The Autumn Kid

Thanksgiving Bulletin Board

Inspired by my prolific friend Tim Gilmore, I decided to write something about my childhood. While my novel Tamper included some semi-autobiographical chapters, this is all new and all true:

I’ve been trying to erase the line between science and mysticism since I was a child, even if I couldn’t put it into words. Some people say that every moment in time is happening simultaneously. I tend to believe it.   

There are golden childhood moments that have stayed with me all my life. I don’t think about them every day, but when prompted by a certain sight, sound, place, or something I eat or drink, they are happening again, right now.

Second grade. Autumn. Paper cutouts of Pilgrims and Native Americans encounter each other on  the classroom bulletin board. Black hats, big buckles, headdresses, moccasins.  The Mayflower in the harbor. Pumpkins, corn, apples, and pears overflow from a “horn of plenty” basket known as a cornucopia. The weather is crisp and chilly in Virginia. The teacher had read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to us, just before Halloween. She told us about the Salem witch trials. It was all still fresh in my mind. To this day, I like reading about ghosts and witches, real or imagined (is there a difference?).   

Sitting at our second grade desks, we write our names on the top line of the paper, and under the name, we copy the date from the chalkboard. November 5, 1962. I remember doing this in the first grade. A pattern forms in my mind, and life is good. I have risen above babies and kindergartners because, after only two years in elementary school, I have grasped the reliable, inexorable logic of calendars. Things gel fast when you’re a kid. This world of Halloween-tinged constancy is one of my golden moments. When I feel the glow now, as an adult, would a scientist say it is only a surge of serotonin or endorphin that approximates my second grade epiphany?

 I didn’t expect it to ever change. I looked forward to future events, like Christmas and summer vacation, until at some point, I must have felt change at a subconscious level. On the playground, I stood too close to a little girl in a swing. The corner of the swing cut my forehead. My invincible forehead healed, leaving a tiny scar, which I thought looked cool, like I was a tough guy. But when I saw creases in an old person’s face, I thought, that won’t happen to me for an eternity. By the seventh grade, the decay of autumn lurked mysteriously in my soul like a guilty pleasure, but also, on a distant horizon, a scary realization, fear diminished by the hubris of youth.

My mother has an old black and white photo of my friend Russell Board and me pretending to be super heroes, wearing towels for capes. We look a lot sillier than we thought we did at the time. I was five years old and Russell was six. He was very smart and I looked up to him, listened to him. As we got older, comic books taught us a lot about science. Metamorpho, the Element Man, introduced by DC comics in 1964, could shape-shift into any element or combination of elements. We learned that iron and carbon were elements that, when combined into an alloy, make steel, because Metamorpho explained it when turned his fists into steel to fight a robot.  The Flash, another DC hero, could pass through solid matter by vibrating his molecules at super speed, to slide around the molecules in the wall. Even though this was not possible in real life, it helped us understand the nature of atomic particles.  

Then one day I was in the front yard of my house with my younger brother Jeff and his friend Dennis. We were pretending to be super heroes, pretending to fly. I was their leader. With our arms stretched forward, we ran, pretending to fly, making whooshing sounds like the wind in the Superman TV show. Russell Board rolled into view on his bicycle, on the street in front of my house, and we ran to meet  him as he slowed down. “You wanna play super heroes with us?” I asked, and he said, thoughtfully and mildly, “Mmm…I guess not.” I was embarrassed. Russell was not judgmental about it. He did not look down derisively at me. But he had outgrown it and I felt suddenly so embarrassed for still playing like a little kid. It was a turning point in my life. I don’t know about Russell, but I didn’t want to let go of the past. I wasn’t ready. Some days, in some ways, I’m still not ready. But there would be other golden moments.

To be continued…

Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick: Contrast and Compare

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

 

This essay by Gary Westfahl first appeared on Locus Online March 1, 2005.

