I was Bella Abzug's personal aide the first time she ran for political office in 1970. She was running in the Democratic Congressional primary of an extremely Democratic district, which included the Upper West Side, the Village and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was also an extremely Jewish district and had been represented for 14 years by Leonard Farbstein, an extremely Jewish politician, deeply devoted to sustaining Israel AND the Vietnam war.
Seven times the peace-loving reform Democrats had failed to knock out Farbstein. So, even with the anti-war protests building, they didn't have a realistic hope of beating the incumbent. Bella was chosen to run what was considered an "educational" campaign. She would hammer away at the issues, the most important of which was our war against the Vietnamese people.
The first time I heard Bella speak was at a meeting of the New York Radical Feminists. She had come seeking volunteers. Her commitment to feminism included having a full day care facility for the children of staff and volunteers IN her campaign headquarters . When she spoke about the oppression of women, linking it to the Vietnam war, she was on fire. It gave
me chills to hear her. I leapt to my feet cheering.
I was working four hours a day for a tiny health food store on Broadway and 88th St., in their even tinier basement, filling and labeling bags of bulk food. I had a lot of spare time. I went to Bella's headquarters on Seventh Avenue South in the Village and volunteered.I spent many hours happily stuffing envelopes.
One afternoon, the volunteer coordinator announced, "We need somebody to go around with Bella today, be her general assistant." I immediately volunteered. Who wouldn't prefer running around with the candidate over stuffing envelopes?
Thus began two and a half months of arriving at Bella's home in the West Village at 7 am every morning, and staying by her side until 10 or 11 at night, seven days a week. I made sure we had all the right campaign literature. With my big voice and theater background, I was her shill, shouting at passersby to come and meet "BELLA ABZUG, the anti-war candidate for Congress!"
After a couple of weeks, I became an official member of the staff. The assistant campaign manager (the actual head of the campaign was often MIA because of a tiny drinking problem) ... as I say, the 2nd in command asked me how much I wanted to get paid for my more-than-full-time work.
Wow! Everybody got to decide their own pay! What an enlightened idea! Since Bella's election was such a great cause, I asked for only $100/week. I felt very morally superior when I discovered that everyone else had demanded MUCH more. What I didn't know (which everyone else did) was that you got your weekly pay.... not once a week but whenever they had some money to hand out, which was about once a month.
Oh, so what!
I heard Bella speak countless times, for small groups and large. I wouldn't say she hit it out of the park every single time. But mostly, yes. She spoke with passion and clarity about the need to end that pointless war and create a more just society. She inspired her audiences just as she had me. And, even though I heard her speak so many times, saying the same things again and again, I still felt those original chills and leapt to my feet cheering, along with the rest of the audience.
Bella Abzug had charisma.
She used her charisma in the service of creating a better world. But I sensed that Bella's charisma didn't emanate from her political beliefs. This intense ability to connect with an audience was a separate power that she possessed, like someone who can play the piano by ear, without ever studying music.
Eventually Bella was able to do what the Reform Dems hadn't been able to do for 14 years -- defeat the right-wing incumbent. She went on to be a powerful Congresswoman and a noted leader of the feminist movement. She is still known. It's amazing to me how many young people recognize her name.
Donald Trump also has charisma.
Fairly early in the 2016 election campaign, when Trump was still considered kooky, disruptive entertainment by Dems and GOP alike, I heard this story:
Carolyn's friend Mark has a company that produces large public events. His company was hired by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to produce their conference, at which they would endorse a Presidential candidate. Mark witnessed Trump's speech. He said you could not imagine, from seeing him on television, how much power Trump has in person. Mark is a San Francisco progressive and was not vulnerable to the actual content of Trump's speech. But he warned that the power that Trump had over a live audience was undeniable. He felt it, and he was truly frightened. Trump got AIPAC's endorsement, which was a turning point for his campaign This was before anyone else was worried about Trump actually becoming President.
What is charisma?
