Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Had dinner tonight with some old friends and a few strangers, just men, in a private restaurant that is also a cigar club in midtown Manhattan with Al Sharpton holding forth at a nearby table, and at ours discussions of everything from Anthony Weiner (one table mate knew him and he was the most vitriolic in his criticism from personal experience) to A Rod to RAY DONOVAN to ex-wives, to fatherhood, to cigars.

I don't smoke them and don't drink or smoke anything else so had three desserts instead. It was a lovely evening with stimulating conversation, good food, good fellowship and good conversation. But as I was entering, I ran into a friend, both of us dressed casually for a summer night. He happened to be wearing sneakers so had to give them up before going into the main room. An attractive older woman asked his shoe size and supplied a pair of leather men's shoes to replace his sneakers which she kept for him. Like going to the bowling alley. How odd the world is sometimes.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Watching RAY DONOVAN last night I kept thinking, as I had the week before, this is too close to home in some ways. A lot of the story lines are contrived, it is fiction, and the set up is a little calculated etc. but the idea of the East Coast Irish wannabe thug or ex-thug or just working-class hard guy persona etc. in Hollywood is not totally unfamiliar.

A lot of friends and acquaintances used to make clear they thought my ego was way out of whack because I would often comment on how some plot point or character in a movie, and sometimes on TV, came from my life. They'd point out that me and my experiences are not that unique, that ideas are "in the air" and more than one person gets the same idea at the same time, or that I was just insanely egocentric.

But in my defense, I lived in "Hollywood" (i.e. near Hollywood in the L.A. area but among people who worked in film and TV) for seventeen years and worked in the film and TV industries for over thirty (and was around those businesses for even more years) and almost daily was at parties or having dinner or lunch or brunch or breakfast or meetings in offices or on sets with producers and writers and stars and agents and managers.

And my mode of conversation is storytelling, like a lot of the Irish and most of my clan. The way I explained myself or engaged with others was to tell a little vignette from my life or someone I knew from my life. And for eight years I ran a weekly poetry series (POETRY IN MOTION) with my partner Eve Brandstein at which I read poems usually based on my life experiences. So when I saw an actor doing a character on screen that I thought was in some ways imitating me, it wasn't that far fetched, especially if the casting director or director himself had videotaped me doing an audition for the same role, or if an aspect of a flick seemed be taken from my life. The audience at those weekly readings in L.A. included many studio execs and producers and writers and actors etc.

After I moved to Jersey and eventually retired from TV and film work, I still saw those things but didn't mention them as often, or at all, because I understood that even if I was right it didn't matter. Ultimately all ideas come from somewhere, and characters are written or played from the creators' perspective on aspects of all kinds of things and people they have seen or heard about or imagined.

Then I started watching RAY DONOVAN and was bugged, as expressed in my post on the show, with the absence of Irish names among the cast and creators (there were one or two but a drop comapared to all the Italian names on say a Scorcese movie even when it's about the Irish! ala THE DEPARTED). I was interested to see what Jon Voight would do with the Whitey Bolger type character—Micky Donovan—he plays on the show and was impressed with his and much of the acting in the first few episodes.

Then on the show last week, I saw aspects of my life again, including specifics I've written extensively about. Like Micky Donovan having kids from a "white" wife but feeling the main love of his life was a "black" woman from his early years and how he goes back to see her after twenty years away (him in prison me in L.A.) still in love with her but her married to another "white" man who isn't like him.

That was a central part of my story that I wrote about often and in particular in a poem I read a lot in my L.A. years and was published in the book that came out of those readings, CANT BE WRONG, and read on my first CD: WHAT YOU FIND THERE. Then in last night's episode Voight as Micky was not only dressed exactly as I always dressed for years in my time in L.A. but was actually making some of the same gestures and even dance moves and so on that I did and still do. So much so that one of my best friends I've made since coming back to Jersey called me this morning and said when he was watching the same episode last night he couldn't stop thinking of me because Voight's moves, especially the dance ones etc. were so like what he's seen me do.

Now all that could just be coincidence, or because Voight and I are around the same age and are East Coast guys, but I've met and talked to him at parties and other events over the years and though we do share more than many others he's not me, and Micky is a character he's playing not his everyday persona. It's not mine either, but it has more in common with mine, especially in the context of my L.A. years, than his from what I know.

The creator of RAY DONOVAN, Ann Biderman, is a terrific woman whom I know, though I haven't seen her in many years, and know was around when I was reading that poem and other writing about aspects of my life that are also part of Micky's character. Maybe my work just reminded her of other guys like me and Micky, or maybe she unconsciously absorbed the stories of my experiences and they melded with her imagination and research and stories from others, or maybe she owns some of my books or CDs and used some of that for her research too, or maybe not.

