David M. Riley

Author Archive: David

National Poetry Month and Bukowski’s Last Poem

Each April since 1996 the Academy of American Poets sponsors National Poetry Month when “publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.”harle

To commemorate here’s a poem by Charles Bukowski.

On February 18, 1994, Charles Bukowski had a fax machine installed in his home and immediately sent his first Fax poem to his publisher:

oh, forgive me For Whom the Bell Tolls,
oh, forgive me Man who walked on water,
oh, forgive me little old woman who lived in a shoe,
oh, forgive me the mountain that roared at midnight,
oh, forgive me the dumb sounds of night and day and death,
oh, forgive me the death of the last beautiful panther,
oh, forgive me all the sunken ships and defeated armies,
this is my first FAX POEM.
It’s too late:
I have been
smitten.

Alas this was also Bukowski’s last poem. Just 18 days after Bukowski embraced technology, the poet (once famously called the “laureate of American lowlife” by Pico Iyer) died of leukemia in California. He was 73 years old.

Murderous Anniversary

On this date in 1841 Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders of the Rue Morgue was published for the first time, in Graham’s Magazine.  The image to the left is not it.  Rather that’s the cover for the 1932 Photoplay edition, evidently a tie-in the Universal’s movie released the same year.  It was the most lurid cover I could find.

The tale is one of the most famous and influential short stories in literature.  However, I must say that as a “tale” Murders of the Rue Morgue is lacking.  For me, anyway.  I never cared for stories where the monkey did it.

That aside, it is the first detective story, although when Poe wrote it, the word “detective” did not yet exist.   What Poe created was the persona of the detective, the private ones and amateurs.  A character whose traits and methods became the model for many a detective character to come.    This is the character of C. August Dupin, the master of ratiocination.

Dupin is the father of Sherlock Holmes. He’s an eccentric genius who uses his powers of observation and deduction to solve crimes.  Dupin’s cases are chronicled by his admiring and nameless companion.  With Dupin and his brilliant reasoning, Poe established the basis for the detective-as-aesthete “school,” that would dominate crime fiction well into the 1920’s and beyond.

Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective of all time, called Dupin “a very inferior fellow,”  Yet, Holmes was not above using Dupin’s methods or copying his lifestyle.  Dupin is interesting because he is mysterious.  As for Holmes, I have never really understood the appeal.  He’s so insufferable, that were I Dr. Watson, I would throw the know-it-all out the window.

Sam Shepard: A Spy of the First Person

Sam Shepard first appeared on my radar in the early 80s with the publication of Rolling Thunder Logbook, a journal of his time spent on the road with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review (1975-76).  Being a Bob Dylan fan and having caught the penultimate Rolling Thunder Review concert (known as the “Hard Rain” concert), naturally I bought the book.  For the next forty years, I followed Shepard’s career as a playwright, screenwriter, actor, and director, and I was saddened when he passed away at the age of 74 last July.

At the time of his death, Shepard was working on his final work, a novel.  Suffering from ALS, he got to the point where he was unable to hold a pen, so he dictated his words into a tape recorder, and when he could no longer hold the recorder, he dictated to his daughter and his sisters.  He did not complete this work, one of only two novel he wrote.  One-time lover (and still friends), Patti Smith, rocker and poet, helped finish and edit the novel.  The result is A Spy of the First Person.

It’s short (96 pages) and it’s… well, it’s Sam Shepard:  impressionistic, oblique, and beautifully written in the sort of spare style that I love.  The anonymous narrator, crippled by some unknown condition, spends his days confined to a rocking chair on a wraparound screened-in porch, eating, drinking, observing and thinking.  Actually, there seems to be two narrators and it is confusing sometimes which one is speaking but that doesn’t get in the way of aprreciating this novel (or nevella).

Here’s a couple of excerpts:

If you were traveling in a foreign country and you lost your dogs and you lost your car and you lost your note from home that your mother pinned on your collar and you lost your clothes and you were standing there naked and somebody came up to you and said, where do you belong, how would you answer? Would you ask the one ancestor who happened to be Portuguese? Or would you ask the Spanish Armada? Somebody has forgotten…

In this desert I was originally referring to, the painted desert, you walk across Zen-like sculpted gardens full of carefully raked sand and cactus to get to the Clinic. And these sculptured gardens are full of little signs. They look like dominos from a distance. Signs that read Watch Out for Rattle Snakes. Beware of Rattle Snakes. People come from all over the world to get the cure from the Clinic… But just outside in Arizona it’s 112 degrees and there are sculptured gardens full of sand and cactus and rattle snakes. Bigger than life itself.

