Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Paul Simon memorial gathering at the Library of Congress.

I just finished watching the Library of Congress' Gershwin Award ceremony for Paul Simon on PBS.  Like most tribute shows, some acts were better than others--my favorite performances included Allison Krauss' version of "Graceland", Lyle Lovett's "That Was Your Mother", Jessy Dixon and a female backup vocalist doing a "Gone At Last" duet superior to the Simon/Phoebe Snow original on the STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS album and Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo doing a reasonably enthusiastic version of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes."

Unfortunately, it's a little bittersweet when one considers that Simon's last sustained burst of creative genius took place with GRACELAND and THE RHYTHM OF THE SAINTS--and the better part of the last two decades have only produced a handful of good songs scattered amongst three subpar albums, plus an enjoyable for-the-paycheck reunion tour with Art Garfunkel.  Out of charity, I'll not rehash the controversy over Simon's attempt to conquer musical theater (THE CAPEMAN)--which consumed much of his time and creative energy in the 90s.

But the Gershwin/Library of Congress award is probably a good thing for Simon--he doesn't have to go out on tour; yet another WB-released best-of compilation came out this week (THE ESSENTIAL PAUL SIMON) and the press he's been doing plus the PBS special will stimulate sales of his solo back catalog.

Maybe the adulation might nudge Simon into actually trying to reach out to his devoted fanbase again (we all know he's cranky about having to sweat to be commercial and be a part of the marketplace--something he gave up after the successful duo of GRACELAND/SAINTS) and write a whole album of songs that can stand proudly alongside his best solo work from the period of 1972-1990.

Or maybe he and Garfunkel can cease their feuding one more time and go into the studio together for a final album.  BOOKENDS II, perhaps?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What I learned from Kathy Griffin.

Last night, I saw Kathy Griffin (currently of Bravo Channel reality-show fame) at the Gibson (formerly Universal) Ampitheatre.  By stand-up comic standards, she did a Springsteen-esque two-hour set, which contained very funny material about celebrity vanity, ego and image-vs.-reality.

One thing I took away from the show is the extent that the egos of today's  "artistic talents" can be lofty and fragile.  Consequently, one must be prepared to go on with life if you've bruised someone's ego and the person bruised decides to eternally banish the bruiser.

Poetry is, in its own way, another branch of show business.  And, as with Kathy being snubbed by people as varied as Star Jones (who had her 86ed from THE VIEW for awhile) and Bill Maher (who apparently thinks she doesn't have enough "depth" for REAL TIME), I'm aware that irreverence may close some doors permanently. 

All I can do as a poet/host is to realize poets are people too and try to avoid unnecessary cruelty, but at the same time be unafraid to have a dissenting opinion when the occasion warrants....and be prepared for whatever happens next.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

When TSA agents attack!

I was in San Francisco over the weekend to see a friend compete in the SF Slam Finals.  The only thing that marred the trip was some rudeness from TSA personnel  (they're allegedly understaffed and suffering from low morale so they bully passengers Just Because They Can) at SFO yesterday.  TSA Alpha Male, anticipating passenger feedback, screamed:
to make passengers comfortable before going through the screening process.
I incurred the sting of another TSA Alpha Male's tongue when I was about five seconds too slow in putting items in the plastic bowl, after the de rigeur removal of shoes, belt, keys and fountain pen.  Obviously, it's important to the TSA to keep the line moving  a la Chaplin's MODERN TIMES even if mistakes or omissions in the screening process occur.
My all-time favorite example of bad TSA behavior is from when I was in Seattle last November and the agent responsible for giving out prescreening orders to passengers (products in tiny ziplocs, etc.) yelled THIS IS THE ENDGAME!  It does remind me of how some production assistants and ADs behave towards extras on film/TV sets.
One exception: if you talk back to a PA or AD, you only have the economic worry of being fired on the spot and potential blackballing from the extras' casting agency and/or calling service who sent you on the job.  Any response to an obnoxious TSA agent--from polite-but-irritated to righteous anger--can lead to detainment (a missed flight, for example) and possible arrest.
I just love the use of stupid power to keep people in line while they're waiting in line.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Poetry--a big tent or an exclusive club?

Matt McGee, a Ventura County poet who edits FALLING STAR magazine, recently sent an editiorial to  And thanks to current Poetix editor Richard Modiano for printing the piece.