But, it is eerie to see someone you've already been told by some folks (and critics too) reminds them of you, or vice versa (i.e. Jon Voight), playing a character with your moves and some very specific experiences and tastes and styles of yours, including some rarely if ever seen on TV or in films before. Life goes on, but what a trip.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


There was a period in my life where I played a JJ Cale album every day just to lift my spirits. He will be missed. [Here's the main song that did it, i.e. lifted my spirits everytime I heard it:]

Friday, July 26, 2013


Inspired by several Internet postings, I thought I'd do my own dick photos:
Bad Dick
Hollywood Dick
Cool Dick
Uncool Dick
Pretentious Dick
Comic Dicks
Dancing Dick
Boss Dick [I worked for him once]
Saint Dick
Bad Dick

Thursday, July 25, 2013


"If we were incapable of humility we would be incapable of joy, because humility alone can destroy the self-centeredness that makes joy impossible." —Thomas Merton (from New Seeds of Contemplation)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


One of the capital offenses in my personal legal system is self-righteousness. I'm certainly guilty of it sometimes and am happy to be called on it. Another capital offense is making a commercial that isn't either original or amusing or moving and all in the service of honest evaluation. So that means when I'm watching TV that has commercials I change the channel a lot, or if they're covering Anthony Weiner.

I actually accidentally caught some reporter on CNN accusing Weiner's wife of being "ambitious" in the words of someone who supposedly knew her personally.  Can you believe that someone in the journalism profession who managed to make it to the top of the TV world would be using the word "ambition" snidely judgmentally?!

If we are going to judge how well a person might practice their profession based on their personal habits, or compulsions or even addictions (there's some recent studies that show that the brains of persons struggling with "sex addiction" do not show the same reactions to their drug of choice as do say heroin or meth or etc. addicts, but for this post I'll concede the term might fit some people, including me at times) than we shouldn't elect or hire anyone who is overweight and definitely not anyone who is clinically obese because that shows "poor judgment" when it comes to food and exercise. Et-endlessly-cetera.

Now, you could say, as some did, about Chris Christie that you might not vote for him because you're afraid he might die in office from a heart attack due to his weight, but that's different from saying voters shouldn't support Weiner because of his private life, which it turns out at least in street interviews most New Yorkers are not saying.

If I were living in the city still, I'd probably vote for Christine Quinn just to see New York's first Irish lesbian woman mayor. But I liked the policies Weiner voted and fought for as a Congressman and don't see why his sex life has anything to do with it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


When WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN came out in 1988 it did for post-Franco Spain what THE COMMITMENTS did for the Irish and Ireland when it came out, changed the way an entire culture and country was seen by the rest of the world.

The writer/director Pedro Almadovar became an international sensation, and like a lot of people I followed his career by watching his movies pretty consistently. I missed a few of his more serious and perhaps more demanding films, but despite some dismissive and outright hostile reviews for his latest as being too slight, too contrived, even too silly and campy (which Almadovar pretty much defined for our times so how he could be extreme at that was baffling to me and I wanted to see), I joined a couple of friends for a matinee today and was pleasantly surprised, or maybe ultimately not, to be delightedly satisfied.

If you don't like over the top campy comedy, don't see it. But if you want to escape and have a few really big laughs as well as watch a lot of wonderful actors have fun with their roles, go see I'M SO EXCITED. You will enjoy seeing cameos by Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, two international movie stars who got their first breaks from Almadovar, but for me it's always the women in Almadovar's movies that make them worthwhile. Yes there's a lot of great males including some young handsome discoveries I'm sure the women will enjoy, but it's actresses like Blanca Suarez, Lola Duenas and Cecilia Roth that captured my imagination and made me want to see more of them.

At any rate, for a fun time, it's worth the price of admission.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


If you've never been there, and I hadn't, The Dream Away Lodge was legendary even before Bob Dylan and The Rolling Thunder Review came through back in the 1970s and he later used it as a location for some of RENALDO AND CLARA. That's that part of the legend anyway.

Last night one of the bands my older son, Miles, plays bass in—BELL ENGINE—played in the music room at Dream Away so I finally got the chance to check this legendary place out. It's the most rustic location I ever enjoyed myself that much in, because after driving up winding roads through deep woods until you feel you're in the middle of nowhere, or actually on top of the middle of nowhere (you're actually across the road from October Mountain State Forest, outside of Becket, Mass.), you come upon this wood cabin style lodge with people gathered around a fire outside and meandering paths cut into the foliage where you can discover ponds and more, and inside several rooms with mismatched chairs and tables and other places to sit and drink and eat including one room designated for music.

