Sunday, September 26, 2010

If you want to be a hero, then just follow me

Set list for the Fab Faux John Lennon Birthday Concert, 9/25/10:

Tomorrow Never Knows
Whatever Gets You Through The Night
Nowhere Man
I’m A Loser
Across The Universe
Come Together
Watching The Wheels

Jealous Guy
Rain (complete with backwards segment at the end)
Norwegian Wood
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
No Reply
I Feel Fine

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
Strawberry Fields Forever
Cold Turkey
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

The Quarrymen: Maggie May & Long Long Gone

Working Class Hero
Power To The People
Instant Karma

For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Mind Games
I Am The Walrus
I’m So Lonely

In My Life
Revolution (single version)
A Day In The Life

All You Need Is Love
Give Peace A Chance

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This one's for Simone Simon

There is a pair of eyes behind your eyes
That slyly beckons me when you’re not looking.
There is a smile that hints of paradise
Behind those lips that speak of clothes and cooking.
There is a tiger in you, wild and sleek,
A beast who purrs and smiles each time you pout.
What will it take to let me have a peek?
What will it take to get her to come out?
A tender kiss? A drink? What can I do?
What tinder will enflame that inner fire?
Must I be beastly so the beast in you
Can growl and give us both what we desire?
Oh set her free, if only for a breath,
And let her claw me to the point of death.

Copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Monday, September 20, 2010

Manhattan Sonnets 14-21

Other posts in this series:
Manhattan Sonnets 1-13


There is no mercy in you -- there is just
The teasing smile that hides the butcher knife.
There’s nothing in your ways that I can trust;
No street that’s not a threat against my life.
One night you’ll say “Hello, there!” with a gun.
One day I’ll tease you and you’ll have my head.
One wrong step and my walking days are done.
One hint of weakness and you’ll cut me dead.
The price I pay for loving you is hard:
I need to grow a second pair of eyes
To see behind me and keep up my guard,
And extra ears to listen for your lies,
And extra hope, that when you start to tear me
Limb from devoted limb, you’ll smile and spare me.

Fifteen [Ava’s Birthday Sonnet]

If beauty was a knife, then I would bleed
To death in seconds every time we meet.
If elegance was one unplanted seed
Then gardens would grow up around your feet.
If sweetness had a tongue, then it would sound
Like bells on Christmas morning when you laugh.
If lovely was a teardrop, I would drown
With HE DIED HAPPY as my epitaph.
If your smile was a snowflake, I would freeze.
If your touch was a feather, I could fly.
If words were music, you’d speak symphonies.
If your kisses were life, I’d never die.
So many ways to paint your beauty true;
So many diamonds, and the necklace you.

Sixteen [The Strand Books sonnet]

Sweet are the afternoons I’ve spent with you,
Touring the kingdom of your high-shelved alleys,
Reaching for rarities or something new,
Arms full of paperbacks or next month’s galleys.
Night after night I haunt a different section;
Day after day I scare up some new find:
Barthelme, Cabell, Wodehouse in collection,
Oscar Wilde’s letters, Auden’s poems (signed).
Offer me novels, journals, poems, plays;
Know what I want before I even look --
Stranded with you is how I’ll spend my days:
No need for rescue –- just a self-help book.
Yours is the siren song that always calls:
Come browse away your life within my walls.


Each night’s the same -- you fix me with a stare,
Pull me in close, lean hard against my hips,
And then, when I reach out to stroke your hair,
You’re always just beyond my fingertips.
And I will always reach, because with you
It’s not about the capture but the chase --
The plans to meet up trump the rendezvous;
The finish line is trash next to the race.
You’ve got “anticipate” down to a science.
To you, there’s nothing purer than the pleasure
Of long engagements stalling the alliance --
To you, X marks evasion: that’s your treasure,
And that’s why no one else on earth can match you --
You never let a single suitor catch you.


You change the board each time we play the game --
Replace the unsurprising with the new.
Only the pieces ever stay the same;
The rest, from roads to rules, is up to you.
Today, low score might win; tomorrow, high.
Yesterday’s short cut? Now it’s a dead end.
Last week the truth scored ten; this week, the lie.
Last month the lover; this month, just a friend.
You really love to keep me on my toes
Almost as much as I love keeping up
With all your moods, your whims, your change of clothes
Like different drinks our of the same sweet cup.
Each time you pour, my tongue tastes something new;
Each sip I take makes me more drunk with you.


