“You’ll Find Very Little Between You and Me”
“Not a Simulacrum”
To be a Man by Rees Nielsen
when it’s 105
and the machinery gums up
everything you’ve got to have
it is so hot
and you can’t find that fucking wrench
and even if you did
it would burn the shit
out of your hand
the dreams you cherish
no longer fruit
not yet wine
you have to load the truck
so Roberto says,
maybe tonight after work
you jog home
sweat off a couple pounds.”
real funny, amigo
you are 45
not quite correct
politically or otherwise
you’ve eaten too much red meat
you are a thousand packs of cigarettes
over the line
you worry too much
and the only retirement
you have to look forward to
is a dirt nap
when you get home
your wife, who has been up
and at work since 4
is in the process of paying bills,
she is going to be tired and cranky
and the sun keeps hitting you
in the belly
like you are in the ring
and the bastard’s got something
heavy in his glove
you made it through another round
you try to breathe
but the crowd’s roaring with the smell of blood
waiting to see if you’re going to come out of your corner
you are never going to be rich
you are never going to be famous
the other guy
is going to get the shot at the big time
Let’s find out
if you’re a man
You learn not to count on funerals by Simon Perchik
You learn not to count on funerals
or the fog waiting at shorelines
weighed down by a horn that never leaves
– just another day with no morning
lowered the way your shoulders
are surrounded by those mountain streams
the mad drink for the immense light
left in the open as ice and useless
though you keep a glass nearby
place a small stone on the water
– a calming gesture that lets you
move closer, listen in on the rain
falling from your forehead — the dead
are used to shows like this, hand over
their flowers and you reach down
can’t make out how far you pressed
naked against this floor, covered it
with snow and branches.
For Vern by Gretchen VanOstrand
the night he tried to teach us Philadelphia Rummy
the good reverend and I became wannabe card sharks
oh did he love a good game like I do
his inventive (cheating!) Scattegories answers
always hilarious yet never *really* wrong
somehow he managed to persuade us
I believe! Yes, Lord, I believe.
of course he could sell God to an atheist
he just couldn’t sell himself on retirement.
the cancer that ravaged his throat
never stopped him from talking
or eating chocolate ice cream (2 bowls!)
or preaching a sermon on Sunday for no pay
Love is patient and love is kind and
he showed me the love of Christ
Because he lived it everyday
( 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
yeah, God needed him more than we did
he’s with Jesus now we should be happy
I just hope there’s rummy players and
chocolate ice cream in Heaven
A Poet’s Poem / An Irritation by Angela Consolo Mankiewicz
A Poet’s Poem / An Irritation
“Che importa?” Scarpia provokes Tosca,
“Spasimi d’ira …. spasimi d’amore” *
It’s like being away too long
spending too much time defining where, exactly
planning the return too long
sorting out the obstacles too long
too many routes
too many weather patterns forming and unforming
too much yet to read
not enough time yet to remember
label it, store it somewhere, trash it
too much mumbling
there’s the fear
one or more
too much to say
too many times
I’m already bleeding.
Until, exhausted from the litany
and resting for tomorrow,
sun hurts your thinning eyelids
it’s like sex
the grumbling in your belly
the squeeze in your crotch
Then you sit down and write
one letter after another until you have a word
and then another word and then another …. another
until the spasm subsides.
* “Of what importance is it? …. Whether a spasm of anger or love”
America Still Dreams by E.R. Sanchez
America still dreams.
People still strive,
still focus on making pay,
still dream they can comeback from setbacks.
There are people raising children
inside a GMC panel van,
toiletries kept safe
inside decrepit bank deposit bags,
canned cold dinners reminding them
they were not always unemployed.
There are people graduating college
after suffering homeless embarrassment,
dreaming out loud as the bitter and defeated defecate on their words,
“ because I want to be a Child Protection Lawyer,
I want to be a CEO,
I don’t care if I stutter when people
ask if I live in the car with my mother,”
second hand dreams still reveal first place goals.
There are people taking pay cuts,
$100,000 capitalists accepting minimum wage realities,
drug dealers hoping they can save enough cheddar to go straight before DEA raids,
doctors pushing mops to stay in the hospital environment
while emergency rooms over crowd,
making broken legs wait and fevers go home.