Here are some excerpts:

Of course, one can readily epitomize the ways in which these authors are significantly different . . .  the characters that most interest them stand at opposite ends of the social spectrum . . . As Karl Marx would sum things up, Heinlein identifies with the aristocracy, Simak with the bourgeoisie, and Dick with the proletariat. More prosaically, the Heinlein Hero owns the office building; the Simak Hero runs a nice little shop on its ground level; and the Dick Hero sweeps his floors every night.

and

. . . it is not surprising that the polarizing changes in America during the 1960s moved Heinlein and Dick to opposite ends of the political spectrum. Heinlein, horrified by the counterculture and everything it represented, hardened into a bitter reactionary, eventually endorsing (in To Sail Beyond the Sunset) a longed-for President Patton’s policy of shooting drug dealers on sight. Dick embraced the counterculture, freely experimented with drugs, and announced a fervent admiration for young Americans and their liberal, liberating philosophies. For that reason, when commentators discuss the time when Heinlein happily purchased a new typewriter for a temporarily down-and-out Dick, this is presented as evidence of Heinlein’s amazingly generous spirit, his willingness to help individuals in need even if they were people he otherwise had reason to abhor.

I respectfully disagree. I think that Heinlein gave Dick a typewriter because he could recognize a soul brother when he saw one. And I would argue that, when one considers the qualities that made those writers great, the qualities that distinguish the wondrous novels and stories written in the first two decades of their careers, one must conclude that they are, in fundamental ways, exactly the same sort of writer.

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A Writing Binge at the Malting House

Dylan Thomas and John Davenport The Death of the Kings Canary

Another home run from Wormwoodiana!

Here are some quotes:

In ‘The Malting House Summer’ (The New Review, Vol. 3, No. 31, October 1976), Diana Davenport recalled the place: “The Malting House still retains an air of legend: a tall, Provencal-looking building, flat against the main street, its putty-coloured wash peeling, lower windows shuttered, door ever-open.” Within, there were rooms that the Dylan Thomas party had named The Pub Room and The Music Room, and a study where Thomas and Davenport worked each morning at their book.

and

Thomas stayed with Davenport at The Malting House in the Summer of 1940, along with a spasmodic company of composers, musicians, artists and other writers. Here they spent some months in louche living.

. . . Thomas and Davenport writing alternate chapters, or possibly alternative sentences, or simply working together in some wayward, improvised duet of their own devising. They each appeared in the book, too, growing larger in it as it progressed, John Davenport as Tom Asgard, and Dylan Thomas as Owen Tudor.

Read entire article at Wormwoodiana

 

 

Dead Men Naked, Book Review

Image

Dead Men Naked by Dario Cannizzaro

Dead Men Naked, a novel by Dario Cannizzaro

Review by Bill Ectric

Dead Men Naked  is the best novel I’ve read in while, satisfying to the end. All too often, books with supernatural overtones veer into preposterous territory, but not this one. Author Dario Cannizzaro achieves a near-perfect balance of realism and phantasm, humor and melancholy, the familiar and the uncanny. It is an incredibly fun read about soul mates, tequila, occult incantations, death, and visions of a giant crow. The somewhat flippant title derives from a poem by Dylan Thomas called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and, indeed, there are people in Dead Men Naked who seek passage beyond death’s veil. Cannizzaro says on his website that while writing this book, he “pestered people with talks about religion, philosophy, death for an incredible amount of time.”

To get an idea of his background, consider this quote from an article Cannizzaro wrote for The Galway Review in 2016. The author talks about skipping school with his friends at age 15 while living in in Italy:

We would go in the city center of Pozzuoli, and hide into a dark alley. In the alley there was a tattoo joint, a hearing aid shop, and a very small library, called Il Nome della Rosa, after Umberto Eco’s book (The Name of the Rose). The owner, Gino, would entertain his guests with delicious comments about books, poetry, literature. It wasn’t long before we started spending our mornings there, talking with Gino and drinking Espresso, while watching the whirlwind of customers – lost souls on the lookout for human connection – writers, poets, mothers, sons; fishermen, shop-owners, unemployed hippies – the whole humanity passed in that library, 20 to 30 square meters of enlightened soil, much like the sacred ground of a secret church.

Dead Men Naked reflects that mixture of ancient mystery and youthful curiosity. The main characters, Lou and Mallory, seem like people I would hang out with for pizza and beer, or in Louis’ case, Tequila. He only sees his friend’s ghost while drinking tequila. Tequila has a mystique unlike any of the other major alcoholic beverages. A Huffington Post article presented by Patrón says, “In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were just confusing mezcal with mescaline (the psychoactive alkaloid of peyote” (Huffington Post, Oct 06, 2014). Over the years, Jose Quervo has placed magazine ads that depict deeply surreal colorful sunsets over small gatherings of men and women, smiling as though in states of altered consciousness, with various taglines, including “It’s all true” and “Anything can happen.” Special limited edition bottles display gold and silver mustachioed skulls. One might argue that tequila’s mystique is a fabrication, but after all, most magic is about what one believes to be true. “The universe is what you observe,” the Grim Reaper tells Lou. “Whatever you experience in your life, you experience through your senses.” It’s all real.