You walked me past a vacant lot today.
A week ago it was my favorite store.
“It’s still the same old me inside,” you say.
“It’s just a different look.” But no -- it’s more.
I think inside you’re terrified, and so
Unsure of who you are that all your fears
Drive you to throw yourself at some young beau,
Spurning the heart who worshipped you for years.
And so you preen to please his roving eye,
And if you think he hates our favorite haunt,
You’ll tear it down, and kiss our past goodbye --
Tell him: “This place is yours –- what do you want?”
That’s you, my love: you crave today’s caress
But always dream about tomorrow’s dress.


There’s something naked in the way you look
At people who can open doors for you.
You cast your smile out like a baited hook
And reel them into shore -- no matter who
They’re swimming with or how much they resist,
You make them want to jump into your net:
Grateful that their mythologies are kissed
By your intentions -- glad to be your pet.
And when they’ve walked you through whatever door
They have the key to, and you finally come
To where they cannot help you any more,
You toss them into your aquarium,
And point to them and smile at me and coo:
“If you can open doors, that could be you.”


When I expose my vulnerability
You handle me with adolescent gloves
And try your best to never let me see
How low my name is on your list of loves.
The moment that I tell you how I feel,
You treat me like I’m guilty of a crime.
You lock your heart up like it’s the Bastille.
The same thing happens every single time:
When I show need, then you show me the door;
When I talk love, you sigh and shake your head;
I pour my heart out and it hits the floor;
I give birth to a hope -– you strike it dead.
And I come back for more –- I’ll never learn
Because your cold heart is what makes me burn.

Copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Monday, September 13, 2010


There’s a film on the short list of Greatest Movies Never Made which is right up there with the Howard Hawks Much Ado, the Spencer Tracy/Clark Gable version of Man Who Would Be King, Francis Ford's epic western Sundown, and the Cary Grant Great Gatsby. It was made in the late 60’s by Jean Pierre Melville; it starred Alain Delon as a hit man, Catherine Deneuve as his client, Philippe Noiret as his shady boss, Lino Ventura as a priest, and an absurdly gorgeous Claudia Cardinale as a hooker with a heart of gold; it was based on a story by Graham Greene; and it had maybe twenty lines of dialogue, tops, all of them classic. As was the movie, which was called Le Professionnel.

All of which is my roundabout way of saying that The American, starring George Clooney, feels like a remake of a lost French classic. Which means that, despite a hyperactive trailer, this is not a thriller as American audiences have come to undertstand the word. It is a largely silent mood piece, substantially told from a single point of view, in which the inevitability of violence hangs over George Clooney like the inevitability of dancing hangs over Fred and Ginger.

Guess what country he's from.

This mood is established in the first five minutes with a moment which is so genuinely shocking that you just know it will echo throughout the rest of the film. It has to; it’s that much of a “Whoa!” That it doesn’t, except for a brief flashback, is one of the reasons why The American doesn’t live up to its premise. Instead of a Graham Greene entertainment where guilt opens the door to redemption or damnation, you get a one-last-job flick where the female assassin dresses like a Vogue model, the love interest lolls around half-naked while the guy keeps all his clothes on, and the main character totally obeys the Parallax View Law--“In order for the plot to work, nobody who is in a thriller has ever seen a thriller before.”

The movie also goes wrong when Clooney’s hunted and supposedly haunted gunmaker decides to hide out in an Italian town whose winding streets and hidden stairways give him absolutely no idea what’s around the next corner. (This gets an A for tension and an F for logic.) On the plus side, this is the best town in the world to be a wanted man on the run, because it doesn’t have any cops. Which means there’s no one to officially question the only foreigner for miles when another foreigner winds up dead in a shoot-out. No one except the local priest, who (a) preaches about good and evil like all Catholic priests are supposed to do, (b) gets pretty much ignored by Clooney, which is what all good American Catholics do whenever they hear a priest start preaching about good and evil, and (c) gets exposed as a hypocrite, which is what happens to all Catholic priests who start preaching about good and evil to Americans in an American-made movie.