There are people still dreaming,
we dream for the comeback,
make America an underdog,
give us strife because we look at recessions
with the vigor of a 1930s America conquering The Great Depression,
like we did in the original U.S. economic crisis,
Panic of 1792,
we overcame those terrors as we did through the panics of
1796, 1819, 1837, 1857,
using the heart of a post Civil War America to break through the Panic of 1873
1884, 1893, 1907,
through it all we fought harder, smarter,
solving the Wall Street Crash of 1929,
adapting past the Oil Crisis of 1973,
1987’s Black Monday did not deter our determination for success,
make America an underdog,
we will rise like suns consistent with time,
we will ignore prophets of doom,
we will force revolutionaries to admit they have no solution beyond self-serving words,
we will solve this Great Recession whether it takes
World War 3, America’s Federal Republic being revised, or Democratic-Socialism for all,
make us an underdog,
make us the down trodden,
make us embarrassed of our present when compared to our triumphant past.
we must never
FOR THE ROSES by Lyn Lifshin
I think of her watching the
last rose petals on a
day like today, say deep
August, browning like
an old rubber doll
she might have left
in an attic in Canada.
I think of her pressing
skin against glass, a sense
of summertime falling,
that sense of fall
that that Sylvia Plath
wrote of. Or maybe some
freeze frame of what
is going, moving on.
I see her pale arms,
sea mist velvet jeans
hugging hips that
never will not be boyish.
In the wind, gone
voices move close
to her cheek bones. In
this frame she could be in
a fancy 30′s gown. Some
thing is raw, some thing
is broken. It has to be
a full moon
etching black water.
She has to know that
from what is torn
and scarred, some
thing almost too
is already stirring,
some thing dark
as coal becoming
dying to be born
FOR THE ROSES  by Lyn Lifshin
Sometimes I think of her
as a wild foal, hardly
touching down in prairie
glass, Saskatewan. Or a
sea nymph, her gaze
glued to the deepest
emerald wave, a Silkie
luring men she can’t stay
with long. There she
is, on a seaweed jeweled
rock, her songs, ribbons
of melancholy lassoing you,
pulling on your heart.
Some say Bessie Smith
left even or especially good
men to have something
to make her songs
burn the hottest blues. I
think of Joni knowing
what can’t stay, what is so
broken it catches the
light like torn bottles
the ocean’s turned
to sea glass jewels, that
behind you in the rear
view mirror haunts,
knife- like as her trees,
slashes of wild paint
shivering in a naked row,
such exquisite beauty
CACTUS TREE by Lyn Lifshin
“raw and direct, what in
her life is really happening.”
I read this of a new young
star. Someone says she
makes you feel like she’s
your best friend, that she’s
gone thru hell and come
out as a beauty, her
losses honed into words
that touch you. Of course
she reminds me of Joni
pulling from the pain
of those men who called
her from the harbor,
kissed her with their
shimmers like light
thru stained glass. How
she transforms the
blackness, holes in the
air, the ache. I think
of her making jewels
from those who
calling out her name,
leaving their stain,
of her stalking images
of dreams flying with sea
gulls and sand castles,
worlds they can’t share.
Sand castles crumble.
From what isn’t said
she spins magic,
words that hold you,
will be enough to
keep you as long as
you long to
FOR THE ROSES  by Lyn Lifshin
When I see hers
sprawled across the album,
explosive brush strokes,
guava, blood and green,
her wild petals not
connected to any
stem. I can’t help but
feel those slashes
of light in your poems,
how sometimes if seems
your words could be mine.
I’ve heard those lost
lovers in the wind. Maybe
I heard then last night
when I couldn’t
sleep. I think of the
photograph of you with
a rose in your hair. You
could be my sister those
nights when I am the
rose I was named
for, Raisel Devora.
And why wouldn’t some
one pierced by words,
turn addict for a
sense rare as Tea Rose
or Rashimi rose incense.
Those lovers, like
applause: I found them
addictive too. I think of you
criss-crossing the country,
a cigarette dangling,
leather and suede,
tawny earth colors
(you could find in my
closet), eyes few would ever
be as blue as. Aching for
something you can’t
still hold and knowing
from that raw wound, pain
and piercing beauty explodes
At What Café Did You Ask
What Dress I’d Be Wearing by Lyn Lifshin
or was it you,
was it casual,
After months dark as
the lakes behind the
black horse’s eyes,
the glass of lost beauty,
daze of knowing
what is now
is what I lived for
and still die of memory,
of the You on the brown couch,
how you came to me already damaged,
and how the way
something starts to bloom
too soon, and snow punishing it:
Don’t look for another café.
There is none.
There is nothing.