BELL ENGINE's first set (I had to leave shortly after the second began) was one of their mellowest and tightest and showcased the great musicianship and harmonic singing of the group. And for the last song of the set, one my son Miles wrote both lyrics and melody for, Ethan Mazursky, the fourteen-year-old son of good friends, who grew up with my grandson, sat in on guitar and rocked the joint while appearing completely unfazed and unpretentious about it. He just played the licks and had the room shouting.

There are photos in the bar of Dylan and Joan Baez and others there, and an old paperback coffee table size book on a stand near the entrance, a book about "The Movement" of the 1960s, in which I have an article, one of many written for many underground newspapers of that era. So it all felt like home to me.

If you are ever in Western Massachusetts go to Becket and check out The Dream Away Lodge and also look to see where BELL ENGINE might be playing and check them out too. If they both come together on a night when you're there, it'll be an experience you'll never forget.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


I first saw this play back in 1982 when it was making a sensation in New York.  It had a run that included Susan Sarandon, Farrah Fawcett and Karen Allen filling the lead role. Allen was in it the longest and for my taste gave the best performance (personal disclosure, she's an old friend). And now, thirty years later, she is directing a new production at The Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge, Mass., and for me it was like seeing a brand new play.

Her casting, staging and direction create a devastatingly intense experience. Mastrosimone's play is not an easy piece to pull off. It has a few moments of unlikely humor, but the rest are all pitched at a level of intensity that is almost stressful to watch. If you haven't seen the play in its original incarnations, or the unfortunately not great film that was made of it decades ago, the subject is rape, or almost rape, and all the problems that arise from it, especially when it came to getting justice in 1982, or it seems, oftentimes still.

Molly Camp in the lead role had me totally engaged from her first entrance. From vulnerability to violence, from rational to raving, Camp plays almost all the emotions an actor has access to. James McCreary as her stalker/would be rapist is the second actor to come onstage and the early scenes are dominated by his evil manipulation and abuse and her fight for survival and eventually vengeance. The first scene was so powerful I found myself cringing and tensed up as if I were witnessing an actual attack.

The other two members of the cast, Kelly McCreary and Mriam Silverman, are equally powerful in much less physically strenuous roles but no less demanding. Camp has the toughest performance to pull off and she does, making me, as I said, cringe in the first scene and having me crying by the last scene. I love live theater when it works and this production works, thanks to Karen Allen and her cast. Well worth seeing if you're anywhere near Stockbridge, Mass.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Caught this 2002 documentary, which I had seen bits of (like my recent post of Joan Osborne from it) and which I thought was titled THE FUNK BROTHERS because that's what it's about, the heretofore mostly unrecognized musicians who made the Motown sound and backed up more hits than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elvis combined.

I'm easily moved the older I get by talent and the gifts creative talent has given me and to the world in general. But this documentary about men so humble and so accepting of their mostly unsung efforts in creating the sound of a generation that still continues today in samples and most of our digital music libraries will probably move you too. 

Some I'd known of because musicians lauded them even if the general public had no idea who they were, like the great Motown sound bassist James Jamerson who many consider to be the best base player in soul and R&B and pop music ever. Unfortunately he was already gone when this doc came out. But it's still a tribute to him in particular as it is to the rest of the musicians who created and innovated and articulated and in fact were the sound of Motown music.

There are moments in the film—like Joan Osborne's work with the musicians still alive on "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" or Chaka Khan's jazz scatting on "What's Goin' On?"—that are worth watching it just for them, each performance brought tears to my eyes, because of the surviving members of the band's humble gratitude at playing together again these classic songs of their era that they were the heart and soul of.

But the story of Motown told from the perspective of these mostly unsung heroes of that story is even more moving. If you ever dug a Motown record, you owe it to yourself to check this documentary out: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN.

BEWARE OF MR. BAKER is a more recent documentary (2012 I believe) made by an American, Jay Bulger, who insinuated himself into the great drummer Ginger Baker's life and ended up living for a time with the man in Africa as well as filming him and eventually interviewing him for this flick and eventually getting a bloody nose from the then 71-year-old Baker because he was angry that Bulger was going to include other people's perspective in the movie, not just Ginger's.

