Friday, May 31, 2013


"Corporations aren't people. If they were, Yahoo's recent acquisition of Tumblr would be a violation of the Constitution, which states that people are human beings with inherent rights, not commodities to be bought and sold."  —Carl Gibson (Reader Supported News)

Thursday, May 30, 2013


You know his voice, because Clarence was the lead singer in the sibling group The Five Stairsteps on their only really big hit: "O-o-h Child." Clarence was spending a lot of time in my part of Jersey, my old home town in fact, South Orange, when I moved back to the area in 1999. A mutual friend got Clarence to take part in a monthly show of local musicians and singers in a coffee house in South Orange that opened shortly after we moved here and has since closed. But the talent in that room once a month was overwhelming. (I wrote a post about it you can read here.)

One of the performers was Dion Flynn, who has since gone on to become a regular on the Jimmy Fallon show with his Obama and other characters. But the one who moved me the most was Clarence. He always showed up looking sharp in old style performer suit with a little flash to it. And he took part in songs that had nothing to do with his personal history. But when they'd get him to sing "O-o-h Child," it was like everyone's breath stopped, in awe of his talent and our own memories of its earlier incarnation.

He had just turned 64, which is way to young to be gone, but as happens sometimes with talented creative artists, the sound of his voice intoning "Oo-ooh Child, things are gonna get be-e-tter..." will live on long after we're all gone. R.I.P. Clarence.

[PS: I couldn't link to the post I wrote because I can't find it, but here's a link to the NY Times obit.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


If you happen to be in the New York City area in a few weeks, I'm reading some of my poetry on June 18th at The Cutting Room, a hip Manhattan dinner club, as part of a Poetry In Motion event that includes a lot of compelling readers and performers. There's an entrance fee and a minimum, but if you buy tickets in advance and get dinner while you're there it turns out to be a pretty inexpensive evening for a night out in Manhattan with a show full of original creators. Here's the info [click on the poster to enlarge it for the small print, or if you're like me and the small print is still too small to read click on this link for more info]:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


My old friend, poet Bob Berner sent me this NY Times obit for Kim Merker, the fine book printer who used the 19th century methods. It has a photo of him before he had a stroke in the late 1990s, but I couldn't find any from the era when I worked for him and was friends with him. I was surprised to see he was only 81, ten years older than me. Back when I first met him, when I was a student at he University of Iowa's Writers Workshop in the late 1960s and in my mid-twenties, Kim seemed like he was of a much older generation.

That was partly attributable to the enormous difference between the generation of the 1950s and that of the 1960s. Kim still wore his hair 1950s crew cut style and dressed and drove a little sports car much like the swinging bachelors in Playboy of the late 1950s and very early 1960s. I hadn't had a haircut since I'd left the service and was doing my version of the developing "sixties" style the younger kids in my classes were experimenting with (younger because I arrived in Iowa after over four years in the military and already married).

But I respected him enormously. I first studied the art of fine printing and handmade books from Kim's original teacher when he arrived at Iowa a decade before me, Harry Duncan. But eventually I was hired by Kim to work for both his Stonewall and Windhover Presses. Several of the most famous books he produced I did much of the manual labor on, often working alone at night, the only spare time I could spare (I got the school to let me take extra credit and allow me to work on an undergraduate degree and MFA at the same time, and they didn't even know I had other part time jobs as well as the printing one because my first wife was pregnant and in those days couldn't work when she reached a certain size and didn't work again for years after giving birth and then getting pregnant again soon after).

But I also worked side by side with him at times, and though he seemed much older and more formal than me, he was genuine and honorable, even when drunk (I had to help him home a few times, driving whatever that little sports car was). One of the books I set the type, worked the old Washington hand press to print the pages and folded them for (Kim had a polished bone, shaped almost like a big knife, that I used to secure the fold permanently and loved handling), was Gary Snyder's REGARDING WAVE.

If you have The New Directions paperback copy of that book, it was photocopied from my handset type in the original Windhover Press edition. That was the press the University officially supported, and Stonewall Press was Kim's personal project, which I also worked on—the former for school credit, the latter for money. I spent hours with Snyder when he came to do a reading for the publication of REGARDING WAVE. We sat at a table in Kim's basement workshop in one of the university buildings and I cut the title page open and held it down for Snyder to sign.

I was a fan of Snyder's poetry and felt a connection between us and our work, due to both of us having grown up doing manual labor and being willing to write about that as no poets I had ever read at that time did except for Snyder (and Philip Levine who had just come out with his first book NOT THIS PIG, but the work he wrote of was in factories, Snyder's was on farms and forests and mine was home repair in the houses of the wealthy back in Jersey).

Unfortunately in person Snyder and I didn't have as much in common as I thought. He kept trying to convince me to move out West where he had built a home and wanted others to join him in what sounded to me like isolated mountain wilderness. I was planning on moving back to Manhattan and would counter his descriptions of amazing sunsets in his country to the way sunsets created every hue of blue in the sky above a crosstown street in Manhattan, or the ways the red and green in traffic lights glowed at dusk.

