Sunday, January 30, 2005

April Smith - "Revenge of the Brunette"

The best part of frequenting the shore music scene is the strong possibility existing that you will discover great, new music with each visit. Saturday night was no exception. Welcome April Smith to Poetic Leanings' music, faces and places link list.

April is a singer/songwriter from Monmouth County, New Jersey. She sings a mix of originals and covers, and also brings a witty banter to her show that gives the crowd the sense of being in her living room with her (and her avocado-eating dog) enjoying a friend while she strums on her guitar.

The songs April sings come from a place deep within her soul. She breaths a vibrancy and passion into each note and word she delivers and the conviction of what she shares with her audience can at times overwhelm in its message and delivery. That is a good thing. Three songs that particularly connect on her CD, "Revenge of the Brunette," are "Dixie Boy," "P.S." and "The One That Got Away," as they display her most deeply-felt emotions; bringing her thoughts to life in full body.

April plays guitar with a seemingly effortless abandon. Her craftsmenship combines perfectly with a voice that is at once soft and gentle, yet also biting and powerful in its rawest moments. You can see her lyrics as they pour out of her soul while performing. The gift for connecting with her audience is clear.

Please go to her website and check her out. Buy her CD now!! If you live anywhere near central New Jersey, seek her out for a live viewing. She is worth the trip.

One bonus: April shared a line from a friend that I love: "What other people think of you is none of your business."

Final note: The CD was the perfect duration to get me from the parking lot of the Indigo Coffeehouse to my garage. That was quite considerate of April.

Poem: Passion To Hate

With the Oscar talk having spent so much time on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" not getting a nomination for best picture, I was reminded of the below poem. The slanted, hate-filled, distortion that was Gibson's film merited no reward. It was nothing more then another Gibson movie replete with gore, senseless violence and melodramatic stereotyping. "The Passion" tied in nicely with the misuse of religion that fundamentalist zealots in the United States perpetrate with increasing frequency to promote their ungodly use of Christianity to separate and injure. Religion in this country has been utilized as a tool of intolerance and fear; toward Progressives, Jews, Muslims, gays, minorities, foreigners, secularists, and those who are not absolute extremists in their Christian beliefs. This poem was written directly at the hatred that Mel Gibson gave us in his movie. It seems appropriate to those sentiments brought to bare by the religious zealots throughout the U.S. to share it now.

Passion To Hate

Passions good and bad reveal
At times can mask what we’d conceal
Hatred springs from bitter gardens
Fuels the soul it feeds and hardens
Buried deep of misconceptions
Paints with brush of blind deceptions
Finds the words to suit its goal
Quick discards the truth in whole
Picks and chooses to breed contempt
The lies contained in warped relent
Hides behind a worshipped veil
A godlessness in full detail

Copyright SGW 2004

Footnote: This poem was created with divine inspiration. However, I made my bed all by myself(a reference to Mr. Gibson’s comments during a TV interview).

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Pierces: Light of the Moon

How can it be expressed on these pages how beautiful the harmonies of Allison and Catherine Pierce can be? Sitting and listening to The Pierces on their just released CD, "Light of the Moon," it is easy to get lost in the textures of these two sisters coming together in each song that make melodies that weave their voices into one perfectly blended sound.

Having seen the Pierces perform on several occasions at "The Saint" in Asbury Park, which is the best place for great music on the Jersey Shore, I eagerly awaited their CD release party tonight. The CD is equal to the anticipation. Every song finds new treats of how well Allison and Catherine become one when they sing. They have been called the female Simon & Garfunkel, but that comparison misses the mark. Their tempo is quicker, and besides that, why call them the female anything!? They are good enough to be The Pierces, and that is saying a lot. Favorite tracks? "Tonight," "Save Me," "Patience," "Give It All Back," and "I Should've Known," but you will not go wrong with any song on this CD.

