The Inimitable Barbara Weisberger, t’amo & farewell



She was a ballet dancer, ballet master and visionary, the one George Balanchine chose to be founding artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet. Equally legendary as a gifted teacher and over six decades a dance guru for generations of dancers ~ Barbara Weisberger was an indelible advocate and architect for contemporary ballet in Philadelphia and beyond.

Mrs. Weisberger died on December 23 at the age of 94, but her legacy lives on in the lives of danceartists and dancemakers.


Barbara Weisberger, a Former Balanchine Protégée, Still Champions Ballet -  The New York Times
Barbara Weisberger setting the barre for generations of dancers in studio (courtesy PABallet)

Here are a few personal remembrances of her remarkable legacy and her radiant generosity she extended to everyone who was fortunate enough to know her.

The first time I met Mrs. Weisberger was at the company’s longtime studio home at the Rock School building on Broad & Washington.  It was many years after Barbara had resigned as director and when I saw her coming out of the studio’s office and speaking to the receptionist, I introduced myself, telling her it was a thrill to meet her.  She said something to the effect that she was laughed and said something about being surprised that “anybody remembers me.” Of course the exact opposite was true- who could forget her.

Barbara was not only chosen by George Balanchine to teach Balanchine’s post modern/neoclassicism for his School for American Ballet, when the Ford Foundation underwrote the funding for Balanchine to establish eight regional American companies, he wanted Barbara to establish the Pennsylvania Ballet, citing her not only as a gifted ballet instructor, but trusting her to set the highest artistic classical standard.

Throughout the 60s, Weisberger not only established the Balanchine syllabus, he also gave her license to stage his most popular, and defining ballets.  Barbara’s artistic relationship with the legendary Balanchine started when she was 8, the youngest student in the 30s, when he first emigrated to the US and formed his first company, before establishing New York City Ballet. Weisberger established the training and Balanchine aesthetic, but also championed a new generation of choreographers during the 60s and 70s that was giving PABallet its own distinct artistic identity.

‘Flash forward to 2014, when Angel Corella, current director of PABallet re-established the PAB school, with director Arantxa Ochoa, they gave their first performance at the Annenberg Center. After the student showcase performance of the senior class performed Serenade , scored to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece synphonic and Balanchine’s first ballet made in America. It was full circle moment for Barbara- In the 30s, as he was creating the ballet, Barbara was his youngest student, age 8, sitting under his grand piano watching him choreograph on the dancers and absorbed everything. After the performance Corella came into the audience to talk to Weisberger, later she mentioned to me how thrilled she was to see the school re-established, which was always part of her vision for the company.

~From her creative directorship starting in 1961, to her resignation from the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982, Weisberger made PABallet one of the top ballet companies in the US, setting a high bar of technical artistry for a new generation of dancers. She was candid about the breakup in the New York Times, noting she was forced to resign when the board wanted to diminish her position as artistic director. She also pointed out that that she was running the company, which toured then, with a completely underfunded fiscal budget compared to other ballet companies.

She recalled those events with me in a phone conversation in 2010, without bitterness “When I left Pennsylvania Ballet he called me into his office. It was a terrible time for me and he took my hand and said “no…no…don’t cry. We will start all over again.”

And that she did, if equally meaningful ways as an educator and innovative standard bearer for ballet training locally and nationally. Among her many initiatives, Weisberger created the Carlisle Project for emerging ballet choreographers and was to become a legendary teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Mrs. Weisberger organized an outreach program as a hands-on artistic advisor, commuting back and forth from her home in Kingston, Pa. She developed the program with Carol Bartlett, dean of Peabody Dance at that time. Together they have assembled a network of ballet stars to work with the students.

In 2013 at Peabody Preparatory school in Baltimore, where Weisberger had organized auditions for black and brown youth.  Seeing her in her 80s and moving around the students so nimbly, her style was encouraging and intimate, and you could feel the energy in the room as she worked with these the young men. Seeing her in action was always a distinct privilege and always instructive to dance writers lucky enough to see her in action. She reached out to me to report on this program and I was so honored.  The scholarship program she guided had such an auspicious beginning, that it is receiving Diversity Recognition Award from John Hopkins.

PABallet founder Barbara Weisberger & soloist James Ihde
Barbara Weisberger with Principal dancer James Ihde after his farewell performance in Balanchine’s Diamonds (courtesy PAB)

The last time I saw Barbara was in the lobby of the Academy of Music in 2018, in for Corella’s revival of Balanchine’s Jewels trittico, she was with her daughter and as we greeted each other Barbara said with a huge smile “you know I’m 92 Lew.” and said I could call her anytime (she famously did not use the internet) I had tears in my eyes seeing her back in the Academy, where her company made ballet history for so many years.

I always recorded our conversations, because no matter how granular she was with vivid details of the people, places and events in her years in New York as a dancer, teacher, and in Philadelphia as the founder of Pennsylvania Ballet, she spoke of student dancers, and dance educators with the same passion and commitment to arts education.

Aside from Barbara Weisberger’s knowledge about dance technique, expression and foundational artistry, there was always something more she gave. A personal connection and philosophy that she taught by doing not telling.