I think charisma is an ability to manifest personal power so strongly that the people around you feel filled with that same power -- in political terms, the power to change the world, the power to overcome what is perceived as injustice. Thus, Bella's audiences felt filled with the power to end a cruel and interminable war. The farmers in the Central Valley, who I wrote about in an earlier blog, felt filled with Trump's power to overcome the injustice of drought, as absurd as that seems.
It is a real high, this charisma, for those who witness it. Few possess charisma and many want to experience that high again and again. In an election, a charismatic candidate has an enormous advantage over an uncharismatic candidate.
Which brings us to, you guessed it....
Joe Biden has no charisma.
I just finished watching Steven Colbert's 50 minute interview of Biden. Biden actually LOOKS good. Much better than Trump. But when he speaks, he seems to get fuzzy around the edges.
He did speak about starting to organize to produce and distribute a vaccine as soon as he was elected, rather than waiting for the vaccine to actually exist. That made sense and gave me hope that he will be a good ADMINISTRATOR, which is what a President is supposed to be. After all, it's called an ADMINISTRATION. He said he was meeting every day with scientists to understand what could and could not be done about the coronavirus. I believe he is a hard worker and wants to do the work of dealing with this pandemic. I do really believe in his ability and desire to do that job.
About creating a more just society, about having a vision that might inspire the millions of young people who want/need to change to the world -- really, he threw scraps their way. He talked of forgiving $10,000 of their college debt. THAT'S ALL? Many have more than $100,000 of college debt!
In terms of health insurance, he proposed paying the COBRA premiums for those who were eligible. COBRA is a program for people who had employer-financed health insurance when they were employed. The premiums are so high that many cannot use it now. Biden would fix that. He said nothing about the millions who have no health insurance in the first place.
And this is when he's being interviewed by Steven Colbert!!! My gosh, Joe, couldn't you have stretched out a little for your young progressive audience? How about forgiving $25 more of their debt?? Can you imagine doing that?
Folks, this is who we've got for a savior.
I know Biden's doing well in the polls at the moment, but please don't take his becoming President for granted. That's exactly what Hilary Clinton did in 2016, and look what happened. We must remain vigilant and do everything we can to help this mild, bumbling, hapless business-as-usual candidate (who could turn out to be a very good administrator) become Number 46.
Bloggelinis, I hope you will join me in working to defeat the First Toddler. Also,
This is my back garden where I sat this morning and drank tea and thought about what to write. Can you believe someone in San Francisco has, not only a garden, but a small garden in back of the big garden?!? You see, all the lots on this block happen to be 25 feet longer than a standard SF lot. That's just how things were laid out, with all the hills and everything. Not that I noticed when we bought the house in 1977. The backyard was filled with towering wild anise --7 feet high! And anyhow, I was supremely uninterested in gardens at that time in my life. This is the kind of luck I have, on a material level. To end up with this enormous gigantic blessing that I never planned for, never worked for. Life is not fair. But then, we already knew that.
Sitting next to me this morning was Marisol. Amazing to me that the artist was able to capture a REAL PERSON on the four tiles that hold her face. I felt comforted by her presence. I felt I was not alone. Did you know my brain cannot tell the difference between the comfort I would get from an actual human being sitting next to me, and the comfort I get from imagining that Marisol is alive? Isn't that great?
I discovered this when I was performing Waiting for the Podiatrist in 2017, and had written some new lines where the mother (played by a puppet on my left hand) said some nice things to her daughter Alex,
played by the rest of me. Mother puppet said "You're a good daughter," which my actual mother had never said to me, even though I was a fucking great daughter. I thought I would feel terrible hearing my left hand saying those words every night, that it would remind me that my mother had never said them. But the opposite happened! It turned out that my brain did not know the difference between my actual mother saying it or my left hand saying it. I felt COMFORTED! The brain is an amazing thing.