Written interviews with the sisters reveal that they were a bit disappointed with the CD because it was "over-produced." While it is true that "Light of the Moon" brings much more production then their live sets (which consists of two voices and one guitar), it is hard to determine which is better. What a pleasant dilemma.

I urge anyone who loves good music to head on over to The Pierces' website. Buy the CD! Find a gig in New York or New Jersey to check them out live. Make your own choice. You can't go wrong.

Monday, January 24, 2005

John Marshall and the Supreme Court

John Marshall served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835. He came to the position at a time when the Court did not hold a high place in the Federal Government and was viewed as a toothless body with little or not standing.

The great Constitutional decisions that Marshall penned and led, among them Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland and the Dartmouth College case, helped shape the Court and brought a standing of prestige, honor and power to the judiciary. More importantly, Marshall defined the role of the Court. Through the decisions of the Marshall Court, the U.S. Supreme Court became the ultimate voice on Constitutional matters in the United States. It laid out that the Court had the right to declare acts of Congress or the States unconstitutional, protected the rights of individuals against the Government, held that the Constitution took precedence over conflicting States’ laws, and helped navigate the international relations of the country although only when laws were at issue, and not when politics came into play.

Through John Marshall’s leadership, the Court became an organized body, with a much-needed unanimity of voice and purpose. His place as Chief Justice secured for the Court a legitimacy necessary for its own existence, but also for the longevity of the United States.

The Marshall Court’s long tenure defined the Court’s place in the Federal Government on equal footing with that of the Executive and Legislative bodies. His death on July 6, 1835, brought forth the occasion for the ringing of the Liberty Bell to honor his greatness. It was that day that the bell was first cracked (this is disputed).

Having just finished a thorough biography of John Marshall, I am struck by his greatness for a singular reason. Much as the Presidency is diminished by its present occupant, perhaps sullied forever, so to has the U.S. Supreme Court been brought low in the last four years by the present composition of its members.

The political nature of the Court in the 2000 election, and the obviously partisan nature of its decisions weakened it to a point that John Marshall could only recognize as similar to the one he inherited in 1801. The unwillingness of the Conservatives to seek out unanimity and instead force the will of their position on the entire Court would be further anethema to Marshall’s concepts of how the Court should behave. Lastly, the very notion that someone so completely lacking in qualification to even serve as an Associate Justice on the Court, as is the case of Clarence Thomas, could even be mentioned as a possible Chief Justice, furthers dissipates the great place the Court once held.

Just as Washington, Jefferson and Madison would look on what George Bush’s Presidency is with much dismay, it is safe to assume that John Marshall and his brethren would view the current U.S. Supreme Court in a likewise fashion.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Ow momma, that hurts!!!

In reading the biography of John Marshall, I discovered the he had bladder stones in his late seventies. He endured an operation known as a lithotomy, performed with no anesthetic! An incision was made and the doctor entered into the neck of the bladder. OUCH!!!!!

I had a kidney stone about a decade ago and I am still shuddering at the thought of the above procedure.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Poem: Violet

Ok, the flower ended up not being what I had hoped. I still like the poem, though, and it is the first mushy, romantic-like piece I have shared on Poetic Leanings.


Firm in measure, yet gentle flower
Warmth and strength of equal power
Petals worn by wind’s resistance
Life bestows a willed insistence
Softly, sweet aromas giving
Fragrance holds the joys of living
Sets a mind in peaceful dancing
Attractions draw the eyes to glancing
Picks the spot to share her blooming
Blossoms full when not consuming
Beauty masks a timeless aching
Battles fought, an undertaking

Keep a hope the violet chances
Dwindling fears of new romances

Copyright SGW 2005

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Great men and women of our time?

