Tuesday, March 26, 2013

With George Malich at the final cut

George Malich in a scene from Go South for Animal Index

With George Malich at the final cut

By Chris King

A good George Malich story should begin with Ray Brewer doing something goofy. So let me tell you about the time Ray Brewer butt-called me.

When I answered the phone, Ray was talking, but it soon became clear he hadn’t intended to place a call and wasn’t talking to me. However, he did seem to be talking about me. So of course I couldn’t put down the phone.

Ray was pretty much talking trash on me. We were in the middle of shooting a movie I was directing (Go South for Animal Index, a fable of Los Alamos) and as an actor in the movie natually Ray had complaints about the director, me. He was saying I wasn’t respecting his need and desire to shave the moustache he grew for his part, and he had costume complaints.

“When he finally finishes this fucking movie and I go see it, all I am going to see are the wrinkles on the general’s uniform,” Ray said. “I’m the general who runs the secret military base where they are building the bomb that will take out Hitler, and I can’t get anyone to press my shirt?”

I knew about the moustache issue – every actor in our movie was sick and tired of some hair somewhere on their head that I needed for them to keep there – but the wrinkly uniform was a new grievance. Naturally I wished Ray had told me first rather than go complaining about me to one of our friends.

I called Ray later, called him out on talking behind my back, and he apologized; I promised to press his costume for the next shoot, and we vowed to leave it at that.

But now of course it was my turn to vent, so I called George Malich. George was playing the military chaplain assigned to Lost Almost, our fabled version of Los Alamos in the movie. I called George and whined about Ray talking trash on me behind my back rather than addressing his problems to me directly.

“What’s all this stuff about his costume being wrinky?” George asked. “Why is it your fault that the general’s costume is wrinkly?”

Well, I explained, Ray had gotten into the habit of handing me his costume in a wadded up ball at the end of a shoot, which I tended to hand back to him in the same wadded up ball at the beginning of the next shoot.

“See, that’s what I always tell Ray – he has to be disciplined and prepared,” George said. “He can’t just show up with his talent and have someone hand him his costume. That is his costume, and he should be taking proper care of it as part of his preparation for the role.”

I had learned, making a movie with George and Ray for a year and counting, that this was one of George’s pet themes: Ray Brewer as natural talent who was lacking in discipline and focus.

“You noticed, when I agreed to do this part for you, I went and found a priestly collar and all the religious artifacts needed to play the chaplain,” George said. “That was part of my responsibilty to your movie. It’s Ray who is to blame when he sees those wrinkles on the general’s uniform.”

Indeed, George had costumed himself admirably for his chaplain role and outfitted himself with a box of relics that greatly contributed to his character’s culminating scene, when he collapses in a stupor after a wild, drunken prayer. I was directing this movie for the arts organization Poetry Scores, and we make silent movies based on poems we have set to music. So though no one has a speaking role in our movie, to get into character George had prepared monologues and dialogue for his scenes. In his meltdown scene, shot on our first day of filming in the fall of 2010, George prepared an amazing rant at God for creating a world with someone as evil as Hitler who needed something as disastrous as the atomic bomb to be defeated.

“Why?” George’s military chaplain raged at God in a speech no one who watches our movie will ever hear. “Why?”


Not long after I called George to vent about Ray's butt call, George asked me out to lunch. He said he needed to talk to me about something. I was really excited. I figured he wanted to talk about a movie project, and I was loving working with George Malich. I already was starting to consider him to be a major figure in the Poetry Scores movie unit. Whatever George wanted me to do, I wanted to do it.

I waited for George at Atomic Cowboy for half an hour, then ordered lunch and texted him. I actually don't mind being stood up, because it’s good for my karma as a busy person. I feel like it gives me one free pass to accidentally stand up someone else without feeling too bad about it. I texted George this piece of philosophy and suggested we reschedule the lunch.

George called right away. The next few moments sitting at the bar at Atomic Cowboy holding up a cell phone will be among the last things I ever forget.

“Gosh, I’m sorry, Chris, I forgot – I forgot about our meeting,” George said. “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve been forgetting a lot of things, and having a hard time reading, and when I went to get a check-up they found that I have a brain tumor.” A surgery would be scheduled within weeks, and he had no idea what the recovery would be like.

I was stunned, shocked, speechless, grief-stricken.

George kept talking about the logistics of his condition and the surgery, using something of an apologetic tone. Gradually, it dawned on me what the apologetic tone was all about. George Malich, the most patient and respectful actor on the planet, had been driven by an emergency to tell a director that he needed to shoot all his scenes before we did anything else. Shoot my scenes next, George was being forced to tell a director, shoot my scenes now – or else. It’s the one thing that might have horrified George Malich even more than a deadly tumor growing in his brain.

Unfailingly considerate directors who respect everyone’s limits at all times do not finish movies. As shocked and grief-stricken as I was, we had to finish a movie, so I dived right into scheduling all the scenes we needed to shoot with George. That was most of the scenes we needed to shoot with George, precisely because he was the sort of accomodating actor you know you can always get to work. Also, he was the only actor in the cast who was happy with his hair.

I borrowed a friend’s apartment, taped up some latticework from a bunch of industrial restaurant salvage we had scrounged for bomb parts, and we shot George’s confession scene one evening. Of course, I had the chaplain take the confession of the general. It’s the classic pairing: spirit and body, peace and war. And I very much wanted to shoot an intense two-man scene between these two great friends and acting partners, George Malich and Ray Brewer.