I was still playing jazz when Cream made their first album and the drummer I had worked with years before who was the greatest drummer I'd ever worked with or encountered when I was young and who hated "rock" was visiting. When I played the record for him his jaw literally dropped. He sat there open mouthed shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Ginger Baker was not only the greatest drummer ever in rock'n'roll and what came out of that, as this documentary proves to my satisfaction (backed up by assertions in the flick from some of the greatest musicians in not just "rock" etc.) he was also one of the greatest arrangers and musical strategists, as well as strong competition for one of the top ten, maybe even five, greatest drummers of all time.

But he also wins the most cantankerous drug and booze addled bastard possibly ever in rock'n'roll and what came out of it. Experts in this doc attribute the creation of "heavy metal" as well as "jam bands" and more to Ginger Baker's innovations as a drummer in rock'n'roll. But even if none of that were true, or you personally want to contest it (and go up against musicians a lot more accomplished than me or most likely you) BEWARE OF MR. BAKER is worth watching for a ton of other reasons.

One of them is just the uniqueness of Baker's personality and history. Here's a redheaded English lad born before WWII, experiencing the blitz—one of the early highlights of the film is a montage of newsreel footage of planes dropping bombs and the sound of their impact laid over the sound of Baker's drumming, which caused an immediate epiphany as to the now obvious source of his amazing drumming. Another comes later in the film when after enormous success with several bands all of which mostly ended due to Baker, he drops everything and moves to Lagos, Nigeria, in the 1970s (!) when things were extremely precarious for natives let alone tall redheaded foreigners sticking out literally like a sore thumb, because he wanted to be in the heart of Africa where he believed the best drumming in the world was.

It's an extraordinary story, a lot of it frustrating (mostly due to his creative bullheadedness combined with his obvious alcoholic/addict self-centeredness) but all of it revelatory and worth watching no matter how much it might make you cringe. And the musical highlights are, as you can imagine, truly amazing.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


A day or two ago poet and friend Ron Silliman posted a link to an interview I did for the NPR show BOOKWORM back in the late 'nineties after my book CANT BE WRONG came out. The interviewer whose show that is, Michael Silverblatt, not only knew my work well, as he always does the work of his interviewees, but asked questions and made observations that make it my best recorded interview I think.

It was a total surprise to see this so many years later on SILLIMAN'S BLOG, which I think was the first and most followed poetry blog on the web. And I'm grateful that the show might get a few more listeners as a result (and hopefully that book a few more readers).

Then this morning I had brunch with Doctor Mindy Thompson Fullilove, a brilliant professor from Columbia (of "Clinical Sociomedical Sciences" as well as Clinical Psychiatry) and the author most recently of URBAN ALCHEMY Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities, a book I look forward to reading, and after the introduction and first few pages am already preparing to turn people on to.

And I just discovered a post she did about our brunch on her blog, COUNTDOWN TO MAIN STREET, which tracks her visits to cities and towns as she looks into the health of communities from a holistic approach that especially focuses on the ways inequities and separations that contribute to the decline of cities can be reversed. I plan to be a regular reader and have just added a link to the blog to my list of recommended blogs and sites on the lower right so you can see for yourself.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Here's the back up band Joan Osborne had with her at the concert I saw Sunday evening when they did this tune. But picture her extending this version much longer, doing much more with her voice, her hips and the rest of her body, sometimes involving a tambourine hitting a swaying hip, getting energy from a crowd that was totally into her every gesture, every fluctuation of her smile or voice or movement, at least in the thirty yard thick crowd in front of the shoulder high stage, and the fact the temperature and humidity were way high and the stage lights burning in the dark night and everyone sweating and grooving to the beat and her mesmerizing presence and you get a slight idea of why I'm still high on her performance.

[PS: here's another taste, gotta watch it to the end to get it]


I fall in love very easily, especially with creative talent. I fell again tonight. My town has a two day music festival every summer and it was this weekend. I've posted about it before and almost always positively, because there's just so much talent in the world it's pretty easy it seems to put together two days of continuous bands playing in a lot of different styles and configurations and end up satisfying an audience, and me.

It takes place outside in our main local park in a kind of natural amphitheater, basically a grassy hill for people to sit on with the stage at the bottom and some trees behind it and a river behind them and on the other side of the river a duck pond and behind that a couple of playing fields for baseball/soccer/lacrosse/field hockey/ultimate Frisbee (it was invented here).

When they started the festival ten years ago the bands were local and played on a small riser and had to run for cover when it rained. Now a few of the bands often have a local connection (the drummer grew up here etc.) and one or two are actually homegrown, but the main acts in the evenings are from somewhere else and they now play on a big stage with a top to it.