When I see it in my mind, I start high above. A length of train track slices through the countryside, an undulating patchwork of large yellow and green squares. I zoom in to find myself in an old-fashioned train car paneled in scuffed, once-luxurious wood. I sit on balding wine-colored velvet cushions pancaked by decades of other travelers’ bottoms, midday sunshine pours in, bouncing off the colors outside the window. Every hair of velvet is illuminated, every layer of varnish, the gesture behind every scrape. I feel my awareness of sensual detail sharpening, my sense of time broadening and deepening. I lean against the window and soak it all in, thrilled to be on my own, hurtling towards Prague, the Golden City.
“Bohemian countryside–lovely.” An older British gentleman sitting opposite me in the train car is taking a break from reading aloud from the travel articles he’s clipped to assess the view for the benefit of his younger male companion. He wears a beard that needs trimming and a tweed jacket full of dandruff, while the younger man is neatly dressed, precisely groomed, staring numbly out the window.
I know how he feels.
I have lived my life by the dandruff-laced proclamations of Those Who Know about how to become an adult in this world; pick a career, study hard, tend to your material ambitions and the rest will fall into place. It hasn’t. Closing in fast on my thirtieth birthday, I have been laid off twice, dislike said career, have no intimate relationship and am still reeling from the sudden death of my mother two years ago from lung cancer.
But today I am sitting on the opposite side of the car. Today my journey begins.
I sit quietly, savoring each bite of the sandwich and each sip of the mini bottle of peach schnapps my family friend in Vienna has packed me in a sturdy little shopping bag. My teeth sink into the caraway-flecked rye, giving up the thick ham and smear of butter inside. The alcohol cuts sharp through the sweet syrup of the schnapps and warms my throat. I eavesdrop with all the wonderful anonymity silence can bring.
I arrive in Prague in the late afternoon. At midnight, I’ll be meeting my best friend from childhood, who’s joining me for the rest of the trip to help me celebrate my birthday. But these first few hours are just for me. I find my way to the hotel with the maps and directions I’ve brought. I’m so thrilled to be on my own, to be finding my way with nothing but ink on a page.
I’m staying in a Communist-era block of concrete, but there is a large window framing treetops with freshly sprung leaves that lets in the sounds of the traffic and the river, and there is a mini-bar filled with Czech pilsner to be had for fifty cents a piece. I plop on the bed, pop open a beer, and feel the scratchy nylon quilt on my thighs as I eye the massive in-wall air conditioning unit and thank the heavens there’s no need to turn it on, no need to shut out all the May pouring through the windows. The golden fizz of beer sluices down my throat, loosening my limbs.
Since I’m not meeting my friend until midnight, I have the whole evening ahead of me. I’m eager to get into the city center and the sun is sinking fast. One of the guidebooks mentions that the #22 tram is a good way to take a quick tour of the city, and I notice on the map that there’s a stop just two blocks from my hotel. I find it on a curve of road on a bluff. The bluff sits above the city center, but trees and the angle of the drop-off obscure my view. I hear sounds of the traffic below mingling with the ruffling of the leaves above me. By the time the tram arrives, the sun has set.
I miss the lights that night. In Prague, as the dusk crests into night all of the major landmarks are bathed in a wash of light, each glowing a different saturated pastel hue, collaring the river like jewels. But that night, as the tram descends into the city center, all I see are shadows.
The tram shuttles down through Mala Strana then across the Vltava River. I decide to put away my map and follow my feet. I get off at the first stop across the river. Stepping off the old metal tram my shoes meet the cobblestones as I breathe in the spring night air. It’s warm in my nostrils, a cool bit of river gently laid in on top by a breeze. The lapping and rushing of the water fades behind me as I walk further and further into the city, past construction barriers plastered with posters for rock concerts for bands I’ve never heard of. The dusk turns from smoke to onyx as I wander into a closed market street, then past an arcade where a solitary restaurant serves large mugs of beer and platters of pork to patrons seated beneath old stone archways. Further on, I begin to see groups of young people clustered together, hanging out, drinking, smoking, playing guitar. The streets curve and loop into one another, leading me in and out of crowds and emptiness. Just as my steps echo through a dank stone passageway, a gas lamp glowing whiskey pulls me around a corner and into a street full of people chatting and laughing along for a few blocks until I find myself again in some deserted, soot colored lane and then again onto a busier street lined with shops selling marionettes, amber, wooden toys, myriad colors of antique Czech glass, and Seattle bagels.
I wander like this for hours, never worrying that I might get lost or drift into the wrong alley. Instead I feel light, untethered.
I wait for my friend in the hotel bar later that evening, sitting quietly with a beer and writing in my journal. The bar is crowded and noisy in the most congenial way, a friendly white noise that keeps me company while I wait. When she arrives at midnight, slinging her huge duffel off of her shoulder and onto the floor next to me, it’s the most natural yet dislocated thing I can imagine, like running into long-gone relatives in heaven.
