Monday, July 31, 2017


Total shame. Sad for his family and friends and fans. Too soon.

You can look up Sam Shepard's achievements if you don't already know them, and learn that he had a great impact on the worlds of theater and film, and the broader culture in general. But I limit my posts about other people to their impact on me and my life, since that's what I can add to the discussion for whatever it's worth.

Sam Shepard loomed large in my life for a few years back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I knew who he was before then and our paths crossed a few times, but it wasn't until he started getting wider recognition, national and international recognition, for his plays and his acting, and then just for his star charisma (which often, but not always, simply means good looks) that he started impacting me.

Like a lot of folks I've known, when I hit my later thirties and forties I spent way too much time comparing myself to others in my generation who had similar talents and pursuits but seemed to get more of the rewards. I wrote poetry mostly and was mostly known for that, and was associated during those years, at least to many in the poetry world, with The St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. Sam wrote plays mostly and was associated, at least in his early years, with St. Mark's also, but their theater project.

We had both started out as musicians, or at least that's what I was told about him, and were both about the same height and slim and were husbands and shared other traits. And then we both started acting in films, and for second wives we both married Oscar-nominated film actors. But his success (and hers) was so much bigger and looked more like what I had wanted for myself (I was never interested in money, except to feed and house my kids and me, but back then I wanted that wider recognition for what I saw as my unique talents and life). 

My envy of Shepard got so bad, that friends who wanted to tease me would send magazine photos and stories about Sam's fame and success. And it would get a reaction from me. And then my friend Hubert Selby Jr., whose novels hadn't been made into movies yet, and had been forgotten by most people (he was working in an office in a clerical capacity to make the rent on his tiny pad) advised me to pray that Sam get everything he wanted and everything I wanted. I didn't get it, but other advice he'd given me had worked, so I tried it.

It took six months of intense praying morning and night to be rid of my envy. I didn't realize it was gone until I got another article about Sam in the mail from some old buddy and on opening it I wondered why he would send it to me. And then remembered, Oh I used to be so envious of him. By then I just wanted the best for him.

A few years later I took part in the weekly poetry reading I'd started and ran with my friend Eve Brandstein at the East-L. A. club, Helena's, with our usual line up of about ten or a dozen people reading for five minutes each. After it ended Helena came over to me and said, "Sam wants you to join him at his table." I asked, "Sam who?" And she said, "Shepard." So I did.

He told me I was the only real poet who read that evening, which I disagreed with but was flattered by, and how much he liked what I'd read, which we talked about some and then we shared some stories and laughs and hung out for the rest of the evening.

When I left, I thanked the universe that I got to be as open and kind as I knew how in my way to this man I used to envy, and that he turned out to be open and kind in his own way right back. It is a sweet memory and I know there is a world full of similar sweet memories of Sam Shepard. May he Rest In Plays and Poetry.
[I don't know when these photos of Shepard were taken or by whom, unfortunately, just found the on the Internet, but they represent what I see in my mind from that evening encounter.]

Sunday, July 30, 2017


"A Better Deal"?!
This is the best slogan for the policies the Democrats plan to work for as their political program going forward?
How many times have I written and spoken about the lameness of the Democratic Party's word folks?
Still riffing on FDR's "New Deal" as if the majority of voters were alive in the 1930s or wish they were?
Would the Republican Party's word masters use "Better" or "Best"?
How many seconds did it take to answer that?
Yeah, let's use the weakest language we can find, or better yet the most nuanced and subtle and layered and in need of footnotes or sounding like a political echo chamber to go forward into the next election we can concede the tough and clear language to the opposition?
And the policies?
Or keep the slogans simple and easy to explain like "Medicare For All"?

Saturday, July 29, 2017


When I first moved into my apartment in this old house and my youngest, Flynn, was still a boy, we'd sometimes spend evenings on the front lawn watching what we called when I was a boy "lightning bugs"—there were always what seemed like hundreds of them. But in recent years there seem to be fewer and fewer. I only saw two this year.

