Thursday, January 31, 2013


"Live ignorance rots us worse than any grave."  —Philip Whelan (from his poem "For C.")

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Never met her, but she always seemed to be family somehow. She's the youngest, the one in the middle who takes the solo in this not so great video copy of the scene from the movie where she and her sisters sang "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B"—she was about to turn 94 I believe. Good for her.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Anselm Hollo passed today and will be greatly missed by many who knew him, or just knew his poetry. Originally from Finland, he made his mark in England and later the USA as an English language poet.

The first book of his I discovered was a City Lights pocket book of his translations of some Russian poets back in the 1950s called RED CATS. When I met Anselm in early 1968, I still had that book and told him what an impact it had on me. But he seemed dismissive of it, having changed his mind about it, at least in that moment.  Or maybe it was a reaction to my radical politics which at the time caused me to be a little enamored with aspects of the Russian experience.

This occurred at the party for my first child's, Caitlin, Baptism party in a funky little apartment in "downtown" Iowa City. Anselm came to the fest with an offering to my then wife Lee, also a poet, of a bouquet of flowers he had pulled up from the lawn in front of an official building. Lee fell in love with him, as did many of the ladies present, with his exotic Finnish accent and eyes so light blue they seemed to illuminate the space around him, not to mention his grown up poet's style and facial hair.

I did too, in my way, because despite my initial disappointment at his dismissal of my love of RED CATS, he instantly included me into his circle of engagement with poetry and all things creative, including his family with his lovely wife Josie, who I had an instant crush on. And I included him into mine. 

I remember at that party Lee and I passed out kitchen pots and whatever musical instruments we had and everyone contributed to a cacophony of percussion and squeaks and rattles and guitar chords and penny whistle melodies for a unique serenade for our new daughter, which Anselm joined on a tin pot, adding that great laugh of his to the symphony.

Another fond memory is of visiting Anselm and Josie in their house in Iowa City, and after inducing the proper mood for listening to music in 1968 (or it may have been '69 just before Lee and I and our daughter split for DC) he sat me down in a chair (was it Anselm that had the barber's chair in his place, or was that someone else in Iowa City) and put ear phones on me after asking me to tell him what I thought I was listening to.

The sounds were so pure and primal, with a sense of water in their reverb, that I guessed it was an infant in the womb, but it turned out to be that first recording of whales communicating with each other or simply singing. An amazing experience for which I had Anselm to thank. And there were many like it, whether his turning me on to various poets and other writers, or arguing and discussing our sometimes different tastes in music and other arts, or politics. But I remember all these encounters as always being filled with a kind of love and appreciation unlike any other person I've ever known.

I saw Anselm again periodically over the years after we both moved on from Iowa City (where he taught in the Poetry workshop and I was a grad student), in DC and later New York in the years I was living there or after I had returned to Jersey [and with the love of his later years, Jane, another amazing woman he was fortunate to have as a mate]. As often happens with me, and may for you too, I didn't keep in touch as much as I intended to. But fortunately, when it comes to writers we can always keep in some kind of touch by reading their recent work, which I did.

But as an example of Anselm's approach to the poem, I'd like to leave you with one he wrote back in the Iowa City days. His best friend there and for life was the poet Ted Berrigan, who was also teaching in the Poetry Workshop, and who also treated me as an equal rather than a student, maybe because I was older than most of the other students, having spent over four years in the service, and I had a family, and in Ted's case I also came from Irish-American working-class East Coast roots similar to his.

in 1969 to celebrate their friendship, Ted and Anselm had one poem each, written in Iowa City, published by a local fine small press publisher, Tom Miller, as a beautiful little book. Well, not so "little" in shape, it was eleven inches by four-and-a-half, but just four pages, which with the two poems had a very lightly printed photo of each poet that folded in, so that while you read each poem you could also look at the faded photo of its author with their signature above it.