I awaken on our first morning in Prague. It’s Saturday and out the window of our gray-walled hotel room I see brilliant blue sky. I open the window and the fresh air and sounds of the river rush in.
Soon we’re on the #22 tram heading back into the city center. But this is a completely different trip than last night. What was smoke and onyx only occasionally lit by amber is now an impressionist’s palette illuminated with gold. The shadows of last night are now crisply focused into chess piece shapes; domes and spheres and spindles. And the river I’ve only heard up until now comes rushing to life, curving and dancing its way through the ancient city.
We take the tram down through Mala Strana and get off a few steps before the St. Charles Bridge. As we walk through the winding lanes, the candy-colored buildings are still partly in cool shadow as Prague Castle rises on its hilltop behind us like a sandcastle dribbled from molten iron and the verdi gris dome of St. Michael’s crowns to the west. The crowds grow denser, the sounds louder as we approach the western gate of the bridge. Closing in on the bridge, a massive stone archway serves as a gate, obscuring the view beyond and casting a shadow as we approach. At the gateway, I hear music—an orchestra is playing—then suddenly we’re under then through the arch and the sky opens wide. It’s a hard-candy pastel blue, clear and fresh above an open, throbbing artery of silver water. Below the sky and above the river is the city, laid out in gleaming pastels and flinty terra cotta, thickly sprinkled with tiny golden sunbursts. The bridge itself—tourists and students and musicians and vendors and dancers—is a river of multicolored bobbing heads as kinetic as the body of water below. And the strains of the orchestra are now a full-blown symphony rising from forty players in folding chairs at the bridge landing just below, playing Smetana’s love letter “Ma Vlast,” My Country.
This was it. This was my arrival. I can’t say that I knew exactly to what. But something about being in Prague at that moment felt auspicious to me. Prague,Praha, in Czech means “threshold” and I felt like I was being welcomed into something greater, that my life had been in a dark cramped corridor for the last few years and that now it was opening onto a beautiful, light- and color-filled plaza. And that this plaza was more like the truth than the cramped corridor. I knew enough at this point to keep it to myself, had an awareness that to voice my euphoria, this profound change without proportionally grand reason, might be met with skepticism. So I let it fizz inside me, carrying this great golden ball of joy in my chest, gleaming out through my teeth and my eyes, a secret anointment I was content to enjoy privately. For now.
To celebrate, I bought a painting. I first saw it that morning on the bridge. The painter had seen what I had; a kaleidoscope of pastels and spindles and spires, a clear lavender, pink and blue sky in thick strokes of vibrant color. When I went back and bought it later that afternoon, the sky had changed, and so had the painting. The wind brought in clouds, first white, then deeper gray and blue. The painting was now hooded by these storm clouds, blue and moody above the brightness.
When I walked through that archway, a spark was lit. My spirit flew off, going higher and higher until at last it crash-landed a week later in a psychiatric infirmary in Paris. Though the diagnosis was bipolar disorder, I still can’t say I fully understand what happened. I think, instead, it may have been some necessary evolution I had to undergo. A stretch outside of what I believed the world wanted me to be, towards someone more like who I really am. All I know is that somehow, I needed to make this journey. And somewhere inside of me, I’ll always hold that golden ball.
Do you remember when we went to Chicago for John Tarranzarro’s wedding? We’d been together a year or two by then. John and the other guys attending were your old classmates from the College of the Holy Cross. We all stayed at his mother’s, where chaos and the smell of dog urine reigned. Those great white beasts, more lupine than canine, nameless and wild, ran the place while Mrs. Tarr, as you called her, Mrs. Tarr (emphasizing the rs, as if it were some private joke, hinting of the bizarre) lived in her own world of benign insanity.
The minute we walked in, I was knocked over by the stench. Mrs. Tarr apparently didn’t have time or inclination to clean much or to let the dogs out, so she put newspaper down on the floor, freeing the dogs to piss whenever and wherever they liked, except when confined, which they were on occasion, in a large steel cage in the front hall. I would later wonder if they were capable of escaping at will.
Dried urine stains dotted the newspaper trails throughout the house, and the stink of urine saturated the air all the way up to the second floor where we were to sleep, no doubt with the sheets pulled up over our noses. I was tempted to suggest that charging a room on my credit card might be worth it. But you abhorred debt of any kind and wanted to be with the other guys anyway. Besides, the plans had already been made; how could we risk offending Mrs. Tarr? Might as well submit and consider it an adventure.