We get a hint that maybe Mallory has seen beyond the veil, too. She has a collection of books on the occult and she knows how to use them. Something weird happens, resulting in Mallory’s disappearance. Hoping to find Mal at her sister’s house, Lou goes on a road trip with the Grim Reaper in the passenger seat to keep him company and call the shots. They drive through a noir world of seedy bars until they find Mal’s twin sister, Angie. Death takes either a holiday or a back seat when Angie joins Lou on a ride through the desert to an out-of-the way abandoned house where the girls once lived with their mother. It is on this trip that Lou quotes the Dylan Thomas poem, forming an emotional connection between the two, in which “there was no car, no time, no road…no faith, no evil, no sun, no sea… nothing but the nakedness of the word, sliding from me to her and bouncing back from her eyes.” At the mother’s house, in the basement, they find the books and notebooks evincing an in-depth study of dreams, mythology, religion, and “Old Latin spells mixed up with Caribbean voodoo and African juju.” It gets weirder and better.

There are so many good moments in Dead Men Naked, it’s impossible to discuss them all. Worth mentioning are the beguiling passages about crows in chapter twenty-two. Around the world, crows represent, variously, a trickster, a harbinger of death, a sign of transformation, and depending on what direction they are flying, the imminent approach of either your enemy or your true love. The crows in this chapter punctuate Lou’s action as they gather, squawk, and seemingly mock his angst with gawking, open beaks. It’s a great image and better than I can describe it.

I would like to mention one more thing. Perhaps you’ve heard about writers who don’t use quotation marks. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. When interviewed in 2008 by Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy warns other writers that if they plan to leave out quotation marks, they really need to “write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” I’m here to tell you that Dario Cannizzaro pulls off this feat like an expert. Trust me on this: You will have no trouble understanding who is talking to whom in Dead Men Naked.

I highly recommend this book.

Click here to find Dead Men Naked on Amazon.com

Folk Horror: Films and Music

Witchcraft '70

Thank you, Gary Platt, for posting this link on the M. R. James Appreciation Society’s Facebook page. The link takes us to a blog entry on Bandcamp Daily called A Guide Through the Haunting World of “Folk Horror.”

Folk horror is a contemporary term coined to describe a cultural strand running through film, art, literature, and music. Appropriately though, its origins are as old as the hills. The term appears to have entered the lingua franca in Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss’ 2010 BBC documentary Home Counties Horror, where it was used to describe three British horror films—1968’s Witchfinder General, 1970’s Blood On Satan’s Claw, and 1973’s The Wicker Man. Each of these films posited the English countryside as a place of ancient traditions and malign forces, dangerous to outsiders and the unwary. In his essay “From The Forests, Fields And Furrows,” Andy Paciorek notes folk horror’s proximity to psychogeography, the Situationist concept which draws lines between landscape and the human psyche. In folk horror, evil is stamped into the very soil.

The term “folk horror” might have sprung from cinema, but this is a world from which music and sound is inextricable.

Wood Witch by The Hare and the Moon

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Larry Keenan, Photographer

Photographer Larry Keenan in Washington, DC for the The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery exhibit, "REBELS: Beat Artists and Poets of the 1950s." - Photo by Lisa Keenan

Photographer Larry Keenan in Washington, DC for the The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibit, “REBELS: Beat Artists and Poets of the 1950s.” – Photo by Lisa Keenan

Photographer Larry Keenan was there to chronicle the great transition from the “Beat Generation” to the “Hippie Generation” – taking pictures of artists, musicians, and scene-makers like Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Bob Dylan, Michael McClure, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and more. Many of these photos are in the permanent collection of the Archives of American Artists in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. That’s enough to make me a big fan, but Keenan has done much more.

He is called a “digital pioneer” in the Random House book Digital Photography and has produced a line of Fractal greeting cards. He was featured on the PBS television program Computer Chronicles digitizing and creating the award winning package cover of Deluxe PhotoLab for Electronic Arts using the Amiga 2000 computer system. His photographs are in museums and private collections throughout the world.

