Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31, 2014

May 31, 2014

I saw Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Fox and his Friends” at the Fox Venice Theater sometime in the late 1970s.  Recovering from a tragedy in my life at the time, and just trying to find a solid piece of ground to walk on without feeling ill to my stomach, I wander into the beloved movie theater on Lincoln Blvd, without a thought in my head, and then leaving impressions on me that since then, became tattooed to my sensibility. It doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes one sees something and you get totally pulled by the collar to another part of the room, and that is how Fassbinder’s films affected me.  Before then, I was dreaming of a world that consisted of punk rock, all instant ramen noodle diet, Bertolt Brecht poetry and an one-way ticket to an unknown destination.  In other words, I was lost, with only the live soundtrack of DEVO and The Screamers playing in the foreground of my almost pathetic life.  The 70s was an amazing decade due to the fact, for the first time in my life, I saw everything I cared about being dumped into trash can be that was my destiny.   Or that is exactly how it seemed like at the time.  In other words, I was no longer a happy camper. Before Fassbinder, I watched "Taxi Driver" at least 25 times in a movie theater, due that I couldn't really concentrate on anything else for a long period of time.  Thank goodness, Punk came, with the two minute 45 rpm single, because for my attention span, that was the time limit for me.  Till, the moment, and the height of my misery, I found myself at a showing of "Fox and his Friends."

What triggered me was that for the first time I saw something in the cinema that explained to me how society worked, from the ground up.  The story of a gay man, being totally exploited by a group of upper-class homosexuals was an eye-opening experience for me.  It had nothing to do with sexuality, but more of a fact that a system was being analyzed and exposed to an audience.  After seeing “Fox, ” I went every night to see all the other Fassbinder films.  Each and every one of the films knocked me out.  Sitting in the dark theater, and usually by myself, I felt being healed through the magic of the projected light, and just thinking “so this is how things are worked out in life.” At the time, the new German cinema was the latest movement that had the cineaste falling in love.  Without a doubt, there were the three: Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and then of course Fassbinder. The other two I thought were OK to very good, but Fassbinder was the only one of the three that had a brilliant and a sense of style that were sometimes realistic and other times, almost over-the-top campiness.  It became virtually a Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles type of situation.  I felt at the time, that the majority of film goers were into Herzog, due to not only his talent, but his certain amount of bad-ass and the iconic German spiritual vision of nature and life.  To this day, I love Herzog’s documentaries, but I find most of his other films totally silly or laughable at the very least.  When I just think about Herzog, I think of the sad, but still cliché death of Ian Cutris of Joy Division, hanging himself while watching a Herzog film, with Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot” on the turntable.  Woe, romantic me, it turned my stomach in digest, and it made me love Fassbinder’s work much more, way much more than anything else that was out there at the time.

“Katzelmacher, ” made in 1969, an early film by Fassbinder, was another film that left me reeling in the theater.  Very minimal, and visually stark, it is a narrative of sorts that is about a group of bored young couples who hangs out in one area of Bavaria, and basically focused on a visiting immigrant worker from Greece, and therefore becomes a magnet of resentment and jealousy, which is basically just a reflection from the citizens of that space and time.  The fact that Fassbinder plays the immigrant (as well as playing Fox) made him my favorite movie star in the 1970s.  Without a doubt, my favorite Fassbinder films are those that where he is in it, either as star or just a cameo appearance.  Nevertheless, most art raises questions, but I feel for the first time that Fassbinder had an answer to these questions.  His films were so pragmatic and lacked absolute respect for spirituality, that I thought it was highly intoxicating in that I’m seeing a world in a different light.

When the retrospective was being screened at the Fox, Fassbinder was alive and still making films. In fact, I think his works were getting better and better.   At the time of his death, he made at least 44 films, and that is not including the countless plays he wrote and other films that he starred in.   I remember the day he died, because I was home in bed, and very sick.  I think I had the flu.  My only company at the time was a portable black and white TV set, with small rabbit ears.  Sometimes I did have the picture, but most cases I was watching a screen of moving snowflakes.  Through this haze, I saw a news clip that announced his death, and it mentioned that he was watching the TV show “Dallas,” when he passed on to another state.  It was reported that he had a cigarette between his lips at the time of his death.  I didn’t feel sad at that moment, in fact, I believe it was expected that his death will come early, and it did.  He was only 37 years old. When he died, my interest in the cinema also perished with him.   I still went to films, and I even programmed a film series at Beyond Baroque.  Without a doubt, I lost interest in ‘contemporary’ films.  So at the moment of his death, I became aware of the cinema as a piece of history, because I wished to be finished with on-going cinema.  For me personally, he was the last great figure in contemporary (living) cinema.

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 30, 2014

May 30, 2014

I’m curious to know what my last day on this planet would be like, for instance, would I spent time at home reading, or would I go out for a long walk in the neighborhood, maybe dropping by at the local fish n’ chips shop to get some lunch.  I often dream at night of the perfect magazine stand, yet in reality, I never came upon such a printed version of utopia.  As a child I accustomed to roam over the magazine stand in Hollywood, thinking that it was just an incredible inventory of publications, but the truth is, the one in my head, is much better, way better in fact.  Often I would wake up from a marvelous dream of such a place, that had comic books from every part of the world, and of course the quality of the printing varies from country to country.  But by touching the pages of these comics, I felt I was touching the actual culture of that specific country.  As I got older, I got into record collecting, not necessary due to its music, but more of the case that these objects were produced in a certain time and in a specific place. I never travel, yet holding a publication or an object like a record takes me to that country of origin.  I never know for sure what that culture is like, but I imagine a world that is totally suitable for me.

