Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Night at the Cedar Tavern with Tom

I had the honor to read at the closing of the Tom Schultz art exhibit at Art Space 712 in San Francisco on Sunday 16. I met Tom in his studio the day before but was introduced to him via speaker phone several nights before that, as he rambled in conversation with Bobby Coleman. It was a privilege to pen this work! Art and revolution, yeah. It was also an honor to read on the same bill with Jack Hirschman, Agneta Falk, and Bobby Coleman with great sax playing by George Long.


The activity of the artist makes him less socially conditioned and more human. It is then that he is disposed to revolution. Society stands against anarchy; the artist stands for the human against society; society therefore treats him as an anarchist.
                                            Robert Motherwell, “Beyond the Aesthetics”
                                            Design 47, no 8, April 1946, pp. 38-39

Hearing your voice on speaker phone I can imagine
nights in Manhattan at the Cedar, 24 University Place,
in the decade leading up to my birth in that same city
where O’Hara wrote: the tough Rocky’s eaves/ hit the sea”—
the talk of de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell, Reinhardt, Rothko,
Pollack and you too, Tom, hunkering down at the bar
after hitting your canvas straight on all day to furious strains
of bebop: Monk, Mingus, Coltrane. Your idiom takes me back
to my father’s era like the word “joint” for a place to go and be,
as The Cedar gave space to voice visions, radical and free, breaking
through the figurative boundaries of what there was to say,
and how to say it with colors, shapes, gestures, words, rhythms . . .
A communal room of painters and poets, a watering hole
where gathered all the great art animals after solitude in the studio
roaming the wild savannas of abstract expression—
            there were cheap drinks, no tourists or middle-class squares.

If only all the history in those walls of the bar could have been recorded,
before the building was demolished, in that neighborhood downmarket
and dangerous in those days two months before I was born uptown
to never know any of it until now—nearly 50 years later on the West coast—
through you Tom, a true artist to have survived unwavering in your art,
                                    “unconquered by stone, by glass, by greed, by madness..”

I hear your rolling banter with Bobby, who gently urges you on
as you talk while eating and drinking with the unrestrained gusto
of an older man, a gutsy guy with soul, who has lived through whatever
one needs to do to stay inspired, reinventing everyday—revelations
revealed in the process itself. You ramble through your memories
while never losing sight of what it is you believe in now:
            “Americans are dumb about what our own government does.
            We need a 3rd party, we shouldn’t give it up we should do
            everything we can. We’ve killed a million people in Iraq.
            Afghanistan is the longest war ever for this country.
            The president after World War II warned us, he warned us Bobby,
            mother fuckers making money off of killing people,
            you know what I mean?”
You flow on, and I can almost hear lines of Micheline.
                                    All people are enslaved
                                    I tell you
                                    I tell you
                                    in these modern times
            “It’s a war machine,”
                                    the people are so nervous
                                    the people are so ill at ease
                                    in these modern times
            “a war machine, Bobby . . . you know what I mean?”
                                    people don’t believe

You take another bite, a swig and chew while Bobby gives me a knowing glance,
            “Were there,” he asks, a playful grin coming over him,
            “any women on the scene?” I sit on the couch, knitting a scarf by his side.
            “Yes and no,” you say, your mouth still full of food, “no . . . really,
            it was mostly macho dudes, but Elaine de Kooning was there, she was tough.
            You had to be tough . . . yeah.”

And Bobby looks at me again while I think that even if I had been born on time
I would not have made the cut, to be tough enough for such a raw, historic happening.
All the smoking and drinking, Kerouac pissing in ashtrays, Pollack kicking in doors,
all the crazy carousing . . . and so I want to thank you Tom, for unknowingly giving me
one night in the bar with all the vivid, spontaneous boys, an evening stretched large
on the canvas of time still alive in you who does not linger in the past
but keeps on defying the sickening system of complacency—
                                                                                    a truth seer through all the lies.

The making of art is an anarchist’s act, diving into the unknown each day,
a bold-stroked image of the seeking soul, defeating the machine
with human abstractions of passion.
                                                Yeah, Tom, we know what you mean.


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