Considering the themes that Shephard deals with – life, death, fathers and sons, America’s frontier, memory, time – it’s not hard to imagine that in the hands of another author the result would have a 500 page tome.  But I think Shepard’s brevity had more to do with his style rather than a matter of running out of time to complete the work.

It’s worth reading… an honest, eloquent valediction from a dying artist.

Born on this day…

Happy Birthday, Flo!  Mark Volman, a founding member of The Turtles and “Flo” of Flo and Eddie is 71 today.  In this clip, he introduces “Keep It Warm,” a song from the Moving Targets album.

Roll another joint for the Gipper
Get the Gipper high, he gets hipper
Stick it in his mouth and keep him warm
Elect another jerk to the White House…

Vintage Comic Strip of the Day

Rudy was a comic strip with a very short run, from April 7, 1985 to December 22 the same year.

Created, drawn and written by William Overgard (1926-1990) who also had a hand in one of my other favorite stips Steve Roper and Mike Nomad, as well as Kery Drake, Steve Canyon, and Jungle Jim.  He also wrote novels and screenplays.

Rudy was a great strip; intelligent, literate, full of wry humor, and of course, Overgard’s wonderful artwork.  Wikipeda describes the character Rudy as “a Bonobo Chimpanzee who otherwise resembled actor George Burns, right down to the cigar, wise cracks, and career in vaudeville, movies, and standup comedy.”

Bo Diddley Rides Again

Bo Diddley is one of the key players in the development of rock n’ roll.  His signature beat influenced almost everyone who has come along since the mid-50s.  Rolling Stone magainze says, “To use the word “influenced” is an under-statement to describe the effect of Diddley’s first half-dozen singles and careening performances on rock music.”

And that “Bo Diddley Beat,” the hard-driving five accented sound based on an Afro-Cuban rhythm can be heard on dozens of famous rock songs by Buddy Holly, the Stones, Springsteen, and even Bow Wow.

Shortly after Diddley died in 2008, American musicologist and author Ned Sublette said, “Cubans play it straight, boom, boom, boom.  Bo Diddley swung it, boom, boom, boom.  He played it like an African-American.  It was also hambone, but it was neither.  It was the Bo Diddley beat by the time – and he never played it the same way twice.”

Well, here’s some music I put together the other night… it didn’t start out like this but at one point I thought it was sounding a little Bo Diddleyish and I went all the way, as sort of a tribute to a great innovator.

Hope you like it.

My Favorite Christmas Movie

I’ve been through them all.  Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in ConnecticutHoliday Affair, The Lemon Drop Kid, White Christmas, Bad Santa , and Die Hard 2 (Bruce Willis fighting some terrorists taking over air traffic control at a Washington DC airport on Christmas eve, what more could you ask for?), and I’ve loved them all.  Something about Christmas movies that touches my sentimental heart.

I was an early convert to It’s A Wonderful Life.  The movie was a flop when it was released in 1946 and forgotten until the mid-70’s when PBS discovered it was in the public domain and began showing it each holiday season. I think I watched that first year, and since I am a fan of both Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra, and because it’s a great film, it became a favorite.

My favorite these days, though, is Remember the Night is a little gem of a romantic comedy that lingered in obscurity until Turner Classic Movies started showing it a few years ago.  A wonderful Christmas movie.

From 1940 with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, just four years before the two stars would team up again to play illicit lovers who kill Stanwyck’s husband in the film noir classic, Double Indemnity, this movie, written by Preston Sturges, is as traditional and sentimental as you can get.  And great fun.

The story involves Stanwyck getting arrested during the Christmas holidays for shoplifting.  MacMurray, the Assistant District Attorney, prosecutes her.  The trial starts just before Christmas, but is postponed and MacMurray posts Stanwyck’s bail so she won’t spend Christmas in jail.  He’s going back home to Indiana for the holiday, and when he learns that she is a fellow Hoosier, he offers give her a lift . . . the rest is pure 1940’s hokum at its best, elevated to, in my opinion, classic status owing to the talent and watchability of the two stars.  Also in the film is  is Beulah Bondi (aka Ma Bailey), and Sterling Holloway.

A word or two about Mr. Sterling Price Holloway Jr. (1905 – 1992):  He was an American character actor and voice over actor who appeared in over 100 films and 40 television shows.  He known for his distinctive tenor voice, and was the original voice of the title character in Walt Disney’s Winnie the Pooh.  He also had a wonderful singing voice that you’ll hear in the clip below.

Do yourself a favor and catch this delightful warm-hearted movie when TCM airs it on Dec. 22 at 10PM Eastern, 7PM Pacific,

Here is a clip from Remember the Night, with Stanwyck, Biondi, and Holloway who sings a very old song very beautifully.