Then at the party after Snyder's reading, at which Ted Berrigan and Snyder got into a friendly (on Ted's part at least) discussion about their differences over Kerouac I think (I don't remember exactly) I tried to get in on the conversation, which Ted was happy about but Snyder wasn't. As Snyder kept ignoring me Kim, by then a little drunk, addressed Snyder forcefully about how this young man he was ignoring was the one who slaved over his manuscript, trying to match the varied spacing from his typewriter with almost impossible to duplicate hand-type spacing, and how he ought to be bowing to me with gratitude.

That was the first time I knew I loved this dude, Kim Merker, and continued to long after I left Iowa. I am ashamed that I didn't stay in closer touch with him over the decades as my life became more and more complicated. I did at first, especially since he chose to publish one of my early collections of poetry, DUES, through his Stonewall Press. I was already getting jive for my work and didn't want him to feel any repercussions from that, but he insisted he had published a lot of the best newer poets over the years and he felt I deserved to be a part of that group. I was and am deeply grateful for that and for all the other things he taught me through those few years of our working together so closely.

I have to add that one of the projects I worked on for Kim was Ezra Pound's last book, DRAFTS AND FRAGMENTS (of his Cantos), which I think I also handset and hand printed and folded etc. (though Kim may have had more of a hand in this then I'm remembering, it would make sense it seems to me) and which Kim then carried to Italy for Pound to sign before the pages were bound into the hard covers. It was an oversized book and originally sold for something like a hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars, which was out of my range at the time unfortunately. I do still have my copy of REGARDING WAVE though and still dig Snyder's poetry. And I still love Kim Merker and remember him as always genuine and honorable.

Monday, May 27, 2013


As I understand it, Memorial Day came out of The Civil War as a holiday to remember what remains the largest number of battlefield deaths for the U.S. military in any war in our history (if we use the term "Americans" then it is Native Americans who lost the most in various ways, but that's another story and deserves another holiday).

It was for many decades known as "Decoration Day" which was changed to Memorial Day later. My mother's mother, who came to live with us when I was a boy after she was widowed, continued to call it "Decoration Day" until she died in the 1950s.

Though there are many veterans in my clan, including my late brothers and me (one of whom is buried in Arlington Cemetery for his service in WWII), we have been fortunate in not having anyone die in war in several generations. But in the extended clan, we have.

So today I'd like to honor the memory of Karina S. Lau, my great-niece Mary's husband's beloved sister (Mary's husband is a military career man still). Karina was one of the early casualties in the Iraq War, and may be the first—certainly among the first—woman to die in that war. She was only twenty years old.

The best way we can honor all our war dead, on all sides of whatever conflict, is to work to make war obsolete. It may be an impossible goal, but at least by working toward that goal we can get closer than ever before (after all, the world has not been as deadly, violent or destructive as it was in WWII since then, so that's some kind of progress).

[You can read one military obit of Karina here.]

Sunday, May 26, 2013


First of all, thanks to all who sent birthday greetings, I am overwhelmed with humility to have the love and friendship of so many great people.

Spent the morning driving up to The Berkshires with my fifteen year old. Once there went to Pittsfield with his big sister, his niece (his sister's daughter and my granddaughter) and his nephew (my big brother's son and my grandson) where we had lunch and then stood and walked in the cold wind and rain holding a sign protesting GMOs along with a bunch of others holding similar signs. It felt great to take part even if the numbers of participants should have been much greater. It's time for the kinds of million people crowds we had on The Washington Mall back in the days of fighting for Civil Rights and against The Viet Nam War.

After an ice cream cone with my daughter and oldest son at my favorite ice cream place, SoCo in Great Barrington, I had a kiddie size but with a little bit of three flavors—Elvis (banana and peanut butter), Pumpkin Chip and Ginger—took a little nap and joined my daughter and my youngest son and grandson at The Gypsy Joynt in Great Barrington to hear my oldest son play bass with Jordan Weller and The Feathers. Danced pretty much to every song from 9PM to midnight. Now writing this and going to sleep. Life is good and for that I am very grateful.

Friday, May 24, 2013


I'm planning on taking part in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with my youngest son, my daughter and granddaughter. How bout you? [Here's a short video explaining why, which could have been done better, but it's a start:]

Thursday, May 23, 2013


"If the shit fits, wear it."  —Michael Lally (in a journal in 1970, not sure if I ever used it elsewhere)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


So I'm at the place where I do physical rehab in this working class town. Most of the patients are immigrants or first generation, in unions or cops or firemen, some young most older, different languages and accents, and all that. One of the therapists named Muhammad asks me if I saw THE GREAT GATSBY and then wants to know what I thought about it, which leads a couple of ladies, one young one old to start talking about how much they love that book and others second that.

I'm thinking, how cool. THE GREAT GATSBY is one of several novels I've read many times over the years since first encountering them when I was young (others include Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, Rilke's THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTA LAURIDS BRIGGS Kerouac's ONE THE ROAD and DESOLATION ANGELS, William Saroyan's TRACY'S TIGER etc.). But back then, when I was a young writer critics and writers still argued over whether Fitzgerald or Hemingway was the better writer, with most coming down in favor of Hemingway.

