Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I was watching the local (NYC) NBC News a few nights ago and the guy who covers sports referred to the USA loss in that recent international soccer competition as "a crushing defeat."

As I understood it, this was the first time a USA team made it to the finals in an international competition and they had defeated the world's best team to get there and were winning the final two to nothing but ended up losing three to two. If that's "crushing defeat" my name's Mickey Mouse.

Meanwhile, you had the usual rightwing influence on national TV news, with that Southern governor who disappeared the other day to visit his mistress in Argentina and lied about it and the affair until caught, and who was one of those condemning Bill Clinton for his indiscretion, something rightwingers said was as much about his lying as his sexual indiscretion, now defending the Southern governor with the idea that if it's "love" as the governor explained, then it's much more excusable than a mere sexual dalliance (!) ignoring the fact that many people convince themselves (and others) lust is love to justify their actions.

But it's an obvious ploy by the right to avoid comparisons between their cheating husbands and Bill.

Then there's the whole Michael Jackson news torrent and all the uncorroborated stuff flying around the networks and cable news about the circumstances of Jackson's death, and life for that matter.

Even news shows I dig, like Rachel Maddow's were addressing the Jackson rumors (though more conscientiously, looking into the veracity of them) (and under a lovely substitute while Maddow took a day off), making them way too prominent.

As is often the case, the places where all this news was handled most reasonably were the Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report. Stewart gave only a few minutes to the Jackson death, treating the way the media handled the event with the usual sarcastic humor but showing more respect for Jackson and his family by calling for the NY Post to finally stop referring to him as "Jacko" and moving on to news events that warrant our attention so much more.

And as an adjunct to this discussion, did anyone see that HBO documentary SHOUTING FIRE: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech that aired last night? It's heartbreaking to see how much infleunce the rightwingers have on not just the way news is skewed but on the outcome of news stories and their impact on peoples' lives. Heartbreaking.

Monday, June 29, 2009


"There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and white. Or a rape." —Richard Nixon (reacting to Roe vs. Wade on newly released White House tapes—even sadder and dumber in light of our current president)

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Check out this article in today's NY Times, and read to the end for the full impact of this man's courage.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


As I’ve said, I don’t have an iPod or any kind of device you plug into your ear (I never used a walkman either). I don’t like things in my ears.

But I love having discovered the shuffle function on my computer’s iTunes music library once I plugged in the speaker system my older son bought me for it. I can’t get over how much delight it gives me.

I’ve always dug abrupt juxtapositions (the poet Ted Berrigan’s variation on William Carlos Williams famous dictum: “No ideas but in things” was “No ideas but in juxtapositions” and always struck me as pretty accurate).

And the fact is I hear songs I haven’t listened to in a while more clearly and get more out of them. Like Glenn Gould’s Bach variations, I haven’t listened to them in years because I wasn’t really hearing them individually anymore, they were all blending together and beginning to sound uninspired and tedious, which I know isn’t true.

Now hearing even the shortest one juxtaposed against Lester Young or Ben E. King or Lucious Jackson makes me hear in a more focused and clear way, like I’m hearing it for the first time and digging it in ways that give me so much pleasure I can’t stop smiling.

I know a lot of folks who love that “genius” shuffle device that organizes your music by genre and so on. But I love the crazy juxtapositions of sounds and feelings and memories and musical imagination that occur when the whole musical mix is included.

I’m still adding music to my computer but from what I have on it already, this is a pretty good example of the ways it surprises me, an alphabet list of some of the highlights of the last couple of days:

AIREGIN (Lambert Hendricks & Ross)
AVE VERUM CORPUS, K. 618 by Mozart (A Capella) (The Swingle Singers) (interesting juxtaposition of singers vocalizing instrumental music)
BABS (The Nat King Cole Trio, way early ensemble singing and swinging)
BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE (Johnny Mercer & Margaret Whiting?)
BESS YOU IS MY WOMAN NOW (William Warfield & Leontyne Price),
BIRTHDAY (Bjork with the Sugarcubes)
BOB WHITE (WHATCHU GONNA SWING TONIGHT?) (Bing Crosby & unknown female vocalist with the John Trotter Orchestra, ‘30s),
CHAIN OF FOOLS (Aretha Franklin)
CHANT IN THE NIGHT (Sidney Bechet)
DESAFINADO (Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd)
DRUM BOOGIE (George Krupa and his Orchestra, Gene’s brother)
EPILOGUE (Bill Evans)
FLYIN’ HIGH (IN THE FRIENDLY SKY) (Marvin Gaye, even heavier since he died and I haven’t listened to this in decades)
GOLDBERG VARIATIONS, BWV 998 – Var. 12 : Canone Ala Quarta by Bach (Glenn Gould, only 56 seconds, but it felt like an unexpected gift)
GONE WITH THE DRAFT (Nat King Cole Trio)
GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY (classic older Sinatra)
I CAN’T GET STARTED WITH YOU (Clifford Brown & Max Roach)
IN THE JAILHOUSE NOW (The Soggy Mountain Boys from the soundtrack to O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?)
JACQUI (Clifford Brown & Max Roach)
LAURA (Sinatra again, I have a lot of recordings from over the half century he was making them)
LOVE CHILD (Diana Ross & The Supremes)
MANHA DE CARNAVAL (Morning of the Carnival) (Luis Bonfa from the soundtrack to BLACK ORPHEUS)
MANY A NEW DAY (Shirley Jones from the OKALAHOMA! Soundtrack)
MENUET # 1 by Satie (Aldo Ciccolini)
MOANIN’ THE BLUES (Hank Williams)
ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (Sinatra again, the swingin’ era)
PARADE (Lucisous Jackson, only 12 seconds long!)
PICASSO (Coleman Hawkins, solo, just him and his horn!)
RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET (a younger Bing Crosby & the Guardsmen Quartet)
ROCKIN CHAIR (Louis Armstrong & Jack Teagarden)
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT (Billie Holiday & Lester Young)
SALLY GAL (Bob Dylan, an outtake from the soundtrack to the Scorcese documentary)
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES (Teddy Wilson solo, just him and the piano)
SOON (Frank Sinatra, live with an intro in his youngish voice)
STRAIGHT NO CHASER (Thelonious Monk)
SURFIN’ SAFARI (The Beach Boys)
TIPITINA (Professor Longhair)
VARIATIONS ON “I GOT RHYTHM” (George Gershwin live on the radio, with him introducing and explaining the variations, including a “Chinese version” imitating a “Chinese Flute” which he says are “always out of tune” etc. amazing to hear out of the blue)
WHEN NEW YORK WAS IRISH (Celtic Thunder, the original Terence Winch group & song)
WOODY’S RAG (HARD WORK) (Woody Guthrie)
ZOMBIE (The Cranberries)

Friday, June 26, 2009



When news of Ed McMahon's death came on Wednesday, my first thought was, who will be the other two.

I know it's an unrealistic superstition that show biz deaths always come in threes. But nonetheless, they often seem to. At least when it comes to the famous ones. And McMahon was pretty famous.

Though it was an odd kind of fame. It seemed to stem mostly from his laugh on the Tonight Show through the decades of Johnny Carson hosting it. I wasn't crazy about that laugh, it seemed forced or phony to me most of the time. I also wasn't crazy about the ways he bragged about having been a Marine and about being such a great salesman he could sell anything.

Salesmen always seemed like phonies to me, at least the kind that bragged about being great ones. McMahon reminded me too much of a certain type of back slapping older Irish-American men I grew up around who would call you "pal" or "buddy" and leave the impression they didn't ever really see you because they lived in a cocoon of self-protection, using their smiles and loud guffaws (both of which often seemed faked to me) to keep others from seeing who they might really be.

Though McMahon's friends insist that what you saw was real with McMahon, and may well have been, I dug him most when he played against type. He wasn't famous for that, but it's what made me sit up and notice him as more than a sidekick. Like as the corporate bad guy in an underrated film from the late '70s (if I remember correctly) starring Jane Fonda and George Segal—FUN WITH DICK AND JANE.