I have always been fascinated with Paris, but it is a city that I never went to, but I have in a sense through its literature and films. I can be only thankful for Léon Gaumont, starting the first French film studio, and therefore leading me to Paris through the films of Louis Feuillade, who was my first introduction to the great city.  The city of lights for many, but through my aesthetic it became a city of shadows, and when I hear the word “terror” I immediately think of Paris.  It was much later in my life where I saw Agnès Varda’s “Cléo from 5 to 7” which was another version of Paris, seen through the eyes of perhaps someone dying, or at the very least, a major change will take place, and spending the day taking the images and sounds of that city, as if it was the last day.   As I get older, that film stays with me the most, I think owing that I am more aware, in one day, I will not be here anymore.

I like to think of myself as being more refined as I get older, but the truth is I desire chaos.  I’m motivated by emotion, passion, and need.  Life in a funny way is like a movie studio in the times of Irving Thalberg.  The “boy genius” who controlled the finances and studied the commercial market of production, by having sneak previews, to measure the opinions of the audience before the film is made public, is a world that I find disgusting.  As he studied balance sheets, this act alone caused him to fire Erich von Stroheim over the length of “Foolish Wives.” For von Stroheim, the aesthetic is everything, for Thalberg, yes aesthetic is important, but it's not everything. Making art and specifically making movies is a crap game in a dark alley at its best, but a talented gambler knows the odds and the landscape of the game and where it taking place.  Erich only knows the passion, and therefore is driven to have the images in his head on the screen, at all cost.  The ‘all cost’ part of the deal is where von Stroheim and Thalberg parted, like the Red Sea.

With respect to my publishing, I’m totally on the side of Erich von Stroheim.  I loathe the idea of budgets, or anyone sitting me down and giving yours truly a lecture on economics.  If I have a choice of being tortured by a thousand cuts, or go directly into the sun, I choose to wear sunglasses and head towards the heat and brightness that are life.  Nevertheless, till then, I walk among the shadows.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 29, 2014

May 29, 2014

Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel” always made an impression on me, due to the fact that I had a major crush on Marlene Dietrich when I was a teenager.  I identified with the character played by Emil Jannings, in that I too had a hard time receiving attention from a female.  Or perhaps, not the right type of attention.  Throughout my years, I must have seen that film in almost every format possible.   What I love about it is how the Professor (Jannings) was in a  position of power and influence, and then struck down by a great beauty, and therefore loses his stature in life, where he ends up in his once classroom, dead from remorse, clenching his desk… I love that.

As Oscar Wilde once said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Which is perfectly valid in some cases, but I tend to be on my stomach, face-face with the pavement.  Failure is something that I find totally fascinating.  I feel that if you don’t experience the moments or days of failure then you haven’t really lived.  To wake-up and to face a major disappointment on a day-to-day basis, is exactly what I call living in real-time.

My favorite author, Max Brand, wrote a novel “Destry Rides Again,” about a cowboy who is good with a gun and a pair of fists, but everything else is questionable, especially when he loses his horse and even worse, his saddle in a game of cards.  To rub more salt into his open mental wound, he is framed for a robbery he took no part in, and eventually goes to prison for six years.   When he gets out early for good behavior he swears revenge on the jury that convicted him wrongly.  Brand also invented Dr. Kildare, which sadly I never read “The Secret of Dr. Kilkdare.” Nevertheless, I am fascinated with Brand, because as a writer I’m totally in love with the fact that he wrote 500 novels, and his total literary output is approximately somewhere between 25,000,000 and 30,000,000 words.  My current count so far this year, is 44, 683 words, which mean I’m heading towards my favorite role in life - a failure.

The sad thing is that I will not have the ability (so far) to go down the depths of my collapse compared to the ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, whose failure after the “The Rite of Spring” (Le Sacre du printemps) was pure depression and madness.  The production was on a rocky start as Nijinsky choreographed the original production of the ballet, that led to a riot in Paris on its opening night.  It has been reported that the composer of the music for this ballet, Igor Stravinsky wasn’t totally solid with the idea of Nijinsky as the choreographer.  Yet he went along with Sergei Diaghilev, who championed the brilliant dancer.  When Nijinsky went off and got married behind Diaghilev’s back, he refused to use his choreography for future productions of “The Rite of Spring.” Eventually this led him to a spiral of madness, where at this time he did write a brilliant journal “Diary” that captured the twisted relationship he had with Diaghilev.  I too keep a journal, but it reads like a shopping list.  So, as we both approached the bottom of the emotional well, Nijinski, although a failure, is a much better artist than me.  And that makes me feel even more of a failure.

When I first arrived in Tokyo in 1989, it was the same time that Hibari Misora passed away from pneumonia at the age of 52.   I never heard of her before this visit to Japan, and I was struck by the attention in the media when she died.   If one to compare Hibari with another, it would need to be Judy Garland.  She was a child star who made recordings as well as films.  She is very much (and rightfully so) the Queen of Enka.  The tragedy of her life is quite dramatic with such incidences such as a fan throwing hydrochloric acid on her face, but luckily it didn’t cause scarring or loss of her sight.  Also her brother Tetsuya Katō was prosecuted for gang-related activity, which led her to be banned from Kōhaku Uta Gassen for the first time in 18 years.  This is to this day a very popular music program broadcast over the NHK network.   Misora was so offended by this action that she refused to appear on NHK programming for years afterwards.  On top of that she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis brought on by chronic hepatitis.  

