I said, some good laughs and some moving moments, but one of Sarandon's lighter offerings.

[PS: I worked as an extra once by accident when I was starting out (thought it was a bigger role) in a pretty bad movie that was the first, or one of the first, starring roles for Sarandon, and she was a pain-in-the-butt diva on that set and didn't give a great performance. But she went on to become one of the greatest actors ever to grace a movie screen and an iconic movie star. Good for her.]

Monday, May 23, 2016

NEW FAVORITE OLD QUOTE

"...dig Michael Lally. There's also someone young and interesting."

—Allen Ginsberg (in a 1978 letter to Lawrence Ferlinghetti published in I Greet You At The Beginning Of A Great Career)


[PS: thanks to my old friend poet Simon Schuchat for hipping me to this and to my late friend Allen for calling me "young" at 36...]

Sunday, May 22, 2016

NICE GUYS

There's good actors in this movie. Including the stars: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. But it's co-written and directed by Shane Black, which turns out to be the problem. How did these two seemingly talented and intelligent movie stars get involved with a script that is marketed as a comedy but at times goes beyond even the most extremely tasteless dialogue and action of what dishearteningly has become "the norm" by placing pornographic language in the mouth of an innocent young girl and placing her in pornographic and physically violent situations.

Women are so mistreated in this movie I'm surprised there wasn't a picket line of activist feminists outside the theater. Yes there were moments of comedy between the stars that had me laughing, and there were even moments of touching drama, though fleeting. But there was too much gratuitous female nudity and violence against females in a plot that seemed put together with duct tape, all making me wish I hadn't bought a ticket. But my teenage son enjoyed it (saying he hadn't expected much anyway). Your call.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

LATER NIGHT MINI-RANT

Hilary ain't perfect. Neither is Sanders. If Hilary is as bad as her detractors are portraying her on the Internet than Hitler sounds like a better choice. And the same for Sanders detractors, you'd think he was Stalin. They're both politicians and cannot bring about a lot of what they are promising, but whatever they do will be better than any Republican, let alone Trump, who also is not Hitler or Stalin but is closer to them than either Hilary or Bernie.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ANYBODY ELSE FINDING MORE ACTIVE DREAMING WITH AGE?

Mine and most everyone else's dreams I find pretty boring. But I was in one last night where I was trying to swim away from an unidentified woman in the ocean and couldn't free my arms as I kicked my legs fiercely and struggled to get my arms free (fell asleep as usual on my back with my arms under the covers).

I woke up to the sound of my skull hitting the hardwood floor beside my bed. It was so loud, with my door closed and my son's room's door closed he thought someone had knocked over a big piece of furniture in the apartment above us. He was worried and wanted to get me to the hospital, but I iced it and he checked later to make sure I was okay and we made it through the night. (And today I feel like I've been in a car accident and got whiplash.)

Most of my life I've had dreams where I'm fighting people or running from people, but the dreams remained in my mind. In the past few years I've been woken out of a dream by my fist hitting a wall or night table, or my legs trying to thrash free of my blankets, and now with me and the top sheet and blankets ending up on the floor head first!

Anybody else having this trouble as they age? And if so, what was your solution?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

MONEY MONSTER

Imagine another movie about Wall Street that works. (The other was THE BIG SHORT of course.) MONEY MONSTER has a plot without too many surprises, but is still engaging (and at times compelling despite its often heavy handed attempt to make it about "real" people's "real" concerns), because Jodie Foster directs it like a pro and gets two of the best to carry the thin plot and they make it work like magic.

I have never been disappointed by going to a movie starring George Clooney. He's the consummate movie star, always handsome, always charming, even when playing smarmy or clownish (as he does here), but always conveying with great emotional precision the exact mood his character should be expressing.

When I first got into film acting seriously, and even carried the leading man role a few times, I remember saying to people that now I understood why the big stars get the big bucks. That shit is hard to make look so easy. And Julia Roberts matches Clooney so well, just watching these two old pros work was worth the price of admission to me.