Keenan has received numerous awards and his photographs have appeared in ad campaigns, corporate and professional publications, CD and record albums, books, magazines, and software packages. On top of all that, and to my delight, he is friendly and easy to talk to.

Bill Ectric: How old were you when you started taking photographs?

Larry Keenan: I started in the 7th grade. In those days, I wanted to be a cartoonist and/or animator. My grandfather made me an animation box with the back-light, etc. I drew all the frames for my 3-minute movie. I used my parents 8mm movie camera to film each frame. It worked – the film was in real animation. My parents took us to the opening of Disneyland that summer. While we were down there, my dad had a friend who knew guy in Disney’s orchestra. He arranged for me to take a private tour to visit the Disney Studios. There, I met some unhappy animators, who all told me to do something else. They told me that they were all trapped into doing only their specialty, which might be water, clouds, trees, flowers, etc. They told me there was no variety. When I got back home, a painter at my parent’s remodeled kitchen used to work at DC Comics. He was not encouraging either. I needed variety and I already knew what being trapped was like, living at home. I ended up charging my friends a buck a signature and began signing report cards using my animation box. My first still images were underwater photos I shot with a camera I bought and I used an underwater case I had made for it while in the 9th grade.

Bill Ectric: How did you get involved with photographing the beats, hippies, and other counter culture icons?

Photo by Larry Keenan of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco 1965

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg   in San Francisco 1965, photo by Larry Keenan

Larry Keenan: I had Michael McClure for a teacher at California College of Arts and Crafts. After taking a couple of classes with him, I had great respect for his amazing knowledge and intelligence. I was doing a project with a few friends at school and it was going to be published. I got involved with the project because I wanted a real published piece in my portfolio. A lot of the hypothetical crap in everyone’s portfolio at school was pretty bad. Because my parents were against me going to art school (although they supported me in it), I had a real drive to make it, to be the best I could be. I asked Michael to be our faculty sponsor for our project and he said yes. We met at his house in the Haight in 1964. After the meeting, while we were going out Michael asked me if I would like to photograph some of his friends. I asked him who his friends were and he answered with a list that included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kesey, Conner, etc.

Freewheelin Frank of the Hell's Angels and Michael McClure in 1966, photo by Larry Keenan

Freewheelin Frank of the Hell’s Angels and Michael McClure in 1966, photo by Larry Keenan

After we got outside, a friend said “going up.” For the next year or so, I photographed the end of the Beat scene. McClure and Ginsberg gave me the access but my honesty, skill and professionalism kept me in good graces with all concerned. Then the Haight-Ashbury and the hippies came out of the Beat movement, so I was well placed to continue shooting the counter-culture. I caught the cultural transition in photographs and that is my legacy.

Bill: Any particular memories about Ginsberg, Dylan, or anyone from that scene?

Larry: All memories from those days are positive. I was treated with respect by the Beats. They were very nice to me, besides they were receiving mounted 11×14 prints every week. I would go to a party with McClure and people would come up to me and ask who I was. I would tell them I was nobody. To my surprise they would say, “No man, you have to be somebody, you came here with McClure.” My only bad experience was when I was shooting Dylan in the City Lights alley. I brought 2 cameras, one for me, and one for a girlfriend of mine. It is long story but to keep it short, she did not come to the session. In the frenzy of the shoot, with the crowd being kept at bay by Ginsberg, I used the camera I brought for her. It had no film in it (she was going to use her own film). When it seemed as if the end of the roll would never come, I realized there was no film in the camera. It said #40 on the film counter and I knew it should only be #36 if there was film in the camera. The first camera was hurried work because I did not know how long we were going to be able to work with these cats. My best stuff was with the camera without film (when I was calmer).

Members of Sexual Freedom League in the 1960s, photo by Larry Keenan

Larry Keenan photo Sexual Freedom League 2 Members of Sexual Freedom League in the 1960s, photo by Larry Keenan

Bill: I know that Dennis Hopper is into photography, and I know you have taken pictures of him. Has he ever asked you for tips or advice?

Larry: No, he does not need my help. He is a very good photographer and artist.

Bill: This question is off-the-wall, but I’ve always wanted to ask someone who is an expert in the field. I once heard a story about a murder mystery being solved because, while the culprit was in the victim’s room, there was a flash of lightning, which burned a photographic image of the killer onto a mirror in the room. Is that possible?

Larry: It really depends on what the image looks like. Anything is possible and I share the same philosophy as Marilyn Monroe. We believe a little in everything.

