Thursday, March 31, 2011

"OF THE 1%, BY THE 1%, FOR THE 1%"

A great article in Vanity Fair by Joseph E. Stiglitz that articulates simply and clearly what a lot of us have been thinking.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Got so busy yesterday I forgot to post my response to Obama's speech. I thought it wasn't his best in terms of presentation. Maybe the audience—especially the front row, of mostly old white men and a lot of them in uniform—caused him to seem at times a little more defensive than usual.

But in terms of content, no matter what you think of his Libya strategy you have to admit it was more honest than I remember any president ever being about any military action our country has taken part in, at least in my lifetime.

He answered his critics, was blunt about the folly of the Iraq invasion and the lack of a quick response where massacres could have been prevented in other places, but also blunt about how the U.S. can't prevent all the tyrannical oppression and violence against civilians that occurs in the world.

I'm one of those who believe a horrible massacre has been avoided by the actions taken by Obama with the support of NATO and the Arab League and mandated by the U.N. Now there's an obvious quandary about how much support to give to the rebels in light of Qaddafi's superior artillery. I'd like to see a ceasefire and negotiations because that could stop any further deaths and violence.

But it seems in the areas Qaddafi controls, the violence and repression and against many civilians continues, so the justification is there for more support for the rebels until they are able to get Qaddafi out either by force or his support diminishing to the point of inevitable defeat.

It's not an easy situation to resolve in any ideal way, but then, most tough situations in life aren't resolved easily. But given the realities—and a lot about the Obama administration that I don't agree with or wish they'd do more the way I'd like to see things go—Obama is still handling the challenges he's had to face since taking office with much more honesty and intelligence than most presidents in my lifetime, and in many cases any of them, and that goes for this "military action" as well.

Monday, March 28, 2011


After I caught LIMITLESS the other night with a couple of friends, another friend called me from the restaurant/bar across the street from the old house my apartment's in to say I had to come over and catch the live music happening right then. So I did.

It was a singer/songwriter/guitar-playing woman I hadn't heard of before—KJ Denhert. She had several musicians backing her while she sang and switched between an amplified acoustic guitar and an electric one. The first musician I noticed was the keyboardist.

Unfortunately I didn't catch his name and it isn't on her website. But when he took a solo just after I entered, after initially thinking he wasn't doing much, he switched his keys to an electric organ sound and started grooving so hard I couldn't stand still.

He was playing riffs that combined the swingin'est aspects of Jimmy Smith, the blues-iest of B.B. and Albert King, the craziest of Ornette or the Ayler brothers and the minimalist-est of Terry Riley. He just tore the melody up and spit it out one little groovy bit at a time.

There was an unassuming looking horn man too, playing what looked to me like a soprano sax and pulling out beautiful improvisations that would have been good enough for any jazz combo I can think of, but I can't find his name on Denhert's website, nor the bass player's, unless I just didn't recognize them. But as I was digging his bass playing my friend leaned over and said, "The guy on bass is amazing," and he was.

Then the percussionist on the congas and other hand drums took a solo and like the keyboardist, turned it into a unique performance. Way in the back was a drummer on a regular jazz kit who was killing the whole thing with the backbeat, and who looked mysterious and equally as unique visually as the rest of the musicians, including KJ Denhert with her robust figure and flailing gray mop of hair poofed way out from the thickness of her natural Shirley Temple curls.

Denhert too put on a visually engaging performance as she grimaced and smiled and mugged on every note she pulled out of her guitars and voice. She did some original tunes and some covers. The band was so tight that their cover on Sting's "Message in a Bottle" turned into one of those once-in-a-lifetime, you-had-to-be-there musical moments.

It wasn't until after their encore when they were breaking their instruments down that someone pointed out to me the drummer, Ray Levier, had been kicking butt while playing without fingers! The victim of a horrible accident when he was eleven in which he suffered third degree burns all over his body and lost all his fingers, Levier's story is so inspirational that even if he sucked as a drummer you'd still want someone to make a movie of it. The fact that he happens to be a great drummer only makes you wonder the more why someone hasn't made that film already.

Anyway, it was a busier than usual evening for me, and a very satisfying one. I'm just sorry I don't have the names of all the musicians that played that night. If anyone else does, please leave a comment so they can get their just recognition on this humble blog (not me humble—though I try to be, probably to your surprise—but humble as in not the biggest blog in the universe).

Here's one of the songs KJ Denhert played that night, and tight as it is (listen all the way to the end to get the full effect of the groove they get going in it), it's nothing compared to the live performance of it the other night that rocked and swung and built to a peak way beyond what occurs in this
video (that does look like Ray Levier on drums though):

And here's her more recent cover of "Help:"

Sunday, March 27, 2011


It's a fun ride, an entertaining escape, and though it's gotten some lukewarm reviews because of plot problems, it's still puts the usual special effects to much better use than a lot of other recent movies.

Bradley Cooper pretty much is the movie. There's other good performances, including one by DiNiro and another by Abbie Cornish (who I found less appealing in LIMITLESS than I did in BRIGHT STAR which she was the bright star of). But Bradley Cooper proves he can carry a movie, and does.

I suggest you see it on the big screen just to get the full effect of the special effects, some of which I hadn't seen before and except for some overkill about midway through are used well and mostly in support of the story, unlike too many recent movies that use similar effects seemingly more to show them off than to serve any plot you can follow in a way that's worth the effort (like INTRUSION).

Some plot points in LIMITLESS raise questions that either aren't answered or are answered so ambiguously they just raise more questions. Some critics have found this a sign of director Neil Burger's and/or screenwriter Leslie Dixon's not doing their job well.  But in retrospect I think a case could be made that it was their intention, for as much as this is an action caper slash thriller slash mildly sci fi movie meant to entertain more than enlighten, there's a few threads of subtext in it that may not be as intellectually satisfying as a movie about a character becoming super smart should be, but they still engaged me.

I left the theater smiling and feeling pretty satisfied.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I was reading an article in the Arts section of the NY Times recently about a new movie starring Paul Giamatti with a story set in a Jersey high school wrestling scene. The article mentioned in passing that the movie wasn't shot in the actual Jersey town the filmmaker grew up in but on Long Island instead because of "tax incentives."

As I've written here before, for some reason the Republican governor of my state, NJ, eliminated the tax breaks that were in place when he was elected for movie and TV productions shooting in Jersey, so they've all moved to New York, where the previous and present Democratic governors had and have tax incentives for production companies to work there.

That's why "Law & Order SVU" which had been shooting the show in Jersey left the state, and others too, and ones that had been thinking about coming here don't anymore. What's with that? These productions employ plenty of local workers as well as contribute greatly to the local economies with everything from catering to rentals of all kinds etc.

It's like Christie turning down that tunnel that was going to relieve train traffic between New York and New Jersey after work had already begun and hundreds of millions had already been spent on it and even though most of the cost was being covered by the federal government and other resources.  If the governor was really into saving the state money and balancing the budget you'd think he'd want TV and movie productions bringing money into the state and a tunnel that would make commuting to the city more efficient and less polluting and less costly than the highway building and widening projects he plans on doing that won't employ anywhere near as many workers as the tunnel would and will increase pollution and not benefit anyone much except oil corporations.

