Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Marilyn Katz

CHICAGO-68-11Grant Park, August 1968

Nineteen-sixty-eight. The words slip off the tongue of those of my generation as a talismanic exclamation point, a vortex of nostalgia. Later generations have heard of it, and waxed romantic, and become latter-day hippies, or tattooed urban primitives. The year reverberates through our culture and politics to this day and beyond. It is celebrated by many as a great turning point, either seen positively or negatively, usually depending on one’s political inclinations. Among my friends it is often the locus of a deep sentimentality, the seeming high point of their lives. Among others it is seen a nadir, the opening volley of a deep culture war still being waged, and with Trump in the White House, seemingly finally being won, despite same-sex marriage, and the myriad other “civil rights” victories of the last decades. Retrenchment is back with a vengeance.

14dc-trump-1502639727214-master768

A Prelude

Americans, being provincial and self-centered, tend to see the world with blinders. What is seen and known is all about America’s involvement somewhere far away. In 1968 that meant Vietnam, though most knew little of the place, only that we were at war there. The Tet offensive in Vietnam muscled the war front and center in the US.  Later on we’d learn a bit about Laos and Cambodia, which, of course, we bombed. Most of the rest of the world was invisible unless something about the US was involved in a way that brought it to the front pages of the newspapers and the nightly news leads.

In 1968 the world it seemed was in ferment, from China, deep into the “Cultural Revolution” begun by Mao Tse Tung in 1966, to Japan where student unrest spilled into the streets, from Argentina to France, from Germany to Mexico.  The stasis of the post-WW2 era and all its institutional structures were under stress and challenge.  Around the world people took to the streets demanding change.  In Eastern Europe discontent under the yoke of the Soviet Union burbled just beneath the surface and broke out in the open in Prague.   Across the Western world the same strains seemed to spread contagiously from country to country, bringing uprisings in Paris, Rome, Berlin, Poznan, Prague, Buenos Aires and elsewhere.  It seemed a great cultural and political uprising had commenced, bringing for many a great sense of both danger and hopefulness.  It occurred not simply in the political realm, but culturally – in music, theater, cinema, literature:  seemingly a kind of great awakening.

4699045455_70165f95e5_b

lotta_continua

RedGuards_1280x720-webedit

In summer of 1968 I was just 25 years old, a touch more than a year out of Federal Prison, where I’d resided 27 months, having refused to comply with the Selective Service system. On getting out in ’67 I’d immediately jumped into the political fray, figuring I’d earned the right to do so having done time. I worked with the nascent draft resistance movement, and was deployed to talk about the prison experience and to encourage people to refuse induction into the military. Though as the clouds darkened I began to say that maybe it would be a good idea to join the military, perhaps learn how to use weapons and then go AWOL with this newly learned skill. I recall the draft resistance people, mostly pacifists, nudging me off the stage, dumping me as a speaker for their cause. Mine was not the view they wanted said on their behalf. At another time I recall giving a fiery talk at the Chicago Art Institute, when I suggested that perhaps the time for assassins had arrived. I remember a young female student coming forward after I’d spoken and asking if I had a copy of my speech and giving her the one I’d just read.

And I shot my own 16mm films – Traps and Leah, my first sound films.

TRAPS5

TRAPS14

 

TRAPS19Frame stills from Traps

Photo to right: Linn Ehrlich 1967

In the same period, autumn to winter of 1967, I helped organize and set up the Chicago Filmmakers Coop, along with Kurt Heyl and Peter Kuttner and a few others. The three of us later set up what would turn into the Chicago branch of the left-wing Newsreel group. In early 1968 “The Mobe” was setting up in Chicago.  “The Mobe” was short for “National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam” which was a coalition of various anti-war groups, including the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which set out in early 1968 to prepare for organized protests at the Chicago Democrat Convention, primarily focused against the Vietnam war, but as well around civil rights and other leftist matters of interest.  They had rented office space, and gave our yet unnamed Newsreel group a room to work in.  In turn I became involved in the Mobe, meeting most of its organizers – Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and several others whom I do not recall – Lee Weiner and John Froines.  I recall talking with Hayden, telling him of my recent prison experience and having him say to me that he didn’t think he could do 2 year stint in the joint.  I recall thinking, “And so why are you one of the leaders?”