So where does the movie go right? The style, for one--the wordless passages outnumber the scripted segments, which gives it that European feel. There’s a visual motif that’s established in the credit sequence and reappears throughout, with Clooney in the foreground, shadowed but in focus, and the rest of the world blurry and out of focus, like he’s the only real thing in a formless void. (There’s a deliberate visual echo of this at the end--in the credit sequence, Clooney is driving through what looks like a cross between pointillism and impressionism; in the final moments, there’s a shot of him driving through a real world where he’s partially out of focus and his destination is crystal clear.) The only time we don’t see this story from Clooney’s point of view is when he’s threatened--only then does the director cut away to omniscience, to establish the threat and create tension. And the only time you hear music is when Clooney is working on creating a gun. Which is also the only time you ever see his face relax. The rest of the time, he’s either worried about something or scared shitless that he’s going to get killed.

While we’re on the subject of faces (the chief subject of all silent movies, after all), those of the women are much more interesting than their characters. Thekla Reuten, the mysterious client, has a face which, like her name, is the perfect mixture of hard and soft. And the oxymoronically named Violante Placido as the hooker-with-a-heart-etc. is not only the most fresh-faced small-town prostitute in film history, but naggingly familiar. With good reason:

That's right--the woman in this picture?

This woman's daughter.

And this is where you know her from.

One other piece of rightness: in a genre where guys can get hit with twenty pounds of bullets and make bad puns ten minutes later while getting it on with absurdly-named females, it’s refreshing to see a movie where a single bullet actually, y’know, takes something out of you. Like, potentially, your life.

So why does a movie with all this going for it still leave you feeling like there’s something missing? One big reason: because it doesn’t rub Clooney’s face in the collateral damage of his decisions. As a maker of guns, which are then used by other people as murder weapons, he is perfectly correct in saying that everything he has done, he has had good reason to do (as long as you count money and self-preservation as reasons). But perfectly correct is not morally correct. In that sense, there’s a political allegory here which is just as unexamined as Clooney’s moral compass--it’s not just The American, but America, out there selling guns and weapons and then claiming to have clean hands. Thankfully, the movie never actually makes the allegorical dilemma explicit (which is good) even though it does make Clooney’s American look like an ignorant tourist (because really--only an American would be dumb enough to actually go down on a small-town Italian prostitute). But unfortunately, the movie never actually makes the personal dilemma explicit either.

Bottom line: as the third of Clooney’s recent movies about men trapped in their jobs (after Michael Clayton and Up In The Air), The American feels like it could have been the best of the three, if only it had followed through on those first five shocking minutes by planting itself firmly in the minefield between action and intent, between guilt and self-justification. One of the first things you hear in The Wild Bunch is somebody saying “I don't care what you meant to do, it's what you did I don’t like,” and everything that happens for the entire rest of that Western (including the flashbacks) is a comment on those 15 words. All I can say is, if The American had been that focused, then it would have a solid film in its own right, instead of a flawed, if entertaining, remake of an imaginary classic.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Songs for the Matthew Comp: Buh-beep-buh-beep-buh-beep-That's all Folks!

Michael Maltese meets Franz Liszt. Back when listening to FM radio was a musical adventure, WBCN in Boston was to eclectic what Mt. Everest was to mountains--the one everybody looked up to. Not least because they would follow a song from Pearls Before Swine with something so completely off the wall that you had to stop what you were doing and ask yourself "What the hell are they playing now?" The song below being a prime example. Sung by Mel Blanc and written by (among others) Michael Maltese, I first heard this coming out of the radio one weekend afternoon in 1970 right after "Rocket Man." For the next two weeks I combed local record stores, not even knowing what I was looking for, until I finally found the song on an LP of Warner Brothers cartoon songs in the children's record section of the Harvard Coop. I dare you to listen to it and not smile.

Daffy Duck's Rhapsody

Set the Way-Back for 1986. This song I heard on WNEW, and while I can't remember the exact circumstances, I do remember finding it on a two-disc collection of club hits at J&R Music titled The House Sound of Chicago. I used to play this a lot, because it was silly, and because it would drive everybody else crazy. I also used to walk around repeating "I've got my uke-a-looloo and my hare stickum." What can I say, except that the 80's were a weird time to be in your 30's.