I hate judging things by their popularity or success, at least in terms of artistic value, but the world seems to love it, or at least the critics and pundits. The history in brief was Fitzgerald's first novel, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE defined The Jazz Age of the 1920s just as it began. He was heralded as the voice of his generation, the one that Gertrude Stein named in a comment to Hemingway The Lost Generation. But only a few years after Fitzgerald became the king of young novelists, in the USA at least, Hemingway published THE SUN ALSO RISES and was hailed as THE modern writer, not just popular but revolutionizing the way prose was used.

It was like if Dylan had appeared on the scene with his early great albums only a couple of years after Elvis. Though that's a far less than perfect analogy (it's late). The idea is that from the moment Hemingway passed Fitzgerald it became a horse race in the eyes of many critics, and Hemingway was winning. Where the prose style of THE FAR SIDE OF PARADISE could have come from earlier years or even decades, the same could not be said for THE SUN ALSO RISES. Young people identified so strongly with Hemingway's prose, especially the dialogue, that they adopted it the way when I was in 8th grade the day after BLACKBOARD JUNGLE came out most of us boys were calling men daddy-o.

THE GREAT GATSBY was Fitzgerald's reaction to THE SUN ALSO RISES. It was faster and more modern in story and style, while still retaining some of the elegance and insight that partly made F. Scott's reputation, along with the subject matter that had too: The Roaring Twenties. But it wasn't as popular with readers or critics as THIS SIDE OF PARADISE or THE SUN ALSO RISES. And the 1930s changed everything anyway. Hemingway's clipped tough guy straight talk with no frills suited the decade of The Great Depression much better than Fitzgerald's more romantic sensibility. He kept writing about what he knew, and some of it was great, but the world wasn't in the mood.

By the time of Fitzgerald's death in his early forties in 1940, when it was only academics and writers themselves who were still debating which author was better, the world had already made up its mind. When Fitzgerald died I think THE GREAT GATSBY was out of print, and if not long forgotten certainly not selling. Meanwhile Hemingway and his influence were still peaking. A lot of pulp fiction, especially the tough guy detective prose showed Hemingway's influence. Known as the stylist who left things out, the whole mid century sensibility seemed to mirror Hemingway's code, tight lipped, macho, all about honor and grace under fire (though he was not as good at doing it as he was at writing about it), and taking your drinks straight and fighting bulls in Spain and shooting tigers in Africa.

Movies made from Hemingway's books were successful, like FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman (as a Spanish girl!) or later THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (with aging Spencer Tracy as a Cuban!). By the 1960s when I was learning about this old debate, Hemingway had written his memoir THE MOVEABLE FEAST in which he dissed a lot of his "friends"—especially those who had influenced him or helped him in any way (poor Sherwood Anderson and Ford Madox Ford). But he especially dissed Fitzgerald by claiming F. Scott called him to come to his hotel room and take a look at his member because he feared it wasn't big enough! And people bought it.

Being Irish-American Catholic and all that, I defended Fitzgerald, and also because I loved his prose. I dug Hemingway's too in some cases, mostly his first collection of stories IN OUR TIME and I appreciated the discipline that had created his style (still influential, I remember asking David Mamet at a party after seeing one of his early plays why he didn't use any contractions—like Hemingway—so that people talked like this in both their works: "I did not see him when he could not show up" etc. which pissed Mamet off so he sulked away after saying "It's POETRY!" etc.).

But then a funny thing happened. It was the 1960s and macho jive fell out of favor. Hemingway shot himself and pretty soon the battle of the dead authors, the greats of 20th century American lit. heated up again and THE GREAT GATSBY started selling again and nowadays sells more than it ever did in Fitzgerald's time and two movies have been made based on it (the Redford one in the '70s, or was it '80s, and the latest) and despite their failed attempt to capture what makes the book so great, as well as the Gatsby character, people still read the book, and not just students, and a lot of them dig it.

So who's d*ck is bigger now Hem?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


There was a lot of confusion yesterday on the web about whether Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and songwriter for The Doors, had really passed or not. And I contributed to some of it. I was sent a link to a site that claimed that the news of Manzarak's death was a hoax, part of a series of so-called "celebrity death hoaxes"—but it turns out to be true. Here's the obit from the NY Times that is a pretty good summary of Ray's life and accomplishments.

I had just given up playing piano in clubs and coffee houses for close to a decade, mostly jazz and R&B, when The Doors first album came out. I was focused at the time on my writing, particularly poetry and political commentary for mostly what was then called "underground" newspapers, though some above ground ones too. But I also reviewed music, so a lot of folks would ask me what I thought of some band's latest album, because at that time—the late 1960s—the appearance of a new album by a rock band was considered an event equal to, or more important than, the other significant historic making events that seemed to be multiplying at the time.