Here's Anselm's (with a tiny reference to Lord Buckley in one choice of words that only those of us from those times may get):

He She Because How

one a.m.
              and she has been sleeping
two hours
                       is still asleep

didn't marry him 'only to sleep'
but does now

because she's tired because
he's been unkind? because

feeling her bones through her sleep
on the floor in their other room

because she's her kind of woman
because he's his kind of man

and because she is sleeping
                                          he's writing
moving a few of his smaller bones

words like love and hurt
kindness unkindness blindness
ecstasy jealousy anger
                that too
sweetness of making it with you

how do those words hang together
how does his hand move the pen

how do he (plus) she (equals) it hang together
on their still beautiful
(though in this case
                              slightly bent) frames?

two a.m. questions
now make him sleepy too

he'll go wake her up

they won't feel the same

Monday, January 28, 2013


I've been writing and speaking about this for many decades, but most people find it hard to believe that there were actual "Irish slaves" in "The New World"—especially the Caribbean. I've often told people of how the Irish slaves were worth less than, and replaced by, African slaves because obviously the Irish were a bad choice for working in the hot equatorial sun with their fair skin etc.

So it's good to see a scholar reaffirming what I've been writing and saying for so long. The terrible shame is not just that most people don't know this history, but that some of the unaware-of-their-own-history descendants of these Irish slaves are often the most narrow-minded, bigoted voices among our fellow citizens.

[Here's another version of the Anglo take on the justification for the Irish slaves as interpreted in an 1899 Harper's article, the year my father was born.]

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Ken McCullough & me in DC c. 1972
Terence Winch, Ed Cox & me (in Terry's hat) in DC c. 1972
Simon Schucat, Eric Torgersen & me standing, Steve Shrader, Ray DiPalma, Paula Novotnak sitting on bench, Dick Paterson sitting on the ground, @ Trinity College DC c. 1970 
Bruce Andrews, me, Ray DiPalma in my Sullivan Street pad NYC c. 1975?
Jim Haining & me in Portland OR c. '90?
me & Maureen Owen at St. Mark's NYC c. 2000?

Friday, January 25, 2013


So these multinational oil conglomerates that make more profits than most of the earth, greater than in all of history, go into a lot of "developing" countries, or "underdeveloped" countries, like Algeria, and exploit their resources without doing much if anything for the countries, except sharing a small percentage of their gigantic profits with the ruling elite to buy them off so they can exploit their nation's natural resource, but they also interestingly don't even pay for some kind of security force to protect their oil wells and refineries etc. which is why it was so easy for those so-called "jihadists" to take hostages recently in that oil field in Algeria.

And, as it turns out, when these oil wells and refineries are disrupted, the price of oil goes up! Hmmmmm.....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Got to watch LINCOLN tonight on one of the award season DVDs I've been getting, and with my fifteen-year-old again. What an extraordinary performance from Daniel Day Lewis. I can see why he's the favorite for Best Actor Oscar. And extraordinary is just the right word, because he captures that aspect of Lincoln that made him the exemplar of the ordinary man and yet with that something extra that made him so special a representative what is best about the ordinary.

The make up was so good, director Spielberg couldn't help lingering on shots, especially close up profiles, that accented the amazing resemblance to photographs of Lincoln as well as famous portraits, including the one on the penny. And as most of us know by now, Day Lewis did extraordinary research to place the voice and accent where contemporaries described it was and to get the walk and the common touch and the seducing and engaging and teaching by joke and story (so similar to, and yet so much more ordinary than, the Jesus of the Gospels).

And all the praise for Sally Fields is well earned, as it is for Tommy Lee Jones. There are Spielberg moments that are close to Disneyized, like the opening scene with soldiers of both races reciting the Gettysburg Address, and some political correctness in the bold ex-slave soldier's almost demands on the president to take actions the soldier thinks the president should and we know will happen after much struggle and activism.

But in the end, Spielberg's mastery of moviemaking makes what is basically a history lesson, and really only a brief glimpse into the complicated life and mind of the man many of us consider our greatest president, not just palatable but extremely engaging and even entertaining. My son stuck with it and dug it, as did I. And I was also once again moved at the miracle of great, or even just very good, movie making, as well as by what is definitely a great performance from one of our alltime greatest movie actors, Daniel Day Lewis.