I spend a lot of my reading time on American (and other) historical biographies. My favorite time period is the Revolutionary War era and the twenty to thirty years that followed. I have been drawn to the great men of that time such as George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Marshall, and, of course, my favorite, Thomas Jefferson. They all held their own unique perspectives on the world, came at our nation's problems in differing ways and had varying levels of success in their roles as leaders. Often, they sank beneath their high places and ideals, as can be seen in the petty battles they sometimes became embroiled in, their occasional ethical and moral lapses and the wrong choices they were capable of making. Still, they rose to levels of brilliance that at times seem beyond the capacity of the human mind and they founded a great nation that continues to frame itself upon the concepts that these men developed.

This period of time was followed by the era of great statesmen and speakers of the early to mid 19th Century, with men such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, the brilliant triumvirate who battled over the direction of this country on issues such as slavery, states' rights, the reach of the Constitution, and nullification. Andrew Jackson lent his willfulness to the Presidency in such a way as to shape the position's authority for decades to come.

The courage and determined leadership of the men of the Civil War period is easily recognized by men such as Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, all leaders who sacrificed everything for the values they believed in and the principles they stood behind and loved. They were each flawed in their own ways, but their devotion to the people they served and fought for are beyond questioning.

The turn of the century gave this nation the fearless leadership of Teddy Roosevelt, a man who stood firm against anything he believed to be wrong. His strength of conviction is perhaps without equal in American history. Following Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson's devotion to peace and world harmony were a model for a world of "united nations," and while his ideals ultimately fell short, they were attained thirty years later. While imperfect today, they still exist nonetheless.

The men and women of the World War II era that I have read are perhaps without equal in my readings in many respects. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and though not American, Gandhi and Winston Churchill exhibit the defining traits of unyielding strength opposed to submission to seemingly overwhelming and often deadly adversaries. Public perceptions and opinions were a consideration for them, but ultimately the greater good mattered more, and they all acted according to a system of belief of what was right and wrong, and not what was expedient or accepted.

The turbulent sixties brought this nation John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, among others. This generation of great leaders took to belief in standing up for principle and what was right to new levels. The concept of fighting for the oppressed, ignored or beaten down was their driving focus, and the stubborn refusal to submit to the powerfully entrenched rigidity of time, while eventually ending their lives prematurely, established them as men who could lead through what they represented long after their deaths.

Another great man, more of the era of the sixties then the current time frame, Nelson Mandela, did not sacrifice his life at the hands of an assassin, but instead gave himself up to imprisonment in the name of freeing an entire people. His unbending conviction stole nearly thirty years of personal freedom, but forced an oppressive regime to bow to his will and release a nation from bondage.

In looking at the current generation of leaders it is hard to find greatness. The United States seems to be led more by bottom dwellers, with the obvious examples being George Bush and the many members of his failure of an Administration. Yet looking beyond these completely undistinguished men and women, Democrats, too, offer up mediocrities as leaders; John Kerry, Al Gore, and the too-fast to shift with the wind men and women of the the Senate and House too vast in number to mention. A Supreme Court that willingly bows to the whims of politics shames the legacy first established for the bench by John Marshall. Consultants, CEOs and yes men set the course of the nation to the point that not one leader would so much as consider taking the nation to a higher place in calling for sacrifice and honest redressing of important matters.

No great men or women come to mind in today's world. No courageous or brilliant minds appear willing to lead. With each hero of another time I read, today's people of power seem all the more lacking in measure.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Movie: Million Dollar Baby

After seeing "Million Dollar Baby," I find myself conflicted; about Clint Eastwood and about this movie. Generally, I don't think much of Eastwood's work, including "Unforgiven," which was essentially standard Clint that somehow got hyped up. I loved "Mystic River," though.

Half way through "Million Dollar Baby" thoughts of how Eastwood was able to make a boxing movie sweet and tender enter the mind. How often is one touched by the purchase of a speed bag. Humor is sprinkled gently in the most unsuspecting places and the growing bond between Hillary Swank's Maggie and Eastwood's Frankie Dunn is remarkable. Maggie needs someone to fill the hole of the father she has lost and the mother who is worthless, and Frankie finds a surrogate daughter that soothes his conscience over the blood daughter he is estranged from. Morgan Freeman as Scrap does his usually solid, yet restrained, job in a supporting role and narrator.