I remember leaving the screening of that flick thinking how great McMahon had been in his small role and how much I had underestimated the guy's capacity for anything beyond that famous laugh, that always seemed to me to harbor some deep resentments never truly expressed but leaking out through the hail-fellow-well-met facade.

At any rate, the man led a long and successful life, and seemed, especially toward the end, to genuinely be grateful for it. So maybe what he was hiding, at least the way I saw him, was simply the fear that anyone would have who built a their fame and fortune on not much more than a smile and a deeply resonant laugh that had to be delivered on cue.In the end, my take on him was that he was a pretty great actor who put most of that talent into one major role—Ed McMahon.


After Marylin Monroe seduced me on screen when I was a kid, and in still shots in newspapers and magazines or in the famous interview on Edward R. Murrow's black-and-white TV show that invaded famous people's homes with their cameras and microphones for remote interviews from the CBS studios (a phenomenon that seemed as amazing at the time as landing a man on the moon would a few years later) I was never that taken by the usual blonde suspects again.

So when Farrah Fawcett came along, I wasn't a big fan of the poster that made her famous. there was something a little scary in that bright white toothed smile for me. Though I did find her attractive both physically and personality-wise on CHARLIE'S ANGELS, the TV show that made her even more famous than the poster did (I think they say it's the best selling pin up poster of all time).

But I met her several times over the years, when she was in NYC doing her first play (that I knew of) EXTREMITIES, and later during my almost two decades in Hollywood. And she was always unpretentious and surprisingly unselfconscious for someone so famous. I liked her.

Though her features and frame were delicate, in person she came across to me as a very powerful presence, almost with a kind of peasant earthy strength that seemed to contradict her looks. I don't know what her actual family was like, but on the set of THE BURNING BED (which my wife-at-the-time was in) she made me believe, even off camera, that she knew that kind of trailer camp lifestyle and deep disappointment and tragedy.

I liked her, and respected her attempts to prove she was an artist worthy of respect for her acting talent and not just her face and that famous smile. I'm sorry her last years were so difficult with a kind of cancer that had to be about as painfully uncomfortable as any illness could be. Doing that in public, whether by choice or not, has to have been an enormous challenge, which she seemed to face as seemingly fearlessly as she did the other challenges in her life.


Enough is being said about him. But I just wanted to add my perspective, which is simply that despite the damage his childhood traumas created for the grown man (and for others in his life obviously), there is no denying his talent and originality.

He was one of the great innovators in popular music, as not just a singer (that child-voice yelp has been imitated ever since he first emitted it, among other unique addition to a pop singer's techniques) and songwriter and bestselling recording artist, as well as live entertainer and especially dancer, but also as an innovator in the broader racial story of this country.

Yes, he ended up looking more like a wax representation of an older white woman with too much make up on, but initially—back when he was more obviously "black"—he bridged the still huge gap between African-Americans and other hyphenated and even WASPy Americans, with the kind of personality attack that paved the way for Obama's electoral victory.

Not in an easily defined categorically political way, but nonetheless politically. he played the politics of the entertainment business better than most, and at a very early age, and deliberately elevated that game to a higher level that incorporated the entire world into the ultimate victory he pulled off. By creating a worldwide audience that could not be denied, he transcended the limitations put on most "Black" performers, or any other kind of celebrities, at the time and forced the "white" establishment in this country to deal with him (the famous scene of Ronald and Nancy Reagan at the White House with "the gloved one" etc.

He was obviously a person who was hurting a lot of the time when he wasn't on stage, and who seemed to be sincere in his protestations of "love" for his fans, something that most of us can't fathom, how do you "love" an unknown mob of people? People you may never even see up close let alone talk to or get to know. Well, some entertainers truly do feel love most when presented with fans who obviously have the same kind of love for them, someone they never get to see up close or talk to or get to know outside of the performance arena and the media that fetishizes some of those who conquer it, no matter how briefly or ephemerally.

Though the latter two things don't apply with Jackson. Even if self-applied, he truly was "The King of Pop" far longer than anyone else since Elvis. And it's obvious from the outpouring we've seen in the media (and I witnessed first hand last night from an African-American woman in her twenties or thirties who kept passing by me and some family members outside the poetry reading I did last night in a library down the Jersey shore—she was loudly singing what slowly became clear was her own medley of Michael Jackson songs and smiling through her tears) that there are still plenty of folks who still feel that way about him.

He obviously had his faults (some of which may have even been criminal, though never proven), but as an entertainer, he was unique and in race relations in this country he was an important factor as a beautiful young black man, before he made himself into something that he obviously felt transcended, or attempted to transcend all that sad legacy.

[Here's links to two (here and here) of the best things I read about Jackson since his death.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I've never used the word "puerile" before, but this seems the right place to do it.

Hopefully this ridiculous waste of talent (unbelievable cast, some even uncredited, after seeing it, it's obvious why) strikes the death knell (also first time using that cliche) for second-grade-boys-room humor blockbuster comedies and returns filmmakers and comic film actors to addressing events and ideas that demand to be made fun of but nobody (in Hollywood films) is (rightwing Republican defenders of family values hiding affairs anyone?).

This column in today's NY Times is about a thousand times funnier than YEAR ONE, and Mel Gibson's APOCOLYPTO treats some of the same themes YEAR ONE tries to, and even with some young man's (or little boy's) sexual humor in an otherwise serious and great film (but the sexual humor bit is so totally original, I can't remember seeing it in a film before).

Any movie that makes me drag in Mel Gibson as an antidote has to be pretty bad. YEAR ONE is.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Three things that strike me about the so-called "debate" over Obama's response to the demonstrations and crack down in Iran:

1. When similar things occurred in this country, i.e. demonstrations for Civil Rights, against the war in Viet Nam, for women or gay rights, against a current administration's policies or vote rigging (as in Iran) etc. and our government violently repressed it, as in Kent State where National Guardsmen shot and killed students, and the photograph of a young girl screaming over the dead body of a fellow student became as famous as the recent one of the young girl dying in the streets of Tehran, the rightwingers in this country defended the National Guardsmen much the same way rightwingers in Iran are doing—"the demonstrators were throwing rocks", or "destroying property", it's all being caused by "outside agitators" or foreign "Communists" or etc. and the military or police (as in the case of the Democratic Convention in Chicago in '68) had no recourse but to beat people and shoot and kill people, etc.

2. It was our government, through the CIA and other agencies, that (as I wrote in a post a few days ago) overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh (under Eisenhower, a Republican) government in Iran that led to the installation of the shah that led to his repressive regime that gave rise to the islamasists revolt that led to the repressive government in Iran today, etc. And it was our government that supplied Saddam Hussein with much of his military weapons etc. and the jihadists in Afghanistan etc. etc. In other words, it's been the meddling of our government in the affairs of Iran and other Middle eastern countries that has led to this debacle, and in each instant our government thought it was making things better but only worsened the situation (i.e. the Iraq invasion etc.).

3. Repression works. Unfortunately. We are seeing that now in Iran. A lot of talking heads on our news programs are predicting a drawn out bloody confrontation, or an uprising, or some kind of continuation of what we saw last week in Iran, but that's not always the case. The deaths at Kent State and elsewhere during the protests against the Viet Nam War did lead to bigger demonstrations for a brief period, but also led to a lot of people withdrawing from the protests out of fear or frustration or feelings of futility, as it also led to a small faction becoming more violent in response to the government's use of violence. There was a poster created right after Kent State of the photo of that girl screaming over the dead body of her fellow student and it said: NEVER FORGET. But most did, and relatively quickly. In less than a decade Ronald Reagan was elected president, a rightwinger who while Governor of California ordered police and military troops to repress demonstrations, and in the case of People's Park in Berkeley, they even used live ammunition, to keep people from growing flowers in an abandoned lot!