The vine that curls its way across the tile was planted many years ago for the plentiful aqua berries it would bring into the world. I adore aqua. It's very rare in plants. I'm still waiting for my berries. Although, to be scrupulously honest, it did have berry one year. One tiny pale aqua berry. Can you imagine my anticipation of what I thought must be coming? Maybe this year.
When you read my "I Cry Easily" blog, some of you bloggelinis were kind enough to be concerned about my emotional well-being. That was so sweet. Allow me to reassure you that my crying was, for me, a healthy release. I never got stuck in it.
I happen to be a very resilient person -- so far. Nothing has ever knocked me down for a long time, shaken me to my core. I'm kinda like one of those dolls that, when knocked to the side, immediately rights herself. Yes, I do have "What's the point?" moments, especially when I wake up. But the clouds dissipate rapidly.
I have noticed that people seem to have differing amounts of resilience. It has occurred to me that I might just be LESS SENSITIVE than others. I have a friend whose father died about the same time my father died. She seemed really knocked over by the loss. She was shaken. I loved my father and was close to him. But I was not shaken. I thought "Maybe my friend loved her father more. Maybe she's capable of deeper love than I am." But then maybe I'm just more resilient.
My mother was certainly very resilient. Always seeking to find fault with her as she did with me, I thought of her as insensitive. But let me tell you, when my father died and she did NOT get depressed, her insensitivity suddenly transformed in my eyes into RESILIENCE. And even when Nancy, my sister and her daughter, died -- yes, she grieved. But she did NOT get depressed. She went on enjoying her bridge games with friends and reading The New Yorker and watching television. Actually, Nancy's death was very hard on me. I temporarily lost my faith in Buddhism. But I don't think the twists and turns of my emotional state ever rose to a level where others were concerned about me.
I remember, when I was home for a while after my father's funeral, my mother and I were sitting in the den reading, and I heard this strange sound. I looked up and discovered that MY MOTHER WAS WHISTLING! She was reading a New Yorker AND WHISTLING QUITE WELL!
I said "Mom, you're whistling!"
She looked up, startled. "What?"
"You were just whistling!"
She scoffed, "No, I wasn't," and went back to reading. I never heard her whistle again.
I sat there, pondering what had just happened. I realized that my father must have forbidden her to whistle. He was, for all his openness, a real patriarch when push came to shove. I could easily imagine him telling my mother SHE COULD NOT WHISTLE. So unfeminine! A Whistling Wife was just... beyond the pale.
And now my father was gone and the joy of whistling bubbled up through my mother's unconscious!
What does this have to do with resilence? Nothing. But it's too good a story not to tell.
Is my resilience in my genes or does it come from growing up with parents who modeled resilience for me? Or both? During this pandemic, I sure am glad that I'm resilient. It helps me just take care of myself and keep toddling on.
Although, despite all this preening about my resilience, I AM having trouble keeping up with some really basic aspects of life for the first time:
I am, for the first time, having trouble waking up to my alarm. Either I sleep through it or I wake up, turn it off, go back to sleep and forget I did that or I forget to set it in the first place.
I spaced out about paying bills. First one credit card was denied. Instead of looking into this, I just moved on to use ANOTHER credit card. And then when THAT one was denied, I started using a THIRD credit card. It wasn't until the third one was denied, that I considered the possibility that there might be a serious problem and discovered I had not paid any of the bills!
If there's one thing that I've learned in my 73 years of life on this earth creating theater and traveling the world and falling in and out of love, it's that it's better to clean the dog shit off your shoes right away. I'm not talking about a metaphor here, although it DOES make a good metaphor. I'm talking FACT. If you wait, it just gets harder and harder. (Ahh, still the metaphor....) But I have not been willing to face up to this primal truth! And I've been going through all my comfortable shoes, putting them aside when I stepped in shit and just putting on another pair until I had four pairs of shitty comfortable shoes! (I have one more pair of comfortable shoes than I have credit cards.)
Am I a grown-up or WHAT?!? Let's just settle on...WHAT?!?
