subway art

“Training Days: The Subway Artists Then and Now” by Henry Chalfant and Sacha Jenkins

A must read primer on graffiti art, if you have any interest in it at all. Maybe even if you don’t. It really gets you inside the minds and motivations of the kids that put their safety – and more – on the line. First person accounts of what it was like in its heyday. Includes a glossary.

These kids were outlaws who fought to make a space and identity for themselves; sometimes (if not by definition) making wry comments on society in the doing of it.

Co-Author/Editor Henry Chalfant was one of the most important people (if not the most) to document this phenomenon with his photography.

Some of the pictures are kind of tiny. “Subway Art: 25th Anniversary Edition” by Chalfant and Martha Cooper has many of these same pictures in a big coffee table book format.

Another book I’ve seen that I like is “Freight Train Graffiti”. It’s impossible to look at these pictures for any length of time and not improve your own handwriting… These people are heroes to me. Delve beneath the surface to see the beauty, if it’s not in fact obvious to you at first. The level of courage and dedication is high…

What do I like about the graffiti in this book? I like the way it was done with a certain code; working within artistic strictures. There’s some amazing artists. I’ve seen enough on the streets and freight cars of Seattle to appreciate this.

A lot of it was done just to get one’s name up in the public eye. But it couldn’t necessarily be legible. Artistic, yes – but often legible only to the few or the knowledgeable.

Also, to be legitimate, many writers felt that you had to steal the paint. And there was so much more of a technical aspect to it than you might think.

I’m not looking to make any converts. But I think you’ll have to read and digest this book if you want to know the ‘ifs’ and ‘whats’ of the social and artistic impact this movement had.

the book

the book “Freight Train Graffiti”

I love books

Even though I have plenty to read,

I couldn’t help a last minute trip to the library

to get 6 more being held for me.

They’re a comfort,

like a dear friend.

“Tell me a bedtime story!”

“Oh, that was a good one! Thanks!”

Yes! I do recommend that you join Goodreads.

Share your thoughts about books; find out what your friends are reading; follow and find out what your favorite authors have to say.

I started getting particularly enthused when a Facebook friend invited me to join (even though I was already a member.) I accepted the Facebook application (one of my very few) and soon I started getting emails about what some of my other Facebook friends were reading. Nice!

I’m a writer that has trouble knowing what to write about. I’ve found this to be a great motivator!!!


paddy whacked

4 out of 5 stars

A very good, well researched book with a surprisingly comprehensive breadth. I didn’t read the whole thing. Any detailed mob history would be a bit a gruesome; and when you get the broader picture, some of the minutiae seems unnecessary. Still, it’s good for the historians interested in more specific cases; and it does address well a very broad subject.

Some of what I found particularly interesting reading was: Tammany Hall in New York; the use of mob goons in strike-breaking; the background and eventual ascension of Al Capone in Chicago through the systematic elimination of rival Irish gangs; ‘Legs’ Diamond, ‘Mad Dog’ Coll, et al and the push of Irish gangsters to the fringes by the Combine (Italian and Jewish gangsters); the protection of Whitey Bulger in Boston by his state senator brother and due to his informer status by his corrupt F.B.I. handler (Bulger once strangled a 26 yo woman simply because she wanted to break up with his partner Steve Flemmi); the ruthlessness of the Prohibition-Era gangsters; the portrayal of gangsters by the likes of James Cagney; the Pendergast Machine in Kansas City, so similar to Tammany Hall; the Westies in NYC; and the hardening and callousness of mob killers through their service as U.S. war veterans.


3 1/2 stars out of five.

I was somewhat disappointed. It didn’t seem to live up to the promise of the title, and the overall positive high rating that people gave it. Still, I did read it from cover to cover.

It was not very easy reading; I don’t think it was very well written. There was a lot that was anecdotal; and study after study was cited, by researcher after researcher. Sometimes I just wanted her to state her opinion, already!

