Monday, August 25, 2008

Death Threats

When I exhibited the video art work, "Milk*" at the Detroit Institute of Arts, in 1978, I received death threats. John Neff, the Director of the DIA at the time said that although there was no way to know if those threats were real, it was his job to inform me that the DIA had received them.

I am proud of the work and it still stands up today as a funny commentary on social behavior. I'm also sort of proud that the work moved people to such extremes. It happened again with my play, WINTER. There were two reviews that didn't review the play, they reviewed me, and it's this anti-american sentiment that is driving me away from wanting to continue to work here.

Critics benefit from tearing apart the lives of others. Critics are killers of a what they have not experienced or are not open to experiencing. Those people who support them enjoy a vicarious pleasure in seeing others put down. Negativity, superiority, what's it good for? The same people who are critical of their own country (USA) of being bully's, are bullys themselves as critics. There is a big difference between the artist and the critic. I would have considered a negative review as a possible professional attempt to comment on the play, if it in fact had reviewed the play, which it seems to me should mention something about what a play involves like, the actors, the director, the set design, the lighting, the sound, .... even audience response....

Would a truthful artist spend his/her time tearing apart the work of others? Do mothers send their children to war?

* (Milk went on to receive many awards and is the first video art work from the 70's of a mother expressing her breast milk in a glass and drinking it while discussing breast feeding in public.)

Farwell Party

Saying goodbye at my party to some women who made a difference in my life in Wellington, NZ: (Me), Vlad, Rose and Kazz Funky Blue

Friday, August 22, 2008

Eclipse: a poem & a goodbye to Wellington

when the dark side of the moon
becomes two
they huddle together
and walk toward silence

Once again I am leaving Wellington. This will be the fourth time. Each time I left, I thought I would stay away. But in New York I heard the sea calling me, calling me back. And a man. I thought I would give it another go with the man, and again, and again. But it's not meant to be.

In a few days I go to Ngunguru, to live on the sea once more, Ngunguru is a small seaside town east of Whangarei, a few hours north of Auckland. It will be warmer there. The town has a dairy, a cafe and a real estate office. I'm taking my sketch book, pens and pencils and my new guitar. I gave my Drunk Monologues' guitar to Vlad and then Alfred showed up with a guitar for me. That night -- around 5 a.m. - Leonard called from Detroit.

I was half awake but had to laugh at the synchroncity of the call. The last time I asked the universe for a sign to return to music was in 2005. At the moment I said, okay, if I'm supposed to be making music, send me a sign. The Phone rang and it was Leonard. We had not spoken to each other in 25 years. LPJ was (is) the drummer in The Dangerous Diane Band. We put the band back together and did a kick ass reunion in Detroit.

Leonard Paul Johnson

This second coincidence of Leonard calling me on the night I was given a guitar is too Arthur Koestler to ignore, and so I will play some music in Ngunguru. -- It may be the blues this time.

Photos by Jay Yager, The Dangerous Diane Band Reunion Gig, Detroit 2005

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


The original oil painting in WINTER is by Kazz Funky Blue. Here's a better photo of it to satisfy those of you who said they wanted to see it up close.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

TORN WINTER: A story w/pic Ch Two

Torn Winter
Chapter Two: opening tease:
"I was at the theatre, but I can't say exactly what happened. The police have put a zipper on it. I don't think Blandhurst deserved to die...."

Note to my blog readers: I have had to remove my entries for "Torn Winter" due to bizarre events (which will be written in chapter 3) and a bidding war for this story. Eventually there will be a book under a pseudonym. It seems that my story about a writer killing critics is hot. But, let's remember critics are people too, somewhere bellow serial killer but above pedophile. We can only hope that someday their brain will go through a high powered car wash and re-adjust the importance of their left brain. In the meantime, send me an email if you want to read future chapters......

I went for a walk to calm my senses. Came across this idyllic scene, until you look closer in the lower right hand corner. It tears you apart but it's the real world. be continued....

Review in Salient

Jackson Coe in Salient says WINTER is ....

" invocation of absurdist influences such as Beckett and Ionesco....." AND,

"Winter is like an absurdist comedy, teetering between reality and a world of dreams and fantasies. If anything, it’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only one who finds the difference between the two foggy at times."

check out entire review at

Monday, August 11, 2008

WINTER the final show

Photo by Tommaso Barsali

Melissa Billington & Nigel Edgecombe.

Winter closed at BATS Theatre on 9th August. Directed by Sally Richards, it enjoyed a very powerful run with audience members praising the production as one of the most poetic dramas ever. Despite some critics who just didn't get it, and failed to mention it's humour and dark story, -- (as well as the original music, set design, direction, lighting and other elements that are relevant to a live theatre work) -- the BATS audience loved it. Winter was about being the other in a foreign land; how we see others different from ourselves. It asks the universal question, 'how can we expect our world leaders to represent us in peace if we can't find peace in our own homes, in our own hearts?'