At the time of her death, I didn’t have a cent or yen on me, yet I just wanted to focus on writing and nothing else.  But the people above had a specific influence over my life, in that in many ways, all of them had either hardship or lived in a manner that was damaging to their career or talent.  I wanted to eliminate everything from my life and just have my talent come through - and in my death, I want to be acknowledged as an artist that had a tragic life, yet his writing lived on to influence generation after generation.   Sadly, at this time, this is not the case.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 28, 2014

May 28, 2014

I have zero interest in James Bond, but nevertheless my very being is bound up in the movie and literature series, due that I’m part of the generation that was easily affected by the presence of the films.  Especially when they played in grand beautiful theaters like Grauman’s’ Chinese on Hollywood Bouvelard.  The exoticness of the theater was a perfect match for Sean Connery’s Bond, in significant ways that only a 8 or 9 year old boy can emotionally understand, but never intellectually.   As a rule, my father would take me on the opening weekend to see the new Bond film.  I have no memory of him talking about the film or if even he liked the film series. He just took me to the Bond films, like a father taking his son to the park, or a baseball game.  What impressed me the most in the Bond films, were the opening sequence which was usually action-packed, and of course the stunning animated sequence that starts off as an iris opening up to Bond walking in front of the gun and aiming towards the audience.  In that sense, film hasn’t really changed that much from the days of “The Great Train Robbery.”

For me, the whole package of James Bond was important, not Bond or even Sean Connery.  Ever since I was a little boy, I have been fascinated by the clothing or style of the characters on the big screen.  For instance I always loved the costume of Walt Disney’s “Zorro, ” especially the combination of the mask and the wide brim hat.  Also the fact that Zorro and Bond, in certain aspects, mock their villains or enemies by silently laughing at them.   A sense of justice was very weighty, but the humor had to go along that journey as well.  Sexuality of Bond never entered my head nor the Bond women in the films.  I knew they were big deal, because at the time, Playboy magazine would have a photo shoot of the girls, usually naked, which was… interesting.   Nevertheless to be quite honest, the Bond films became less interesting to me after the opening credits.   The other thing I remember is loving the music.  James Bond music, as heard through the master touch of John Barry, was a world that was beautifully in technicolor.   Also my first sense of travel or the idea of it, is without any doubt was voiced to me through the world of James Bond.

As a writer who struggles on a daily basis to put words on an empty page in front of me, I am usually influenced by other writers, and how they come upon their creation.   James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, took his inspiration from real life, but in a cubist sense, he took parts that he liked and built his own Frankenstein monster, which is Bond.  A lot of the Bond traits are his, but he also based it on people that he met when he worked for the British government.  My favorite in this category is Wilfred (Biffy) Dunderdale, who played a key role in the cracking of the Enigma code during World War II, and was reported that he drove an armour-plated Rolls-Royce, dressed in handmade suits with Cartier cufflinks and dined at Maxim’s.  He was the head spy for the M16 in Paris.   Second-in-line favorite would be Conrad O’Brien-ffrench, who was a British agent as well as an accomplished artist, linguist, mountaineer, skier and author. Another inspiration was Dušan Popov, who was a Serbian double agent for both MI5 and the Abwehr (German military intelligence).  Fleming witnessed Popov playing baccarat, where he placed a bet of $40,000 ($641,357 in 2014 dollars) to cause a rival to withdraw from the table.  With that, plus the thought of the masculine physical beauty of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, he had his James Bond.  Another curious fact is that Fleming was a huge bird watcher, and he named his character after the author and ornithologist James Bond. He was a Caribbean bird expert and author of the definitive “field guide Birds of the West Indies.” Obviously, Fleming’s favorite book.

The villain gold “Goldfinger” is based on an architect Erno Goldfinger.  Fleming loathed his work, and therefore honored him as one of Bond’s most notorious villain.  So even for such a commercial novelist like Fleming, what he took from real life, bit-by-bit has a deep inspiration with respect to my work.  The universe is out there, but I can reconstruct it in my own fashion and vision.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014

Throughout my life, I have been drawn to failure, as if it was a jar of honey, waiting for me to take the first taste.  Once tasted, I can’t get it out of my system, and the world of debacle, at least by my talent, takes it to the highest order.  Without a doubt, there is a gambler’s need to take a chance and throw it against the wall, to find out what will happen.   Of course, if you sit around a stir a big pot of honey, you will eventually get stun by a bee.