ct-tom-hayden-dead-chicago-seven-20161024Tom Hayden

While there I met Marilyn Katz, of the SDS and involved in the Uptown project, in which activists moved into a neighborhood of poor Appalachians and attempted to organize them.  I moved in with Marilyn and lived there, with a Chicago “Red Squad” police car often parked at the porch-steps.  In April a demonstration which I consciously did not attend was attacked by police, though Peter was there and made still photos, and there was some film footage.  I organized and edited a short film, April 27, out of the materialwhich turned out to be the only film made by Chicago Newsreel.  The police behavior on that date foreshadowed  what would happen in August.

Anecdote 1:  Sometime in spring of 68, I went with a group to stage some anti-war guerilla theater on the plaza of the Federal Building in the Loop.  My role was as an American soldier, pulling out a plastic machine gun to mow down the Vietnamese civilians, a la My Lai.  After the theater was done a cop came to arrest me for having a gun, however obviously fake it was.  Since leaving prison I’d had a pathological relationship to cops, leaving me quivering at their sight.  Marilyn and a friend of hers, an old time Pinko, Sylvia Kushner, came charging and in effect scared the cop away with legal threats, rescuing me from the arrest.

marilyn-august-68.jpgMarilyn at the barricades

The Mobe’s intention was to get at least ten thousand people to come to Chicago, and have a major visible presence during the Convention, and hopefully to influence the nomination process.  Hubert Humphrey, stalwart Minnesota liberal, was tipped to be the Democrat choice, though he’d fully signed on to Johnson’s Vietnam war policies.

Two weeks before the convention began, Kurt and I, having read that the Democrats were having a mini-White House portico built onto the entrance of the Stock Yard Convention site, decided it might be a useful image for the film we, and the recently arrived New York contingent of Newsreel, were making about the convention.  So we drove on down to the South Side in his banged up VW Beetle, and parked near the site, and went in the August heat, in shorts and long hair and beards, and set up our tripod and got the shot.  Returning to the car, as we arrived 6 or 7 police cars swooped in, surrounding us.  Arrested, we were taken to the nearest Precinct office, and interrogated, initially by the local cops; then the Chicago Red Squad.  Then the FBI, and finally by the Secret Service.  As we escalated up the hierarchy the interest lessened – it appeared two wild haired hippies weren’t exactly the would-be assassins scoping out some upcoming killing ground.  We called the Mobe office to inform them and as I recall they got a lawyer on it.   I was released, but Kurt spent the night in jail as the papers on his Beetle had some problem.

On getting out I went promptly to the Mobe office to report in full what had happened – the first arrests of the Mobilization.  My recollection is none of us made a big deal out of it, though it should properly have been a cue as to what the coming weeks would bring.  None of us seem to have picked up on it though.

40042033_10217231756324388_8445525439182536704_n.jpgMore Marilyn Chicago 68

As the time of the convention rushed closer, the people at the Mobe were busy and concerned:  it was clear that 10,000 people were not headed to Chicago as hoped, and we’d be lucky if 1000 showed up.  It appeared the whole plan was headed towards a dramatic failure, a fizzle.  In light of the events of the previous 6 months – the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the riots which came in the wake of that event, including large swathes of the west side of Chicago which went up in flames and resulted in the National Guard being called in, and then the assassination of Robert F Kennedy, along with the massive protests in Paris in May and elsewhere around the globe – it appeared the Mobe’s efforts would look pathetic in contrast.

Anecdote 2:  Marilyn and cohorts went to the Federal Building to paint “CIA” on their unmarked door, having asked me to go to film it.  I declined, still very nervous about police.  I had been in the building 2 and a half years earlier, in a court room being sentenced to 3 years in prison.  Marilyn also sprinkled “guerilla mines” in the form of large nails to flatten cop vehicles, and others liberally sprinkled stink bombs in the Hilton Hotel, HQ for the Democrats at the convention.