My first reaction was scorn, maybe based on envy, and definitely based on my anti-California prejudice at the time. I had come up through the whole East Coast/West Coast jazz rivalry of the 1950s, more adhered to by critics and fans than most of the musicians, though there were definitely some musicians I knew and played with who believed in it. So I could be pretty judgmental about West Coast musicians and their music, and carried that into my reviewing of new jazz LPs.

I don't think I reviewed that first Doors album, but it wasn't long before I was digging the music despite my initial reaction. So many of their songs were irresistible, and a lot of that was due to Ray Manzarek. His keyboard work was oddly raw and refined at once and definitely unlike any other keyboardist in pop or rock music (although at the time I think I considered it all just "rock'n'roll").

When I moved to L.A. in 1982, I met a woman who claimed to be the "L.A. woman" the Doors song was based on, and eventually I met Manzarek, briefly, when Michael McClure came to L.A. and Manzarek backed his poetry reading with his keyboard work. I had always had a prejudice against that, from my old jazz days as well, because some older musicians I'd played with back then hated having to back "Beat" poets, feeling it was demeaning to their own artistry, especially when the poet was high or drunk and not integrated with the music in ways say a Sinatra would be.

Many times in my life musicians offered to back me reading my poems and I declined because of that petty prejudice born from trying to impress my elders on the jazz scene. But finally, one day in I think 1989, when I was asked to read some poems with some other poets, and Ray Manzarek was going to back us on keyboards, I agreed. At the rehearsals he was full of interesting insights into the rehearsal process that I wish I had written down because I no longer remember. What I do remember, and assume is accurate, was his being a nice guy, and when I sat down and played a little between his rehearsing with the others, he complimented me and suggested I back myself on at least one poem. So I did. Not only the first and I think only time I combined my poetry with my piano playing, but with anybody's.

Today I feel honored that I got to meet Ray Manzarek (and John Densmore the drummer from The Doors while I was in L.A. as well, at another gig where I read some of my poems and he backed others on drums if I remember correctly, and was a total soulmate for the few minutes we spent getting to know each other) let alone collaborate briefly on some music and poetry with him. He was a true original, as much or more so than the legendary Jim Morrison whose lyrics Ray made unforgettable with his music.

Monday, May 20, 2013


My heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones in that terrible tornado. They keep comparing it to the one in 1999. My oldest son and I drove from L.A. to Jersey when I moved back East and passed through Oklahoma City the day after that 1999 one. The destruction had been horrendous. But the weirdest sight for me were the cars and trucks strewn about the landscape like some giant baby had tossed his toys around. What a terribly traumatic event for the people who experienced it as it was happening. And now again for some. May they find some peace.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I went to see the 3D version last night and decided it was more an event than a film. Baz Luhrmann's vision of F.Scott Fitzgerald's novel was certainly a spectacle, and the first forty-five minutes or so were full of the same kind of frenetic over stylized musical numbers and grand gestures that made Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE seem so daring and original.

But contemporary music and music styles used in period pieces isn't as original as it once was and using that technique for an already cinematic novel like THE GREAT GATSBY seemed like overkill to me.

Then there was Luhrmann's device of setting the entire novel in the context of the narrator's being in some sort of recovery institution using writing as a healing tool and thus writing Fitzgerald's masterpiece like some confessional therapy journal. A disservice to not just F. Scott but to every novelist who has labored over their books with the discipline and craft all art demands, or at least in creating the facility to take advantage of inspiration as more than diaristic compulsion.

And then there was the whole 3D thing. The new glasses certainly make the experience easier to endure than the old red and green cardboard ones, but the effect, at least for this flick, is not of three dimensional reality, but rather like looking at one of those children's pop up books, or the staggered rows of ducks and other targets in a shooting booth on the boardwalk, or even worse, what I experienced after my brain operation when my mind couldn't integrate what I was seeing into a composite but rather made every object distinct so that each had its own plane of existence which was just too much stimuli for my brain to take. Some scenes were less that way than others, especially in the slower more confined settings of the second half of the movie, but overall the effect was to distance the story from reality, for me.

And I still find Leonardo DiCaprio miscast when his character is supposed to be an older, experienced and manly man of the world because, despite his physique, his little boy face and head just can't carry that kind of maturity, though his scenes with the always brilliant Carey Mulligan were always fascinating to watch, they work very well together.

I didn't quite buy Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway either, though he too had some moments where his acting chops paid off. But I have to blame most of what I saw as missing the mark on Luhrmann. The first half of the movie was so frenzied the direction seemed to be purposely over stylized, almost as if he were riffing off silent movie conventions, but then the rest of the movie was pushed in a less silly more melodramatic TV Soap Opera way, as if he changed his mind halfway through, though we know movies aren't made chronologically so it was obviously a deliberate choice.

Another strange choice of Lahrmann's was having Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan play the Meyer Wolfsheim character, loosely based on Arnold Rothstein, the Jewish mobster who rigged the 1919 World Series and is played brilliantly on BOARDWALK EMPIRE by Michael Stuhlbarg. Why have a character Fitzgerald describes pretty much like the real Rothstein, a short, balding, New York Jewish man played by a tall, swarthy, long haired (even more so for that period, his hair looks like it's from the 1970s and his fedora and suit look like they're from a 1940s gangster flick) Indian from Bollywood!