And where people used to come and just sit down on the hill to watch, and then started bringing blankets and coolers with beer and wine etc. and food, they now have local restaurants in booths at the top of the hill as well as arts and crafts booths and game booths for the kids and etc. and people not only bring their own chairs or blankets but tents, or whatever they call those things that are four posts with a top, to block the sun or yesterday the rain (there were lots of people not in tents, which cluster at the top so as to not block the view, so that yesterday looking down at the crowd it was mostly a sea of umbrellas.The bands kept playing through a torrential downpour and most of the crowd kept sitting there digging it).

Quite often the out of town bands are surprised by the enthusiasm of the local crowd. Part of that is just the kind of community it is, and part of it is that while the kids play the adults socialize and that means many of them have maybe had a few by late afternoon and everyone seems pretty loose. Saturday night's last two bands had people dancing in the space between the last of the sitters and the stage, especially to the last two main attractions. The penultimate act was The Iguanas, a New Orleans four piece band that got such an enthusiastic response from the crowd they seem startled, pleasantly so. After the first two songs had people dancing and shouting like an amen chorus the leader stepped to the mic and said: "Maplewood New Jersey, who knew?"

It was their first time in Jersey and the smiles they exchanged as their grooves got funkier and funkier responding to the crowd's energy made clear, they were not just surprised but delighted. It was a totally great set and then they were followed by Brother Josephus And The Love Revolution, a ten member band from Brooklyn that won the Indie music award last year and put on an amazing show that was lots of fun and packed with musical talent.

There were many other bands on both days, but the highlight for me was the main act of the weekend that closed the little festival a few hours ago: Joan Osborne. I knew who she was from her hit back in the '90s—"Maybe God Is One of Us"—a very catchy and moving song. But I hadn't really followed her music or paid any attention to what she was up to. So when I arrived late (having had to run to a previous engagement for an hour) and she was already up on stage as the daylight faded, there was a huge crowd squeezed up in front of the stage and the closest I could get to her was the thirty yard line.

She mentioned how she had fallen on stage, from wearing wedgies or whatever those high heels with the solid base that slants up are called, but I missed that. From my vantage point the first thing I noticed was her beauty, she looked like a slightly older Jennifer Lawrence (though I guess since she was around first it should be the other way round) and moved like, well, like a lot of women and performers on stage wish they could, free and easy and sexy and funky and groovy and cool and hot and open and generous and in control in a way that seemed loose and spontaneous. A real showman, I mean show woman.

The next thing I noticed was her voice. Amazing isn't the half of it. She ended one song on an almost bass note that had the texture of a good jazz saxophone player's tone. She did half steps up and down the scale in another song that came close to yodeling, but more extended and difficult to control—though she did. In fact her vocal control was so impressive every time the tiniest space opened up I made my way closer to the stage to just watch her move and hear even louder her touches of gospel and jazz and rock and funk and jam (she talked about touring with the Grateful Dead as "the chick singer" and did a Dead song that was lovely, as well as a Dylan a Van Morrison and a Bill Withers tune) and pop touches.

The temperature was high (it's the first day of another heat wave) the humidity killing, the bugs out, and she was under the lights with the band backing her that she was obviously inspiring to groove even harder as well as conducting them to extend riffs and reach pinnacles I'd watch them exchange smiles and nods to each other about—but she never lost her groove or her obvious passion for the music or her willingness to bring it all to the performance in a way the crowd just ate up.

I'm too tired to write any more or come up with the words to do so, but if Joan Osborne is ever performing anywhere near where you are and you love great singing, do yourself a favor and go. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013


I am heartsick over the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman and I'm ashamed to be considered what our ridiculous so-called racial social divisions call "white." Not because I want to see Zimmerman suffer or get revenge or vengeance against his deadly act, or because I don't think the jury made their decision in good conscience, but because it demonstrates once again that the racism, both institutional and social, so many of us risked so much to fight and change and defeat, is still so obviously at work in our legal system.

As has been pointed out many times, there are African-Americans who have used that law that says you can stand and defend yourself when you feel threatened and pull out a concealed gun and kill whoever you think is threatening you, black men who have done this when actually being chased and beaten by white men have still gone to prison for murder.