"Million Dollar Baby" sometimes slips into cliche in the first half of the story, with the barbaric champion Maggie strives to fight against as an example, but it develops a relationship that overcomes that and is true to life. Eastwood then gets to a point where he seems to sense that his film can become the typical, Hollywood fare or something different. He courageously chooses something different, but in the process loses himself and the story; becoming cliched anyway.

The last half of the film does not know what to do with itself and can't seem to figure out how to resolve the choice Eastwood makes. While the interactions between Frankie and Maggie continue to exist on a beautiful level, one can't help feeling cheated by Eastwood's direction for the film.

Hillary Swank, who has not been able to find a role worthy of her talent since "Boys Don't Cry," is given a superior role in this film as Maggie, and is again brilliant. I was impressed at how well Swank was able to sculpt her body into a boxer's fit, and looked the part so effectively. She deserves all the praise in the world for this performance. Swank is gifted in her ability to convey emotion and the trust that Maggie has in Frankie, and her love for him, can be seen in Swank's expressions alone; with no need for any words beyond "Yes, boss."

Clint Eastwood is understated as Frankie, and merits praise for his acting in the film. He does a solid job in the telling of this story, too, as well the mix of humor, tenderness and development, until shifting gears. Once he goes in this unexpected direction, one is left, well, conflicted. Deserving of commendation for not taking the easy way out, he is also guilty of losing control and sinking into something that seemed misguided. I am left unsure just how much to like or dislike this movie.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Was Abraham Lincoln gay?

In watching a report on CNN a few hours ago, the question of Abraham Lincoln's sexuality was brought into question. "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," written by C.A. Tripp, claims Lincoln was gay. Apparently, this has been news for about a month, but it came to my attention today.

The book uses as sources a poem about homosexuality that Lincoln wrote as a teen (the poem does not say he was gay, but refers to a story of a gay relationship.). It also mentions his relationship with friend and business associate Joshua Speed, and speaks about the nature of Lincoln's marriage and his discomfort with women in general.

Poetic Leanings has been consistently in the corner of the gay community. I am quite comfortable with the issue and am 100% in favor of gay rights. Prove to me that a historical or contemporary figure is gay, and I will shrug. It means nothing really. Well, maybe it can be used to show the right wingnuts that gays are no different than anyone else, but for me personally, I could not care less.

Having said this, the evidence that Tripp holds up is, at best, weak. It was common in the 18th and 19th centuries for men to share beds in their travels. It was equally common for men to write letters to each other that today would seem overly gushing in nature.

Did Lincoln have a troubled marriage? Yes. Does that prove anything? No. Mary Todd Lincoln appeared to suffer from mental illnesses, as did, probably, Lincoln himself. Today, they would see a shrink and maybe take Paxil. In those days, the mood swings and depressions would naturally contribute to marriage problems. Add in the loss of their son at a young age, and you have another reason for marital difficulty.

In my readings of Lincoln's life, there is ample evidence showing his interest, yet clumsy courting of women. Tripp mentions how Lincoln "did not like women." This is a misinterpretation. Lincoln was awkward and felt discomfort and shyness around women. He was more at ease around men where he could display his bawdy humor.

Does everything above prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Abraham Lincoln was not homosexual or bi-sexual? Not at all. The possibility exists that Lincoln was gay. However, there is no hard proof of this, and the examples Tripp sites are overwhelmingly weak.

I am all for promoting the gay agenda to insure equal rights in this country. I despise the anti-gay lunacy of the fundamentalists in this country. From what I can see, though, this is shabby detective work that only harms the gay movement's cause. Chicken Little history making will only convince those with narrow minds that they do not have to believe more concrete evidence. That is the only reason why Poetic Leanings will be a venue for discussion on this matter.

