Thursday, January 31, 2008
... to make me feel good. Somebody bought the piano score to the Nugent/Deemer opera Dark Mission today. And someone else last week. Why, unless you're interested in doing it? Maybe it's finally going to find a home. Nugent deserves it. I hope I live long enough to hear it done. (Unless John himself is buying copies!)
Moreover, both piano and music theory classes have become really fun, at last learning songs that sound like songs and not exercises, the theory challenging and fun, taking me back to my math major youth.
And, of course, I'm writing strong again in my own work. So the professional life is going very well. I'm so busy, I don't have time to notice if I have a personal life or not ha ha, but it's just as well, if I looked at it I might not like what I saw.
Salinger's Holden Stories
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Here's some of David Edelstein's excellent commentary on this topic on Sunday Morning.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This week's music theory is easy for a change. A new piano piece to learn but it doesn't look too difficult.
Got some picks for the banjo ... I think this may work out. Be a relief if it does, what with the fingernail tearing all the time.
Monday, January 28, 2008
I remember going ape when I first heard this in the 70s as a grad student. Jivin' Johnny Etheredge played it on his Saturday Gold radio show, and I rushed out the next day and bought the LP. I love this record! But along the way I lost it, and the tape I made of it, but recently saw it was out in CD, ordered it, got it today, and have been blasting it since then. I still love it. This is The Belmonts minus Dion, who in his own right has a fine new blues CD out (he was a blues musician before turning to doowop and rock). But if you like oldies acappella, can't do much better than this.
I'm caught up with my advanced students and now have the day to myself. Practice music, write (the screenplay).
With posthumous play number one done, an idea for number two popped into my head and I scribbled notes for it. Have a good theatrical structure for it. A good play idea must be a play, that is, there is something inherent in the telling of it that demands the stage and the special intimacy of live theater.
After those weeks of "silence," my creative juices have erupted like Old Faithful.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
I had planned to catch up on scripts from a few advanced students today but I got sidetracked on my own work instead. I'll do it tomorrow for sure. Only an hour or two of time needed to catch up. Forecast says snow tomorrow and Monday but I'll believe it when I see it.
Very high creative energy these days. I like it.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I saw a memorable B.B. King concert at The Pit in the early 70s. I got my ticket late and sat up very high in the rafters. The rising marijuana smoke was so thick up there you couldn't stay straight if you wanted to. I remember B.B. doing an incredible medley that lasted about 45 minutes.
Good music theory class today. Onward.
I can see fingernail damage is going to be an issue (on the right, down-plucking hand). I'm going to try frailing picks, see how they work out. I've already ripped my fingernail a couple times.
Since I played banjo before, it's really only the right "clawhammer" hand that I need to get down, and it's coming more quickly than I expected. I bet by summer I'm actually doing all right on this thing. If so, I'm going to make a CD to give to friends for Christmas.
Interesting thing about screenwriters strikes. At the last one, it really opened up the market for spec scripts. Most scripts are sold as ideas first, by established writers. When producers need material, they get more desperate, and even though it's bad form to market during a strike, you can still write and have material ready. Also, established writers, who almost never write on spec, often do during a strike, just to keep busy, and write things they've always wanted to write but didn't because of time or commercial issues. So in the past, strikes actually improved the quality of scripts to come in the future. We'll see if this happens again.
I'm eager, very eager, to finish the romantic thriller I'm working on so I can tackle this comedy. Not even dark! Something of a natural, given the situation. I'm perfectly capable of blowing it, but I think it will be fun to see if I can do it right, even though it's far from my usual style of storytelling.
Still exchanging emails with my Army friend, telling war stories. Great fun. He told me about the weekend he had with a female spy trying to get info from him (unsuccessfully). Babes were always trying to seduce info from us. The trick was to get what you wanted (sex) before they gave up getting what they wanted (secrets). The Cold War Seduction Game. It's a central theme in my novel in progress.