As was pointed out on MSNBC by a few commentators tonight, a black woman in that same district facing that same legal system who fired a warning shot into her ceiling when her violent husband was about to attack her, a man who had beaten her up and attacked her and threatened her before, when she shot a bullet into her own ceiling trying to protect herself she was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

But a man who dismissed the advice of the police to not follow a young black boy because this man thought the boy looked suspicious and he was tired of "these fucking punks getting away" with stuff, a man who had been in trouble before for attacking what he thought was a suspicious person who turned out to be an un-uniformed police officer, a man who had trained in martial arts and was a grown adult who had over forty (or was it fifty?) pounds on the boy he was following and determined to not let "get away" with what he had predetermined was criminal activity when it was merely a teenager walking home from the store, that man who shot and killed that boy goes free while our prisons and our so-called justice system continues to hold two different standards depending on your skin tone and ethnic and so-called racial background.

I live in a community that has been cited in separate New York Times articles over the years as the most racially integrated community, outside of major cities, in the country as well as the most gay friendly community outside of the San Francisco bay area and some major cities, and I know there are white gay couples and mixed race couples who have young boys, either adopted or natural, who will grow up to look like Treyvon Martin and are holding those boys tight tonight feeling something that I'm sure every black couple with sons in this country are feeling tonight, like the worth of a young black man in the USA is much less than that of a white one, because there is no doubt in my mind, and every statistic and study we have confirms this, that if Treyvon Martin had been white and George Zimmerman black and by that I mean dark skinned and of predominantly African ancestry, the shooter would be going to prison for a long long time.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


"The thing to do when you're to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you."  —Don Juan (from JOURNEY TO IXTLAN)

Friday, July 12, 2013


Just got back from the last showing, at least locally, of THE LONE RANGER. I wanted to catch it on the big screen before it was gone because people I respect, some of them Native American activists, or Indian People activists, recommended it, as well as others.

It's supposedly a flop, and many professional critics didn't dig it, some even predicting it's a sign of Johnny Depp's finally losing his movie star cache. But I wasn't buying it. I wanted to see for myself, and wanted my fifteen-year-old to see it too, because I love Westerns despite some of the Hollywood distortions of history and myth making that exalts that historical inaccuracy.

I wasn't disappointed. You might be. But I wasn't. It's a long movie to sit through, two and a half hours or thereabouts, and about halfway through I started to wonder if it was too long and going nowhere [I could have done without the framing story], etc. and then it picked up and made me feel like I was on a great ride, just for the fun of it.

And actually, historically, it was more accurate than most Westerns, as my son pointed out right away, with them getting it right that the workers who built the railroad were Irish and Chinese immigrants, together. And I can see why some of my Native American activist friends dug it, cause it gets some of their side of history accurately too. And it gets the beginnings of corporate America right also, as represented by the wealth the railroads created that made The Gilded Age so ruinous to the non-wealthy, reflecting our own times in that equally economically unequal period.

There were a lot of objections to Depp playing Tonto, and to the idea of Tonto anyway, despite claims that Depp is part Native American—some saying his claims, some saying his advocates' claims. But either way, I don't think it matters because Depp is just creating another memorable and indelible character. And he makes sure Tonto is his own man, nobody's sidekick, even if he is eccentric and comic and over the top ala Captain Jack Sparrow in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

There are fantasy elements of course, after all, THE LONE RANGER is a fantasy, but the way he is written and Armie Hammer plays him in this incarnation, he comes off more comic than mythic and more vulnerably human than heroic. I thought he matched Depp every step of the way.

I'm sorry it most likely won't become a franchise like THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, though it seemed set up to be (the director of that franchise, Gore Verbinski, directed this too). I'd like to see what else Depp can do with the character he created, and Hammer as well. Like I said, for me, it was a fun ride, worth the price.

[PS: Of course there's some historical inaccuracy as well, mostly in the dialogue with characters using expressions unknown in that period or referring to concepts not yet understood etc., but it's not as bad as Tarantino's over the top revenge fantasies, which in many ways this movie emulates, but without getting self-indulgent with the explicit violence ala Tarantino, etc.]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Sorry this video isn't quite in synch but the words are still as powerful and necessary. One of my new heroes:

[PS: Where's the outcry from the right about this woman's right to freedom of speech?!]

Monday, July 8, 2013


The first one was disturbing enough, but the sequel is even more so. The power of corporate money to corrupt our democracy has been obvious for a long time, but the damage being done to our most precious resources, air and water and nature is abominable.

I hope enough people see this documentary and the original (and others like them) to make a noise like those crowds in Egypt, enough to scare Congressional Representatives into action against their paymasters.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I love creative work that surprises me with its uniqueness. Especially work that may not get the kind of attention corporate sponsored creative work gets. Chris Mason is a poet and music maker whose work has been surprising me since the first time I encountered it back in the 1970s.