See my rankings of the presidents. Gay or straight, Lincoln was a great leader.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Poem: She Is All That

The ocean: beautiful, gentle. The ocean: harsh, cruel. I love it, respect it, enjoy it, and fear it.

She Is All That

She has a quiet peacefulness,
Gently touching those who wade in her presence.

A soothing voice,
Reaching out to an opened ear.

Violently she can rise to an impassioned fury,
Destructive; dangerous in her reach.

Screaming anger,
She yells out to beware her wrath.

Rolling toward, she offers herself willingly,
Pulling back, daring to take her on.

Fiercely she attacks all who stand their ground,
Leaving dismissively as if never having appeared.

Returning swiftly over and over again,
Gracefully departing with equal consistency.

She is home to countless who live within her love,
Embracing against her breast all that breath her life.

With total abandon she bombards years of perfectionist creation,
The slap of her hand eroding what has stood through time.

She is stubbornly independent,
Basking in a freedom that cannot be tamed.

She is hopelessly dependent,
Wilting at the whim of men, who contaminate her heart.

She is alive; beautiful.

She is withdrawn; ravaging.

She is a million built continuities,
An equally measured marked discrepancies.

She is all that.

Copyright SGW 1997

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Poem: Chasing Rainbows

A rainbow is a hard thing to ride. That pot of gold at its end ever-difficult to obtain.

Chasing Rainbows

I’ve been raining for so long;
On again, off again.
When it stops, here I am
Looking at the clearing skies;
Chasing rainbows.

In excitement from the sunnying day,
With thoughts of wonder,
And a belief in what the image brings;
Vast rewards await;
Chasing rainbows.

Yet each slide ‘long the colored path
Reaps no ending glory,
Or reveals someone else’s pot of gold,
Leaving me with approaching clouds
From chasing rainbows.

The arch of hopeful promise fades
In the torrent of a new-born storm;
Finds me raining again,
Until I am deceived by the lure
Of once more chasing rainbows.

Copyright SGW 1998

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Poem: To Be Continued

To Be Continued

I'd say that I miss you,
But your image is easily found,
I'd say that I need you,
Yet wherever I look your love still abounds.
One's existence is finite,
And often ending too fast,
Yet if we've left memories special,
A spirit can last.
You've given us smiles,
And to so many much needed love,
You hardly are missing,
Your touch just comes from above.
With such an indelible impression,
Left on too vast a number to measure,
You'll always be with us,
When we share all your love and your pleasure.

Copyright SGW 1993

For my dad, but also for any loved one who is missed.

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Movie: A Very Long Engagement

"A Very Long Engagement" is the story of a woman in post-World War I France, who is lame from childhood polio and suffers from the unanswered question as to whether her fiancee survived the war. He was sentenced to death for self-mutilation, but there are holes in the story. She goes on a mission of love and hope to find out what has happened to him. Audrey Tatou, who starred in "Amelie," is back in this lead role as Mathilde. She joins director Jean-Pierre Jenuet once again (also of "Amelie") in another heartfelt story.

While "Amelie" is sweet and beautiful and warms the spirit with its tenderness, "A Very Long Engagement" is at times brutal and wrenching, but no less beautiful. Jenuet takes is on a winding road of mystery built on frustration, pain, loss, and sorrow. What he creates is a connection to Mathilde, much as to Amelie, where she becomes a close friend that evokes feelings of love and support. Wisely, Jenuet does not give us Mathilde fully all at once, but slowly over the duration of the movie. The connection to her grows without awareness, much as the anticipation to where her search will lead.

Chantal Neuwirth and Dominique Pinon also turn in fine performances as Mathilde's aunt and uncle, and Jodie Foster makes a surprise appearance that also adds to the movie's quality.

"A Very Long Engagement" has some violent and graphic moments, but they in no way diminish from this emotionally powerful film. You will leave the theater touched by Jenuet once again; in a different way then with "Amelie," but touched all the same.