Copper Canyon Press gets big -- and anonymous -- donation
A cry of "Holy cow!" went up when an envelope was opened recently at Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend. Staffers were going through the post-holiday mail at the nonprofit poetry press when one discovered an anonymous donation of $50,000, the largest one-time gift the press has received from an individual. The check, written by a brokerage in Santa Fe, N.M., on behalf of an unnamed donor, was an utter shock.
We (Oregon Literary Review) featured Broadsides from the press several issues ago.
Ten Broadsides from Copper Canyon Press.
This weekend, more scripts to read, including my own. A busy weekend ahead, in fact. This is how I like it.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Main one I'm rooting for is Juno for Best Original Screenplay. I'm teaching it next term.
But will there be a ceremony? Do I care? I am really out of the mainstream. Commentator after commentator laments what a disaster the Golden Globes were this year -- and I think the press conference format was an improvement! No wonder I'm not rich and famous, with tastes so out of sync ha ha.
But veterans of the original Black Panther Party don't seem to like them much.
There Is No New Black Panther Party: An Open Letter From the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation
In response from numerous requests from individuals seeking information on the "New Black Panthers," the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation issues this public statement to correct the distorted record being made in the media by a small band of African Americans calling themselves the New Black Panthers. As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn.
Firstly, the people in the New Black Panthers were never members of the Black Panther Party and have no legitimate claim on the Party's name. On the contrary, they would steal the names and pretend to walk in the footsteps of the Party's true heroes, such as Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Fred Hampton, Mark Cark, and so many others who gave their very lives to the black liberation struggle under the Party's banner.
Secondly, they denigrate the Party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. Their alleged media assault on the Ku Klux Klan serves to incite hatred rather than resolve it. The Party's fundamental principle, as best articulated by the great revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was: "A true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the "white establishment." The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.
I had an unusual encounter with the original Black Panthers. In the late 60s, when I was teaching Composition as a grad student, I discovered my 8 a.m. class one term was filled with students who were members of the Black Panthers. About a dozen of them. They marched to class in military formation in their black leather jackets and berets. They didn't like my syllabus and refused to follow it. They swore a lot a class, "mutherfucking" being their favorite adjective. I quickly realized I might have a teaching challenge on my hands. If nothing else, they disrupted what the rest of the class was there to learn. The rest of the class included a good number of sweet looking sorority girl types who didn't look comfortable with their unusual colleagues.
I finally cut a deal with the Panthers in class. I gave them a special writing project: to write, and try to publish, an article for their Black Panther newspaper, which a lot of them peddled around campus. In other words, I'd teach them to write better propaganda. This improved their English skills greatly and even moved a few of them in the direction of clearer thinking. But I never could get them to stop swearing in class.
This latter fact had interesting repercussions.
On day, a couple terms later, I found myself in the elevator with my department head. Just as I was getting out, he said, "Oh, Mr. Deemer, I need you in my office first thing in the morning. There are charges of moral turpitude pending against you." And with that, the elevator door closed.
Goddamn, what was this about? The first thing that came to mind was that a former student was pregnant and claiming I was the father. Some damn thing. I was not sleeping with students, and I didn't have a clue what this might be about. Just to be safe, I contacted an attorney.
The meeting, in retrospect, was hilarious. Myself, the chair, and my immediate boss, the head of Comp. The chair wrote something on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. I read the word, "Motherfucker." "Did you say this in class?" the chair asked. I couldn't remember until they got more specific about the term in question: my term with the Black Panthers!
I recalled dealing, finally, with their swearing by having a class discussion on obscene language, and the magical properties of language, and later having the class vote on whether or not cussing should be permitted in our classroom. Swearing won handily -- and the victory was like some kind of weird liberation because now white students were getting in the act, even sorority girls were getting in the act. Class discussion improved greatly because now everybody seemed to want to say Fuck or some such in a public classroom.
And, yes, I joined in now and again. I made my defense. I pointed out that the MF-word must be magical indeed if the chair can't even say it but has to write it on a slip of paper to communicate the pending charge!
