Sunday, November 9, 2014

dracula, gorey, and how neville died

Here's the Dracula poster I mentioned below. Great stuff. Hung on my wall for years when I was a kid (really a kid; I saw this production of Dracula when I was 7 or 8.)

Thursday night was very fun. My thanks to hosts Melville House Publishers and Ms Crispin and I did a little talking about Gorey; had found the original obituary from the Times on the day of his death in 2000 that I had ripped out and shoved away, and shared that; then turned to a poster-sized version of The Gashleycrumb Tinies and we had ourselves a good old fashioned ABC reading. My favorite of the 26 little passion plays? Neville, shown below.

(Need to do some Xmas shopping? You could do worse than starting here...)

The actual point of Thursday evening was the first annual Daphne Awards, and it was quite fun. Will be interesting to see what's on the list for next year.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

this is the way we write the book...

Getting it done. Before the snow flies, if it kills me, so help me god. It's been a long time coming. I need to get this out of my head.

By the way, that framed print behind my laptop there, that's Edward Gorey. Those who know me well know that I'm, um, a little apeshit for Gorey. And yeah, before liking Gorey was a thing, thank you very much. One of my longest surviving obsessions, in fact. I had his poster for the stage version of Dracula hanging in my room when I was 8 years old (1978, if you're counting; yes, I saw it that year, and no I didn't see it with originator Frank Langella, I saw it with Jean LeClerc). Anyway, I'm particularly excited because I get to do something publicly fun about Gorey very soon. Can't say much now, but it is related to this. Nov 6 at the Melville House shop in Brooklyn, I believe. More as the date approaches.

What else. My cousin Jon -- aka Dr. Slaght -- whom we have discussed before. Well, he is in the Russian Far East again, where apparently you can find fish in trees. Scary fish in trees. Dead fish in trees. Apropos to Gorey, who once said:  "Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that's what makes it so boring." Fish in trees is kind of the floor opening up. The first crack, anyway. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

dogs and herzogs

Costa Rica was fun. And here is a picture of a happy dog sleeping in the shade, about halfway up a misty mountain, away from the heat of the coast.

Completely unrelated -- although perhaps not -- this is pretty great: Werner Herzog's advice to young creatives. It's specific to filmmakers, but in my opinion is applicable to writers, to musicians, and I imagine to just about every art form. Here is a taste (the fourth, fifth, and sixth sentences are my favorite)…

"The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can’t afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself. That’s all you need to make a feature film these days. Beware of useless, bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Instead, so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you’ll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation. Read Conrad or Hemingway and you can tell how much real life is in those books. A lot of what you see in my films isn’t invention; it’s very much life itself, my own life. If you have an image in your head, hold on to it because — as remote as it might seem — at some point you might be able to use it in a film. I have always sought to transform my own experiences and fantasies into cinema."

And back to sleeping -- or sleepy -- dogs…one returns home from Costa Rica driven to finish writing this goddamn book. It helps to have dogs around to protect the writing process. It probably doesn't help to keep getting up to take pictures of them.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

quotes and golf and tigers (!!??!)

Cusp of flight to Costa Rica, first time there, a few thoughts before departure:

I got an email recently, via Goodreads. A few thing I've said, for better or worse, have been quoted there, and this correspondent who saw one quote of mine and liked it asked where/what was the original piece?

Here's the quote:
“Literature simply becomes richer after you've been fired, rejected, stranded, or had to change a few midnight diapers.” 
― Christian Bauman

So where did that come from? Wasn't from one of the novels. That was an essay I wrote for an anthology published ten years back called Bookmark Now. Here's the link for getting the book. It's actually a pretty great collection. Lots of cool stuff in there, great writers, edited by Kevin Smokler. But if you're pressed for time, here's the essay itself, as re-published at Identity Theory: 

What else? Family stuff. First is my niece, Sam Wagner, whom I have written about here before. Great article about her here, which also ends up being about her brother CJ. I am so proud of both of them.

And then my cousin Jon…he just sent in this post from the wilds of China.
I mentioned Jon previously here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


What a weekend. Four days of music and dust at Firefly down in Delaware with Fiona and her merry band of tricksters. Mr Jeff and Mr Gregg came by, too. Photo of camping delectables, above, taken by Mr Jeff on Saturday morning. And Jack Johnson posed just for this photo, below, on Sunday night.