However, while not grown up, I AM resilient. So I am now dealing with all three problems:
I have set my alarm to go off at 6am every day, so at least I don't have to worry about forgetting to set it.
I have paid all my credit card bills.
I have cleaned off one pair of comfortable shoes and, when I immediately stepped in dog shit AGAIN, I cleaned them off right away!! Easy!
Anyhow, during this pandemic, I have seen two of my friends go from doing just fine to... doing not so fine, as their circumstances changed. I have told them they can call me any time, night or day. Can't think of what else I can do.
I found the info below on the internet. It's important to know it, because it's for people without resilience and for people who care about people without resilience. The phone number is for the National Suicide Hotline, but I think you don't have to be really suicidal if you just need an actual human voice to talk to:
If The Person You Care About Is In Crisis, Please Encourage Them To Seek Help Immediately. Direct Them To Call 1-800-273-Talk (8255) To Reach A 24-Hour Crisis Center, Text Mha to 741741, Call 911, Or Go To The Nearest Emergency Room. You Can Also Call These Numbers If You Fear For Someone's Safety Or Life.
but the color perfectly sets off these magnificent cacti.
Mount Diablo is 60 miles away.
ON 19TH ST. & CASTRO!
Nikki & Loulou get to stretch out in Christopher Playground,
at the top of Glen Canyon.
This is Glen Canyon. Yes, there is a canyon right in the middle of San Francisco, and it is (a very stiff) walking distance from my house. I love Glen Canyon. In fact, I started to make up a song about it:
Can you imanyon
In the middle
Of the city?
That's as far as I got.
At one point (1988?), they were talking about putting a two-lane road through Glen Canyon, so that cars could drive the length to come out on a big road on top. You see, there was a preschool in the one building in the canyon. And the parents of some of the children did not like having to drive veerrrry slowly for 1/4 mile on the dirt fire road to the preschool when they picked up and dropped off their precious bundles. I mean, how outrageously inconvenient! And one of these parents was a very good friend of our mayor at the time, Willie Brown. SO the city was planning to pave the canyon! Can you imanyon????!? Yes, that's how things happen in this world, don't they?
WELL. I was definitely willing to lie down in front of a bulldozer for Glen Canyon, believe you me. But I was moving to Amsterdam! What to do? I needn't have worried. Many many people felt the same way I did. There really was no chance that road would be built. I mean, we're talking major riots threatened.
The preschool folded because it was so damn TEDIOUS for these important parents with their dear little kiddies, to slowly drive that quarter of a mile. WHEW! Bullet dodged.
You can see in the picture of the canyon on the right above that there's a bench. And on that bench, there is a plaque:
I saw it was a memorial plaque. Many of the benches have plaques in memory of someone who's gone. I sat next to it, gazing at the view. And then I noticed the dates. Jared didn't have the chance to go many places in his too short life. But he was on that spot, with his parents, looking out over the canyon. Jared was here Right here with the wind and the sun and the foxtails and the wildflowers and grasses. Goddamit, JARED WAS HERE! Jared, I'm so sorry you didn't get to be here longer.
SOME ROSES FOR JARED
Well, Bloggelinis, here I am crying again. It's tough to follow Jared with anything other than goodby. Maybe it's easier for me to mourn little Jared than it is for me to take in all the people dying in this country. Yes. I think that's it. Anyhow, as always, it feels good to cry. Thank you, Bloggelinis, for sharing this with me. Terry
(I started this blog last Thursday, and then got totally swamped with all the Little Richard links available!)
"My music makes your liver quiver, your bladder splatter, your knees freeze -- and your big toe shoot right up in your boot!"
My friend Z Budapest has always said, "I want to have Little Richard's Tutti Frutti played at my funeral. If I don't get up and dance, then you'll know I'm really dead."
And now the Tutti Frutti man himself has gone. I'm assuming they played his first hit song, recorded in 1955, at his funeral, to make sure HE was really dead.