I ironed Ray’s uniform this time. 

We met at my friend’s apartment and did the scene. Tim McAvin suited up to play a soldier. Making a silent movie, you only have visual signs to tell your story, so the best way to suggest military encirclement is to have an armed soldier in every scene. I loved the idea of having a soldier standing at attention with a rifle even in the confessional. Dan Cross shot the scene, expertly but quickly. George Malich, the one actor every director always knew he could overwork, was now the one actor we had to be careful not to work too hard.

I will be honest – though I said all of the properly positive things at the time, I never had a strong belief that George would act again after his surgery. Without admitting it to anyone, every thing we did together after George broke the news, I experienced as if it would be for the last time. Without saying anything to anyone that evening, I had a strong feeling that we were shooting the last duet between George Malich and Ray Brewer. 

It was a beautiful scene. It was funny – the general is always trying to smoke in this movie, and always being made to put out his cigarette; of course, he fires up in the confessional, and the chaplain makes him put it out. It was powerful – when the general refuses to confess the sin of building the atomic bomb, he explains, “I’m trying to win a war. I’m trying to defeat Hitler.” When Ray improvised these lines, his made his eyes open wider so they gleamed through the latticework. He was acting fully using “the palette of his face,” a phrase George used to coach actors for the camera.

George was hard on Ray as an actor. We weren’t recording sound for the silent movie, so the actors could say anything they wanted during a take without hurting the scene, and George would improvise wickedly funny lines just to make Ray break character and laugh. And then George would let Ray have it. Breaking character is the cardinal sin for any actor, but especially the improvising actor who works in comedy, as George and Ray mostly had done – most memorably in Daniel Bowers’ A: Anonymous, the movie that made me (and everyone else) want to work with these guys. If you are improvising comedy, when you are at your most hilarious, that is absolutely the worst time for someone else in the scene to break character and laugh at you. It ruins your best work.

This was one of the ways George tested Ray when they worked together – he made Ray laugh and break character, and then he scorned Ray the natural talent for his failure to discipline himself.

I observed this tough-love routine with a heavy heart while we filmed the confession, deeply feeling that George did not have too many more moments like this left to share with Ray; with us.


As fate would have it, the last scene we needed to shoot with George was a funeral. This required constructing a fake casket and trucking it out to the sand mine in Crystal City that we were using for the zombie uranium mine scene. (We put zombies in our movies.) While I had George for the funeral, I also wanted to shoot the military chaplain at the mouth of the unranium mine, appalled at the destruction being wrought by the people whose souls he was commissioned to save. The general and the chaplain, Ray and George, visited the mouth of the uranium mine together. “That’s disgusting!” George’s chaplain says, at his first sighting of a zombie trundling a wheelbarrow of raw uranium out of the mine. “That’s disgusting!”

Then George’s chaplain presided over the funeral. The dead man was a scientist who had died in the bomb lab, the bomb’s first casualty. Ray’s general tries to smoke during the service, and is made to put out his cigarette. George kept improvising hilarious humor and making Ray break character, then jabbing at Ray to discipline himself, to stay in character. As always, when working with George Malich and Ray Brewer, I got exactly what I wanted, and more, and better. Then I called the final “Cut!” for George, and he was wrapped on our movie.


It’s amazing to remember this now, but George wasn’t in a rush to wrap our movie only because his brain had to go under the knife in a few weeks. He was also putting in motion his own ambitious plans as a director. George hurriedly developed, cast and put together an expert crew to shoot a series of shorts about his illness and impending surgery, Life is Meant for Living. I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t asked to contribute, because I wanted to give something back to George for all of the time he had devoted to my movie. Also, I wanted him to direct me. Oh, well. Sometimes we need people more than they need us.

George was kept awake and talking throughout the brain surgery, so the doctors could see what parts of his brain were active and functioning and avoid damaging healthy tissue while removing the tumor. At one point during brain surgery, George was later told, he went into a prolonged fit of rage – and he was ranting at Bill Streeter and me. Bill Streeter is a talented local director, best known for the documentary Brick by Chance and Fortune and his Low-Fi St. Louis series. Apparently, the surgeons had hit upon the center of George’s brain reserved for movie directors, and as with the brains of all actors, there was a lot of frustration and rage stored up in there. George even went so far as to howl out during brain surgery that Bill Streeter and Chris King were somehow responsible for what he was going through.

When George began to recover, this story was told to him – he had no memory of it – and it inspired two more episodes in his series of shorts, one about the surgery itself and the other about Streeter and me cooking up the idea of putting George through brain surgery. I hadn’t acted since my senior year in high school, back when Ronald Reagan was president, but I was deeply honored to be asked and eager to help George as he had helped me.

When I showed up at the shoot, I was even more pleased to find Bradley Bowers working the sound. Bradley directed George in his first feature, The Bunglers, and George’s crowning achievement as an actor, A: Anonymous, ends by breaking the frame of the shot to reveal Bradley holding up a mic boom – for all I knew, the same one he was holding up in George’s living room now.

Since Bill Streeter is a much more accomplished director than I am, I suggested I approach him like a fanboy and try to interest him in working with me on “a George Malich vehicle.” Streeter says the problem is George does comedy, and he wants to shoot drama. I insist that’s what I want to do, too – I want to evoke “the mad George.” “Crazy George?” Streeter asks. “No,” I say. “Angry George. Raging George.” When Streeter responds with skepticism, I say, “We just need a motivation. We’ve got to get him angry.” Then George directed us to have the same motivation gradually but simultaneously dawn on both of us: “I know – brain surgery!”