One of my favorite composers is a man who lived an exciting life, but yet, failed in many ways, with respect to producing and marketing his music: the French composer Louis Durey.   He made some beautiful music when he was an integral part of Jean Cocteau’s gang of composers “Les Six.” Their music was regarded as a reaction against the world of Richard Wagner and the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel.   Also it was a process by which Cocteau to show his leadership abilities in organizing a group of musicians to do various projects.  It has been reported that Cocteau was very disappointed and angry about Durey not contributing to “Les mariés de la tour Eiffel, ” due to his claim, he didn’t feel well.  The truth of the matter was that Durey was not pleased to be in this band of musicians and composers.  He chose to work outside the then music world to be a member of the Communist party.  He participated in the French Resistance, and became a member of Fédération Musicale Populaire, where he wrote anti-fascist songs for the movement.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he became very much involved with the issue of Vietnam and the French occupation of that land.  Before anyone made an issue of the future Vietnam war, Durey wrote music to poems by Ho Chi Minh and Mao.  None of this music became popular and to this day, and it is very difficult, or almost impossible to locate.   Nevertheless, he did wander into a world where his music became unknown, and therefore he is very much a forgotten composer.  I think of him often, because I want my writing and my books to exist forever, but the truth is, very few people care about my literature.   I’m not sure how Franz Kafka felt about his works after his death, it has been indicated that he wanted all his writings to be burned, but his best friend Max Brod refused to do so. Also it is interesting how history portrays failure, because in his lifetime, Kafka saw himself as a very unsuccessful writer, while his friend, Brod, was quite a success in the literary world.  But now, it is Kafka whose works exist, and Brod is a footnote in Kafka’s shadow.

There is one writer who I admire greatly for his writings, although as a human, he may lack certain nice traits, is Louis-Ferdinand Céline.   At heart, an adventurer who took many chances in life to confront the horrors of the early 20th century.   Sadly, the results lead him to be strongly antisemitic, while at the same time was a brilliant stylist and narrative maker.  When one confronts the ugly beauty of Céline’s writing with the choices he made with regard to life, it is an uneasy relationship one has with the artist and his art.  On the other hand he has avoided a certain style of failure, in the cocktail formula of his ego, talent, and hatred for the human race.   The pitch-black humor of his work, makes his writings successful, even though there are areas one may not want to enter, but the nature of our landscape is often full of moral choices of all sorts, and therefore each person has to decide if they want to take that path or not.  Céline’s hatred of Jews was so extreme in his writings, even the Nazis wanted to distance themselves from his literature .  And to be fair, he was critical of Hitler as well, calling “Aryan baloney.” He even claimed at a dinner he was invited to at the German Embassy in Paris, that Hitler was dead and replaced by a Jewish double!  Perhaps he saw Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator?” Céline died in 1961, very much an outcast in mainstream culture, but beloved by the Beats as well as anyone who had an interest in literature that was extreme, dangerous, and in a funny way, beautiful.  In 1968, his home was burned, destroying his many unpublished manuscripts and of course, mementos.  But oddly enough, his parrot Toto survived the fire.

The dancer Isodore Duncan is also an artist who flirted with failure, but due to her talent and ego, she overcame the odds to become an icon in the 20th century.   Everything about her life was controversial, yet she was strong enough to ignore the criticism, and lead a life that was equally fascinating and forceful at the some time.  She was a woman who hated the commercial aspects of touring and even more so, the world of contracts. She felt that the “business” practice of doing art takes away the pleasure and focus of performing or making art. Her main goal in her work was to produce beauty and the education of the young - which included at the time, a very young Preston Sturges, but that’s another story all together.

Right now, in my life, I feel it can go either way for me.  My main focus has to be making art, no matter what becomes of me.  If the failure is in my cards or tea leaves, I must accept it, as a price for doing art.  Nevertheless, I have to admit, I do enjoy the journey to darkness, and whatever I find light at the end of the tunnel or just major disappointment, I need to take that trip at all costs.

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26, 2014

May 26, 2014

It was a happy shock to me when I heard that my book “Sparks-Tastic” was up for the Prix Goncourt last December, but alas I didn’t win, due that that prize goes to French language authors, and somehow, even though I do have some French blood (mostly Canadian to be honest) running in my veins,  I’m neither a citizen of a French providence nor can I read or speak French.  But in spirit, of course I’m French.  So I was disappointed that I didn’t get the prize and the fact, technically, I shouldn’t have been on the list in the first place.  Which now comes to mind, I despise any hint of nationalism in one’s art or even behavior.  Technically I’m an American, but what does that mean?  To this moment, it still bothers me a great degree that no American has participated in the Eurovision song contest.  What I find irritating is the case that a lot of European artists sing in English, yet, where are the Americans?

Miles Davis tried to get on the show in the late 1950s, with a pick-up band of Juliette Gréco and Catherine Sauvage sharing lead vocals, Johnnie Ronson (Mick’s dad), and Peggy Lee doing some scat vocalizing in the background - yet, unbelievably, they were not chosen to be part of the event.  Although, and I do admit, that there were different nationalities in this line-up, but still, shouldn’t the Eurovision judges acknowledge the talent behind this one-off band?   As an American (therefore a humanist) I find it totally disgusting how art is placed in a box, and not allowed to sing out, whatever it is in song or in my profession, words.  And I should also like to say, not just words, but words arranged on a page in a specific manner.

Now, that I brought up this subject matter, I need to be honest with all of you.  I resent being in contests, and then… losing.   Why invite me in the first place, and then denounce yours truly by not giving one the prize that they so richly deserve?  It’s insane!  Nevertheless let by-gones be by-gones and focus on the present.  As a youth I ran across an interesting street musician in mid-town Manhattan, who wore a Viking costume, and I was struck by his amazing music and being such an astonishing and forceful individual.  When you take a walk, not expecting what will hit you…, well it’s a stunning moment.  Now whenever I put my pen onto paper, I will not forget that moment, and will wander till I find it again.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 25, 2014

May 25, 2014

As a child, Marie Menken filmed me on an almost consistent basis.  I’m not sure what happened to the film footage, but I have heard rumors that the Andy Warhol Foundation got hold of the footage and was doing a preservation job on it but you know, who knows.  No one tells me anything.   Some people own their history. I’m one of those chaps that don’t own a thing, including my history.  Shit, I’m lucky that I have a roof over my head, you know what I mean?  All I know, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a part of the book biz or movie world in Manhattan.  As a child I used to watch “What’s My Line” and I was impressed by a member of the panel, who to me at the time appeared to be sophisticated, witty, and charming.  Three things that I ain’t had at that time.  But if I drew from a master, well…. Bennett Cerf was a genuine deal.