A night before the convention was scheduled to begin (Aug 26-29) a small band, perhaps 500 to 1000 or so people who had come to Chicago, along with some locals, commenced a march on the Near North Side, where the Yippies, centered around Abbie Hoffman, had set up a camp in Lincoln Park.  Hoffman and the Yippies were having a Festival of Life, juxtaposed to what they said the convention was, a The Festival of Death.  The police – nervous and touchy, as Kurt and I had experienced – attacked with billy clubs and tear gas, chasing demonstrators and by-standers down the streets and alleyways and making arrests.  This was reported locally at first, on the TV news and papers.  The result was an instant swelling of the demonstrators to more in the realm of thousands – many of them young people from Chicago and the suburbs, drawn probably as much for the excitement as for any substantive political reason.  In the next days the news went national, and in short order there were the Mobe’s wished for thousands.

1424291920380Mayor Daley in the convention hall4ce7e4e64de9bffaab6d8b4736492c5f

chicago-riot-e1440764407155

Inside the convention center Mayor Daley fulminated against the demonstrators and the press, his beloved city shamed before the world.  His police attacked national press figures like Dan Rather, Mike Wallace and Edwin Neuman both inside and outside the convention hall, resulting in terrible international press.  During Senator Abe Ribicoff’s nomination speech for George McGovern, in which he commented on the action happening outside, Daley was caught on camera yelling, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch.”  All in all a far from auspicious commencement for the presidential campaign around the corner.

5aac12570da78.image

NBC News - 1968 Democratic National Convention

Ball_Of_Confusion_National_Guard_2_tx800

 

Had the cops laid low the counter-protest to the convention might well have fizzled, a foot-note in history.  Instead, by August 28, as Hubert Humphrey was being nominated – defeating Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, the crowd had swollen to 10,000, including lime-light seeking luminaries including Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs and all the way from France, Jean Genet.  Grant Park resembled a quasi-war zone, surrounded with National Guard troops with rifles at the ready, bayonets, and jeeps and trucks with barbed wire grates, hemming in the demonstrators.  The Mobe’s leaders and other addressed a vast chanting crowd picking up Rennie Davis’ comment that “The Whole World Is Watching.”   And it was.

Anecdote 3:  Watching at night-time some of the police actions around Grant Park, I thought of going to an auto supply store and buying a handful of emergency flares and driving to the west side and heaving them into lumber yards, a diversionary distraction for the police.  Didn’t do it, but I did think it.

I was among those in Grant Park, there with Bolex in hand to shoot, though I recall a strong sense of distaste for the behavior of this mass of people, all taking their cues from the podium, chanting as told, and given the actual mix of people – mostly young, many from the region, I had the nagging suspicion that had someone begun a chant saying “Let’s go to the South Side and kill n…..s” a good part of them might well have done so.  Since that time I have always avoided anything with mass crowds.

1 fhmAP_krTndvVLpua_hXPA

chicago-riot-e1440764407155

The other thing I felt while in the park was fear.  The part of Grant Park we were in on one side was sliced by railroad tracks, maybe 30 feet down, sided by a vertical concrete wall and fence – no escape.  The other side, facing Michigan Avenue, was lined with National Guardsmen, literally fencing in the crowd with portable barbed wire mounted on the fronts of their jeeps and trucks.  The Guard was armed with rifles, and in my mind, fresh from my experience in prison, I could imagine the rules of the game being shifted, and those guns being fired.  While it did not happen then, only a few years later, in May 1970, at Kent State in Ohio and at Jackson State University, Mississippi, the Guard did open up and fire, killing students.

At the conclusion of the convention the delegates dispersed, having nominated the favored Humphrey who limped off, ham-strung, to campaign and lose to Richard Nixon. And likewise did the folks at the Mobe.  They’d done their job, and most assuredly had impacted the nation’s politics, in a manner still being debated among the survivors and participants.  Back in the office word came that a farmer out west of the city had seen it all on television, and invited us out to his place for a bit of R&R, a picnic in the quiet of the Illinois prairie.  Marilyn and I along with 3 others road out for this welcome break.  She and I, and Rennie Davis, were sitting in the back-seat, Rennie with a large visible blood-marked bandage swathed around his head.  He’d been clubbed by cops during the convention.  As we were driving out of the city, he turned to Marilyn and me, and said, “I guess I don’t need this anymore” and he lifted the bandage off his head like a hat and set it aside.

