Friday, April 30, 2010


On Wednesday, May 12th, at 8PM at St. Mark's Church, 2nd Ave. & 10th St. NYC, me and my old friend Ray DiPalma will read some of our poems. My first reading since the brain surgery. But as I said in the Facebook notice I made about this (my friend Jamie walked me through the technical routine to do it, have I said how much I don't like Facebook before?) don't expect me to sing. Though I do take a lot of different approaches to "the poem" and always have.

Here's one I took not long before the surgery:


Can you
this sh*t?

I know
it’s all
but man

Or not
if the
gets his
way with
us old

And women.

Like that one
collapsing in
tears sobbing
“I want my
America back…”

And yes some
of us see the
implied racism
in all that. But

it’s so

A door
is closing
in their
and they’re
afraid they’ll
be locked
inside forever.

They, and
even some
of us, can’t
see there’s
a window
still wide
open on the
other side.

The window
that’s letting
all that fresh
air in. Let
the future

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Steve Girardi is a musician who would normally be described as a "jazz guitarist" but, he's a lot more than that. Out of the nine cuts on BLUE SKY WITH TEARS, seven were composed by Girardi, plus he produced this CD.

It's another of those lovely surprises that exist so abundantly throughout our world now. Unlike centuries ago when the number of poets and composers and artists were limited by smaller populations and less access to the means by which art can be produced—materials, including instruments, education, room, etc.—the present moment is rich with not only so many more people actually creating art of all kinds, but with access to the means of producing that art.

As for example how much easier it is these days to produce a CD. It still takes talent and perseverance and leadership etc. to pull a good CD together of first rate music, but you don't need a major label or even a big independent label these days to get your music out to the world.

You can not only get a CD of your music out into the world by doing it yourself, but in fact, you can even revise the project in subsequent pressings as you go along. This is what happened to BLUE SKY WITH TEARS. The CD came out and Girardi decided there was one small musical detail that wasn't quite right, so he went back in and made the change and repressed the CD.

Steve is a local resident, though his reputation is much wider than Northern New Jersey. This state, my home now and when I was a boy, has always been a hotbed of musical activity. So many musicians either came from Jersey or end up here it makes you think "there must be something in the water" as the old cliche goes.

I've caught Steve live several times and always been not just impressed but delighted. The mesmerizing sounds he produces with his band mates not only seduce you into the world of his musicianship but somehow have the impact of something extremely intense and yet delightfully subtle at the same time.

I know I just used the idea of being "delighted" by this music twice, but it's at the core of my response to it. There's a good natured almost kindness or maybe I mean gentleness to the strains he produces on his guitar and in his compositions that never seems demanding or self-aggrandising as improvisatory jazz sometimes can.

BLUE SKY WITH TEARS may be especially gentle because the love for his father comes across in not just the song dedicated to him—"Journey Home (to my father who taught me about heart)"—and the inside cover photo of Steve as a little boy sitting on the grass with his father, Phil Girardi Sr. in 1964, his father's arm draped over Steve's shoulder in what appears to be an almost incidental gesture but you can see in the little Steve's beaming smile the real meaning of that connection, but in Steve's life work, his music.

On the inside liner notes he says this CD "is a creative reflection of my life's journey." And adds that "the musicians gathered on this disc represent over 30 years of collaborations, but even more importantly friendships." That too comes across in the music.

One of the distinguishing features of Steve's ensembles is they almost always include a cello. When I was a young piano player trying to make "jazz music" with my instrument and not just playing but following all kinds of masters of this art form, I never encountered a cello, or any of the other instruments associated with the highbrow classical sound except for the piano and bass, but both played so differently in jazz than in classical.

But these days more and more I see and hear cellos being used, in the musical collectives that so many of the alt bands have become, as well as little classical chamber groups who play rock tunes or original compositions in venues that normally only present rock or jazz, i.e. clubs, especially in and around New York these days.

But Steve was doing this before it was a trend, to my understanding, and even now in live shows and on this disc, the presence of a cello just adds to that gentle quality. Not that his music isn't powerful or doesn't swing or can't be discordant in that post-modern way, but that underneath all that when it occurs is a feeling of such deep love for the art of making music and sharing it that it's palpable.

So, another gem among a plethora of them available to us these days, and for which I am grateful. Check it out and you might be too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


That was the famous question at the Army-McCarthy hearings that was the coup de grace (is that what my post brain surgery mind means?), the more-or-less final blow in what was becoming the unraveling of Joe McCarthy's political career.

A career based on the most outrageous lies about communist infiltration into all kinds of government agencies and branches of the federal government. He just made up numbers and supposed "facts" that the right has been trying to bring back as the "truth" that will return McCarthy to his rightful heroic place in their version of this country's history.

Because some declassified documents show that some people in the 1940s and before had been either sympathetic to the communist cause (because communists were almost alone in their fight against anti-semitism, racism, women's rights, etc.) and a few even belonged to "The Communist Party USA".

But that's like Republican House minority leader blowhard Boehner getting the media to pay attention almost every day to the lies he's constantly throwing out to them and the undiscerning public that falls for them, like how the Republicans are somehow suddenly the defenders of us peons against the giant financial institutions like Goldman Sachs.

Boehner actually declared to the media and his rightwing constituents that the Democrats were the recipients of Goldman Sachs largesse and should be exposed as the groveling lickers of the boots of that too-big-to-fail Wall Street powerhouse. When it turns out that most of Capitol Hill has taken money from Goldman Sachs, but more money was given to Republicans, much more, and more of it in March than in all of 2009, and that Boehner himself took twice as much money (or was it four times?) as Harry Ried.

Now they're all pretending to be outraged at GS's financial shenanigans that contributed to the economic disaster that didn't just head our economy over a cliff it pushed it over and only the smart actions of Obama and some of the Dems began to reverse. (But some on the left don't seem to be satisfied with anything. Now that the Democratic administration has toughened up the SEC and they're going after Goldman Sachs, who most leftists were saying just weeks ago were totally controlling Obama's money policies, are they jumping up and down and cheering that Obama is actually taking on those who contributed to his campaign? etc.? [see comments for some answers to that question!])

The most interesting thing about this to me (and I got out of bed to write this because it's been on my mind after catching the hearings today where the Goldman Sachs elite came off as clueless and the Senators came off as angry, better late than never, even if it's all for the cameras) is that Goldman Sachs executives must have been aware, in fact were obviously aware that an investigation was in the works which is why in March they gave out more money to Senators than like I said in all of 2009, and most of it to Republicans who are, surprise surprise, blocking any DEBATE EVEN on the financial reform bill the Dems and Pubs had supposedly agreed on.

I'm too tired to articulate this clearly but the point is that the Republicans have become like the party of McCarthy, throwing out lies and distortions to a public that often takes at least some of it as "truth" and then they take actions that are so blatantly against the good of the majority of us in order to protect their corporate masters and most of the media is so scared of their wrath or corporate overlords or looking "partisan" or whatever, they don't question it or point out the hypocrisy and outright lying.

[With a few exceptions, like John Stewart, here's one example.]