Hey Rocky

Good evening and welcome to Slaggers. Ah, but 1970 was an even weirder time to be 18. Especially if you were me. Cocky, stubborn, and with more unjustified ego than a second-year financial analyst. 1970 was also the first time I tried to ascend Mount College and (like the other two times) got no further than the foothills, hurriedly shouting "I quit!" before anyone could fire me. Fondest memory of that time: sitting in the McElroy cafeteria at BC (or was it the Lyons cafeteria?) listening for the umpteenth time to some yahoo playing Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" on the jukebox, and finally getting so pissed off that I plugged two dollars worth of quarters into the box to play the song below (the B side to the single of "Let It Be") 24 times in a row. By the fifth time the song played, the jocks three tables over were approaching the 1970 version of roid rage. When it started a sixth time, one of them went over to the juke box, picked up the thing like it was a toy, and banged it three times on the ground. Dead silence for ten seconds. And then, out of the wreckage, and to the cheering and applause of everyone but the jock at the juke box, the song began playing again. At which point the jock ripped the cord out of the wall, breaking the jukebox completely. It was out of commission for a week. When it was fixed, neither Led Zeppelin nor the song below were on the play list. I call that a fair trade.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Other Nine Muses

As everyone knows everyone who got taught by Jesuits knows, the Muses are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). And as everyone also knows, Zeus pretty much screwed around with any female he could find, as everything from a bull to a swan to a good stiff breeze. And one of those females was Mnemosyne’s twin sister, Lethe (Forgetfulness). Given that Lethe had the power to make even the gods forget things, if he remembered it at all, Zeus probably thought he was fooling around with Memory. But the fact remains that his union with Lethe also had nine offspring, the so called Amnestai, the Unremembered Muses, who are, according to the lost appendix of Hesiod’s Theogony, also nine in number, and named as follows:

Chariclea, the muse of delays. The closer you get to completing something, the more she gets your attention. She can usually be found inhabiting your spouse or significant other, and saying things like, "Will you please come to bed?" "Wanna go out for a drink?" and "We have to talk."

Atelesia, the muse of the unfinished. Probably the busiest of all the Muses, Atelesia inspires all writers at least once, and abandons anyone who actually finishes something. Rumored to be the most pleasure-giving of all 18 muses, Atelesia's favors are enjoyed the most by writers with day jobs.

Peripoleia, the muse of getting sidetracked. This particular Muse, like a faulty GPS system, always highlights roads with great scenery that lead either nowhere or as far as possible from your original destination. She's overly fond of saying things like, "Oh look. There's a stable. Let's stop and play with the horses," or, "Hey, y'know what? If you're going to write something about Nazis, I know 20 good books to read!" Which is why she is also the muse of excessive research.

Apergasia, the muse of perfectionism. You'll know her when you see her. You just won't be able to describe her to anybody else. Or, rather, you'll start to describe her, and if somebody doesn't stop you, you'll spend the rest of your life looking for the right words to bring her to life to someone else. Also known as the muse of perpetual foreplay.

Apageia, the muse of doing everything but actually sitting down to write. The second-busiest of all the Muses, Apageia is also the prettiest of them all, and the only one who never puts out. I mean never. Not once. Not for you, not for anyone. She is the Prom Queen of the Muses. The only thing that gets into her pants is lint. Keep telling yourself that as she smiles at you. It might actually help you to write something now and then. But whatever you do, don't show her anything you create. She'll think it sucks, and you'll believe her.

Lepodeia, the muse of trifles. Currently presides over blog items, television news, Facebook, and most of the Internet.

Atopia, the muse of total originality. The good news is, if you’re lucky, you actually get touched by her once in your life. The bad news is, you’ll only find out she touched you about fifty to a hundred years after you’re dead.

Acheira, the Muse Without Hands, who is the muse of writer’s block. Along with Atelesia and Apageia, part of a triumvirate referred to as the Devoir Sisters in old French chansons and tales of King Arthur, whose influence can only be thwarted or checked by a blood sacrifice.

Eumeithea, the muse of writing in bars. Used to haunt the Cedar Tavern, Chumley’s and the Lion’s Head. Currently homeless.

Thursday, September 2, 2010