Her influence was summed up this week by PABallet principal dancer Jermel Johnson sums it up best as he paid tribute to Barbara on social media this week and expressing what many dancers who has professional and personal relationships with her, in studios and on the dancestage where she nurtured-

Image may contain: 4 people, including Jonathan Stiles, people dancing and people standing
(photo courtesy of Jermel Johnson

A bond few will understand and even fewer will be blessed enough to experience. This is a photo of the incredibly loving and inspiring Barbara Wiesberger and me having a conversation. A conversation without words but with love and the exchange of energy. I feel what she is saying with her heart. And for anyone who doesn’t understand, she is telling me to be strong. To love and respect all the way I was taught. To use that love and respect and joy and pain I feel and put it into my dancing.

Godot revisited or (Well,this is a fine mess…)

W                                                                         D      

       A    T                                                     R          O         H

             I       N                                  O U                  U   G

                  I         G       F  O        Y


A comedy in one reel

By LJWhittington



Setting:  Nola bordello

Enter L&H in ragged suits & bowler

Shambling in under their theme music

Laurel: Boy, that was close!

Hardy: (huffing) You can say that again!

L: Ollie…what do you suppose made them so angry?

H: You have a lot of nerve asking a stupid question like that.

L: Well I was only trying to help.

H: Help….HELP! You almost got us killed.

L: (tearing up)  well…you….yes, but I didn’t.   (long pause) So there!

H: That’s hardly the point is it.

L: Oh. Says you…..well, what is?

H: what is what?

L: the point.

H: (incredulous) offering to hold the bag while those crooks robbed the bank. Indeed.  I have half a mind         to leave you to your own devises. Then you’ll get yours brother!

 L: (taking this in) Well Ollie… you don’t have to be nasty about it. She was an old woman.  What was I supposed to do, she was tipping over. How was I supposed to know it was a stick up?

H:t (shouts) She was holding a rifle.

L: I thought it was a cane. (starts to cry)

H: (exasperated) OHHHHH, just forget it.

L: Anyway, I made a profit because of it. And boy do we need it.

H: (looking around the room, distracted) You what?

L: The old lady slipped me a dollar (holds up the bill). And she said that if I played my cards right there’s more where that came from.

H: (deadly look) Give me that!  It’s just lucky for you I know how to keep my head.  I still don’t know why you were standing in that line anyway. You haven’t got any money in the bank.

L: Do Too!

H: (withering) You most certainly do not. I know everything that you’ve got down to the holes in your pockets and the newspaper headlines in your shoes.

L: Do too Ollie. I’ve got exactly 22 dollars and 78 cents left from the interest left over in my father’s chicken feed stock.

H: (steaming) Stanley, you very well that I take care of all of our finances. Well where is it then? We haven’t eaten in two days for God sake.

L: ( not wanting to tell him) Well, Ollie I don’t have it.

H: Why not?

L: They didn’t give it to me.

H: Why’s that?

L: They don’t have it either.

H: (losing patience) Well—- who—-(shouts) DOES?

L: (plays with his hair) Nobuddy.

H: Just as I thought. Well, what happened?

L: (starts to cry) They told me I lost all of my interest was swallowed up in the crash of 19 hundred and 29.

H: swallowed..

L: Up. Hep. Whole. Gulped was the financial term they used.

H: You mean to tell me you didn’t realize this before now? You imbecile. You half-wit. You, you…

L: pauper?

H: Nincompoop!

L: Well, that not a very nice thing to say Ollie. It’s not my fault I haven’t had time to keep up on all of the economic news

(Laurel smiles & nods a ‘So There’)

H:(deadly, after pause) All the economics news eh! Indeed.

L: Nothing to be done.

H: (fussy) What?

L: There’s nothing to be done about it now.

H: You can say that again.

L: There’s nothing to be done about……

H: (cuts him off, exacting) I heard you muttonhead. You don’t have to repeat it.

L: Well I always like to do what you say Ollie.

H: I know what I said. It was merely a figure of speech. Forget it.

(10 seconds with L&H in private moments, each actor can choose silent characterization)

H: Anyway, we’ve got more important things to worry about now. (Ollie looks around furtively). I wonder where they could be? (to himself) I wish I were alone.

L: What did you say Ollie?

H: I said, I wish I had a loan. I wish someone would lend me some money.

L: So Do I

H: (bugged again) Now what in the world would you do with it?

L: Well, I would start a business.

H: (mocking) Well, what kind of business?

L: A chicken-feed business

H: (just stares at him)

L: My father always said there was a fortune to be made in chicken feed. Feed.

H: Oh he did, did he? Well you don’t, so there isn’t!

L: (hurt but resolute to audience) Well, I can dream can’t I?

H: Not now. We’ve got things to attend to here. I think we must be too early. Perhaps we should have come last night.

L: What for? You still haven’t told me what we’re doing here. Are we waiting for someone?

H: (after a long stare) Do you mind not talking for a while.

L: (casually) Not in the least.