Or take the case of the famous shot of the Chinese man holding those two shopping bags and stopping that tank in Tieneman Square. He symbolized resistance to the government crackdown on the demonstrations for more democracy. But the reality is, the crackdown worked. No more demonstrations like that occurred after the police and military used violence to disperse the crowd, arrested and hounded the demonstrators and their leaders, and did such a thorough job, the movement collapsed (as our government did with The Black Panthers and SDS and SNCC etc.) and today most young people in China don't even know what happened, nor are even aware of that brave man who faced down a tank to try and give them more democracy, which they didn't get and don't seem to care about as long as they have economic freedom to buy MacDonald's and Buicks and Coca-Cola etc.

Repression doesn't work in the long run, Obama is right in quoting Martin Luther King Jr. about the arc of history bending toward justice. But in the short run, it often works wonders for repressive rightwing regimes, whether Chinese, Iranian, or American.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Last night’s falling-back-to-sleep list had me thinking about Eileen Myles’s COOL FOR YOU, which I recently posted about and which is now one of my favorite books.

It’s a “novel” according to her and the title page, but it’s also obviously a memoir, a very poetic and unique one. Which got me thinking about books by poets that are autobiographical and unique and are favorites of mine, including my own OF.

There are certainly more I didn’t think of, but these are the ones that came to mind last night. The criterion being they’re basically autobiographical, even if they only address one year in the life of the poet (Harry E. Northup’s REUNIONS) or even one day (Bernadette Mayer’s MIDWINTER DAY) or address more than just the poet’s own life or part of it (Michael McClure’s SCRATCHING THE BEAT SURFACE) or are small or tiny or what’s known as “chapbooks” (Geoff Young’s THE DUMP) and later included in larger collections.

There are plenty of poems that are autobiographical I can think of by many poets I dig, including friends, but if the only way I know the poem is in the context of a collection of poems which aren’t necessarily autobiographical I didn’t include those collections.

So I just listed books by poets that struck me as autobiographical in an original way. Here’s what I came up with, and might I add, all highly recommended tomes if you can get your hands on ones you haven’t already read:

THE BASKETBALL DIARIES by Jim Carroll, BANGALORE BLUE by Terry Kennedy, BREAD & FISH by Mark Terrill, BOY DRINKERS by Terence Winch
DAKOTA by Kathleen Norris, THE DUMP by Geoffrey Young
THE ENORMOUS ROOM by e. e. cummings, EIMI by e. e. cummings, EARTH HOUSEHOLD by Gary Snyder, ETHIOPIA by Eric Torgersen, ELM by Nick Muska
FRIENDS IN THE WORLD by Aram Saroyan, A FAST LIFE by Tim Dlugos, FAIT ACCOMPLI by Nick Piombino
HOLLYWOOD by Blaise Cendrars, HARMATAN by Paul Violi
I REMEMBER by Joe Brainard
LINE CAUGHT by Brooks Rodden, THE LONG EXPERIENCE OF LOVE by Jim Moore, LATE SHOW by David Trinidad, LUNCH. A POEM by Nathan Kernan
MOMENTS OF THE ITALIAN SUN, by James Wright, MY LIFE by Michael Lally (originally published as a “chapbook” by Wyrd Press), MAGPIE RISING by Merrill Gilfillan, MIDWINTER DAY by Berndaette Mayer, MEMOIRS OF A STREET POET by Frank T. Rios
OF by Michael Lally, OBSIDIAN POINT by Ken McCullough
A QUINCY HISTORY by James Haining
RUNNING by Nathan Whiting, REUNIONS by Harry E. Northup, RECOLLECTIONS OF MY LIFE AS A WOMAN by Diane di Prima
SPECIMEN DAYS by Walt Whitman, SKY by Blaise Cendrars, A SERIAL BIOGRAPHY by Tom Raworth, THE STREET by Aram Saroyan, SCRATCHING THE BEAT SURFACE by Michael McClure
TRAIN RIDE by Ted Berrigan, THAT SPECIAL PLACE by Terence Winch
THE UFOs OF OCTOBER by Robert Bove
WORLD WITHIN WORLD by Stephen Spender, WAKE UP CALLS by Wanda Phipps. WHERE X MARKS THE SPOT by Bill Zavatsky

[Just read this on poet Tom Clark's poetry (and art) blog—"Beyond the Pale"—which made me think maybe in the future a lot of this great poet autbio writing will only be accessible on the web]

Monday, June 22, 2009


I've been mostly out of the news loop for a week, aware of what was going on in Iran and the main news, but out of the talking heads part of our media that give way too much time and attention to rightwing carping about Obama and his administration (or the Democratic majority in Congress) than they ever did to opponents of the last administration.

But at any rate, the argument goes that Obama should be doing more to support the opposition in Iran. There's the underlying assumption that the election there was rigged and that the opposition would have won. There's a pretty good analysis of the Iranian vote count and a good argument for fraud (not that most of us needed it, since it seemed pretty obvious from in front) from the Washington Post (a newspaper I used to write for, mainly book reviews).

What should be done about, and especially what Obama should have done and be doing about it is another issue and causing carping from both ends of the political spectrum (left and right, because as usual, despite the rightwing propaganda machine, Obama continues to prove himself to be mostly a pragmatist which most of the time means a centrist or moderate).

Let's look at some highlights in the history of USA involvement in the area (that Obama is aware of and trying to make sure he doesn't recreate the failures in it):

1. Iran had a democratically elected leader in the 1950s, Mossadegh, who was overthrown by forces backed by the CIA and allied with ex-Nazis! because he wanted to nationalize the oil reserves in Iran, that is, use this natural resource found on their land for the benefit of their country. The US unfortunately backed a different horse. Gulf Oil. The CIA chief for that part of the world was Kermit Rossevelt. He helped plan the coup that toppled Mossadegh and installed a "Shah" and when that was accomplished saw to it that Gulf Oil got an extended lease (twenty-five years) on a large percentage of the oil. Then he finished his term in the CIA and became a Vice President of Gulf Oil. That all happened under Eisenhower, a Republican president.

2. More shenanigans went on under Kennedy and Johnson, but JFK wasn't president long enough for too much to happen and was distracted by Cuba and Russia followed by Johnson who was distracted by Viet Nam. Then Nixon got in, distracted by Nam and Watergate, replaced by Ford who was brief and mostly oblivious and then Carter came in and directed some attention to the area, but unfortunately, by then things had deteriorated. Carter blamed rogue elements in the CIA for many of the problems in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and fired a bunch of them, who then went on to create a shadow CIA working with colleagues on the inside who had a rightwing perspective to create chaos in various spots around the world that would enrich military suppliers (weapons corporations, security forces, etc.) and keep them in business (the rogue elements). When the rebellion occurred against the Shah and his secret police, Islamists under the influence of the the Ayatollah took control and he returned from exile in Paris to lead the new Islamic regime when the Shah, dying of cancer, left town and his regime collapsed. The student rebels took a gang of US embassy employees hostage, demanding the US recognize and admit the involvement of the CIA in Iran's internal affairs for decades (and that some of the hostages had been spies), most obviously in the overthrow of Mossadegh, but the US pretended it didn't happen and instead Carter tried to rescue the hostages, which was botched because of faulty intelligence (hmmmm) and equipment (double hmmmm).

3. Interestingly, the minute Reagan was sworn in to replace Carter (one of the few presidents in this brief history who actually accomplished a lot for good in the Middle East, including brokering the peace deal between the then strongest Arab nation, Egypt, with Israel, unprecedented and unexpected (and not to the liking of the rightwing element inside and outside the CIA and other US government agencies) and whose policies contributed to the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, though under Reagan the jihadists who defeated the Soviets with weapons and expertise supplied by the US including CIA training, were left to do what they wanted leading to the rise of the Taliban etc.) the hostages were freed. Reagan went on to make secret bargains with the Iranians for weapons for his secret war in Nicaragua, trying to overthrow the leftwing government there (as so many other leftwing governments had been overthrown with US backing over the years, too many to go into now but Guatemala and Chile are two perfect examples where democratically elected governments were overthrown with the help of the CIA and other USA agencies), and to take the side of Iraq in the war between Iraq and Iran, supplying Saddam Hussein with weapons and equipment that made it possible for him to kill not only many Iranians but also many Iraqis who were not of his tribe or might be a threat to him (the gassing of civilian Kurds, etc.) (many photos of a smiling Rumsfield when he worked for Reagan shaking Saddam's hand after making deals, etc.).