The front window and living room walls were banked with pillows and stuffed animals, calling to mind a padded cell. Fitted to the minutest detail, a doll house—her pride and joy—stood in the center of the room. There was even a tiny red plastic suitcase. When I remarked on it, her eyes lit up.
“I thought the mother might like to go on vacation every once in a while, to get away,” Mrs. Tarr confided like a child, eyes blinking innocently behind her glasses yet also wistful, identifying with the mother herself.
The tour continued.
The kitchen looked dusty, as if it hadn’t been used very often. A cabinet door or two stood haphazardly ajar. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of an orange marmalade cat sleeping on the stovetop, its color melting into the faded autumn gold of the stove. It was a very bony and ancient cat.
“She’s twenty years old,” Mrs. Tarr told me.
“Not many cats live so long,” I responded. The tabby slept noiseless and still like death warming itself.
Out back, the small yard had been replaced with brick, a stray weed escaping through the cracks here and there.
“Easier than mowing,” Mrs. Tarr explained.
Mr. Tarr was virtually invisible, a mere shadow hovering in some corner, blending in with the pillows and stuffed animals.
John, too, never seemed to be present, his room a mysterious dark place with the door shut at the top of the stairs.
When we finally made it to the second floor, Mrs. Tarr showed us the bathroom, which displayed yet more evidence of her whimsy. Here, three small plastic knights in mail congregated on a shelf, casually guarding the bathtub and toilet.
“You have an active imagination,” I said to Mrs. Tarr after the tour.
And as if her true calling had been understood and acknowledged at last, she beamed a smile of gratitude and relief.
We stowed our stuff in the bedroom where we were to sleep and took off for the rehearsal and dinner afterward.
While we were out, a nose nudged open the bedroom door. Two white brutes plunged into an orgy of nosing and gnashing and gnawing into private things, having the time of their lives. Large teeth ripped through the bottom of a soft flannel bag, held down by claws on a massive paw. The top of a bottle of Clinque Porcelain Beige was stabbed with incisors, a tube of Crest toothpaste punctured clear through, the indentation of teeth left distinctly visible in its pliable skin of soft plastic. For good measure, a piss here and there on the carpet to mark their territory. Then, bored and far from exhausted, malicious glee romped on to sniff out other conquests.
Upon returning to Chez Tarr later that evening, I noticed the door to our room was ajar. With dread, I pushed the door open and entered. There on the floor, the purple Royal Crown bag that I used to hold my makeup. The gold braid drawstrings still pulled tight, but the bottom torn out, purple threads fraying around the edges of the hole. What the hell . . . ? Nearby, riddled with teeth marks, the plastic silver top of Porcelain Beige foundation, the tube of Crest. “Just look at this!” I cried. You shook your head, went on to other things. But I was appalled, dumbfounded. Why would they do such a thing? Even if the foundation itself was uncontaminated, how could I face those teeth marks every time I wanted to rub the stuff onto my face? How could we possibly brush our teeth with toothpaste, much less dog slobber, oozing out of the holes with every squeeze? Should I take my complaints to our host? “Mrs. Tarr, your, uh, dogsviciously stabbed and mutilated my toiletries.” “Did they, Dear? Those playful devils.” Clearly, there would be no point in that. Oh, where were the brave knights of the bathroom when one needed them? I went to look for them, along with a trash can.
Do you remember how, later that night, the night before the wedding, you and your buddies from Holy Cross sequestered yourselves in John’s dark closet of a room to snort cocaine? With a tinge of danger in your voice, you had said that John had “connections.” Across the hall, I lay in bed nervous, sheets pulled up over my nose, trying desperately, futilely to escape the pissy stench of the house, unable to sleep. This was a turn of events. You had been the little pot smoker from California, have bong will travel, deceptively mellow, a few hits here and there on the pipe to calm the beast within. You had your ganja, I my cigarettes, no questions asked, a neat little bargain. This was different. Coke was serious, dangerous. Worrying, I lay there for hours, feeling all alone, just wanting to go home.
Then, noiselessly, you snuck into the room, closing the door behind you. Slipping off your clothes, you slid into bed next to me. “I’m awake,” I whispered in the darkness, and without a word, you straddled me for a round of energetic sex. Fast, hard-driving, piston-pumping sex. Something in me felt vaguely uneasy for the boon. “Oh, just go for it,” urged an impatient voice from within. “You haven’t had sex this good since you two first got together.” And so I obeyed the urge, and on we went. But we never did discuss it. Nor did we discuss not discussing it, as was my wont.