The actors move around the stage. this silent scene an be filled with light physical comedy

Ollie with sneaky curiosity. Stan trying not to be interested.

Stan opens a closet door & finds a robe, he puts it on takes off his bowler and sits in a chair; picks up a book and finds a pipe in the robe pocket, puts it in his mouth and settles in. Ollie has been watching him by now- lurches over him, takes the pipe out of his mouth and swats him with his hat. Stan sits passive, but ends up in tears; but quickly recovers as he smooths out his hair, only to finger it back to a question mark. They stare at each other, then Ollie turns in a huff and rushes off.

L: (addressing him in the wings) Ollie, do you now where we are?

H: (offstage) Well of course I do.

L: Well aren’t you going to tell me? (whispers) bet we’re lost.

H: Are you insinuating that we’ve come to the wrong place?

L: (brave) Well I thought you said this was a cat house?

H: (Icy) It ’tis!

L: Well….where are they?

H: Where are what?

L: The cats!

H: Will you keep your voice down. (whispers) They’re here.

L: Well I haven’t seen them.

H: Well you’ are not suppose to yet.

L: When then?

H: When then what?

L: Am I supposed to see them.

H: (sweaty) after we’ve been introduced. Naturally. They happen to be a very speacial breed. Seen by appointment only. They are always extremely busy.

(uses the Ollie bit with his hands~ the me/you gestures on these lines) And since this your first time, you only get to watch! I’ve me them. YOU have not So….so there!

L: (lost) Watch what Ollie?

H: Us talking. Us waling. Just us. Observe and learn. (gives up). Just remain perfectly still and maybe I’ll introduce you.

L: Oh goody. I’ve never et talking cats before. How big are they? Will I have to bend down or will they jump up?

H: Oh, I’d say they…. How big are what?

L: The cats, what were we just talking about. Seems like they’d be pretty big cats to have a place like this.

H: Well what difference would that make?

L: Because, when we’re introduced should I be standing or should I get on the ground? First impressions are very important, they come in handy later on, especially if the police arrive. Maybe I should just bow.

H: (done in by this) Just stand there like a statue. Don’t move. Not one word. Got it! I will do all of the talking for both of us. Understand? And that is the end of that. (they simultaneous nod their heads- a classic bit)

L: (fidgeting, indicates a thought)

H: What NOW?

L: Would it be allright if I purr? Then at least they would know that I was friendly.

H: (furious) WILL YOU KEEP QUIET! (quietly) Now, how much money have we got?

L: (digs into his pockets and turns all six inside out. Looks puzzled and takes his hat to scratch his head and a billfold drops out. They both bend over to get it and smash heads. They tussle over the money with Ollie taking charge but so distracted that he keeps counting the money but can’t figure out the amount. Finally they say together

L&H: six dollars and 47 cents.

H: That’s impossible.

L: Not it’s not. Count it again.

H: All right. How you managed. Well, I’ll be.

Now, listen, when you see a lady come out from behind that curtain, I want you to pretend that you are my valet and that you have stupidly forgotten to bring my purse with you.

L: Ollie…what’s a val-LET?

H: A servant. A manservant. You’ll be my man after all.

L: Gee Ollie, I didn’t know you felt this way about me.

H: What way?

L: The Piccadilly way.

H: oh, OH,….not a Piccadilly man you fool. A man, not my man. The idea! You’ll be A MAN.

L: (proudly) But I already am.

H: Not that kind of man.

L: Well what kind of man then?

H: The kind of man who keeps his mouth shut! A man that is paid to do his duty, without complaint.

L: Oh, so I get paid then. I didn’t know that I’d be getting paid. Ollie, can I have my money back first?

As Stan says Lucky, in a silk flora wrap strolls onstage. Stan looks blank. Ollie plays with his tie.

LUCKY: (to Laurel) Zoh, you zee von, no? Vell, come vis me.

LUCKY: (barks to Hardy) NO YOU, yes? Get back!

Stan (whispers to Ollie) Is she the cat lover?.

H: (ignoring him) Good evening Madam, we were just about to…KY: Silenceo! I am not madame isch Sera. You, I say come vis me, no. Over here first. Let me look. turn around- valk- look back- turn, shoulder, twillr, deadstare. Think. Gutt. now come vis me., no.

L: (goes past Ollie with a flourish) So there, no!

H: (dodges around stage, finally settles on the chair, impatiently, starts fooling with a book of matches until he burns his fingers) Now where is that numskull. You can’t trust hi to do anyting right. One simple thing I ask him to o and it turns into another disaster.

Laurel enters dressed in 20s flapper drag. No make-up, but a heart shaped beauty mark. He looks confused, but not embarrassed, sashaying a bit. .

H: (incredulous) What are you doing now? Why have you got that absurd outfit on.

L: JWell, Lucky said I wouldn’t look good in the other pink one.

H: You’re going to get us both arrested. Who told you to that on. (Ollie shoves him) What are you trying to do to me.

L: (befuddled) Well, I was only trying to do what I was told. I don’t know. They told me to put this on and to wait outside with the other girls and to not speak till I’m spoken to and to get rid of the fat one in the parlor, but get your money back first, if I know what good for me if I want to keep my job here.