Instead, there seems to be more dragonflies—this summer more than ever—zooming around the lawn like miniature helicopters. Is there a connection? Then I saw this on the Internet and thought that maybe that's a positive sign:

Friday, July 28, 2017


"A painter like Pollock for instance was gambling everything on the fact that he was the greatest painter in America, for if he wasn't, he was nothing, and the drips would turn out to be random splashes from the brush of a careless housepainter. It must often have occurred to Pollock that there was just a possibility that he wasn't an artist at all, that he had spent his life 'toiling up the wrong road to art' as Flaubert said of Zola. But this very real possibility is paradoxically just what makes the tremendous excitement in his work. It is a gamble against terrific odds. Most reckless things are beautiful in some way, and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful, just as religions are beautiful because of the strong possibility that they are founded on nothing. We would all believe in God if we knew He existed, but would this be much fun?"

—John Ashbery (from "The Invisible Avant-Garde")

[I consider John a dear friend, though we haven't spoken in years due to my own moves and challenges and forgetfulness etc. But in the years when we spent time hanging out, I found him to be one of the most original thinkers I'd ever encountered, and it's that that this excerpt exemplifies to my mind, his way of seeing things and articulating it. It also seems like an analysis of his own art (poetry and collages) and approach to it.]

Thursday, July 27, 2017


me & Beverly D'Angelo at a party in my first home (rented) in Santa Monica c. 1982
Bob Chartoff & me c. 1984?
me & Hart Bochner at the Santa Monica "Farmer's Market" c. 1984
Joan Baribeault & me in someone else's living room (we lived together for a few years in the later 1980s)
Jamie Rose & me at her birthday party c. 1988
me & Eve Brandstein c. 1988
Helena Kallianiotes & me at her club, Helena's, c. 1989
Linda Kerridge & me at Helena's c. 1989
me & Sidney Walsh c. 1989
Mimi Lieber & me c. 1989
me & Katy Sagal c. 1990
Lynn Manning & me c. 1990
Rhonda Talbot & me at my 50th birthday party in Santa Monica (the painting is by my daughter Caitlin) 1992
Sharon Stone & me at my 50th birthday party (though I seem to be wearing a different shirt!) 1992

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I went into DUNKIRK with high expectations, not always the best way to see a flick. I knew it would be visually engaging, even if I didn't see it on an iMax screen. According to some things I've read Christopher Nolan who wrote, directed, and was one of the producers on the film, shot it in 70mm, a rare treat these recent decades (you gotta go back to movies like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in its original form). But whatever format you see it in, and the bigger the screen the better, Nolan puts you in the middle of the action.

So it's grand to see and experience visually and sonically (the usual theater sound systems turned up high make you feel even more in the middle of the action) and there's a great cast. But, sometimes Nolan can be too clever for my taste, and at times in DUNKIRK his plot with three different time signatures (to use a musical term) and character development challenges (too many with too little development in some cases) felt almost like he was testing the audience to see if we were paying the right amount of attention.

I was hoping to see more of Mark Rylance, one of my favorite actors and never disappointing, as well as other old faves, but it was mostly the lesser known (to me) younger actors who carried the weight of the film and did it perfectly most of the time. I'd just love to have seen more historical context and political perspective, as well as less clever plotting and less focus on so many characters and more on a few with more depth (though Rylance's character's son was brilliantly nuanced by the actor playing him).

As the friend I saw it with said, when I pointed out that Nolan had written, directed, and produced DUNKIRK: "He should have gotten some help." Worth seeing, with a grain of salt.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


From my late great friend and spiritual advisor, Hubert "Cubby" Selby Jr., said to me in conversation sometime in the 1980s:

"Happiness is our natural state, so if we stop doing what makes us unhappy—we're happy."

[PS: Today's his birthday.]

Saturday, July 22, 2017


This is a photo (I'm sorry I don't know who took it, or the one below) of Austin Straus around the time I first met him. A Brooklyn-born L. A. poet and artist, he was a mighty presence in person and in the L.A. poetry and activist scene and beyond. I was sorry to learn today that he died.

I'm away in the countryside of Western Mass with no phone service and no access to my personal library thus can't reprint a poem of his here, so I'll just say he was always honest and unpretentious and kind to me. He and his amazing late wife—and mighty presence in those same worlds as well—Wanda Coleman were good friends to me in my years in L. A. and I miss them both.

Condolences to their son and the rest of Austin's family and friends and fans.

