Thursday, May 21, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME

Me in early 1964 after winning that little loving cup trophy on the piano in the Fairchild Air Force Base (outside Spokane, Washington) talent contest for comedy! I lost to another guy, a vibraphonist named Rick (I think) in the jazz category, but for comedy I played some commonly known song (either Jingle Bells or Happy Birthday) in different pianists styles (Liberace, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Floyd Cramer, Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, et al.), exaggerating their styles for comic effect and then ended with singing and playing Jon Hendricks "Gimme That Wine" and as I was drunk at the time that too somehow worked as comedy. Wish we had smart phones back then and someone had recorded it. (I used the photo for the cover of THE VILLAGE SONNETS)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

SUSAN ROTHENBERG R.I.P.

This is the only photo I could find online (don't know who took it) that comes close to how I remember the great painter in the years when we were close friends, the late 1970s-early '80s. We both were living in what was becoming known as Tribeca before John Belushi and Robert DiNiro started buying buildings there changing the real estate values and population of the neighborhood.

I paid 200 bucks a month to occupy (illegally then) 1800 square feet of an old industrial loft space (toilet in the hall) for me and my son Miles pre-1980 and then my daughter Caitlin as well post-'80. My girlfriend Rain lived with us for part of that period too. Susan and I first bonded over being two of the few single parents in a sparsely populated area back then. Her daughter Maggie was a familiar presence in our lives.

I have a lot of stories about that time, but here's two that came to mind first. Susan told me how she and her husband broke up after a female gallery owner came to their loft to see his work and ended up more interested in Susan's work, taking her on and in the process wounding her husband's ego (she didn't put it that way but the circumstances confirmed it for me).

Another time she came over to my place very upset because she had been invited to a dinner party uptown with wealthy art collectors and other VIPs and her gallery owner wanted her to go. She was angry about the pressure of having to be on display and what she would wear and how she'd have to behave, to the point she became determined to quit the gallery and leave New York.

I reassured her that my experience (having gone through some version of that a few years before as a downtown poet) helped me see that they didn't expect her to dress like them or behave like their upper class jive but instead to be the artist and be nothing like them. So she could go as she was, with her seemingly home-made pixie haircut in her usual jeans and sweatshirt smoking her unfiltered cigarettes and not say a word if she didn't want to. She calmed down and went to the dinner, but a decade later after marrying fellow artist Bruce Naumann, she moved with him to the dessert Southwest leaving New York for good.

Condolences to Maggie and all of Susan's family, friends, and fans of her art.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

SOME BOOKS

Books, movies, and music saved my life when I was a kid and young adult, over and over again. I still rely on them to comfort my spirit and soothe the turmoil of a restless mind and soul. Over the years I've gotten great solace from reordering my bookshelves by author, or by era, or by subject, or by taste, etc. but in recent years I've gotten less OCD about it and now can't locate books sometimes. Anyway, I decided to list some shelves and piles just for my own amusement and comfort. Here's the top shelf of a bookcase containing some poets and writers whose work had an impact on me once, or books with some special value, arranged more or less chronologically:

THE ANALECTS OF CONFUCIUS translated by Lionel Giles (a leather-bound Easton Press edition given to me for my 50th birthday with a loving inscription from Sharon Stone, so despite my critical take on Confucius after studying him in college, where my minor was in Asian Studies, this volume is a precious object connecting me to my longtime friend)

THE LETTERS OF WILLIAM BLAKE edited by Geoffrey Keynes (a wonderful hardcover from 1956 discovered in a used bookstore in Great Barrington earlier in this century)

THE POETRY AND PROSE OF WILLIAM BLAKE edited by David V. Erdman (a thick trade paperback (the large format) I bought in 1970 to replace earlier volumes of Blake's work)

LEAVES OF GRASS by Walt Whitman (a coverless bound test edition of the 1892 "deathbed" version from The Franklin Library in 1979 when I briefly worked there, with iconic 19th Century photographs)

SPECIMEN DAYS by Walt Whitman (the 1961 first printing of the 60-cent Signet Classics paperback edition I bought at 19 when it first came out)

THE WORKS OF WALT WHITMAN In Two Volumes As Prepared By Him For The Deathbed Edition Volume I The Collected Poetry (Minerva Press paperback 1969)

THE WORKS OF WALT WHITMAN In Two Volumes As Prepared By Him For The Deathbed Edition Volume II The Collected Prose (Minerva Press paperback 1969)

WALT WHITMAN: A LIFE by Justin Kaplan (the 1982 Bantam Books paperback trade edition) (I have many other books by or about Whitman scattered throughout my bookcases)

WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson ($1.45 trade paperback 1964 edition of the earlier Viking Press version)