H:(offended) Well, I never!

L: Well, neither have I.

H: The nerve of some people. You might think I wasn’t a paying customer.

L: That’s what I said.

H: What?

L: That you weren’t a paying customer.

H: Now why would you say a thing like that?

L: It’s the first thing they asked me.

H: Well Stanley, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.

(then distracted by a noise) Stan, what are they doing with those weapons?

LUCKY appears: Oh, did I forget to mention- now you can’t leave after all. Sera won’t let you out. You’re stuck here. No escape darllink. The scene continues to continue. Viola. No intermission, no pause baby. Because, you know that…no matter who you are…or what you know…that …they are always.. Vaiting for your dough.





The Dreamers Dream

            (fr Still Lives)

Awoke to this
Picasso circus
queer acrobats
torsos and
laserbolt eyes
in a trapeze orgy
exhaling smoke
cobalt spectrals
a lightening bolt gallery
of lovers in fabulous flights
midnight dance
at the M&M
Waiting for drugs
When Marcel
asked us
if we wanted any?
our heads all but busted
from snorting our brains out
With flesh camouflage surrounding
The music Underground with water pipes
Standing in the subzero drain
We didn’t fall because we were
Pushed together on the dance floor
But we both had
dreams of nodding the night before
You said I saw this in a movie
And we laughed like idiots.
Saw Timmy in conclave

motion at the Lark waiting
for beauties dipped in meth
so he played for us a mournful ballad.
On his lyre about a diva who died
Before her first performance
then he bolted down
the Beach hearing La Diva
somehow from a ship
into the
purple waters
in the
nightswimmers dive
bound together then rushed
back from
being ripped apart
in waves
remembering to forget
point of excavation
saw you tumbling toward me
Over and over again
shimmering arias
looking back at the Disappeared
Had this dreamers dream
Where there was a hologram
Cutout of the ocean off the
Port of New York and
All of the creatures of Atlantis
Pressed on the crystal bloc
For examination by Verne
And Darwin before they
Went in for dinner
And discovered the bones of
Transmogrifications of the ages
You said not to look and not to be afraid
Then you said that’s how we should die
I woke before I knew what you meant.
Actually the next day we were
On the beach and you went into the water with me
and we danced underwater where noone could
see but your arm holding the cigarette
Above the wave as we were spit out


The solid structure of the universe
ends in a beam
ageless and prismatic
a distance congruent to the mind
and somewhat of a fantasy
Particular to the man
on a seaward time

(for Jack, in endless summer)




In August, Shadow of Janus

from Days of Mercury

realms of false sky

upon the metro light

for all those hearing the godless
Gods and goddesses
Liars and demons
Souls and the soulless

Blur along the street
Where there is no darkness unseen
No stillness unnoticed
Or forbidden thought forgotten
On lost paths

I hear Mercury
keeping vigil along
The promontory
Igniting the arrowheads,
Brushing his temples
Eyes fixed
body ready for flight
so whispers
‘Let’s go‘for we are the hunted now’

Ice basilica
At daybreak and
The running flame
That consumes
The haze
Opened to the sudden shade
Pulling away
The corrupt prayers uttered before
The vanished armor

Offering smoke
And it is just in that
Hour, That I know there are no secrets
Unveiled onto this night
Discovered galaxies are
Noticed for a moment then
Passed away from
The moons
So barren that skin and bone
Feel the same

And emotion is
a remembrance of another life
Or dying star
Foretold by Mercury
Heathen and Virgo
In the after-burn
I hear them confide
‘What chance.’

I wired Scorpio
So couldn’t
Break the code to
Mean nothing past that moment

To record the laughter at the
Eclipse over Jerusalem.

Cobalt silhouettes arch
on the waters
With flights
Of firebirds and
Of deaths
Told in the fanfares of Tatarus
In this music field
Of disgraced tones
Invites a coarser rhythm

I called ‘not a word, Terpsichore.”

The assault
Beats down over
What existed again but not before
quarks & untraceable poetry
& when this music enters
The body
It digs up
An infinite if
To be met with ideas and peace~
Waiting to be lived
By havoc and adornment
Waiting to die for life
This is the water music we feel

I see Janus or
Vanished at horizon
Shielding us
From home.

For Jack Anthony Nespoli




Chet plays the Mercury Lounge

from The Music Rooms

Before the rain
Tore off
some baleful heart
in private pictures
Of sordid songs
beats inside my head

in alley footfalls
other shadows
that quit the sounds
my stolen cornet
the dreamer’s dream
of spent memories
In abandon hotels
hand on that shattering
note to infinity

bent invitations
lipsticks bleeds

onyx cufflink hurled
silver clips crushed

discarded jacks

lovers under

blue smoke
faced away

twin nightmares

clutching promises
night sweats
in whispers
through a mumbled coma


Driving red ’55 Alfa

your blonde hair &

silver scarf  catching scruff
against my neck
you made me sing ‘Where or When’
you cradle my horn

like it was our boy in your arms

throw your head back

you dangle your foot out
the window to flex
your arch
to the world, while my

toes curl around the gas petal

that day somehow becomes nothing

when I pissed you off bad

over the fucking moon bad


and so, goodbye bad

You can’t chase down
in scorched door
of that empty stage
that escape on lullaby street

now condemned psalms
of sexual blue
in fevered pitch
Then he shoots the stars
into that vanquished nirvana

pictures of godless eyes
Of mercury wings
On the wounded heart
Crouched over burnt notes
Ash, smack, whiskey

honey flowing’

all over the bed
melting my trumpet



, , ,



3am in the farthest corner, anxiety fogs the eyes above a skyline of city lights, signs, & satellites- ~~from  Wishing for Wings by Assotto Saint