This was the ninth episode in his series of shorts. I wondered what would be next. I knew George’s prognosis was poor – the doctors had said his condition was “treatable, but not curable,” and there had been talk of his having about a year to live – but George seemed up and at it. George was on the go. He was a powerfully strong, superhumanly positive human being. If anybody could make it through this, it would be George Malich.


There was a lot of movie left to shoot after we wrapped with George, and he had a lot of healing to do. Ours had always been a friendship based around projects; I loved the man, as so many did, but we were not in a core circle of intimates who saw each other all of the time. I went to see him and his amazingly sweet fiancee Jennifer Salci once, and called George from time to time, but I did not establish a rhythm of visiting him. I put together a public screening of his Life is Meant for Living series at our friend Julie Malone’s art gallery SOHA, but at the last minute was not able to attend because I was needed at home. I suppose that is my biggest regret today, in terms of things I could have done differently: I wish I had decided to disappoint my family that one time just to please George Malich and to experience his work as a director in his physical presence among our friends.

The last few times we spoke on the phone this spring, it was playing phone tag. George’s return messages were funny, as usual, until suddenly they were not. The last time George called me, he said now was not a good time for him to talk because he was having a hard time remembering anything. Not long after that, our friend John Eiler told me that George had undergone a serious stroke and I should go see him in the hospital as soon as I could. Things didn’t look good for George at all.


I went to see him the next day. George was alone on his half of the hospital room, sleeping, when I arrived. I took a seat and watched him. John had warned me that George’s face was really bloated and he didn’t look like himself. As himself, George looked like Superman, a tall, broad man with good looks, sharp features, dark hair and a chiselled jaw. That face, that man, was gone.

There was a notepad on his table, so I picked it up and sketched George lying back in the hospital bed amid a tangle of cords and machines. When I was finished with my sketch, Ray showed up, and then George’s fiancee Jennifer. Jennifer is a beautiful woman, but she looked unusually gorgeous that day, down to the pedicured and painted toes. I complimented her on this, and she said, “I have to look good for George.”

When George woke up, he was smiling and positive, but he really struggled with language. For the rest of my visit, he said a version of the same statement, over and over – some complaint that “they said there would be eight,” but there were not as many as that. George knew he wasn’t saying it right, and kept asking Jennifer for help. She wasn’t sure either. I was pretty sure he was trying to say that the doctors told him he would have more of his mind and memory for longer than it was turning out to be.

Unlike the priest George played for me who raged at God and demanded, “Why? Why?” George was not angry now. He was sad, puzzled, disappointed. They said there would be eight, but there weren’t going to be as many as that. He was running out of memory, running out of time, much sooner than he had expected.

At the same time, he was happy, even radiant, with a gorgeous smile, especially for Jennifer. He was so full of love for her, and for the rest of life. The goodness and love that always shot forth from this man were still streaming out of him, almost visibly as light.

John Eiler had suggested I bring George some footage from our movie to watch; he was sure George would enjoy it. Our footage was all in the hands of our editor, but I did find a portable drive I had used to sort footage into files for editing, and that drive had some scenes with George on it. Morbid as it might be, the only George scenes I could find to bring him were of the funeral his chaplain conducted, so I brought them and played them for George.

I could tell George didn’t know what or who he was watching in this scene. I wasn’t even certain he recognized himself. But I kept talking and trying to be positive and maybe jar a memory, bringing up other scenes and people from the movie shoot, when finally George said, “Yeah, and then I said, ‘That’s disgusting!’”

“That’s disgusting!” – George improvised that line for the chaplain to say when he first sees zombies coming up from the uranium mine. I was overjoyed – George Malich had remembered a line from our movie; George Malich had remembered a line he had improvised for my movie. It was a tremendous gift for me.

I was on deadline at the newspaper I edit and needed to return to the paper. First, I wanted George to sign my sketch of him. It’s a thing I do, sketch people and then ask them to sign it. I doubted George would be able to sign his name, but who knew what he would come up with.

He studied the drawing for a long time, and held the pencil in his hand. By now we were eating a cake Ray had brought in, something called a pudding cake, and George was having some fun with it. He was saying, “I’ll quit licking pie when I tell you I’m done licking pie,” which was hilarious, coming out of big puffy George Malich propped up in that hospital bed. What he had written out was only his practice take, on a separate piece of paper – you know George, always preparing for the final take – but when he went to copy what he had written out onto the drawing itself, words failed him and he was not able to make sense.

I did something I needed to do, before I left. I told George I loved him. I’m not sure he knew who I was at that moment, but something deep inside his proper upbringing was triggered, and he said, “I love you, too.”


I went home that night and grieved, hard. That was really the night I grieved for George Malich. I was sure the man, the spirit we knew and loved, was not coming back. I wanted to watch some episodes from his Life is Meant for Living series, so I found George’s YouTube channel, and that is when I really lost it. I could not imagine the person I had just seen in the hospital bed ever uploading a new clip onto this site, let alone producing new work for it. I stared with amazement and disbelief, grief and anger, that this was it. This was where George Malich’s work was left when God called, “Cut!” They said there would be eight, and there were not going to be so many ...