Obviously what Christie and his fellow recently elected Republican governors are about is not saving money for states and their taxpayers, but saving and making more money for their corporate masters and those whose wealth is dependent on corporate welfare.

Christie has given $637 million in tax cuts to the wealthiest in Jersey since his election while cutting all kinds of stuff that benefits the rest of us in the state. Same old RR tricks, give more to the rich and then make the rest of us pay for it.

Here's John Stewart's most recent take on this subject (I couldn't isolate the bit, so the link takes you to the whole show—it's the first segment but the best part comes over seven minutes in, if you can stick with it, it's worth it).

Friday, March 25, 2011


I just heard that Lanford Wilson passed last night [Here's the NY Times obit, what follows is not an obituary but my personal response to his passing]. He was a playwright known for the three plays in his Talley trilogy—including the Pulitzer-Prize-winning "Talley's Folly" and the critically acclaimed third one "The Fifth of July"—and even more for "Hot l Baltimore" and "Burn This."

But I first met him around 1982 at a performance of Richard III that starred William Hurt and Lindsay Crouse and got a lot of attention because the male actors, for a change, were semi-naked (basically they wore loincloths which for some reason a lot of women, and men for that matter, wanted to see the young up and coming William Hurt in—I wasn't one of them since I had already seen Hurt in a play about Lord Byron and thought he was a pretty self-conscious and mannered actor, and in this Richard III he was even worse [he got better in movies, many of which I liked], mumbling his lines to himself and spending a lot of time in the fetal position either so that the audience could get a better look at the naked part of his buttocks or because he was embarrassed or on drugs or anything else you could surmise, but Wilson and I agreed that the actual best performance in the play was Richard Cox's, an actor a lot of people thought was heading for movie stardom though unfortunately for audiences that didn't happen.)

Wilson and I hit it off immediately. He was—at least in my few encounters with him—an incredibly approachable, accessible, even self-effacing to some extent, and very nice man.

But the play of his I have a personal connection with and loved the most is "Balm in Gilead." I moved to L.A. shortly after I first met Wilson at that Shakespeare play and within months was cast in the L.A. premiere of "Gilead" (over fifteen years after the New York premiere at La Mama!).

It was a wonderful play to be a part of, with a huge cast all of whom became good friends and all of whom had interesting and varied careers and later lives. But mostly it was wonderful because of Wilson's terrific dialogue for the late night misfits that occupied the cafe the play was set in, and which I played "John, the counterman" in and so was on stage for most of the play and had interchanges with a lot of the other characters.

I haven't acted in too many plays. It was never my dream or ambition to be a theater actor. I was always drawn to movies and found the experience of watching plays live almost unbearable sometimes. I either identify so strongly with the characters I squirm in embarrassment for them or want to shout out encouragement or sympathy, or I feel like I have to jump out of my seat with the worry for them. Kind of childish, or child-like if interpreted in a better light, but my plight.

I also feel embarrassed for performers who do things like Hurt did in that production of Richard III, at least the night I saw it, and that makes me uncomfortable in my seat as well. Though I have had some amazingly satisfying and enlightening and entertaining experiences watching live plays over the years as well.

But movies were always my main love when it came to being a member of an audience and appreciating the art of acting. I know the theater is more rigorous a test for pure acting without the benefit of retakes and editing, and I have seen some great stage acting. But the obvious artifice of live theater often gets in the way for me. (But I do love to read plays and have a big lists of plays that I consider lifelong favorites and playwrights who I admire greatly, including Wilson, though not all his plays work as well for me as others.)

Anyway, long explanations for my saying that except for plays and theater performances that were based on my own writing, or of which my writing was a part, the only play I ever acted in professionally was Lanford Wilson's "Balm In Gilead" and it was a life changing experience in more ways than I care to tell outside my memoirs.

So Lanford Wilson will not only be missed by me because of his unique talent as a playwright, and as someone I spoke with a few times and enjoyed the company of, but as someone who created a work of art that personally changed my life when I became a part of it.

And as my old friend the late Hubert "Cubby" Selby said in an interview I did with him a few years after my experience in "Balm In Gilead," "A work of art must change your life, otherwise it's not a success for you."

[The cast of the L.A. staging of "Balm in Gilead"—that's me in the white shirt and apron on one knee in the front row—click to enlarge, as always.]

[PS: On my computer when you click on the photo to enlarge it, it gives you an option to enlarge it even more so that you have to scan it from left to right and bottom to top to see everyone, and if you do, you'll see some faces you saw and still see on TV and in movies in the decades after this shot was taken.]


She's already been buried but the New York Times obituary only came out today. Worth the wait though as it's a pretty thorough summary of her life and career, for an obit.

(I know, you ask, what is this obsession with Elizabeth Taylor. Well, I haven't the faintest idea. Maybe it's part of that whole post-brain-surgery shifting of my mental patterns, or maybe it's just my lament for a passing era that foreshadows the passing of my own generation soon enough.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Seeing all the tributes to Elizabeth Taylor's life and movie career got me thinking about why I found her so crucial to my personal history of the movies. The fact is, by the late 1950s I began to find her performances and the movies she was in too melodramatically over the top, the way many were in those years, especially if they were adapted from a Tennessee Williams play. Her whole persona had become kind of campy in a way that left me disappointed.

But in my definition a "classic" is anything that can be returned to again and again and not just be enjoyed and appreciated as much as it originally was, but offers new insights and rewards. Taylor was in several movies I consider personal classics, and she was not just one of the ingredients that went into making them classic, but sometimes the main reason.

They start with her first real movie acting role in LASSIE COME HOME. It came out in 1943 but was one of those movies Hollywood recycled (before televisions became common) for Saturday matinees for the kiddies, of which I was one when I saw it for the first time a few years later and fell in love with Taylor and Lassie!

But the one that was totally dependent, for my taste, on Taylor's screen presence and made her a star was NATIONAL VELVET that came out the following year, 1944. I saw that later as well, and this time it was only her I fell in love with.

Next, for me, came LIFE WITH FATHER, a well done family movie my father took our family to see for one of his few visits to the movies. It came out in 1947 but I'm guessing by the time we saw it it was '48, though I was so little it probably was a later viewing I remember from childhood. Taylor is not the star of this film, but steals it and leaves an indelible impression as she is now playing an adolescent rather than a child, an adolescent perpetually on the verge of womanhood.

There's a little detour in a movie that maybe isn't quite a classic, but I can still watch it and get a kick out of it, A DATE WITH JUDY in 1948, where the star was Jane Powell whom Taylor doesn't quite steal the movie from this time.

Her last classic role as an adolescent is a great comic performance as the self-centered young beauty in the technicolor remake of LITTLE WOMEN in 1949 that I think still holds up today, though the black-and-white Katherine Hepburn earlier version is the accepted classic and rightfully so (the weak link isn't the young women and girl actors—they're all great and include my favorite child actress when I was a child, Margaret O'Brian, as well as the young Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh, who is the ethereal beauty in this flick—it's Peter Lawford, who could be entertaining but wasn't as good as the females he was performing with, or the other males for that matter).