Assotto Sanctus

Haitian Émigré

Yves’ warrior glitter lives

Glamored enamored


down as the saints of
2nd Ave

gayboy dance tribe street


glory revealed

that light
as night falls on this city

To warrior nights
that must be witnessed,
but not outlived

sainto maria

and sainto

no night falls

unliberated by
Assotto Saint
Once Yves Lubin, sainto
all gods Assainto

& spells of voodoo dolls
unleashed to

our gay warriors
Storm the gates
burn the motherfuckers down

Saintos gay
To exorcise
Sexual auteur
Sainto who prowled
To write in the earth

The perfect moment

in negative light

Dance in the circle of fire
bury scarred ritual
for future sainti
Kneeling with him
in ravaged
hooded eyes of Mercury
unfeared of Mars
signaling the rings of Saturn

down to the clubs
Assotto Yves
Lubin lived

voodoo spells

Was with him when
His lover died

no one else but our brethren
& he was with all the gods
When he was dying himself
spinning voodoo doll
bound to himself
Prisms that no one
else could see

fabulous bled those crusaders
the hypocrisies
The brutalities
the unclean hypocrites

Sainto clung to
red roses
ran ashore screaming
I am alive goddammit
Simply, violently,

endlessly alive
as I was screaming for my Mother
All Sainto nights

Spiritus Sanctu baby”

All Sainto nights

Sainto my Maria &
my darling

So blessed upon my

disappeared body
sainted rainbow
So cast out to sea

-in memory of writer-actor-poet Assotto Saint



, , ,

I Seem To Live ~Vol. 1- 1950-1969

~The New York Diaries  Jonas Mekas~ with entries by Adolfas Mekas

~ book designers: Fabian Bremer, Pascal Storz ~ editor: Anne König

SPECTOR BOOKS 1000pgs. illustrated; photographs; archival footage

“Immigrants to America do not ‘adjust’ to America, They rather resign to it. They live in a state of resignation.” Jonas quotes Eduoard de Laurent’s as he records the realities of his and Jonas’ new life in America. Jonas chronicles ironies, hypocrisies, dangers and triumphs as he and Adolfas were creating New York’s avant-garde film world, that eventually went international.

~Previously on ‘I Seem To Live’

– Underground filmmaker Jonas Mekas lands at Rikers’ on obscenity charges for screening Flaming Creatures, establishes the New American Cinema Co-op, the nexus for dozens of underground filmmakers~ & more movie mayhem with Salvatore Dali, Orson Welles & but still lives on coffee & starves as he establishes the most cutting edge filmmakers of the 60s Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Shirley Clarke, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Robert Frank, et. al.

~~upcoming in Part2 of Jonas’ diary~ A Song for Avila, St. Theresa ‘s roses on Time Sq. Roberto Rossellini, taking on the cops’ payoffs, film ‘Diaries’, the Warhol shooting, the birth of Wooster St. Cinematheque, Jonas’ j’accuse to the international festivals Jacqueline Kennedy’s favorite film~ Jonas Mekas’ Walden II.

Ostensibly a diary of filmmaker, film journalist Jonas Mekas ‘I Seem To Live’ a philosophical & artistic survival guide of a Lithuanian immigrant, a stranger in the strange land of New York City,  were he careened from assimilation to  self-alienated, observed, started an arts movement and completely assimilated. Part immigrant memoir, part art treatise, part philosophical manifesto of the arts vs. the world of commerce, politics and American culture.

Adolfas was back from the service and part of Jonas cast and crew for his movie Guns in the Trees, shooting on location in Manhattan, the New York countryside and New Jersey, encountering law enforcement, starvation, constant harassment by police in the city and in rural areas, for shooting without permits or on private property. Mekas’ film was re-released in New York in 2019 with a positive re-review in the New York Times.

He was also on the set of artist Robert Frank’s legendary avant-garde film ‘Pull Your Daisy’ written and narrated by Jack Kerouac. Mekas has unannounced poetry entrees including the brilliant poetic portrait of Peter Orlofsky.  (there is film of Orlofsky dancing with Nico at a VU performance with Jonas looking on has surfaced on YouTube).