I've posted about him before, and have the cover of his last book as part of the screensaver slideshow on my computer. Most of his other poetry is challenging in ways that poets sometimes seem to be calculatingly trying to emulate but rarely do.

But Chris's latest is in many ways his most accessible and least precedent setting, yet still original in more subtle ways. And not so subtle, like the shape and size of the book—4x14 inches. The poems in the book (what most call a "chapbook" because the publication has no spine) WHERE TO FROM OUT (Furniture Press) are shaped to fit this size page, all with short lines and no poem longer than the page size, though some shorter.

The form of the poems is not unusual in poetry, long and narrow, nor is the form of the book entirely—each poem begins with a letter of the alphabet and every letter is covered, some with more than one poem. And each poem is about a place, which is named in the title, giving this collection a more personal and autobiographical feel than a lot of Chris's work, though it all is personal and autobiographical in some ways because his work is so deeply rooted in his unique perspective on language and meaning.

But as I said, the poems in WHERE TO FROM OUT are more accessible and therefore more familiar in style and approach than other work of his. Unfortunately this first edition has been published in an extremely limited run of only a hundred and fifty, and only fifty with the cover pictured above, the other hundred in plain covers. But if you can get a hold if it, I highly recommend doing so. You won't be disappointed.

I'll end with one of the poems in it that is least autobiographical and yet is ultimately so personal a take on our shared ancestral and human origins it feels like Mason was alive in that ancient past and has left this record of it for us:

 Pinnacle Point Cave
     Southern Coast
       South Africa
                years before now

Gather mussels, snails,
     shrimp, seaweed,
grab catfish, turtles,
     eat till you
drop.  Make marks to track
     the tide.  Fish,
shellfish oils make your
     brain grow big.
Get smart down by the
     water, then
walk north, past the hot
with no hair to where
     the hairy
elephants walk through
     the deep snow.
Meet some people there.
     Kill the guys.
Bring girls with to kiss
     and fuck.  Mix
blood, brain, bone.  Who were
     those guys?  Walk.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


I was seventeen in 1959 and had just begun playing jazz piano in coffee houses and clubs, all because of Ahmad Jamal. I had been playing piano since starting lessons at four and loved all kinds of music, including jazz which I got turned onto by my late older brothers (two of them already teenagers when I was born and both reed men, clarinet and sax) but had heard nothing quite like Jamal's touch or phrasing (Miles David attributed this period of the young Jamal's playing as the major influence in the change in his phrasing, talking about how Jamal uses less to do more etc.) and became so enamored with it I basically played every tune he recorded in his arrangements, only faster to prove I had mastered it. Of course I only thought I had. This video is so great, first of all just to show you what you could find on early TV that you can't now (thankfully you can find a lot of it on the Internet though)—the array of talent is staggering. I recognized Ben Webster (in hat with cig in his mouth) and the jazz enthusiast and critic Nat Hentoff (bearded white cat with pipe) but can only guess the rest (I'm wondering if the white chick next to Hentoff is Irene Krall, one of my favorite jazz artists back then). Anyway, if you watch this all the way through and don't get how great it is. Watch it again, until you do.

Friday, July 5, 2013


The democratically elected president was ousted by the military before his term was up. Sounds like a coup to me.

But, the democratically elected president overrode and/or overturned court decisions, parts of the constitution and some laws to give himself more power, disproportionate to what he was elected to wield, and seemed to be preparing to give himself even more. Sounds like a coup to me.

The democratically elected Congressional Representatives from the Republican Party redesign district boundaries so that Republican districts will always have a white Republican majority and can never be voted out and then change the rules of filibustering so they can prevent laws supported by the majority from being enacted and "holding" nominations so they can never reach the floor of the House, and thus with a tiny minority can control the federal government by preventing the will of the majorities in their state and country from being followed... Sounds like a coup to me.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


"There have been as great Souls unknown to fame as any of the most famous."  —Benjamin Franklin (as quoted in an article on his sister Jane by Jill Lepore in the latest New Yorker)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I'm glad Melissa McCarthy is a movie star. And I go to see her in the movies she stars in. That's why I caught her latest THE HEAT tonight. Especially since she was starring with Sandra Bullock, another woman I'm glad is a movie star, but for different reasons. I'm happy to see an Irish-American like McCarthy make it big in Hollywood and especially a woman with what the movie and TV biz would call "her look"—or what some of my people would call "heavyset."