4. Then there was trouble in Lebanon, one of the more democratic and modern Arab nations and Reagan committed troops to protect the opposition there, promising never to withdraw US troops from Lebanon until the end of the violent repression of the democratic opposition there, but when the barracks housing American marines was bombed (a truck loaded with explosives) and two hundred marines were killed, Reagan immediately withdrew all US forces, which was trumpeted by jihadists as proof that the US was cowardly and would run if attacked inspiring Islamist "terrorists" including Osama Bin Laden to believe the US was weak and a paper tiger.

5. When Bush Sr. got in and attacked Iraq in the first Gulf War driving them back from Kuwait after they invaded it, he stopped at the Iraqi border and did not pursue Saddam for various reasons, but encouraged the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South to rebel. Which they did, and were slaughtered by Saddam's troops while the US stood passively by.

6. When Clinton got in, he used diplomacy and sanctions to isolate Iran and came close to brokering the second big peace agreement in the Middle East, and certainly during his two terms the world, including that area, were much more peaceful (and prosperous).

7. Then Bush Jr. got in and ignored warnings about Bin Laden and 9/11 occurred and we invaded Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and other jihadists—who we had set up and trained and supplied in the first place. Then he decided to invade Iraq for bogus reasons but made it clear in many statements that he was out to finish his father's business there by taking Saddam, leading to the rise of Iran's influence in the area, as well as being a great recruiting tool for islamist "terrorists" and creating a widespread hatred of the US across the Middle East.

8. Since Obama's election only a few months ago, and his more diplomatic and evenhanded treatment of the area and its people, things have been looking up for democracy and progress, as shown in the recent Lebanese election, where Hezbollah was not the winner, but in fact more democratic and liberal parties were. And then the election in Iran which seemed to be a forgone conclusion until the example of Obama's victory gave the democratic opposition hope and they began to build a political movement and enough momentum that made it seem they could possibly win.

As we said, the election was obviously rigged in many ways, though who knows what the actual outcome may have been had it been legit, though it seems likely it would have at least been close enough to warrant a run off. As it is, the opposition has been energized, but the regime has also been frightened and is cracking down in ways that probably will intimidate the opposition (as it did in the US in the early '70s under Nixon's administration and its more violent response to anti-war and Civil Rights protestors and activists). So what should Obama do now?

It's obvious he's moved so cautiously because any sign of the USA officially supporting the opposition just fuels the charges from the powers-that-be in Iran that all calls for reform or recount or a new election are generated by the USA rather than internal resistance to the current regime.

This is already a widespread belief across the Arab and Iranian world, which Obama's election and diplomatic tactics have begun to change, so he has to be careful he doesn't throw the progress that's already been made in his short time in office into reverse.

Even if the reformers are defeated this time, which it appears they will be, the genie is out of the box and cannot be put back in. Concessions will have to be made, or there will most likely be a permanent rebellion and/or possible civil war in Iran. Obama has no choice but to do what he's doing, reaffirm our government's support of the democratic process and of freedom of speech and movements, etc. But not make threats he cannot keep (we couldn't do much to Iran militarily except maybe drop some bombs which would inevitably include civilian deaths and we'd be set back in any effort to be seen as not the world's bully etc.) nor declare US support for one or the other candidate when only a recount or a new election could clear that up.

He's acting like a democratic leader (not necessarily a Democratic Party leader) who believes in the right of the people to elect their own governments and to speak out and march and even rebel against oppression when it occurs. His quoting of Martin Luther King Jr.and the implicit connection to the US Civil Rights movement is very shrewd, casting the opposition as morally and democratically on the right side and the regime as backward and repressive without calling names and giving them any ammunition to pretend its really the USA's fault (not that they haven't tried).

Of course I'd like to have seen the opposition be supported by a UN mandate and troops and the world community rejecting the election etc. etc. But that doesn't happen out of virtue or angelic political leaders or spontaneous progressiveness occuring worldwide, it happens out of the situation being cast as a moral question, which Obama has done (and as was done by other Democratic presidents visa vis apartheid in South Africa, anti-Catholic repression and inequality in Northern Ireland (thanks Bill!), etc. Obama's making all the right moves so far I believe.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


The show went on and my son with it, thank God.

It was a wonderful evening, with probably over a hundred kids participating. The styles of dance went from tap to ballet to modern to break to salsa to jazz to swing to hip hop, to pretty much everything. And the best thing about it was the inclusiveness.

The classes aren't cheap, nor the costumes, which the parents have to buy. But it all seemed worth it to see all kinds of children included in short choreographed numbers (about thirty-six in all) including a little girl with Downs syndrome as one of a quartet of ballerinas. She actually performed very well, considering (I've read how music and especially dance therapy works wonders with Down syndrome children).

But what was especially noticeable, was the variety of body types. Which made me think how twenty years ago or more (and for centuries and millenniums before then) if you didn't have a dancer's body, you didn't dance on any stage outside a school (and it's still pretty much that way in ballet).

I remember how revolutionary it seemed to see heavyset dancers performing with renowned dance troupes (I can't remember which choreographer first did it, probably Merce Cunningham did it more than two decades ago, but I remember distinctly the commotion caused in dance circles and with dance critics back in the 1980s when someone introduced dancers who looked more like truck drivers or football fullbacks into the mix of a modern dance performance).

But last night, watching these kids, whose ages and body types and race and ethnicity and level of experience varied from one extreme to the other, it was instantly apparent that shape and size had little to do with inherent talent.

You'd be watching a troupe of kids, maybe one boy and seven girls, perform a very fast and hip-hoppy or jazzy number and notice a short squat girl performing the steps with such enthusiasm and agility and precision that it seemed like sheer movement perfection and it was even more exhilarating realizing that throughout most of history she wouldn't be on a stage like this (it was in the local professional performance space, where Steve Earle performed recently and where top musical and comic performers appear, including famous dance troupes) outshining other more obvious candidates for dance stardom.

Even if these kids don't make a career in dance, either as dancers themselves or as choreographers or teachers (most of the numbers were choreographed by the older teacher/students, meaning high school juniors or seniors), they will go through life, I suspect, with more inherent dignity and self-respect than many of their peers, having learned to develop talents and physical abilities beyond the usual elementary and high school levels.

And to see my boy, whose highly physically active behavior often gets him noticed by teachers in a not always positive way, moving his feet to the beat as the lead dancer in his first dance performance on a stage with a group of beginners, couldn't have made me happier, especially considering this past week.

After the finale, the head of the dance school, a youngish (I have trouble determining people's ages, always have, I'd guess she's somewhere between late twenties and forty, but who knows) attractive woman of what seemed to me to be mixed racial and ethnic origins (adding to her beauty) singled out some performers who were graduating and going away to college, and then, just when I was thinking maybe she'd mention my son for being such a trouper and showing up for the performance after being in the hospital most of the week, instead she walked over to one of the little kids who was so tiny she could have been preschool age, and told the audience how this child had spent two months in the hospital and was told she wouldn't walk again, yet here she was.

I almost lost it on that. And my son told us all later how from his vantage point, a few rows behind her, he could see the tears in the little girl's eyes as the head of the school, Dancette, as she's known, said that and then hugged her. My son pointing out that she must have been moved by the realization of what she had endured and what she had accomplished. Amen to that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


My son's home, and doing so well the doc says he can take part in a dance recital today (since he missed his fifth-grade graduation (or "moving on ceremony") and his class play etc.—he's still on antibiotics but the symptoms are almost all gone and he's resting except for the few minutes he's on stage—what a trouper!) He's a tap dancer, just starting, so this is his first show and it's only a short routine.
Meanwhile thank you to everyone who sent their prayers and emails and thoughts and good wishes and comments.
And here's a link to a post by RJ Eskow that isn't anything we haven't heard before, but pretty specific and important.