Mekas may not bore his compatriots on the state of the film arts, but he records all his commentary throughout his dairies, he is, in retrospect among the most adroit observers of both commercial films in the US and the serious filmmakers and the entire post-WWII auteurs in Europe/

By the mid-60s Mekas was still running the Cooperative, planning the Cinemateque on Wooster St.  Raising money and networking for some 30 filmmakers, packaging the film ‘Expositions’ and getting them on the international film festival circuit, and still writing & editing Film Culture.

Mekas was not only major presence in the New American Cinema, he was becoming disenchanted by the whole subculture.   He had to remind the most successful directors – Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger that they were part of the collective and should not put themselves forward as representative of  NAC ourvre.

Mekas was starting to be resentful of being prevented from making his own film because he was so preoccupied with the constant demands of FC, NAC and running the Coop.

Still out of money to the point that he had to remind people that while he was working to get money for their productions, he was weak from not having enough money for food.  Still, he reports in diary, that “His colleagues who knew how he lived, treated me like I was independently wealthy.”

And Jonas was presenting Warhol’s early movies that were playing with every perception and satirical implications of ‘underground’ film. Jonas recognized that they were part of Warhol’s art revolution and living underground culture documented in ‘My Hustler’ ‘Naked Restaurant’ and Chelsea Girls.  Mekas also was involved with events with the Velvet Underground and hosted their first public performance at a convention of the American Psychiatric Association.

Jonas presented what ended up being ‘A happening’ at the Coop with Gato Barbieri’s quartet performing and Warhol’s gang, rockers, poets, literati, jazz luminaries and coffeehouse denizens. 

Meanwhile, he was also  on the scene in Europe. In London an independent film organization was forming and reaching out to Jonas to advise and collaborate as they got established.  He was more involved with the international festival circuit.  Despite complaining about being kept from making his own films as he tried to organize the co-op

He was honest with everyone around him, yet still carried everything on his shoulders to keep the underground film production, distribution expanding. He never abandoned artists he respected even if he knew they were taking advantage of his time, influence and not contributing in the spirit of the co-op.

Of the avant-garde filmmakers who were being seduced by making it big, he was just as wary.  He saw the hubris of redundancies of so called ‘underground’ films.  The pitfalls of being outrageous for outrageous same.  Meanwhile, he rejected any notions of censorship as nothing more than.

He was busier than ever. Only managing to schedule an hour or two a day to write and film his own projects. He had convictions and integrity and passion for the art form as being by design experimental, socially relevant and anti-Hollywood.

What he admired about Hollywood were the cinematographers, actors, writers  and directors who realized their vision despite the studios.  His admiration extended to such film heavyweights as Howard Hawks, Hitchcock and Welles. But mostly dismisses Hollywood as products of commercialism and trended public taste.

Jonas also is harsh to European cinemas, especially film festivals criterea for prize winners. He participated in festivals under certain conditions that supported the filmmakers. He was invited to be on festivals juries, which he turned down on principal, because judging ‘best’ films was not just absurd to him, but designed for exploitation.

Even as he was a revered film journalist for Village Voice, he was venomous to film ‘critics’ specifically and in general questioned the whole journalistic field as irrelevant to the understanding of the art of cinema. Meanwhile, he continued to work on his film projects. He was in demand internationally as a lecturer on film arts and NAC initiatives and expositions.

Jonas applied for and was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to (he lobbied for $55,000) for the purchase and renovation of was to be the Wooster St. Cinematheque, that would be a film center that would not only preserve and present NAC and avant-garde films properly, but would not be subject to any industry rules. It would be a nexus for The Film Culture community and Coop operations.

After a year renovations on the two floors the Cinematheque would occupy, the city kept closing it down for minor violations, but the real reason was that Mekas refused to pay L & I officers payoffs. Mekas even filmed them making their shakedowns, but the fix was in with judges, officers and city cronies.

As fines and shutdowns mounted up Mekas wrote of the Kafka-eque situations and some of his most beautifully poetic passages (as well as rage against the machine) fill these pages.

Jonas continued work on “My New York (or American) Testament with his later films “Walden II” “Diary” and “A Song for Avila” which he describes so movingly in his diaries. However distracted by his pioneering efforts for vanguard film arts and on behalf of the Coop’s roster of filmmakers, Jonas proved he had as much say artistically, and vitally always challenged himself not to become what he despised in the film industry, whether it was out of Hollywood product created by producers or if it was an equally exploitive arthouse film.

 Jonas as a Lithuanian refugee poet and now in print is his epic prose poem is finally in ‘I Seem To Live.’

click to go to part 1 of ‘I Seem to Live’ review~



, ,

^morepoetryfromthenightssincewe’relockedin&Aprilispoetry& jazz month~

Right Before I met Vincent

or the unBeatbeating

“the room was full of drunk poets and I don’t know what. (fr. Jonas Mekas NYdiary1958)

then Right before I met Vincent
in 1959
the year Billie Holiday diedwhose last performance I attended and
whose life and death hangs me out still.
I lean against the outcry mourning
the death of jazz singing
Pissed off and absurd we of
the Mercury lounge reading.
I hate NY readings when it turns into a bloodsport.

but we swigged it outJacko was there and
gCorso,and Allen, of course, Burroughs (who invitedme) They were with me onthat stage back to front 7:30Read read readby 7:40 (what is that line in AllAboutEve)about there being a ‘MacBethish air.’