Monday, April 26, 2010


A good friend and poet Jerome Sala has just started a new blog that is already in one post "a gasser" as the older hipsters used to say. I've included it with recommended blogs and sites on the right somewhere. Check it out on the link there or here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


In talking with my great friend Terence today about the new HBO series THE PACIFIC, which I've already posted that I'm digging, I shared that I've been watching the first several episodes over again and getting more into them and understanding what's going on better.

I don't know if it's the aftermath of the brain surgery or if other people are experiencing this, but I'm having trouble sometimes understanding what people are saying when I'm watching movies on TV these days. Some of the words and even entire lines get lost somehow in the sound mix, or in my head.

But why I bother to go back and watch episodes of this particular filmic venture over again is that my second oldest brother James, who we called "Buddy" to distinguish him from my father, also James, was in "The Pacific" toward the end of WWII.

The government had a policy in the last year or so of the war that allowed high school seniors, and even juniors old enough, to join the service and automatically receive their high school diplomas. My brother Buddy opted for that and joined the Navy.

He was a musical genius, in my humble opinion, which comes from some knowledge of music and musicianship. Just one example, when I joined the service almost two decades after he did I was playing bass, the upright acoustic kind of bass jazz musicians played then (I had started out on piano, which remained my main instrument, but had fallen in love with bass because of my love for musical creators like Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers.

But I wasn't about to lug an instrument that big and cumbersome around in the service, even if they'd let me, so Buddy said he'd take it off my hands and if he could play it and get jobs on it he'd pay me for it (in installments, he was the most practical of all of us).

At the time he'd already proven himself as a great "reed man" playing mostly alto and tenor saxes but also clarinet. He had become one of the leading members of the musicians union in Washington DC where he settled after the war, using the G.I. Bill to put himself through Catholic University where he majored in music. He was often picked as leader of combos that backed the stars when they came to DC to perform, like Sammy Davis Jr. and Pearl Baily.

But being leader meant a lot more responsibilities for not much more money. He thought by playing bass he'd not only get more jobs—because a bass player's always needed but not necessarily a "reed man"—but someone else would be leader and he could just arrive for the gig and split afterwards which would give him more time for his other gig—bandmaster for a high school outside DC in rural Maryland—a tough, poor, underachieving high school the way I heard it.

[And the point I meant to make here and missed in my first attempt: within two weeks he was not only playing the bass well, but well enough to begin getting top jobs with it!]

He was so good at that high school bandmaster job the band appeared often on TV when I was a kid, playing the Macy's Parade in Manhattan and the New year's Rose Bowl Parade (or whatever it was called) in Florida and other televised parades. He had been invited to be the second clarinet chair for the Cleveland Orchestra too but turned it down on our father's advice who didn't want him living so far from Jersey or having such an unreliable job (as my uneducated father saw it) so encouraged Buddy to become a teacher in order to always have steady work.

For years and years he went to night school while teaching music during the day at that high school and playing gigs on weekend nights, until he eventually got a Ph. D. in education. After which he became a highly respected high school principal. But back in the last year of WWII he was just s scared teenager on a ship in a convoy on its way to Okinawa and afterwards onto the expected invasion of Japan.

But first Okinawa had to be subdued. He wasn't a fighting man, but a great musician in a small Navy Band used for various rituals (flag raising, etc.) on the Island behind the lines, but close enough to hear the guns and bombs. He witnessed some pretty horrendous things for a kid to have to see, though not as bad obviously as the marines in THE PACIFIC.

Just thinking of my brother being in a tent like them and in the same climate in the same war experiencing some of the same things, including some frightening and horrific things, drew me into the story in a way nothing really ever has. I can't wait for each new episode, in fact I don't wait, I rewatch the earlier ones and, like I said, get even more out of them. It's a stunning achievement to my mind and taste.

I feel like they really capture a lot of what I heard from my brother and other older guys from the clan and neighborhood who were in the war. Part of that is some great producing and part of it is relying on firsthand accounts from two of the main characters in the series, and firsthand accounts for the other main characters. I commend the young actors who are doing such a terrific job, and the directors and writers for making it really seem like the real deal.

This photograph above I'm pretty sure was in Butler, New Jersey, four years after the war, which would make my oldest brother Tommy, who by then had chosen the name Campion as a Franciscan Friar (and in a few more years would be ordained a priest) around 23. To his right over my right shoulder (I'm the little guy, around 7, in an outfit my mother loved) is our brother Robert (actually "William Robert" which he would only discover was his real name the following year when he was drafted after the Korean War began) around 19, and to their left over my left shoulder is Jimmy, or "Buddy" as we knew him, around 21 and probably still a student at Catholic U.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


"I would like to beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." —Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Friday, April 23, 2010


If you haven't seen this response to Faux News's latest response to John Stewart's previous funny and accurately called out hypocrisy of Faux and its unfair and unbalanced approach in pushing their rightwing agenda, you have to watch it to the end. Pretty funny.

{And a PS to yesterday's list post: One of the things I notice, and others might have too at least in person, is that I seem to have less tact than before the brain surgery. I would never make a list of my favorite anything if it involved friends. I'd be afraid I'd leave someone out and hurt their feelings. But I have less of a filter now. So whereas in the past I'd make a list in my head (an alphabet one usually because they're easiest to remember) and the criteria would be favorite books of poetry with two-word titles or something like that, and thus I'd have less of a chance of hurting someone for leaving them out since how many two-word book titles could one person have etc. But now I had to make that list with the help of my bookshelves and the computer, and even though I knew I'd leave people out, perhaps even people I am in contact with regularly and my brain is just not remembering that I love one of their books etc., my brain doesn't seem to care since it knows it's more limited now and hopes others will understand but if they don't, it doesn't seem to matter as much as it did pre-op. Interesting.]

Thursday, April 22, 2010


As I’ve written here several times in the five months since I had brain surgery (I'd guess you’re as tired as I am of hearing about it, but…) the compulsion to make lists constantly in my mind that I’ve had as long as I can remember disappeared after the operation. I've had no inclination to makes lists at all ever since.

Or hadn’t until I noticed I’ve been revising the “favorite movies” — “music” etc. categories on my profile for this blog every now and then.

Then after the past two days’ posts about poets I dig who are contemporaries of mine I started to think about books of poems by others around my age that I dig and thought I’d make a list.

I used my bookshelves to make sure I had some titles right as well as the internet to check a few ages (it’s amazing how many folks ages are impossible to discover so I probably left a bunch out), but anyway here’s a list of:


BOY DRINKERS Terence Winch
SMALL WEATHERS Merril Gilfillan
POEMS Nick Piombino
I REMEMBER Joe Brainard
YOU BET! Ted Greenwald
NEMO Paul Vangelisti
LIGHTS OUT Geoffrey Young
REUNIONS Harry E. Northup
SINCE 1964 Peter Schjeldahl
THE RIVER Lewis MacAdams
MIDWINTERS DAY Bernadette Mayer
LINE UPS Charles North
LIFE NOTES Anne Waldman
FIT MUSIC Lorenzo Thomas

[PS: I knew I'd forget a lot, especially with my post-op memory diminishment, but how could I forget John Godfrey's DABBLE, one of my alltime favorite books of poetry period! And I'm sure there's many more...]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I just found out the Texas poet Robert Trammell passed away in 2006! I'm so saddened by this news and so sorry I didn't get to see him more before his death.