Friday, June 19, 2009


My eleven-year-old gets out of the hospital later today. This morning when we woke up in his room, he turned on the TV and there was Kung Fu Panda, a movie we saw together when it came out. I couldn't quite hear the dialogue, as the sound is in the remote device that was on his bed (I slept in a fold out chair) but he repeated a quote that "the master" (an old turtle) says early on in the film that I've heard before and don't know the original source, but here it is the way my son said it this morning (with admiration, saying how smart it was):

"The past is history, the future a mystery and this moment a gift—that's why it's called the present."

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Spent the night before last in the emergency room at our local hospital with my eleven-year-old. Some stuff has been computerized, but otherwise, a lot of the work I noticed everyone doing who worked there was still paperwork, and much of it for insurance companies, adding to the five hours we were kept there to see what was causing a high fever coupled with soreness behind the ear.

After I.V. antibiotics and a CAT scan, we were finally sent home, but then spent most of the night up with him as he shivered with chills and fever, his temperature fluctuating, etc. and yesterday morning at his pediatrician's and yesterday afternoon another several hours in the ER because there wasn't any room on the pediatric wing to put him (they explained several hospital closures in North New Jersey had increased their "census").

Finally got a room and I was there until late last night. His mom stayed overnight (only one parent allowed to sleep over in the room on an uncomfortable chair) and I will tonight if they keep him that long, which it looks like they will. The good news, they eliminated causes that would mean some kind of operation. Looks like just an unspecific infection they haven't, and may not be able to, figure out the cause of.

Turns out a lot of kids have been having this but it isn't the usual things that cause it. He's much better this morning and I'm on my way back with some things he wants. Hopefully they'll let him come home, but the rumor is they usually like to keep kids 48 hours under these circumstances.

It's certainly an insight into the healthcare system. As I'm sure the bills will be too. I'm happy it's looking like nothing too serious, and fortunately he's treating it mostly like a big adventure, especially since he's been feeling a lot better. We should be back to normal by the weekend.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Caught a terrific documentary last night on the Sundance Channel: CHRIS & DON.

It's about the writer Christopher Isherwood and the artist Don Bachardy. I think maybe it was the poet Ray DiPalma who turned me onto to Isherwood back in the 1960s. But however I got into Isherwood's books, they were a breakthrough for me back then.

I had a prejudice against upper-class Brits, coming from Irish-Catholic peasant roots. But I came to admire Isherwood so much as an original stylist of English prose, it helped me see through that prejudice to the common humanity underlying his characters, and eventually him.

I met him in the 1970s at a party in Manhattan, where he sought an introduction to me, for no other reason, I suspect, than he liked my looks. He was in his seventies but still vibrant and intellectually engaging. I dug him and we remained in touch through letters. He even recommended me a few times for grants and awards (that I never got).

When I moved to Santa Monica in 1982 with my second wife, one of the first things we did was go to Isherwood's house in Santa Monica canyon for dinner. That's when I met Isherwood's lifetime companion, Don Bachardy. Don was already well known as a painter, mostly a portrait artist. (His official portrait of Governor Jerry Brown caused some controversy because his style was too unconventional—he tends to use a lot of deep reds and yellows and blues in his painted portraits, not exactly skin tone—though pretty conventional compared to the art movements of his times, but always incredibly well crafted (though whether from the person "sitting" for so long as Don worked, or because of something he projected onto them, quite often the eyes in Don's portraits seem extremely sad, which Don almost never seems himself, he's so upbeat and quick to smile and laugh)).

Anyway, Don was an incredibly charming, handsome man whose accent was a replica of Christopher's, that is, upper-class Brit, even though Don was a Southern California native. But Chris and he met when Don was a teenager and Chris was thirty years older, so the influence of the older, upper-class, highly successful and admired worldly writer was dominant (although Don's youthful enthusiasm and vitality contributed I'm sure to Christopher's seeming so young for his age).

When they met, in the early 1950s if I remember correctly, both were relatively openly "gay" (though I think the word Don would use and does in the documentary is "queer") for the times and were smitten with each other for probably different reasons at first, but eventually their bond grew so deep—and weathered the usual relationship storms—that it blossomed into an almost mythical romance.

I know I was always impressed by it (one more argument for "gay marriage" since I, and a lot of "straight" men I know have been married more than once, unable to sustain a longterm relationship like Chris & Don and many other gay couples I know).

This documentary chronicles that relationship in a way that is so real it almost feels intrusive, except that Don's charm, now aged beyond Chris when I first met him, disarms any feelings of uncomfortableness over being let in on some of the intimate details of their lives together.

I sat for one of Don's portraits, on his request, not long after we met, and it was a way of becoming friends. I still consider him one, and one of the kindest most supportive of friends. I haven't been in touch with him since coming East except seeing him once or twice at events when I was in L.A., but he remains in my heart as one of the nicest and dearest people I've ever known.

The most moving thing about the film is the end, which explores the way Don coped with Chris's impending death over a decade ago now. Don asked Chris to "sit" for him (eventually only able to lie down) and made him his only subject during Chris's last months alive.

And when Chris finally did pass, early on a Saturday morning, Don continued to paint Chris's corpse, throughout that day, saying he felt it would have been what Chris would have wanted him to do, to do what "an artist would do" and he did (proving Chris's faith in him as an artist before anyone else, even Don, had that faith I suspect). For which we can be grateful, because the portraits Don made over those last weeks and then that last day are as unique a take on illness and death as any art ever produced, period.

The movie is compelling in that way all good documentaries about individuals can be, where you can identify with so much and at the same time discover so much that is unique you hardly can believe such people and experiences are real. But they were, and remain so in Don's art and Chris's writing and now in this highly recommended documentary (the animated sections alone make it unique, and will probably cause some viewers to think it's too precious, but precious has a lot of meanings and in this case it's the highly rare and highly valued one that applies.)

Monday, June 15, 2009


Made a quick overnight trip to the Berkshires for a friend's 60th birthday.

On the way up yesterday, listened to Harry Shearer's "Le Show" on which he read a news story about how open pit waste burning at bases in Iraq is now being blamed for all kinds of illnesses showing up in troops who served there. The company that ran them was Brown and Root, a Texas based company that we protested against during the Viet Nam war for their overcharging part in that, and out of which came Haliburton, the same company Cheney fronted and shilled for for eight years and more and which was awarded non-bid contracts in Iraq which not only overcharged but led to all kinds of disease and death.

My friend had some old friends of his over, and among them was a guy I hadn't seen in a while, so we caught up and part of that included the fact that he and everyone who served in his company in Viet Nam, all of whom were exposed to Agent Orange, have come down with all kinds of strange cancers, some dying from them.

Aside from that sad news, the gathering was a celebration of life (and even that news inspires gratitude for every day we have "above ground" as Whitman put it).

And then, as if sent from the Spirit of the Universe to console me for the realities of this unfair and often cruel world, on the way back to where I was staying with the radio still on NPR, there was Marian McPartland, the English accented elderly jazz piano player who was one of the female pioneers in jazz, still alive, still creatively and technically vibrant and original and among the greatest who ever practiced that art, reassuring me of what I've always known, that it is in art, of all kinds, that I find my solace and my inspiration and the balancing out of the harsh realities of life. May you also.

And may we all acknowledge and be grateful for Marian McPartland and her show—"Radio Jazz" I think it's called—she's been broadcasting for those who never get to live jazz clubs or don't follow that great American art that much, where she makes it accessible and brings things out of her guests that are as surprising as she is (like ray Charles playing such technically proficient jazz as well as other musical approaches to interpreting melodies and harmonies etc. that the appelation "Genius" is almost too limiting).

One of the gifts of life is that she's still doing it (I could hear for the first time in her voice the effects of aging in a way that made me realize we are so lucky she is still practicing her art).

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I’ve known Eileen Myles since the 1970s when she first moved to NYC. She was a young poet from the Boston area who I had a lot in common with, including our Irish-American roots.