Bill: I think it’s fascinating how physics and math is intertwined with nature and aesthetics. Like the Fibonacci number and all. Would you mind talking about that briefly?

Larry: I love the fact that art and science go hand in hand. I like how Fibonacci’s number string seems to hit the number of flower petals at least up to 233 or so. Number sequences do not do it for me. Personally, I like how M.C. Escher has worked his art out mathematically. Even more abstract and beautiful are the fractal geometric equations by professors Benoit Mandlebrot and Gaston Julia. The first time I saw a Mandlebrot I recognized it as a primal image. I feel most art is dicks and pussies anyway, so I was not surprised. I have attached two examples each of my Mandlebrot and Julia pieces that I have created in the computer and incorporated into my work. I really loved messing with their calculations to come up with my own work using their math. I did this work on an Amiga 1000 computer in 8 bit.

Shiva (Raven) photo by Larry Keenan

Shiva (Raven) photo by Larry Keenan

Timothy Leary photo by Larry Keenan

Timothy Leary photo by Larry Keenan

Bill: I read that you have a line of fractal postcards. Can you explain what fractal means?

Spiral Jetty Galaxies by Larry Keenan

Spiral Jetty Galaxies, a fractal by Larry Keenan

Larry: Fractal geometry (also known as the Chaos Theory) describes the marks and trails left after chaotic activity that do not vary under different magnifications. Examples of these patterns are all around us, from snowflakes, trees, and landscapes to spiral galaxies and their distribution throughout the universe. I have also attached 2 examples to show scenes I created using fractal geometry in 1991 with 8 bit low-res Amiga system.

Zone Between the Zone, fractal by Larry Keenan

Zone Between the Zone, fractal by Larry Keenan

Origami Birds Flying by Larry Keenan

Origami Birds Flying by Larry Keenan

Nebula Plateau by Larry Keenan

Nebula Plateau by Larry Keenan

Bill: Do you still teach photography?

Larry: Not formally, but I still keep my hand in. I teach a class in pinhole photography in every school my daughter Chelsea has attended (every year). I mentor a couple of artists. One especially is flat-out amazing. Klaus Lange. He is a chef by profession who now works on a pilot ship (as a chef) in the ocean just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. He does excellent impressionistic work with his digital camera shooting the sides of ships. Amazing abstract images. I think his work is way better than Aaron Siskind’s stuff. Type his name into Google to see his work. I would like to teach again, part-time, but I have Parkinson’s. My handwriting is gone and my speech is iffy, although I have recently completed a speech therapy program. I learn a lot by teaching and I miss it.

Bill: Would you care to talk about the Parkinson’s disease?

Larry: So far, my handwriting is gone, my work has not been affected except when I write down phone message, write a check, sign a print, autograph one of my books or write on the back of a print to someone. It has become so small and jagged that I cannot read it. Going on location has become difficult because of all the equipment. I cannot walk backwards easily (pulling a hand truck, etc.) and I have much difficulty going through doors/doorways because I can fall. I take Parkinson’s medicine for the shake and for balance, walking, drooling, etc. I am in 3 studies to help find out how we got this disease. My speech was a real mess, too soft and hard to say words, slurred speech, etc. I found a speech therapist who specializes in Parkinson’s patients. With Parkinson’s, every day is different (I never know when I get up if I can walk or talk). I am also involved in physical therapy 3 days a week. So far my limbs can move just fine, no stiffness. I am not on disability because I love my work and will continue as long as I can. As my former grandfather-in-law used to warn, “try not to get old.”

Bill: Is light a particle or a wave?

Larry: I think it is a wave of particles. All I know is that when I am shooting, I think of light as water. It helps me think of it in real physical terms because of the complexity in lighting a set.

Bill: Is jazz musician David Amram a particle or a wave?

Larry: He is a laser, a coherent light source. David is a genius, an amazing cat. He is very generous with his time talking to young and old alike.

David Amram, photograhed by Larry Keenan

Bill: Do you think digital photography will ever replace film?

Larry: I think film is already out, especially in the smaller formats. I have not shot a film job in over two years. I look back on my work and the best reproduced jobs I have seen are from digital files.

Bill: Where do you live?

Larry: Emeryville, California.

Bill: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a professional photographer?