My soul curdled, and inwardly I thought to myself, “This is my side?”

Jon Jost_fog`69_©Linn Ehrlich_2018Foto by Linn Ehrlich, on a visit back to Chicago, 1969

In early September Marilyn and I drove her VW to California where for a while she joined up with Bruce Franklin’s radical group in Stanford and bought a Beretta.  I hung around the edges of the The Movement, visiting a tear-gassed Berkeley and slowly edged away from the organized left.  Nixon won the election ushering in a continuation of the Vietnam war and a long period of America’s recoil from the 60’s and a drift into conservatism, and finally a terminal corruption and corporatism, culminating in Donald Trump.  Marilyn went back to Chicago to continue a life-time of work as a social and political organizer and I retreated into a seven year hiatus in the woods in California, Oregon and Montana.  Today Marilyn runs a political consultancy in Chicago, and I carry on as a quiet anarchist.

Of the figures who led the Mobe their life paths were wildly diverse:

Tom Hayden married Jane Fonda (and divorced after 17 years), and became a Democrat assemblyman in California and died in 2016.

Rennie Davis became a follower of Guru Maharaji Ji, and later a venture capitalist and advisor on meditation.

Abbie Hoffman carried on as a social critic and theatrically minded activist, writing books and committing political pranks.  Wanted for cocaine dealing he went into hiding for some years, and in 1989 apparently committed suicide by drug over-dose.

David_Dellinger_mug_shot

David Dellinger, a life-time pacifist born in 1919 carried on in his work and died in 2004.

Jerry Rubin, founder of the Yippie party,  and carrying on as a political prankster into the mid-70’s Rubin morphed into a businessman, became a millionaire and advocated for Yuppies.  He died in 1994 following an accident while jaywalking in Los Angeles.

John Froines, an anti-war activist and scientist (chemistry) went on to a long academic career, retiring from UCLA in 2011.

Lee Weiner, continues to work for social causes, largely around Jewish issues.

wp-1477803447212

Bobby Seale, somewhat dragooned into the event very late while visiting Chicago on behalf of the Black Panthers, of which he was a founder, was bound and gagged during the trial and then severed from the trial to be tried alone.  He carried on with the Black Panthers until its demise and since has carried on in various social actions.

For Marilyn Katz’s take on the Chicago Convention see this:

https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/1968-democratic-convention-male-white-voter-chicago/

For a highly personal view, from a friend, Bob Boldt see this:

https://moristotle.blogspot.com/2015/08/third-monday-with-bob-boldt.html#more

For a good over-view with excellent layout and photos see this:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/aug/19/the-whole-world-is-watching-chicago-police-riot-vietnam-war-regan

For various other views see these:

https://newrepublic.com/article/136364/cops-kids

https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/1968-democratic-national-convention-chicago-protests-riots-50th-anniversary/

https://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/465036.html

https://greatcities.uic.edu/event/the-whole-world-is-still-watching/

For a good Magnum photo-essay on the times see this:

https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/politics/1968-power-protest-politics/

 

tumblr_myc0628jRl1r79v1io1_1280

abbie-hoffman-9.0.0

Tom-Hayden-Jane-Fonda-1973

68425271

And here is a summary of some of the major events which happened in 1968 prior to the Chicago Convention.