It didn’t take her long to find her voice, not only as a poet but as a presence on the downtown poetry scene that centered around the St. Marks Poetry Project, which by the 1980s she had become the Director of.

I always dug her, our common bonds, our love of the word, our ready-to-rumble personalities.

After I moved to L.A., we stayed in touch and did some hanging both there, when she visited, and in the city, when I was visiting.

Then over the years I didn’t see her as much, but tried to keep up with her books and readings (when she did them in L.A.).

She got a university professor position out in San Diego around the same time I was moving back East, so we missed each other again for a while.

But in the past few years we’ve run into each other a bit more at readings and panel discussions (she gave a brilliant talk on Frank O’Hara’s poetry and its influence on younger poets a few years ago at an O’Hara evening at the Tibor de Nagy gallery).

And then more recently, I caught up with one of her latest books of poems, SORRY, TREE and a “novel” that reads more like a memoir (and seems to be) from a few years ago that elevated her profile in the literary world and widened her audience, COOL FOR YOU.

For anyone unfamiliar with her books, these two are a terrific introduction to Eileen’s unique voice and perspective.

SORRY, TREE is like picking up the phone or an earplug for an iPod or other MP3 device, and listening in on someone talking to themselves instead of you, and yet knowing you’re listening in.

It’s both private and public speech sharing obviously private thoughts and moments mixed with direct address to the reader in a way that is both new and seeped in tradition (Yeats said all poetry was overhearing a conversation with oneself, or something like that—I’ll look it up later to check my memory).

Here’s a sample from the poem “For Jordana”—the last few stanzas:

“I think writing
is desire
not a form
of it. It’s feeling
into space,
tucked into
into time,
felt. All this
as a matter

of course
of course

yet being
here somehow,

If not everyone can dig poetry and its attempts to re-imagine language as speech or thought or simply material for constructs of any kind, COOL FOR YOU is a great way to introduce them to the ways in which poetry works, only in the guise of a “novel” slash memoir.

There is so much original language use in COOL FOR YOU, it reads like an extended, or serial, prose poem in many ways. But it also is a terrific story (as, for that matter, is SORRY, TREE, the story of the poet Eileen Myles adventures in love and writing poetry) about a young Irish-American girl and young woman and even present day middle-aged woman (though she hardly sounds like the latter, as is true for many middle-agers these days) discovering who she is and/or wants to be.

It is both perceptive and unexpected. The perspective ever changing as experience informs development informs naming and claiming and discovery and acceptance.

Here’s just one small example:

“…I was living a life that I wrote, all these disappointing and confusing things would be perceived in a book, one that was read, and then it would be okay, the world I was in. I imagined a book that forgave.”

Man, when I read that I knew exactly what she meant and had felt it myself when I was young and have tried articulating it in poetry and prose ever since, but Eileen nails it here for me (though you may have to read the chapter that builds up to that conclusion to get the full impact of it).

The book and its author have been touted as the heir to Rimbaud and other avant-garde or “alternative” literary traditions, and as the voice of a post-feminist generation of lesbians or “dykes” who are not only proud of that identity but even more proud to have transcended it as a limitation or hindrance to claiming its power in the world despite continuing confusion and misunderstanding and prejudice etc. on the part of the wider population.

Hope that wasn’t too obfuscated, all I mean is I have seen Eileen referred to too often as representative of something that she is so much more than. This book, COOL FOR YOU, belongs on the shelf not only of anyone who loves good writing, who digs great novels, who has ever felt like an outsider or confused interloper or secretly great undiscovered artist etc., but also of anyone who cherishes books that are so unique they only appear once in the literary firmament.

I have an ever evolving library of books, several hundred, maybe more, out of the tens of thousands I’m sure I’ve read over the decades. I’m always paring my collection down and always have been since the start, making choices about what I believe I will want to dip back into sometimes or reread completely or just love to know I have handy versus what I suspect I’ll never look at again.

I’ve made a few mistakes and every now and then wish I’d hung onto something that I no longer have, but for the most part, the honing of my library has been a constant updating of not just my taste but my evolving beliefs and concerns and inspirations.

These two books are keepers. No question about it. (I generally keep any books by friends anyway, but in this case, even if we weren’t friends, these books would be part of my permanent collection, as they should be in anyone else’s, or at least COOL FOR YOU for those for whom poetry isn’t as necessary as it is for me).

Friday, June 12, 2009


Last night, falling asleep, thinking about that recent post sparked by GROSSE POINT BLANK with John Cusack and Minnie Driver, I remembered once being stopped at a red light in Beverly Hills when she walked right in front of my car with a little smile on her face and a presence that was so comfortably real and casual I wanted to beep the horn and yell “Hey Minnie, how ya doin’?”

But I resisted, and as she reached the sidewalk she turned right and walked alongside my car. Now I was used to seeing movie stars every day out there, it was part of my business and life, some were close friends, many I worked with, etc. so it was usually no big deal since in the end it’s the quality of a friendship and a person’s character and personality and how it fits with yours that makes for connections, not necessarily what job you share, etc.

Nonetheless, I watched her walk down the street, craning my neck to follow her, until the car behind me beeped because the light had turned green.

I thought about that and how much I love to watch her on the screen, how in any movie I’ve seen her in she added this quality that just makes me feel like smiling (remember her with Matt Damon in GOOD WILL HUNTING?).

That made me think of other movie actresses, and actors too, who make me smile when I see them on screen (even in serious roles there’s something so compellingly likable about them you, or at least I, can’t resist enjoying watching them, and I’m not talking about great beauties or great acting, I’m talking about a kind of unselfconscious openness and charm (the latter conscious or not), or the appearance of it, that opens my heart and makes me just love these folks and want to grin about it).

Here’s who I thought of, which happened to come out as triplets that make sense to me:

Fre Astaire
Joe E. Brown
Jimmy Durante

Myrna Loy
Jean Arthur
Carole Lombard

June Allyson
Geena Davis
Drew Barrymore

Theresa Wright
Karen Allen
Kerri Russell

Cary Grant
George Clooney
John Cusack

Jimmy Stewart
Greg Kinnear
Gerard Depardieu

Audrey Hepburn
Julia Roberts
Kiera Knightley

Van Johnson
Sidney Poitier
Brad Pitt

Jean Harlow
Andie MacDowell
Minnie Driver

And in a class
All by himself:
Jackie Chan

[These don't exactly go with Jackie Chan, but just remembered two of my favorite movie stars who gave me that same irrepressible feeling of joy to watch them, Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae, which is why OKLAHOMA and CAROUSEL are still two of my favorite flicks (and I know those who are younger and know Jones more from TV don't often share my enthusiasm, but she was a wonder to watch in films when she was young).]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I caught GROSSE POINT BLANK the other night, a movie I never tire of watching, and was struck once again by how well John Cusack and Minnie Driver play off each other in it.

To be able to convey a sense of real affection and playfulness—as well as attraction and that old cliché “chemistry”—isn’t easy. I’ve acted in several movies and TV shows where I was supposed to be romantically involved with an actress’s character and sometimes the actress was not at all easy to like in real life let alone on screen.

Sometimes actors actually do fall for each other in a way the camera can’t miss, one of the most famous instances being the young Lauren Bacall (nineteen at the time I believe) and Humphrey Bogart (forty or so?) in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (with the famous “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?” scene).

So, naturally, that led to last night’s falling-back-to-sleep list being movie couples who really seemed to have the famous movie couple “chemistry” for my taste.