Then she has two contrasting black and white films in which she is her most luminous, the comedy FATHER OF THE BRIDE in 1950, where she totally holds her own with Spencer Tracy as the foil to his fatherly fears and frustrations, and A PLACE IN THE SUN in 1951 with Montgomery Clift and the scene chewing, but still incredible, Shelly Winters (that won Winters an Oscar).

They were followed by the last two of her films that I actually enjoy watching repeatedly, despite their datedness, the costume drama IVANHOE in 1952, which she elevates with her poignant performance and this time her ethereal beauty that transcends the garishness of the technicolor overkill, and THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS, 1954, in which her beauty still illuminates the screen like no one before or since, but which also marks the beginning of her being cast in tragic melodramas where she seems directed, or compelled, to do some uncharacteristic (until this film) overacting.

But first, there's a sidestep into an almost uncategorizable genre of its own, GIANT, in 1956. For my taste she's the best thing in this. Surprisingly, her performance seems controlled and understated compared to James Dean's. Though I admire Dean's originality as an actor and screen presence, I find his acting in GIANT overcooked and not nearly as realistic as hers. In fact, Dean's performance has always ruined GIANT for me, but Taylor's has always redeemed it.

Then came the deluge of melodramatic overdoing it, starting with RAINTREE COUNTY in '57, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF in '58, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, '59, BUTTERFIELD 8 (he first Oscar) in '60, and CLEOPATRA (another film of hers in its own category in many ways) in '63.

There's glimpses of what made her screen presence so powerful in all these films, and also examples of her commitment and enormous talent as a movie actress, but there are also tons of moments that are as campy as it gets. They weren't necessarily her fault always, some of it was bad co-stars (like Lawrence Harvey in BUTTERFIELD 8), or bad writing (at least for the screen in the case of some of the scenes in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and almost all of them in CLEOPATRA). I blame that on the directors and the times. It was fashionable in "the age of anxiety" (the fear of annihilation from atomic war etc.) to make family and relationship melodramas carry the weight of the world, as it were, using the shoulders of "the hunk" (Paul Newman for instance in CAT) or "the beauty queen" (personified, and elevated to camp heights, in CLEOPATRA).

She redeemed herself and won her second Oscar in 1966's adaptation of Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? And it was an incredibly brave and committed performance that I can't imagine anyone doing better (and don't want to). But it's not a film I feel like watching again, ever, though I have. It's way too depressing and claustrophobic and cynical for my taste and endurance. But it is considered a classic by others and rightfully so.

There was one last old Hollywood style entertaining movie star turn by Taylor that's still fun to watch for me, and that was in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW the year after her Oscar for WHO'S AFRAID. But after that it's basically over. There are some moments of good acting and even impressive screen presence, but no sustained movie-long movie star achievement.

But given that I've named twelve films I can watch repeatedly, and mostly for Elizabeth Taylor's screen presence and acting, that's a pretty great accomplishment. There aren't too many others I can say that about. A dozen "classic" movie star performances that bear repeated viewing and still entertain and sometimes even enlighten (A PLACE IN THE SUN always reveals more than I thought I knew about it, including about her amazingly controlled and nuanced performance, for my taste it's her greatest film).

And that's not to mention all the great qualities those who have been eulogizing her over the past twenty-four hours have pointed out, including and especially her loyalty to friends and courage in championing causes others were still afraid to have any connection with, mainly the fight against AIDS when it was first being fought.

They say she hated being called "Liz" so, once again, R.I.P. Elizabeth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


This is one Hollywood icon I wish I had met in person. I saw her, but never met her. To my mind, she was perhaps the most beautiful movie star ever.

Though I'm sure a case could be made for several others (Ava Gardner has often been declared the most beautiful, as have Sophia Loren, Marylin Monroe, Halle Berry, and others) on this day of her passing, my vote goes to Taylor.

And here's one of many YouTube video homages that can be used as evidence (though I regret the makers choice of objectifying title—"thing of beauty"—no matter how poetic the reference):

[PS: And I can think of dozens of scenes from movies that I remember her being even more spellbindingly beautiful in, but these certainly will do, as they also will for displaying how she was not only a great movie star and beauty, but a really good actress/movie star most of the time as well.]

[PPS: And I have to admit, watching that YouTube homage above saddened me deeply, although she had a rich full life and lived almost to eighty, still...I already miss her being alive in my world no matter how distant or removed.]


A Christmas card morning with snow falling and already on the ground everywhere here. It should melt by later today, but I actually had to go down and get the shovel out to clear off the porch and walk. Ah Spring!

[And for the rightwingers who will take this opportunity to make fun of the idea of "global warming" (or "climate change") may I remind them that only a few days ago it was 79 degrees here, i.e. summertime "hot"—and that was the last day of winter!]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


So people have been asking what I think about the Libya situation. A lot of "liberals" and "leftists" are upset with the Obama administration for getting the U.S. involved in yet another military action. A lot of my friends, and people I don't know but admire, don't believe military force is ever warranted.

But I'm not one of them.

I wrote an anti-Iraq war poem ( called "MARCH 18, 2003") before that war even started, finishing it on the eve of our invasion of Iraq. In it I foretold a lot of what would happen in that war and referred to a lot of the history of the U.S. using force, often coupled with deception, to protect the interests of corporations and industries and those whose wealth depended on them.

I was an anti-Viet Nam activist and an anti-the-first-Gulf War activist as well as the latest. And war certainly seems a lousy solution to the world's problems most of the time, and most of the time it is. But sometimes force is necessary to stop another force bent on wiping out an entire tribe (as in Rwanda) or generation of men (as in Bosnia) etc.

In one of the readings I gave of that anti-Iraq War poem several years ago, I shared the bill with the late Howard Zinn. In the Q&A discussion afterwards I disagreed with him about whether war was ever necessary. I totally agreed with, and still do, his anti-war philosophy, but when mass murder is being carried out I think force is justified to stop it, as in the case of Nazi Germany.

Now obviously the protestors being shot in Bahrain and Yemen are just as deserving of life and liberty as the Egyptians and Tunisians and Libyans. And I am sorry the Obama administration hasn't condemned the regime in Bahrain, as well as Saudi Arabia for it's part in putting down the demonstrations in Bahrain, including the killing of protestors.

But it's clear that the tribal forces at work in Libya, and the ruthlessness of Ghaddaffi and some of his sons and cohorts, was leading to the strong probability of mass killing when their forces took over the main rebel stronghold.

Those opposed to the Libyan regime had already tried peaceful protest and been met with murder, kidnapping, torture and the rest, and when they took up arms it was clear that they had the support of a lot of their countrymen and women, or at least their fellow tribesmen and women. But no matter their popularity, their defiance of a regime that had the military might to squash them was leading to the "no mercy" massacre Ghadaffi himself said was coming.