The fact he was born in Manhattan, and went to school in Manhattan, and got a job in Manhattan as well as co-founder of Random House publishing, of course, located in Manhattan, makes me a huge fan of Manhattan.  But only on the streets that are numbered.  I try to avoid lower Manhattan if it was the Red Death plague.  In my mind, Manhattan stands for order, organization, and the good tasting martini.  Lower Manhattan I feel is a trap of some sort. Once you’re down there, you are totally confused with the streets with names, and I do have a pet peeve against streets that actually have names.

I first went to Manhattan to be an actor.  I was 16 or 17, and in my mind that was the right time to get serious about entering the world of stardom.  The only job I could find, and it wasn’t really a job because I had to volunteer my services, was to work with Marie.  Since I was a film nut, I used to go to the Musuem of Modern Art’s film program, and I became totally obsessed with the silent movie actress Marie Doro.   She has 18 films to her credit, and of the those 18, only one fully exists.   The others only exist in parts or are totally gone missing.  Marie Menken was a fan as well.  We’re both drawn towards artists who are lost causes.   The only Hollywood actor we admired was Steve Cochran, mostly due to the fact that he died on his yacht, with three female “assistants, ” who didn’t know how to pilot the boat back to shore.  So with his dead body (from a heart attack), the boat was floating off the coast of Guatermala for ten days.  Eventually the boat drifted to the shore in Port Champerico.

Marie thought this would be a suitable subject for a film, so I went up to her studio, to start shooting the film.  What’s unusual about this film was that it was shot in her studio as well as on the roof-top of her building.  I was way too young to play Steve Cochran (who died when he was forty-eight), but the illusion of youth was very much the theme of her work at the time.   She built a fake boat on her roof, and occasionally her husband Willard Maas, would throw buckets of water in front of the hand-made set to make it ‘sort’ of look like we were in a body of water or ocean.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but Marie was more interested in capturing a ‘feeling’ than a narrative about Steve, the three assistants, and his yacht.  It was the first time in my life when I realize that the narrative is not the deal, but the adventure or journey is the “it.”

I was shocked to know the social circle that she hung out with.  For instance she knew my idol Bennett Cerf, and she was kind enough to recommend my services to Bennett.  At the time, I had no real work skills, but I told Cerf I just wanted to learn about the publishing business as well as Manhattan life, as long as I can avoid the lower half of the island.  He said “absolutely,” and my main job was basically to make sure all the pencils were sharpened.  It was a massive job, because there are a lot of pencils in the Random House building.   Within three months, not only did I know a bit about the publishing world, but I became an expert on the pencil.  The pencil was the weapon or tool of choice in the world of Random House.  For one, it never ages like ink, and two, you can erase your work with an eraser.   A remarkable invention if I may say so!

Well, as I said earlier, history doesn’t owe me anything.  I eventually had to come back to Los Angeles, and get a job at a bookstore,where oddly enough, they had a huge supply of pencils for use in work.   I took care of that department, and mostly took care of the books regarding film history.   But I won’t lie to you, that I get a frog in my throat whenever I come upon a book published by Random House.  Especially the one on Marie Menken, where of course, my name does not appear in the text or in the back of the book, known as the index.  I feel like I don’t exist.  But then again, what is an existence, exactly?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 24, 2014

 May 24, 2014

“Mary…Had…A…Little…Lamb…His …Fleece…Was…White…As…Snow,” as recited by Thomas Edison, and perhaps the very first recording of a human voice for at the very least the first instance of recorded verse.  Edison himself did the recording, and therefore the first recording artist.  I have several editions of this recording on different formats.  12” vinyl, 78 rpm recording, wax cylinder, CD, DVD, and MP3.   Recently I did spend an afternoon to listen to all formats and came to the conclusion that the MP3 is the best recording of Edison’s version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” For one, it didn’t skip.  The best version of the song that I keep in my collection is Bob Dylan’s live recording of the song in 1964.  Someone in the audience yelled out “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as a request.  Dylan retorted back “God did I recorded that?  Is that a protest song?” The answer to both questions is a strong yes.

The nursery rhyme written by Sarah Josepha Hale, which is based on a true incident, is about a young girl, Mary Sawyer, who one day, takes her pet lamb to school with her.  Or perhaps her pet lamb just followed her to the classroom.  Nevertheless the teacher insisted that the lamb be placed outside the classroom, where the animal lingered outside the window, and waited patiently for Mary to appear.   It is perhaps the first animal rights song ever, and also deals with the right of a student to bring something important, and therefore have that dream crushed by one’s teacher.  God knows, this happened to me on countless occasions in my life as an elementary school student.  It’s a powerful piece of work, and I’m moved by both Dylan and Edison’s recording of this song.   Hale lived long enough to actually hear the Edison recording, and it is ironic, since it is about an animal, yet Hale was one of the key figures to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.  On a certain level, she is responsible for the murder of millions of turkeys over the years.   Nevertheless, history usually has a sad narrative.