Despite these caveats, and more—not just the music was anachronistic—there were enough moments—like several between DiCaprio and Mulligan—and noble failures among them—a lot of Australian actor Joel Edgerton's choices playing Tom Buchanan—to repeatedly regain my attention and make the movie going experience worth the price and effort for me.

There have been other attempts to bring Fitzgerald's masterpiece to the screen that have also failed to capture what makes the novel still so compelling. The problem, it seems to me, and Luhrmann's attempt especially, is that filmmakers fail to trust the material. Even though this GATSBY gets most of its dialogue straight from the book, it edits it in such a way, along with other scenes and minor characters, that the perfect plotting and pacing of the book gets diluted. Luhrmann and others seem to think an audience might not get the full force of Fitzgerald's genius without their help in underlining the highlights and editing out the historically specific that can't be projected in contemporary terms, yet these details are what would make a movie so much more engaging.

I recommend rereading the book after seeing this movie (I spent all morning doing just that, thankfully it's also Fitzgerald's fastest read). THE GREAT GATSBY was always the most cinematic of Fitzgerald's books, written in scenes and dialogue like a good screenplay, only in this one the stage directions are written in the language of the best lyric poetry. I'd love to see someone someday shoot it just as it is.

Friday, May 17, 2013


So it turns out the people in charge of the IRS policy that the Repubs have been screaming about, as well as the one handling the "talking points" for Ambassador Rice about Benghazi that they've also been screaming about, were both Bush Junior appointees!

Maybe Obama was smart to react to the IRS thing as though the Repubs were right and it was some sort of attack based on ideology (of course they and we know it wasn't, it was looking for groups who pretend to be about social causes when they're really about politics and trying to elect their people without scrutiny of their finances etc.) because it might give him the opportunity to fire Republican appointees in the government, usually impossible to make happen (let alone hire his own appointees many of which the Repubs continue to hold out on, some since Obama's first term!).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


From the first day of the Obama administration in his first term the Republicans went on the offensive. That meant throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick and then trying to blame the stain on the Democrats. Some seems to be sticking again.

Democrats being less binary and more open to nuance and complexity, too often (almost always actually) allow Republicans to frame the argument in simplistic right and wrong terms where the Democrats are always wrong and the Republicans always right in their terms, and on their terms.

Obama and the Dems in the Senate should have started investigations of the Bush/Cheney regime and all its transgressions immediately, and made the charges criminal, and enforced them through the Justice Department until every last member of the Bush regime that collaborated in fake evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or not inspected the financial institutions that caused the Great Recession, etc. etc. etc. were locked up, and their cohorts in the bank and financial institutions etc. as well.

The entire Republican Party was on its back after Obama's first victory, but being thoughtful, reasonable and humane, the liberal Dems did not jump on them and make sure they couldn't get up again but instead Obama proclaimed he wanted to look forward and not prosecute all the malfeasance that existed under Bush/Cheney before his election.

Did you know that the person in charge of initiating the IRS policy that led to the investigating of Tea Party organizations' eligibility for tax exemptions which led to the present manufactured crisis was a Bush appointee? No, because that's not what this big fuss is meant to cause. It's meant to make Obama, the Dems, liberals and the government all look bad, despite the fact that the IRS minions, including the one who resigned today (and had nothing to do with that policy) were just doing their jobs, checking if organizations that use the Tea Party name and hide behind the "patriot" facade really deserve tax exemptions that allow them not to disclose their donors or because they aren't really about politics and ensuring that a Tea Party Republican will have a better chance at defeating any opponent thanks to billionaire money that can't be traced etc.

Obama's outrage over this is a little like the Republican tail wagging the dog. I understand the politics of it, the media is sucking it up and there's no way the subtleties and nuances will be reported, just the horse race of who will whip the IRS bogie man harder, the Repubs or the Dems but it's tiresomely familiar and crucial to the right's goal of diminishing the power of government to regulate gazillionaires and their ginormous corporations the right deems persons.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


"My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations." —Michael J. Fox (in an interview with AARP magazine, paraphrasing something he "came across a few years ago")

Monday, May 13, 2013


Here's a compelling video for any Dylan lovers or musicians or any kind of artists that understand the creative process. Imagine trying to do this with the song still completely new and yet to be recorded and in the presence of some mighty successful peers (at least four that we see) and with all that other business going on around you (like a movie or TV shoot or recording session with photographers and lighting folks and  engineers and various workers and etc.). And having to accept the producer's call on whether you did it or not to his satisfaction not yours. Like I said, for me, totally compelling:

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Here's my mother with my father and siblings. I'm the one in her arms, my brother Buddy (James) behind me was about to join the Navy and end up in Okinawa at the end of WWII, our oldest brother, Tommy, in uniform, was in the Army Air Corps, the other brother, Robert (his first name was actually William) was too young for the military, my sisters Joan and Irene were still in grade school, Our Lady of Sorrows (talk about mothers). Another brother, John, between me and the others, had died as an infant. My father was a seventh grade drop out who started small businesses after earlier ones failed and my mother, a high school graduate, was his secretary, taking care of all the bills etc. as well as all us kids. My guess is we were celebrating Tommy's leaving to go back to the Army, an occasion, like most, that required all to dress in their Sunday best. My mother passed in 1966, the day before Mother's Day as I remember it. The only ones in the photograph still alive are the youngest of my two sisters, Irene, and me.