To my mind Lewis may even be the only movie actor who can challenge Brando as the greatest ever. And I've felt that way ever since seeing Lewis in MY LEFT FOOT. And to my great fortune I got to see him live only days before he won an Oscar for that early performance. It was at a private Hollywood party where I got the chance to tell the then almost entirely unknown young actor how great I thought his performance in MY LEFT FOOT was. His reaction was humble and gracious and sincere. Kind of like a young Lincoln.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Finally getting some of the nominated films on DVD so got to watch LES MISERABLES tonight with my fifteen-year-old and we both ended up teary eyed. I'm happy he has his father's sentimental heart. A lot of people I know just don't get musicals. When actors start singing these folks get confused or detached or bored or annoyed, etc.

But for me, almost any musical is worth watching. Not just for the melodies and lyrics, and usually dance, some of which are the best every created (I could rattle off a dozen examples, but if you like musicals you already know them and if you don't it would be meaningless).

I knew the story of LES MISERABLES from the Victor Hugo novel, or rather a translation, read when I was young, and from the two non-musical Hollywood movies made from it. Each has it's variations. The musical— or at least this movie version, since I haven't seen the stage version—uses the device of the innkeepers and their daughter to unify the plot in ways I don't remember from the book or other movies, but it gives an opportunity for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter to pull off some Brechtian stage business that in anything but a musical would be scenery chomping.

I had heard a lot of disappointment in the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert, a role maximized in black and white by Charles Laughton in an early Hollywood version. People said Crowe couldn't sing and got the character wrong. I beg to disagree. I thought his lack of Broadway belting power was more than appropriate for his character and in fact enhanced the reality of what could easily be a caricature.

The big news with this film was the revolutionary technique the director Tom Hooper came up with (best known for THE KINGS SPEECH) to mic the actors and record live on the set rather than the usual lip synching and studio cast recording done in movie musicals up to this one. Some have complained that it diminished the power of the singing, but I thought it was brilliant, blending the amazing acting and singing chops of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway as Fantine, to give the most brilliant examples.

There were a lot of pleasant surprises for me in the film as well, like Amanda Seyfriend as the older Cossette hitting some lovely soft tones and high notes, and Samantha Barks as Eponine. Though the actor who almost stole the film was a little boy who was perfect but whose name I can't find or figure which one it is on the cast list (help here is welcome).

I can certainly see why the Golden Globes honored Jackman and Hathaway. Jackman's accomplishment was nothing short of monumental. And Hathaway's was courageous and definitive (which as we all now know wasn't easy as she had seen her mother perform the role on stage when Anne was a little girl).  I could see someone getting a little tired of the movie in a few spots, and as a writer I would have utilized some different scenes from the original story and cut a few added here, but in the end it was a wonderfully satisfying movie experience for this musical lover, and is now my fifteen-year-old's favorite after SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.


This was one of several highlights from the inauguration yesterday. It's not the best video reproduction, but what's most amazing is Beyonce pulling her ear bud out halfway through. She was obviously having a problem, and as any performer knows, having a buzz or static or messed up connection in your ear can be enormously distracting, but so can not being able to hear your own voice amidst all that brass and crowd etc. So the fact that she sang our national anthem so beautifully despite those problems is not just the sign of a consummate professional, but of her incredible artistry. Not to even mention her beauty.

Monday, January 21, 2013


No matter how bellicose the Obama detractors and haters get, he still was officially sworn in Sunday morning as our president for the next four years, and gets ceremonially sworn in this morning, Monday, at 11:30AM.

