Category Archives: Music

“Round About Midnite” — Stuart Z. Perkoff at LACMA

Saturday, October 4, 2014

I gave a talk this past summer at LACMA along with George Drury Smith that was part of the programming associated with the exhibit of a mural from the Venice Post Office. As that exhibit comes to a close, LACMA has decided to celebrate the Venice West scene with a staging of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s “Round About Midnite,” which was last publicly presented in Venice in 1960. It will be a staged reading with live jazz music by the Eric Reed Trio. For those interested in reading about the Venice West scene, I recommend John Maynard’s Venice West as well as the chapter on that portion of the Los Angeles poetry renaissance in my book, Holdouts (University of Iowa Press, 2011).


The California Beat Scene: The Eric Reed Trio

and Stuart Z. Perkoff’s Round about Midnite

Saturday, October 11, 2014

 2:00 pm



 Free and open to the public
 Note: Doors open at 1:30 pm

Bill Mohr—noted L.A.-based poet, professor at California State University, Long Beach, and a top authority on Los Angeles poetry—introduces the verse play.

Stuart Perkoff’s poetry appeared in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, The New American Poetry (Grove Press, 1960) as well as several anthologies edited by Paul Vangelisti. Eric Reed has long been known as one the best jazz pianists working today. This is the first appearance at LACMA of the Eric Reed Trio.




Rachel Rufrano and Rainman

Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014

“Complex Savior”

It’s been a long month since I last posted. My 92 year old mother in San Diego has been either in the hospital or a rehab clinic most of the time. Of my five brothers and sisters, only one is available in San Diego to help my mother through her recovery. Two are out of state, and another one is incommunicado. She is back in her home now, but only after I spent all day Friday either on my cell phone or tapping away on the keyboard.

Tonight I took a brief break from dealing with my mother’s latest crisis to attend a brief performance by Rachel Rufrano, a young poet and songwriter who performs with a band named Rainman, at a wine bar about five blocks from where we live in Long Beach. Rufrano and her three fellow musicians played a short set of seven or eight songs. If the rule is to leave the audience wanting more, she perhaps adhered to it a little too literally. The first two songs felt as if the band hadn’t yet warmed up for the night, but by the third song, the rhythms of her lyrics found its vocal footing with the drum kit and the bass guitar and before too long her rhythm guitar was interweaving itself in a thoughtful way with the lead guitar. The sound system was far from what the band needs to be appreciated, but Rachel Rufrano is hardly the first aspiring songwriter to have to overcome the lack of a sound mixer. Her ability to sing and play at the guitar at the same time (a skill that is not fully appreciated by non-musicians) has matured to the point where she more than overcome that disadvantage. It was a pleasure to see this young artist at the start of her career.

Back in March, Rachel sent me a link to her first album, which I responded to with a quick note. I had hoped to expand it into a blog entry, but since that’s not likely to happen soon, I thought I would end this post by quoting past of my letter to her:

“Thank you so much for sending your album, which I just listened to all the way through, and enjoyed very much. The textures of the melodies and the intricate lyrics make your debut an exceptionally fine accomplishment. ….

“The album built in artistic intensity all the way through. It had an organic logic that kept me in completely sympathetic alignment with its oscillations. Usually, albums will trail off by the three-quarters point. Instead, your sequence of songs only cantilevered over yet greater depths of resonant insight. I especially loved the musical ending of “The Lesson” and how the long song (“Complex Savior”) seemed to spring out of all the previous songs like some profoundly compressed coil of epiphany. The rhythmic shift in the second half of “Complex Savior” was absolutely inspired (and inspiring). I found myself tapping out a beat in accompaniment to its iridescent syncopation.”

Idyllwild Poetry and Jazz – Summer, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Idyllwild Poetry Festival: “What to do with the rest of your life”

The poetry week at Idyllwild in the summer, 2014 held its first reading last night in the Parks Exhibition Center. Ed Skoog led off with a long poem about taking a shower at night that seemed somewhat akin to another of his poem that was recently published in American Poetry Review. In “Being in Plays,” Skoog invokes the “foldable theater / half-constructed on page or mind” that is plastic enough to enfold itself with “the unseen,” implicitly half-visible to him in the poem’s lyric silence. The poem about taking a shower at night, however, is much more ambitious than “Being in Plays” and towards the end began to rise to the dramaturgic challenge posed by Wallace Stevens in “Of Modern Poetry.”

Because the gallery was going to hold an opening at 8:00 p.m., the reading had an hour time limit, and Skoog very generously allotted the bulk of the time to his two featured poets, Troy Jollimore and Ellen Bass. Jollimore focused on poems he had recently written, which immediately earned my admiration. It’s all too tempting for a poet to view a reading as an opportunity to impress the audience with one’s best efforts, and sometimes such a reading is appropriate, but Jollimore seemed to trust both his work-in-progress and the occasion of a new audience in a remote, small town as fully compatible.  Of the half-dozen or so poems he read, my favorites were “On the Origins of Things” and “Marvelous Things without Number.”