7:45, my body, my heart, my flask.

TJean, my luv

was past soused/Corsosososo,
& Gerald was doing the Malanga frug offstage & still

reciting his poetry all night long,

Gerald had the best beats

though everyone was too smashed to really drink it in

except Allen
diagonally there was always there was Allenbreathing heavy presided over the fallout

was the voice of wetbrain sobriety&

Leroi knew when to exit

a Columbia celebrawl

div>some even took it as livingdead theater

more like a pissing match

yep, it got ugly loving each other’s work

of loving each others work we took off our dukes and found out that we hated each other after all.

I was called a fouffyfaggotrepeatedl by some hidden

voice & of course Allen kept laughing

he lives for stuff like that.

Hardly a put down, he was penciling

in the holes for Howl

aumaumaum, those Beats

They really can be crashing bores

not to mention act like a bunch of pimpless whores
Kerouac yells to me“You’re ruining American

Poetry O’Hara”and I yell back“That’s more than you fuckin’ ever did for it.”So TiJean love, I’m not going to Frisco…I’m staying here

It’s going to be a bubonic plague of a summer

To say that
I hate everybody almost

as much as I hate myself would

be dramaqueeny.
then John said fuck off you poseur I stumbled over Allen’s potsandals

then dropped my shot and attempted an escape Gerald kept frugging as Edie looked on

then I met Vincent there swaying on the sweaty threshold he asked me to dance, and so anyway

fell out the door with Gerald’s last verse

flying in our ears like a bolt from Mercury



, ,

Monk Dream

fr The Music Room

                      Same nonsleep

   with unaccompanied celesta

                            wondered in the area of

tonal seed sounds and they can’t talk about

mental health on the same days that we

     play at playing

I haven’t sensed any chord changes

because         they are all laid out before

me an endless ostinato on a scroll of,

hidden notes.

Lilac notes, quarter notes, dead notes, severed notes, notes from

the grave, poisoned notes, notes

black notes

& who was it who

said music is really between the notes,

well it doesn’t matter

they are all there in the head of a Sphere, that’s my

middle name.

  People even ask what is jazz, what can

this music be and I just tell them ‘both at once’

and let them figure it out

No one can talk to me when he’s like this, they whisper. sounds good

to me          rhythmic space exploration when

when they are expecting

swing                 I am a walk in my chromatic garden sometimes on another sphere simultaneously

that high, maybe Delius

maybe not, (the stranger comes back

she sees me instead)

        No time for Monk deeper in their dream

maybe I’ll wake up and play something that they

won’t be able to hear it until we’re back uptown.



, , , , , ,

Jonas Mekas

I Seem To Live ~Vol. 1- 1950-1969

~The New York Diaries  Jonas Mekas~ with entries by Adolfas Mekas

~ book designers: Fabian Bremer, Pascal Storz ~ editor: Anne König


1000pgs. illustrated; photographs; archival footage

This place is full of drunk poets and I don’t know what.”  underground filmmaker Jonas Mekas writes in a 1958 journal entry, And those poets he was drinking with would include Kerouac, Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Buraka), & Peter Orlovsky. It is just one of Mekas’ prose snapshots in the first publication “I Seem To Live: Vol. 1 – 1950-1969, his sprawling 1000+ pg. diary that is a sprawling epic prose verite of underground and bohemian New York City.

Jonas died in January 2019 at the age of 96, so it is particularly poignant that Spector Books published this important record of an underappreciated Lithuanian-American artistic visionary at a pivotal time.

The publication of ‘I Seem to Live’ coincides with the recent screenings of the Mekas brother’s landmark film ‘Guns of the Trees,’ which along with Robert Frank/’Jack Kerouac’s ‘Pull My Daisy,’ John Cassavettes’ ‘Shadows’, Gregory Markopoulos’ ‘Serenity’ and Shirley Clarke’s ‘The Connection’, however unheralded, represented a pivotal revolution in American films as they reflected sociopolitical movements ignored by the Hollywood studios system, which were becoming not only cultural irrelevant, but crumbling under their own excesses.

‘I Seem To Live’ is Mekas’s manifesto to all artists, indeed a survivor’s guide for all artists to overcome all obstacles not only to produce creative work but, in this case, a warrior like pursuit in the name of free artistic expression.

A poet himself Jonas he has been called by cine-files the “godfather of avant-garde cinema” in the US. With his brother Adolfas they wrote and published Film Culture magazine, established the New American Cinema (NAC) and Mekas’ Coop, the artist co-op (Coop) he ran out of his apartment which became a locus for poets, musicians, filmmakers, & other visual artists. Crucially, as busy (& stoney broke) as Jonas always was during this period in New York, he was part of the international network of filmmakers including that included the cinematic zeitgeist coming of Europe.

war, survival & artistic refugee

Jonas and his younger brother Adolfas fled Lithuania when the Soviets seized the country back from the Nazis after WWII. The brothers were interred in forced labor and DP (displaced persons) camps at the end of the war. They were on one of the last boats of the camps that sailed to America in 1949.