Do you remember the wedding itself? Of that, I remember nothing, nothing at all. Only the thought that it seemed a futile gesture of escape.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Paul Trynka’s biography of David Bowie is pretty good, and at 544 pages, not overly long as far as rock bios go. It still took me a long time to get through it, though, because I’m reading six other books at the same time. Slow going.
This book has a lot of detail — sometimes too much — while also leaving out a lot of detail on things. I found it interesting to see what the author chose to focus on and what he chose to virtually ignore. There’s the requisite growing up period of the young Davy Jones and all of the years he spends trying to become a rock star, spending some 12 years in the business before Ziggy happened for him. There’s a lot of detail in this period, but it gives you some good background info into what made Bowie Bowie. There’s a good bit to Ziggy, but less so to the Diamond Dogs era and his sudden change to Philly soul mid-way through his tour. There’s a LOT of focus on his enormous coke use during the ’70s. It’s sad to realize he doesn’t even remember doing some of the records he’s most famous for. There’s some mention of Angie, but a great deal less than in another bio I read last year (which was a terrible hatchet job which hurt my opinion of Bowie, and I resented the authors for it). When she finally seeks a divorce from Bowie, not much more is mentioned of her. There’s a great deal about David’s son, Zowie, and how he tries to raise him as a single parent who’s a traveling rock star. That must have been hard on the kid. It’s good to see he made it. (He’s now a film director.) There’s a lot of information on Bowie’s years in Germany and I learned a lot I hadn’t previously known. There’s a lot of information on Bowie’s acting, both stage and film, and I enjoyed reading about The Man Who Fell To Earth, one of my favorite cult classics, but there’s virtually nothing written about 1986′s Labyrinth, which was largely crucified by critics but still became a hit anyway, thanks in part to Jim Henson (of Muppets fame). There’s also nothing mentioned about Bowie’s role as Andy Warhol in Basquiat, which I thought was an excellent job of acting on his part. Never mentioned. But lots on stage performances. Odd.
As mentioned, a lot of attention is paid to the ’70s and the excellent records to appear during that decade, culminating with 1980′s Scary Monsters, which some would argue is Bowie’s last great record. (I think Let’s Dance is, but it doesn’t get good treatment in this book.) Trynka doesn’t hold back, though, when he needs to, as he pans Tonight and most of the other post-Let’s Dance albums. He does wax enthusiastic about some individual songs on these albums, and seems especially sad that 2003′s Reality is Bowie’s last album before dropping out of sight. (I wonder what he would think about the brand new Bowie album. He must be overjoyed.)
One of the things that bothered me about this book, though, is that the author could have gotten deeper into some of Bowie’s influences and friendships and relationships, but instead you get every single detail of his recording process, the music business in general, and his collaborators. There’s also too much attention paid to Iggy Pop, probably because the author wrote a book on him and is trying to plug it. Too much Iggy Pop, sorry. As one Goodreads reviewer noted, “If you’re wondering how to intersect Jacques Brel, Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs, Little Richard, Kansai Yamamoto, Jean Genet and the Weimar Republic — don’t spend too much time with Trynka’s book. Because he’s more interested in business contacts and contract signings, the mechanical levers to fame.” Trynka mentions influences throughout the book, but instead focuses too much on the business end of things, to my distraction.
There were some other problems with the book. As I’ve already mentioned, there’s nothing written about some of his films, while too much is mentioned about some of his other acting gigs. What about the infamous, ground-breaking 1980 video for “Ashes To Ashes”? Not mentioned. Other videos are mentioned, but perhaps his most important one is not. What about the collaborations with Pat Metheny and Nine Inch Nails? Not mentioned. Queen, yes, but not Nine Inch Nails. Why? And this is one complaint I always have with rock bios — why is the album art never covered??? The controversial Diamond Dogs cover art should have been discussed, but was never broached. Virtually nothing was said about his album covers. That’s a shame.
Still, at the end of the book, there’s a fantastic discography section where every album is reviewed with some detail. The book is worth it for that alone, but also for the pictures, which really made it for me. I saw some photos that were just classic. Awesome.
Is this a five star book? I don’t think so. Too much is left unsaid. Too many other things are covered in excess. But I think it’s a solid four star book. It’s a pretty good rock bio, and I recommend it for Bowie fans and for music and biography fans in general.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve always been fascinated by Ho Chi Minh, one of history’s most mysterious yet prominent figures. I’ve read what little there is on him over the years, and then finally came across this book, William Duiker’s Ho Chi Minh: A Life. What a thoroughly researched and detailed book! Duiker does a truly admirable job of piecing together information from archives and sources from all over the world to give us the best possible picture of Ho, and he does it in a reasonably objective way.
Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19th, 1890 with the given name, Nguyen Sinh Cung, to a Confucian scholar in the Nghe An province of Annam, part of French Indochina, a colonial territory. Duiker writes a great deal about the history of Vietnam, how it had been conquered and occupied for centuries (much of it by the Chinese) and how the 20th Century Indochinese resented their French occupiers for many legitimate, assorted reasons. As young Cung was about to enter adolescence, his father gave him a new name – something customarily done then – Nguyen Tat Thanh, meaning “he who will succeed.” Thanh learned Chinese and Confucian history. He also started being influenced by displaced nationalists who wanted to see an independent Vietnam. However, Thanh felt it important to first understand their oppressors, so he began studying French and the French culture at a Franco-Vietnamese preparatory school in Vinh. Thanh’s attitudes about the French were also no doubt influenced by his father, who despised the imperial government the French allowed to rule over the three sections of Indochina.
In 1907, Thanh enrolled in National Academy, the highest level Franco-Vietnamese school in Hue, the imperial capital. He learned French, Vietnamese, and Chinese, but he was considered somewhat of a country bumpkin by his peers. Still, Thanh’s patriotic instincts were stoked while at this school. Indeed, his first direct involvement in political action came during this period as a wave of unrest swept the countryside and there were many demonstrations. On May 9th, he was beaten and fired upon by French troops during a demonstration. Thanh was dismissed from school and left Annam for Cochin China (South Vietnam) where he taught school for a period before deciding to go to France to study, leaving on a liner where he worked for passage under the name, “Ba.”
In France, Thanh took up odd jobs and started attending labor union meetings and meetings of socialists and Marxists, who supported more freedoms for colonial territories. He started writing articles under pseudonyms and publishing them in numerous media. In 1918, Thanh drafted an eight point petition to the government demanding Annamite freedom. He signed his document, Nguyen Ai Quoc, or “Nguyen the Patriot,” a name he would carry forward with him for decades to come. Eventually, the French police and secret police started taking notice, and he went to New York and London to escape their notice for awhile, before returning to France. He became rather prolific there and the voice for the Vietnamese people, as well as others. In 1924, he left for Moscow, where Lenin had radicalized Russia, a newly Communist country with great goals of expanding communism to the third world, including Indochina.
One thing I’ve always been curious about regarding Ho is whether he was a patriot fighting for national independence or a communist fighting to spread communism. The author of this book addresses this issue at several points throughout the book. He writes, “There are valid reasons for the argument that Nguyen Ai Quoc was above all a patriot. In 1960 he himself conceded in [a] short article … that it was the desire for Vietnamese independence that had drawn him to Marxism in the first place.” Yet, “there is also persuasive evidence that the young Nguyen Ai Quoc viewed Marxism-Leninism as more than just a tool to drive out the French…. Quoc believed that the struggle against the forces of imperialism throughout Asia would culminate in a global revolution.” And there you go. He was both.
Whatever the case, Quoc stayed in Moscow a very long time, studying at the Stalin School and writing things like The Revolutionary Path, his first major effort to introduce Marxist-Leninist doctrine to his countrymen. He moved from Moscow to China next, where he established himself with a network of like-minded nationalist/communists who sought Vietnam’s independence. From there, he oversaw the battle for Vietnam’s independence on behalf of both Russia and China, playing both countries against each other brilliantly – something he’d do for the rest of his life.
Rumor had it he was married to a Chinese woman and had a daughter, but he had to leave them and flee to avoid arrest by the ever aggressive French, returning to Moscow. There he set up a system for patriotic countrymen to come study Marxist philosophies and to go home to spread their knowledge. In 1941, Quoc traveled back through China under the assumed name of Ho Chi Minh, the name that would stick with him for the rest of his life. (It meant “He Who Enlightens.”) During the World War Two years of Japanese occupation in Vietnam, Ho traveled back to Vietnam for the first time in decades, to head the Vietminh Front, along with future general, Vo Nguyen Giap and others. With China’s help, they carved out for themselves some territory in northern Vietnam and solicited help from both Russia and the US, of all countries.
After the war was over, Ho declared Vietnam an independent country, much to the delight of his countrymen who viewed him as a hero. The French had other plans, and with US backing, returned to re-colonize Indochina. Ho and the Vietminh went into hiding and started conducting guerrilla warfare, eventually demoralizing the French and gaining power, ultimately resulting in the military destruction of the French at Dien Bien Phu, and France’s essential surrender, resulting in a split Vietnam, where the northern part would be governed by Ho, and the southern by a corrupt president propped up by the US, one who would later be assassinated with America’s permission and knowledge.