In addition to the work of the actors and director, I am grateful to the contributions and work of others who made WINTER a success, including: David Phillips as the lighting designer and operator, Kazz Funky Blue and Anjelica Singer as Co-Stage Managers and Tommaso Barsali as photographer and set helper. They gave their time and input into this production, making the story come to the audience, completing the circle of the first words of the play written in the winter of 2005: "...How was your walk?"

For the record, (since this seemed to be a contention with one critic), the first draft was written in 2005 but many drafts and workshops followed over three years. In 2005 I wrote the first words during the winter while living in Pukerua Bay, on the Kapiti Coast, with my partner. What is fictional and what is autobiographical is deliberately blurred; it's not anyone's business, and more important not relevant to the play, in particular not to critics who speculate about my life which they know nothing about.

Most critics depend on the creativity of artists to write their opinions because they don't have the guts to make art themselves or they make bad art. The late Robert Pincus Witten and (the very much alive) Lucy Lippard are two New York critics I have known personally who in their writing knew how to look at artists' work; they knew that the important thing is to report on what they actually saw, not on what they wish they saw.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Patti Smith Dream of Life REVIEW

RenCen, Downtown Detroit, shot from Canada

"Dream of Life," 2008, a documentary film about Patti Smith by Steven Sebring

"A" took me to see the Patti Smith documentary, "Dream of Life," at the Paramount in Wellington.

The film was shot over an eleven-year period, following Smith from New York to Detroit and around the world.

These are the things I now know about Patti Smith that I didn't know before:

She is a slob
She's still a friend with Sam Shepherd, her lover from the 70's
She eats hamburgers
She looks great at 60 (in 2006)
She wears Prado shoes (purchased at a Duty Free Shop in an Australian airport before entering New Zealand.)

She and Sam Shepard have tattoos from a wild night in New York in the 70's... we saw his tattoo on his hand, but when Patti pulled up her pant leg, the camera did not get a shot of it. (Sam Shepard never succumbed to Hollywood pressure to have perfect teeth.)
She still spits when she performs (At the Allen Ginsberg memorial there was a nasty piece that hung on her lip for a long time. It was like watching a car wreck.)

She adores her children
She's still political, despite eating meat
She loves her mum and dad
Lenny Kaye adores her (Actually I already knew this because I adore Lenny Kaye)
She eats meat (oh I said that.)
She can pee in a bottle on a small plane, while sitting next to the pilot who didn't have a clue -- (although the pilot from that time was not questioned about this.)
She didn't do drugs. (Well maybe she did but the word 'drug' was not in the film -- not even once, which has to be a first in a film about a punk rocker.)
She doesn't do drugs (Although she never said so, but hey, I wanted to know.)

Most of the performance footage in the film was from a concert where she wore a ragged drenched-in-sweat t-shirt. It's riveting. A few years ago I saw Patti Smith perform in Hoboken, New Jersey at a street fare. My daughter and I watched her from the side of the stage where we dodged her flying spits. (Warning, she spits to the left, stage right.) She wore her 'uniform:' white blouse, dark jacket, rolled up pants and heavy boots. There's something beautiful about Smith's choice to deny the male gaze to consume her body parts tightly wrapped by designer names. Her whole body and soul is her music and her poetry; and although the film is fantastic, it's nothing compared to listening to a cranked up CD, or even better, seeing her live.

"Dream of Life" is also the name of an album Smith produced with her husband, Fred Sonic Smith (guitarist from MC5) in Detroit in 1988. It's not my favorite -- Lenny Kaye is not on it, not that he holds a grudge. I met Lenny Kaye at the Knitting Factory in the 80's (when it was on Houston St.) where we shared the stage for an anti-war poetry reading. Lenny read his own poetry and I told him that on that very day I had cleaned the apartment while listening to him play on the album HORSES. He said he missed Patti since she moved to Detroit but that she was still the greatest living American poet ever. And then he bought my chapbook, "Vulva Poems." I tried to give it to him but he insisted on paying me the $2.00, which I used to buy a beer. Later I walked down Houston with Kate Millett, who was also a powerful reader that night.

A different review of this film can be seen at New Zealand's number one on-line publicaiton about theatre and the arts: Although I gotta laugh at their title: "Poet Princess: Patti Smith" Princess? For the godmother of punk? The godfather of punk of course is Iggy Pop who is from Detroit, and Smith left New York in the 80's to live in Detroit for 16 years. Detroit has spitted out some great talent from Motown to punk and it is still going.
RenCen, Detroit, Michigan
 as seen from Windsor, Ontario, my birthplace

Monday, August 04, 2008

Torn WINTER: A story with pictures Chapter One

Torn Winter
Chapter One

I spotted the poster as I walked on Lambton Quay near the railroad station. I ran across the street and looked at it up close. Another WINTER poster torn, hanging for dear life while other posters hung strong on the Kiosk, glad that it wasn't them. I examined the tear, it was fresh. A young man on a skateboard skidded at my heels. He pulled his headphones from his ears but I could still hear the familiar sounds of The Phoenix Foundation crackling in the earpieces.