The brothers moved to Brooklyn, and considered themselves DPs in NY and at tried to make their way and careers in a new country.  They were intellectuals, and had interests in photography and film but meanwhile they had to immediately get jobs. Adolfas enlisted and was back in Europe fighting. Jonas found temporary jobs through the immigration placement service, eventually getting a job in a print shop.

Ostensibly a diary of filmmaker, film journalist Jonas Mekas ‘I Seem To Live’ is also a philosophical survival guide of a Lithuanian immigrant, a stranger in the strange land of New York City, trying to create an underground film movement in a money-driven business.

Jonas may have been a rebel filmmaker, and all the while a classic compulsive diarist. In fact, among the best in the form. Put him in the class with Christopher Isherwood, Virginia Woolf, Ned Rorem, and Serge Prokofiev (yes, I’ve read them all), & a few others.

The rhythms of his daily writing are journalistic, poetic, stream – of –consciousness with all the vigor of a consummate journalist and an inspired poet. He documents the immigrant experience in during the 50s & 60s, a defining time culturally, socially and certainly in film arts as the studios busted up and international and independent cinema was part of an art revolution in New York.

The hefty volume is peppered with photos, letters, illustrations, government papers, newspaper clippings (several on artists who were dragged before McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee hearings) of Mekas and his expansive world of artists, writers and film luminaries from rebel directors Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures) and gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising) to Hollywood titans like Orson Welles. Jonas also guided Andy Warhol on his first experimental films and abstract artist Yoko Ono.

Their masthead Film Culture Magazine was launched with a roster of professional writers including Andrew Sarris, Edouard de Laurent, Arlene Croce, Eugene Archer, Peter Bogdanovich and George Fenin the dedicated staff of the first issue of the magazine, meanwhile so desperate for money that they eventually made a loan from Lutheran monks in New York, and were eventually sued by the order for non-payment of the loan (they eventually paid the monks back.

After Adolfas’ US military service, the brothers moved to from Brooklyn to  Manhattan and were immersed in international cinema. They founded Film Culture Magazine, and brought together filmmakers, writers, cinematographers hosting lectures at the 92 St. Y and makes-shift locales. , Meanwhile they were trying to make their own experimental films, revolutionize how films could be made independently. They were in constant debt, but kept writing, filming, borrowing and occasionally stealing, under whatever the dire circumstances to keep working at it.

Meanwhile, Jonas was writing everything down about their trials of starting a magazine and codifying an independent film community in New York. Living day to day, hand to mouth.

Edouard de Laurent “Immigrants to America do not ‘adjust’ to America, They rather resign to it. They live in a state of resignation.”

Shooting philosophy

Part immigrant memoir, part art treatise, part philosophical manifesto of the arts vs. the world of commerce, politics and American culture. Mekas quotes Emerson, and in and also writes of the urban wilderness from his outsider point of view. 

Equally admiring and damning of American culture. Recognizing from the start the possibilities of a vivid social experiment of a melting pot of cultures in New York, but also very aware of racism, sexism, poverty and the failures of the federal government to treat citizens equally. And the rabid anti-intellectual era of the 50s that McCarthy and his cronies targeted socialists, communists, gays, artists and anybody HUAC tagged as subversive.

He is constantly discussing the state of the arts in the US, and is a sharp observer of both commercial films in the US and the serious filmmakers and the entire post-WWII auteurs in Europe.

You would think that there would also be a record of Jonas’ personal life and relationship, and there are scant entries and not in detail, but you get the general sense that he had an active romantic life.

Adolfas was back from the service and part of Jonas cast and crew for his movie Guns of the Trees, shooting on location in Manhattan, the New York countryside and New Jersey, encountering law enforcement, starvation, constant harassment by police in the city and in rural areas, for shooting without permits or on private property.

send in the cows

They rolled with the punches and often kept the camera rolling even as the cops gave them shakedowns & gun wielding farmers. Mekas and rag-tag production crew soldiered on when their money ran out, their cars broke down (fortunately Adolfas was a good mechanic. They ran out of film all the time, they had to borrow Movieolas to edit their own films.

There are hilarious mishaps while shooting all of which Jonas chronicles in his diary. They had permission to film on a cow farm and the cows continued to stampede away, and at one point they ended up hiding in the woods, when they were located, the actors had disappeared.

end of part 1– upcoming in part two – Jonas lands at Rikers’ on obscenity charges, was with Andy the night Andy he got shot, & more movie mayhem with Salvatore Dali & other legendary artists and more about his social activism during the turbulent 60s. & for dance historians Jonas was on the scene at Judson Church for the pioneering work of postmodern dancer-choreographers Anna Sokolow & Erick Hawkins, et. al.

Editor Anne König notes in her afterward that Vol. 2 of ‘I Seem To Live’ covering the Mekas brothers from the 70s to 2011, that there will be an index. Konig also explains that just two years before his dead, Jonas worked with translators and transcriptions of his hand-written text and assembling some 2,000 pages of text that constitute his diary scanning 60 years.