Portrait of the artist

OK, exhale! The literary world, as well as the less literate crowd drawn to these semi-literate ramblings, all of you, you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to hear who had the best comments to make about the psychedelic photo I added to my ABOUT THE AUTHOR page.

Go ahead. Click on it. It’s still there. Enjoy one more laugh, one last laugh, before I make the photo — taken with a cellphone camera, then manipulated with Photo Shop — disappear.

A few weeks back, I asked for comments — Like it? Hate it? Don’t care? Get a face transplant? — and promised to pick a winning comment fpr special mention in “World of Wonders.”

Some of you — not to name names, but we’re talking about my writer friends Steve Hart and Christian Bauman — offered literary comments that sailed right over my head.

Steve’s offering:
You know how damned lifelike Pickman’s paintings were — how we all wondered where he got those faces.
Well — that paper wasn’t a photograph of any background, after all. What it showed was simply the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas. It was the model he was using — and its background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail. But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life!

H.P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”

Bauman got literary, too:
You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and, well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them.
George Orwell, “Down and Out in Paris and London”

Daughter Laura, who was raised to be honest and blunt, went for the honest and blunt approach:
The photo of you on your Web site is extremely scary. It makes you look old and sad.
She went on to kindly suggest that maybe her artist/photographer sister might be able to take a better photo of me.

Friend Lynn, who knew me in high school, offered this interesting insight:
Can’t say that I like it. It doesn’t define your finer qualities nor could you be identified by it in case of an emergency. That said it does shows a slightly out of focus wild side of you.
Lynn scores some points here, by suggesting that it might be impossible for any photo to capture my, ahem, “finer qualities,” and she also racks up big-time bonus points with the reference to my “wild side!”

Friend Adrienne went for the clever and funny but supportive approach:
An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.” -Andy Warhol
Need I say more? Ok. How about “I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.” -Andy Warhol Just kidding! You are looking a bit Warholesque in this photo.
However the most fitting in describing you would be: “I lived to write, and wrote to live.” -Samuel Rogers

Friend Keith Strunk, my co-conspirator in staging the annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, also went for tactful, but with a clear message, basically suggesting that the wacky Warholesque portrait doesn’t at all match my warm and friendly personality — and that the photo in question would not enable people to recognize me as they passed me on the street — not unless my head was blue and green and red and all psychedelic swirls.

Former workmate Chuck Pizar scores humor points by suggesting that photo makes me look like a combination of Max Headroom:

and Flattop from the “Dick Tracy” comics and movies.

But another former workmate, Laura Evans, wins induction into the World of Wonders Hall of Fame for this:
You know I never realized you bear a resemblance to The Hoff aka David Hasselhoff of Knight Rider and Baywatch fame.

And to prove her point Laura included this link:

The best response of all, I won’t describe in detail, except to say that the instructions for taking a true author photo of me included the suggestion that the shot be snapped with “a backdrop of nature – stark winter nature. (Bare trees with either gray or blue sky.)”

This thought was on my mind when son Matthew and I scaled a mountainside in southern Vermont a few weeks back, nearly killed ourselves on our way down the icy slopes, and he took this picture — on a cellphone camera, after our adventure, just to document that I had survived — scraped, sweaty, slightly out of breath (and, in case anyone’s getting the wrong idea, this description also applied to 20-year-old Matthew) — our wilderness adventure. So here’s something closer to the real me —

Is that really a photo of David Hasselhoff mountain-climbing in Vermont?


“Unconvincing authority”

I recently applied for — and didn’t get — an artists’ fellowship through the New Jersey State Council for the Arts.

As part of the application, I had to submit a sample from one of my novels. I submitted a small chunk of “Gloryville,” which is a sort of tongue-in-cheek homage to certain type of 1960s writer (your Richard Brautigans of the world) as well as a 20th-century “Pilgrim’s Progress” (your John Bunyans of the world), examining the nature of faith and love, and trying to answer this question: Will death will really be as bad as I’m afraid it will be?

Most of the novel is told by a narrator who is dead, looking back at his involvement with a strange and surreal hippie commune in the Berkshires and describing what post-life life is like — he can still think and feel, but he’s a bit less mobile that he used to be.

Obviously, then, “Gloryville” is a parody, a parable, a fantasy — whatever you want to call it.

So here’s what the three judges had to say:
First judge:
A quick-moving plot. We see the story through a dead man’s eyes but with ironic humor.
Second judge:
Interesting format, a bit morbid but creative.

Not exactly the most insightful or in-depth readings, but still not bad, right? You’re almost thinking, “OK, so how much was the fellowship grant he received and what’s he going to do with the money?”