January 21

Around the world, 1968 took on a symbolic weight for millions of people, whether for cultural or political or other reasons.  I am sure many of those who were in Grant Park back then changed from Yippies to Yuppies, and some voted for Trump.  Some were permanently scarred, for better or worse.   I am a person not given to nostalgia or similar such sentiments.  When, on the death of this or that famous figure, I read the out-pouring of sentimental twaddle, the sending of “thoughts and prayers,” how that figure took such a place in others lives, I feel I live in another universe.  And so it is when friends wax on about sixty-eight.  Yes, it was a year in which many things rose to the surface and exposed themselves.  It was a year in which around the world many made valiant efforts to change the direction in which humanity was going.  It was a time for many of great hope.  And, in my jaded view, it was a time when we lost, and lost badly.  Not merely in the more or less superficial matter of politics, but on a far more profound and deeper level.  While the warning signs had already been made, we lunged headlong into a vast materialistic consumer insanity which utterly disregarded what we were doing to ourselves and the small blue planet on which we live.  Today we live in an opulent lop-sided world of fantastic wealth and poverty, we are surrounded with technological wonders that bedazzle us into a mindless tizzy of endless distractions. Today the world is on fire, fires lit by arsonists – by ourselves and our bottomless gluttony for things and the wonders of modern life, the imperatives of our religion of capitalism which demands and requires constant growth on a finite planet.  The skirmishes on the streets of Chicago (and Paris and Belgrade and Prague and Tokyo and Buenos Aires) all fade into nothing as we face the mirror and see the world we have produced in the last 50 years.  It is nothing other than a catastrophe, of which only the first edges have begun to show themselves.  The ancient four horsemen are riding headlong towards us – in truth they are already here, though for the most part well-masked, and deliberately so.  For what I am speaking of, as an example, see this.

 

TRAPS28FX

TRAPS27FX

TRAPS26FX

TRAPS25FX

TRAPS24FX

Sequence 01FX

Last images of Traps

Traps, and other early short films can be found here:

Jost Short Films

Advertisements

eclipse-camilla-580x378

.

sol·stice  (slsts, sl-, sôl-)

n.

1. Either of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs about June 21, when the sun is in the zenith at the tropic of Cancer; the winter solstice occurs about December 21, when the sun is over the tropic of Capricorn. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest.

2. A highest point or culmination.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin slstitium : sl, sun; see swel- in Indo-European roots + -stitium, a stoppage; see st- in Indo-European roots.]

Encroaching on 70 circumnavigations of our nearest star, it is “natural” that life imposes certain modes of thinking, and feeling, for better and worse. The passing of years brings an accumulation of one’s own history, the threads which make up a life – events, relationships, joys, disappointments, tragedies. All the hum drum stuff of our daily lives is added up, measured out in a bloom of liver spots, shrinking flesh and wrinkling skin, aching joints and diminishing mobility. We see it in our friends and family, and, perhaps reluctantly, in ourselves. In a constant shift of perspective, life alters its terms within us. The gaping length of single spin around the sun, which in youth seemed endless and found one eagerly looking forward to imagined rewards of the coming year, now seems all too brief. Contemplations of “the next” are limned with a silent “if.” It all makes a perfect sense, and philosophers and poets have long since mined the realm to seeming exhaustion. One would think we collectively all understood.

.

 roman man crpdRoman bust

.

On some levels the human experience is collective, and we are able to store up the knowledge of our shared experiences in mechanical and intellectual ways, so that this experience is drastically changed through time.   150 years ago messages in the advanced world were sent by Morse code, and before that carried in letters by horseback or ship, while today vast volumes of digitalized information are sent in tsunami proportions at the speed of light. Likewise myriad advances in medical technology have turned once-fatal matters into mere annoyances. Thanks to these shared and cumulative realities, our lives are radically different (at least those in the so-called advanced countries, or those who are “rich”). And yet, as the old hymn goes, “you gotta cross that river for yourself.”  As that crossing approaches many markers point the way: friends and family begin to die, your own body shape-shifts, its asymmetries becoming more pronounced, and in little or large descending plateaus, your physical functions deteriorate.    And, at least to my observations, the kernel of your “self” solidifies.   Most of the people I know – and I presume it applies as well to myself – are essentially the same, psychologically, as they were 40 years ago:  those given to anger remain angry, those closed off from wider experiences are more closed off; those eager to learn and experiment continue to do so.  This observation inclines me to accept the Greek sense of Fate – that we are born and can do only what that original gift allows (these days it would be measured in genetic components, slivers of DNA intertwined such that one is a composite of mother and father).   I can point to the tooth of mine which is exactly as my father’s was, or the drooping eyelid that replicates that of my mother – and on down the genetic gifts or curses of each strain of my own DNA.  I see the same in my acquaintances.   Whether, in turn, one becomes more forgiving of the quirks of those friends, or whether one crosses them out of one’s life, doubtless marks one’s own in-stamped nature.