I believe that Obama literally felt like he couldn't live with a Rwandan or Bosnian size mass murder that he might have been able to prevent. So his administration worked hard to convince not only European partners to join in and in some cases take the initiative (the French were already pushing for that) but also to get the Arab League to sign on (no matter how reluctant some in that coalition may be now).

I've heard and watched all the talking heads complain that there's no end-game strategy for what might replace the old regime in Libya, or what a divided Libya might look like, or what will happen if Ghadaffi, or his sons, decide to keep fighting for as long as they can and it's either a stand off or a prolonged civil war. And they're right, there is no way of knowing this. But in my experience and reading of history, there rarely is. The future almost always surprises us, even when it turns out the way we thought it would.

The fact still remains, what looked like an imminent massacre of a large part of the Libyan population has been avoided. Deaths are still occurring on both sides—including "innocent civilians" (a phrase that obviously has some real meaning but doesn't diminish the seriousness of any death)—but there is little doubt in my mind that a lot fewer are occurring than would be had Obama not taken the initiative in getting the U.N. resolution passed and convinced the Arab League to sign on to it.

I think many on the left who are criticizing Obama are justified from their perspective, but I'm not one of them. And I think those on the right who are criticizing him—either for not doing enough soon enough (Palin, Newt, or for giving too much power to others (the French especially, how the right hates the French except when it comes to nuclear power) etc.—are being hypocritical, as usual.

They supported Reagan when he bombed Ghaddaffi and invaded Grenada and Bush/Cheney when they invaded Iraq, for reasons a lot less humanitarian and consistent with our nation's stated goals—no matter how erratically we live up to them—than Obama's mission in Libya. So, that's (partly) what I think.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Big clumps of snow falling all morning here, covering the lawn and sidewalk in front of the old house my apartment is in. Which I may have caused by putting away all the snow stuff yesterday, the snow shovels etc. down in the basement store room. (That's meant as a joke, of course, for those who might think I'm actually that self important.)

It should be gone later today as the temperatures rise, but still, I have to admit, I prefer snow any time to a chilly rain. And what's a little snow compared to a 9.0 earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear disaster and civil war? It's all always a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Happy Spring! Here's one of my favorite poet's takes on:


snow thick and wet, porous
as foam rubber yet
crystals, an early Easter sugar.
A crocus
startled or stunned
(or so it looks: crocus
thoughts are few) reclines
on wet crumble
a puddle of leas. It
isn't winter and it isn't spring
yes it is the sun
sets where it should and
the east
rose. No

[The snow has all pretty much disappeared around my part of Jersey, but only a few weeks ago is was everywhere still, and only days ago there were still small mounds here and there leftover from small mountains of it where the plows had pushed a parking lot full—Jimmy captures the in between state of this moment succinctly, and even the grammar and punctuation (let alone the line breaks) reinforces the imminent "coming-alive"-moment aspect of this time of year, at least here in the Northeast...]

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Was interviewed recently by the poet/singer/actress Yvonne de la Vega for the L.A. Examiner [about my experiences as a poet living in L.A.]. Here 'tis.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I'm sure you've already heard these stats that have been in the news these past few days and week.

The first is that the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster and the land around it will remain uninhabitable for at least three centuries and could still be unusable for humans for as long as a thousand years.

The other is that the top 100 richest "Americans" have as much wealth as the bottom 150,000,000 (that's a hundred-and-fifty million) put together!

Which is one reason why the economic disparity in this country is greater than any other "industrial" country in the world, and many "developing" countries as well (as I've mentioned before, but it still stuns me).

Thursday, March 17, 2011


"I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and old men and women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer."

—Brendan Behan


He's not the smoothest media presence, but he sure tells it like it is or should be most of the time.

If you didn't see The Ed Show last night (I don't watch it regularly but check in occasionally to see what he's saying and it's almost always terrifically researched as this one is) I highly recommend his segment on how many Republican governors are cutting breaks for corporations and the wealthy while sticking it to working folks.

I couldn't get a direct link to the segment, so go to this one and then on the right click the image that says "Corporate Welfare States"—if only the rest of the media would pick up on this, and stories like it found almost exclusively on MSNBC.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


...Just in case you didn't see it, or couldn't get the link to work, Miles had this link in a recent comment.

The link is to one more clear, concise, and easy to comprehend summary, of just one area where the right—and the Republican Party the right now dominates—continues to spread lies and act as if they're true.

[PS: And while we're at it, here's an example of the snide nastiness of much of the right, particularly rightwing media.]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Friends and family have told me I should digitize my old photos before they all deteriorate or get lost etc.

I have tons of audio and videotapes to do the same thing to too, but that's costly. The photos don't cost anything since I already have a scanner. So I've started and came across some old photos of poets I love and thought I'd share them here.

The first is poet Ralph Dickey, also a great pianist, and who unfortunately passed way too young, only several years after this photo was taken at the University of Iowa around 1966.

This second photo is at a reading I invited these poets to do during my brief stint teaching at Trinity College in DC, and I'd guess was taken around 1970. It's Ray DiPalma with the beard, Simon Schuchat standing (still only a teenager at the time but already an accomplished poet), and Paula Novotnak. All still with us thankfully. I suspect the hair behind Ray is poet Steve Shrader's, unfortunately no longer with us.

This third and last one is James Haining, also long gone unfortunately. This was taken around 1972 when he was living in Baltimore.

Monday, March 14, 2011


New Jersey has always been famous for the great musicians who either come from here or come to live here. Maybe it's the proximity to Manhattan but with lower rents and more room (I pay about half what I'd be paying for my apartment if I were living in the city). Or maybe it's the complex ethnic mix that welcomes (though at times in a not so gently Jersey way) a variety of backgrounds into it.

Whatever it is, when I moved back after forty years away, it seemed to me there were more musicians than ever in the area I grew up in. Thelonious Monk Jr. lives in my old hometown, and Bill Charlap was living in the town I moved to when I arrived. Two great jazz musicians.

More recently, the apartment across the hall from mine, which I share a wall with in some parts of my place, has housed a couple that includes a guitarist whose skill and technique rivals that of the iconic Django Rienhart. Originally from France, and known for a Django show he does, besides his own shows, I can hear him practicing sometimes when my place is quiet and I'm near points in our apartments that share a wall (I can hear him faintly as I write this—one of the reasons I always dug living in apartments, especially in old houses like the one I'm in now).

It makes me smile and fills my heart with joy to hear him, even when he's just doing the same complicated riff over and over again. The speed and complexity of his virtuoso guitar playing is humbling. Now and then I play the old piano I grew up with, in my childhood home, that my last brother to pass left behind with me when he moved away, and which sits against the wall of my living room here with its broken keys from his kids when they were small, and is out of tune, and which, especially since my brain surgery, I sometimes mess up the notes on anyway, and think, "Hope Stephane's not listening."

That's his name—"Staphane Wrembel"—and if you Google him (which I only did just now for the first time) Wikipedia says he's known for playing "Gypsy Jazz." You'll also discover he had a song of his on the soundtrack for Woody Allen's most recent masterpiece, VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. Pretty heavy recommendations right there.