One thing you have to understand is this – the Vietnamese wanted a free and independent unified Vietnam, even most of the southerners. Thus, the Viet Cong, who started making their appearance in 1961 with the north’s backing. Ho continued to seek a political solution, but Lyndon Johnson would have none of it and with the suspicious Gulf of Tonkin incident, he brought the US right into the war. Something that will forever be remembered as one of the most stupid things done by a US president. It was an unwinnable war. Ho said that the Vietnamese may lose 10 soldiers for every one American soldier, but that Vietnam would outlast America, and he was right.
Ho’s influence started to wane as he aged, on into the 1960s, but even as a figurehead, he still played a large role. Power had shifted to other Vietnamese leaders, such as Le Duan, but until Ho’s death on September 2nd, 1969, he was viewed as the legitimate leader of his people and a fighter for the oppressed the world over.
The book, aside from an epilogue, ends with Ho’s death and briefly describes the end of the war, so you won’t get much information about how the war ended or why, but this book goes a long way to demystifying a mythical man of immense power and stature, and for that, the author should be applauded. Perhaps I should end this review of this strongly recommended book by citing the final paragraph in the book, a book written by a man who worked at the US Embassy in Saigon back during the war:
“Ho Chi Minh, then, was … an ‘event-making man,’ a ‘child of crisis’ who combined in his own person two of the central forces in the history of modern Vietnam: the desire for national independence and the quest for social and economic justice. Because these forces transcended the borders of his own country, Ho was able to project his message to colonial peoples all over the world and speak to their demand for dignity and freedom from imperialist oppression. Whatever the final judgment on his legacy to this own people, he has taken his place in the pantheon of revolutionary heroes who have struggled mightily to give the pariahs of the world their true voice.”
Kathleen Davies has taught English and women’s and gender studies at Ohio University and Ohio State. Her creative nonfiction has been published in the South Loop Review.
Scott Holstad is the poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review.
A former Ray’s Road Review contributor, Lyn Lifshin has written more than 125 books and edited four anthologies of women writers. Her poems have appeared in most poetry and literary magazines in the U.S.A, and her work has been included in virtually every major anthology of recent writing by women. She has given more than 700 readings across the U.S.A. and has appeared at Dartmouth and Skidmore colleges, Cornell University, the Shakespeare Library, Whitney Museum, and Huntington Library. Lyn Lifshin has also taught poetry and prose writing for many years at universities, colleges and high schools, and has been Poet in Residence at the University of Rochester, Antioch, and Colorado Mountain College. Winner of numerous awards including the Jack Kerouac Award for her book Kiss The Skin Off, Lyn is the subject of the documentary film Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. For her absolute dedication to the small presses which first published her, and for managing to survive on her own apart from any major publishing house or academic institution, Lifshin has earned the distinction “Queen of the Small Presses.” She has been praised by Robert Frost, Ken Kesey and Richard Eberhart, and Ed Sanders has seen her as “a modern Emily Dickinson.” Her website can be found at http://www.lynlifshin.com/.
Angela Consolo Mankiewicz’s latest chapbooks are An Eye (Pecan Grove Press) and As If (Lummox Press). She’s been recently published at Full of Crow.com and in London’s Long Poem Magazine.
Rees Nielsen is 61 years old. For 35+ years he farmed stone fruit in California’s San Joaquin Valley, a mile southwest of Selma. In 2010, two years after his wife Riina passed away, he moved to Indianola, Iowa to watch his grandkids grow up. His poems often reflect on his experiences as a small independent farmer.
A former Ray’s Road Review contributor, Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” and a complete bibliography, please visit his website at http://www.simonperchik.com.
E.R. Sanchez’s poems have been published in Single Mother Magazine, Zombie Logic Review, Examiner, Poetry Super Highway, and Zouch Magazine, as well as the anthology, Men In The Company Of Women. He is a National Poetry Slam veteran who was on teams that ranked in the top 15 from 2003 to 2005. He lives in Los Angeles and tweets from @ERSanchezPoet.
Sandy Suminski’s work has been published in The Bellevue Literary Review
and The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review. She lives in Chicago
with her husband, son and dog. You can find out more about her at www.sandysuminski.com
Gretchen VanOstrand lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her husband, cats, and numerous house spirits. She likes bluegrass music, sports, the Baltimore Ravens, biking, and sleeping late. She has been published recently in Poetry Super Highway, Requiem, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.