I first met Bob back in the '60s, introduced to him by my good friend the late poet James Haining. Jim had started a small magazine called Salt Lick when he was at Quincy College in Illinois and I passed through to do a poetry reading. He asked my advice about starting it and ran some names for it by me. We became fast friends and he quickly introduced me to work by his writer friends from his native Texas, including Bob.

In the early '70s, Jim moved to Baltimore to work on a graduate degree (and started publishing beautiful books under his Salt Lick logo, eventually including two of Trammell's—GEORGE WASHINGTON TRAMMELL and LOVERS/KILLERS) and Trammell moved for a while to Manhattan (maybe in part because Gerald Burns, an eccentric but brilliant poet friend of his and Jim's was living and teaching in New York at the time), the Chelsea neighborhood, which in those days was pretty rough.

I remember him telling me a story, when his wife and he visited my then wife and me in DC where we were living at the time, about being surrounded on a sidewalk in Chelsea by a bunch of tough "little kids" who threatened him and his wife and when Bob ignored them started kicking and punching him.

They got away, but Bob was shaken by the experience and gave up on New York. He had spent time in a Texas prison in the '60s. Back in those days some states, like Texas, were so extreme about enforcing drug laws even with minimal amounts of marijuana that I had several friends do time there under horrible conditions.

Bob had been just a young Texas hippie when he went into prison, but he came out a grown man with a big chip on his shoulder when it came to any sympathy for the hardened criminals who physically abused him in all the ways you can imagine. But at his core was a gentle, kind, generous spirit as I experienced him.

Despite some of the things he wrote about that experience, like these lines from GEORGE WASHINGTON TRAMMEL:

"In prison I learned
not to be a good fighter
or carry a knife
CUT the big artery in the back of the leg
of the man asleep who offered you the zoozooes"

(When I was in basic training in the service in Texas years before Bob's prison experience, a guy in my barracks actually cut the big artery in another guy's ankle with a razor while the victim was sleeping, revenge for what we never found out.)

I saw Jim frequently in the early '70s before I moved back to Manhattan myself, and Bob quite often as well, either in the city or in DC when he came to visit. But then he returned to Texas (last time he visited me in New York was in 1980, two years before I moved to LA) and Jim moved too, back to Texas for a bit but eventually ending up in Portland, Oregon, where once again he set up some readings for me and introduced me to a group of local writers there, all of whom were not only terrific writers but became great friends.

Jim had a knack for making friends and drawing people to him. Bob was a little different as a result of his prison experiences. But he became a central figure in the Texas poetry scene (he was central to the Dallas poetry community in more ways than one). We stayed in touch pretty regularly for years, but with my own moves, and Jim's and his, after a while I mainly stayed current with Bob through Jim's updates.

Then Jim began to deteriorate from a bad case of MS. Last time I saw him in Portland he was getting around by wheelchair. Finally he moved back to Texas and into a nursing home where he spent his last years. When he died, Bob called to tell me. He said he was with Jim toward the end and that Jim was in a coma but at one point he sat straight up in his hospital bed with his eyes still closed and seemingly still in the coma and said: "I have known happiness!"—then laid right back down and shortly afterwards sat right up again and repeated: "I have known happiness!" and then laid down for good.

Bob said he was planning a memorial for Jim but it wouldn't be for a while. We talked a few more times over the following weeks and I was looking forward to going down to Texas for Jim's memorial and seeing Bob. But then I stopped hearing from him and I was going through some major changes in my life, including separation and health problems and more moves, so I never recontacted Bob about the memorial for Jim and when I did make some inquiries I came up blank.

Now I know why. I never got the news that Bob had passed, and then this morning I was looking through some books on my shelves and pulled down Bob's LOVERS/KILLERS and wondered what he was up to and then thought of using the web to see what I could find out and there were these obituaries for him from 2006. It breaks my heart in the way that unexpected sad news can.

The only thing I can think to sooth that is to read his poems and hear his voice inside again. The gift he left us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Poet and translator Vincent Katz's Libellum press is proof that fine book making is not only not dead but alive and dancing.

[Full disclosure, as they say these days, means I tell you here that the first book from this press, which came out of the equally original literary magazine Vincent started—VANITAS—was the first publication of the long poem I wrote for a reading Vincent organized on the eve of the invasion of Iraq and titled after the date of that reading and actually the day I finished the poem: MARCH 18, 2003.}

The two latest publications from Libellum solidify that burgeoning reputation of the press as not only successful at creating fine books but at making available fine poetry.

Poet Tom Clark has been the main contributor to the Vanitas blog and is the sole contributor to his own poetry blog—TOM CLARK/BEYOND THE PALE—which to my mind is the best strictly poetry blog (where you go to read poetry, not opinions about it ala this blog) on the web.

Now they've come together in the form of two books—THE NEW WORLD and TRANS/VERSION.

The latter is what some folks call a "chapbook"—meaning it's a very slim volume with a "saddle stitched" binding (meaning the pages are held together by two staples in the center of the middle two-page spread over which the pages are folded) and contains seven poems based on or translated from poems from other languages, including from the French (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarme and Reverdy), Spanish (two poems by Vallejo) and German (Brecht).

They are delightfully insightful into the original intent, I believe, of the poets and of Clark's capacity for a kind of wisdom that few poets ever attain but most seem to always be writing as if they have. But Clark rarely if ever comes across as the sage, more like the older version of the guy who first made his mark as a humorous but brash young poet of the late 1960s and early '70s whose work fairly jumped off the page with the vitality of those times.

(Here's the last three lines from "Vallejo: The Vedic Fiber"—"What hasn't yet come along won't, but/what's already come and gone,/but what's already come and gone.")

I first learned of him as the poetry editor of The Paris Review who replaced the outdated stolid seriousness of poems based on what seemed by then ancient rhythms and/or self-serious ponderance with lighthearted, witty, and often close to incomprehensible experiments with language and subject matter that matched the musical soundtrack of those years.

He introduced us all to poets and styles that were what a lot of us had been trying to do ourselves or had at least been looking for and hoping others would discover and share, and there they all were, or a lot of them, in the poetry published in The Paris Review in those years.

I heard at the time that he came from a family with cops, as I did, only in Chicago or its environs while I was back East in Jersey and he was based in England at exactly when that city was the center of the musical changes that those years brought while I had yet to venture outside the states (and was proud of that in my clinging to the belief that where and who I came from was as great a subject matter as any classic).

I had a slight chip on my shoulder about what I took as the sophistication a guy my age, or very close to it, had to have to be able to pull off becoming the poetry editor of The Paris Review at such a young age. (as well as for the fact that he never published any of my poems in the mag over those years though I truthfully don't remember if I ever even submitted any but feel like I did!)

I also had a lot of admiration for the way he had turned that magazine on a dime, as they say, to bring a bastion of the less radical experimentation of the 1950s generation into the new day the 1960s had become. I was totally impressed that they let him do it.