The last piece he had completed for Life is Meant for Living and uploaded was episode nine, the one featuring Bill Streeter and me. I couldn’t believe it. I would be George’s last director, and I would be a lead actor in the last thing he directed. I consider George the greatest screen actor of our generation in St. Louis, and I told him I thought that when we were working together, and I knew he appreciated that I thought so and told him. So I was humbled to be there with George Malich at the end of his shoot, at the wrap of his work, at the final cut, and I felt a responsibility to share George’s work and his spirit with other people after he is gone.


The next morning, George underwent his final brain surgery, and I acted in a scene for Thomas Crone. Thomas Crone acted in George’s first feature film as an actor, Bradley Bowers’ The Bunglers; Crone has two brief scenes (with Ray, but not George) in A: Anonymous; and he acts in what was looking like would be George’s last movie, our movie, Go South for Animal Index. George and Crone even do a scene together in our movie, when Crone’s soldier runs George’s chaplain away from the physicists’ workspace where the chaplain has discovered some disturbing papers that suggest what they are really working on down in those secret laboratories. Crone rousts George from the worktable at gunpoint, and then Crone runs off with the watermelon that the chaplain had brought to surprise the scientists.

It was good to be with Crone, to act for Crone, to act, to do improv in St. Louis on a day George Malich underwent brain surgery. I had expected George would make movies with us from now on, for many years, and I thought I would get to continue to learn from him for many years to come. They said there would be eight, but there weren’t going to be as many as that. I was going to have to make due with what I had now, with what I had learned from him up until now, with what George had been able to give me so far. And I had to remember and believe: as long as someone is making movies or doing improv in St. Louis, George Malich is alive and working.


I went to see George in the rehab facility after the surgery. He was alone again, but awake. He was sitting up and eating. I could tell he didn’t know who I was, but seeing a book under my arm, he asked, “What are you reading – today?”

He was much more interested in his lunch. This was a seriously delicious lunch they had served him. It was beans and a frank, with apple pie for dessert. George took his time with his lunch, smacking his lips and savoring the tastes and praising the cooking. There wasn’t that much of him left alive in his beautiful mind, but he was so happy to be alive.

He was sorry, again, that he could not remember things or speak the way he wished. He was “busy.” That was almost the only adjetive he had that day. I was “busy,” he was “busy.” Everyone, everything, was “busy.”

A team of doctors came and asked him questions. He didn’t have many answers for them. He couldn’t name the year or the month. They asked him who I was. After an effort, George said I was “January.” I walked out of his room and down the hall and tried not to weep. When I came back into the room, the doctors were gone and George looked wiped out by all of their questions, the struggle to answer them, and the disappointment at failing them. He said he was “busy” and needed to sleep. He was sorry. But he needed to sleep.

The next thing that happened is worth more to me than anything I possess. It was my privilege to move the table away from George’s hospital bed and to lower the front of his bed until it was flat enough for him to sleep. The lower it got, the more level the bed, the more comfortable he became, and he smiled wider and wider at me, more and more pleased. I was making George feel better, and he was so appreciative for that. It was my greatest privilege to tuck him in, like a baby I dearly loved, like my own baby child. “I’m sorry,” George said. “I have to sleep.” And he fell gently asleep with a peaceful smile on his face.


His fiancee Jennifer was the one who saw George Malich through to the very end of his life, at 1:40 a.m. on Thursday, July 26, 2012, but Ray Brewer was with him earlier that night, his last night with us. Ray talked to me about it in the morning, our first morning without George Malich. 

I called Ray to tell him how sorry I was for his loss. Ray was deeply saddened and depressed, but also pretty numb. We both wept a little, then held it in. Then we wept a little more. We said the things one says at such times. We each described our last moments with George.

Ray said, “I winked at him – and he winked back! He winked at me! There was some part of him still alive down in there. He winked at me!”

“Acting with the palette of the face,” I said, “until the end.”


That was not the time to say it, or even to think it, the grief was too raw, but I can’t help but wonder something now. That wink back to Ray Brewer from a dying man – was that George’s final attempt to make Ray break character? To make him laugh when he isn’t supposed to laugh? To remind him how he was supposed to act?

I’ll choose to believe that George Malich left Ray Brewer, and the rest of us, with this one last important reminder, delivered in a wink with the palette of his face: George was reminding all of us struggling, improvising actors left here on Earth with work to do that we must be prepared, we must be disciplined, we must stay in character. We must not break character, we must not let ourselves ever be awakened from this dream we are inventing together.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Scoring Confucius and Ezra Pound in Los Angeles and Redondo Beach

Matt Fuller scoring Confucius on the Redondo Beach boardwalk.
Poetry Scores is an all-volunteer international arts organization that translates poetry into other media on almost no budget. To have productions ongoing in St. Louis, Istanbul, Hawaii and Los Angeles, as we do, requires generous contributing artists and a lot of creative, multi-tasking scheduling. For my part, I cannibalize parts of family vacations to keep the dream alive.

My family of three just finished a week in one of Poetry Scores' sister cities, the great city of Los Angeles, where I was granted permission to spend my nights recording music so long as I didn't rush my family through our day plans. So by day I took a 9-year-old to Universal Studios, the California Science Center, a major film premiere and up Mount Hollywood on horseback, then after dinner I drove up the freeway to the western San Fernando Valley, where the now misnamed Hollywood Recording Studio is based.

How does an arts organization record for a week in a Los Angeles studio on a tight budget? By making the right friends. I took my first (and only) recording studio class at Washington University with Meghan Gohil, who went on to record my first band's first record, Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac, in 1990 and we have been together ever since.