Ellen Bass read about the same amount of time, though she focused on published poems from her most recent collection, Like a Beggar.  She led off with that book’s first poem, “Relax,” followed by “Padre Hotel,” “The Morning After” and the evening’s most immediately memorable poem, “What Did I Love,” an extended meditation on being held accountable for the meat you eat by being willing to execute it. Bass is an exceptionally fine reader, and her voice embodied the subtle cadences and rhythms propelling her imagistic rhetoric.


The best moment of the evening was yet to come. On her suggestion, Linda and I walked over to Bowman Auditorium for a jazz presentation. We walked in while someone was concluding a number that featured a meditation on John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.” Then Marshall Hawkins slowly strode across the stage and took up an enormous upright bass, upon which he began to stroke his bow for the opening moments of a composition entitled “What to Do With the Rest of Your Life.” When I opened my eyes after listening intently to the first 30 seconds or so, I kept looking for the horn. But no one was playing a horn. It was Hawkins, deftly coaxing the strings of the upright into a plangent spindrift of suspended yearning. I don’t have any idea of how he managed to transform his instrument from string to brass, but he did. I have heard Hawkins perform several times over the past 15 years when I was on the main amphitheater stage at Idyllwild for the festival, back when it was impeccably run by Cecilia Woloch. Hawkins is one of the master artists of our time, and I doubt a moment of equally fierce tenderness was offered to any audience on the West Coast last night. It was a privilege to hear him still sharing his vision at the heights of his undiminished powers.



Ask Your Mama

February 20, 2014

The past several weeks have been very busy at school. This semester I am teaching a graduate seminar in 20th century American literature that I’ve never taught before, so I’ve been kept busier than usual in preparing for my classes. Linda and I have had the chance to eat out more often than usual, in part because a couple of good new restaurants have opened nearby. Portfolio Cafe at the corner of Junipero and Fourth Street most certainly be getting close to its 25th anniversary; it recently underwent a renovation that mainly seemed directed at shedding any image it might have of a 20th century coffeehouse. The rear area still retains its laid-back ambiance, but the front now seems to possess more of a Peet’s polish, though still having some measure of individuality. The storefronts next to Portfolio’s, which I read at back in 1993 with Harry Northup and Linda Albertano, had been vacant for almost two years, or so it seems, but very recently two restaurants have opened up, one featuring an Argentinian menu and the other specializing in Peruvian cuisine. We had a free meal at the latter a couple of days before it officially opened because the owners apparently wanted to conduct a trial run of the kitchen. We can’t wait to go back.

Bridge Markland presented a one-actress performance of Robbers in a Box last this past week at CSULB. The advance publicity hinted that she was adept at playing both female and male roles, and perhaps she is accomplished in that regard if she avails herself of speaking in her native language. Unfortunately, she presented what amounted to a karaoke version of Schiller’s drama. Recorded voices intoned the dialogue as Markland toyed with puppets and a wig to enact an adult variation of a child’s fantasy of theater. Indeed, the title of her evening suggested the mise-en-scene, several short linked walls were unfolded as to resemble a large cardboard container, such as the kind a child might appropriate from the leftovers of a moving-van. Markland use of that space would have been much more lively if she had spent time thinking about ways to incorporate that element into a metatheatrical meditation rather than assembling a collage of pop music songs that rarely seemed to apply to the mood of the moment in the play.

Linda and I saw Sarah Jones in a performance of her Bridge & Tunnel in NYC, and the gap between the Markland’s and Jones’s quality of performance and talent is enormous. I still fondly recollect the manner in which Sarah Jones managed to play a variety of roles with extraordinary dexterity. I would hope to have a chance to see her again. Markland’s performance was simply another evening of theater aspiring to be memorable, but never getting past the first whiff of possibility.

Far, far more accomplished than Markland’s staging was a one-time performance of Langston Hughes’s Ask Your Mama, It opened with a trumpet solo by Ron McCurdy, who walked out of a darkened passageway to the side of the auditorium’s seating onto the stage in a elegant, understated arrival. McCurdy led his band through the paces of a dozen or so compositions with joyful affirmation of one of Hughes’s lesser-known works.  Actor and director Malcolm-Jamal Warner read Hughes’ book-length poem. There were several very witty moments in the text. Hughes recounts Louie Armstrong being asked if he could read music. “Not enough to hurt my playing,” Armstrong replied. (That response reminds me of the section in WC Williams’s Spring & All in which the assessment of technique runs like this: “That sheet stuff’s a lot of cheese.”)

The film collage that accompanied the music and reading of the poem added little to the public performance, which was free and open to the public. I’m happy to report that the Bovard Auditorium was almost completely full. We sat in the first section of the balcony and there are were only a handful of empty sets behind us in the rear balcony.


A Report on A Tribute to Wanda Coleman (Part Two)


Monday, January 20, 2014


By the early 1970s, the Church in Ocean Park at 235 Hill Street in Santa Monica had been shuttered by its denominational diocese for lack of a congregation. Most likely, the midwestern Methodists who had founded and built it had moved to the San Fernando Valley or Orange County, leaving behind a neighborhood that was turning into a slightly less rambunctious northern outpost of Venice. My recollection is that the Church in Ocean Park was re-opened, in part, in order to find a pastoral assignment for a newly ordained minister, Jim Conn, who didn’t quite fit in with the old boys’ patriarchal theology. Over the years, I heard him comment at least once that some of the church elders were a touch reluctant to ordain him; I’ll leave a full account of that for Jim to write. All I know is that my childhood would have been a hell of a lot easier if I could have gone to a church he was in charge of. Whatever the reasons that stymied the renewal of the original congregation, they certainly left behind a facility with a serious piece of real estate to make use of; it was built at a time when a large parcel of land could be acquired without much strain: the church’s property includes enough space for a small parking lot, a child care center with a playground, and at least one additional house that is still in use as a community center.


In any case, if anyone ever talked about the church’s history or its contributions to the welfare of its local citizens in the years since its founding, I never heard of it during the 20 years I lived in Ocean Park. That might be because its coalescing congregation in the mid-1970s was more interested in making history than preserving the old order or memories thereof. As I noted in Holdouts, Jim Conn was in the forefront of making his congregation the initial moving force behind the push for rent control and other progressive issues in Santa Monica.


I got to know Jim and become a member of his church in the 1970s primarily because of proximity. After graduating from UCLA in 1970 and taking a trip abroad in the fall, I had moved to the neighborhood across the street from Santa Monica City College. In November, 1972, I met a young poet, Sandi Tanhauser, and a few months later she and her two children (Gary and Mina) and I moved into an apartment up the street from the church. One of the outcomes of taking numerous walks around my new neighborhood was that I quickly found myself visiting Jim in the upstairs loft office of the Church in Ocean Park from which he issued his monthly newsletters. I quickly began to regard these one-page messages as an essential part of the conversation about literature and society that I was trying to contribute to through a poetry magazine, Momentum, that I started to edit in 1974. You can find several examples of Jim Conn’s monthly mini-sermons in the final issue of Momentum magazine. Over the years, the Church in Ocean Park allied itself with other cultural forces and became an unofficial accomplice of Beyond Baroque’s projects and aspirations. It should be noted that a large number of poets have read there over the years, among them the late Francis Dean Smith, a poet who was the mother of Charles Bukowski’s daughter, Marina. Francis was a member of the church for many, many years and I remember not only being at services with her, but being the featured part of a Sunday service in the late 1980s, when Jim asked Francye and me to read our poems in place of his sermon.


One of the young poets I published in Momentum was Wanda Coleman, whose poem “Mad Dog, Black Lady, Frothing (Part I) and (Part II),” appeared in the second issue (Summer, 1974). She also appeared in issue number 4 and number 6. It should be noted that the poem in the second issue was not the title poem of her first book. Instead, she just used a shortened version of that poem’s title as the rubric for her first full-length collection, which had been preceded by a chapbook collection, “Art in the Court of the Blue Fag.”


Yesterday, between 100 and 150 people gathered at the Church to celebrate the life and poetry of Wanda Coleman. One of the big differences between Saturday evening’s event and Sunday afternoon’s was how many of Wanda’s family were present – and acknowledged – in the course of the many choruses of Wanda’s praise. Both a daughter and a son spoke at Sunday’s gathering, and several siblings and their families stood up and were warmly applauded as honored guests of the day’s assembly. When Linda and I arrived yesterday, Jim Conn was in the process of convening the event, and for a moment the church seemed vibrant with the same glow of potential utopia that it had simmered with 40 years ago. If much that we started out to accomplish back then has not come to fruition, nevertheless there has also been the triumph of renitent survival.


Austin Straus then led off the afternoon with a blend of the solemn and the comic, in a manner befitting Wanda’s own example, and he proceeded to introduce both family and friends who wanted to address Wanda’s passing. First, though, he introduced family members, including Wanda’s brothers George and Marvin. I believe that George’s wife, Monique, died very recently, too, so this gathering must have been very heavy (as we used to say in the 60s). I tried to keep a list of everyone who spoke, though no doubt I will miss a few names. Rod Bradley started out by showing 11 minutes of film and then reading a recent poem, “I like being large…,” based on a comment she made at a CSU Los Angeles reading (May 9, 2013). Rod’s poem refocused “large” so that it slid into “largesse,” as a prime characteristic of Wanda’s ability to embrace those marginalized by oppression and injustice. (“large in her acceptance of others’ pain as her own.”)


The first set of poets to follow Rod included Steve Goldman (who had attended high school with Austin and who culminated his comments with a short blues riff on his harmonica), Richard Modiano, Lynn Bronstein, and Al Young, who read a very moving poem entitled “The Deep West,” which he had composed specifically for Wanda. The first editor to publish Wanda’s poetry, Michael C. Ford, then read some of her wok followed by a short excerpt on his truncated horn of Dizzy Gillespie’s “I Waited for You.” Eric Priestley, as perhaps the poet in the room who had first met her, then spoken about that early encounter. He had been acting in a production of Jean Genet’s Les negres, directed by Jayne Cortez, when they first met, and you could tell by the timbre of Priestley’s voice that a half-century had not dimmed the recollection of their youthful fraternity. The sanctuary of the church sits on a north-south axis, and as the light through the tall stained-glass depictions of traditional Christian iconography (e.g., Christ in the Garden of Gethsemani) began to waver and dim, the poets continued to stand up and comfort themselves and all who were present in the affirmation of mourning. Lynn Manning reminded us of one of the best parts of the film that Rod had projected on the white curved wall at the end of the sanctuary. “I needed to hear that laughter again,” he said, and for an instant it echoes in our mind’s ear again. Manning had first sampled Wanda’s generosity in 1980 or 1981, shortly after he had been blinded and moved from visual art to writing. After a reading she gave which Lynn attended, she had accepted a portfolio of his poems and responded to them within two weeks, and Lynn emphasized it was that response that helped him move forward as a writer. (He is now the artistic director of the Watts Village Theater Company.) The afternoon glided on with the unexpected: a musical act (in the manner of Janet Klein) consisting of Sharon Evans (Wanda’s sister) and Rick Rogers got up and performed “Lazy Moon” and “Side by Side.” The history of the songs they shared with us made their performance all the more pertinent.


Harry Northup, who had known Wanda at least as long as I have, then read one of the best poems of the entire weekend, “In Memoriam.” Harry’s poem will be featured in tomorrow’s post. S.A. Griffin spoke on behalf of Pam Ward, who was not able to attend because she was nursing her ill husband, and read a poem that reiterated the street-level fortitude of the title of her Coleman’s first book. Doug Kearney then bounded onto the stage and reprised his poem from the evening before, “Headstone.” He seemed to have grounded himself even more fully in the poem since that first recitation and his layers of anaphoric rhythms consecrated the inner timpani behind the culminating address: “Dear Austin Dear Austin Dear Austin I am sorry…”


Perhaps the major surprise of the afternoon was the poetic resurrection of a figure I thought had vanished altogether, Michael Roth. Back in the mid-1980s, when Reagan was charming the pants off of the American middle-class, Michael Roth’s performance poetry stood out for its forthright critique, but little if any of it managed to get into print. In the past half-dozen years, I asked around about him, but nobody seemed to know what became of him. If only I had asked Austin and Austin! He stood up and spoke about that period in his life, though all too briefly and I hope he gets in touch with me since I would like to include his writing in a future project.


The final third of the afternoon included a poignant recollection by Yvonne de la Vega of Wanda’s intervention as a protector of youthful aspirations. Yvonne first met Wanda at Café Largo in 1989, and she remembered having given a reading after which an audience member said, “Oh, so you’re the flavor of the month.” Wanda overheard this comment and immediately encircled Yvonne with her arm and made it clear to that snide person that Yvonne was just at the beginning of giving us all a taste of her passionate poetry. Eve Brandstein performed Wanda Coleman’s poem, “My Thang” with such perfect timing that the entire audience was laughing at all the right spots. For a brief moment, our laughter and Wanda’s laughter seemed to be in a cosmic give and take. At some point in this mix, Alice Pero stepped to the stage and played a soothing piece of music by Debussy on her flute.


Coming down the home stretch, Austin called to the stage Bibbe Hansen, whose artist husband Sean Carrillo I got a chance to talk with afterwards. Bibbe spoke about the challenges of raising her three children in Los Angeles and how her son Beck found himself at the age of 15 in the mid-1980s in a classroom at Los Angeles City College with a poet named Austin Straus, who turned him on to the kind of poetry found in my anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry. Austin and Wanda befriended Bibbe and her family at a difficult time and Bibbe and her husband flew across country from NYC to participate in yesterday’s event as a way of acknowledging how important Wanda and Austin were to their family. Soon after Bibbe’s affectionate account of their friendship, the founder of Beyond Baroque took the stage to put everything into perspective: “Wanda was large, and anything she touched she made larger.” I must confess that my scribbled notes started to overlap at this point, and I’m not sure if it was George who spoke about an interview that Wanda did with Lee Hickman in which Wanda spoke of her poetic practice as “a higher form of politics.” It may have been Bruce Williams who spoke of this interview. In any case, it was good to hear Lee Hickman’s name mentioned at this gathering by someone other than myself. Both of us were the editors who most frequently published Wanda’s poetry in the mid-1970s. In a similar manner, it was also gratifying to hear, late in the afternoon, someone mention Harvey Robert Kubernik, without any prompting as to his important contribution to the maturation of Los Angeles-based poets.


The musical contributions were far from over. Earlier in the afternoon, Ruth Buell had sung for a while, and toward the end, Dennis Holt contributed a lovely rendition of a song based on a poem by Pablo Neruda. Austin said, “I could listen to that melody all afternoon.” By now, one could tell that it was dark outside. Austin called me to the stage and I spoke briefly about Momentum magazine and read a short excerpt from Holdouts, in which Wanda appears frequently enough that Austin joked in his introduction that the book should have been called, “Wanda Coleman and company.” Gloria Alvarez Edina, Luis Campos and Linda Albertano finished up the tributes. In particular, Linda Albertano was able to give a full-throated cry of exuberant wistfulness. She walked off the stage with tears being shed on behalf of all of us, and I am grateful – and will remain grateful – for her ability to absorb and release in tender sympathy our common burden of Wanda’s absence.


Some of the people who were there but who did not speak included Linda Fry, Susan Suntree (who sat next to Linda and me), Liz Gonzalez and her husband, Holly Prado, Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna, Jim Cushing and his companion (each of whom attended both Saturday and Sunday’s events), Roger Taus (whose son, Chris, was a student of mine at Phoenix High School), David James, Laurel Ann Bogen (who valiantly worked at the desk at the entrance during the entire event), Amelie Frank, Lynell George, Ellyn Maybe, Ellen (Reich), Brendan Constantine, the sculptor Sean Carrillo, Holaday Mason, Jim Natal, Fred Whitlock, Carlye Archibeque, Michel Bernstein, and Elizabeth Iannaci. Florence Weinberger was caught off-guard when she was asked to speak. “I thought I was just signing a guest list.” My guess is that David Ulin would have spoken, but he might have then felt that he had compromised his journalistic objectivity.You can find his astute and well-honed reflections on both gatherings at:,0,7511270.story#ixzz2r0py5N5D


Finally, there were many people there whose names I do not know, but some of whose faces I recognized, as well as many unintroduced strangers. For those whose names I do not know and whose faces I did not recollect as familiar, forgive me for not writing you into this account of a tiny portion of Wanda Coleman’s afterlife. As the occasion made us grateful for the life she devoted to our enlightenment; in equal measure, we were gratified to have all of you there.


As a footnote, I especially want to thank Amelie Frank, who gave me a copy of the recently published book of Austin and Wanda’s love poems just after I signed the guest register. “We’re almost out of copies,” she said and I felt very fortunate to be there at that precise moment.

Bob Flanagan’s Birthday Bash

Friday, December 27, 2013 — Bob Flanagan’s Birthday Bash

Last night an audience of about 40 people gathered at Beyond Baroque to celebrate the birthday of Bob Flanagan, poet, performance artist, and musician (1952-1996). Sheree Rose organized the event and introduced each presenter. George Drury Smith, the founder of Beyond Baroque, lead off by commenting that, in the 1980s, he had stopped attending events that honored people who had died. The AIDS crisis took too many of his friends for him to endure the extended mourning of public rituals, but Smith said that last night’s assembly helped him reevaluate his reluctance to participate in these kinds of tributes. In praising Flanagan for his consistent contributions as a workshop leader and a poetic presence in Beyond Baroque’s early days, Smith also reminded the audience of another important figure in the organization’s survival, Alexandra Garrett, who died 20 years ago this coming New Year’s Eve. Smith’s opening remarks were followed by readings of Bob’s poems by Harry Northup, Jim Cushing, Michael C. Ford, Jim Krusoe, myself, and S.A. Griffin, after which Jack Skelley performed a song (“It’s Fun to Be Dead”) that Bob and he had written while they were bandmates in a group called “Planet of Toys.” Sheree capped the evening off by reading a letter from a young gay man in England who also suffers from cystic fibrosis and has found in Bob’s life and art a way to give meaning to his indefatigable suffering. Sheree also screened a slide show of Bob’s performance as well as a portion of a video of one of his last readings. It was a bit odd to have so many male presenters, even though at least a third of the audience was female.

The evening once again raised for me the question of Bob’s inexplicable absence from any of the anthologies that have organized themselves around the notion of “Stand Up” poetry. Several of the poems read at last night’s event generated sustained laughter from the audience. I was surprised, in fact, at how funny the poems still were. “Fear of Poetry,” for instance, which I read from the POETRY LOVES POETRY anthology, required me to improvise at least three unanticipated pauses in the performance so as the let the laughter play out. Flanagan’s poems represent some of the most successful examples of “Stand Up” poetry in the movement’s earliest days. Perhaps the singular blend of eros and thanatos that permeates Bob’s writing made his poetry unwelcome in the milieu of middle-class aspirations that underlie “stand up” ‘s editorial preferences.

Beyond Baroque’s back yard featured one of the best parts of the evening, an exhibition of “Bobaloon,” a twenty-foot tall inflatable figure of Bob with a fiercely erect cock, pierced with the full regalia of priapic masochism. I believe it was Richard Howard who noted in an essay on the poetry of Edward Field that “Stand Up, Friend, with Me (the title of one of Field’s books, which lent itself out to the movement’s name) is a joke on the arousal of the phallus. Bob’s stand-up figure in the back yard served to remind us that any anthology that would title itself “Seriously Funny” seriously needs its editors to start reading up on those who got it all started.

Justice for Victor Jara

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Broken Hands Play Guitars – Rebel Diaz

I received an e-mail from the SOA Watch organization the other day in which it was announced that a man currently residing in the United States is alleged to have been involved in the torture and murder of Victor Jara, a Chilean theater director and folksinger, in September, 1973. The United States government appears to be reluctant to honor the extradition request of the Chilean judicial system, but the issue of U.S. complicity in the coup d’etat that led to Jara’s murder is not going to disappear anytime soon. Forty years after the overthrow of a democratically elected socialist government, the memory of Jara’s fate is benefiting from a multi-generational momentum. Most recently, Bruce Springsteen performed in a concert in Santiago, Chile that included a rendition of Jara’s “Manifiesto” as one of a pair of songs for his concert’s encore. In another domain of popular culture,  Rebel Diaz invokes Victor Jara as a heroic paradigm in its song, “Broken Hands Play Guitars”:

For the Springsteen video, go to:

There is almost no audience cross-over between those who attend performances by Springsteen and Rebel Diaz, so this variegated advocacy, both direct and implicit, for some formal reckoning to establish the chains of responsibility for Jara’s murder is indeed heartening.

You can also Rebel Diaz’s music on Volume 2 of “Sing It Down,” a compilation of recordings by Francisco Hererra, Jolie Christine Rickman, emma’s revolution, Jon Fromer, Joe Jencks, Elise Witt, Holly Near, David Rovics, Los Vicious de Papa, Quinto Imperio, Vientos del Pueblo, and Steve Jacobs. Colleen Kattau contributes her recording of “Manifiesto,” the song by Jara that Springsteen covered. Proceeds from the sale of “Sing It Down” go towards supporting the School of the Americas Watch.



Lou Reed (1942-2013)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I’ve been under the weather the past two weeks, ever since getting back from Brooklyn, where I gave a poetry reading with Patricia Spears Jones. I was barely able to keep up with my teaching assignments, let alone post an entry to this blog. The news today of Lou Reed’s death sends me to the keyboard, though, despite still feeling less than at my best.

One of the best pieces I’ve read on Reed so far was by Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune:,0,4221650.story

I dropped Greg a note to let him know how much I appreciated his article and mentioned that Brian Eno’s comment (“and everyone of them started a band”) was more accurate than we suspect, if we expand it just a bit to include all artistic activity. It’s certainly witty to say that everyone started a band, but the joke turns rambunctiously serious when one realizes that it is quite possibly true that everyone who bought the record did go on to do something artistic. A college roommate, Tony Landmesser, for instance, bought that first album and he went on to do puppet theater in San Francisco. Records were like books back then. “You’ve got to listen to this” was said with the same frequency and intonation as “you’ve got to read this.” I listened to Tony’s copy over and over, and it certainly was a touchstone as I went forward with my life as a poet and editor.

I doubt that Lou Reed ever understood the extent to which his work made an impact on an enormous variety of people. Just a few hours ago, I received a letter from Steve Axelrod, a literary critic of the first rank, which ended with the following quotation. My thanks to Steve for providing the best way to end this post.

This is no time for phony rhetoric
This is no time for political speech
This is a time for action
Because the future’s within reach

This is the time
This is the time
This is the time
Because there is no time

— Lou Reed (1942 – 2013)

Darden Smith — “I Smell Smoke”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

DARDEN SMITH – “I Smell Smoke”

Not every songwriter can be Bob Dylan; not every musician a Michael Hedges. Bruce Springsteen once was asked who his favorite songwriters were, and he replied, “The one-hit wonders.” Sometimes, of course, a songwriter or performer has to wonder why even that one-hit proves dismayingly elusive. The late Jackie Lomax would seem to be a case in point.

Among contemporary songwriters, I’ve especially admired the dedication of Darden Smith, who is one of the vast contingent to have emerged out of the recent Southwest/Texas scenes. I’m not sure that Darden Smith has had a hit song at any point in the past thirty years, but he has a few songs that are worth listening to repeatedly. Mostly recently, I heard a recording of “I Smell Smoke”; it’s the kind of song that a young singer could add to his early repertoire and thereby make it clear to the audience where he sets the bar for his own compositions. It would, in fact, be a great song to play in a bar. It’s also a song where the lyrics could easily shift over to be sung by a woman.

I first heard Darden Smith play at a club on the Sunset Strip. I’m not sure if it was the Roxy. I had gotten tickets through my job at Radio & Records and all I was really anticipating was a night out listening to live music. I ended up writing a poem about the occasion.


Two ridges

of soft blue light

gleam off an upright bass,

notching outthrust rims

of polished wood, an instrument

to stand behind, whose weight

assures the plucking’s command,

imperative of hip and hand.

He comes out first on the dim stage,

dips his fingers

in the rivulets and smears it on

the thick strings.

One hand rappels the bass’s neck,

playing notes Darden Smtih

can’t sing. He’s not a genius,

but devout and patient and shy

and proud. How could he forgive her —

“You’re not worth the sacrifices

I’ll have to make.” “Maybe not, but I’m

still asking you.” No, again.

The room was very quiet, as when mountains,

at twilight, amass their shadows

in layers of crushed rock, protruding crudity,

and chill. The splendor of fertility

relinquished. “I don’t blame her. It’s been harder

than she suspected. Not even I’ve endured.”


The next time I saw Darden Smith was at McCabe’s, in 1988, and then another time in the first half of the 1990s. His song, “Little Victories” was out by then, though I remember that his live version wasn’t as strong as the recording. At least that night. He’s still touring quite a bit, and I believe he’s on a tour in Great Britain right now. I have doubts that anyone in GB is reading this blog at this early stage in its promulgation, but if someone happens on it by chance, and learns that Darden Smith is nearby, then give a listen to this modest craftsman as a way of reminding oneself of the value of reiterated imagination. The break-through song is the one you’ll write today and think of as an ordinary effort.






Thursday, August 8, 2013

News outlet reports that the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium would be shutting down its operations cited surprisingly few of the famous music groups and bands that performed at that venue. I was astonished, in fact, that so many substantial figures were left out of the Civic’s history, and began to wonder if the reporters actually had any knowledge (other than newly minted press releases from Santa Monica’s bureaucracy) of how many significant musicians had played there.

Before I had ever gone to a concert there, though, I had heard one of Harry Northup’s early poems, “Listening to Savoy Brown at the Santa Monica Civic.” Harry has graciously given me permission to include his poem, which is dedicated to Paul Blackburn, in this post.


if i if i

if i can       can get

can get       into       in-

to the rhy


rhy     the

rhythm of this

of this

of this


of this song


if i can get into the

rhythm of this song

if i can get

can get

can get

if i can get into the rhythm

if i can get into the rhythm of

this                 of this

of this song

if i can get into the rhythm of this song

there is

there is

a possibility.


aug 21, 1971

By the end of that decade, Patti Smith would be singing on the Civic stage the imperative to “seize the possibility.” The most underappreciated period of recent American poetry is the 1970s on the West Coast. The struggle to comprehend and subsequently seize the possibility of self-definition through small press production has only been partially documented in my book, HOLDOUTS, and a new generation of scholars needs to begin work on excavating the multiple layers awaiting their close reading. Along with the writing of his poet-spouse, Holly Prado (who is also an extraordinary poet). Harry Northup’s poetry needs to have a prominent space made for its vigorous, yet subtle audacity.

I asked Harry about other bands he heard at the Civic and he supplied me with the following list, in which he first praised in particular the music of Savoy Brown:

“I remember clearly how great the band was & in particular,
Kim Simmonds, the lead guitarist.  A great working class English blues band.

“I went to so many shows at the Civic from 1968 to 1973, including “Traffic,”
where I saw & talked with Jon Voight; Bob Marley, whose show was for some reason
transferred from the Shrine — it was like he was running in the sands of time;
The Allman Brothers; The Kinks; Steve Miller; Humble Pie with Steve Mariot —
what a beautiful voice; The Faces with Rod Stewart; Freddy King — the best blues
player — he looked like he had done time; & Van Morrison.  My first wife Rita &
I went, along with a bunch of surfers.” Harry added in a follow-up note that “Stevie Winwood of Traffic had the prettiest voice in rock and roll.”

The Civic was a venue that Harry and I both agree possessed great sight lines. There truly wasn’t a bad seat in the house. There were (and are) very few outlets of that peculiar capacity. Most venues are fairly small or huge stadium affairs. It’s not that easy (for performer or audience member) to find a stage that gives the both sides of the equation a chance to feel comfortable with its size and yet large enough to give a sense of occasion. The Civic did that.

I lived within a half-mile of the Civic for over 20 years. One advantage I had in attending concerts there was avoiding the hassle with parking. It was fairly easy to walk there or to find parking in one of the side-streets, that were blocked off enough from through traffic, so that only those who lived in Ocean Park would know about it.

Harry and I are hardly the only ones, however, who have affectionate memories of the Santa Monica Civic. Dennis Cooper’s diaries (at Special Collections at New York University) record his attendance at a concert by Iggy Pop and the Stooges at the Civic that Cooper regales as one of the highlights of his young life. When Bowie comes on stage as part of the encore, pandemonium (his word, if I recollect correctly) broke out. It wasn’t a riot, however, (or so it seems from Cooper’s description) so much as a moment when the carnivalesque took over, and there was (however briefly) an instance of collective liberation. The entire audience got a glimpse of what Northup had proposed: “a possibility.”

I want to close today’s post with the following list of 30 or so of the memorable concerts I’ve attended in California. Over a third of them were at the Santa Monica, McCabe’s Guitar Shop or Beyond Baroque. Obviously, there are dozens of musicians and composers whose work I never heard in a live setting, but wish I could have heard. I especially wish I could have seen some of the Motown groups. One treasures what fortune has provided. For instance, I only ended up attending the recording of Waits’s live concert because I walked into McCabe’s Guitar Shop and saw free tickets on the front counter. All I had to do was call a number and say I had picked up a ticket at McCabe’s, and I had a seat at a table less than 20 feet from Waits’s piano. I grabbed two “tickets” and called a new friend, Cher’rie Lawrence, and off we went.


Chrissy Hynde and the Pretenders – Santa Monica Civic (Her voice was even more full of timbre than on record.)

Minutemen – Beyond Baroque (as part of Jack Skelley’s Beyond Barbeque Series)

The Residents – Pasadena Concert circa 1984

Elvis Costello – First American Tour – Long Beach Arena; Los Angeles Sports Arena

(“Pump It Up” was his final song in these sets.)

X – The Whiskey A-Go-Go; with the Avengers – summer, 1978.

Among numerous other places I saw X were Club 88 and Santa Monica Civic (with Dave Alvin).

Exene Cervenka – The Alligator Lounge; May 30, 1995; The Prospector (Long Beach)

XTC – The Palladium (“Living through Another Cuba”)

David Bowie – The Forum – Summer, 1978; Anaheim Stadium (with the Go-Go’s)

Paul Simon – Santa Monica Civic – 1973/1974

Hollywood Bowl – Etta James & Solomon Burke (Summer, 2008)

B-52s and The Blasters — Los Angeles.

John Hiatt – Hollywood.

Solomon Burke and Etta James (Hollywood Bowl, 2008)

Tom Waits –  July 30, 1975

Rolling Stones – The Forum – June 11, 1972 (Stevie Wonder opened, and did not get as much applause as he deserved.)

Bill Evans (1929-1980) – San Francisco (with Harley Lond). This concert was in the late 1970s, and when I heard about his death not that much longer after hearing him live, I realized how fortunate I had been to have this one encounter.

Harry Partch – University of California, Los Angeles. Delusion of the Fury

Bob Dylan – Long Beach Civic Auditorium – 2008

(I once walked out on a Dylan concert. It was at a venue in Hollywood in 1978. I can’t recall what he was playing, but it was most certainly not songs from Blood on the Tracks nor his mid-1960s albums. He was listless and seemed merely to be going through the motions.)

Deborah Iyall and Romeo Void – Eureka, CA 1981

Stan Ridgeway and Wall of Voodoo – Santa Monica Civic, 1982

Rickie Lee Jones – Belly Up Tavern, Salerno Beach.

Beck – University of California, San Diego.

Bo Diddley – Redondo Beach club, summer, 1969

Wim Mertens – McCabe’s Guitar Shop (one of my favorite musical performances of all time).

Ray Manzarek  (with Michael C. Ford) – McCabe’s Guitar Shop

Chick Corea – Santa Monica Civic.

Talking Heads – Hollywood Bowl.

Patti Smith –the Roxy (her first show after Horses came out). Santa Monica Civic and Beyond Baroque.

Oingo Boingo – I’m quite sure I saw them live, but can’t remember where. (“Dead Man’s Party” is a classic.)

Suburban Lawns – Santa Monica Civic.

Bruce Springsteen – at least a half-dozen times. Santa Barbara, where he ended with an incredible version of “Jungleland”; Santa Monica Civic; Los Angeles Sports Arena; and the Coliseum.

Of course, there are also concerts I almost heard, but ended up having to leave before the music started. In particular, I was invited by a poet friend, who had an extra ticket, to see Neil Young at the Forum in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, this person was prone to substance abuse and became ill once we were at the Forum and I had to drive her home before the lights came down.