The first few chapters seemed to almost be an apologia for the dominant paradigm of extroversion. I did like the fact that she points up the strengths and weaknesses of both types, though; avoiding simplistic answers.

I do recommend this book, especially for those that think they are indeed introverts. The concept of empowerment for introverts instead of stigma is a good one; as well as the analysis of different personality strengths and weaknesses. I especially liked the information on the physiological basis that is thought to be a factor in these matters.

Although it didn’t seem to delve too deeply into what to do as an adult if you have this personality trait – despite all the ballyhoo, I didn’t emerge with a clear sense of pride or empowerment – the author does offer some practical suggestions into the parenting of an introverted child. Such as the suggestion not to label the child with a stigmatic prognosis of ‘shyness’.

This is a book that should pique your interest and lead to further reading.

Hippie Trail

4 out of 5 stars

Well, okay. I was a little disappointed at first. Truth be told, I was looking for stories of drug-taking and depravity.

[It did lead me to further research into the hippie phenomenon, in other books. The result? I was already familiar with most of that stuff! It’s been exhaustively documented, championed, mystified and rehashed.

And it led me to one telling anecdote of sexism I found on the internet. It made me wonder how much of that got glossed over. A lot, I suspect. (See the comments at:… )

Then there was the amusing anecdote of Allen Ginsberg’s participation in a leadership meeting of the hippie communes of NYC in the period-piece (1967) ‘The Hippies’ by Joe David Brown.]

Still, this book drew me in. I was rewarded with a thoughtful, insightful analysis of the cultural impact the hippies had on the countries along the ‘Hippie Trail’; indeed, the wider impact of Western mores on these societies. Fascinating, vital and timely – a lot of this history and perspective would’ve been lost, without this book. I think it’s good sociological reportage.

My compliments and thanks to the author for having the courage to address this story without rose-colored glasses.


as seen on my Goodreads review


Patti Smith and Robert Maplethorpe at Coney Island in 1969 – the cover of her autobiographical book “Just Kids”

I was 20 years old when Patti Smith’s album “Horses” came out. If you walked into a hip record store back then and heard that album playing, you knew that the world had made a seismic shift.

Just Kids is the kind of book that is nice to have around. More than a page-turner, it’s the kind of book that’s nice to pick up again, to be once again inspired by. You want to savor it, not try and soak it all up in one go. Patti is detailed about her influences, for example – a nice quality in any biography. Her story is thus imbued with layers of meaning, showing intention.

Yet there is space within it in which to imagine one’s own interpretations. It works very simply – it is good storytelling.

She tells of the close personal, creative and spiritual collaboration she shared with Robert Maplethorpe; of their ongoing dialogue. It was/is timeless. No one can speak of Maplethorpe’s work with more authority – their story seems essentially and inextricably linked.

It is at times a very plain, simple story of poverty and struggling to get by. Humble, waif-like beginnings, humility; and deep within the core of that, an essential understanding, confidence and belief in one’s self.

Simple, aesthetic pleasures – aren’t they the best kind? Choices had to be made about money: food or art materials?

Holding struggle sacred, as a part of artistic process; or alternatively, simply stating the reality of the way that it was. She makes that kind of commitment to art seem attractive and noble.

The value of having a muse, of collaboration. One is struck by the belief that they had in themselves, and in each other; how their combined vision gave them strength and maturity.

Contrasted with this was their unique position within the eye of a dizzyingly glamorous, historic cultural  and artistic milieu – New York in a time of incredible ferment. The Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, the Andy Warhol scene; CBGB’s, punk rock, new wave, rock ‘n roll, poetry, art – they were there at the center of it all, participants. There was a change occurring in human consciousness…

She doesn’t candy coat or glamorize anything. She doesn’t need to – she was there. I liked her everyman/common man sensibility.

I like her perception and insight into Robert Maplethorpe’s early work – how it portrayed male gay sexuality in an entirely new aesthetic – with a simple, factual plain dignity.