Well, this was the situation. One of those sweet sorority girls was the daughter of a big eastern Oregon farmer who was a big donor to the university. She had used the world "mutherfucker" in front of her mother and when asked where on earth she'd picked up such gutter language, she said people talked like this all the time in Mr. Deemer's Composition class at the university. The farmer wanted to know what he was giving money to the university for, anyway -- this?
My strategy for dealing with the Panthers was backed by my Comp boss, and no charges were filed against me -- but I had to promise not to swear in class any more. For some reason, when the chair learned I was a Navy brat, my conduct made more sense to him than it did with my argument for free speech, magical language, and unique educational strategies for unique situations. There's profiling for you.
And this was my experience with the Black Panthers.
Monday, January 21, 2008
So it's plenty cold outside, as far as I'm concerned, with no relief in the forecast. Hell, it'll be April or May before we see 70 again.
Loving this wallowing in nostalgia I've been doing, revisiting Army buddies and experiences. This has given me a battery charge to return to the Cold War novel, too. I loved the pages I read. The story was stuck -- and I think my new plot point might unstick it. We'll see. It's on my list after I finish the two scripts I'm working on. Scripts are a hell of a lot easier to write than novels, believe me.
The "posthumous" play I'm writing has the working title Oregon Dream. It comes out of personal material I've used before, most successfully in my favorite play to date, which enjoyed critical and commercial success in the 1980s, The Half-Life Conspiracy. However, there I took a distant angle at the autobiographical source material. I looked at it obliquely. I didn't get down and dirty between the sheets. The new play does this. I took the same point of attack in a mediocre poem some time ago, a poem I showed only to one person (JMM), and the Sally novel I interrupted a year or more ago was close to this point of view as well. (I have no idea if I'll return to it: both the Cold War and old age novels excite me more now.)
I'm writing this play knowing I will not market it. I don't want a production done while I'm living. Why? Because I don't want to play all the stupid marketing games that go with a production -- I don't want to be asked about the autobiographical roots of the material. I don't want people who will recognize these roots to ask me about anything. Writers have done this before -- O'Neill with Long Day's Journey Into Night is a famous example. There's nothing particularly inventive about this but it is a gesture you don't see all that often. My plan is to write some plays of such personal, intimate nature -- as many as boil up out of me -- that I don't want them done for the reasons above, and then make sure they are available after I'm gone. Someone may or may not be interested in them. These are plays that I need to write. To hell with the rest. It's an interesting way to "come out of retirement" as a playwright.
I like how the first is going. It's got a lot of wicked energy in it. I know of no one who would do it even if I allowed it. But it's shaping up just the way I want it to be, which after all is the job, and the only job, I have as a writer.
So I need to finish this, and the more accessible screenplay for my agent, and then get back into the Cold War material. All the while practicing, practicing, practicing the piano and the banjo.
Interestingly enough, Luke Warm asked if I still played banjo. I mostly played banjo in the Army. Then in grad school I switched to guitar, picked up a 12-string from Barre Toelken, a folklore prof at U of O then, and played that through the 70s into the 90s, when I put my Guthrie tribute to rest and stopped playing entirely until recently.
Orwell on Orwell
Heard more from Luke Warm, shown here with his wife. He got into Japanese drumming. He gave me leads on others from our outfit of Russian linguists ... and about one who has passed away (my buddy Dick Crooks is another, of course). Luke and I and another rented a "party pad" on the wharf when we were at the Monterey Language School. Our weekend home away from the billets and Russian studies, partying, living on red wine and stolen C-ration bread.
1960 Party Pad, Monterey Wharf (2006 photo)
It just occurred to me -- I met Luke a year before I met Dick in Germany.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Terrible weather reminds me of a Mud Bowl I played in, in which we (Cal Tech) lost 85-0 to Whittier College, Nixon's old digs. The truth is, if you kept a childlike attitude, it was great fun! Playing in mud and all that. We always got slaughtered but we always had a ball.
Come quick! I've found the most beautiful green stone.