.boxer compositeGreco-Roman bronze sculpture of pugilist

.

In the past few years, in my own life, death has visited directly within my family, and more generally among acquaintances and friends.  Last December my father died, aged 98.  It caused scarcely a quiver in me, thanks to a near life-long alienation from him.   At a very young age – perhaps 9 or 10, I’d already checked him out of my life as best my circumstances permitted.  At the time I didn’t really seem to know why, though much much later I was told that he’d whipped me with some regularity – which he owned up to in a letter I demanded he write after my mother’s death, some 27 years ago.  That, along with almost all memories of my childhood were totally expunged from my mind, and even with that knowledge I cannot remember it at all today.  And yet, this year, I did imagine and shoot a new film, Coming to Terms, which in its manner is about a father dying and so, perhaps, in the manner of art, I absorbed this event and creatively transmuted it.

.

FATHER IN HAWAII 97 YRS OLDcrpHarry Frederick Jost at 98, 2011Wilhelm Leibl

.

Sensed far more closely and personally, in the last years, were other deaths which though in some senses far more distant, seemed to have touched me inwardly far more deeply.   Though it is not as if death had not visited before to leave its mark.  While in prison, in 1966, I received, sent by a friend, a black framed newspaper notice announcing the death of a young woman, Kathy Handler.  She’d been briefly a lover before I went in.  It was said she committed suicide, though other rumors had her having taken acid and going for a misguided swim in a cold Lake Michigan.  (And recently I learned that the friend who had sent the notice, who had been in an early film of mine, had died some time ago –  Laura Volkerding, by name.) Whatever the truth, my response – under the sway of reading a lot of Kierkegaard, Heidegger and other philosophers in my “free time” in prison, and having felt vaguely responsible – was to write a text which on leaving prison a year later became the film Traps, my first foray into sound.   The film is a rather devastating one, certainly it is weighted with deaths – not only that of Kathy, but in the tone of the times: those of the Vietnam war, the penumbra of violence which encompassed the era, and led shortly afterward to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and more locally, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, murdered by the Chicago police.

.

TRAPS COLLAGETraps, frame grabsTRAPS17KierkegaardTRAPS19HeideggerTRAPS20JPEDCesare Pavese, notebooks

Robert F Kennedy lies in a pool of blood after being shot in 1968Robert Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968

.

In 1978, another death left a mark, again with a sense of guilt.  The former partner of a close friend of mine had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where we shared an apartment.  She later moved to San Francisco, and in 1978 I had a brief pass through The City for a screening.  I had meant to contact her and see if she would come to the screening – she was in the film world –  which I thought she might like, and also to see her.  In the rush of life I had forgotten to call her, and did my screening, and the next day left.  As I sat down in the plane, and opened the San Francisco Chronicle and leafed through it, my eye caught an item which was titled something like “Masseuse hit in crosswalk” or something like that.  In glancing the name caught my eye – it was my friend.  The time was the same period when she would have been coming to, or at, my screening.  She was dead. For years I have carried with me a consciousness that in some strange, indirect, irrational manner I may have caused her death simply by having forgotten to contact her.