But there's the added delight of almost everyone being cast well and pulling off each roll with few exceptions, especially the newish Jack O'Connell (the half Irish half English actor who played an Italian-American in the Angelina Jolie project UNBROKEN) and the Irish actress Caitriona Balfe (from the cable hit OUTLANDER). Unfortunately Dominic West (from THE WIRE) is a bit miscast as an elite financier, but he does his best which is pretty good.

In the end, it's shot, edited, acted and directed with fluency and panache. Can't wait to see what Jodie Foster gets to direct next.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

MOSE ALLISON'S YOUR MIND IS ON VACATION

I was thinking of Trump, but it works for a lot of folks (unfortunately sometimes for me too). Been one of my favorite songs since it first came out, especially his unique piano style...

Monday, May 9, 2016

MICHAEL S. HARPER R.I.P.

We were friends in the 1960s and '70s, but some of my left turns and radical changes left him a little bewildered with where I was going and what I intended in my life and work. I always admired him and his activism and poetry, and always loved him as a sincere and deeply feeling decent human.

I'm sorry we didn't stay in touch in later decades, but have sweet memories of working with him on getting one of my dearest friend's poetry published in a slim volume years after his, Ralph Dickey's, death and how grateful I was to Michael for making that happen. A beautiful cat, may he rest in poetry.

And here's one of his poems:

Here Where Coltrane Is By Michael S. Harper

Soul and race 
are private dominions,   
memories and modal 
songs, a tenor blossoming, 
which would paint suffering   
a clear color but is not in   
this Victorian house 
without oil in zero degree 
weather and a forty-mile-an-hour wind; 
it is all a well-knit family:   
a love supreme.
Oak leaves pile up on walkway 
and steps, catholic as apples 
in a special mist of clear white   
children who love my children.   
I play “Alabama” 
on a warped record player 
skipping the scratches 
on your faces over the fibrous   
conical hairs of plastic 
under the wooden floors. 


Dreaming on a train from New York   
to Philly, you hand out six 
notes which become an anthem 
to our memories of you: 
oak, birch, maple, 
apple, cocoa, rubber. 
For this reason Martin is dead; 
for this reason Malcolm is dead; 
for this reason Coltrane is dead; 
in the eyes of my first son are the browns   
of these men and their music.

[PS: Michael Harper's obituary has not appeared online, so my source for his passing may have been premature, in which case I apologize to all and especially to Michael.]

[PPS: Just informed by old friend poet Bob Berner that Michael did pass on Saturday with his children present and Coltrane being played in the background.]

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My mom in the early 20th Century before she met my father.


But this is the way I remember her most, taken on Easter of 1966, just after I got out of serving four years in the military and was growing a beard, as a sign of my liberation, that I shaved on Mother's Day after being with her in the hospital as she was dying and calling out for her oldest, who was a Franciscan missionary in Japan, and me, her youngest, who she didn't recognize.
I blamed the beard and made a vow to never grow another and haven't.
Look at her sweet smile, despite the fact, as we later learned, she was riddled with cancer and in great pain when this photo was taken.
I've missed her every day of the fifty years since she passed.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY

This is a marvelous movie. I can never get enough of based-on-a-true-story-fish-out-of-water films when they're done well. And this one is done excellently. Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons, as the Indian genius Srinivas Ramanujan and his mentor and collaborator G. H. Hardy, deserve nominations for their performances. And though I could quibble with some choices, the subtleties in the writing often resonate with deeper meanings than the surface story has time to tell.

Directed well by Matt Brown, even the smaller roles are beautifully played by actors I always want to see more of, like Toby Jones and Stephen Fry, to mention only two. But the real revelation is Devika Bhise, a soothingly lovely young actress who perfectly plays Patel's character's wife in a subplot that was done so well it brought me to tears. Well worth seeing.

YAY MY BLOG(FORMAT)'S BACK

Thanks to poet and dear friend Rachel E. Diken for fixing my blog lay out and returning it to its previous form (as well as helping me add my new book THE VILLAGE SONNETS to the selected list of my books and CDs).

As an introduction to her work check out her @haikuavenue, here's a taste of her daily haikus, this one from April 30th:

Choosing something you
never wanted doesn't end
with feeling fulfilled.