I remember being in "The Community Bookstore" in DC that I helped create and was running with others around 1971 when I met the younger poet Bruce Andrews there and one of his intricate little poem machines had just been published in The Paris Review, a poem that was so new in its approach that the style didn't have a name yet but would later be called "Language Poetry" meaning poetry based more on qualities of language other than meaning (see this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review article on Charles Bernstein's selected poems for an example of how far that style has come).

Over the years I've followed Clark's progression through the poetry world as he moved back to the states, kept creating engaging poetry and in the '90s and whatever-we're-calling-the-first-decade-of-the-2000s worked for Black Sparrow Press including during the years when they were folding after including in their roster two big collections of mine (IT'S NOT NOSTALGIA and IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE).

Now, through his poetry blog BEYOND THE PALE he has become the sage our age needs (I mean "our age" as both these times and his and my actual years alive) and these two books demonstrate that for me. They still have a kind of ease with language that makes a lot of his lines seem conversational and simple, sometimes to the point of seeming obviousness, but then, there'll be that little or not so little turning on-a-dime that transforms what seemed simple and perhaps a given into something so much more subtle and graceful in ways only poetry seems capable of.

The poems in THE NEW WORLD capture that well, especially the ones that are more narrative, little stories about the people he encounters on his rounds in what I take as Berkeley, encounters that reveal the humanity in us all as well as the contradictions and challenges of accepting that. These poems in particular work as mini-movies for me, developing characters through close observation of their interactions and a story line that adheres to reality but nonetheless has an arc of narrative drive that satisfies.

They're too long to quote any in full (only a page or so but still) so here's a complete section (#4 titled "Flash Player 2008") from a different kind of narrative poem, the serial poem "A Retrospect" that opens the book (right after the earlier black-and-white family photo above that compliments the color one on the cover):

Strange to turn to old ghosts, watch ourselves dissolve
In their eyes. They were not here to help us,
Merely to drag us back against our will
Into a dim becalmed past, then forward into
Occluded presents which yet feel too bright.

(I can't get my italics thingee to work so just imagine those last three words in ital.)

Okay I've gone on too long for a blog post as I'm always being told I do, and I don't want to make any other poet I've written about whose work I dig as well feel slighted. But I did want to say to anyone interested that these two books are the kind of treasures many book and poetry lovers I know delight in, because they are satisfying simply as objects, let alone for the original and often profound gems that can be found inside them.

[Here's another take on Clark's recent poetic and writerly output.]

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Only this time [as opposed to last time] I plan on not putting bills into the vending machine next to the one I'm trying to get something from. The crazy thing about that experience last Saturday [I first wrote "Sunday" because I thought that's when the vending machine/skate park episode occurred—thus the title reference to the Monkees' song] was that part of my brain was completely aware that it was the wrong machine, but the money slot in the right machine looked too complicated, so another part of my brain, the brain-surgery-recovering side I guess thought, well, let's go for the easy slot even if it IS the wrong one!

And the new skate board I ended up getting for my youngest here last week? It's home, because on Friday his oldest friend finally brought him a belated birthday present (from October) a brand new Element deck he loves. So that's next to my feet while his feet are in his rollerblades doing the half pipe.

He's happy to be among other kids this far from his home (about 45 minutes or so) where none of the bullies back there can bother him and the kids he meets here are pretty open. Skateboarders are generally pretty open, allowing every kid to skate at his level and complimenting them when they learn a new trick no matter how easy or difficult. At least that's been his experience, and mine as an observer, and his brother's and nephew's as skaters.

But in our neck of the woods, the tiny skate park they had to put behind the new police station because the old tiny one was getting messed up by rougher kids coming in from nearby Irvington and Newark and taking over with an almost gang attitude and mentality about it.

Even behind the police station these older kids can be relentless in their mocking and dismissive put downs of someone like my youngest who isn't quite as daring at some tricks as they are (though he's daring enough, dropping into the cement pool at the skate park we frequent in The Berkshires last week in shorts and a tee and no pads etc, and doing it with grace and style, or dropping fourteen feet into the deep wooden bowl at Garden Sk8, another indoor park we've gone to a lot but not today because they don't allow rollerblades just strictly skateboards.)

So happy to be here, and though it's cool out again, the sun is shining through the puffs of cloud making the new blossoms shine with color and life, the way I feel inside.

Oh and yes, I dig the Monkees, even though I didn't when they were first fabricated by some guys from the hill (i.e. wealthy, at least more than me and my family) in my Jersey hometown. But after my older boy and the band he was in in high school in Santa Monica back then started doing some of their tunes, or at least one I can think of, "Stepping Stone," I realized their music was actually, is actually, a lot of fun.

Seems to be the theme, not a bad one in these turbulent and confrontational times (no accident that the times were also turbulent and confrontational when the Monkees were formed and made their mark, hmmmm, maybe it's time for some fun music again—some of which I heard earlier today on NPR from a group from Iran, refugees in England, Human Jungle, check them out (and don't confuse them with "The Human Jungle")—well not exactly "fun" like the troubles of their country and their exile doesn't impact their music in some ways—the footage in the video is from a documentary about Iran's underground "rock" scene shot with phony permits and in only eight days to avoid the authorities—but the main feeling is one of joy in music and their new found freedom to play it any way they like in England as opposed to their native Iran).

[PS: written at this indoor skate park (Shields) amid the noise (very loud from the wheels on wood and kids yelling and the warehouse style—that's what it was I assume originally—giant space and hard surfaces etc.) and kids and their parents talking and crying and laughing and coming and going...]

Friday, April 16, 2010


It's partly the fault of Obama and his team and the Dems in general for not getting the message out more clearly and concisely and repeatedly.

But that whole Tea Party thing yesterday in DC seemingly all about taxes being too high. I don't know anybody who loves taxes. Although I also don't know anybody who doesn't love a lot of what tax dollars do for most of us (thank God for Medicare and the Democrats who made it a reality or I'd be on the street now and owing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and for the interstate highway system that's taken me back and forth across this country many times and on shorter trips probably at least once a week since it was first established under a Republican president, Ike, and most of the other stuff my taxes go to paying for).

But where were these people when Bush cut taxes for only the wealthy top few percent of the population and the rest of us paid HIGHER TAXES THAN WE DO NOW!?!

These people don't seem to know (as they don't seem to know that Obama wasn't born in Kenya and isn't a socialist etc.) that their taxes ARE LOWER under Obama. In fact they are lower now for working people than they've been in over fifty years.

But then these people don't know either that the bank bailout was mostly from money Bush Junior and his administration took from taxpayers and gave to the banks. Obama's stimulus package has not only saved the economy and created jobs and is actually working but it also has been touted way too subtly if at all.

The Dems just don't seem to have any idea how to just say every time the rightwingers attack them, WE CUT TAXES! WE SAVED THE ECONOMY! WE'VE CREATED JOBS! THE ONLY ACTIVIST JUDGES SINCE REAGAN HAVE BEEN RIGHTWINGERS! (What could be more activist than overturning a century of precedent to say that corporations are humans and have the same rights, where does it say that in the Consitution Mister Scalia, you who supposedly only believes in interpreting the law according to The Constitution?!! etc.