.

brendaBrenda Bierbrodt, 1945 – 1987, picture from HS yearbook_L.Ehrlich2010_2674Myself and Brenda, 1968  –  Photo © Linn Ehrlich

Some time later, in 1983, aged 70, my mother died of pancreatic cancer.  My father, who in my view had, in his manner, coerced her into participating in his post-Army evangelical fundamentalism, had tried “laying on of hands” and “talking in tongues” and belatedly had taken her to the military hospital in Niceville, Florida, where “exploratory surgery” revealed a terminal cancer.   In a phone call to me in San Francisco he said she had “a year of quality living” and they would go on a world cruise.  Then he put her on the phone, and I immediately heard the rattle of death in her voice and set off in my VW van, driving straight through as fast as I could, and arriving two days late.  So much for a year of quality living.  She was dead and shortly after my arrival, after a shower and shave, I went to her funeral services with the fundamentalists singing her praises, and a teenaged proslyetizer coming up trying for a conversion in this presumed moment of vulnerability.  I politely suggested he fuck off.  The rattle of death had become something familiar during my stint in 1978 caring for Nick Ray in New York, where I’d been asked to help him make a final film, but was cast instead as nurse-caretaker and cigarette run-boy.   He was riddled with cancer, and the toilet was often red with the blood he coughed up.

The eighties was the decade of the AIDS epidemic, and being in the arts world, gays were a given.  Many, including some of my friends, died.

.

790px-Schadow_Grabmal_Alexander_2Grave marker, illegitimate son of Kaiser Friederick Wilhelms II, Berlin

.

In 1987, I think it was, I met Jon A. English, in process of looking for someone to write some music for my film Bell Diamond.  He did that film, a very modest bit of composing, as the film needed, and along the way we became friends, and as time passed, he did the music for a number of my other films – Plain Talk & Common Sense, Rembrandt Laughing (in which he also played a lead role), All the Vermeers in New York, Frameup, and Uno a te, uno a me, e uno a Raffaele.   He was wonderful to collaborate with, and a wonderful person – and it didn’t hurt at all that he was a great musician and composer.  And we became very good friends.  Sadly, as the years passed by, his health slid down, step at a time, the consequence of an early diagnosis for Hodgkins disease decades before.  He was “treated” then, in the 70’s, at a very early stage of the “cure” for this, and way over-blasted with radiation.   In turn the areas that had been hit, were drastically aged, and his neck, esophagus and the whole upper area of his torso deteriorated as time passed, and periodically he’d be hospitalized, dropping to a lower plateau each time.   Asking him to work with me became a balancing act of gauging if it would be too much for him, versus knowing that his creative soul liked nothing more than to do music.  He died in 1996, at the age of 54, while I was living in Italy.  There were some people of my acquaintance whom I would have readily shifted places with him.

.

english crpdJon A. English, 1942-1997

A year and a half ago, a long ago girlfriend from 1964, Laya (Firestone) Seghi, – with whom I have stayed in touch since, and very infrequently seen – wrote me a lovely letter describing a trip she’d taken with her husband, Tom, to see and meet family in Israel, where her mother lives, and in the mountains of northern Italy, near Venice, from where his family originally emigrated.   It had been a wonderful journey, and her description, elegant and simple, had a kind of unselfconscious literary quality which made the story she told all the more wonderful.  Reading it simply made me feel good – for me, and for them.   I recall being genuinely joyful on reading it.  Not long afterward I wrote expressing my happiness about their trip and lives, but also including word that in my own life things had taken a turn and my wife Marcella had decided she should go on her own way.  It wasn’t what I wanted, but at the same time I thought Marcella should do what she felt was best for her, and if severing our paths was it, then it was OK with me.  She was half my age, and I could understand only too well.   A few weeks later I received another letter, which as the previous one, had a literary simplicity and directness which marked it, but told a very different story, though written with the same disarming clarity.

.

_L.Ehrlich2010_2678x

_L.Ehrlich2010_2679xLaya, in film Leah, 1967, fotos © Linn Ehrlich

On returning home to Miami, following their trip, a nephew of Tom’s was getting married in Chicago, and they went north for the occasion.  There, for the first time, he showed her the home he’d grown up in, in the Italian-American Bridgeport neighborhood – which happened to be adjacent to where I’d gone to college at IIT, and where I had lived a year and a half.  His home was now lived in by Mexicans, who welcomed them in, happy to know a little of the history of the house.  And they visited his brother’s grave in a nearby cemetery.   That evening at the wedding party, they danced, and following on the heels of their joyous journey to Israel and Italy, and their 40 years together, she thought, as she wrote, “I am truly happy.”   And in the same moment her husband had a heart attack and died, literally, in her arms.  Needless to say, she’s had a difficult time since – having to put into hard practice the things she does as a living as a psychological counselor.