About two years after Dylan sang and recorded “Mary Had A Little Lamb” my father got a phone call from his friend Allen Ginsberg, requesting if he could meet Dylan at his hotel room and drive him to a location where he can get a reel-to-reel tape machine.  He never met Dylan, but he liked his music, so he said “sure.” It was around 11 in the evening, when he went to his hotel room on the Sunset Strip.   He knocked on the door, and Dylan opened the door himself, and was holding a book by Henri Michaux, a writer that my father admired greatly.  Dylan asked him if he minded taking him to the Byrds rehearsal studio, because someone in the band mentioned that they have a reel-to-reel tape machine on the premise.  Dylan told my dad that he just got a copy of his new album, and he stupidly forgot to get a tape machine for his hotel room.

As they’re were driving slowly in traffic on the Strip, people noticed Dylan in the car, and at least twice, they tried to get into the car, but my dad reached out and locked the door.   He later provided a description to me like it was insects or bees being attracted to the honey.  You see one, and then all of a sudden a whole tribe of the insect shows up, trying to suck on the honey.  Dylan was slightly freaked out, but it seems he has gone through this a lot, so he laughed it off.

Once they got to the Byrds studio, Dylan got very serious, and told my father, “whatever you do, don’t leave me here alone.” My father had no intention to abandon Dylan to these wolves in their den. Once they both walked in, it is almost as if an electric bolt struck that room.  It could have been David Crosby, but it seems like he went up to Dylan and said “Baaaa. Baaaa.” This struck my dad a tad odd, but he kept quiet, and Dylan didn’t bother to introduce him to the band.   Perhaps this reason alone, he felt uncomfortable and feels he had to move on.  Dylan was engrossed in some sort of conversation with the others, but my dad went up to him and said “later.”

When I saw my dad the next morning, he told me the entire narrative of that night.   There was no way of finding out if Dylan waited for my father to pick him up, or he forgot about it, but the window of opportunity closed, and they never met again.

Friday, May 23, 2014

May 23, 2014

May 23, 2014

I woke up hearing a recording of “Sway, ” which was being played on a car that was parked outside my bedroom window.  I believe it was Rosemary Clooney, not in the car, but her recorded version of the song.  Who was located in the car was a couple making out.  This is not odd in itself, but I found it a tad strange to see and hear something like this at 9:00 a.m.   At first I presumed that they were teenagers, but I can see clearly that was not the case, but actually a middle-aged couple.

I have nothing against middle-aged couples showing affection in a parked car, but I think the mixture of it being morning and Rosemary Clooney, well it is an odd juxtaposition.  I normally wouldn’t interfere in another couple’s private affairs, but I felt it wasn’t right for them to do this under my window.  I got dressed as quickly as possible, and went down to the street, towards their car, to let them understand that they woke me up.  As I approached the car the gentleman got out and pulled a gun on me.  I said ‘wow. ” And he said ‘yes.’

She got out and she had a switch blade in her hand.  She wasn’t pointing it at me, but just letting me know she had her own toy as well.  They told me to go back to my house.  I turned around, and walked up my stairs.  I was also concerned that they followed me up as well.  Once they came in, I asked them if they wanted some coffee.  They said yes, and then told me to go to the kitchen.  He asked me to prepare coffee for him and his sweet.  He also requested that his coffee be served black, and that she wanted cream and sugar.  I told him that I had only skin milk and no cream.  Would that be OK?  He paused for a whole minute, while looking at her as she was looking at me, and I looked at the both of them, and his gun.  He finally said “sure.” I asked him if he minded if I have a cup as well, because I haven’t had my morning coffee and my brain doesn’t work fully till I have my first cup.   He said “sure. ”

 I have a table put in place in the kitchen and we all sat around it while drinking coffee, and not saying a word to each other.  Meanwhile, as he sips his coffee, he keeps his gun aimed towards yours truly.   He asked if I had a bedroom.  I said “sure.” He then said “me and my girlfriend are going to use your bedroom.” He and she got up and told me to get up, and to lead them to the bedroom.  I showed him the room, he watches her, and she looks at him, and said “this will do.” He asked if that was the closet. I said “yes.” He then asked if I have a portable turntable. I said “yes.” He then had me bring the turntable to the bedroom.  He then requested me to set it up for him. I did so.  He then approached me with his gun and whispered in my ear, if I have had any recordings by Artie Shaw.   A strange request, yes, but by chance (I think) I had the complete recordings of Artie Shaw, put out by RCA records in the early 1980s.  He requested “Dancing in the Dark, ” which oddly enough is my favorite recording by Shaw.  He didn’t seem to be interested in my opinion of the song or recording.   He asked me to locate the song on the vinyl disk and to put it on the turntable.