There are also several videos of his playing on Youtube, many of them from earlier times (I can tell by the shorter hair and/or beard or lack of one) but here's one I found that shows you how good he is and by his look I'd guess is relatively recent. (Make sure you watch it all the way through, to get the full effect of his talent.)

Phew! Obviously, if you live in the New York area and see Stephane is doing a show, go. Or if and when he might be traveling to somewhere near where you are. Or, just order his CDs online or download them from iTunes. You won't be sorry. The best introduction might be, obviously, his INTRODUCING, a two CD disc project that has Stephane playing the same seventeen songs on each, only "separated by nearly ten years of growth and re-interpretation."

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I'm not always that crazy about what Joe Klein writes and has to say, but in this week's TIME he nails not just what's wrong about the right's constant lying about Obama, even if indirectly, but what's so abominably evil about it to my mind.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Got these two thin books (what others call "chapbooks"—meaning they don't have a spine, or what is called a "perfect binding," but instead the folios are just folded over to make four pages at a time and the binding is just two (or sometimes three depending on the page size) staples put in from the outside so that the exact middle of the book exposes the folded-in ends of the staples) in the mail not long ago and was delighted to.

I love both of these poets, Jerome Sala and Mark Terrill. Jerome is an old friend whose work I dug before we became friends (SPAZ ATTACK and I AM NOT A JUVENILE DELINQUENT were early favorite books of his). Mark I've never met and only communicated with over the Internet. But I've been following his writing since first reading his collection of prose poems: BREAD & FISH.

Now come their most recent collections of poems, both books only about 36 pages long.

Jerome's PROM NIGHT is illustrated by Tamara Gonzales, the art and poems inspired by horror movies and science fiction. PROM NIGHT is composed of three serial poems: "Prom Night," "Lost Planet" and "Alien Race." Underneath the campy subject matter is a profound subtext articulated with lyrical panache. Here's an excerpt from "Alien Race:"

"It's alive!"

says the monster's creator
not "he's alive"
unless I'm wrong

a throng of populists
at the foot of the castle door
are pissed at this neutrality

this limbo state of reality:
that speaks to blind Will
more than human or supernatural lore

it's a sin to live

it seems
without definition
to move on pure ignition

minus romance
or even gore
a moving thing

but nothing more
obscurantist to the core!

a zombie
who threatens not by murder
but persistence...

The poems in BREAD & FISH that first caught my eye, and made it one of my alltime favorite books, as I said were prose poems. And I have to admit, though I dig everything Terrill writes that I've seen, I'm happy to see that LAUGHING BUTCHER BERLIN BLUES contains nothing but prose poems.

In his poems, Terrill manages to make the everyday extraordinary and the extraordinary everyday. His background as an ex-pat living in Germany who's worked as a merchant seaman and cook, postal worker and rock band road manager, has given him ample subject matter, but it's what he does with it that makes his work so compelling and often enlightening.

Here's one of the shorter ones to illustrate what I mean:

A Poem for Those Who Mean Well

There's a big black bug with curved wiggling feelers brown filigree wings & long angular legs crawling across the inside of the kitchen window looking for a way out & not wanting to find myself trapped in a crippling stasis of voyeuristic entropy like John Wieners in his poem "A Poem for Trapped Things" I quickly grab a water glass & a beer coaster & gently & efficiently capture the bug & open the kitchen window & watch him fly out across the pasture toward the canal where some watchful-eyed hungry stork or insatiate bullfrog will probably snap him out of the air before you can say the words voyeuristic entropy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


"Some overstatements have worked their way into the governor’s routine public comments, like a claim that he balanced the budget last year without raising taxes; in truth, he cut deeply into tax credits for the elderly and the poor. But inaccuracies also crop up when he is challenged, and his instinct seems to be to turn it into an attack on someone else instead of giving an answer."

Sound familiar?

That's from an article in today's New York Times about the governor of New Jersey. Christie, and his success at coming across as a blunt, honest guy when in fact he misrepresents, midsriects and outright lies on most of the topics he's been addressing since he took office.

And this (an entire post on Paul Krugman's blog):

"The Last Refuge
Or, for some people, the first. Newt Gingrich explains why he dumped wife #1 while she was in the hospital after cancer surgery, and wife #2 soon after she was diagnosed with MS. It was because of his love of country:

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
 How did people like this end up running America?"
Good question.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Also known as catamounts, panthers, mountain lions and pumas, the mascot of the high school that was almost in my backyard when I was growing up, and of many other New Jersey and East Coast schools has officially been declared extinct.

The authorities have concluded that it's probably been extinct since the late 1930s, although when I was a little boy a decade after that people said they still were around our area and I remember, perhaps falsely, seeing one as a boy up in the mountains of Northwest Jersey where an uncle briefly tried farming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorities says that the many sightings since the 1930s were most likely of escaped captive animals or Western mountain lions that had migrated East or just very large domestic cats. But they cannot find, and have not found, any breeding populations of the cougar since 1938.

They may still exist in Northeast Canada, I think. But still. This specific subspecies that was common when my grandparents moved here from Ireland now seem to be gone forever (which also explains the explosion of deer populations in Jersey over the past several decades without this natural predator to cull their herds).

(Now the rightwingers—many of whom don't believe in evolution but nonetheless believe in social Darwinism and in "survival of the fittest" in nature—would excuse this manmade problem, which developed out of too much hunting and overdevelopment, and see it as just the natural course of events that we can't, and even shouldn't, try to do anything about. Whereas the centrist and leftist position is to recognize the harm humankind is doing to the natural world and try to rectify it. But that's another post.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Here's a link to a very reasonable and educated take on the whole phony brouhaha the right has stirred up about FDR being against public sector unions (and a great indication of how well the right has won so many propaganda battles is to Google FDR and public unions to see an endless list of rightwing misrepresentations of the whole topic, and more "liberal" and centrist sources falling for it!).


First of all thanks to my old friend "Alameda Tom" for prodding me to take this book down from the shelf and remind myself, and maybe others, of the grand tradition of not just unions in general, but specific union movements in our history that contributed to making life for workers in the USA a lot better in every way from what it was before unions came along (child labor, sixteen hour work days, inhumane and even deadly working conditions, etc. etc.).

Second of all, it couldn't come at a better time. The right has successfully framed any attempt to ask for any contribution from the rich that matches their share of the wealth of this country as "class warfare." First it was rightwing radio, then Fox television when it came along, and eventually more and more Republican politicians and leaders who began crying "class warfare"—even when all that was being asked was to return the tax rate for the wealthiest among us to what it had been under their supposed idol and model Ronald Reagan!

Well, this book and the organization it celebrates were not shy about calling the war against workers  exactly what it was (and still is, or has returned to): class warfare.

As you can see from the subtitle on the cover, REBEL VOICES was an anthology of writings from publications put out by the I.W.W.—the Industrial Workers of the World—as well as a scholarly introduction by the editor, Joyce L. Kornbluh, and articles and excerpts about the I.W.W., whose members were better known by their nickname: "The Wobblies."