Tom "Luke" Warm is one of my earliest Army buddies. We were at the Army Language School at the same time, 1959-60, studying Russian and sometimes served in Germany together. The reference, you may know, is from Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis, a book that inspired lots of discussion at the time. I saw Luke briefly as a civilian when we were in L.A. at the same time but after I moved to Oregon for graudate school (1966), lost touch. So it's been a hell of a long time. Interesting, what with thinking today of Baumholder 1961, my Cold War novel, an experience he shared.
No sooner do I reply to this than I get an email from Tom Strah, who played Jerry in the Albee production mentioned in an earlier post. I had reconnected with Strah recently but I haven't seen him since leaving the Eastern Shore in the late 70s. He'd seen the blog entry, which inspired a brief note.
I'm watching the Packer-Giants game in my basement office, while doing email, paying bills, and plucking the banjo, trying to get the clawhammer right hand smooth. And an interception was just fumbled! A fun, close game to watch, unlike the frustrating earlier game when San Diego couldn't put it in from the red zone. This game is tied in the fourth quarter.
Even with writing again, music is still front burner. So I'm very busy.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.
But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.
And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?
What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?
A national tragedy. A national disgrace.
I should quit second-guessing what I'm up to and just be up to it.
God bless Edward Albee. He's as independent and surprising as ever. For years, he's been unsatisfied with his iconic one-act, a play credited with changing the direction of American theater, The Zoo Story.
It nagged me just a bit that it seemed to be not quite a two-character play – Jerry being so much longer a role – but more a one-and-a-half-character one. But the play “worked,” so why worry? Six years ago, however, I said to myself “There’s a first act here somewhere which will flesh Peter fully and make the subsequent balance better.” Almost before I knew it, Homelife fell from my mind to the page…intact.
He calls the new work Peter and Jerry. On public radio this morning, I heard Albee say he no longer is permitting professional productions of The Zoo Story as a stand-alone work. (Screenwriters are crying in their growing stacks of bills: they have nothing close to this kind of artistic integrity and power when they sell the ownership of their work.) He owns the play, he pointed out, and he can do with it as he likes. If critics and theater historians don't like it (and many don't), tough. God bless Edward Albee!
I played Peter in a 1970s production by Pemberton Free Theatre in Salisbury, Maryland, with Tom Strah as Jerry, directed by Jeff Rollins. Jeff and I recently exchanged emails about what an extraordinary adventure this was. Strah was terrific. I wasn't bad myself. It was an outdoor, single production in the country on a fine sunny day to a good audience.
Here's an interesting link: How Albee’s 'Zoo Story' Birthed 'Peter and Jerry'.
Friday, January 18, 2008
What I've been doing with my time instead is studying music and practicing piano. As I've written here before, I strive to write music drama, or chamber opera, whatever one might call it -- serious drama in which music is integral. I don't have my musical skills quite there yet but I make progress every day.
But what about writing? What about two novels and two scripts left in mid-draft? I still like their concepts but at the same time, I'm not sure I have energy, or passion, to finish them. Well, I take that back, I'll finish the screenplay because my agent waits for it. I think the others will depend on how I respond when I pick them up again. And clearly I'm in no hurry to do that.
All this is fine. A glance at the size of my literary archive suggests I've written quite enough ha ha. But I actually have material from my life, like being a Russian linguist in the Cold War, about which I've written little. One of the novels in progress is about this experience.
I think I sense being on a short leash. I don't have all the time in the world, and the real passion I have now is for music drama, for finding some form to combine composition and dramatic narrative without engaging a lot of instruments and without being "a musical." Something in the tradition of Brecht/Weill with smaller musical ensembles. I want to experiment, to fiddle with all this. But, as I said, my musical skills need to be greater than they are at the moment. But I'm working on it.
I used to think of my mantra as "I write, therefore I am." But I haven't been writing -- again, unless this blog counts -- but I'm still here. I've been practicing. And practicing. And practicing.
But, yes, the man was eccentric to say the least.