I saw who did it, he said.
Did you get a good look at him?
Yeah, he was bald, old, fat. But so is my Dad and my Dad didn't do it.

He skated off, turned, and looked over his shoulder at me, without slowing down his rhythm. There was something about his look, something familiar. He caught my eye, turned on a dime, flipped the board, and skated back to me. "Oh, one more thing," he hesitated but then quickly said, "I don't know if it's helpful because I hear it all the time from my Dad's mates."

What is it I asked, trying not to look too hopeful.
He mumbled something under his breath when he ripped it.
Could you hear what it was?
What did he say?
He said, Bloody American cunt*.

It felt like someone punched me. The young man smiled with his lips pressed tightly together. He jumped on his board, said cheers and skated away towards the harbour. I I took a picture of the poster on the kiosk and walked to Newtown. When I got to the shops I felt a coffee jones coming on and stopped at the People's Cafe, even though I couldn't afford the $3 for a flat white. I sat outside next to a table with six cab drivers from Africa and listened to them talk about home. I studied the photo in my camera. I took out my journal and wrote, 'Bloody American Cu*t. Next to it I wrote three words: Old. Bald. Fat. Was there a connection? The young man said his Dad was old, fat and bald, but he didn't do it. Was that the clue? If it wasn't his Dad, could it be someone else's father? A priest? Or a monk? Was there a religious connection? Or was he an ordinary man. be continued....

*Note: I did not say cu*t. My character says it because a NZ writer recently said this word is now cool, that everyone said it, that it's so yesterday to be offended by it. So I thought I would put the word in a Kiwi mouth. I have never used the word in my writing before. I still think it's offensive, and so does the narrator, (which is why I, the writer, and the narrator both say cu*t; but the character says 'cunt.')

Winter with Kazz Funky Blue painting

Painting on the right: The original oil painting in the play, WINTER, was generously donated by Kazz Funky Blue, a Newtown artist. It is a tradition in New York to see original works of art in tv shows and films by NY artists. I am very pleased Kazz said yes so we could display this very sensual work of a woman playing a cello. Not just a 'hang on the wall work,' it appears in scene 2 when Crystal's 'stuff' from the U.S. arrives. It's sensual message adds another level to this play with it's underlying sexual theme.

Radio plays "Nothing Changes" Detroit jam version recorded with The Ghost Band in Detroit in the summer of 2006 in LPJ's basement in Royal Oak -- same city Patti Smith and Fred Smith lived in for 16 years until Fred died and Patti moved back to New York with her two children and picked up her career where she left it when she had met Fred and moved to Detroit. Royal Oak is a suburb of Detroit. Great place because Mary and Leonard are there.


Unsolicited texts, emails, and phone calls are coming in after three shows. It is wonderful to have people enjoy WINTER. I will be posting messages from those who have been generous in taking the time to send their thoughts:

"I loved your play. I laughed lots. good messages and really entertaining. Yay 4 u! k8"

"Our American Women's Network had a great evening out. There were 12 of us who attended Opening Night. We really enjoyed the play and seeing the American/Kiwi cultural issues alive on stage. Cheers, J."

"Great piece of writing. M."

"I was so inspired I went home and worked on my own writing. D"

Getting ready for the Olympics

Some of the Chinese community in Wellington, New Zealand had this to say about Helen Clark, the Prime Miniter of New Zealand signing a trade treaty with China.


This theatrical event took place on the back of a flat top truck driving up Willis Street mid day. This bloody scene was acted over and over.

WINTER & Condoleeza Rice

Nigel Edgecombe as Horse
Melissa Billington as Crystal

Condoleeza Rice flew into New Zealand on the 31 July, same day as the premiere of my play, "WINTER". Although I didn't spot her in the theatre, there were twelve women from the American Women in New Zealand Network in the audience waving American Flags. (Who sent an email saying how much fun they had and how fabulous the play was!!) -- Good on ya American Women -- . Perhaps they were hiding Condee because Auckland University's Student Association offered a $5,000 reward for the citizen's arrest of the U.S. Secretary of State. Pressured by the police, the Association withdrew their offer; however on hearing about the withdrawal, Victoria University's Student Association, in Wellington, offered a $10,000 reward.

Within days of the first performance two reviews of WINTER were published, both of which failed to mention how much the audience laughed. I thought perhaps the two middle aged Pakeha (white people for you non-Kiwi readers) men had no sense of humour, but I was wrong. Check out this statement by AUSA President David Do, who issued this statement to the media why the reward was offered for the citizen arrest for Rice:

"It's hard enough living as a student in Auckland these days without having a war criminal coming to town, so we thought we'd give our students a chance to make a dent in their student loans and work for global justice at the same time."

To read more about this event see the Victoria University student magazine salient, at