I shouldn't have decided to write this so late because my brain's too tired to express this as clearly as it was up there earlier today when I was too busy to stop and write this post. But ever since the brain surgery every time I see and hear these rightwingers, including those who may not truly be rightwing but have been somehow suckered into the idea that the Tea Party is some kind of representation of their independence when there's a ton of factual clear evidence, like footage and memos and etc., showing that it was planned and executed by rightwing Republicans and the Fox network—hello?—all I can think of is how bleepin'...


Thursday, April 15, 2010


If you play a musical instrument, or ever played a musical instrument, or like music, or know a musician, or are a fan of the actor Steve Zahn or Antoine Batiste, or Melissa Leo or Albert Lambeaux, or have ever been to New Orleans, or were moved by what happened to that legendary city after Katrina and the failure of the levees when whole neighborhoods were flooded, or dig good writing and great acting and TV series that make you want to watch every episode [and have access to HBO], I think you'll dig TREME. I sure do.

[On the other hand, if you don't like john Goodman who's a little forced in his portrayal of an angry set-the-record-straight guy in this, or think, as a friend does, that all the "white" characters in the show are a little or a lot over the top, or you find what is usually labeled New Orleans music in any of its various styles passe or just not your thing, etc. you might not dig it. But I bet if you give it a chance you'll be seduced despite whatever flaws you might find in this original series.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


These are from the 9th Century Sufi wise man Abu Yazid Al-Bistami and come from the "Anthology of Sacred Prose" THE ENLIGHTENED MIND edited by Stephen Mitchell, a favorite book of mine for many years. The Al-Bistami translations are by Reynold A. Nicholson:

"Nothing is better for a man than to be without anything, having no asceticism, no theory, no practice. When he is without everything, he is with everything."

"Anyone whose reward from God is deferred until tomorrow has not truly worshiped Him today."

"A single atom of the sweetness of wisdom in a man's heart is better than a thousand pavilions in Paradise."

and my favorite:

"For thirty years I used to say, "Do this" and "Give that"; but when I reached the first stage of wisdom, I said, "O God, be mine and do whatever You want."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


And in most ways I'm no different than I was before the surgery.

Except the occasional lapses in my right hand motor skills that caused me to see a doc and get diagnosed with a growth in my brain is gone.

And I still have no compulsion or even inclination to make lists in my head or on the computer, a compulsion I've had ever since I was a kid until the operation.

And I still find Meryl Streep attractive, which I didn't before the operation.

And some other people I found either attractive before the operation or unattractive have reversed.

And my taste in food has changed too somewhat, oddly, or interestingly.

And I still have trouble with typing on the computer in ways I didn't before the operation, though writing by hand has become more consistent though also more illegible (I wrote the first poem I've written since the operation the other night by hand and couldn't read some of my writing when I read it later).

And I still forget things and have trouble sometimes figuring things out. This a lot of people do so it doesn't seem like a big deal to some. It isn't to me in terms of my feeling badly about any of it. I view it all as a writer, finding it compelling and engaging but not bad or sad at all.

But like the incident I wrote about a few posts back with the vending machine at that skate park. Picture standing in front of a large vending machine, taller than you. You look through the glass case and see rows of drinks in plastic bottles. Each row goes to the back of the machine and is tilted down so that the bottle in front will fall when you press the buttons for that row. They start at the top with A1 A2 etc. and go down to let's say F or G etc.

To the left and flush with this vending machine is another vending machine of an entirely different kind. No glass case to peer into, a curved metal front brightly colored (predominantly a vibrant red) advertising RED BULL. You notice the slot to put bills into to the right of the glass in the first vending machine, the one you're standing in front of. Under the slot there's a little LED lit screen with a message rolling repeatedly by saying something like "PUSH BUTTONS FOR DRINK" or a similarly simple instruction.

The drink you want is right in front of you, bottled water. There are four rows in fact of bottled water. So you look again at the slot to your right for this machine, but the lit up ticker tape style message running through the little screen under it confuses you, while to your left, in the bright red curved machine there's a slot for bills that simply says "$2.50" so you open your wallet.

There you see only two singles but you put them in the slot anyway until it says "$.50" and then you think, "Why did I do that when I knew two dollars wasn't going to be enough." You search your change pocket but there's nothing there. You see that the next smallest bill you have is a five and think about going to the desk and asking for change but somehow that feels like giving in to failure so instead you take out the five and add it to the seven.

Now you move your hand to the right, to the machine you've been standing in front of with the bottled water and other drinks visible behind the glass and you press the buttons for "B1" but of course nothing happens. You press it again, still nothing. You try hitting the coin return button but that doesn't do anything either. Finally, you go for help.

The young manager returns with you with a key that doesn't work so he pushes a button for red bull and when the can drops he pulls it out and hands it to you and then retrieves the the four and a half dollars in quarters that is your change. But you tell him, that's not what you were trying to get, you want the bottled water in, you suddenly realize how obvious it is, this other vending machine you're standing in front of again.

You go back with him and he gives you your seven dollars and you return to the original machine and finally read the instructions and push the buttons for "B1" and the little screen beneath the slot says "$1.50" and you put in two singles and get two quarters in change and your bottled water. But when you open the water and begin to drink you realize it smells and tastes like perfume, so you look at the label and it's "wildberry" flavored water with different colored berries very obvious on it.

You go back to the machine and look through the glass and see that the next three rows of bottled water—B2, B3 and B4—all contain bottles with plain labels on them, no pictures of colorful berries and no colorful wording that declares "wildberry flavored" etc. You realize you never looked at the label just the colorlessness of the liquid inside the bottle and it's familiar water bottle shape etc.

Now, this can happen to anyone, certainly, but it never happened to me before the brain surgery. I'm someone who generally tries to make sure his next step in any public situation is not going to make him look like a klutz. A fool is fine, an oddball an eccentric and crank a free spirit a guy who doesn't give a damn etc.—that's all okay. But I rarely let myself get into a situation where I can't at least appear cool, even if it's only an illusion, in whatever context I'm in. That's ingrained.

I would never, before the operation, even consider putting money in any slot without figuring ahead of time what the next step needs to be. In this situation, I actually noted the proper slot for the money and then ignored it! That's the unusual brain misfiring that occurs since the op, though more and more rarely as time goes by. I actually realized which was the right money slot for the machine that held what I wanted and then ignored that information and deliberately put money I knew wouldn't be enough into a slot I also knew somewhere in my brain was for the wrong machine!

That kind of mind trick happened constantly in the first weeks and months after the surgery. I would realize something in my head but couldn't execute what my brain knew. Sometimes just slowing down helps, though in this instant it didn't. The whole experience took quite a while to act out. But the good news is, like I said, that's becoming the rare occurrence rather than the rule and for the most part I'm functioning as "normally" as I ever do.

More will be revealed.

Monday, April 12, 2010


As usual. what makes my day is love, in whatever form it may take. Whether it's my youngest's presence in my life for a few minutes or hours or days, his smile or enthusiasms, connections with my older kids on the phone or even the internet, a new book or song or artwork or expression of someone's imagination or reality no matter how small or obscure or limited the edition, and so much more.