Larry: Go to Art school, learn to draw, sculpt and paint. Take psychology, philosophy, portfolio and business classes. Make the computer your friend. Photoshop classes are a real must. No one asks you if you are any good at Photoshop, they ask how long you have been doing it. Like drawing, it is mileage with the pencil. So, put miles on the mouse. Assist a working pro that you respect. Be social, this is where I failed. My special effects projects took so much of my time that I had to do them between marriages. The projects cost me friends because I was working day and night, weekends too.

Bill: That also sounds some excellent advice. Thank you. Larry, you’ve been very generous with your time, answering these questions. I want to say again how much I enjoy your work, both the early stuff and the new. I’m anxious to see what you do next!

AL Letson, Penumbra: Live at Henrietta’s at 9th & Main, Jacksonville, FL (2005)

Al Letson, photo by Billie Anderson

Al Letson is a poet, playwright, performer, and radio and podcast host. This article first appeared on Bill Ectric’s Place in June 2005. Since that time, Letson has hosted and produced the show State of the Re:Union for National Public Radio. He now hosts Reveal, a podcast from PRX and Center for Investigative Reporting.

Top photo by Billie Anderson. Text and other photos by Bill Ectric. Except for the one of Al and me. Does anyone out there know who took that one?

For dedication to his craft, innate talent, and hard work, Al Letson deserves the title of consummate professional, and I don’t use those words lightly. His delivery is precise, the emotion is fresh – Letson never seems to be on autopilot.

“Penumbra,” Letson explained to a full house, means basically “in between.” This night consisted of a mixture of poems and performance pieces that he has done in the past from different shows, as a kind of pause before he begins to put out new work, and to introduce himself to those who have not yet seen him.

Al Letson with Drummers

Al Letson with Drummers

Letson’s live performance, which began at 9:00 PM, was a diverse and exhilarating selection of poetry, acting, and monologue, sometimes accompanied by three percussionists near the stage. Interspersed among the live performances were two of Letson’s videos on a large screen backdrop. I believe we will see more poetry & spoken word videos and Al Letson is already helping to set the standard. Following an intermission, we all reconvened in the theater for a big screen viewing of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam – the 2nd episode of the season, featuring our man Al Letson as the first guest! He had recently taped the episode and this night was the first time he, or anyone had seen it.

My favorite piece of the evening was called “Eunice.” It’s about a young black girl, a child in 1943, playing her first piano recital after much practice. During the recital she is distracted by a disturbance in the audience. Her parents are being told to move to the back of the room to make room for a white couple. Through this debacle she must keep playing, as her father mouths the words to her, “you know what you suppose to do.” Near the end of the poem we find out that this is a true story and the young girl, Eunice Kathleen Waymon, later changed her name to become famous as the great Nina Simone.

When he wasn’t on stage, Letson was in great demand by fans, friends, reporters, and members of his crew, so I mostly had to ask him questions on the fly. “Who did your videos?” I asked him. “I do most of my own video work,” he said. “The two you saw tonight were filmed by Don Solomon from Jacksonville Beach, but I do all my own editing and effects. I know quite a lot about video production and I enjoy doing it.”

We watched a short film by Letson

Watching one of Al’s videos

I said that I could easily see him acting in films. Someone spoke up and said, “He writes good plays. One of his plays will be on Broadway someday!”

Al Letson and Bill Ectric

Al and me

I asked him, “If you could travel into the past, what historical figure would you like to meet?” As he thought about my question, a young woman approached us, saying, “Al, we need you backstage for a minute.” Turning to me, Letson said, “Excuse me, I need to see what they need,” but as he walked away with the lady, he looked back at me thoughtfully and said, “Kennedy.”

Watching an episode of Russell Simmons Def Poetry featuring Al Letson

Watching an episode of Russell Simmons Def Poetry featuring Al Letson

We got a special treat before watching Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry. Because of last minute complications, the local cable company refused to hook up HBO directly to the club (typical), so someone had to record the show and bring it to Henrietta’s for viewing. To fill in the time delay, Letson performed an electrifying, beat-filled theater piece from one of his plays, called Griot. He was joined onstage by Larry Knight and David Girard Pugh, two other performers from the play.

Larry Knight, Al Letson, David Girard Pugh performing a scene from Griot

Larry Knight, Al Letson, David Girard Pugh performing a scene from Griot

 

Letson was first up on Def Poetry. You can read more about this performance on Literary Kicks, which is reviewing each episode as they air.