Little Richard proclaimed himself the Architect of Rock n' Roll. I think when you've toured with, first the Beatles, and then the Rolling Stones AS YOUR OPENING ACTS, when Jimi Hendrix played guitar in your band, and James Brown was a back-up singer --you're entitled to proclaim yourself whatever you want!
That was just a tad too overtly sexual for a crossover hit, so the initial line became Tutti Frutti, aw rooty, and the
other lyrics magically metamorphosed into Sue who knows just what to do and Daisy who drives him crazy.The original song was obviously about sex and even obviously about GAY sex, and Little Richard was obviously gay, very gay and openly so until he found Jesus later in life, for about the fourth time. He said in many later interviews, "I realized that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Now, Little Richard was an original. He made up his OWN jokes. The fact that he borrowed this ancient, creaky one to explain his late-blooming heterosexuality only proves to me the phoniness of his transformation.
When Tutti Frutti became popular, another record company re-recorded it with squeaky-clean Pat Boone -- what an outrage! -- and this bleached white Tutti became an enormous hit that buried Little Richard's version --- temporarily.
Little Richard made a grand 1/2 cent for every original Tutti Frutti sold. A half a cent! I can't help but wonder how much Pat Boone was paid. So Little Richard's income for the 500,000 copies sold of his hit came to $2500. And he sold the rights to the hit song to the producers for $50, so he didn't even make half a cent out of Boone's recording or anyone else's. Thus it was in the early days of recording Black artists. Those who refused to go along with whatever deal was offered were branded as difficult and never recorded again.
That's the great thing about Little Richard's story. He was born poor, he was disrespected, his managers took all his money and paid him a pittance. But in the end, he triumphed. He lived long and well, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its very first year.
He bounced back and forth between playing rock concerts and preaching evangelical Christianity, between being Little Richard and being Richard Penniman, devout Christian. And those alternating realities seemed to suit him. Eventually, he got married, but his wife divorced him when she found out he was still sleeping with men. So, despite his understanding of the Bible, he just could not resist Steve!
Here he is on the left playing with his leg up on the piano. Click the photo to hear this performance of Long Tall Sally and Tutti.
What gave this gay, poor black boy with a limp, born in the Deep South, the courage to be himself in all his fabulous flamboyance? I think it was his mother's love. "I always loved Mother more than Daddy. I idolized her. Every movement. I'd imitate the things she said and the way she said them. She'd say, "Oooh, it's so hot." Then I'd go outside and sit with my friends and say, "Ooh, it's so hot." I just felt that I wanted to be a girl more than a boy."
Little Richard called himself the Architect, the Originator, the King AND the Queen of Rock and Roll. When he was challenged in an interview about taking too much credit, he responded, "I'm not conceited. I'm convinced!" Watch him at the 1988 Grammy's, where he's presenting the award for Best New Artist --- and claiming it for HIMSELF and asking "How come I never got one of these?"
I love that about him. He never stopped demanding his place for himself -- always in the most amusing way possible. He inspired so many. And Little Richard acknowledged those who inspired him, especially gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who gave him his first paying music gig when he was 14. She hired him to perform when she played Macon, Georgia, his hometown. Perhaps Sister Rosetta was open to seeing this gay boy's talent, as she was known for playing guitar "like a man" and enjoying same-sex relationships herself. You MUST watch this fabulous video of Sister Rosetta performing at a train depot in England, in the rain.
There was one group of people who never forgot Little Richard's importance, and that was other rock musicians. They understood that he broke the mold with his pounding piano-playing, his falsetto screams and whoops, his pompadours, his glittering attire, his wild moves. Here's the eulogy of one of the greats, who DOESN'T come to mind when you think of Little Richard's style -- Bob Dylan:
"I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.
I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him.
In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone."
Thanks to Tavia Nyong'o's article in The Guardian and Gerri Hirshey's article in Rolling Stone.
Below are more links to info on Little Richard's life,