Here's some more Hollywood sets I like, starting with two open car sets. I've been shot in movies driving a car but it was either done through the windshield with a camera on the hood or inside the actual car driving on actual roads. These were shot in studios with sets behind them or screens projecting roads, starting with one of my favorite movie actresses of all times, Silvia Sydney, with the young Henry Fonda:
And Cathy O'Donnell with Farley Granger (my sisters adored him, and I always dug her) playing bad kids:

Here's Cathy in another of her most famous roles, this time as the unbelievably sweet girl next door with Harold Russell in BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES:
I always loved train sets on Hollywood sound stages too, like in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, but here's one's with the incomparable Gene Tierney (I think from LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN):
 And a bonus one, also from THE BIG SLEEP like yesterday, but this time Bogie's with the young Dorothy Malone in the only scene she had in the flick but it's some of her best work, early on before she got cast in all those melodramas of the 1950s, this is the famous bookshop scene, another great Hollywood soundstage set:
Love old Hollywood.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I had the great luck of getting to work on Hollywood studio sound stages and back lots where some of my favorite stars acted out some of my favorite scenes. I worked on these lots mostly in movies but in TV shows too, including the only one I was a regular on but only lasted one season so never got syndicated and seems to have disappeared completely, BERENGERS. It was set in a department store that was inside a soundstage on the MGM lot before Sony took it over. What a thrill for a kid who grew up on old Hollywood flicks. Here's Taylor and Clift on the same lot I worked on outside a soundstage two decades before I got there:
I thought I'd post some photos of some old Hollywood studio sets that I dig. This one from REAR WINDOW is maybe my all time favorite Hollywood set:
Here's Joan Blondell, one of my alltime favorite movie actors, on a 1930s art deco office set, one of my favorite periods for sets:
And another favorite movie actress, Jane Greer, on the set of one of my alltime favorite films OUT OF THE PAST, a great example of the film noir studio sets I loved, mostly because of the lighting:
And an example from one of the best classic film noirs THE BIG SLEEP, the "big house" (as in mansion not prison) entrance way, totally convincing in the movie, with another of my favorite film actresses the much underrated and mostly forgotten Martha Vickers, who almost stole the movie from Bogie and Bacall:

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Taylor Mead was an icon of what at various times in his life was called Bohemia or the underground, alternative or downtown scene. A writer, actor, artist and performance artist so unique, there really wasn't a category for him. You could say in some ways he was kind of the poor man's Quentin Crisp. That is, a person so true to his own nature and personality that he never ever could be mistaken for anyone else, nor was he ever anything but "out" as a gay man, long before almost anyone else.

I first learned of him when I saw him in what now would be called an indie movie but in 1963 was called an "underground film"—HALLELUJAH THE HILLS.  His screen presence was so unique I never forgot it, so that when we finally met several years later I could have picked him out of any crowd. I also knew him as the author of a book I no longer have, because someone robbed it from one of my apartments sometime in the past, but I remember as THE AMPHETAMINE DIARIES. Though I couldn't find that title when I googled it.

When that book came out, the title seemed like a jab at the composer Ned Rorem's PARIS DIARIES. Taylor was excellent at popping anyone's ballooning ego, including mine. As he got older he sometimes came across like a mildly disabled, flamboyantly outrageous, elfin, drag-queen-not-in-drag, boyish-voiced, elder authority on all things.

We were in a production of John Ashbery's THE HEROES in a downtown theater that didn't last long (on Van Dam Street) around 1980 and walking back from a show one night with a few others in the cast, all younger than me, I was arguing with them about William Burroughs who I felt got too many accolades from young people on the downtown and alternative scenes as opposed to his contemporary Kerouac who was often dismissed by those types. I objected to Burroughs' misogyny as well as other things but wasn't articulating it too well when Taylor interrupted as if he'd just realized who we were talking about and fairly screamed in his high pitched voice: "Oh that paranoid queen!" and went on to succinctly debunk Burroughs mystique as some sort of benevolent wise old seer of the future, as I had been trying to do unsuccessfully, pointing out that Burroughs lived in "A BUNKER!" (actually the men's locker room from an old downtown YMCA, or so I remember it being explained to me when I was invited to visit him there) and went around with a gun everywhere even though Burroughs was the one who'd shot and killed someone (his wife at the time, in a famous attempt to shoot a cocktail glass off her head a la William Tell but he missed), etc. When Taylor was done there was no more defending of Burroughs from the young cast members.