This came out in 1968, at the height of yet another wave of leftist activism that influenced our country and society for the better, including better and more just working conditions. It's no accident that the book is dedicated "to the memory of  James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1964"—because their murders by rightwing racists at that time and place galvanized many of us to become even more active than we already were in the Civil Rights movement, and in politics in general, to end once and for all the racism practiced "legally" in the South and the de facto in a lot of the North.

It is a tribute to the Wobblies that their organization, which still had a real presence in 1968 (I went to their Manhattan office, if I remember correctly, and met some oldtimers who were still around from earlier in the 20th Century, and also met some of them at rallies and demonstrations throughout the country back then) that their tactics and beliefs and example were inspirational in much of the political activism of the young in those days.

The idea behind the I.W.W. was pretty simple and became even simpler. At first, when they formed back in 1905, their intention was to organize all "industrial workers" because they saw that the old unions and guilds based on specific crafts were easily pitted against each other by the elites (like the owners) whose interests lay in keeping workers divided into factions and competitive groups to distract and weaken them from a unified front against those who would exploit them.

The founders of the I.W.W. also saw that most work had gone from craft trades to factory piecemeal industrial labor that demanded less skill but more drudgery. So their goal was to organize all "industrial workers" into one big union that couldn't be divided and conquered and could stand up for the rights of workers.

Pretty soon though, some of the original members saw that an even better idea was to include all workers, from farm hands and shoeshiners, to factory and construction workers, etc. This made them not only ahead of their time in terms of strengthening their power by inclusion of various trades and jobs, but it meant they also were accepting and even inviting toward any element of humanity, including those who up until then (and for too long after) were scorned by many in society and even in the labor movement—like "Negroes" and "immigrants" et. al.

There were arguments among those in the first wave of I.W.W. activism, and even some factionalism. But the message of "one big union" took hold because of its simplicity. Many of the early members believed that the only useful tactic that the owners of big industries would respond to was the strike. They dismissed bargaining as a waste of time because the owners—or as they more often put it, "the capitalists," (the Bolshevik Russian Revolution hadn't happened yet so there were no state Communist parties, but many of these people had read some Marx by the turn of the 20th Century‚ even so the Wobblies rejected "parties" whether Socialist, which did exist at the time, or "Communist" which were about to take hold in some other countries)—would concede the least they had to in any bargaining.

Their idea was to call for strikes where conditions were bad, but more importantly to organize all workers into one big union so that there would be one final and worldwide strike that would force the owners into finally giving workers power over the means of production so they could form a "commonwealth of workers" that would govern themselves and make sure everyone had a place at the table and enough to eat when they got there.

It was an extreme ideal, but such a simple program that it had enormous appeal, right up into and including on those of us active in the 1960s when there was a rebirth of the Wobbly spirit. The SDS idea of "participatory democracy"—which meant everyone had a say in governing that organization, could give their input, could "participate" in meetings (which often made them seem endless but also led to incredibly original ideas and suggestions finding their way into the reality of that organization's actions) was inspired in part by The Wobblies.

The idea was such a threat to the powers-that-be that they immediately set about decimating the leadership of the original I.W.W.—through false charges and imprisonment (and even executions, ala the famous Joe Hill) to rounding up and deporting any immigrants seen as advocating for workers rights, etc. The young J. Edgar Hoover was in charge of the concentration camps where many of those deportees (often legal U.S. citizens) were housed before being shipped overseas.

The I.W.W. saw many setbacks in terms of their numbers being diminished in these ways, but they never saw a dimunition in influence, if anything the opposite. Their ideal of "one big union" gave strength to all the smaller individual unions and helped fuel the resurgence of the radical spirit in the 1930s when the population of the poor grew so huge under the Great Depression.

The tactics the Wobblies invented, and their overriding belief that only strikes could give workers the power to challenge the abuse workers suffered at the hands of "the capitalists," inspired the sit down strikes that led to the auto industry giving its workers better wages and conditions which led to other unions winning workers' rights which led directly to the rise of the so-called "middle class" and its values and rewards in the 1950s and '60s (it wasn't a "middle class"—as I've said here often and learned from the old activists I met in the 1960s: "If the working class works and the ruling class rules, what does the middle class do? Middle?"—it was a better off working class, better off because of the gains made as a direct result of the kind of union organizing and striking and threats of strikes inspired by The Wobblies!).

A lot of the idealism of The Wobblies, as well as their egalitarian approach to work and life in general, has been lost in these more conservative times (at least in terms of the influence and power of big money). But it hopefully is having another resurgence, as we've seen in Wisconsin recently, and even in the string of strikes that occurred as soon as "the people" took Egypt back from their rulers. A classic case of class warfare, where everyone from intellectual workers to street sweepers joined together to oust a ruler and the abuses of working people his reign embodied (skimming off most of the nation's wealth for himself and his cronies while working people's lives became more and more constrained by stagnant wages and loss of basic freedoms).

As the first and last verses (with the chorus between) of the most famous Wobbly song had it (to the tune of "John Brown's Body"):

"When they Union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,/There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun./Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?/But the Union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever!/Solidarity forever!/Solidarity forever!/For the Union makes us strong

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold;/Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold./We can bring to birth the new world from the ashes of the old,/For the union makes us strong."

[PS: the book illustrated at top is an oversized paperback ( 9"x6 1/2") while the songbook above is pocket size (5" 1/2"x 4")]

Monday, March 7, 2011


Finally caught this in the non-3D version on cable and have to admit, I loved it. So much that when it ended I wished a sequel was immediately available so I could watch that right away too.

When it came out my youngest child loved it, and a few adults I knew, but most of the critics and most of my adult friends were critical of it. They thought Russel Crowe was too old for the part, or the first half of the movie was too much of a diversion about Richard the Lion Hearted in France, etc.

But I loved the writing, the re-imagining of this myth, this fantasy, about one man leading so many others to defend their rights as individuals against the powers that be who are trying to suck them dry (see the last post for contemporary comparisons). Especially the character of Richard.

And I loved Cate Blanchett as Lady Marian. I don't think I've ever seen her so appealing. Her performance delighted me every second she was on screen. I wanted to see an entire movie devoted to her character, to that performance.

Yeah, I dug it. But I wasn't expecting to. I only was planning on watching a few scenes to see if it was as bad as some of the critics had said it was. And to my surprise, I couldn't stop watching and wanted more. Maybe it's just me or because it was late or because it resonated with these times, whatever, if you haven't seen it, check it out (with an open mind, because it ain't Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland or classic Hollywood, which version is also a delight to watch any time).


I assume some of you have probably already seen (or heard) this. I found actually reading it truly inspiring. He pretty much nails it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


One of the tricks the right has mastered and even educated people unfortunately too often fall for is the false equivalency.

The obvious ones are easy to spot. Like evolution vs. creationism. That we should accept these as just two conflicting ideas is illogical. One is based on reality (scientific facts), the other on faith.

There's a similar thing going on with the right's war on unions. They have actually convinced some folks that a corporation spending money on political campaigns is the same as a union doing it, only, and this is their big winning point that some are actually falling for, because unions automatically deduct dues payments that then contribute to union activity in political campaigns, that somehow gives unions an unfair advantage!