Here's the one for today, a link to the most recent post on my good friend the great photographer Robert Zuckerman's blog KINDSIGHT. His compassion and genuine love for his fellow travelers on this spinning almost-sphere always comes across in person and in his work, and this is just another example of the latter, but a beautiful one. [Be sure and click on the image so you can see it better and read the prose that is as important as the image.]

Take the time, if you haven't, to check out other posts on his blog or better yet buy his book KINDSIGHT and contribute to the proliferation of not just works of art but acts of genuine love.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Brooklyn history to be exact. The mother of one of my little guy's best friends picked a tour for her son's birthday outing of a hole in the ground, a very big hole (discovered c.1980), which turns out to be a short actual underground railroad tunnel (with steam engines at the time, c. 1840)—making it the first subway in the world according to our guide on the tour.

In fact, he discovered it as a nineteen-year-old engineering student taking a break from college. He heard about the tunnel and then researched the history and myths about it printed in various old New York newspapers since its opening (it only lasted a little over a decade before politics and greed closed it down and covered it up until it grew into this mythic place where everything from Civil War armaments were kept to gas from WWI and supposed pirates' treasure Brooklyn wharf rats hid to etc.

My son wanted me to go along so I did, thinking it was some sacrifice to please him rather than the incredible adventure it turned out to be. Not because we had to descend to the tunnel through a manhole cover in the middle of an intersection not far from The Atlantic Avenue Detention Center I knew as the Atlantic Avenue jail when I joined the service out of New York and a few of my fellow volunteers were teenagers like me who were opting for a hitch in the service as the alternative the judge offered to going to prison, after a stint in the Atlantic Avenue jail.

Anyway we climbed down an ordinary aluminum ladder into a hole in the ground maybe fifteen feet down and then walked an actual plank covering a pool out of which rocks stuck up to trip you if you weren't careful and then under a concrete beam a few feet thick that I wasn't sure I could pass beneath without scraping my back and then maybe twenty feet through dirt, piled high on each side with a brick arched ceiling close enough to touch and finally through a tiny open "doorway" (more window sized than door) and then down different sized makeshift steps (with no railing) another fifteen feet to the dirt and rock and rubble floor of the subway.

It was damp, dank, musty, and eventually very cool (cool enough that my tee shirted boy asked to borrow the hoodie I brought with me). Maybe a hundred people or so gather there and then our guide told the history of his persistence in following up on every lead to finally figure out where the tunnel was located and how to get into it (he had to crawl through what was a three foot height space and then dig the last three feet by hand to find the bricked-in entryway that had to be broken through to finally find the tunnel that was supposed to have been filled in and destroyed back in the 1850s).

I can't give you all the details he did, but his talk was full of humor and incredible facts and linkages between them that were encyclopedic in scope. That's what made the tour so fascinating and entertaining and ultimately satisfying. The encounter with this genuine Brooklyn character, who as an obsessed teenager trumped the city leaders and engineers and historians to locate and dig out and expose to the rest of the world (and there were plenty of foreigners in the group we were a part of) the first subway!

Ah the wonders of individual pursuits and the satisfaction of a curiosity that opens the world and our shared past to rigorous inspection and, at least for me, delight. I wasn't bored for a second. To find out somethings about this guy and his find, the first subway, here's a link to his ongoing project—it took him years to get the city to allow the tours etc. and to this date none of the city leaders and engineers who dismissed his claims and attempts to prove them as fantasy have climbed down into the subway to see the wonder of it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


It's winter, it's summer, it's spring, it's fall, it's global weirding. But, despite an Autumn chill in the air, the sun was out, the sky was blue, and my son talked me into driving across Jersey in a westerly direction which took us through some of the most beautiful countryside you can imagine to an indoor skate park that allows rollerblades as well as skateboards and scooters.

It was a heavenly day for him. due to the venue, where he could switch from his new rollerblades (having outgrown the old ones) to his beat up skateboard and then the new one he talked me into while we were there.

It was equally celestial for me, due to the horse farms we saw among the rolling hills with what looked like thoroughbreds grazing and nudging and playing, and even a small buffalo ranch with the big shouldered bison (are those words interchangeable as I'm using them?) and the blossoming trees, so many with white-ish and pink and light yellow hues it looked like a pastel drawing by an old style master.

And I've been feeling so lucky and grateful that my motor and cognitive functioning has returned to what for all intents and purposes (and I mean that cliched pairing literally as I just noticed how precisely they say what I mean in this case) is my "normal"—and then...

...I tried to buy a bottle of water at the vending machines in the area outside the fenced in park full of ramps and railings and steps and etc. First of all I put two dollars n the slot thinking that would be enough for any water, but on looking closely when pressing the buttons for the water did nothing I saw that it required fifty more cents.

Unfortunately I only had bigger bills left. So I figured I had to put a five in and take the quarters I'd get in change. But when I pressed the right buttons again, nothing happened. I tried it several times, then tried the coin return button. Realizing finally that "coin" probably didn't apply to bills, I gave up, about to get the manager when I noticed that the slot I was putting the money in was for a different machine than the one that held the water!

They were side by side without any room to spare and since the water I wanted was close to the other machine's money slot, I assumed... Now I had to get the manager and explain not only had I put seven dollars into a machine for a bottle of water that it turned out cost a dollar fifty, but I had put it in the wrong machine as well.

His key wouldn't open the machine I'd put the money in so with no alternative he could think of he pressed the button for a drink—in this case Red Bull!—and took the change in quarters it gave him, a lot, to the cash register and gave me my seven dollars back, leaving a note about the refund etc.

I went back to the correct machine money slot and put in my two dollars and pushed the buttons and got the water and my fifty cents in change and sat down, opened the water and took a big swig. It smelled and tasted like perfume! What the...then I looked closely at the label and it was some kind of "wild berry" flavored water, supposedly with "natural flavoring" that when I read the ingredients didn't sound very "natural" but instead like a chemistry experiment, which I'm sure is what created the smell and flavoring.

I went back to the machine and sure enough, there it was, clear as can be, "wildberry" flavored water in the row of bottles I'd pushed the button for, and right beside it, three more rows, with three more buttons to push, of plain old water. I felt like an idiot. Especially after I waited a good while before trying the water again, thinking it might grow on me, but no such luck. It still tasted and smelled like perfume to me, and not perfume that I would want anyone I know to wear.

When my son took a break and finished the water he'd thoughtfully brought in a water bottle from home, he asked if he could have a sip of mine and I said he could have the whole thing. He swigged it right down, in between gulps saying how much he loved this flavor!

I eventually got a plain water, since we ended up staying for three sessions rather than the one we were planning on. It was dark by the time we got home. But he was so happy with the experience, mostly because the kids he met there who were better skaters than him didn't mock him or make him feel less than or say mean things or just ignore him, but instead gave him tips on the tricks he was attempting so that by the time we went out for Chinese in our little village, he was skating up the brick sidewalk effortlessly while asking me wasn't he skating with much more style because he felt he was just from this one afternoon and evening of learning from these nice kids and how lucky he felt and grateful he was to me and other sweet things that make life worthwhile.