He then demanded that I go into the closet.  I did so, and heard the lock turn.   A few minutes later I heard the music and then muffled sounds from the both of them.  What I could clearly hear while, I have to presume, were making love, was him reciting lines from “Goodbye Moon.” Even though it was difficult to hear because of the music and the sounds of their lovemaking, but I did hear “goodnight room, goodnight cow jumping over the moon, goodnight light.” Quite a remarkable man, I thought to myself.  Then I heard nothing.   The record finished, and I can hear it repeating the end grooves. The ‘click-click’ almost sounded sinister, when all of sudden, I hear the lock turning.  He told me, you can come out now.  I did so, and I noticed that the bed was made.  I looked at the bed and then I looked at them, and looked back towards the bed.  I said “thank you.” He said “no problem.” He then had me go to the living room.  She didn’t say a word to me, but she left the room to return to her car.  She started the engine, and he then looked at me and said “goodbye.” I nodded my head as a goodbye and he left the room, holding the gun aimed at me, and walked backwards to the door.  He opened the door with one hand, and left.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 22, 2014

May 22, 2014

Although it's warm and sunny outside, my heart is dark and gloomy.  I wake up in the middle of the night, and I’m sure it was from a dream, but for the life of me, I can never remember what that dream was or about.  All I know is that I wake up with a heavy heart and a gloom that penetrate my thoughts into a thousand pieces.  I wander around the house in the darkness, to somehow shake off the great loss I’m feeling at this moment.  I put a recording of “Tristian und Isolde” and explore my inner-thoughts as I watch the dawn rise, into what is truly a beautiful day, yet, the brightness and cheeriness of the birds singing outside, depresses me dearly.  I put the volume up louder hoping to be able to drown out the chirps of the bird that is on the telephone wire in front of my house.

Throughout my life, I have tried to keep my disappointment at bay, fearing to embrace failure that’s my life.  By a certain age, I wanted to be a successful writer, and still, even at my late age, it hasn’t happened …yet.   The dread I have when I go to a bookstore and see the works of authors proudly displayed in the bookshelves and display tables, seemed to mock my failure as a published writer.  Yet, by the afternoon, I am at the store, haunted by my lack of success.  I go back home to remember that I do have specific duties to do.  I do have a pet. It’s a lobster.  My lobster is almost 60 years old, in fact, the same age as yours truly.  The odd thing about the creature is the fact that they do not weaken as they get older.  I, on the other hand, have noticed aging affecting me physically as well as mentally.

I named my lobster “Thibault, after a character in TinTin.  After feeding him, I put a leash around him, and we go for a walk through my neighborhood in Silverlake.   People would stare, or even be angry with me, especially those who are walking their dogs.  A creature by the way, that I find disgraceful.   I can’t stand the tone of a dog’s bark, and a lobster is quiet, well behaved, and is not forcing a personality down your throat.   The fact a pet lobster doesn’t seek out your love, also offers me a sense of peace and comfort.   As I get back home, my grief and misery seem to be knocking on the door, and I just want to escape into…. Another world.  Regardless of the fact that not my favorite painter, I often admire the paintings by Mary Cassatt, mostly due to the images of mother and daughter sharing an intimate moment or two.  I have a book of her paintings, that focuses on this one subject, and when you turn a page after another, one is overwhelmed of a world that is almost obtainable, but alas, it is like looking at a month of Sundays, and somehow they eliminate the other six days.  To quote a famous Manchester poet, “Everyday is like Sunday/everyday is silent and grey.”

Tears are streaming from my eyes by reading this line, and I go to my piano, which I accustomed to spend a great deal of my childhood on this instrument, with the hopes of having a career in the performance world.  But words win in the end, and it is now  the medium that will either bring me liberation from pain, or bury me in a coffin of someone else’s choice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 21, 2014

May 21, 2014

Some years ago, my best friend invited me out for dinner at a local diner in Santa Monica.  At the time, I was very broke, and I could use the dinner.  The friend of mine had a steady job with a great salary.  He insisted that I order the most expensive meal on the menu, which at that time was steak and fries.  Afterwards he also suggested that I order desert as well. The waitress that was serving us, I remember, was a beauty.  My friend flirted with her throughout our meal.  As I was scrapping the dish to finish off the pie and ice cream it was then that he told me he had no intention of paying for the meal.

He then told me to follow him out to the parking lot.  But he added “walk slowly.” I followed him out, but before he left the building, he went to the register counter to pick up a tooth-pick.  We got into the car and drove off.   As far as I know, my friend never did this before, and for sure, not with me.  I never brought it up with him why he did this. I just accepted the incident as it happened.  One thing I do know for a fact that I would have never done this by myself.    Also, I felt bad afterwards, especially for the waitress that we stiffed with the unpaid check.  I was concerned that she may be fired or have to pay for our meal.   The odd thing, my friend could care less about her or what he put me through.  We remained friends, but there was a darkness now when we got together, that wasn’t there before.  

Which brings to mind Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. Both were highly intelligent teenagers, that were actual geniuses.  It has been reported that Nathan could speak 27 languages fluently and was a skilled ornithologist.  Richard was equally brilliant and he skipped several grades.  Both met at the University of Chicago, when they were students.  They shared a love for Nietzsche, specifically his theory on the Superman, which many believe meant that a superior minded person could rise above the laws and rules that bound the average man.  Therefore why not plan a perfect murder?   With that in mind the 19 year old and 18 year old planned their version of the perfect crime, which is tantamount to kidnap and kill a young boy.  