These are the ones that came to mind, listed alphabetically by the movies (didn’t get all the way this time):

ATONEMENT (Keira Knightley & James McAvoy), ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Evan Rachel Wood & Jim Strugess)
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (Theresa Wright & Dana Andrews), BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal)
CASABLANCA (Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman), CHARADE (Audrey Hepburn & Cary Grant)
DON’T LOOK NOW (Julie Christie & Donald Sutherland)
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (Montgomery Clift & Donna Reed)
GREEN CARD (Andie MacDowell & Gerard Depardieu), GROSSE POINT BLANK (John Cusack & Minnie Driver)
HOLIDAY (Katherine Hepburn & Cary Grant)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (James Stewart & Donna Reed)
JERRY MAGUIRE (Tom Cruise & Renne Zellweger, Cuba Gooding Jr. & Regina King)
THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (Elizabeth Taylor & Van Johnson)
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (Frank Sinatra & Kim Novak)
NOTTING HILL (Julia Roberts & Hugh Grant)
OUT OF THE PAST (Jane Greer & Robert Mitchum), OUT OF SIGHT (George Clooney & Jennifer Lopez), ONCE (Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova)
PICNIC (Kim Novak & William Holden)
THE QUIET MAN (John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara)
THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (Gerard Depardieu & Nathalie Baye), THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Karen Allen & Harrison Ford), REMAINS OF THE DAY (Anthony Hopkins & Emma Thompson)
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart)
V FOR VENDETTA (Natalie Portman & Hugo Weaving—and he did it all in a mask!)
THE WAY WE WERE (Barbra Streisand & Robert Redford)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


This is a postcard made by a local artist, Rick Parker, and shot at our local NJ Transit train station (in 2007). Rick’s a cartoonist (check the link to his site on the recommended blogs/sites list to the right).

I love it. [Not done on a computer by the way.]

Back in the day (1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s) I collected postcards I dug pretty avidly (for me, which means I have probably a hundred or so). As did many poets I know.

Kenward Elmslie had a collection that included many rare turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) ones (he told me once the cut-off date, but I forget exactly what it was, sometime around 1905 I think). I have one I got at a dinner party at his place on Greenwich Street back in the ‘70s.

I remember Bruce Andrews had one of those postcard racks you still see sometimes in stores in his apartment. One of the treats of visiting him was checking that rack out, which postcards he was spotlighting at the moment.

A lot of us used to make our own postcards, with collages on them or just alterations to the original card to make them more unique, usually humorously so.

[Just remembered that the artist Tom Burkhardt's reproduction of an artists' studio a few years ago, made entirely from cardboard and black paint (even the rags sticking out of paint cans and the artists' bed and blankets etc.) the parts of it you could buy for the lowest price of anything in the installation were the "postcards" pinned to the bulletin board over the artists' desk, also made of cardboard and painted on in black to evoke ones many artists in the '70s would have had pinned up, like one with a "photo" of Billie Holiday or "reproduction" of a painting by DeKooning, etc. (I bought one that was meant to be a Phillip Guston, figuring that would be as close as I'd ever get to owning a Guston)—anyway, another example of how prevalent postcards were in the downtown scene back in the day.]

Unique postcards were such common artists’ and poets’ favored objects, there was even a store in Soho that specialized in them, owned by Bevan Davies and called “Untitled.” It was on Prince Street, just around the corner (and down a block or so) from my apartment on Sullivan (it was across the street from Vesuvio’s bakery, if I’m remembering that name correctly, the last place to go, not long ago, from the old days, and Untitled even sold postcards with a photo of the street view of the bakery on it).

Most of the postcards sold in the tourist shops in Manhattan aren’t that interesting these days. But I still get the occasional interesting or original one from friends. But when I went to an artists event at a local shop here in Jersey (a storefront artists workshop mostly for kids) on Sunday afternoon because Rick was selling some of his art there (mostly the comic kind, including old Beavis and Butthead commix he drew for years, though he didn’t originate them of course) and saw this card, which was also reproduced as a poster, I grabbed some.

When I got home and put one in the box I keep my little postcard collection in, it brought back a lot of memories associated with postcards, from the old penny ones when I was a kid, especially the ones sold down the Jersey shore, to the artists specials created and sold in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.

I hope their appeal isn’t lost on younger generations. It’d be a shame to see them become entirely obsolete. Not yet, anyway.

Monday, June 8, 2009


1. Here's a quote from yesterday's NY Times that is kind of obvious, but is still worth repeating and remembering:

"The thing that transforms something from being an idea to being a physical reality is work." "You can have outlandish ideas, but if you don't work at them, they just remain outlandish ideas. Anyone can have an idea. Work is transformative."

It's from 27-year-old David Longstreth of the band Dirty Projectors, who, according to the article had just written "an elaborate seven-part vocal suite from scratch. In 10 days..." [for Bjork] while rehearsing for a performance with David Byrne at Radio City Music hall and preparing for a summer tour, etc. etc. etc.

As most of us have learned from experience, want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.

2. One of my busy friends is RJ Eskow, who writes for the Huffington Post and was on a few radio shows lately over the issue of free speech and the rightwing talking heads whose rhetoric has become more and more extreme (inspiring domestic terrorism of the sort that killed those people in that church in the South not long ago, or Dr. Tiller the other day, etc.).

His recent post about this on his blog—A Night Light—is the best thing written about it I've seen, and I'd quote it in full but thanks to modern technology I can just link to the entire post here.

3. In a recent issue of Time magazine, Eric Maddox, "an Army staff sergeant whose book Mission Black List #1 chronicles his interrogations in Iraq that ultimately led to the capture of Sadam Hussein" has this to say about interrogation methods:

"There is nothing intelligent about torture." "If you have to inflict pain, then you've lost control of the situation, the subject and yourself."

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I saw it last night with my little guy and a friend of his. They sat in the very first row, directly under the screen so I'm not sure how well the 3D glasses worked there. But for me down front and all the way to the side (we came in late because I couldn't get them to eat their pizza slices faster), the 3D worked perfectly.

In fact, I couldn't stop myself from saying "cool" three or four times during the film and the short before it (about storks delivering babies, also in 3D).

The story is totally contrived and a mix of children's stories you've read or seen before (though the romance at the heart of it is a little more like golden age Hollywood). But what made it worthwhile for me was the art. It's computer generated Pixar imagery, but the 3D effect on beautifully rendered depictions of storybook illustrations made it seem like a genuine work of art.

Any of you with kids, or who remember your own childhood illustrated story books, know what I mean about how some of them are simply works of art you can't help digging for the drawings. In the case of UP computer generated, but still drawing-like in their stylistic elements and flourishes.

I highly recommend the 3D version (the glasses were no bother either, much sturdier and worked perfectly compared to what I remember from earlier Hollywood 3D experiments). Approach it like a museum or gallery visit, maybe a children's museum or gallery featuring children's book illustrations. In other words, just go to dig the visuals, and the humor and story and voiceover acting (which is excellent, led by Ed Asner as the grumpy old guy) will be extra reasons for your enjoyment.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I just heard that David Carradine died. I feel for his family and friends, and fans, despite the stories about his creating difficult situations for all of them at times.

One of the first professional acting jobs I had was playing John Carradine's grandson in a horror movie (THE NESTING). I loved working with this Hollywood legend, and he seemed to dig working with me as well. I always loved the elder Carradine's work in movies during the so-called Hollywood golden years (.e.g GRAPES OF WRATH), but was relatively unaware of his actor sons, David, Keith and Robert.

I met all three in the years that followed. Robert struck me as a kind and decent guy, and an actor with a pretty wide range that seemed to go mostly unappreciated by Hollywood (though not entirely: the disturbed Viet Nam vet in COMING HOME, the lead nerd in REVENGE OF THE NERDS and its sequels).

The one time I had dinner with Keith and several mutual friends, I got in an argument with him and John Milius (if I remember correctly) over the whole "gay" issue after they started complaining about how gay men (not the term they used) were ruining "their" city, San Francisco (this was in the early 1980s). Nonetheless I was impressed with Keith's appearance in a favorite film at the time WELCOME TO L.A. and later with his lead role in CHOOSE ME (not to mention in the first episodes of HBO's DEADWOOD, which may be his best work ever).

David I met later, in the '90s before I left L.A. I had dinner with him a few times with just us and the women we were with (can't remember if my partner was a friend of his or of him). He struck me as an insightful and intelligent man half the time, and an obtuse and unintelligible man the other half.

