Monday, January 03, 2005


UP FRONT News January 3, 2005
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham

“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

For a period of about 12 hours, from 2:00 P.M. on January 1 until 2:00 A.M. on January 2, 2005, EST quite possibly the best show on earth was taking place at the St. Mark’s on the Bowery Church on Second Avenue and East 10th Street in Manhattan, which hosted the 31st Annual New Year’s Marathon Reading, hosted by the Poetry Project. The event featured over 160 poets and other writers, musicians, dancers, actors, and other performing artists. Some very famous people, including Patti Smith, Eric Bogosian, and Philip Glass performed, their names receiving no special attention in the publicity material.

I spent perhaps 10 hours at the reading, which, to say the least, I found artistically, spiritually, and, to be sure, politically uplifting. It appears likely that UP FRONT News reporting on this event will continue through several issues of this newspaper.

I remember quite well the conniving effort put forth by Dale Sherrard near the beginning of the show, as he lip-synched his way through the recorded strutting tirade and ovation that, although it was done in a very American style, could have portrayed one of those performances from the balcony in Rome by Benito Mussolini. A retired SUNY New Paltz professor named Eddie Bell, drove down from upstate and spoke about his project on lynchings of black people.

Comedienne Reno, whom I’ve seen a few times, might be described in performance as some Joan Rivers, some Jerry Lewis, some Robin Williams, strong doses of Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, and a hint of Bill Cosby – but definitely all Reno. She ended her very funny deconstruction of politics in New York City, USA with a call to “fight the power!” (Reno also responded to my telling her of my plans to challenge U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2006 Democratic Primary by saying to me that she regards that plan as “a good idea.”) Philip Glass, whom I had seen perform once several years ago at a Town Hall benefit concert for Tibet House, played a piece on the piano with lots of arpeggios, evoking, for me at least, some of Beethoven’s music (“Fur Elise”).

Patti Smith, whom I remember well from her performances at Ralph Nader events, performed a poem, “Farewell, Black-Eyed Susan” in which she tells us, “I was walking through a field of flours that The Lord had just picked.”

Maggie Dubris performed with her colleagues from the group Homer Erotic, a band that is hard to label but whose repertoire definitely includes rock and roll. Ms. Dubris’ singing brought to mind the woman (I believe it was Yvonne Elliman) who vocally accompanied Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter.” Rebecca Moore is a singer-songwriter, who performed a soulful ballad accompanying herself on the full size church grand piano. I was not at all surprised to learn from her that she is part of a minority of people who know the music of Iris DeMent, a superb heartland (Kansas City) poet, singer-songwriter who is very comfortable with gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, and “country.”

In the coming weeks I will report on many other performers as well as three of the departed, who were frequently remembered throughout the Marathon: John Fisk, Jackson Mac Lowe, and Pietro Petri.

A red-haired Johnny Cash-style garbed fellow named Nick Zedd, dispensed with the poetry and the music, simply spending about five minutes warning us that, if we stay passive, fascism is in store. I was glad to hear his message as it gave me even more determination to see to it that I unseat Hillary Clinton in 2006.

Poetry Project staffers Miles Champion, Anselm Berrigan, and Corina Copp, have done a job both friendly and efficient (sometimes mutually exclusive qualities) in putting together an event that, by the time 7:30 P.M. rolls around, is standing room only.

And for a half of one day, perhaps the greatest show on earth.

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