Hollywood Recording Studio has taken the lead in producing one of Poetry Scores' new projects, Songs Confucius Sang, new folk-rock musical settings of ten of the Ancient Confucian Odes as translated by Ezra Pound. (This is a partnership with New Directions and the Ezra Pound Estate, which graciously granted us permission to work with Pound's fabulous language in new media.) Meghan already has produced basic tracks for a number of our Confucius compositions with my songwriting partner Matt Fuller (now of Hollywood) and a ghost from our past, bassist Jay Lauterwasser, now of San Diego but a former child clown who had never set foot outside of Missouri when he joined our band Enormous Richard more than 20 years ago.

Matt Fuller and Jay Lauterwasser tracking
a song Confucius sang at Hollywood Recording Studio.

I drove up to the west Valley every night this past week and sang my vocal tracks on our Confucius scores, knowing many of my vocals would later be replaced, as I am getting more and more interested in working with other (better) singers -- and many of these Odes are told from a woman's point of view, which gives us a golden opportunity to turn lead vocals over to longtime contributing artist Heidi Dean.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, we had songs at least sketched out for almost all of the ten Odes that we are scoring. A couple of gaps remained, however, and some of our song sketches were too sketchy for Meghan to produce the basic tracks. So Matt and I needed to get in a songwriting session, and we have a history of working in unique places. We scored Stefene Russell's Go South for Animal Index in Phoenix's mountainous city park (back when I was a travel editor on assignment) and recorded our sketches in a hotel in San Pedro. We owed a visit to our longtime contributing artist Richard Derrick in San Pedro anyway, so I talked my way out of an entire day of family time on Thurday and we headed down to the peninsula.

I had my mind on a place that Richard and his musical partner Crane had introduced me to, the International Boardwalk in Redondo Beach. Richard and Crane took me to this fabulous beer bar on the boardwalk called Naja's Place, and I could imagine Matt and me ensconced on the concrete boardwalk, drinking weird beers and finishing our Confucius score.

We got down to Redondo before noon on the first day of spring, well before the summer season, so the staff at Naja's was slow to report to duty. A place next door called the Corner Pub was open, however, so I went in to taste whatever seemed to be their best beer. It was a very good beer indeed. The man who poured the beer for us was Asian. I told him we came down to the pier to set Confucius to music and asked if he were Chinese. "Korean," he said.

Korean. Things were looking up.

In our early bands Enormous Richard and Eleanor Roosevelt, Matt was the drummer, though I eventually learned that he is an excellent guitar player who is always bursting with song ideas. We wrote our first songs together at Matt's apartment on Kingsland just off the University City Loop, a block down from a Korean diner, and we would always start our sessions with a walk to the diner for bibimbop.

I asked the waitress if they served bibimbop?

She more or less shrieked with delight -- over my pronunciation, of all things. Yes! they serve bibimbop. And no one ever pronounces it properly! She went to prepare our bibimbop and insisted that we come on in, commandeer a table, and work on our songs in their restaurant overlooking the pier.

Bibimbop from Corner Pub in Redondo Beach.

The bibimbop was delicious, and the songwriting went well. The Poetry Scores model is subservient to the poem we are scoring, so Pound's extremely irregular and daring translations call for irregular and daring songs. But we crave form and melody, so the problem becomes making highly irregular lines conform to a hummable melody and a recognizable song structure, with verses, choruses, bridges and outros, without changing the words. It's what we do. We did it.

Confucian songwriters' view of the harbor, with beer

Then we took a break and drove down to San Pedro to visit with Richard Derrick. Richard has been battling his way through some severe physical challenges. All the time we have known him, he had early onset Parkinson's, a condition that has worsened over time. Recently he suffered a fall and broke a clavicle that pinched a nerve and left his left arm - at least temporarily - gnarled and useless. Unsteady on his feet and with only one good arm, Richard has been sticking close to home and clearly welcomed some company.

Chris King and Richard Derrick in his back yard in San Pedro.

We met Richard Derrick through Derrick Bostrom, the Meat Puppets' drummer, who gave us a windshield tour of Meat Puppets sites when we were scoring Go South in Phoenix. At that time Bostrom had just been approached by Richard to write a liner note for a CD Richard had produced of his jams with his friend and former roommate, the late D. Boon of The Minutemen. On the strength of that connection we tracked down Richard for a windshield tour of Minutemen sites in Pedro. At the end of that, our first visit to Pedro, as an afterthought Richard copied some of his own music onto CDs for us. A compilation of jams by his L.A. band Middle Sleep from the early 1980s, we have been incorporating this fantastic post-progressive rock music into our poetry scores ever since.

When we made our way back to Redondo Beach after a long visit with Richard in San Pedro, the boardwalk was winding down. We were welcomed back into our Korean songwriting haven and ordered sushi for dinner, but the waitress -- a younger white woman working for our hosts, the Korean brother and sister -- warned us they would be closing soon. When our hostess learned of this warning, she took our check into her personal custody and told us to keep writing our songs. She would stay open for us.

I asked for her name. She pointed out the window to the sky. "Moon."

We came to Redondo Beach to set Confucius to music, and had been taken into the protective custody of a Korean woman named Moon. After she prepared us our traditional songwriting delicacy. You could make it up, but not that good.

As we worked late into the night, I noticed that Moon was doing her own sidework as we scored Confucius in her restaurant. She was sitting a few tables over, chopping vegetables and preparing sauces. I started to feel a part of something very ancient. These ancient Confucian Odes, so often told from a woman's perspective, have many sharp images of a woman's thankless, tedious, lonely domestic labors.