Bullock I've always appreciated even when I didn't like some of her choices or the obviousness of some of the plot points in her flicks. THE HEAT isn't her best, nor McCarthy's, the plot is ridiculously obvious and predictable, the direction just okay and the writing pretty pedestrian. It was written by Katie Dippold (she's written mostly for TV as far as I can tell, including MADTV and PARKS & RECREATION) but there are definitely enough laugh out loud jokes and set ups and pay offs to be pretty much what I was looking for, a little escape and some laughs.

But I couldn't also help but feel a little bit bugged by the Irish-American stereotypes and miscasting for McCarthy's "Southie" family (the movie's set in Boston), even though some of the cliches about the Irish, like all cliches, have some reality to them. Which brings me to Ray Donovan.
Talk about cliches. This new Showtime cable series is full of terrific actors, starting with Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Elliott Gould, James Woods (the latter hasn't appeared yet but is listed as part of the cast online so I'm assuming his character will make an appropriately dramatic entrance in an upcoming episode) and the always terrific Eddie Marsan (who makes watching RAY DONOVAN worth it even if there weren't other compelling things about the show).

I'm not always crazy about Live Schreiber, and he certainly seems like an odd choice to play another East Coast Irish-American (I think he and his wife and brothers and father, played by Voight, are supposed to be "Southies" as well), but he pulls off the physically intimidating aspect of his character (a Hollywood fixer, i.e. he cleans up the rich and famous's mishaps, sometimes violently), if not the "Irish" aspect.

As the title character, Donovan is a descendant and contemporary riff on the old hardboiled detective film noir icons, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe the main one. The story is complicated and contains just in the first episode I caught tonight after THE HEAT (I wasn't quite totally satisfied with THE HEAT I guess) pretty much every Hollywood cliche there is, and again many based on reality but nonetheless cliches.

Interestingly both THE HEAT and RAY DONOVAN are written by women (the latter by Ann BIderman) who get in as much violence and brutality as the boys, even though THE HEAT is a comedy (like a weaker mash up of the odd couple cops of LETHAL WEAPON and TWENTY-ONE JUMP STREET). The violence gets a little too much.

I spent almost twenty years in Hollywood in the movie and TV business and never really saw any true physical violence, the kind RAY DONOVAN shows a lot of. Altercations, yeah a few, physical intimidation, absolutely, but somebody's wrist being broken or head batted in, not so much. A little too Tarantino for me (and I assume like him these women writers and creators haven't had much real life experience with that kind of violence either, so it all comes off as "Hollywood" created violence, though at times it works in the context of the story lines).

I'm not happy either to see stories that have a heavy Irish-American presence and yet I can't find any Irish names among the makers of the movie or TV show, or maybe one here and there but not in the top jobs. You see a movie by Scorcese about Italians and there's Italian names all over it, and same with other ethnic groups (Scorcese's big Irish-American movie THE DEPARTED based on Whitey Bolger supposedly, as RAY DONOVAN seems to be somewhat as well, didn't have any Irish names in the top jobs either).

I wonder if there was an Irish version of The Anti-Defamation League or the NAACP if they might not be objecting to the way Irish families are always being depicted brawling and getting drunk and acting and talking kind of crude and not too bright, etc.

Though, like I said, there's always some truth to the cliches and stereotypes, and I admit I recognized some relatives and friends in some of the traits of the Irish-Americans in THE HEAT and RAY DONOVAN, but unfortunately most of those traits weren't exemplary, the latter were left out for the most part, as usual. But, again, THE HEAT and RAY DONOVAN had enough good moments to make them worth it as escape, just don't expect much more than that. 

Monday, July 1, 2013


As anyone who knows me or who has been reading my blog probably knows, I was a compulsive list maker all my life until a brain operation three and a half years ago.  It was like a switch was flipped and the lists I constantly made in my head, like one say starting with my favorite movie with a one word title beginning with "A" followed by the rest of the alphabet, which I could do without looking anything up etc. instantly stopped.

In those three and a half years I have thought of ideas for lists but have always lost interest after one or two items. Even my grocery list I now keep on my iPhone and just add or delete one thing at a time when I think of it to a basic generic list: "veggies, fruit" etc.

I used to have a few lists on this post every week before the brain op, but since then I've only posted a couple, and those I made with the help of my bookshelves or the Internet over a stretched out period of time. But the other day I came up with a list over a short period.

I typed into my phone the title above: "The gifts of my life" and then this:

My children and grandchildren
My friends
The opportunity to do work that I love and have people let me know it meant something to them
The opportunity to bring attention to the work I love by others
The opportunity to help causes I believe in

[Not much, but it meant and means a lot to me. I noticed I didn't have family down other than my children and grandchildren, but my family fortunately nowadays are all friends, so...that's it.]