But I have to admit, my part of the experience, the vending machine part, though I'm sure others have had similar misadventures wasn't like anything I've experienced pre-brain surgery, so it was hard for me not to think that the surgery had something to do with it, and despite all my progress, I ain't there yet. But even if that's the case, here isn't a bad place to be at all, thank you very much.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Caught a classic flick tonight on TCM. Cant believe I'd never seen the whole thing before. Terrific acting from four incredible movie stars: Myrna Loy, William Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy. They're all amazing (and Harlow only 26, and just eight months away from her sad death).

But in the end I agree with many of the Hollywood oldtimers that no one was better than Tracy. Man he hits every note in the acting scale with perfect pitch. The guy is so much fun to watch I could have reseen the flick a second time right after it finished.

And of course Loy is a special joy for any classic film lover. Impeccable timing and elan, and Powell matches wits and acting chops with her all the way (though I have to admit, Tracy makes Powell look a little limited in his range).

Harlow is always a revelation. That one so young could come across, STILL, in such a convincing and quick witted way among such highpowered talent, with her obvious limitations in terms of types she could play with that voice and that easy physicality that always translated into the kind of screen sensuality she seems to have singlehandedly invented.

Man, just what the doctor ordered. Thanks doc.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Riding around in the car this afternoon with my youngest, the hot air blowing in the rolled down windows, we tried to guess the temperature. Then I turned on the climate screen to check and it said the outside temperature was 92 degrees!

It wasn't even the hottest part of the day. And since the average temperature for this date according to the weather forecaster on TV tonight is 56, and I'm sure somewhere around here hit 96 sometime today or very close, that means the temperature for this day was FORTY DEGREES ABOVE AVERAGE!

That's global warming folks.

And as if we needed any more proof, on the main TV news tonight they reported that when tourists visit Glacier Park this summer, they'll find two more glaciers gone, so that a national park that in the lifetimes of living people held one hundred and twenty five (125!) glaciers is now down to twenty-five (25!).

They predict that by the end of this decade there will be NO MORE GLACIERS in GLACIER PARK! Oh and there was a story yesterday about an island that disappeared in the Bay of Bengal. It was a disputed piece of property between I forget who, India and Bangladesh? Whoever it was, it doesn't matter now.

Think there's a connection between these facts and this one, that in a current survey over ninety percent of regular watchers of Fox News think Saddam Hussein is responsible for 9/11. Over ninety percent. I bet they're all tea partyers too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


So we've had this incredible week of unseasonable weather. Easter was beautiful (spent at my daughter's home in the Berkshires with my other children and grandchildren, and parents-in-law and a few of her terrific friends) and the days that have followed have only gotten warmer and warmer until today around North Jersey temperatures hit close to ninety in a lot of places, twenty to thirty degrees above normal.

But, as usual, no comment from the media, no chortling from the rightwing republicans who couldn't control their mockery of Al Gore and the majority of scientists around the world who believe in global warming when it snowed during winter several weeks ago, but are nowhere to be found now that it is unseasonably HOT!

Tomorrow it's supposed to go over ninety, only days since winter ended and weeks since we were dealing with a couple of feet of snow. But no, the rightwingers are nowhere to be heard or seen commenting on what should to them be apparent as global warming since cold weather in winter led them to claim global warming was a lie.

I must admit, my walk through the local park today was extraordinarily rewarding with the pink and white blossoms on the flowering trees that have all come out (some are even already losing their blossoms to the heat). For which I am grateful. But once again, nature seems a little confused by the unseasonable changes in temperature. And I have to admit, me too.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Sometimes when I see a photograph of me in recent years I think I look pretty goofy, or old, or not that attractive. But sometimes I think, not bad.

And I can remember being thirty and forty and any age and looking in the mirror or seeing my reflection in a window or looking at a photo someone took and thinking sometimes how bad I look and sometimes how good I look. It's still that way.

But either or any way I look at any given time I accept that that's what that particular photo or glance in the mirror provided, it's not who I am, it's just what I looked liked for that moment. It will change, and sometimes I'll think I look good and sometimes I'll think I look bad. That's life.

So what is it with people who keep getting their faces fixed? I saw Jane Fonda on Larry King as I was switching channels tonight and she looked so incredibly strange, like someone had stolen the face I thought I knew somewhat, that had some character or was developing it, and replaced it with a mask, a tight, stiff, unbecoming mask that bore little resemblance to Fonda.

I met her several times in my Hollywood years. Talked to her, spent some time with her at parties and events and once in a club where she asked to see me because as it turned out I had been written up in the trade papers for having deals for three different movies I was writing (none got made).

I found her not the way I fantasized she would be when I first encountered her on screen back in her teens, I assume, when she started out. But a little more brittle and clipped. Yet still beautiful and engaging and bright and well informed and like a woman of her age and time.

On King tonight she seemed like a caricature of some uptight plastic surgery addict afraid of aging in public, or private too I guess. God bless her. I don't mean to pick on her. It was just a shock and made me think how I'm sure, from what I've read and know, she was insecure as a teenage movie star and as a movie star in her twenties and thirties and right on through the decades. And I am also sure, though can't verify it with any statements she's made that I know of, but I suspect at least that there were plenty of times over the years when she was younger and for all I know already had some plastic surgery when she felt confident about her appearance (it certainly seemed so during those aerobic tapes years). Does she think if she gets more surgery done on her face to erase any signs of aging that it'll finally make her secure?

Or is it about something else, something I don't understand, don't get. And by the way I know plenty of guys who've gotten work done on their mugs as well, and some who start looking just as strange (at least Stallone admitted his was a mistake and used the way it ended up botched in his last ROCKY flick, as did, I assume, Rourke in his wrestling one). So I don't mean to sound like I'm picking on the women, or to sound self-righteous. I underatand the dynamics of "stardom" and the acting business etc. But I'm just talking about life. How it is what it is and the secret of happiness is accepting that. Working to change things, sure, working out, staying in shape, eating right etc. But having your skin pulled so tight she looked like she was squinting and couldn't quite open her eyes, man, I just felt disappointed.

We really are a society hung up on the superficial heh?

{PS: I realize that last question is a bit glib. Obviously a lot of us are not hung up on the superficial, and maybe the whole plastic surgery thing depends on how good the work turns out. But I still opt for nature taking it's course.]

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Here's a link to an analysis of the rightwing Republican strategy and why it works that confirms some of my own arguments on this blog only perhaps more concisely and precisely.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Another gorgeous day in "the 'shire"—summer like and full of friends and family.

The best part though may have been hearing my youngest son start playing the drums in my oldest son's music room and then my oldest son join in with a solid bass groove.

And then leaving the kitchen where I was listening to them and joining them on an old style small electric piano, Miles, my oldest giving me some tips on how to make what I was doing fit better and sound funkier, which I attempted to do.

The really good news was that my fingers seemed to be behaving almost as well as they used to before the growth in my brain and the surgery to remove it and the four months afterwards. I felt like I had not only got my groove back, but my chops. Sweet.

And all the time I was aware of my youngest son's groove, keeping the beat solidly and embellishing it with fills that were original and matched his big brother's bass groove in funkiness and tightness.

When I looked over at him, it wasn't like seeing my young boy, no self-consciousness or hesitation or even the kind of nervous watching his brother and me to make sure he was doing it right. More like looking over at a fellow professional holding his own, with ease and confidence. Man that was a great sensation.