Three years a wife, to work without a roof,
up with the sun and prompt to go to bed,
never a morning off. I kept my word.

Matt played guitar, I sang Confucius and Pound, Moon chopped vegetables and kept her word.

We overstayed our welcome, as drinkers and dreamers do, and ended up alone out on the dark boardwalk, trying to make music out of the very last scrap of these Odes we had not set to music, a fragment about a river tumbling north, "tumultuous, animate". When we thought we had it figured out, we went into the beer bar Naja's -- open now, but not for long -- to use the restroom. As we were doing so, into the bar pounded a song by none other than The Meat Puppets, "Lake of Fire." That's the Meat Puppets, who sent us to Richard Derrick, who sent us to Redondo Beach.

Matt looked at me, and I looked at Matt. We didn't have to say a word. Confucius, Ezara Pound, the moon, also, didn't have to say a word.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Robert Hegel on Pound's translation of the Confucian Odes

Poetry Scores has embarked on a project with ten of the Confucian Odes translated by Ezra Pound. Washington University scholar Robert Hegel graciously contributed liner notes to our project, which we publish here so the many musicians getting involved can learn something about the material.

Love is love, even in translation

By Robert Hegel

Despite the much lauded 4000 years of recorded Chinese history, the songs of the early Chinese are long gone from memory, like those of every other culture. But starting around 3000 years ago, songs came to be written down. At first it was for strictly political ends: the oldest poems all praise the rulers, praise the state, laud their ability to make order out of the chaos that is nature – and human society, when it lacks proper guidance. Through the centuries an ever broader range of poems came to be written down: songs of the hunt, drinking songs, songs of soldiers far from home, the laments of abandoned wives and lovers, and even the songs of courtship. Then around 600 BCE – reportedly by Confucius himself – three hundred of these songs were selected for an anthology that has not changed much since, except to accumulate many layers of commentary. That anthology is known variously in English as The Book of Songs, The Book of Odes, The Classic of Poetry, or as Pound would have it, The Confucian Odes.

By the time of the mighty Han dynasty, from around 200 BCE to 200 of the Common Era, scholars were finding political messages in every song, no matter how racy. It was only the philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200) who finally declared that some of these political robes really concealed only bare human emotions. Since then readers have easily projected their own hopes and desires into these ancient writings, making them ever fresh and meaningful. Ezra Pound merely followed along the path well tread by earlier readers, to interpret these poems as songs for his own time.

This set comes from the section of the great anthology called "Airs of the States," meaning the feudal principalities of the early Zhou period. These are the "Airs of Wei," a state closely connected to the Zhou royal house, north of the Yellow River (the Huang He) as it flows eastward around the Shandong peninsula, Confucius's home area. Wei was divided by the River Qi, which is mentioned several times in these poems. Several are written in the voices of young people engaged in courtship and came to be viewed as too frankly physical by some of the more prudish readers. Pound follows this trend with several of his translations, reads admiration for one's body and dress as if it were praise for a man's uprightness and abilities. With others, Pound renders hesitation, desire, and impatience just as they seem to have been meant to be. Politics may change, but love is still love even in translation.

As with lyric poetry of all times and places, these poems have clear rhythms, rhyme schemes; they use complex imagery, repetition for emphasis, may be a lyric followed by a refrain. Pound emphasizes the rhymes to make these translations musical: they sing like no other renditions in English.



Thanks to Robert Hegel, New Directions and the Ezra Pound Estate for their cooperation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gertrude Stein scored for 69 women's voices & pole dance duet

Gertrude Stein writing in 1920.

On Friday, May 10, Poetry Scores will premiere two new scores of Gertrude Stein's 1913 poem "Yet Dish" -- for 69 women's voices, and for pole dance duet by Gravity Plays Favorites.

The show, held at Mad Art, 2727 So. 12th St. in Soulard, is free and open to the public. Mad Art will run a cash bar.

Confirmed thus far for the reading are Gina Alvarez, Elva Maxine Beach, Jill Bieker, April Casey, Gail Cassily, Ree Cee, Lisa Harper Chang, Jeanne Davis Brawn, Amy Broadway, Rhonda Broussard,Valerie Brunies, Sarah Kate Buckles, Lisa Cagle, Cindy Corley, Heather Corley, Tereva Corley, Kat Dunne, Andrea Avery Durway, Michele Dvorak, Catherine Eiler, Frances Agnes Emmons, Lisa Fioretti, Barbara Floreth, Lori Fowler, Alia Georges, Martha Rose Green, Beverly Hacker, Jill Hamilton, Tabitha Hassell, Maureen Hanlon, Rin Henderson, Ann Hirschfeld, Wendy Hymes, Christine Stroer Ingrassia, Georgia Johnston, Aparna Kalyanaraman, Kris Kleindienst, Joan Lipkin, Julie Malone, Cynthia McCafferty, Dawn Majors, Maria Guadalupe Massey, Carrie Meyer, Mali Newman, Sarah Paulsen, Joyce Pillow, Erin Quick, Laura Rainey, Nicky Rainey, Treasure Redmond, Kathy Reed-Broege, Megan Rieke, Rebecca S. Rivas, Darlene Roy, Stefene Russell, Ginny Schwartz, Laura Shields, V. Elly Smith, Wendy Todd, Nita Turnage, Leslie Kern Rundquist, Gabriela Scalpone, Nikki Sweets, Patricia Vinyard, Julia A. Walker, Rita Washington, Kathy Rogers Weir, Agnes Wilcox, Chelsey Wheeler, Bella Words and the women of Gravity Plays Favorites, Katrina Dohl and Michelle Mynx.

