Monday, July 31, 2017

A Play Has Got To Say Something

With the passing of American playwright Sam Shepard, I was reminded of a most interesting experience that unfolded at the scene of what is arguably Shepard's most critically acclaimed play, "Buried Child."
Here's what happened.
I'd read some of the reviews of the play and wanted to see it.  So I asked a friend of mine to accompany me.  My friend, Ed Robbin had joined the cast of a modest production about the life of Woody Guthrie that I too was involved in at the time.  We're talking Bay Area circa early 1980s.
Ed had directed plays in the 30s and aside from being the guy who first put Woody on the radio, has a few accomplished friends.  He'd drop names like Theodore Dreiser or mention projects he's worked on with frequency so I thought, naturally it would be useful and informative to watch this play with Ed.  Besides, Ed was in his late 70s at this time and was delighted to get the opportunity to attend a play in San Francisco without having to drive at night.
Now, "Buried Child" was a bit of an avant guarde play and I was sure Ed would share his thoughts in a way that might put this particular piece of work in perspective.  Ed had liberally sprinkled his expertise as a director on our small Woody Guthrie production, so I knew he could talk the talk.
We watch the play and then before the audience leaves, the director comes onstage and informs the audience that they are being afforded the opportunity to meet the cast and director.
If interested, we can make our way downstairs to the first 10 rows of the center section of the theater and the discussion of the play will promptly begin in in about 5 minutes.
Most people depart the theater to cabs and nearby parking lot, but I ask Ed if he wants to remain and he quickly says, "sure."

We join about 75 people downstairs and await this opportunity.
The curtain opens to the cast arranged on chairs in a half moon behind the director.
The director thanks everybody and then begins to entertain questions or comments from the audience.
After a few comments about the plot and characters, my friend Ed rises and raises his hand.  He was immediately recognized.  I knew he would be because of his appearance.  Ed is an olive skinned man with long white hair covered by a seaman's cap.  He just looks like he is somebody worthy of comment.
Ed addresses the actors first: "You're all very good." Then he looks at the director.  But the play doesn't say anything.  A play has got to say something, and this play doesn't say anything."
Silence.  Ed looks at me.  "C'mon Bruce, let's go."
I always wondered if Sam Shepard was in the house that night.  One thing I do know is that "Buried Child" won the Pulitzer Prize that year.  So...somebody heard something.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Wild Man Fischer

Most people ignored him.  Even though he smiled and could talk softly. He offered his wares.  "Want to buy a song for a dime?"  Ten thin tenth of a dollar was all it took for Widman Fischer to sing his original compositions to you.  Most often I heard him sing "Merry Go Round," but occasionally he'd belt out "Linda and Laurie."
     Oh Linda!...Oh Laurie!
     Oh Linda!...Oh Laurie!

Sort of a lilting up and down voice collage much like the "Merry Go Round" refrain. A human calliope.
He was a fixture on the streets of L.A. in the late 60s and a regular on the UCLA campus where I spent my junior and senior years of college.
By the time I was ready to graduate, Widman Fischer, who we all knew was a paranoid schizophrenic, but harmless, had witnessed first hand many of the people and events of those politically flaming days.

 Anti-war demonstrations, take overs of the Administration building, Black Panther Party shootings, you name it, it happened in 1968 or thereabout.  What also happened that year was a new concept in university literary magazines.  It was called Laminas I and came in a box, in layers.  There were poems and essays, short stories and cartoons, line drawings and music.  The latter was a 7" LP that, among other things featured a handful of performances by Widman Fischer.  I briefly helped edit the magazine and received a free copy for my time.
It came as no surprise to me that in the years that followed, none other than Frank Zappa became aware of Larry Fischer (aka Widman) and recorded him.  Even though I spent much of 1970 out of California, I'd heard that Zappa was having Widman Fischer open for him at some concerts.  If anyone could appreciate the genius of Larry Fischer it would be a risk taker like Zappa.
I have a few pieces of that 1968 magazine in a box.  I don't know what happened to the 3 poems I had published in that issue, or some of the art work, but I do still have the recording.  I kept it, because of its size with a small, select, group of 45s I used for a teaching unit on the concept of death and dying in popular music.  The little 33 1/2 rpm recording fit nicely in boxes with the 45s.
Last week, while watching a PBS program about a lost collage by Frank Zappa, I thought of Widman Fischer and his music.  Sure enough, I located the recording from almost 50 years ago.  The once white record sleeve is faded, but the record itself is in good shape.  I'm, hoping a Zappa collector or collector of off beat music will be interested, because I have a lot less than 50 years to find a home for some of the things I clung to for so many years. Want to hear a song for a dime?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Tao of Winshield