To this day I regret that no one ever took a cast photo, as it was a great group and I'd love to have a photograph of me with Taylor. The last time I saw him I missed that opportunity as well, deliberately, out of some attempt at humility I now regret. I was at a fancy dinner thrown by the art foundation DIA in a downtown location used for big expensive dinners and parties, everyone dressed in finery that probably cost as much as half a year's rent on my apartment (or a year or more on Taylor's, whose wealthy landlord had been trying to get him out of his rent controlled apartment for decades) and trying to not feel anxious, since this was after my brain operation so the crowd was hard to take.

I found a spot to sit and lean back against a pillar with a small space in front of me so there wasn't too much stimuli, when I spied Taylor coming through the door. People were making a fuss over him but he headed my way and I got up and helped him sit beside me. I'm not sure he recognized me, but I reminded him who I was and we talked for quite a while while we waited to be called to our assigned tables for the dinner (we were both there as "artists" who had been invited to perform at DIA sponsored events).

Everytime someone came up to pay their respects to Taylor, after they left he'd comment on them, their looks or outfits, or say something about having no idea who they were, in which case I tried to fill him in if I had any idea. When they asked to take a photo of him or them with him, I would move out of the frame in, like I said, an attempt at humility I guess, though I now regret I didn't get someone to take a photo of us together for me to keep.

At any rate, Taylor's body had deteriorated since the last time I'd seen him, which hadn't been that long ago. I think he told me he'd had a stroke, but I may be remembering that incorrectly (we shared health stories old man style, though he didn't let me get away with that, pointing out how I still looked good to him, only in much more graphic and salacious terms), but his mind was sharper than my post-op one as he archly commented on everyone who passed by until it was time to go to our tables.

He leaned on my arm as I helped him walk unsteadily with his cane to his table and he kissed me as a thank you for that. I went to my table with a bunch of older (like me) wealthy (unlike me) but pleasant strangers and one bright and delightful young woman who had known my older kids in college. Another young woman, the daughter of an artist friend back in my Soho days, found me after dinner and some other old friends from 1970s downtown, so I didn't talk to Taylor again except to say goodbye when I'd had enough and left to catch a cab to Penn Station and the train back to Jersey.

I'm so happy I got to spend that time reconnecting with Taylor before he left us all. He will be remembered by many for many years to come. Too bad he didn't outlive his greedy landlord.
[PS For those who sometimes object to my personalizing not just obits but most of my posts, that's the point. There are plenty of tributes to Taylor and obituary notices to read and more "official" takes on him and his passing, this is about where my history intertwined with his in ways that had an impact on me and continues to.]

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I've written about this TV series before. It's from Canada, set in Toronto during WWII focusing on a group of women who work in a bomb making factory, beginning before the USA got into the war. It's partly melodramatic, partly extremely topical (deals with class issues, lesbianism, race, Christian fundamentalism, xenophobia, etc.) but also partly realistic, and unlike any U.S. version of the "American experience" of WWII.

It also has some fantastic acting by Meg Tilly as a middle aged mother and housewife now forewoman of the women making the bombs. Tonight's episode was her at her best and worth the whole season for my taste. I'm hooked. I get it on the REELZ channel but wonder if it's available through other means for any who might be curious to discover it and catch up with the story line. If anyone finds it that way, let me know how so I can turn more folks on to it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


"When you know, to know that you know, and when you do not know, to know that you do not know — that is true knowledge."  —Confucius (from his ANALECTS, translated by Giles)

Monday, May 6, 2013


I didn't get the exact numbers, but on the car radio today I heard that Wal Mart had made something like four hundred and fifty billion dollars, and I'm thinking, this is a family owned business in which the children of the guy who started it have combined incomes that could wipe our the national debt or solve poverty in the USA and other places as well, etc. but can't give their employees health care or pay them enough to afford a decent place to live or support a family without another breadwinner etc.

And then I thought, the Waltons are like some Middle Ages feudal lords who own everything and the poor peasants barely get by. This is what happens when Republicans are controlled by their right wing which serves the interests of greed and they control the government and courts enough to dismantle all the safeguards created as a result of the Great Depression to prevent this kind of return to feudalism.

The new Dark Ages. Who's got the pitchforks?

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Caught this classic the other night. It felt strange. I had seen it as a child when it first came out and only remembered it as another Western movie, a weird Western movie, but still just another Western.

In the 1970s living in Manhattan, a lot of the downtown intellectuals regarded it as a very important film and I saw it again and understood some of the reasons why. The color, in 1946, a time of almost exclusively black and white flicks, was almost garish in ways that were more painterly in an avant garde artistic way than a Hollywood way.

But when I watched it the other night, it was like watching a brand new movie. Not one scene in the film seemed familiar. And I was almost overwhelmed with the uniqueness of it. Not just the way color was used, but by the extravagance of the entire project.