One-day early sale for tix for next year happening today. Hmmmm….

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

two lions

Who dat dere wit da long black hair? Yep, Cagno. Kicking it above at XPN's World Cafe Live in Philly. My compadre has a new album coming (finally). "Worth the Wait," official date of July 9. Been a long damn time. Really looking forward to this.

What else? June is almost here. I somehow ended up on the executive jury for Cannes Lions this year, the health & wellness show. So I'll be headed over to France shortly to spend a week immersed in what I'm sure will be a plethora of creative goodness. Psyched for it, and nicely aligned with my birthday. Hippo birdie to me. The whole week I'm there I'm going to do my best to post daily updates and the occasional shameless selfie over at Linkedin.

Friday, April 18, 2014

it's good friday

It's cold and it's crappy on the east coast, still, seemingly forever. I'm reminded of Richard Julian's line about a year with no month of May. I know it's still April and not May yet, but you get my point. And I fear May will be no different. Maybe this crap weather is a perfect companion for all the news today, all of it seemingly about death. The ferry in South Korea. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Rod Kennedy. But the news I can't shake today is this, 12 Sherpas dead in Nepal.

The photo above is Machapuchare, also known as The Fish Tail (note the double summit), one of the most visually stunning mountains in Nepal, as well as one of the holiest. It is illegal to climb it, and no one has ever done so. Machapooch, as I called it as a kid, is one of the key summits that forms a ring around what is known as the Annapurna Sanctuary, a glacial area at 14,000 feet that can only be entered by one tiny valley. Standing in the middle of the Annapurna Sanctuary, one has the feeling of being surrounded completely in a circle by mighty peaks.

In 1984, as I approached the age of 14, a group of Sherpas (on what would have been considered very light duty for them) led a group of us (Westerners from various homes: Americans, Brits, Israelis, as I recall) on a two-week trek whose highlights were (to me) the few days of being able to view this weird, mighty mountain you see above, and the two-weeks in the company of these cool, mighty men known as the Sherpas. They were strong, brave, very smart, very funny. Of all the different peoples I got to meet in our year on the Subcontinent, they were definitely among my favorites. Walking with them for two weeks was like walking with Rangers from The Lord of the Rings.

Final note: although I met him a couple of times, I didn't really know Rod Kennedy, but boy he sure had an impact on a lot of our lives. Can't even begin to count the ways. But simplest among them: hard pressed to think of a happier way to spend a week (or a month, if you were up for it) around a Kerrville camp fire (my favorite: Camp Coho, of course), not doing much beyond eating, drinking, playing guitar, napping. Thanks, Rod.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

s'long, pete...

Ol' Pete Seeger passed away this week. A couple years ago, I wrote a piece for The New York Times about folks I had the chance to play with when I was still playing. Part of that essay was about Pete, and the day the picture above was taken. Here's what I wrote about it:

Of course I’ll never get to sing with Woody Guthrie, but I got to sing “Do Re Mi” with Woody’s sister once, out in Oklahoma, and a few years before that I got to sing it with Woody’s buddy Pete. This was an outdoor, summertime benefit concert, and the backstage was a stand of woods along the Delaware Canal. Seeger was plucking his banjo in a shady spot, and I walked up to him and asked if he’d sing one with me during my set. He kind of took a step back so I said, “It’s a Woody song,” and he said, “How old are you?” and I said “25″ and he said “O.K. then, I’ll do it.” I still had a few good playing years ahead of me at that point, but if I had never sang again after that day, I would have been just fine. Pete has long arms, and he stretches out and calls to you to sing with him, to sing louder, to drown out the fools and keep singing till we outnumber 'em.