And no matter how bellicose and nasty and mean and extreme the differences between Obama supporters and those who can't stand the fact he's our democratically elected president can become, the peaceful transition that takes place every four years, whether for incumbents or for new presidents continues. Something we all should be, and hopefully are, grateful for and proud of, despite the disappointments and frustrations and periodic government (or at least Congressional) dysfunction.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


"My heart is where it belongs."  —Jack Kerouac (from Visions of Gerard)

Thursday, January 17, 2013


When I was a teenager hanging around Greenwich Village in the late 1950s to February '62 when I joined the service, I stayed at the apartment on W. 3rd St. near MacDougal with three older black dudes one of whom had been the heavyweight champion of the Army several years earlier, DeWitt Jennings.

I saw him take on two racist sailors (who, yes, were from the South and were on 3rd Street because at the time it was crowded with strip joints) at the same time and kick their butts, but that's another story. This one is about how DeWitt told me to bet on Cassius Clay against Sonny Liston and all the oddsmakers because he'd seen him fight as an amateur and said he was gonna be one of the all time great boxers. So I did and made a lot of money for a teenager.

Then in the late 1960s when I was at the University of Iowa my then wife Lee and me were visiting the Catholic chaplain when he said he had a surprise treat and the greatest walked in (don't remember if he was still Cassius Clay or had gone to being Muhammed Ali at that point). Turned out the chaplain and Ali were friends from a previous time and place. Ali was gracious and fun. He seemed a lot taller than me and I was a foot taller than Lee so it was a funny scene. An incredibly good natured guy who obviously respected his priest friend who would go on to baptize our oldest, born in Iowa City, Caitlin.

A few years later, at the height of the movement against the Viet Nam War I was in Philadelphia at a convention that truthfully I no longer remember who it was held by, SDS? Or The Peace and Freedom Party or some more radical group? At any rate Ali showed up unexpected exactly where I was and once again shook my hand with what seemed like his enormous one and wrapped an arm around my shoulder and had me grinning from ear to ear just to be in his presence. And once again he was respectful and good natured and clearheaded about the goals we were all fighting for.

I loved watching him box but don't watch boxing anymore, one of the two sports I grew up watching in my clan, the other being the ponies (aka thoroughbred horse racing) and which I loved, because of what happened to him from all those punches. He was still capable of much love and the occasional zinger the last time I saw him on TV, and he remains the most world famous man of my lifetime, maybe of all time. And most who know him, or of him, love him.

Happy Birthday champ!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Dave Salner (& me San Francisco c. 1968)
Ted Berrigan/Tim Dlugos (& Penelope Milford/me/my daughter Caitlin & I think that's Michael O'Keefe smiling on the right edge of the photo @ my 2nd wedding NYC 1982)
Ray DiPalma (& me with the soul patch @ St. Mark's Poetry Project NYC 2010?)
Simon Pettet (& me in front of St. Mark's bookstore NYC 2009)
Eve Brandstein (& me and my lady Kim behind me @ Cafe Largo L.A. c. 1990)
Lee Lally (my first wife & me in Seattle or nearby 1965)


You may not be, but I was thoroughly touched by this honest revelation of model Cameron Russell's experience and self-perception (which totally supported what I knew from my own experience dating and being friends with models over the years [and doing a bit myself in earlier years]). Her obvious nervousness and gentle caring but self-conscious nature makes it even more compelling, despite most of what she says being stuff many of us already knew. See what you think, it goes by faster than expected.
[and sorry I couldn't get it full screen this time]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The reason he became who he was started here:


I keep seeing online, especially on Facebook, quotes from famous people, often authors, with no attribution for the source and sounding totally unlike the language those authors or other well known personalities would ever use. Most people know this is an Internet reality, but it still bugs me.  So here's a quote I copied from the author. I've used it before but it's worth repeating:

"Swami said that enlightenment is not loss of individuality but the enlargement of individuality, because you realize that you're everything."   —Christopher Isherwood (from My Guru and His Disciple)

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I still sometimes get a kick out of awards shows like The Golden Globes, because sometimes someone says or does something unexpected and rarely if ever seen on TV, live or not. Of course reality shows diminished the rarity on TV of embarrassing behavior etc., but still, like championship games and matches the drama in live contests can sometimes be compelling.