As always, the right is much better than the center (and that's the main political positions these days, since the right has successfully moved the political dialogue in their direction, the center is now framed by the right as "the liberal" and "socialist left" when it is nothing of the kind, but that's another post) at framing the argument and then distracting from any deep analyses of their positions by targeting false inequalities.

As most of us who read the news know, unions are the only big donors to political campaigns left for the Democrats in the top five. And since Reagan began the diminishment of the power of unions to organize and collectively bargain—rights that led in large part to the rise and sustainment of a working class that could afford homes and college educations for their children and a retirement that did not lead to impoverishment, which was no longer the case after Reagan—that has left mostly the public sector unions, as they're called—like state and municipal employees, teachers, firefighters, etc.—to defend the rights and pay and working conditions of workers.

If the right wins this battle and these public unions are decimated and forced to accept whatever terms they are given, not only will that add to the disappearance of a working class that has any leverage in the battle for decent living wages and working conditions, it'll also lead to Republicans dominating all campaign financing and thus advertising and organizing (something that was true in many races in the last election, after the Supreme Court ruled that corporations were people and could spend all the money they wanted on political campaigns without disclosing where that money was coming from).

One of the misdirections the right uses to avoid the facts that support the reality that strong unions made our country more prosperous and more equal is that union members have no say in how their dues will be spent politically (something they never complained about when Nixon and the right used Teamster pension funds to finance their political campaigns).

The reality is that you and I contribute to corporations' political activities every time we buy something those corporations sell. And are we to believe that every stockholder in every major corporation that supports Republicans is a Republican?

Of course not.

You know I've often said that "poetry saved my life" and meant it, and more than once. But when I had a cancer removed from my body I didn't do it with poetry. Poetry probably made me more at ease and accepting of whatever the outcome might be, as did the prayers that were sent my way and which I said myself. But I wouldn't rely on prayers and poetry alone to heal, let alone remove, the cancer.

Unions look out for the best interest of the workers in those unions. Management looks out for the best interests of management and those higher up who determine corporate policies. As we saw in the banking debacle, management these days often does not consider what's best for customers or even stockholders, but for the managers themselves. Without a unified entity to counteract that, we see what can happen: the collapse of an entire economy, and the only ones to pay the price were the unorganized stockholders and customers, and ultimately all the rest of us taxpayers when we had to bail the financial institutions out and no one was held accountable.

Unions hold management and owners accountable. That's why there was much more economic equality in this country in the 1950s and '60s when unions were at their strongest, and why economic inequality has reached what used to be called "third world" levels ever since Reagan and the right began systematically attacking and dismantling unions and their right to collective bargaining.

I know some of you who read this blog believe in your hearts that some public sector unions are paid too much or have pension and healthcare benefits that are too good, compared to what private sector people are dealing with now.

But as has been written in many of the pieces I've linked to lately, those in the private sector are being tricked by the right—and their usual divide and conquer strategy that helps them win despite their being in a minority in this country—tricked into believing that public sector unions are getting away with something, when in fact they aren't even getting the kind of benefits and pay private sector unions were getting in the '50s and '60s and most of the country believed was their right to get for the work they did and the thriving economy that work contributed to.

If everyone is working more for less, the solution isn't to take even more power away from those who can bargain for better pay and benefits, but to get back to a system in which everyone belongs to a collective bargaining group that can match the power of the corporate elite and win concessions that anywhere else in the developed world are not only accepted as a right but as a necessity to a successfully functioning society and economy.

(And before the rightwing commenters start spewing the usual lies and misrepresentations of what I just wrote, let me make clear that unions didn't always, nor do they always, deserve to win every concession they bargain for. But neither do the elites they're bargaining with. An example right here in Jersey is the Republican governor who turned down funding from the federal government, and New York state, and other entities that were making it possible to build a tunnel that would allow more trains to pass under the Hudson River and thereby relieve bottlenecks and delays and allow more people to use mass transit etc. The funds were there and hundreds of millions had already been spent, but Christie, without bargaining with any of us voters or commuters or etc. decided by fiat to give those funds back because he calculated that in the long run it would end up costing the state more than was projected. He ignored the projected long term benefits of the project—financial, ecological, etc.—and instead chose to use whatever money the state may have contributed to the project to widen highways! (creating more pollution, traffic problems—it's been proven that making more roads or existing roads bigger only increases traffic and doesn't stop bottlenecks and traffic jams etc.). It's interesting that who that immediately hurt the most (in the long run it hurts almost all New Jersey residents) were the unions that had already begun building the tunnel, and whose workers are now unemployed and unable to contribute to the state's economy, in fact are a drain on it. But his decision weakens their union and thereby any contributions it might make to a Democratic opponent of Christie's! It's also interesting to note that, as I've written here before, Christie ended an agreement with movie and TV show makers for tax incentives to make their films and shows in Jersey, another blow to one of the few private sector industries with strong unions—the entertainment industry. [Full disclosure, I live mostly on a pension I get from an entertainment industry union, which I believe I deserve, since the entertainment business has been, and remains, not only one of the most successful industries in our country, it's also one of the few we still export to other countries, number one in fact for years, so without my contribution and others like me in my unions, that industry may not have been as successful and one of the few reliable domestic and export industries in this country would suffer.])

Saturday, March 5, 2011


And another writer, and a longer but excellent piece on the hypocrisy of the right when it comes to the Koch brothers' financing of rightwing causes that protect their industries and profits here.


Here's a succinct and accurate summary of the right's usual misdirection, misrepresentation and outright lying about something, in this case polls and election results.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Watched this Hollywood classic last night on TCM's current series showing all the Oscar Best Picture winners. I'd seen it only once before, decades ago.

I don't know about you, but it's always enlightening to revisit a work of art I dug when I was younger, now that I'm older, to see if it still has an impact on me.

I remember reading Theodore Dreiser's SISTER CARRIE when I was a young man and digging the depth of this novel's insights into what it was like to be young and ambitous. I identified, of course, with the younger characters in the book, including Carrie.

Then I read it decades later and noticed for the first time the "old man" (to me as a young man the first time) was the sympathetic and deepest character in the book. Both times I got a lot out of it. But it's not a book I'm interested in reading again.

I've also had experiences of reading something as a young man that had an enormous impact on me and later on rereading the same thing discovering it now falls flat (that would make an interesting list, if i ever can get myself into making lists again with any regularity or focus).

But to get to GRAND HOTEL. I watched it the first time out of obligation, because I was interested in Greta Garbo and film history. I was struck that first time by the breadth of the casting and the character subplots. I enjoyed it, but also found the old style actors like theater icon John Barrymore, well, old style.

But last night it had a poignant realism I think I missed as a young man. The desperation caused by financial fear that drives so many of the characters, especially the one played by John Barrymore, moved me in ways I'm sure I wasn't the first time.

Yes it's melodramatic and old fashioned in many ways, but it's also incredibly realistic and contemporary in other ways. It was pre-code so the Hollywood cliches of only the virtuous can win etc. was not the case (ala Joan Crawford's very modern character).