Readers will need to arrive by 7 p.m. on May 10 and will be handed one of the poem's 69 numbered sections when they arrive.

Gravity Plays Favorites is a world-renowned pole dance duet, known for their death- and gravity-defying acrobatics that manage somehow to be breakneck, sexy and intellectually stimulating at the same time.

 Gravity Plays Favorites by David McWhirter

These premieres of poetry scores of "Yet Dish" will be followed by a potluck repast featuring dishes prepared using at least one ingredient mentioned in "Yet Dish" or in Andreas' Embirikos' 1935 poem Blast Furnace, as translated from the Greek by Nikos Stabakis. A list of ingredients from the poem is listed on this here blog post for those who'd like to bring a dish.

During the repast, Poetry Scores will premiere recordings of seven previously produced scores of Embirikos' poem in a listening party atmosphere:

* Barbara Harbach's score Phantom of the Dreams' Origin (premiered January 11 at the Touhill)

* Live scores to Embirikos poems written and recorded November 9, 2012 at Mad Art by Nick Barbieri, Mike Burgett, Amy & John Camie, Ann Hirschfeld & Mark Buckheit, Tim McAvin and Tim Rakel.


The schedule for Friday, May 10:

6:30 p.m. * Doors open; potluck drop-off; light grazing

7:00 p.m. * All readers should be in the house.

7:30 p.m. * "Yet Dish" scored for 69 women's voices

8:00 p.m. * Gravity Plays Favorites performs their pole dance score of "Yet Dish"

8:15 p.m. * Potluck opens for real

8:30 p.m. * Premiere of recording of Barbara Harbach's Phantom of the Dreams' Origin

9:00 p.m. * Premiere of recordings of live scores by Nick Barbieri, Mike Burgett, Amy and John Camie, Ann Hirschfeld & Mark Buckheit, Tim McAvin and Tim Rakel, produced by Adam Long
For more information, email Poetry Scores creative director Chris King at brodog@hotmail.com.
Yet, Links
Text of "Yet Dish"

YouTube searched for those geniuses Gravity Plays Favorites

Post about previous Embirikos potluck that lists ingredients to feature in your dish.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

George Malich: a life worth his living

George Malich with the love of his life, Jennifer Salci.

We asked Jennifer Salci to prepare a biography of the late St. Louis actor George Malich in advance of the George Malich Free Film Festival that opens Wednesday at Mad Art and screens every Wednesday in March.

George Malich was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Serbian emigrants on August 7, 1956. He was the youngest of three children. Although he was a first-generation American, Serbian culture played a major role in shaping George’s life. Serbo-Croation was his first language, as he did not learn English until kindergarten. His given name at birth was “Djuro Malich.” “Djuro” directly translates to “George” in English. Serbs do not have middle names. By the time he was 18 he was tired of people mispronouncing his name, so he changed it to the American spelling of “George” and used “Djuro” as his middle name.

Growing up, George had an inclination for the arts. He started playing the guitar around age seven by ear; he never had lessons. As an adult he would play acoustic and electric guitar, the accordion, didgeridoo and bass. He named his favorite electric guitar “Stella.” During the 1990s he was in a band called the Pedestrians, and on occasion would even sing. George also had a lifelong love of dance and a strong attraction to theater. However, in high school football, choir and girls left him with no time for the drama club.

George decided to see what the world had to offer and left Milwaukee by the time he was 20. After a brief stay in Kentucky and mid-Illinois, he settled in St. Louis. Not long after arriving in St. Louis, he got married and started working for Laclede Gas Company. At one point he was offered a job as a DJ at a St. Louis radio station due to his outgoing and lively personality. However, not being a risk-taker he declined because the pay was too low and he had a wife to support. George would end up working for Laclede Gas for nearly 30 years, although he and first wife Judy would separate after 10 years of marriage.

While in his mid-20s, his biggest passion was water skiing. George owned a boat and would ski every weekend. Not only would he announce water ski competitions, but he would announce them dressed as Mark Twain. George loved dressing up, and playing Mark Twain afforded him the opportunity to shine in the limelight he craved his whole life. At this time in his life, he counseled teenagers at Alateen. George's father was an alcoholic and George particularly struggled with his father's alcoholism as a teen. George would later receive letters from the teens he counseled thanking him for his support, guidance and understanding. Known for his wisdom, George would also become the touchstone for his many friends when they needed a sympathetic ear.

Many friends George had indeed. This was evident by the enormous turn out for his 55th birthday party and Venice Cafe Memorial. His 55th birthday was sadly his last, but was definitely his most memorable. George never had a birthday party with balloons or a fancy cake. Plus the day was made extra special by the presence of his family from Milwaukee. There are no words to express the happiness he felt being surrounded by so many people who loved him.

George had twice as many acquaintances as friends – and that was an awful lot! Being a bachelor for 20 years, George ate out all the time and was a regular at many places in town. Everyone who knew him knew he had a love for food, the best scotch and great wine. Everybody knew his name, from the bar tender to the entire waitstaff to the manager to the owner. George was the most likable guy around. Chris' Pancake House, O'Connell’s Pub and Pi Pizza were his favorite restaurants. For years he would have chicken dinner at The Lemp Mansion on Sundays. The Royale was his favorite place to meet up with friends for drinks, and he never missed a major event at Mad Art Gallery. From time to time he would drop by Venice Cafe, a place he frequented in his younger years.