I knew him vaguely as the TV Kung Fu guy, a show I only saw once or twice, and had seen him in a few other things that didn't impress me that much. But I loved him in BOUND FOR GLORY, where he played Woody Guthrie very touchingly and realistically I thought, despite Hal Wexler's glossy glow to the Depression (something David complained about at a panel discussion only recently and was criticzed for, though the account I read on Huffington Post left me agreeing with Carradine more than Wexler).

The exact cause of his death is uncertain, according to accounts I've read, but how ever it happened, I hope he's now at peace.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Been incommunicado for two days, away at an overnight camp with my youngest son and his fifth grade class as a chaperone in a cabin with nine boys and two other dads.

There was no news from the outside, no cell phone calls, etc. Kind of a relief in many ways. But before I left early yesterday morning I posted on Obama's Egypt speech which I caught most of before we left, figuring the comments on the post would keep those of you who check into the blog regularly pretty amused until I got back.

I'm exhausted (being a light sleeper in a cabin full of males half of which snored didn't help), chilled to the bone and feeling damp if not wet from standing around or hiking through the woods in at least drizzle all day if not outright downpours.

And I have over half a hundred emails to respond to as well as a few dozen phone messages, a meeting to run to, my son to care for, etc. so this will be a brief post (for me) just saying I wasn't disappointed in the amusing quotient in the comments on Obama.

But I must admit, if I were younger and not as experienced or mellowed, I'd resent not only the outrageous and silly comments of my old rightwing friend Jim, who seems to be unable to do not parrot the rightwing line of the day no matter the contradictions inherent in the line or resonating from the line's origins or from comparison to other day's lines (Cheney for years expounding on the definiteness, the total reality of, the inarguable truth of his contention that Iraq was involved in 9/11 recently admitting there's no proof for that, etc.), but others' insistence that somehow anyone who defends Obama is either some kind of Liberal ideolgoue or just a sucker for Obama's "smooth talk" etc.

If anyone reading this blog or any of my books or essays or reviews or hearing any talks I've given or panels I've been on over the last almost five decades sees me as either a "liberal" ideologue, or as someone who's a sucker for "smooth talkinbg" polticians, they don't read or hear very well.

Obama is a pragmatist, who inherited either the worst circumstances in terms of real world problems of any president since Roosevelt or since Lincoln, depending on which historian you agree with. He is addressing them all as best he can with what he has to work with (i.e. the actual politicians, resources, willingness of others, etc.).

If you dont like the way he's doing that, you can argue for what you believe is a better way. But your argument will be seen, at least by me, as just plain silly if your contention is that things would be a lot better if Obama just repeated the failed conservative policies of the past eight years that created all the problems he inherited.

Or if your argument is that he hasn't done enough to reverse those policies and the results they caused (i.e. unemployment, which by the way goes like this, close to a million jobs lost the last month Bush/Cheney were on duty, and that number has DECREASED every month since, to the point that the latest statistics have many economists saying the recession is either over or close to being over) or hasn't done enough fast enough.

Either you are living in fantasy land, where if only every congress person and every interest group and every voter and every citizen and everyone in the world, basically, agreed one hundred percent with your solution we'd have Paradise on Earth and Obama's at fault for not creating that paradise immediately, or you actually believe the righwingers and think Obama does have the power to snap his fingers and get all kinds of institutions and government agencies to immediately change drastically without resistance or some kind of payback that will cause his plans to backfire (ever hear of Carter, one of the smartest and best intentioned presidents of the past half century, nonetheless...etc.).


I believe he's doing a better job than anyone else has in decades if not in my lifetime, and that some of what he's doing is guess work based on the best thinking he and his advisors can come up with and how easy those solutions are to apply and carry out. I trust the guy. I don't think he's anything more than he presents himself as, a thoughtful, intelligent, calm thinker who approaches problems from a humble point of view that there are no perfect solutions but best case ones and that half the battle is approaching the problems with an honest expression of what they really are and what the possibilities for solving them really are.

If any of my commentors want to present a case for any leader throughout history who did everything perfectly, please, let them make the case. If they want to cede that all humans are imperfect, and all human solutions therefore imperfect as well, than let's do some comparisons. If we use real data for that, Obama will come out ahead of most in almost every circumstance he has faced so far.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


How great is it to have a president who doesn't speak to the world like a bully or master or boss or finger-wagging, self-righteous, hypocrite. No matter what missteps he may make (and there have been very few and very minor ones so far), Obama certainly embodies the qualities many of us would want the main representative of the USA to have—honesty, humility, strength, calm, and intelligence. What a breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


My old friend, artist Paul Harryn, has a little movie on his blog that shows him at work making paintings. It's a process another filmmaker made a longer documentary on that I found very moving and inspiring, as I often do any documentation of the creative process of various kinds of artists. This shorter version doesn't build up to the same kind of emotional impact the longer one had (unfortunately it isn't available on the web, yet) but it does capture an artist at work pretty well.

There's a lot of Jackson Pollack obviously in some of Paul's methods (although over the decades—much like me and my variety of approaches to making poems and other kinds of writing—Harryn has had many technical approaches to making a painting) and other "masters" are evoked in other techniques he uses in the film, but most importantly, it demonstrates in a small way the inspiration he gets from the natural world that surrounds his outdoor good weather approach to doing with paint what he experiences in nature.

Anyway, check it out, it's only three minutes long or so.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


After the last post I thought I’d follow up with one on a book that no one would mistake for anything but. At 178 pages, HEARTH by Simon Pettet (published by Talisman House) weighs in as more book-like than most poetry collections.

As for the author, anyone who reads this post knows that Simon—originally from England but a fixture of the Lower East Side for many decades now—is a friend and a poet whose work I dig.

I’ve known Simon for almost as long as he’s been living in Manhattan. We have many mutual friends (and adversaries for that matter) in the poetry world and beyond. I have always loved his eccentric personality and approach to life and poetry (and that’s all meant as a compliment obviously, since I believe my own personality and approach to life and poetry can easily be characterized as “eccentric”).

But I must be honest and say that when I first began reading his poetry back in the 1970s, I didn’t get the power and originality of it at first. I got the lyrical qualities and the precision and craftsmanship. But the power of his approach to the question of what a poem is and how it works I somehow missed in those early years.

Not any longer. Well, not for a long time in my case, but not any longer can anyone miss it with the publication of HEARTH, which is basically the “collected” poems of Simon Pettet.

The poems are arranged mostly chronologically and include all the poems from his previous collections, as far as I can tell (I didn’t take them down from the shelf and compare every poem, because this is a personal blog not The New York Review of Books!). But the amazing thing is in reading it through from cover to cover—slowly, a poem or two each night before bed, savoring each line, each word choice—it all feels completely of the moment, present in every way, as does the poet in the lines and the stance and the perspective.

It’s an absolutely unique collection of poems, and that’s not something you can say that often. (I know there are those who think I get too enthusiastic about books and movies and music and art I love; I’ve been accused often in my life of going “overboard” at times in my praise, but loving too much doesn’t seem to me to be a negative thing, and I think I have enough experience, knowledge and intelligence to defend my taste even if in the end it always is simply a matter of taste.)

I suspect even those who might be prone to criticize Pettet’s minimalist approach to imagery and/or vocabulary and/or logic or high intentions, would be shouting his praises to the rooftops if this manuscript wasn’t discovered and published until after his death, ala Emily Dickenson, or in old age obscurity, ala Alfred Starr Hamilton.

But fortunately, that’s not the case. We can now praise Simon Pettet’s poetry as collected in HEARTH while he’s still with us and young enough to enjoy the recognition. Here's a randomly selected example of one of the kinds of approaches to the poem you'll find in HEARTH:

First of May, everything
conjugates the verb "to love" (amo)
Here are the roses
I am not in the middle of speaking
of anything else.

Here's the back cover of HEARTH, which contains blurbs written by a slew of poets whose work and opinions I care about and which, I think, perfectly capture the impact of Simon’s work on those of us who dig it, more so than most blurbs on the back of most books. If you click on it, it should enlarge enough for you to check them out.