Her narrative voice – her eye for detail, the movement of time and discernment of what’s important – makes herstory engaging.  She shares her artistic process and struggles. One gets a sense of integrity, spirituality and honor. It’s nice to learn the many sources of her inspiration and vision.

As autobiographies go – indeed, biographies – this one is a gem. It is good that she’s been able to share this story with us. It’s not something that’s easy to do. It takes a big heart – love, understanding and wisdom.


I really enjoyed this book. I was reading it at one point in a waiting room and started laughing so hard that I had to put it down.

His writes about the realities of prison life – the dangers, the monotony, the grind, the internecine politics – with intelligence, perceptiveness, candor and affection.

In his two years as a prison librarian and creative writing teacher, Avi Steinberg became much more enmeshed in the lives of the inmates than one might suspect. It’s poignant and revealing to learn about the sad, victimized lives that unfolded before him as he strived to make a difference. Seemingly, the crushing inertia within society that faces so many of the people therein is virtually insurmountable.

I also particularly enjoyed reading about his Jewish cultural background. I learned something, was touched and enlightened by what he shared.

The book cover – quite an interesting photo. BURROUGHS: “Now, the photograph, that was a picture taken in black and white of Pima Indians, taken about 1884. Photographer unknown — at least not credited. From the archives of the Colorado Historical Society. We tinted it. It’s a very good picture and I’m surprised it doesn’t have a credit. Whoever it was, the picture is very carefully posed.” [Burroughs quote from Reality Studio, A William S. Burroughs Community ]

In December 1984, the ship I was working on had a brief stopover in Seattle and I received a first edition hardback copy of this book as an early Christmas present.

Soon back at sea again, I was alone in my cabin somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when I read this passage on page 246:

“What’s the date?” Kim asks.

“December 23, 1984”

“I could have sworn it was the twenty-second… So what exactly are we doing here?”

It was that date exactly when I read the words. It was a powerful moment. I was stunned. It was magical.

I wrote a critique of the book and sent it with a photo to be autographed by Burroughs, which he did and returned to me.

This is one of my favorite books by Burroughs. His evocation of place, in little details; his ear for local dialect – particularly the Midwest; his depiction of the everyday interactions of  a real relationship; his combination of straight narrative with the fantastical, science fiction; his sense of humor; his social commentary – this is one of the real heights of his art, for me.

In another passage, Kim sings this little ditty:

“Possum ain’t far

Thar he are, thar….”

This is part of one of Burroughs’ hilarious “routines”, little skits in his  conversation, writing and spoken word performances.

He incorporates his comprehensive knowledge and love of gun lore and creates a new, much more interesting vision of what the Old West was really like. He presaged by many years the sort of realism and humanity that “Brokeback Mountain” brought into the cultural vernacular.

I think Burroughs had started to mellow at this point. The hellish nightmare world of his drug addiction and the stifling mind control of the Fifties were no longer in such heavy play. He was older and wiser. He was starting to settle more comfortably in his achievements –  in the recognition of his revolutionary, groundbreaking body of work. He’d lived through some heavy times and had been one of the most important players.

The playfulness of his routines show the maturing of his art that he’d achieved. Everything was still inevitably gross-out humor. It was just… a little more tolerable, lol. And in reality, life is full of characters whose perversity is merely another facet of their persona, their essence. It’s an honest perverseness – compared to the moneyed class, corporate interests and warmongers that are presently destroying our society.

Recommended reading:

The Letters of William Burroughs: 1945-1959″.  This is the source for those interested in Burroughs’ biography. He urges Ginsberg to accept his queerness; chiding him, almost as you would a child. He writes about the depravity, the hellishness of his addiction – it borders on the unreal.

Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs“. A good biography. It often draws verbatim from his letters, which were subsequently published.

And do check out this video: William S. Burroughs, A Man Within (2011.) If you’re a Burroughs fan; if you wonder what all the hoopla is about, his place in literature, the arts, sociology, etc, check it out. It was lovingly created by the director with contributions from those that knew him, loved him and have great insight into his psyche, etc. I had to watch it a second time. For me, having had a long time interest, I find that this video is full of epiphanies and insight about the man.