And since I still seem to know a lot of folks on these shows from my two decades in L.A. in the film and TV business, The Golden Globes, which honors creators from both movies and TV, it's even more interesting to me. The highlight tonight, if you didn't catch it, was Jody Foster's acceptance speech for the Globes version of a lifetime achievement award. It was smart, personal, at times funny, but mostly it seemed so compelling because it was written from the perspective of someone who, as she said, has been in the public eye since she was three years old and thus cherishes and has to protect her personal privacy more than anyone should have to (without mentioning the more than one insane stalker she's had to deal with).

It brought tears to my eyes, but there's no way of fully conveying why. It was hurried and she wasn't great at timing, more intent on making her points than paying attention to the audience's reaction, but it was totally moving. If it becomes available on line check it out.

Other highlights were hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who were at times hysterical and should be hosting the Oscars (do you believe it was the first time in history that two women hosted an awards show?); Daniel Day Lewis's eloquent but cut short acceptance speech; Ben Affleck's surprise win for director and then his movie ARGO's win for best drama; Lena Dunham winning for best actress in a TV comedy, and then her show, which she created and stars in, GIRLS, winning for best TV comedy or musical (her gutsy and honest acceptance speech also cut short); and Quentin Tarintino winning for best writer for I guess a drama, DJANGO UNCHAINED, unexpected by him and I suspect everyone else, and for my taste unwarranted as well given the competition.

And oh yeah Clare Danes also gave a child star grown up in the biz frank and eloquent acceptance speech for a well deserved award for best actress in a TV drama, HOMELAND. But in the end it was a pretty safe show, nothing truly embarrassing or totally unexpected. Hopefully that'll happen at the Oscars.


Another late night at the home movies. Hadn't seen this since it came out, and whether due to age or the brain op I couldn't remember much about it at all. But pretty soon into it, I did remember being really impressed with the new young actor whose name I wanted to get in the credits: Kevin Costner.

He was so much fun to watch, and when you combine him with Kevin Kline, who is always fun to watch, but was especially back then in his first and maybe only Western, damn what a delight. Talk about a better way to make an action flick. It moved right along and was shot the old way, with real life colors and all, and the cast was incredible. Not just Costner and Kline, but Danny Glover, Scott Glen, Roseanne Arquette, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, and Linda Hunt, who almost stole the movie despite the stellar cast, as she almost always did back then.

And despite lots of mayhem and murder, the violence was relatively realistic but not belabored, or gratuitous or extreme or drawn out, or anything other than a good shoot-em-up. I wish they'd made a sequel.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Came in late and ended up staying up to watch a Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds action-espionage-mystery-thriller that ultimately wasn't worth it, but was paced and plotted well enough to keep me watching. It said it was released last year, so I guess it was Denzel's non-Oscar movie for 2012, and Reynolds' attempt to be the new Matt Damon of these kinds of flicks. But nobody has been able to top Damon in the Bourne trilogy, nobody.

But Reynolds does a great job with what he's given, as does Denzel, as usual. But can anyone explain to me why it seems almost every movie that has a lot of action and/or violence, especially the latter, these days has to be shot through filters that make everything look like someone tinted the film (I know it's probably digital, so no film) green or hello or green and yellow? [wow, that was one of those great brain mishaps typing hello for yellow]

In the book and magazine business in the old days, only using two colors meant you didn't have the money or were too cheap to spring for full color and the books looked cheap. As these kinds of flicks to do my eye. The actors, at least some of them, were doing some nice work here and there but all the subtlety was drained from their faces and expressions because of these filters making everything look like someone had slimed the lights illuminating the scene or decided to just keep it dark and murky.

Maybe it's meant to cover up bad stunt work or some other aspect of filming, but my guess is some directors actually find it interesting, like those arty student movies in the old days that spent what seemed like hours on close ups of women brushing their hair. And I'm sorry but I still don't like Vera Farmiga who had one of the co-starring roles, although her character was meant to be disliked. Another co star who I always like but was mostly wasted in this was Brendan Gleeson.