[Here's a shot of Wanda & Austin in later years]

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Aileen (my Irish born late friend) & me (in a shirt I bought in the late 1950s!)
me & JP Donlevy during my less-than-two-years at the only 9-5 office job I ever had (for The Franklin Library) a surprisingly unpleasant and humorless man
Robert Penn Warren & me, same job as above, a delightfully congenial man
me & the mirror me in the bathroom of the loft my composer mate Rain & I rented and lived in with my son Miles on Church Street when it was still only artists and hadn't yet become part of the future Tribeca
Rain & me before we decided to try and become actors in movies
Rain & me after we decided to try and get jobs acting in movies (photo by the great Bobby Miller)
me & the late, great poet, dance critic & friend Edwin Denby at an event (I think a reading of mine) at the legendary Books & Company
me & co-star ("Patricia Lee Hammond") in my first leading man role in a movie, originally called LAST RITES but later changed to DRACULA'S LAST RITES
me & John Carradine in my second leading man role in THE NESTING (my first SAG role, so had to add my middle name David because there was already another Michael Lally in SAG)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Check out (and throw some support to) my friend poet Rachel E. Diken's new web site here, and her upcoming speaking engagement at Interesting People, Interesting Times: Future Nostalgia. Produced by Tom Goodwin it's on July 28th in Brooklyn (see below) and looks like a really promising event. You can get tickets here:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I played Sykes, the pit bull owner, my choice to make him kind of a vain was fascinating to watch the dogs work, following their trainers' orders, fake fighting etc....though when they brought them into the arena, we all had to stand completely still and silent...

Sunday, July 16, 2017


THE BIG SICK is the story of comedian and comic actor Kumail Nanjani and his wife Emily V. Gordon before they were married and wrote this film together—how they met and the rest of it—the plot points of which are probably familiar to everybody by now since the story has been exposed throughout social and cultural media for weeks if not months.

Pakistani-American boy falls for "white" "American" girl (with seemingly no heritage other than "white"—somehow all the "white" ethnicities I grew up dealing with the realities of, including my own Irish-American one, have become blended into the simple category "white" these days) and the clash of cultures and backgrounds creates the story.

It's a good movie, an often pleasantly funny and moving romantic comedy that makes some good points about love crossing boundaries that in the end are always, or almost always, arbitrary anyway, no matter the traumas of history. Nanjani is a modest star who plays himself unselfconsciously, and Zoe Kazan plays Emily with zest and charm, winning our hearts the way she does Nanjani's.

All the actors are good, with lots of real comics doing stand up and off stage jokes that had me laughing pretty hard at times, and the actors playing each of the lead character's parents did as well. It's worth seeing.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Sally Hawkins is one of the best film actors ever, for my taste, so MAUDIE was a must see for me, and I wasn't disappointed. She gives her greatest screen performance yet. And Ethan Hawke (who I met on location for WHITE FANG when he was still a very young actor, and he was as nice and as smart as you would expect) has always been a good actor but has only gotten better as he's aged, and his performance in MAUDIE may well be his best yet.

The story is based on the real life relationship between the Canadian "folk artist" Maude Lewis and her mate Everett. It's a compellingly intimate, and challenging, story, and director Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White shape it so cleanly and crisply that not a move or a frame or a word is wasted. A no frills take on a woman's spirit overcoming obstacles most of us would be defeated by, but not Maudie.

Seeing MAUDIE on the big screen helped convey the soul and artistry and power of what would normally be called a "small film"—especially the contrasting of vast Canadian vistas with a cramped domestic set up that emphasizes the subtleties of the differences rather than the obvious. At least it did for me.

This is an amazingly tough and forceful film, despite the tender precision of the details and nuances of a difficult relationship, and personalities, that creates scenes of such poignancy I actually held my breath a few times out of sheer awe at the actors' artistry.

So, obviously, I highly recommend seeing it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Known as "the Mandela of China" by some, Liu Xiaobo is the first Nobel Laureate to die in government custody since the days of Nazi Germany. Poetry is still powerful enough to frighten totalitarian power structures into jailing the more rebellious ones.

(It's true he was arrested for advocating for human rights, but among all those arrested with him, it was he alone who was sentenced to a decade in prison, and there is no doubt it was because they feared his stature as a poet.)

Long live Liu Xiabo's spirit, poetry, and purpose!