Fisher died in a Reykjavik hospital on Thursday of kidney failure after a long illness, his spokesman, Gardar Sverrisson, said Friday.
Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out. We are working hard to manufacture Kindles as quickly as possible and are prioritizing orders on a first come, first served basis. Please ORDER KINDLE NOW to reserve your place in line. We will keep you informed by email as we get more precise delivery dates. Note that Kindles cannot currently be sold or shipped to customers living outside of the U.S.
Amazon can't produce its new wireless e-book readers fast enough. Ebooks surely will take off once a reader arrives that customers like -- and this may be it. This is an exciting, even revolutionary, development in the book industry.
Kipling's "Permanent Contradictions"
Unsurprisingly, the literary world that had flocked to Thomas Hardy's interment in Westminster Abbey eight years earlier stayed away in droves when Kipling was placed beside him.
Jorge Luis Borges was a Kipling fan, and thought his work "more complex than the ideas they are supposed to illustrate." Kipling certainly thought that he had given his late stories multiple levels of meaning or "patina."
The one below is called "Clean Water".
Link to all four cards.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
LOS ANGELES - Hollywood directors reached a tentative contract deal Thursday with studios, a development that could turn up the pressure on striking writers to settle their 2-month-old walkout that has idled production on dozens of TV shows. "Two words describe this agreement — groundbreaking and substantial," said Gil Cates, chairman of the Directors Guild of America's negotiations committee. "There are no rollbacks of any kind."
Among other things, the agreement increases both wages and residuals for each year of the contract.
It also establishes guild jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet and sets a new residuals formula for paid Internet downloads that essentially doubles the rate currently paid by employers, the guild said. It also set residual rates for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Internet.
Of the winners, my favorite was Marion Cotillard – La Vie En Rose - Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.
Biggest disappointment was that No Country For Old Men beat Juno for best screenplay but I expected it, serious material usually winning over comedic scripts.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Robert Service's Yukon Gold
On his winter walks Service composed and then tossed in a drawer "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee," the two poems which would make him famous and rich. Enough others went into the drawer over the next months that, when cleaning it, he decided that he had enough to publish. The book was at his own expense, and only as many copies as his $100 Christmas bonus might buy
here's what it looked like -- was a series of audio screenwriting tips. They are in my archive now and still regularly accessed. They come to mind because I received a fan letter about them today. Here's the link for them:
Real Audio Screenwriting Tips.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Contrary to the U.S. recovery industry, there are many ways to quit drinking. Indeed, studies in Europe show that the success rate of those quitting on their own is as good as those in treatment programs. AA doesn't want you to know this, of course. In fact, some abusers of alcohol learn how to drink responsibly, another dark secret. The U.S. treatment industry is filled with myths that are not supported by what you can find in any medical library. I had the good fortune in my own VA treatment to be assigned to work in the medical library, where I found data they don't tell you about in a typical program. The Europeans have a very different take on all the disease and recovery issues. Not that AA is bad: it's just not the only way to do it. There is a strong Christian and a strong anti-intellectual bias in AA that turns many folks off. I was one of them. I'll never forget the AA meeting in which I suggested we not end with the Lord's Prayer but with a Buddhist chant. Boy, was that a riot!
At any rate, if you drink booze significantly and regularly -- and my friend was not a huge drinker, just a regular heavy one, as near as I can tell -- eventually the body will have something to say to you about that. The doctor has gotten his attention, just as it was a doctor who got mine.
I don't miss drinking at all. But I do miss the laughter of a barroom in the right moment with the right people. I have found no other environment in which certain absurdities of life are appreciated with more relish.
I might even drink again. If I get terminal cancer, I well might. But then again, maybe not. If it comes to that, I'll do what I do.
The Mandelstams: Hope Against Hope
you regarded yourself as a widow or orphan from the moment of his arrest. When a woman was told in the Prosecutor's office that her husband had been given ten years, the official sometimes added: "You can remarry." Nobody ever raised the awkward question as to how this gracious "permission" to remarry could be squared with the official sentence....
Monday, January 14, 2008