It was a criminal offence not for money, because both students were filthy rich, but just for the purpose of getting away with something or the thrill of it all.   They selected a 14-year old boy by the name of Bobby Franks, the son of Chicago millionaire Jacob Franks, as their victim.   It seemed that Richard knew Bobby well, because they often played tennis together.  Nevertheless both teenagers enticed Bobby to get in the car with them, where one of them (we’re not sure which one) hammered little Bobby’s head in.  Afterwards they drove to Wolf Lake in Hammond, where they dragged the corpse in the wilderness and poured hydrochloric acid over his naked body. Specifically to destroy the features on his face and genitals.  They left his clothes on the side of the road, and then went back to the city.  Once there, they wrote a ransom note on a stolen typewriter and sent it to the family to let them know that their son was kidnapped.  Once the body was found, Richard and Nathan destroyed the typewriter and were feeling secure that nothing could be traced to them.   In fact, Richard hung out with the detectives, inquiring about the case, as well as giving his own spin, like everyone else in Chicago, to the crime as well.  He was quoted as saying to one of the detectives “If I were to murder anybody, it would be such a cocky little son of a bitch as Bobby Franks.” 

The downfall of the two happened when the police found a pair of glasses not far from the body.  The glasses themselves were not that unusual, except it was equipped with a hinge mechanism, that the police found only three people purchased in the Chicago area.  One of whom was Nathan Leopold.  He was picked up and interrogated by the police.  Nathan claimed he knew the area, because of the interesting species of birds in that specific area.  He said that he lost his glasses while bird watching and what happened was that he tripped and it must have fallen from his jacket pocket.  The police asked him to demonstrate how he fell, and please demonstrate how the glasses fell out on the brush.  He did so, but of course, the glasses never fell out of his jacket pocket.  Eventually suspicion of the two friends became greater and greater.  Also the fact that they were Jewish, wealthy and perhaps gay, had a lot to do with the national press attention as well. 

The trial of the century took place and both were convicted of murder.  What is interesting to me about the case is not the murder itself or their background as wealthy boys, but the fact that they felt superior to everyone else due to their intelligence.  Like myself, I was shocked that I actually left a restaurant without paying, and therefore became a fellow criminal.  I would have never done that, unless my friend put the idea in my head.  But I did do it, even though I had no money on me to foot the bill.   It was a moment’s decision to do something immoral in my point of view.  The fact that I crossed that line, has affected me to this very day.   Although I haven’t murdered (yet) anyone, I can understand what Nathan and Richard went through.  To be honest, I don’t think they even cared that they were caught and sent to prison, the fact is that they needed to be in a moment where they felt alive and against the world.   The sin, if there is one, is the thrill one gets from doing something terrible.  Not everyday, but numerous times, I still feel bad about the waitress that we left with the unpaid check at the diner in Santa Monica. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014

As the world gets more complicated and cluttered with information, objects, and just plain things, I decided to go in the opposite direction and become more simple.  First things first are clothing.  I wish to draw attention to a minimal uniform where I don’t have to think about what I’m wearing on a regular basis.  I have decided on the classic white t-shirt and 501 straight legged Levi’s with a pair of black shoes from Red Wing.    For an additional color, perhaps a red and white stripped sweater or pull-over will do.   Since I do very little physical work, I can usually cut down to one pair of jeans, and maybe five days of white t-shirts in my inventory.  Five days of socks, usually stripped, but always a dark color like gray and black stripes.

As you most know by now, I don’t do work.  Well, let me put this in another way.  What I do is work, but not for money.  I lost my job about two years ago, and I’m having a hard time getting back on the gravy train of a regular salary.   What I have been doing is writing up to 140 stories, regarding mostly my life, as a man who is just trying to simplify his life.   Basically on an everyday basis, I put on my uniform, shave, and then go off to the Central Library to do my writing.  I stop when my hands start hurting, and then come home and try not to spend any money whatsoever, because due to my lack of “work. ” I have no more money left.

This causes significant amount of anxiety, but I’m on a suicide mission to finish writing 225 more stories and then I can relax and ….Well, you know whatever the end brings to my soul.  With respect to my clothing, I rarely go out for social visits or go to ceremonies.  For instance, I would never go to a wedding or a funeral, due to my lack of proper clothing for such affairs.  Also the blue jeans and t-shirt combination are a look that doesn’t offend anyone.  On certain bodies, it can look rather stylish, sadly I’m getting a tad fat.  But even that, it brings a sense of focus in my life.    Once I die, I wish to be dressed in my T-shirt and blue jeans, and then burned to the crisp, and eventually place my ashes in the Levi’s headquarters in San Francisco.   The thought of that offers me a sense of peace and happiness.  On the other hand, living is a total drag at times.

It is indeed hard for me to wake up and face an empty notebook page with my pen by its side.  I stare at the lined paper till something comes towards my chest.  At first I thought it was the first sign of a heart attack, but it is not!   The idea for a narrative is very physical. It is almost like a beautiful woman embracing you around the waist.  You can smell the essence of her skin and hair, and then bingo, you start writing.

Also you consistent readers, you know I am a publisher as well.  And within a couple of weeks, I’ll be doing a reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets from the original edition that was published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609.   Some years ago I purchased a copy of this rare item at Mystery Pier Books, which cost me a fortune of course. But how could I resist as a publisher myself.  The thing that is interesting to me, is that Thorpe may have published the Sonnets without Sharkespeare’s approval.  In other words, he stole it.  This of course is only a theory, because as we all know, history is told through someone’s point-of-view, and who knows the extent to which that goes. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter in the end, because Thomas Thorpe died in his early 60s and in a poorhouse on top of that.  Surely as a publisher I will be going down that same route as well.

However, before all of that, I will do a public reading of the Shakespeare Sonnets, dressed in my normal uniform, because I think that will bring out the words more.  The visual sensibility of being aware of one’s clothing even helps me when I’m writing with my pen and paper.