U.S.A. by John Dos Passos (the 1963 beautifully designed trade paperback edition from Houghton Mifflin of the 1946 version of the novel trilogy with illustrations by Reginald Marsh)

DUST TRACKS ON A ROAD by Zora Neale Hurston ("the restored text established by The Library Of America" in 1995, Harper Perennial Edition trade paperback of this autobiography) (her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of my top favorite books, must be in another bookcase)

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (the $1.25 1950s(?) trade paperback from Scribner's)

IN OUR TIME by Ernest Hemingway (the $1.25 1950s(?) trade paperback from Scribner's)

SAVAGE MESSIAH by H. S. Ede (gorgeous 1931 large format hardback edition (no dustcover unfortunately), with great photographs, that I bought in a used book store in the 1960s and have cherished ever since)

GAUDIER-BRZESKA A Memoir by Ezra Pound (1970 New Directions trade paperback, also with photos)

THE CANTOS OF EZRA POUND (New Directions hardcover version)

THE POUND ERA by Hugh Kenner (much annotated (by me) trade paperback edition from The University of California Press in early 1970s)

SPRING & ALL by William Carlos Williams (1970 Frontier Press paperback edition of the 1923 Contact Press edition)

IMAGINATIONS: Five Experimental Prose Pieces by William Carlos Williams (1970 MacGibbon & Kee hardcover edition)

WHITE MULE by William Carlos Williams (1937 New Directions hardcover edition, unfortunately dustcover long gone, but still a beautiful book in every way)

WHITE MULE by William Carlos Williams (a New Directions hardcover reprint (with dustcover) from the 1960s)

IN THE MONEY by William Carlos Williams (1967 New Directions trade paperback edition)

THE BUILD-UP by William Carlos Williams (1968 paperback edition of the third novel in his "Stecher Trilogy")

PATERSON by William Carlos Williams (trade paperback edition from 1963 an inscribed Christmas gift from my then wife Lee in 1966)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

MEMORIES

My brother Jimmy (called "Buddy" in the family since our father was also Jimmy) and his wife Catherine, two terrific musicians, early in their marriage (wed in 1949 and I was the seven-year-old "ring bearer"—scandalous at the time because she was of Italian descent and he of Irish). You can see why I had a little boy crush on her. He passed in the last century, she in this one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

WE'RE HERE

My new favorite show. The premise is simple: three well-known drag queens (from TV and film) show up in an unexpected place (Gettysburg Pennsylvania, Twin Falls Idaho, Braxton Missouri, so far) to put on a drag show, with local residents participating, and often healing old wounds and family divisions or misunderstandings, but not always.

Like a lot of reality shows, it is intrusive at times, sometimes uncomfortably so. But unlike a lot of reality shows it never seems, at least to me, exploitative, and often is so moving it has me in tears. It's a poignant, funny, often outrageous, revelatory, joyful celebration of one branch on the tree of the infinite possibilities of life. I can't wait for the next episode.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

MOTHER'S DAY

MOTHER’S DAY 1978

It’s raining
like Good Friday
or so we believed
when we were kids
that somehow the
weather reflected
our Catholic faith
& honored the death
of the Son of God
with rain or at leas
 clouds and greyness
and this the day my
mother died 12 years
ago when I was 23
& thought myself too
old to feel too alone
with the passing of
someone I rarely saw
and was afraid to let
know me too well but
felt amazingly intimate
with nonetheless because
she was a woman and I
loved women and knew
that between her thighs
out of the place I loved
most to be I had once
been for the first time
going the other direction
out into the world she
seemed so able to maintain
her innocence in, even
after seven kids, an
alcoholic husband, all
the deaths big families
live through and even
the crazy betrayals of
her standards and beliefs
by her baby who didn’t
come around much anymore
but was there by her side
when the struggle with
whatever came to take her
began and she called out
for her oldest the priest
and for her baby who rose
to take her hand and let
her see he was there but
her eyes showed fear and
anger and confusion at what
I was sure she took to be
a stranger because of the
beard that was just another
sign of my estrangement
from these people who had
once thought I would be
some kind of answer to
the questions that the
future perplexed them with
constantly these days
only instead I grew away
from them, and on my returns
always disturbed them with
my latest alteration in
my movement toward knowing
what I might be as well as
what I had been and them
and when the nurse came in
to turn off the machines
and their ominous low hum
that graphically displayed
my mother’s loss to whatever
it was that had frightened
her so, I felt so fucking bad
for adding to that loss with
my stupid disguise that when
we got home, 3AM on Mother’s
Day 1966 to tell our father
the news I left my brothers
and sisters and in-laws to
shave off the mask to discover
the skin beneath the months’
old growth of hair as tender
as a baby’s, my chin my
cheeks the skin around my
lips all soft and white and
delicate like a lady’s, a
side I was yet to discover
for myself all I knew then
was I would never let that
disguise hide me from the
world I had yet to realize
I understood more from her
sure knowledge passed on to
the child I had been than all
the books and experiences and
hip friends I had gone to since
but when I came downstairs they
all thought I had done it for
him and were grateful I had
been thoughtful of those left
behind especially he who had
taught us most of what we knew
about life it seemed to them
though without her he might
have been the narrowminded
crank he sometimes was although
he too knew how to use his
emotions to understand and that
must have been what brought them
together or perhaps what kept
them there but even in death
the nature of their relationship
took on the security of her care
as the oldest sister read the
note found in the hospital
drawer with her personal stuff
letting us know she knew what
we had only half suspected that
this was it and we’d be left
without the spiritual wisdom
she had offered unwittingly as
she spoke to us once again when
my sister read where daddy’s
medicine could be found and what
dosages he should take and where
she’d left the newly cleaned
shorts and shirts and how he
liked his meals and when and
who should remember to take
their insulin and who among
all these children who were so
long since grown and running
homes of their own but still
so near and dependent on her
she understood in the guts that
were half gone and caused the
heart to close down she knew
they needed to know she’d
never be gone for good but
was only giving advice from
another home the one she had
convinced them could be theirs
because it had always been hers
and now she was there waiting
once again for her babies to
bring their confusion and fear
and strangeness in a world so
far removed from what their
world had given them she was
that world more than any son
of god could ever have been
but she left them to him anyway
despite the reality I saw in
her eyes when whatever it was
came to take her from inside
it wasn’t any meek and loving
lord unless she took him for
some fearsome stranger too as
she had me and I had her for
all the years I never knew how
much I owed her just for never
giving in but always giving . . .