This is a copy of the critique that I sent him. He sent me back the autographed photo I had sent him (below)

Burroughs’ autograph – I cut this picture from a poster advertising the then-named Naropa Institute’s 1984 curriculum. He wrote, “For Joe Hancock, all be best, William S. Burroughs”

the reverse side of photo, showing some of the teachers – quite a faculty!

This one’s sort of journal-y; wanting to remember some special thoughts, moments, feelings, etc.


more, better, less

control, failure, bless

mental rental chest

over yonder crest


babbling stream,

cold and steam

giant sunshine

snowflakes gleam


carny corny looks

baling wire, books

hanker hinder roads

linger longer loads


children older grow

midnight rooster crows

sleepless, senseless flukes

golden dreams of midnight jukes


where the images came from:

I was plagued by this damn rooster that one of my neighbors has, crowing all hours of the night and day. I live in a residential neighborhood and don’t understand how some people can be so unconcerned about others’ welfare . It was totally messing with my sleep. I was wondering what was to become of me; wondering how anyone else was able to sleep… and how they were able to put up with it!

While working outside one day, I saw some huge snowflakes falling on a sunny afternoon, as steam rose all around. I wanted to etch down the beauty of the moment.

A friend was staying with me, whom had recently returned to Seattle after living in Oklahoma. He could put on the most charming, hilarious “dumb hick” accent or drawl to emphasize a point. It was genius.

I was thinking about my own Midwest roots. I’d recently read some books about the Beat Writers and was longing for a trip out “on the road”. I was feeling stuck in one place and wondering what I should do with all my books – as a possible first step toward the footloose.

Finally, I’d been enjoying the music of Little Walter, who famously had a hit song called “Juke”.

“Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair In Letters” by Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson. A good book. I love her narrative writing style and her kindly thoughts about Kerouac. I also enjoyed her book “Minor Characters”.

“Women of the Beat generation : The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution” by Brenda Knight. Another recommended book!

“Little Walter, His Best: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection”.                                                      

Little Walter was one of the first harp players to go “electric”, using a hand held mike plugged into an amplifier. He overdrove the microphone and the amp, creating new musical tonalities from the resultant distortion. It gave him a fat harp tone that he called his “Mississippi Saxophone.”

He recorded with Muddy Waters and under his own name. He’s depicted in the film “Cadillac Records” (about the Chess Record Company) as quite a colorful character – shooting another harpist that usurped his name!

Eric Clapton in his autobiography says that he was his “favorite harmonica player”; “one of the most soulful singers I have ever heard”; and cites him near the top of his list of musical heroes and inspirations.

He was inducted into the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, making him the first and only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player.

Personally, I think the harmonica is one of the most under-rated musical instruments. Its textures have added so much to the music I love.


·   See article on Little Walter in Wikipedia here

·   Another article about Little Walter, with further links and some songs

·   Other Blues Harmonica Legends 

A lot of people visit my blog while searching the web for links to Little Walter. So if you enjoyed what you read here, or have other interesting stories, please leave a comment!

Nelson Algren’s Chicago” by the photographer Art Shay

I borrowed this book from the Seattle Public Library. Nelson Algren wrote “A Walk On the Wild Side” and “The Man With the Golden Arm”.

Algren reveled in the seamy side: the underdogs, the cast-offs, the rejects, the unwanted, the poor, the dispossessed, etc.  Algren led the photographer through the Chicago that he frequented, commenting on various locations and the denizens. Like the great photographs of the Depression era, these photographs evoke people’s humanity. Like Algren’s writing, they portray humanity in all its glorious vagaries.

I love stuff like this, am inspired by it. This is social commentary at its finest.

The photographer has a new book out entitled “Chicago’s Nelson Algren”. I imagine it also would be very good.

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