But, wait. We haven’t heard from judge #3, who offers:
Unconvincing authority.
Unconvincing authority! I didn’t convincingly and realistically portray the voice of a dead man who lives on a make-believe commune and is talking to the reader during a series of fantastic and imaginary events that parody tales from great books ranging from Bunyan and the Bible to the Whole Earth Catalog — and then continues his monologue during the course of his own embalming and funeral!

I know the names of the three judges, but I don’t know which one shot down “Gloryville” because the voice was unconvincing, so I’m not going to name names….But I will say this: If that judge happens to stumble upon this Web site, remembers that title “Gloryville,” and wants to get into a little further discussion with the author of “Gloryville” about exactly whose “authority” is “unconvincing,” please contact me and I’ll buy you lunch.

The Artist formerly known as FY09 NJSCA Applicant number 12236/12376

He turned on City Lights

Some of my favorite and most cherished books are part of the Pocket Poets series published by the legendary San-Francisco-based City Lights Books — founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who turns 90 years old today — March 24, 2009 — and just happens to be a native of Yonkers, N.Y., my old hometown!

Visit friend Steven Hart‘s Web site to read what he has to say about Ferlinghetti.

Here’s the complete list of books in the Pocket Poets series (I’ve boldfaced the ones I actually own — family, friend and strangers are welcome to help me fill the gaps in my collection!):
1 – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Pictures of a Gone World
2 – Kenneth Rexroth, Thirty Spanish Poems of Love and Exile
3 – Kenneth Patchen, Poems of Humor and Protest
4 – Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems

5 – Marie Ponsot, True Minds
6 – Denise Levertov, Here and Now
7 – William Carlos Williams, Kora in Hell : Improvisations
8 – Gregory Corso, Gasoline/Vestal Lady on Brattle
9 – Jacques Prevert, Paroles
10 – Robert Duncan, Selected Poems

11 – Jerome Rothenberg, New Young German Poets
12 – Nicanor Parra, Anti-Poems
13 – Kenneth Patchen, Love Poems
14 – Allen Ginsberg, Kaddish and other poems

15 – Robert Nichols, Slow Newsreel of Man riding Train
16 – Yevgeni Yevtuschenko, Red Cats (Translated by Anselm Hollo)
17 – Malcolm Lowry, Selected Poems
18 – Allen Ginsberg, Reality Sandwiches
19 – Frank O’Hara, Lunch Poems
20 – Philip Lamantia, Selected Poems
21 – Bob Kaufman, Golden Sardine
22 – Janine Pommy-Vega, Poems to Fernando
23 – Allen Ginsberg, Planet News

24 – Charles Upton, Panic Grass
25 – Pablo Picasso, Hunk of Skin
26 – Robert Bly, The Teeth-Mother Naked at Last
27 – Diane Diprima, Revolutionary Letters
28 – Jack Kerouac, Scattered Poems

29 – Andrei Voznesensky, Dogalypse
30 – Allen Ginsberg, The Fall of America31 – Pete Winslow, A Daisy in the Memory of a Shark
32 – Harold Norse, Hotel Nirvana
33 – Anne Waldman, Fast Speaking Woman
34 – Jack Hirschmann, Lyripol
35 – Allen Ginsberg, Mind Breaths
36 – Stefan Brecht, Poems
37 – Peter Orlovsky, Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs
38 – Antler, Factory
39 – Philip Lamantia, Becoming Visible
40 – Allen Ginsberg, Plutonian Ode
41 – Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roman Poems
42 – Lucebert, Nine Dutch Poets
43 – Ernesto Cardenal, From Nicaragua with Love
44 – Antonio Porta, Kisses from another Dream
47 – Vladimir Mayakovski, Listen!
48 – Jack Kerouac, Poems all Sizes, 1992
49 – Daisy Zamora, Riverbed of Memory
50 – Rosario Murillo, Angel in the Deluge
51 – Jack Kerouac, Scripture of the Golden Eternity
52 – Alberto Blanco, Dawn of the Senses
53 – Julio Cortazar, Save Twilight, Selected Poems
54 – Dino Compana, Orphic Songs

And here’s a video clip of Ferlinghetti reading his poem “Pity the Nation”:

A party for Pete

Yes, I’m talkin’ Pete Seeger. No, I’m not talkin’ about the Communist Party or the Wobblies or any of those sorts of parties and movements. I’m talking about how there will be a movement of about 19,000 people into Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 3, when dozens of great musicians will gather to celebrate the amazing Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday!

Some of the performers who will be on hand to honor Pete:
Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack, Richie Havens, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Dar Williams, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tom Paxton, Toshi Reagon, Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger…and, of course, Arlo Guthrie.