PS: I'm not crazy about the English translations of his poetry so far but here's a pretty good excerpt from his poem "Experiencing Death":

Even if I know
death's a mysterious unknown
being alive, there's no way to experience death
and once dead
cannot experience death again
yet I'm still
hovering within death
a hovering in drowning
Countless nights behind iron-barred windows
and the graves beneath starlight
have exposed my nightmares

Besides a lie
I own nothing

(And PPS: here's the Times obit)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I come from a big family and a bigger, obviously, clan. So I was around death from my earliest days. I had a brother, John, who died as an infant not long before I was born, and my mother would talk to me about him when I was little. I went to wakes and funerals for some of my father's brothers when I was a boy. And was in my Irish immigrant grandfather's bedroom when he exhaled his last breath, which did indeed rattle.

I was in the hospital room with my mother when she passed. I had friends die and enemies, all three of my brothers who made it to adulthood are long gone and one of my two sisters, my father for many years too. But the hardest thing is when a friend loses a child, as happened recently to one of the most caring, funny, decent guys I know, and his loving and kind wife.

I've known lots of people who lost infants. I remember when my nephew Tommy died as an infant when I was still young, and now, at seventy-five, I can still picture him sitting in his high chair. I can think of other children of friends and of my larger non-blood family who have lost children still in their earliest years, or preadolescence, or teens, or young adulthood.

There is no more devastating feeling, I've experienced, then hearing the news of the death of someone's child. Even the children of strangers. And because we're so wired into the rest of the world, it's hard to get through a day without hearing of the death of someone's child.

But going today to see this friend, whose eleven-year-old son has left the physical plane, and being in the presence of the aftermath of such a tragedy, and seeing the impact it is having on him and his wife, is enough to make one, or at least me, not just cry and shout why but to long to understand how a parent survives such a blow.

The miracle is that they do, sometimes broken, still hurting, but going on, caring for other children, and other parents who have had these heartbreaking experiences, and in some ways all of us, who think: If they can go on, so can I with my much less tragic challenges. And always remembering "Love never dies."

Monday, July 10, 2017


"Infancy is what is eternal, and the rest, all the rest, is brevity, extreme brevity."  —Antonio Porchia (from VOICES, translated by W. S. Merwin)

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Great tribute to an old friend tonight on Spike TV. A roast of Alec but really a recognition of the many sides of the man and the artist. We lived together in the 1980s in Santa Monica (he was kind enough to use his per diem from a movie job to help me pay the rent while he stayed in my daughter's room who was away at college) and he was and is one of the funniest persons I ever hung out with. He was and is a master impressionist and an obviously amazing actor, and he was and is a loyal friend. They could have done a couple of shows with even more accolades to his talent and revelations of unknown-to-most-folks civic and charitable contributions. But this was a good start.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Billy Eckstine was part of the soundtrack of my boyhood. From his earliest records with his own band, the first big band of what was still The Swing Era to play the most progressive music of that time, bebop, to the lush studio orchestras that backed him in his solo career, every time he opened his mouth to sing radio audiences swooned.

Frank Sinatra, Jersey homeboy and incredible musical artist, was always my favorite along with Nat King Cole, but "Mister B" as he was known to many of his fans, was right up there with them. The only one to give Sinatra compeition with "the bobbysocksers" as the teenage girl fans were known, was Eckstine, and this at a time when most of the USA was still living in either legal racial segregation or de facto. Just look at the photo above and imagine what that was doing to racists as the time.

The best musician in our family, my second oldest brother "Buddy" (born James and we sometimes called him Jimmy too) used to do a spot on imitation of Mister B. And I attempted it too as best I could with my little boy's soprano and then tenor voice, as opposed to Eckstine's bass sound. It always intrigues me as a devout student of cultural history when someone so prominent in his day can be so forgotten. But I'll never forget.

Here's an example of one of his radio hits that made the charts when I was a nine-year-old:

Thursday, July 6, 2017


me & my oldest brother Tommy, after he became Father Campion c. 1952
me & my friend Murph in San Antonio while in Basic Training March 1962
Jimmy Dunaway, my friend and drummer in my trio and fellow serviceman, & me in Spokane in 1964
me & my first wife, Lee, after I got out of the military in 1966
Poet Ken McCullough & me in DC in 1972
poet Ed Cox & me in DC in 1972
poet Robert Slater & me in DC in 1972
my then mate Ana & me in Florence in 1974
me & my son Miles in NYC in 1975
my oldest child, Caitlin, & me in DC in 1976

[to be continued]