Friday, May 6, 2016

WHAT OUR FATHERS DID: A NAZI LEGACY

Caught this 2015 documentary on PBS, originally called MY NAZI LEGACY, and found it mesmerizing. Documentarian David Evans follows Phillippe Sands—a human rights lawyer whose grandfather survived the Holocaust but lost eighty members of his family to the Nazis in Poland—as he travels to meet the aging sons of the two top Nazis in Poland during WWII.

One of the sons' father was the Nazi in charge of all Poland. When he was a boy, after the war ended, he saw the photographs of emaciated bodies piled high in Polish camps and denounced his father, who stood trial at Nuremberg and was sentenced to hang.

The other one—son of the Nazi in charge of an area of Poland where a hundred thousand Jews were murdered by Nazis, including Sands grandfather's family—struggles to defend his father as "an honorable man" just caught in the web of wartime violence (and who hid at the Vatican after the war to die there a few years later!).

It's enlightening and at times excruciating to see these two different reactions in the face of Sands' more and more relentless questioning and confronting, as all three men travel together to the sight of the mass murders and are questioned by an audience of the children of death camp survivors.

You would think there is nothing more to learn from the Holocaust, but this film proves otherwise.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

I WANT MY BLOG BACK THE WAY IT WAS, IF ANYONE CAN HELP, PLEASE LET ME KNOW

tried to add my latest book to the icons list with links to how to get them of several previous books and instead all the book icons disappeared along with a list of links to interviews with me and a list of links to reviews and etc. about my books and another list of links to sites I recommend and more....all poof, gone, replace by this page that looks like it was created by a robot...fuckin' google...

THE VILLAGE SONNETS

Got my copy of my latest book of poems, THE VILLAGE SONNETS, from Word Palace Press, and am delighted with the way it looks (and reads). Kudos to all involved. This small collection is actually a section of an endless project I've been working on for years, an attempt to not forget, and to pay homage to, the people who have peopled my life. THE VILLAGE SONNETS cover the period of my late teens (1959 to early 1962 just before I turned twenty) when Greenwich Village was a big part of my existence.

The website for the press does not seem set up, as of yet, to order through them, though it should be set up soon. But in the meantime, THE VILLAGE SONNETS is available on Amazon, which has its faults but is still the conduit for purchasing the result of a lot of creative energy and effort on the part of all involved in Word Palace, to whom I am grateful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SING STREET

John Carney, who wrote and directed one of my favorite films, ONCE, has done it again. This time instead of contemporary Dublin and its environs, its 1980s Dublin, and the lead characters are teenagers. But music saves the day once again. And SING STREET has the added cache of being based on a true story.

Carney has explained that Ireland pretty much missed "the 'sixties" because of the still dominant influence and power of "The Church" and the conservative society and political establishment it helped install after most of Ireland won its freedom in the 1920s. So from his perspective, the 1980s was Ireland's chance to catch up and have their version of the opening up of society to more freedom of individual expression.

He filmed SING STREET in the actual high school he went to in the '80s when it was run by strict and even bullying Christian Brothers. And he captures the styles, especially musically, of the era pretty perfectly. The cast is terrific, the story has a familiar shape but is uniquely enough written and directed to be very satisfying, and the music is a gas, as some of us who went to high school in the 1950s might still say, or at least I still do.

A lovely evening at the movies.

Monday, May 2, 2016

MARISOL R.I.P.

I can't find the photo of Marisol and her art that I cut out of a magazine in 1962 and had inside my locker door in the military barracks I was in at the time. She was one of my personal icons then, and later in the 1970s I got to meet her at a party in Manhattan and was pretty tongue tied but eventually managed a minimal conversation. She seemed as enigmatic to me then as her image in magazines had always seemed. She fell out of favor in the art world for awhile but was always an original to me.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

NEW FAVORITE QUOTE

[story of my life when I was a young autodidact,
and people were constantly correcting my pronunciation 
some out of love, some out of a sense of superiority
I still mispronounce some just for fun]