Limited ticket sales began today (March 23) and general ticket sales begin next Monday, March 30. Tickets are pricey — the good seats are hundreds of dollars and even the cheap seats are $90 each (for Pete’s 90th birthday). But proceeds from the show will benefit a great cause — the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which set sail more than three decades ago — stewarded by Pete Seeger — to protect and restore Pete’s beloved Hudson River and other waterways.

Here’s a video of Arlo singing Pete’s great song “Golden River:”

The Clearwater movement’s close to my heart since I grew up on the New York side of the Hudson River. As for Pete, one of the highlights of my life was meeting Pete years ago and having the honor of hosting him as he performed two benefit shows — about 10 years ago, when he was a young buck of about 80 years old — to raise money for a charity I’d started called the Delaware Valley Holiday Fund. Pete, grandson Tao and Pete’s beautiful wife Toshi drove all the down from Beacon, N.Y., to western New Jersey, put on a show in a packed high-school auditorium, then drove right back home to Beacon, and the only compensation they received was a basket full of sandwiches and fruit and cakes to sustain them for that long drive back to their home up on the Hudson. A year later, Pete and Toshi were back, doing another benefit show for our charity, this time outdoors, once again free-of-charge, at a park in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River.

This is what Pete Seeger’s been doing for 90 years. Helping people, fighting for justice, singing songs of peace, dispelling hate and spreading love. Happy birthday, Pete!

“Together” again

A friend declares:
This…is the one piece of good news so needed in these bleak times…

He refers to the surprising news that Bob Dylan’s about to release a new album — titled “Together Through Life” and due to be released April 27 — less than three years after releasing “Modern Times” in 2006. The typical Dylan interlude in recent decades — from 1990’s “Under the Red Sky” to 1997’s “Time Out of Mind” to 2001’s “Love and Theft,” for example, ranged from four to seven years, not counting the Bootleg series and the two great collection of blues and traditional folk covers, “Good As I’ve Been To You” and “World Gone Wrong,” and yet another greatest hits collection, and the soundtrack to Scorcese’s documentary, and…

Here’s a glimpse of the songs on the new album, courtesy of Mojo magazine: http://www.mojo4music.com/blog/2009/03/new_dylan_album_our_first_list.html

The big, bad Wolf

The equinox has turned, winter’s turned to spring, and that bright evening star visible for several weeks in the western sky now graces the darkness before the break of dawn. That evening star was Venus, named for the goddess of Love, but tonight feels more like the realm of Erebos, god of the primeval darkness, whose wife was Nyx, the goddess of Night, who spreads her dark mists to the world’s farthest reaches.

Take heart. Each morning the darkness is dispelled by their daughter Hemera, who scatters the mist to let the sunlight shine through. So the sun will come out tomorrow.

But tonight the dark prevails, and it’s a moonless sky, and strange black clouds hang low, and coyotes yipping in a distant field, and I look out my window and I see something move, God knows what, and I hear another sound, but this time it sounds closer, and it more like a howl, so such a night belongs to the man who called himself Howlin’ Wolf.

I just listened to one of his greatest songs, “I Asked for Water (But She Gave Me Gasoline,” with its smoky, mysterious, fated story, its spooky vocal, its swampy, foggy, music and unavoidable beat — and its long black hearse — and he asked her for water — and its church bells tolling — and she brought him gasoline…and the Wolf’s howl is the sound of night, mingling with the wind and rustling of things unseen in the gloom.

Here’s a video of the Wolf singing one of his most famous songs:

Lock your doors. Lock your windows. Build a big fire in the hearth. Hide your women. Here comes the Wolf!

Forewarned is forearmed?

You decide after you read friend Bathsheba Monk’s essay “My New Gun” in the March 1, 2009 edition of the New York Times Magazine —
yes, indeed, Bathsheba makes her second appearance on the back page with an essay in the “Lives” series in which she talks about deciding to buy a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum — partly in response to a rash of break-ins in her neck of the Pennsylvania woods but also out of  fear that the financial apocalypse, the continuing series of calamities that makes it feel like Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve might actually have changed his name from Ben Beelzebub and that any minute now a pale rider on a pale horse will be spotted galloping down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Capitol Hill.

Me, I’d never buy a gun. Ever. I’d run. I’d hide. I’d give them all my money. There’s no way in the world that I could ever shoot someone.

But Bathsheba’s an intelligent, articulate, reasonable person  – -her essay’s not going to send me running to the nearest gun shop but it certainly got me thinking about what kind of world this must be if  B. Monk, who I’d wager subscribes to the theory that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, neverthless feel compelled to choose both the pen and the sword — or, more specifically, both a computer keyboard and  a .357 Magnum.

Here’s a link to Bathsheba’s essay in Sunday’s Times:

Here’s a link to her earlier “Lives” essay, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” —


And here’s a link to her great blog, Bathsheba Monk Explains Everything: