Thursday, September 27, 2007

Road Trip, Day 7: Palo Duro Hike

Morning we woke and hiked the 6-mile "Lighthouse Trail" through the canyon to its most prominent natural landmark, the "Lighthouse" rock formation (see photo of the two of us in front of it, click it or any other photo to go to my flickr page). We saw three living and four dead tarantulas along the way, not to mention various other insects, birds, flowers and bugs. Ants crawled up my leg and bit me all over my bare calves (I love nature!). The journey to the rock was exhilarating and cool, and climbing along the rock shelf on which it sits afforded us a magnificent view. However, the hike back to the car was brutal. Though the both of us wore sunblock, we were so hot when we arrived at the car, and our faces were so red, we were convinced we'd been badly burned. Turned out we were just really, really hot.

Our next stop was Santa Fe, where we spent the night at the home of Jonathan Skinner's parents, Linda Hibbs and Elliot Skinner. They took us out to Thomasita's, a great Mexican place in downtown Santa Fe, before we passed out on their fold-out couch in the rear house.

Road Trip, Day 6, Texas

Texas Cowboy at Sunset
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Having returned from a trip overseas this summer with an aged oolong pot, tea set right from a tea house in China, and several pounds of fine Chinese teas, Jonathan served us a heavy dose of pu-erh, oolong and jasmine teas (and a heap of caffeine!) before we hit the road. We drove to Palo Duro Canyon, just south of Amarillo, Texas, where we passed the night playing scrabble in an old stone cottage near the canyon rim.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Road Trip, Day 5: Norman, 1st Reading

Spent the day in Norman, OK, mostly with Jonathan Stalling. In the afternoon we ate some scorching but delicious Thai food. In the evening I read with Charles Alexander at the Jacobson House, a Native American Arts Center. Jonathan introduced me, while our other former Buffalo co-hort, Linda Russo, introduced Charles. It was a very pleasant space to read, and all the seats were filled with students from OU, a few faculty, as well as some professors and writers from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I really enjoyed listening to Charles' work, which is quite dense, and which works with complex rhythmic patterns reminiscent of Creeley and Duncan.

Road Trip, Day 4, Pt. 3: On the Road Again

Billy Bass Adoption
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
After our intense morning museum experiences, we had some fried catfish, oysters and shrimp at a charmingly eccentric seafood place where they apparently find ways to decorate the walls by asking customers to bring in fishing items (fishing hats, lures, pictures of the "big catch"), give them a free meal in return, then hang them on the wall. The most entertaiining of these was a giant wall full of Billy Bass plaques, which are moving, singing fish replicas. Many are dressed up, painted, and given names. Every once in a while, one or several of the fish break into song while you are eating. We then drove across Arkansas and into Oklahoma, arriving at the home of our former Buffalo friends Jonathan and Amy Stalling.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Road Trip, Day 4, Pt. 2: National Civil Rights Museum

Assassin's Perch
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Comparing the historical significance of MLK and EP really puts a lot of things in perspective, not the least of which is how empty the National Civil Rights Museum felt in comparison with the hordes who visited Graceland the same morning. I felt no awe visiting Graceland or Sun Studio. Elvis' microphone was just a a microphone. The hole worn into the linoleum floor by Bill Black's bass peg was just a hole. Seeing the spot where Martin Luther King was killed, however, I felt something altogether different. Awe is too weak a word to describe the feeling, probably because what I felt was many strong feelings simultaneously -- rage, sadness, confusion, despair.

That said, I found the the museum as a whole to be one of the most profoundly disturbing places I have ever visited. It starts off alright, leading you through a series of life-sized dioramas recreating scenes from the Civil Rights Movement. While it deals with the movement's roots following the civil war leading up through WWII, the museum primarily concerns itself with highlights of the movement from 1954-1968. We see the bus (or a re-creation thereof) on which Rosa Parks sat. We see video of protesters being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by dogs. We see the remains of a Greyhound bus that had been blown up during the Freedom Rides. More disturbing is the re-creation of a lunch counter sit-in, complete with life-size clay figures of some of the original sitters. Behind them, a video shows the real-life sitters being beaten, spat upon, having cigarettes put out in their hair, and so on. We are meant to feel a palpable sense of racist hatred and we are asked to identify with the protesters' suffering. We do. How can we not? A discomfiting experience, to be sure, but not one that offended me or my sense of history. American racism is alive and well and ready to rear its ugly head the moment we forget the valuable lessons civil rights history affords.

How then are we to judge the final section of this otherwise useful and educational museum? Having stood nearly on the spot where Dr. King was murdered, we are sent across the street into another building. This, it turns out, is the building from which James Earl Ray shot MLK. After passing the funeral cart on which King's body was carried through the streets, we are taken upstairs to a re-creation of the bathroom from which Ray fired the fatal shot. We are then asked to stand a few feet over in a floor to ceiling window and to look directly across the street to the spot where MLK was shot. In other words, we are asked to stand in the shoes of the murderer. Why? Why should I, much less a child visiting this museum, be asked to stand in the shoes of a killer? Are we supposed to identify with James Earl Ray? Are we being accused of killing Dr. King ourselves? This positioning of the viewer is a highly unethical and irresponsible use of history. To make matters worse, the whole floor is dedicated to the unproven conspiracy to kill King. It proves nothing, but lays out a million clues leading nowhere, which creates even more confusion. By the time we view the final videos expounding on the successes of the movement and of many African-Americans in particular, it no longer matters. How can we celebrate their many successes in light of what we have just seen? Instead of marvelling at their triumphs, I left angry and confused. The message seemed to be that the civil rights movement had failed because MLK was shot. But I think MLK would be the first to say that the civil rights movement neither began nor ended with him. I recommend skipping the final act. You'll leave the building with a more accurate view of the history of the Civil Rights Movement, one that puts King's murder in the context of a movement larger than himself, and not the other way around.

Road Trip, Day 4, Pt. 1: Graceland

E.P. Phone Home
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Graceland lived up to expectations. First, the operation is run like a very well-oiled machine. Everything is on time, easy to find, clearly marked, etc. The mansion itself is the first part of the tour. Lori and I both agreed it seemed very modest by contemporary standards of luxury. not only did Elvis buy the mansion from a previous owner, he took the name that owner had given the property for his own (Grace being the name of the previous owner's wife). While some of the furnishings are tacky beyond belief, it felt very much like a home in which a person lived a life, as opposed to a museum or a temporary residence. Even the property itself is only a few acres (at least now, that is, it could have been larger in its day). After the mansion, you get to go on the insane Elvis kitsch tour. They have museum for his cars, which concludes in a gift shop; a museum for his outfits, which concludes in a gift shop; a museum of his planes, get the picture. The highlight was seeing all the handmade suits he wore in the latter part of his careers. As cheesy as they are (and believe me, they are fromage-heavy), Lori and I both admired the handiwork (all hand woven), as well as the thought that went into the various themes. All in all, it was a very humanizing experience. Far from painting a portrait of a God-like creature removed from everyday cares, Graceland felt very much the home of a human being.

Road Trip, Day 3

Memphis BBQ
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Departed Louiville and drove through the rolling green hills of Kentucky and crossed into Tennessee. We had reservations at the Heartbreak Hotel near Memphis, adjacent to Graceland, and had plans to visit the next day. After checking in at the decidedly lackluster digs (internet service in the lobby only, toast for breakfast), we struck out to see downtown Memphis. We wandered up and down Beale Street, then got in the car and drove around looking for a good BBQ place. Luckily, we drove right past Sun Studio, where we managed to catch the last tour of the day. It was pretty cool, but I have to say I don't really get the frisson of being in the presence of entertainment royalty. Interesting, yes, but not a religious feeling by any means. It's hard to believe anyone will giive a damn in another hundred years. But who am I to judge? Afterward we returned to Beale Street, which is much more fun when it's all lit up at night. It's mostly a touristy recreation of a place that died 50 years ago, but it has its charm. We ate a gigantic rack of ribs at the Blues City Cafe and then went back to our hotel, where there were not one, but three 24-hour Elvis cable channels available!

Road Trip, Day 2

Serpent Mound
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
We left Tim and Lori's place after breakfast and drove southwest across Ohio until we reached Peebles, Ohio, home of the famous Serpent Mound. A 1330-foot long Native American burial effigy whose origin is several thousand years old by most accounts. I had wanted to visit this site for years after having read about the various mound-building cultures in Olson's works somewhere. I have to say, I found it a little disappointing, being at it's greatest height about 3 feet tall. A unique site, to be sure, but not really worth the effort to get there. Instead of staying in the area as planned, we continued on to Louisville, KY, where we passed the night in a hotel. Louisville is another failed American city desperately trying to revive itself through a combination of gentrification, tourism, and culture. It doesn't seem to be working yet --- downtown seemed rather empty and quiet, though we did eat dinner at an excellent upscale Mexican place.

Road Trip, Day 1

We left Buffalo in the afternoon on September 14 and drove as far as Cleveland, where we ate dinner and stayed the night with my old East Village friends, Tim Casey and Lori Schellenberger. It had been at least 8 or 9 years since I'd seen them. They live in a grand old house in the suburbs with their two delightful (and gorgeous) children, Madeline and Liam. It was great to see them again after all these years, a little sad to think how much time had already passed since then.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Live From Norman, OK

Arrived in Norman, OK last night after four days of driving. Reading tonight with Charles Alexander: Tuesday, September 18th, 6 p.m. at The Jacobson House, corner of Chautauqua & Boyd, near the OU campus

I am finding it hard to slip away to write these entries, so will likely end up doing more of a summation at the end or maybe when we get to California and have a few days to relax. Spent a day in Memphis, which seems like a really fun place. Probably could have used at least another day to see some of the sights, but so it goes. We got to see, Beale St., Graceland, Sun Studio, The Civil Rights Museum, and eat some genuine Memphis Ribs.

I want to write more later about the Civil Rights Museum, which I find extremely disturbing in its conception. I need a few more days to think about it. Suffice it to say, it left me shaken, and not in a good way.

More soon..., meanwhile, photos:

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Tonight we are sleeping in the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis and I am about to pass out -- I'll write more when we get to Oklahoma. Meantime, here are some photos:

Friday, September 14, 2007

On the Road

I'll be traveling across country doing poetry readings from 9/14-10/08.

Here's my itinerary:


University of Oklahoma, Norman, Sept. 18
POG Series, Tucson, AZ, Sept. 22
Late Night Snack, Betalevel, LA, Sept. 27
Taylor Brady's Apartment, SF, Sept. 28
Spare Room Series, Portland, OR, Sept 30

We plan on making lots of interesting stops along the way, so I will be posting about the trip here at Pearlblossom Highway.

I'll get back to movies when I return.

O, my book is now for sale at Amazon, even though the cover is invisible.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Heavy Metal Parking Lot

This 16 minute document of the state of a certain segment of American youth circa 1986 (the year I graduated from high school) could be subtitled: The State of American Exuberance in the Aftermath of the Sixties as Compounded by the Disappearance of Religion. But that would make the title longer than the film. However, what is so compelling about this little document, especially in conjunction with the DVD extras, which include the sequels "Monster Truck Parking Lot," "Neil Diamond Parking Lot," and "Harry Potter Parking Lot" (Sidewalk, Really), is that it documents this peculiar habit of Americans to get swept up in certain kinds of temporary enthusiasms that border on mania (clinical, that is).

"HMPL" is basically a video made for cable access television by two guys with a mic and a camera wandering around the parking lot of the Capital Centre in Largo, MD (outside DC) before a Judas Priest Concert. In their wanderings, they interview a lot of very, very stoned, and very badly dressed, teenage (and slightly older) metalheads. Equally fascinating is listening to these inarticulate hordes attempt to describe what it is that drives their enthusiasm: "Judas Priest Rocks!" and "Party!" are about as close as you get to an explanation. Not that the directors are really looking for one. Their tone is mostly one of detached amusement.

To me, this is a very interesting moment in American popular cultural history. While the stadium rock phenomenon that began with Woodstock and continued on through the 70's and 80's was still going strong, it had by this time long shed any pretensions changing the world or expanding consciousness. This is about one thing: dissolution. Everyone interviewed is so plowed you wonder if any of them even remembered the concert. And somehow that's the point, as it is with certain kinds of religious devotion: "Fade Far away, dissolve, and quite forget," as a famous poet once put it.

The DVD is filled with extras, some great, some less than great. In addition to the aforementioned sequels, it contains 3 others that are also sequels of a kind: "Heavy Metal Basement," "HMPL Annihilation" and "HMPL Alumni." What the sequels document is the same kind of devotion in different contexts. Neil Diamond's fan base is generally female, middle-aged, overweight, and sort of neutrally gendered (nun-like). But their devotion to Neil is as strong, if not stronger because so openly about sex, as the metalheads'. Seeing this same thing again among children at a JK Rowling book signing is more cute than anything else, but it gives a sense of how American's are taught to seek, find, and participate with unbridled enthusiasm in mass cultural phenomena.

The "Alumni" sequence offers a glimpse of three of the participants 15 years after the original film. One married a heavy metal guitarist, but seems to have a very normal family life. Another is still jamming with his buddies in the basement and cleaning carpets for a living. Most compelling of all, however, is Zebraman, the drunkest, mouthiest, and most outrageously dressed of anyone in the film. They find him living a very cozy suburban family existence, listening now to only country music, and humored, if somewhat embarrassed, by his presence in the film.

The segment called "Heavy Metal Basement" -- 30 minutes of listening to a heavy metal fan give a history of Judas Priest by describing each of his 100 or so albums -- is almost as annoying as the scene in the middle of Godard's Les Carabiniers where the men return from their travels and show the two women every single postcard of every one of the hundreds of places they've visited. I wanted to shoot the screen after a while.

Finally, I watched "HMPL Annihilation" with a bit of sadness. It documents the demolition of the Capital Centre, which was the Arena of my youth. I saw my first concert (Van Halen, first incarnation) there in 1985. I also saw an incredible collection of stars perform at a Vietnam Vets Concert: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, CSNY, John Fogerty and, yes, Neil Diamond! All of my early sports memories: The Washington Bullets and Capitals, not to mention the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, take place there. A former employee watching the demolition articulated my feelings about the Capital Centre and also about the whole HMPL enterprise quite well: "I shouldn't be sad, but for some reason I am."

Friday, September 7, 2007

Yojimbo vs. Fistful of Dollars

Fistful of Dollars is great entertainment. From the first scene to the last, it’s hard to take you eyes off the screen. It contains the simplest of plots – one man plays two rival gangs off of one another until, with his aid, they destroy each other. Eastwood carries the film, delivering one liners with what would become his characteristic aplomb. A sort of avenging angel, his apparent amorality masks a profound understanding of the consequences of violence and its ultimate unfolding when a conflict reaches the point of no return. He’s the only one who understands the necessary outcome of this feud. He simply speeds up the process of destruction. If he has a moral position, and I think he does, it’s that by forcing the bloody conclusion of this feud, he will perhaps reduce the "collateral damage" it causes.

Yojimbo is also great entertainment, with that added little intangible that leads us to call it art. There are several elements Yojimbo contains that make it rise to that level where Fistful does not. First, the cinematography of the original is far superior. While the claustrophobic feel of Fistful brings its own rewards, it contains nothing that compares to the scene of giant sake barrels cut open and pouring sake out over the frantically flailing sake maker and his stooges. As their livelihood pours out over their leaping bodies, we learn that fate has made its decision. One striking image conveys the meaning of this entire segment of the film.

Neither does Fistful contain a final sequence like the one that ends Yojimbo, where the man who prays for victory (and thus peace) by banging a drum comes rushing out into the street, seemingly oblivious to all others, banging that drum while turning in a frantic circle. We’re not sure what he’s praying for now that the feud has ended, and neither, apparently, is he. Kurosawa risks moral uncertainty in order to achieve some other level of poetic meaning with his film. The result is brilliant.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Lonesome Dove

I found the above photo of Woodrow Call & Capt. Gus McCrae tin soldiers at the following website: The Toy Soldier and Old Tin Soldier Shop. They're $795, in case you want to buy them.

Anyhow, Lonesome Dove is a fine television melodrama. I found myself wiping tears from my eyes for about 4 of the 6 hours. Is it a great movie? No. A great mini-series? Maybe. Dickensian in its plotting, it relies heavily on dramatic irony, coincidence and charm. It has the latter in spades. A fine script is handled well by able actors. Robert Duval is in top form. My main gripe is that while you can't really blame a Western for being about something other than what it seems, this one struck me as very much of its time (the 1980's). Most of the men on the drive are sensitive, confused, and psychologically uncertain, just like most of the men who grew up in the 80's. Duval plays a million high school guidance counselors rolled into one witty cowboy, who stands at their side helping them purge their demons as they struggle their way out of an adolescence that seems to last forever. While they make for entertaining and at times affecting viewing, none of the characters seem terribly of the western era.

Except for Tommy Lee Jones. Strong, silent, proud, humorless, his Woodrow Call strikes me as very much of his time. While Robert Duval is off making everyone feel good about themselves, Tommy Lee Jones is acting like a man of his era likely would, which is to say he is very stubborn. His unwillingness (or, if you prefer, inability) to admit his paternity to his son struck me as both the most affecting and also the most authentic moment in the whole movie.

The rest, well, that's entertainment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Netflix Cue

1. Heavy Metal Parking Lot
2. A Fistful of Dollars
3. Lonesome Dove, Disc 2
4. Lonesome Dove, Disc 1
5.The Misfits (watched, see below)

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Quality of the Rage is What Counts

Robert Creeley has a poem that could serve as an epigraph to "The Misfits:"


He wants to be
a brutal old man,
an aggressive old man
as dull, as brutal
as the emptiness around him,

He doesn't want compromise
nor to be ever nice
to anyone. Just mean,
and final in his brutal,
his total, rejection of it all.

He tried the sweet,
the gentle, the "oh,
let's hold hands together"
and it was awful,
dull, brutally inconsequential.

Now he'll stand on
his own dwindling legs.
His arms, his skin,
shrink daily. And
he loves, but hates equally.

“The Misfits” is a film that runs from start to finish on raw human emotion. Even in the opening scenes, when Marilyn sits before a mirror, reciting attorney-prepared lines she is supposed to memorize for a divorce proceeding, one feels that intensity. She can’t stand the fact that she has to tell stories of made-up physical cruelty in order to get a divorce. When she asks Isabella why she can’t just say her husband wasn’t there, “even when you touched him,” the effect is crushing. This is a film about individuals unwilling to “work for wages,” meaning they can’t live by the rules society has laid out for them. Unlike the many westerns of the era which lament the end of the western “individual man” ("The Wild Bunch," "The Searchers," et al), this one does not traffic solely in melancholy or suicidal despair. It’s primary emotion is rage. These characters are not resigned to their fates. They are not willing to admit defeat. They will not accept that there is no place for them to live outside society.

Monroe is the emotional center. There is no greater limit to her personal freedom than the attentions of men. Throughout the film Gable, Wallach and Clift (not to mention her ex-husband and several strangers) vie for Monroe's attention. Her bombshell persona is used brilliantly by John Ford to present the audience with the other side of being beautiful -- unwanted attention. Scene after scene, male libido presses against her voluptuous flesh in the form of arms blocking doorways, men cutting in on one another to dance with her, strangers patting her on the ass. It's never cute, and the audience is made to feel how uncomfortable these advances make her. Unable to understand why men don’t (or don't try) to make women happy, she empathizes with each suffering thing, be it a rabbit or a man or a horse, as if it were herself, and rages against those who she perceives as doing them harm.

In the final scenes, when Clift, Gable, & Wallach capture a small herd of wild mustangs, these emotions come screaming to the surface in the image of a bucking stallion being roped and dragged violently to the ground by the three men. At one point, Monroe stands away from them, shouting, screaming, calling them killers and murderers for catching a wild horse only to sell it for dog meat. We see her alone on the empty desert floor, and only from a great distance, no close-ups. Watching her rage one gets the feeling she is yelling at fate or God as much as she is yelling at the three men.

The quality of the rage in this film is what sets it apart from others I have seen. It's not hatred that drives these characters. It's love. None finds complete satisfaction, yet neither do any of them let up on the demand that life present them with the fullest intensity of human emotional experience. They rage for love in its purest form and they will keepon raging until they find it.