And then, as if that were not enough, this past August, her sister, a long-ago rather famous early radical feminist, Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex), whose own life had taken a hard turn, and who was a friend of mine back in 1964 – the reason I met Laya was her sister was my flat-mate’s girlfriend at the time – died in New York City, apparently of a heart attack.  Laya, being close (as much that Shulamith allowed in her later years) to her sister, and being the family in the USA, became the person to deal with the aftermath, which included a memorial service attended by many feminists of Shulamith’s period, and those after.  [I will in a later posting publish the comments made at the memorial, as I think it is instructive, in many ways, of the tenor of those times.]

.

Shulamith FirestoneShulamith Firestone, 1945-2012

When I returned to the US this past March, it was in some parts consciously to visit friends and family, in a kind of “last hurrah” –  to see, perhaps for a last time, those people still living, who were my friends in life.  I’ve seen a few already and hope to see them again – Linn and Marilyn and Peter in Chicago, Bruce in Minneapolis, Marshall in Butte, Terri in Livingston, Swain and Kristi in Missoula, and just today, Ron and Mary Lou here in Portland.  And as I anticipate traveling a lot in the US in the coming year, I expect and hope to see them all again.  We – all more or less in the same time-wise peer bracket – are aware, whether said or unsaid, that any visit could be the last.  As time brings its curtain over us, I think for those of us for whom the Fates accorded us the space, we’ve become closer, more forgiving and understanding of each other.  And in a manner not accounted for in the casual “love you”-speak which affects us casually, we have learned, in a very real sense, where love animates our relations, and, however obscure and difficult to pin down in a clinical sense, how much we have meant to one another.

As a person habitually transient, living in places scattered across the globe, for periods of a year here, 3 or 5 there, I have very consciously kept in touch with those people in my life who in that ineffable manner which over the years shows itself, left a deep implant.  I know well enough that probably, in most cases, had I not kept the lines open, dropped by this decade or that, that these thin threads would have been lost.  Such is the life which I chose or was given.

And, as life is capricious, and neither announces its beginning or end to us, to all those whose lives have crossed mine, in ways deep, however inarticulately we were able to express it, should my life end tomorrow, or yours, here’s thanks for having known and shared our brief time on this planet we are so busy violating.  I am a hard-core atheist and we won’t be meeting anywhere “else” some other time, so it is best to say it while here.  Love to you each, and I am glad our paths crossed on this brief journey.

.

MoonPhases

Kurt, la famiglia Rebosio, Laya, Bill, Errol, Linn, Peter, Dennis, Marilyn, Susannah, Ron and Mary Lou, Elayne and Erinn, Barbara, Swain,  Robina, Bob, Roger, Tom, Marshall, Roxanne, Alicia and Morrie, Rick and Julie, Martin, Claudia, Alenka, Jon, Dan, Terri, Hal, Jolly and Bob, Michael, Jane, Steve, Kate, Lynda, Eugenia, Edoardo, Anna, Erling, Nancy and Howard, Hilary and Stuart, Clara, and Brad and Miki and children, and Joel, Rui, Jean, Steve and Todd, Jane and Mark, Marcella, and many others known briefly in passing or lost to memory.  And then there are a few people I suppose I’d prefer not to have met, left out knowingly.      

sun-3

In 3.5 billion years, our Sun will have boiled away all the water on earth, some billions of years after life became impossible on this planet. In 6 billion years it will become a red giant, and then collapse.  8 billion years from now it will be “dead,” an Earth sized diamond with the mass of a star. This is a white dwarf, and it will still be hot enough to shine with thermal radiation. But it will no longer generate solar fusion, and so it will slowly cool down until it becomes the same temperature as the rest of the Universe; just a few degrees above absolute zero. This will take about a trillion years to happen.  The Sun’s death will be complete.