It's a classic for good reason, because you can rewatch it and end up digging it even more, which is my definition of a classic.

Check out this scene with Barrymore and Crawford first meeting (Youtube wouldn't let me embed it).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I never met her that I know of. Sorry I didn't. I liked her memoir, A FREEWHEELIN' TIME, a lot, and the woman revealed in it. (I posted a review of it here.) And I liked her art, what I've seen of it.

Here's a link to a good obituary that was in Rolling Stone (thanks to Ron Silliman's blog for hipping me to it).


I haven't been getting into the city much since the brain operation. I'm still sometimes a little overwhelmed by too much stimulus (stimuli?) and get a little anxious in some crowded situations.

But I have done it and have been meaning to go see this show—PAINTERS & POETS— at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery on Fifth Avenue near 57Th Street. I just realized it closes this Saturday, march 5th, so if I'm going I've got to get going soon.

The show is in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the gallery, begun back in 1951, obviously, and from the start a place where New York painters and poets were celebrated. The gallery published what people call "chapbooks" (i.e. less pages than a normal book, usually saddle-stitched—meaning the pages just fold in the middle so the "book" has no spine—and soft paper covers, etc.) of many of what became known as (and one of the gallery owners supposedly coined) "The New York School Poets"—Frank O'Hara, Barbara Guest, et. al.

I missed some of the many events the gallery has had in honor of the anniversary since the show opened in January, including a reading with John Ashbery, Bill Berkson and Ron Padgett. Wish I had made it to that one. But between my post-brain-op reluctance to go to events in the city as much and my caring for my thirteen-year-old, I wasn't able to make them.

But the gallery was kind enough to send me the catalogue for the show, and it has become one of my favorite books. The page size is art book big, with a hardcover (no dust jacket) detail from a Larry Rivers painting of O'Hara (as seen above) and inside are many reproductions of paintings and poems and photographs of the artists and poets and supporters of the gallery and its press.

There are also two essays, the first and longest by poet Douglas Crase (who I don't see much but consider an old friend anyway) is one of the main reasons I love this book and recommend you get it if you have any interest in any of "The New York School Poets" or the painters the gallery showed, like Fairfield Porter, Jane Freilicher, Joan Mitchell, et. al.

Here's an excerpted paragraph from Crase's very witty, very insightful and very informative (and sometimes contrary in brilliantly original ways) essay "A Hidden History of the Avant-Garde" from the catalogue:

"Friends of the gallery are familiar with the explicit collaborations of its artists. Of equal if perhaps more lasting interest were the implicit collaborations that produced work that remains valuable without reference to its extraneous sociability. The aesthetic affinity that arose between Porter and Schuyler [poet James Schuyler], for example, made theirs the greatest instance of a painter-poet friendship in the history of American art. Their near competition for the title, as it turns out, has been the steadier, more elusive rapport that links the works of another painter-poet pair associated with the gallery: Frielicher and Ashbery. It's true that the shared concerns of this latter pair are not so apparent. We are always entitled, however, to look for clues; and a logical place to begin is with Ashbery's mirror-like essay "Jane Frielicher." In the casually delivered credo of that essay he praised her work as "tentative," and went on to state his belief that most good things are tentative "or should be if they aren't." The observable paradox may be that the works of both are steadily tentative. But the paradox only reveals that Ashbery's idea of the "tentative" must be another way to identify that combination of disinterest and concentration which delivers us in Freilicher's paintings, as it does in his poems, from the erosive claims of faction and time."

[PS: in the phrase "steadily tentative" above the "steadily" is italicized but I've yet to figure out how to italicize on this blog, and yes I have the device that's supposed to achieve that but it never seems to work!]

[PPS: Thanks to Tom Raworth for emailing me how to do the italics: it worked!]

[PPPS: I'm remiss for not mentioning the other essay in this book, equally engaging, by Jenni Quilter, called "The Love of Looking: Collaborations between Artists and Writers."]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I just got back from depositing some checks at my local bank. I know all the tellers and the managers and have been banking at this place since I moved here in 1999.

It was a Wachovia bank up until recently, and like all banks it had its problems, but I was used to them and usually my transactions go pretty smoothly.

Then Wells Fargo took them over. They sent out notices to all their customers, including me, that nothing would change, I would go right on banking the way I always had, and just the name would be different.

Then they sent out notices listing some "minor" changes that were mostly in fine print and complicated financial and legal language so it was pretty difficult to figure out what they meant, but it seemed to have something to do with the fees charged and interest rates and the usual areas where financial institutions do the dirty work that ends up costing small customers like me more money.

But then there's the actual experience of banking at this newly renamed Wells Fargo bank. It's a disaster. It took the tellers a few weeks to adjust to the new "system" and computer programs, so that for a while just cashing a check might take twenty minutes or a half hour. And it wasn't their fault, which was obvious when you saw all the extra steps Wells Fargo had instituted to replace the more simple and direct system Wachovia had used.

One of those steps is the requirement that you show them your driver's license so they can put it in their system. This morning a woman that the tellers all knew, one of them even knew her kids, went to school with them, a woman who'd been banking there longer than me, but they wouldn't carry out her transaction until she showed them some i.d. because that was one of the new rules. She left without showing it to them, I assume to start banking elsewhere.

Another man was trying to withdraw money from his account. Under Wachovia there were always a pile of deposit and withdrawal slips on the table where you could fill them in, but under Well Fargo there are only deposit slips. Withdrawal slips can only be given out by the tellers, one at a time and must be used in the bank when received so that no one can leave with any or take any home.

When the man got frustrated by this and asked why, the tellers said "for your own protection" and the man got angry and muttered mini-rants as he walked out. The teller I was depositing my checks with looked upset, very upset. I couldn't blame him. He and the other tellers are taking the brunt of their customers anger over a new giant bank that seems to have no feel for the personal touch and seems determined to make every customer feel like they are prisoners of a giant corporation that doesn't care about them but only about its own internal workings and profit making.

Which seems obviously true. Decades ago, when I lived in Southern California and had just moved there, I got an account with a Wells Fargo bank branch in Santa Monica. Wells Fargo was then a regional bank for mostly Western states. But even then, my experience with them was so bad I pulled my money out and took it to another more local bank and kept it there until I moved back East.

I like the convenience of my bank being right around the corner (actually the way I go to it, right through the alley beside the house my apartment's in) and the tellers I've known for years and get along well with. And the only other bank is another giant multinational corporate financial monster. So, I suppose I'll grin and bear it.

But it is the story of contemporary "America"—giant corporations that the Supreme Court says have the same rights as us individual citizens, except when they have even more rights, like getting to bet our money on whatever crazy scheme they come up with and if they lose, they then get to get bailed out by more of our money and take home bonuses for that same year that are more than most of us make in a lifetime.

While the small businesses the right pretends to care about (while doing everything in its political power to make corporations more powerful and wealthy and dominant over the rest of us) get crushed and many of the brightest college students opt for careers in finance over medicine or science or education or public service.

You know Mussollini's definition of fascism? He called "corporatism." Yep.