Sam Sheperd had a small role as well and did it well. But one of the smallest roles almost stole the film from Denzel and Reynolds and that was played by Ruben Blades who I could have watched much more of. In the end I'd rather have been watching one of the Oscar nominated films I haven't seen yet, but for a couple of hours of escape, it wasn't terrible.

[Whoever made the movie obviously sent it to cable pretty quickly, and I couldn't even find a proper film poster on the web so my guess is it was seen as a loser from the gitgo, and I would second guess that the blame can be mostly put on the effin' filters the director, Daniel Espinosa, was so enamored of.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


When many years ago I was complaining to my friend Hubert Selby Jr. about being caught in a vicious circle, he said, "Michael, dig the circle."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Harvey Shapiro was a poet who worked most of his life for The New York Times.  [Here's The Times obit]  I first met him in 1972 when I won the New York 92nd Street Y Poetry Center's "Discovery Award." He was the judge that chose a series of poems I'd written called "The South Orange Sonnets" for the award. It was the first time I received any kind of official recognition for my work, other than publication, so it didn't just make me feel happy and grateful, it made me feel validated and hopeful. When we met before the ceremony and reading, I immediately liked him. He was smart but unpretentious, humbly realistic. A really really nice man to be around.

When I moved back to New York from DC a few years later, I used to drop in and see him at his office at The Times, where for several years he was the Sunday Book Review editor. Once I was complaining that none of my books ever got reviewed there, and he explained that he had solicited reviews but they were so negative he didn't want me to feel bad so didn't publish them. I assured him I'd rather have a negative review than none at all, so then he published a negative review of a poetry anthology I edited called NONE OF THE ABOVE in which many of the poets I selected were slammed. Then I wished I hadn't told him that. I didn't mind a reviewer criticizing me negatively, but I did mind them criticizing others whose work I not only loved but selected for notice.

When I moved to L.A. and was back in Manhattan for a visit, I'd sometimes stay at The Algonquin, yes for its famous literary connection(s), and Harvey and I would have lunch and talk. He was always interested in what I was up to, not just with my poetry and other writing, but my life in general. Even though he wasn't much older than my oldest brother, who was sixteen when I was born, Harvey was like an old soul and had the gentle presence of a sweet grandparent in many ways.

I feel really grateful that I got to see him not that long ago, last year if I remember correctly, at the Hanging Loose Press anniversary party in Brooklyn, and once again got to tell him how grateful I had been, and still was, for his recognizing my early work with that "Discovery Award" and for being such a supportive and good person (he had no qualms disagreeing with me or criticizing some of the directions my work took in later years, but was always gentle and loving about it). He was walking very slowly, with help from a young poet, but his smile and gentle manner was the same, as was his intellect.

Harvey will be greatly missed by many of us, I'm sure more than he could even have imagined.

[PS: Here's a good example of his stripped down style:


After my death, my desk,
which is now so cluttered,
will be bare wood, simple and shining,
as I wanted it to be in my life,
as I wanted my life to be.                        

See how he not only uses so few words, but so few sounds even, "death" and "desk" so close etc. and yet manages to say a lot, and a profound lot at that.]

Monday, January 7, 2013


I saw this a week or so ago and was pleasantly surprised. It's one of those indie style stories where almost everyone is a quirky character who in the end is redeemed in some way. A feel good movie with enough real life drama to seem relevant and meaningful and give Bradley Cooper another shot at an Oscar.

I love Bradley Cooper in everything I've seen him in, which I think is pretty much everything he's done so far, but have to admit that when the flick started I couldn't stop feeling like I was watching him do an out of character character. It was as if the entire world his character lived in didn't notice he's such a hunk he was voted sexiest man in the world.