(from ATTITUDE and ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY)

(C) Michael Lally 1982 and 2018

Saturday, May 9, 2020

LITTLE RICHARD R.I.P.

I was thirteen and living in part of the attic of my family's home, the first space I had to myself in my life, my two oldest brothers long gone and one older sister in a nunnery, my other older sister in her own room and another brother in his. I had rebuilt a radio I found in a neighbor's trash and would lay in bed at night listening to the Newark R&B station, being schooled as a poet and musician by songs like Hank Ballard's "Annie Had A Baby" and Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman" and especially Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"...and then "Tutti Frutti" came over the radio and it was a whole new world.

I never met Little Richard or saw him live that I can remember, but still remember his first appearance onscreen in DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK, an otherwise pretty boring movie until Little Richard appears. In the Newark theater I saw it in with a little gang of fellow thirteen-year-olds the older teens started clapping and dancing once he started playing and singing. The next rock'n'roll movie we went to see (for Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers) they had cops lining the inside of the movie theater to avoid dancing, but older teens still jumped into the aisles and started jitter bugging, and even after being escorted out by the cops more teens would do it until the cops gave up.

That was the power of rock'n'roll and the impact of its most dynamic practitioner and co-inventor. Rest in that Power, Little Richard.

Friday, May 8, 2020

HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY TO GARY SNYDER

I heard Gary Snyder read some poems in the summer of 1966 and it impacted my own poetry from that day forward (as reading Frank O'Hara's LUNCH POEMS had done two years before). A few years later I hand set the type for the first handmade edition of Gary's REGARDING WAVE and came to know him. He suggested I move with my pregnant first wife and daughter to the Sierra Nevadas and build a house on land he was building his house on, but I explained I was more of a city person (and poet, a la O'Hara). Here's the poem that influenced me so much initially:

Hay for The Horses by Gary Snyder

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
        behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
        sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.”

Thursday, May 7, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME

I've posted this before, but it's one of my favorite photos and times, as WWII was near its end in Europe, my mom holding me with my dad in the fedora on one knee in front of her, my sister Irene on his other knee, our brother Robert in front of her and cousins Micki to her right and Rod behind her, our sister Joan next, my Aunts Peggy and Mary to my mom's left, both lived on our street, my Grandma Dempsey to my mom's right, then my brothers Buddy and Tommy (in uniform, Buddy would soon be), and to his right our great Aunt Allie (she and Grandma Dempsey would soon be living with us) and my Irish immigrant Grandma Lally who lived down the street.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

MICHAEL MCCLURE R.I.P.


I only met Michael McClure a few times but he was always nice to me. He was one of my favorite poets, and a bit of an influence on my own work, since I first encountered his poetry in 1960. Associated with The Beats he was part of the West Coast movement originally known as The San Francisco Renaissance (his book of poetry and prose, his and others, SCRATCHING THE BEAT SURFACE, is my favorite exploration of the whole Beat phenomenon). But he was an original, combining the influence of The Romantic poets, Antonin Artaud, his interest in and study of biology, and visionary experiences, into poems full of lyric wisdom and enthusiasm and imagination.