First of all the casting. It was like a who's who of competing acting styles. One of the first true movie stars, and worldwide, in silent films, Lilian Gish played the beaten down matriarch as the usual diminutive, delicate ingenue she became famous playing, only now an aging one. Her domineering, angry, belligerent husband was played by Lionel Barrymore in his great but sometimes more stage oriented style, while their two sons were played by Joseph Cotton, as the refined, forward looking, intellectual,in his usual droll style and Gregory Peck at his most beautiful as his bad boy brother, the charming but at times brutal rogue in the loosest acting style he ever employed.

And at the center of the family drama is the interloper, the "mixed breed—or in Barrymore's character's terms "half breed"—brought to live with them played by Jennifer Jones, a most unlikely choice and counter to almost every other role she ever played, heavily made up to look brown skinned, and either directed or choosing to play the role with savage and feral cunning that does not rescue her character from Peck's sexual charisma.

It's certainly the sexiest role she ever played (I remembered her best when I was a boy for playing Saint Bernadette in 1943—but like DUEL IN THE SUN, these movies were often replayed in Saturday matinees so you could get to see them after they were first released), but she was then the love object of David O. Selznick so she got the role and man did she make something of it. The whole film is over the top, operative (I meant to type "operatic" but will leave "operative" in as an example of how I continue to have to retype words my brain means but my fingers decide to say otherwise) in its plot and director King Vidor's handling of it. The ending is such a drawn out demand on our willingness to accept delayed emotional gratification that it's excruciating, which is what the scene demands actually.

In the end it's unlike any film I can think of (of course, obviously, I can't think of as many as I once could) and worth it just to watch the clash of acting styles, all done to perfection in each star's way (and even the many great character actors in it as well, from Charles Bickford to Harry Carey). If I ever forget it again, you'll know my brain's done, because I've been flashing on scenes from it for days now, and suspect and hope I will for the remainder of my days, just for the satisfying delight in its over the top go for broke attempt to be the ultimate, or maybe ultimate alternative, Western.

Friday, May 3, 2013


So the other night after the movies, I ran into a woman I know who had brain surgery around the same time I did, a little over three years ago. It was like meeting a fellow member of a secret club.

We moved to a place where we could talk and catch up, and though her operation was more serious and the impact more serious we shared a lot. One of the things it was a relief to share with her was our common experience of people being tired of hearing us bring up our brain operations or using them as an explanation (or excuse in other's minds I'd guess, and our own sometimes), like they want us to get over it already.

And along with that, people often say they experience the same thing we're experiencing when we can't think of the right word, or use the wrong one, or just get things wrong, when we know from the before/after experience that what we used to feel in our minds when we couldn't remember the word we were searching for and what often happens now when our minds just go completely blank for a moment or longer are distinctly different.

There was more, the little quirky individualized things we experienced that we hadn't before (my most famous was not finding Meryl Streep a woman I would ever feel attracted to before the operation and still after it, except whenever I see her on TV since the op and stop to watch, in which case I get all gooey feeling like a kid with a crush or a young man with spring fever)

Anyway, it was nice to talk about these things with someone understands. As I suspect it always is with any trait or experience or common history etc.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Saw THE COMPANY YOU KEEP tonight with a friend and was glad I did. The cast was terrific, so many great actors that I was disappointed they all didn't get to do more, most of them taking pretty small parts, I guess to work with Redford, who stars in it and directed and co-produced it.

It's true, as some have said, that he looks old, his face weathered from all that outdoor living he loves, and he moves at times like a man in his seventies, which he is. But he still has a lot of the Redford presence and charisma, and at times moved better than I could. And he gets to act in scenes with Nick Nolte, who's perfect in his role, and Julie Christie and Richard Jenkins and Chris Cooper and Shia LaBeouf, who I liked in his role as a cocky young reporter better than anything I've seen him do in a while. He's never struck me as a real movie star, but surrounded by the movie stars in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP he held his own very well.

Then there's other great actors Redford directed but aren't in scenes with him, like Susan Sarandon, Terence Howard (well they have a small bit together), Sam Elliott, Stanley Tucci, Anna Kendrick, and a lot more. It's an incredible cast, like I said.

The story is familiar, out of the headlines as they say, only the headlines were originally from the late 1960s and first few years of the '70s in which case Redford and some of the others would be playing grandparents instead of parents of still young kids. But then, I have a fifteen year old and I was a radical in the '60s like most of the older characters in this flick. Oh did I mention Brendan Gleeson?

It's the kind of movie ordinarily kept back until closer to Oscar time, serious subject, serious cast, some nostalgia for the stars from the past, etc. But it's out now, and for my taste, worth seeing, though I can see that it might not satisfy a lot of movie goers because, as I said, some of the great actors that are in it aren't really given enough time and story to make their involvement worth it to those who expect them to be doing their usual roles.

Redford's nickname among those who work for him and some who have worked with him is "ordinary Bob," because he likes to keep things low key and natural. This movie does that too, though it does have some tension and some chase scenes, but even those are directed and shot and played as close to "ordinary" as they can get, rather than showy and over dramatic. Check it out, let me know what you think.