Then his father comes in, played by Robert DiNiro doing his unfortunately way too familiar shtick. So I couldn't help thinking I'm watching DiNiro play a character. The woman playing his wife I didn't recognize, Jacki Weaver, maybe because as I later discovered she's from Australia. Fooled me though, I totally bought her character and was impressed with every choice she made as an actor. She was totally coming across as the person she was playing.

And then Jennifer Lawrence entered the movie and everything got more real, even Cooper's and DiNiro's characters. She was like a force of nature no one could resist, least of all me. She reminds me of Jennifer Jason Leigh when she was first getting my attention by making every character she played so real I wrote that she was the Marlon Brando of her generation. Now Lawrence is the Jennifer Jason Leigh of hers.

Only different.  Lawrence comes across, even in this quirky SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK character (as she did in WINTER'S BONE and THE HUNGER GAMES) as so much more grounded in a definite sense that she knows who she is, even though in real life she has almost nothing in common with the characters she plays. What I mean is her characters have a strength that's based on integrity, which wasn't always the case in the ones Leigh played in her heyday. Or Brando.

Which means that Lawrence is a great character actor and a great movie star. I can't wait to see what she does next. But in the meantime, watching her in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK will do.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


I don't know about anybody else but I still love this show. Of the few TV series I watch, which includes BOARDWALK EMPIRE and HOMELAND, DOWNTON ABBEY is the most satisfying. The story line(s), no matter how contrived and/or tied to historic explication, never make me think WTF (as in both the other shows), but rather make me laugh out loud in satisfaction at their daring to throw in last minute wedding cancellations even when you know the wedding, or at least this one, will go through etc.

But what made me keep disturbing with loud laughter my neighbors in the apartment above me and next door in this old house I have an apartment in was the match up of Maggie Smith and Shirley McClaine. Their tart exchanges, so well written by Julian Fellowes, make their encounters all the more juicy, but even if they were just throwing random lines from some textbook at each other the duel would be no less sharp. They are so evenly matched (except in the ravages of face lifts which my old eyes see no evidence of in Smith but unfortunately can in McClaine) it's like a championship fight or game with the two best in their divisions, only the outcome I can already tell is a tie.

A total delight and the perfect antidote to the post holidays let down. Picked me right up.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Jayne Cortez was a dynamic poet and woman, who was a major force in the small press world for decades, as well as in spoken word, performance art, and women's and African-American poetry scenes. She passed late last month [here's the NY Times obit] and I kept meaning to post at least a small homage to a wonderful woman whose work could be challenging and comforting at the same time. Here's an example:

There It Is
And if we don't fight
if we don't resist
if we don't organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

And here's what she was like performing only a few years ago:

This is the way I remember Patti Page when I was a kid. Best known for what seem like cheesy or schmaltzy songs in retrospect, as a kid they were fun and comforting [not surprised that latter word is part of both these small tributes]. I commented on Doug Lang's tribute to Page, she was sort of the flip side to Peggy Lee back in the early 1950s. Both beautiful blondes who managed to transcend their natural genres (jazz for Lee and country for Page) to become pop stars for a while.

Where Lee was sultry and still, Page was joyous and expansive. But the main thing about Page, for me, was her unpretentiousness. Lee was more musically skilled, especially as a song writer and arranger, but both had great control as vocalists and Page made it clear she was here to entertain and please and wasn't ashamed to sing about "How much is that doggie in the window" a song that became so ubiquitous it became almost too much to bear but when first heard was just a delightful novelty song.

But my first memory of noticing her as a singer was her first hit: "With My Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming" that made me fall in love with her as a little boy. Here's a YouTube posting of that, not the best reproduction, but listen to the end and you'll hear how skillful a singer she was. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013


The housing market is improving more rapidly than expected, the auto industry has had the best year in many years and the number of jobs cut last year was the least since 1997.