Here's the link to the complete article:

And here's a pertinent excerpt:

Poetry’s Bad Name

I ask every working poet one simple question. Would you like your books to sell at Borders, Barnes & Noble and on Amazon? If not, crawl back into your comfortable little poetry hole and stop bothering the rest of us. Poets, pay close mind to the story your work is telling and how clearly it is being told. We lost many sales at this year’s Festival by simply saying “we publish poetry.” Why?

 Because the majority of the reading public have been pushed away for 40 years by the obscurantism of charlatans who think that dropping a pile of unrelated words on a sheet of paper is good poetry—and then deride their readers for “not getting it.” This may be considered simplistic. So how has berating Joe Reader been helping your book sales, Bub? These people highjack our great medium. I work twice as hard to sell a magazine that should sell itself. We publish narrative works, things that tell a story and relate the human condition, the very base, original intent of language. The comment I recently received from a truck driver friend said it all. “I [expletive] hate poetry, but dude, I actually liked your magazine. It’s actually OK.” I’ll never get a better review than that. Unless the writer is using the form to tell a clear, interesting story, and until more magazines drop the Cooler-Than-Thou attitude and embrace Kerouac’s “simple idea of whipping up a little tale in no time,” poetry will continue to be rightfully rejected by the public.

I'm curious how much time Matt has spent in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, for there's a lot of Cooler-Tnan-Thou going on in these areas. 

Maybe Cooler-Than-Thou can be summarized as:

1. Some people want to be poets and/or in a circle of poets because they think they're aesthetically and morally superior to the "stupid masses" they decry.

2. Some people want to be poets to acquire the kind of make-and-break-and-ban power that they don't get to exercise in their day jobs.

I used to be dismissed for advocating that poets should try to reach out to the vast number of nonpoets.  And I sympathize enough with Matt's predicament to make an effort to read FALLING STAR in the future to see what kind of poetry lies within its pages.

Paris Hilton has more perspective than corporate media.

A recent quote from Paris Hilton:

"I would hope going forward that the public and the media will focus on more important things like the men and women serving our country in Iraq and other places around the world."

A selfless sentiment which will be ignored since news departments run by corporations will only broadcast news (and, with reduced budgets for reporting, loud punditry) that will get ratings and not cause potential loss of money or access to Real Power for their CEO parents.

Now it's only a question of how much Parismania the media will keep bombarding us with until mid-to-late August when the TEN YEARS SINCE THE DEATH OF  PEOPLE'S PRINCESS DIANA carpetbombing begins in earnest.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Those wonderful CNN debate questions.

Apparently CNN looks back at Bernard Shaw's "what would you do if your wife was assaulted" Presidential debate question to Michael Dukakis in 1988 with nostalgia for the fuss it stirred up.

Soledad "I was removed from AMERICAN MORNING for low ratings" O'Brien asked a whopper of a "faith and values" question Monday night.  John Edwards was the lucky Presidential candidate forced to answer it.

The question was: "What is the biggest sin you've ever committed?"

Can you say "intrusive"?  Can you say "inane"?

Do we have to tolerate dumb "gotcha" questions just so CNN can get a few extra ratings points (by assuming that all religious people are busybodies who just have to know the exact sins candidates for the Highest Office in the Land commit)?

Time Warner obviously will keep throwing the first stone at aspiring Presidential sinners for the next year and a half--without any worrisome thoughts about corporate hypocrisy. 


Friday, June 1, 2007

1967 is 40 years old--so is its music.

The summer of 1967 was considered the Summer of Love and attention is again being
paid to the psychedelia-influenced rock (plus other related genres)
of this period.

Log onto to access a site celebrating the

In record stores, there are several compilations in release or coming
soon, including best-ofs from Moby Grape, The Turtles and The Remains
(a band which opened for The Beatles on their final tour in 1966) plus
a two-disc Monterey Pop Festival live set with additional previously-
unreleased songs--the latter album to be released June 5th.

Also in release or reissue: the debut album from the 13th Floor Elevators (led
by Texan Roky Erickson), Pink Floyd's PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, The
Who's THE WHO SELL OUT, The Doors' self-titled debut album, The Moody Blues' DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED (THE
MOODY BLUES: LIVE AT THE BBC can now be purchased at Tarzana's CD
TRADER) and--while not a 1967 album, an entertaining tribute to the
era--The Dukes of Statosphear's CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL
(actually XTC under a pseudonym).

One wonders if a best-of collection by one-hit folk/pop artist Scott McKenzie (who had a huge hit in 1967 with "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" will appear to cash in on the momentary boom in hippie nostalgia.