He played with typography (most of his lines are centered and of different lengths giving his poems organic shapes), making it difficult for me to quote any in entirety here, so I'll instead end with a small selection of the lines from his poems (with slashes indicating line breaks) that I felt compelled to underline over the decades I've been enjoying his work:

"My spirit is not trapped by love of fame / I am not hungry for death's attitudes." (from Star)

"You want to be like / The Big Boys. / Whoever they are!" (from September Blackberries)

"THE INVISIBLE EXTENSIONS OUTWARD ARE AS COMPLEX AS THE VISIBLE EXTENSIONS INWARD." (from September Blackberries)

"It's not easy because we / DIDN'T / ask to be here / or for beauty ..." (from September Blackberries)

"HEY YOU! / / Hey deer, I'm on fire! You are more / comfortable, / at some moments, because your spirit / has fewer swirls and your conscious body / / lives deeper back in time."  (from Rebel Lions) 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

HOLLYWOOD

I binged Ryan Murphy's Netflix series HOLLYWOOD last night, as if it were a very very long movie. It's a mishmash of things to enjoy and things to shake your head at (or at least my head). Most of the older actors kicked ass in their roles (Holland Taylor, Joe Mantello et al.), with Dylan McDermott's performance the best—or at least most-fun-to-watch—of his career (full disclosure: he was a good friend in my Hollywood years and even directed me in a revival of the Miguel Pinero play SHORT EYES).

Among the younger actors, Jake Picking's fictionalized version of Rock Hudson seemed to get the period aspects best. A few of the others came across to me as kids playing grown ups, whereas in the Hudson character that fit best. There was a lot of anachronistic physicality (as well as language) misplaced in the late 1940s setting of the series, which could have been called ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

Like the Tarantino film, HOLLYWOOD captures a lot of the historic characters and scenes that reflect their respective eras, and both posit alternative happier endings to actual historic events. But where Tarantino's movie altered one crucial fact to the end of it, HOLLYWOOD offers multiple alterations to the "Hollywood endings" (the happily-ever-afters dictated by the movie censorship code enforced at the time) for all the many characters in the story.

The main thing missing from HOLLYWOOD, that Tarantino embedded in his, is the fear that drives every decision and action in the real Hollywood of the studio days, and still in my experience. In Murphy's alternate universe, all that fear—let alone deeply embedded prejudice in individuals, society as a whole, and the legal system—dissipates with just good intentions. It's an admirable ambition to rewrite history for a better outcome, but can also seem glib and dismissive of those who are still struggling with the same racial and gender and sexual barriers to fulfilling their Hollywood dreams.

[PS: I arrived in "Hollywood" in 1982 with a screenplay based on my time stationed in the military in South Carolina in 1962 when it was the most completely segregated state—legally!—and I was engaged to a "woman of color" (as HOLLYWOOD anachronistically would call her). People with the power to get a movie made, including heads of studios, wanted me to write scripts for them based on my screenplay but wouldn't green light my story because they believed movie theaters in the South would boycott it. (I actually tried to convince Ray Stark, then head of Universal, that the South would welcome an interracial love story). And though I had "starred" in a couple of low budget horror films, as an actor I was told my being public as a poet and writer and activist about having affairs with men, as well as women, eliminated me from consideration for romantic leads. So creating an imaginary alternative universe set in the 1940s where those kinds of barriers could be pretty easily overcome, though fun to imagine and watch, feels like an easy bit of the same kind of escapism old Hollywood excelled in, rather than a impetus to break the barriers that still exist.]

Monday, May 4, 2020

OLD POST STILL REAL

Today is the anniversary of the killing of college students at Kent State in Ohio in 1970. Eleven days later on May 15th 1970, there was another massacre at Jackson State in Mississippi. These two events were turning points in the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements, emblematic of the disproportionate force the authorities were willing to use to stop young people from organizing against an unjust war and racism. I have a poster we made from these two photos somewhere in my archives that hung on the walls of my homes for many years with the message: NEVER FORGET! I haven't. [And yes, those are police bullet holes in the Jackson State photo.]

Sunday, May 3, 2020

YET ANOTHER GREAT QUOTE GOING AROUND THE NET

A mob of the MAGA persuasion
Conducted a statehouse invasion.
Though heavily armed
They parted unharmed
And that’s how you know they‘re Caucasian.(Anonymous)

Friday, May 1, 2020

QUOTE FOR MAY DAY

"On May 1 dreaming how all Caregivers need one big Union with teeth and clout to face down the for- profit and non-profit medical and residential corporations whose CEOS make big bank while we work for low wages, taking care of the most vulnerable citizens."  —Sean Thomas Dougherty