Anyone hear any Republicans or Tea Partyers or rightwingers or even most progressives and lifting [wow, that was really a weird typo my brain did, I have to leave it in, but I meant "leftwing"] critics of the president give him, or Dems in Congess any credit for any of that?  I didn't think so.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013



When I was a kid the old folks would say whatever you're doing New Year's Eve when the clock strikes midnight you'll be doing for the new year. The idea being do something fun and positive etc,

I was in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at The Gypsy Joynt watching earlier (a little after nine) a band of seventh and eighth graders (keyboard/trumpet/guitar/bass/drums) with my grandson Donovan on drums rock a packed joint with the precision rhythm and hot licks. Really. Not proud grandpa talking, objective observer watching. They had the crowd going bananas. [I'll hopefully get some phone footage from my youngest downloaded soon.]

They were followed by my oldest son (my grandson's dad) Miles playing bass in a band (guitar/drums/lead singer and front man whose band it is also playing some guitar) for a mostly reggae set at which my oldest child, Caitlin and I dance to her brother's rocking out, the crowd taking to the small dance floor or dancing where they were in the bar/restaurant/club.

Meanwhile my youngest, Flynn, was swaying and doing his own minimal cool moves to the music as he stood among a small crowd of friends from the area he's known since he was little (actually towered over them, at fifteen he can look me straight in the eyes, I assume soon I'll be looking up at his).

Total love and joy as we rocked the old year out and the new one in. I started moving when my grandson' band, Highland, took the stage and didn't stop until sometime after one in the AM when the teenagers actually had had enough, but Miles and the band he was playing in, Jordon Weller and The Feathers (I understand there's some footage of them from another gig on YouTube which I'll also try to get a link to or download later today) kept the groove going.

Hope the old folks were right.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Happy New Year to all. But as we wave goodbye to 2012 I want to pay tribute to how good it was, despite the events that occurred that seemed to make so many despair that things have never been worse.

But as I've written here and elsewhere, there is always good with the bad and sometimes much more good than bad, as in the fact that the world has never been as destructive, violent and murderous as it was in World War Two. So despite the horrors of 2012, it was an enormous improvement over the mid-20th Century years. And 2012 had many many many many more people, so it's even more miraculous that it was so peaceful in comparison to what has come before.

And part of the reason for that was a president who, despite his faults, helped bring one small war in Iraq to a close as he promised. And another good thing about 2012 was that he got reelected. Despite the narrow-minded reactionary anti-science deniers of factual evidence, as in rightwing Republicans and others. The politicians who represent that sad perspective were defeated for the most part, except in Congressional districts that have been designed to contain a solid majority of those people. No matter what your criticisms of Obama, his policies were better than the other guy's and he has done a lot of good, including help an economy that was close to the worst the worst the world has ever seen collectively, i.e. The Great Depression, but he helped avoid that and it has steadily improved. No matter how bad it is or feels to any individual, including this one, the economy is better than it was four years ago, and that's a good thing.

If you want a more progressive Democratic Party, then get involved in that party and work to change it as so many did in the 1960s. If you prefer a progressive third party, then start one and do the necessary work to make it viable. In the 1960s when I was active in the Civil Rights struggle and the anti-Viet Nam war movement I helped create a third party and ran for office and spent most days and nights not just earning a couple of degrees and supporting a growing family but in churches and synagogues and Quaker meetings and even Chamber of Commerce meetings and farmers organization meetings and more speaking out for what I and my fellow leftist activists believed in and debating those who were on the other side, and all that when I wasn't taking part in demonstrations all over the country calling for progressive changes etc. etc. etc.

Those activities paid off in laws that ended bans against interracial marriage, gave equal rights in all government activities and public places and businesses to all "races" (an unscientific term, as used in the U.S.,  I was actively against but unfortunately is still with us) and led directly to the election, TWICE, of a mixed race president who made even more progressive changes. The world, our world, is still way imperfect, as it will always be. And there were terrible things that happened in 2012, for sure, some of them to people I know and love, but compared to many other years throughout history, and how bad things could be and have been for many more people, especially given the huge population growth and lack of serious engagement in some places with the challenge of global warming and resultant climate change, even still 2012 was a very good year in more ways than it was a very bad one, and for that I am grateful.

Now let's get to work on 2013.