She gave me a poem a bout wiper blades,

             tucked it right up under my own on the driver's side

a  too cute, if not subtle tale about how her wiper blades had

            fallen in love with each other, But it wouldn't work

because they would come together and then flee apart...perpetually when activated.

What was she trying to tell me?

       That love and relationships were like sisyphus...?

            condemned to tempt with intimacy and then separate in an instant?

Or did she have something else in mind,

something that would take a lifetime to learn?

Windshields crack, wiper blades do too,

Relationships split but linger long after the parts

wear out.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Looking Ahead

I wonder when it first happens?  My guess is that around age 50.  That's a perfect time to realize that it really is half over.  I'm referring to the realization that life will continue here in your town, your country, this world, long after you do.
People must have some curiosity of what daily life will be like; what the future holds, because we get glimpses all the time.  Aside from picture phones and cars without drivers, we wonder about the small and simple things too.

It does no good resisting any of his and wish to go backward, but how many of us would like to go back a couple of hundred years rather than go forward?
The other day at the train station in Portland I saw an Amish family calmly waiting to board a passenger train.  Certainly not the first time I've seen a religious group in a public setting, but it is real Twilight Zone stuff. Compared to the other folks that surrounded them, with backpacks and tattoos, barefoot and wearing shorts, the optics are startling. Beards were a commonality.
If those folks wonder about life 100 years from now, do they think it will be exactly as they live it today.  Can they survive another generation given the technology they try to eschew?
It seems to me to be a wise idea for some of us to document our daily lives carefully and thoughtfully now.  It may be one of the only ways anyone will know how much we are losing and at what rate.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Find Out What It Means To Me

"It's beneath the dignity of the office." We keep hearing this about the behavior of the current occupant of the White House.  When we look at the highlights and perhaps more accurately, the low lights, of our President's behavior, it's easy to see why this comment comes up so often.
He calls it the "modern Presidency" but in classic fashion even the word modern is out of touch in the 21st century.  Perhaps it's the post modern version, but one thing is clear, our President eschews matters of dignity more often than not.

So just how much dignity should we expect from the office and the officer we call our President?  I'm reminded of a student who entered my classroom about 20 years back.  His first name was President.  Yup, there it was, right on the official roll sheet and all the other school district documents.  Davis, President.
His peers knew the story, or perhaps it had been passed around so much that by the time I officially asked him on the first day of class, I may have been the only one who didn't know the origin of his name.
I should mention at this juncture that the person so named was sitting in front of me with a strong persona.  He was an African-American young man with a well groomed natural and a broad smile.  He exuded self confidence and was verbally proficient.
"It's simple," he told me, and the remainder of the class who didn't know the story.  "My mother wanted me to be respected at all times, and she figured by naming me President, everyone would call me by a name that demanded respect.  She wanted her son to know respect at all times."
There you have it.
I believe that this President went on to become involved in the music industry as a producer of Hip Hop and Rap recordings.  He certainly was articulate enough to perform himself.
So, here we are with a less dignified leader that probably won't inspire anyone to name a child after the office.  Perhaps a few of his minions will take Mr. Trump's first name, but who'd want to be associated with the kind of dignity currently connected with this President.
Somewhere, I hear Aretha singing, R E S P E C T...find out what it means to me.