George wasn't much of a cook, but once a year, usually for Memorial Day or Labor Day, he would make his famous Serbian sausage (which he was very proud of). He would also be sure to wear his holiday polo shirt – a shirt covered with miniature flags, bar-b-que grills and stars! George was famous for his bowling shirts, although he felt Charlie Sheen's character stole his image. To say George's summer wardrobe was unique is an understatement.

Actually, George was attracted to all things unique and out of the norm. He had a large collection of art work from many different cultures: Asian, African, Mexican and Egyptian, to name a few. He even had an African statue made from a dead monkey and was quite proud of it. People regarded George as highly intelligent. He was knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. When he was in his early 20s he decided he didn't receive a very good grade-school education so he decided to educate himself. George was well rounded and his varied interests included history and politics too. His political beliefs originated because his parents were persecuted refugees forced to flee their homeland. He was passionate about social justice and equality and turned out to support many events and rallies sponsored by the Democratic Party through the years.  

Finally, around the age of 48 or 49, George fulfilled his lifelong dream of acting on screen when he played a sleazy Serbian club owner in The Bunglers. Next would come George's breakout role as Gavin Tarkowski in the film A: Anonymous. George would go on to play Gavin Tarkowski off-screen as well. He played him at events, when he accepted his 2008 Kick Ass Award and even gave a eulogy as Gavin. At one point there was even a drink on the menu of The Royale called The Gavin Tarkowski.

George Malich, enjoying an afterlife as Gavin Tartowski
after his breakout role in A: Anonymous.

While the popularity of the drink didn't survive, George's popularity soared. Between 2005-2011, George starred in four independent films including The Bunglers, A: Anonymous, Speak Easy and Go South for Animal Index. During this time George also participated in some of the 24 Hour and 48 Hour film projects, did some commercials and a couple corporate training videos. He also did four episodes of the web series Blackbookberry.

Via mutual friend Ray Brewer, George would meet second city alumni and improviser Bill Chott. Bill Chott would become George's mentor and inspiration. George excelled at improv and taught classes at Bill Chott's Improvtrick for 3 years. George became a serious student of improv. In 2009 he traveled out of state to take a weekend workshop by the internationally recognized British improviser Keith Johnstone. This class was a major highlight in his life and he talked about his Keith Johnstone experience often. George would perform and later host weekly improv shows at Lemmons, Atomic Cowboy, The Stable and Mangia Italiano. Working at the gas company was what he did but being an improviser and actor was who he was. He had finally realized his true identity. That being said, George hardly missed a day of work and was extremely proud of his years of service at Laclede Gas.

George had also joined PlayBack theater and won critical acclaim for his performance as a Palestinian in the play Beautiful Resistance. Being a true character actor, George grew a beard and dyed it black to look the part of a Palestinian. The more films George did the more costumes he would collect! He would pick things up because "he never knew when he would need it". George was meticulous with his costumes. They were always cleaned and pressed. George believed in being prepared. He always knew his lines, as he had a fantastic ability to memorize a large amount of material in a short period of time. He would also speed-read on a regular basis to keep his mind sharp.

Actually, a decline in speed reading was his first symptom of brain cancer. George was having trouble recognizing words as well as numbers, and it prompted a visit to his internist who sent him for an MRI. George was shocked when the MRI showed a tumor. He was sent to a neurosurgeon right away and was told his tumor was most likely malignant. Within days he called his friends and asked them to help make his Life is Meant for Living video series. The purpose of Life is Meant for Living was to document the emotions George was feeling with a sense of humor.

Shortly after brain surgery, George received the devastating news his tumor was the most aggressive form of brain cancer, a glioblastoma, and average survival was 12 months. George once again called his friends and said life is meant for living, so let's make more episodes! Of course, his loyal friends rallied around him and shooting commenced. The Life is Meant for Living videos were shown on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s website and people were able to blog about them. George liked to think sharing his story helped other people fighting cancer.

From the very beginning, George handled his cancer with courage and optimism. He was determined to improvise and act again. After his first brain surgery, his reading level was of a third grader but within a few weeks he taught himself to read and brought his level up to a high-school level. Being human, he would have down moments, but never accepted he was going to die. The thought of dying terrified him because he did not want to be separated from his friends and family and most especially the love of his life, his fiancee, Jennifer Salci. George would question why he had to get cancer now ... when he finally found the right partner.

George Malich and Jennifer Salci.

 It was George's pursuit of acting that led him to Jennifer. George and Jennifer met in December 2006 on the set of an Anheuser-Busch spec commercial Bill Chott and Ray Brewer wrote, directed and produced. At the time George was dating someone, so it wouldn't be until August of 2009 that George would take Jennifer to The Royale for their first date. They quickly became inseparable. George asked Jennifer to marry him in March of 2011. Sadly, George was diagnosed with brain cancer in July of 2011 and they would never make it to the aisle.

George died on July 26, 2012, surviving 12 months, as his doctor predicted. The Life is Meant for Living series would be George's final appearance on camera, even though he was convinced there would be a "next one". George touched people in ways he never knew. He never imagined his life and subsequent death would have such a profound effect on those who came in contact with him. George will never be forgotten. He will live on in our hearts, minds and in the way we choose to live our lives.

George Malich in his last role in a feature movie
as the military chaplain in Go South for Animal Index.