Saturday, February 10, 2018


Anthony Di Novi was my friend. He grew up in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, in an Italian immigrant neighborhood, his father a working artist from the old school (he painted murals for hire, like on restaurant interior walls etc.), Anthony learned that skill (he's got a short listing on the IMDb site, which includes working on Abel Ferrara's BODYSNATCHERS as a "scenic artist"), but he also was a great musician, writer, and actor. A true renaissance man.

But like happens to many of us, he was sometimes discouraged by a lack of recognition for his talents, and the subsequent lack of much financial rewards for them. But a life is a life, no matter how unfair the world can be, and Anthony's was unique in so many ways and he touched so many people with his soulfulness and his talents, it is only to be celebrated.

Here's just a few of my memories of Anthony. Early on in our relationship, after we had met in L.A., I invited him to take part in Poetry In Motion, the weekly poetry reading series I ran with my co-founder Eve Brandstein. It was then in the new Cafe Largo and I was busy creating the order the ten or so poets would be reading in when Anthony interrupted me with some question and I waved him away so I could concentrate.

He took offense to that and later confronted me. Bigger than me and younger, as he got in my face part of my brain was thinking of ways I could take him down before he did me. We were nose to nose and ready to throw down when a quiet voice whispered somewhere in my mind "his feelings are hurt"...and I said out loud without thinking "Hey man, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings but it's f*ckin hard to satisfy all these f*ckin egos and I'm just tryin' to do my best by everybody"...

Our eyes were boring into each other's but suddenly he grabbed me and gave me a hug that took my breath away, and when he pulled back his eyes were wet and so were mine, and we both knew why. We talked later about how no one in that club had any idea at that moment what had just been avoided. Cause he may have wanted to go outside with me but I had learned early on, in the many bar fights I unfortunately got into when I was young, that my best bet was to start the fight inside the bar so it would be stopped quickly and hopefully any real pshyical damage to me would be minimal.

We laughed about it later often, but never minimized it, because we understood each other, from our immigrant culture childhoods to our years in the military to our coming to L.A. to hopefully finally make some money on our various talents. That may be why after I moved back to Jersey it was me and my then young son Flynn he invited to join him and his wonderful wife Lucy when he finally got the small motorboat he'd always wanted and brought it by trailer from L.A. to Liberty Island to ride around the river as he'd aways dreamt of doing when he looked out at it from Red Hook as a boy.

He was so happy that day. With the jazz we both loved and played coming from the boat's CD speakers, we motored past The Statue of Liberty up to some boat club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to eat lunch and be ourselves among all the yachters.
[photo of Flynn and me on that boat ride taken by Lucy Chamberlin]

Another cherished memory: I was in L.A. for something and asked Anthony to drive me to an interview I had for a documentary being made about our mutual friend Hubert Selby Jr. I had a cold or something that made my voice unusually deep, but I gave my rap and the cameraman packed up, and the filmmaker asked if we wanted to see some of the footage. So he showed us some of the interviews and when he was done Anthony said "Set the camera back up, I got something to say." He was so forceful, the director acquiesced, and you can see what he had to say (better than my contribution, which was cut to very little) in that film: IT/LL BE BETTER TOMORROW.

A later memory is of a call he made to me after my brain operation. I had said something in a phone call a year or more before and Anthony stopped calling me or taking my calls. But about six months after the operation he called to make up. I told him I never stopped thinking about him and loving him every day and would no matter what. And he said the same and told me of the Vietnamese boy he and Lucy had adopted finally after several failed attempts over many years (Anthony served in Nam and wrote what I felt was one of the best novels about that war, but no one would publish it, even after he changed it drastically to fit publishers' and literary agents' ideas of what might sell).

He was sorry he'd been out of touch, and sorry about my brain operation. I shared some of the ways it had changed me, and some challenges I was still dealing with. Not long after he called and confessed that recently he had gone to write a check and couldn't remember how and hadn't told anyone. I told him to see a neurologist right away. He did, and though it took a while for them to figure out, he was finally diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. He eventually had his license taken way and other limitations put on his life.

He dedicated himself pretty much to his little boy after that and was able to help care for him for a few years, during which he visited me in Jersey with Lucy and their son. He was his handsome, happy self during the visit, but it was clear his vocabulary and understanding were diminished. During his last call to me all he could say was "Yeah" when I asked him questions, including "You're having trouble talking now?" Lucy had to get him into a VA hospital toward the end and that's where he passed.

Nothing but love to her and to their son, now ten and thriving, and aware that his father saved his life.   And in various and mysterious ways, Anthony saved a lot of lives, within which he still lives.

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