So, that's me, staring at Pete Seeger, thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm singing with Pete Seeger." With me up there is Carol Sharar on fiddle, Karl Dietel on bass, and Jenny Avila, Amy Torchia, and Gregg Cagno singing. Boy, we look young. We were. That was almost 20 years ago. And to this day I remember what it was like to have Pete looking back at me over our respective microphones, his eyes under those big glasses on that old, gentle face, fifty years between us in age, singing our hearts out. We are a better world for having had Pete Seeger in it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

artists and ennui

On this icy cold January morning with old snow blowing past my window, there's a view of Bill DeKooning for you. I was flipping through In Hoboken a month or so back, preparing for the fandango related in the previous post; in addition to a couple of songs, I was supposed to read from something. In the end, my reading turned out not to be from In Hoboken, but I thought it might be, so I was looking for something. I'm a little out of practice with this kind of thing, and couldn't find the dog-eared copies of my books that I used to keep, with appropriate reading sections nicely outlined and noted.

Anyway, flipping through the novel I had an experience that happens from time to time (that is, about once a year when I have reason to pick up one of the old books): I found something I had completely forgotten about. In this case, it's a little section of the novel, not even a set piece really, just a few-page digression, about Bill DeKooning and about the impermanence of art. It made me smile to read it and remember it. And I remembered how it had made me smile to write it. You know, one of those times where you probably woke up in the morning with every intention of writing but no intention at all of writing what finally came out, and as those two or three pages come out you're just smiling and amusing the shit out of yourself, no care in the world about the greater health of the novel or what anybody thinks about it, no thinking about anything except pleasing yourself. That's what those couple of pages were, back in 2007 when I wrote them.

I like Bill DeKooning. Understand that I'm often attracted to artists first by aspects I learn about their lives, positive or negative. Especially in art forms that I'm not as informed about, like for instance painting. You figure I can't learn everything about everything at this point, so what I tend to do is if I learn of someone I find interesting or fascinating at some point, i tend to go very deep on just that person. Perhaps later branching out to contemporaries or others who enter into their life story. But really going deep on the one artist. It's why I have a ridiculously large amount of Helene Grimaud on my ipod, and even twice that amount of Keith Jarrett. It's where my Woody Guthrie obsession came from when I was 18. And why I find myself thinking a lot about Wallace Stevens these past few years.

Anyway, about Bill DeKooning. Why do I like Bill? Bunch of reasons. He looks pretty confident and comfortable in the picture above, doesn't he? And he was, from a very early age. Long before he was successful. That's a reason right there. And then as far as success goes, he came to it very late, which is another reason. And even with critical success later in life, he was even slower to actually start selling, to make money from his art (not intentionally: what I mean is, people just didn't buy it).  And yeah sure, I remember back on the folk trail in the 90s getting great amazing gigs that many others weren't getting, landing them from patronage and support of this mover or that shaker who got it and dug me, and playing well etc, but not selling a fucking thing, not moving an album. Or sure, a few years later, with the laudatory review in this prestigious place or that, the glowing quote from lofty poo-bahs, and yet here we are a decade later and I'm sure Simon & Schuster has given up all hope of me ever earning back my initial advance from The Ice Beneath You (and it wasn't a very large advance, either). The curse of "the artists's artist." Ah yes. (And by the way, just for context: I'm writing these words with a large unobnoxious smile on my face and tongue firmly in cheek.) Anyway, Bill had that. Understood it. Lived it. So sure, I like him for it.

What else? Bill wasn't afraid of doing commercial art to support his real art (for a while, anyway). How did Bill come to the USA? Through Hampton Roads, Virginia, my old stomping grounds. And where did he go first from there? Hoboken.

Okay, but all surface (and narcissistic on my part) stuff aside, what was really cool about DeKooning? Here it is: As an artist, he was completely modern and new, and yet he refused to denounce the old, even under pressure. He understood and continued to embrace the old even as he moved past it. He didn't need to knock it. Bill DeKooning didn't knock much of anything, really. He was accepting and encouraging.

My friends, I don't care what your art form is: that's rare.
Anyway, here's to Bill DeKooning on this cold morning.

What else? My pal Boris has been watching me as I write this:

It seems that Boris is suffering from the ennui. A common affliction among artists and pugs. (By the way, that painting partially visible behind Boris, that's one of a number of paintings by Ed Kerns hanging in my house...himself at least partially a spiritual child of DeKooning. And no, I can't afford Kerns paintings. He's a friend.)

Enough for now. Back to work. And to start, as John Gorka once said: no warm feet on this January floor. That's for sure. I gotta go put some socks on, man.