And to top it off, when we finished that jam, my grandson took my little guy's place on the drums and did his own great job of keeping the beat and displaying his own technique in fills and flourishes. The only thing missing was my daughter's singing. Maybe next time.

Friday, April 2, 2010


It's getting late and I'm tired. Drove up from Jersey to The Berkshires to spend Easter weekend with all my progeny on the warmest and most beautiful day of the year so far. More a mid-summer day than an early Spring one (global warming anyone?) but we'll take it.

But I did want to leave a brief post [woops, turned out to be a long one] picking up on a comment thread I took part in on a recent post here about politics. I spent a good portion of my life from childhood on standing up for my ideals and taking punishment for it, sometimes even facing death threats. I lost jobs, friends, careers, money, security, etc. etc. for standing up for my beliefs.

But I also recognized pretty early on that never compromising was first of all impossible in life, no matter how pure I tried to make my actions in terms of my ideals, there was always more that could be done. I was one of those who helped come up with the concept of "politically correct" behavior after many "consciousness raising" sessions in the commune I was a part of and which was part of a larger group of radicals and "revolutionaries" who were trying to change the world back in the 1960s and '70s. We meant it to be a positive term, but it soon became an epithet.

The big realization of what a "no compromise" stance might cause was the win by Nixon in '68 which I am convinced—and I think anyone with not only a historic perspective of the political parties at that time and the candidates but also a practical knowledge of how politics works and what the individual histories of Nixon and Humphrey and their party functionaries and allies was at the time—cost the lives of hundreds of thousands if not more who might otherwise have lived.

I felt a personal responsibility for whatever my part had been in that political shift, as I felt a personal responsibility for the deaths at Jackson and Kent State a few years later. After which I took part in only actions that were life affirming, or I tried to, and I had all along, even at my purist, given solace to those who could not contribute as much in terms of time and energy to "the movement" (for Civil Rights and an end to the Viet Nam war and to equal rights for women and gays etc.) and felt guilty about it.

I understood then as I do now that compromise is not always the enemy of progress but sometimes it's midwife. I believe that's been the case since the Democrats gained a majority in the House in 2006 and then in the senate as well and finally the presidency in '08. In the little over a year since Obama has been president great things have been achieved, even before the Healthcare Bill was signed into law (and yes, it's a compromise bill, but it moves the center of the debate to the left of no healthcare reform at all and opens the door for more and more extensive coverage in the future). Lives have been saved in the past year and less than three months since Obama took the oath of office.

And that matters. In fact, almost every day since taking office Obama has made progress on some front that progressives want to see progress made on. Maybe not as far as they would want him to go or see the situation moved, but steady and certain progress in many of the areas progressives are most concerned about.

And yet they seem so easily discouraged, which is exactly what the right has always relied on, since Reagan at least though I believe since Nixon. All they have to do is convince independent minded folks who lean to the progressive side on most issues that there isn't "a dime's worth of difference" between the major parties and then those people turn cynical and either don't vote or vote for some candidate that hasn't a chance so the vote is basically a non-vote.

The latest statistic proving once again Obama's ability to effect change were yesterday's unemployment figures, I mean employment figures since the economy picked up a hundred and sixty-thousand some odd jobs last month. As when Clinton was in office, almost every statistic that most of us want to see improve has been or is starting to since Obama took office until now.

I've seen a lot of turmoil in politics since I was a kid and first worked for my father in the Essex County New Jersey Democratic machine, some of it a lot worse than the recent tea-party rows. And though Faux News and a lot of the "mainstream media" is manipulated or outright run by rightwingers, it wasn't so different in the 1950s, or even the '60s for that matter, though the ruckus was being caused by the left in that decade and because of the numbers of young people taking part it had an impact that lasted in some areas of life right into the present, though in others began to be deliberately eroded or destroyed under Nixon and more so under Reagan and pretty much pushed over a cliff under Bush Junior.

My point is, despite the rightwing attempt to interpret the news to encourage despair on the part of liberals and progressives, those who identify that way actually have a lot to cheer about, or at least feel very good about and grateful for. Now we just have to get that message out more consistently and continuously and non-contemptuously.

[And for anyone who wants to point out that 48,000 of those 160,000 jobs or so picked up last month were for census workers so they'll disappear soon, you must also then consider that the rest of those jobs were mostly in manufacturing, yes, something most people don't even think exists anymore in this country, but in fact the output from factories in the U.S. has increased more than since 2004! Right on Obama and the Dems.]

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I missed this Clint Eastwood movie when it first came out but caught it the other night on cable.

It's not Eastwood's best, but it's still fun to watch, especially since he's pushing 80 and can pull off not just directing a flick this mostly engaging but also carry the movie with his performance as a bigoted working-class Korean War veteran surrounded by Hmong immigrants in a neighborhood he doesn't recognize anymore as the one he moved into to be a part of.

There's some cliched plotting and the flick doesn't live up to Eastwood's best. But he's one of those towering figures in the history of movie making who is always interesting on some level. There was an article in a recent New Yorker about him that had some enlightening information, but at one point the writer compares Eastwood to Warren Beatty, two Hollywood "pretty boys" I think is the way he put it, who went on to become a lot more.

But he writes about how Beatty is meticulous to a fault, looking at every side of a project, taking forever to make decisions, etc. While Eastwood just finds a script he likes, casts without making the actors read for their parts (in other words casting from what he's already seen of their work, something only a few directors in Hollywood do but I always thought not only made more sense, saved time, but also made for better performances because you feel that you're being hired because they dig your work so you feel confident in your choices etc.) and then shoots it with very few takes and usually ends up under budget and on time or ahead of time.

Beatty is notorious for taking forever for everything. But Beatty makes some pretty impressive movies, as does Eastwood, just a lot fewer. Eastwood's more like Woody Allen in that way, going from one project to the next, etc. He's definitely one of our greatest filmmakers anyway to look at it. But GRAN TORINO isn't high on my list of favorites of his. Although it was fun to watch and for sheer entertainment it's better than a lot of what gets made.

If I had to pick my trinity of favorite Eastwood movies it would be these:

PLAY MISTY FOR ME (his first and in some ways most original)

{PS: I saw, but didn't really meet, Eastwood at a Hollywood party once. He appeared even taller than his supposed six three and came across as an overgrown happy kid. I liked him a lot. The only other Hollywood connection I had with him was when I auditioned for one of his movies and was videotaped for him to watch in private. I didn't get the part, but when the movie came out, PINK CADILLAC I think it was called, people kept asking if I'd seen it and telling me that Clint did some stuff in the movie that reminded them of me. Of course when I finally caught the flick on cable years later I saw that the guy Eastwood plays is pretending to be different characters and one of them is dressed as I was for the audition and was doing a version of what I did in it. That kind of thing happens a lot in Hollywood, in my experience. I never could get used to it, but now that I'm not there anymore it doesn't seem as deliberately exploitative as it did when I was there. Everyone picks up stuff from things they see and experience. I still like what I see of the guy and totally admire his longevity in a business with a very short attention span and even shorter memory.]