Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 4, 2021

Andrew McCarthy Ain’t Such a “Brat”

Andrew McCarthy in a scene from “Class”, 1983.

Brat Pack era actor Andrew McCarthy has a new memoir out, “Brat”, which Vanity Fair magazine has excerpted here.

In the mid-’80s –when Andrew & I were both teens (no we’re not pals, I just like to pretend)– I took a liking to writer/director John Hughes’ honest but exaggerated dramedies. Andrew often played the intense, earnest sort of character that I thought myself to be in real life.

For better or worse, I’ve been influenced both personally and artistically by he and Robert Downey Jr. more than perhaps any other performer, at least from that era’s rich crop of a certain age. (See them together in 1987’s *Less Than Zero*, as they play out the light and dark sides of my own social and psychological struggles on the big screen.)

Finally, reading the Vanity Fair article reminded me that McCarthy didn’t entirely deserve being lumped in with the rest of the Brat Pack. His offscreen behavior was not nearly as wild or insensitive, and the whole business was more a media-created tabloid monster than a real ensemble or movement. They were kids! Yes, certainly spoiled, and some paid dearly for spending so much time close to the flame. But my research for my novel Murder in Birdland–about musicians and actors in the late 50s/early 60s– has shown that, for example, James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper were at least as wild at the same age (while they were all working on *Rebel Without a Cause*, and with the full support of their mad genius director, Nicholas Ray).

For a few older articles I wrote about the Brat Pack, John Hughes and/or Francis Ford Coppola (including famed YA novelist S.E. Hinton commenting directly upon my take regarding *Rumble Fish*), head to my other Marking Time Bratty blog posts.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 31, 2021

My Demon Heckler (Poem for Memorial Day)

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou

Public sculpture at Luthy Botanical Gardens, Peoria, IL


My Demon Heckler

“What was I going to say? 

Wait, did I already say it? When?”


Slow down, kid.

If you can’t follow your own 

crazy train of thought all the way

to the terminal,

then how will anybody else?


“You got to put down the ducky

if you wanna play the saxophoooone.”


Jeez! You’re a triple threat:

ADHD, Clinical Depression, and High I.Q.

How the fuck did you even make it this far?


“There but by the grace of God go I”, 

…or ‘I and I’, as Bob Marley sang.

‘We are poor little lambs who’ve lost our way,

Baa baa’–“



Change the channel, Black Sheep.

Even with all that charm,

you can’t claim 

Chris Farley, John Belushi, Robin Williams, Terrance Malick, Chuck D, Van Morrison, Sam Shepard, 

Belafonte, Brando, Coltrane, Einstein, cummings, T.S. Eliot, Rembrandt, Blake, Cervantes and Michelangelo

ALL as your honorary godfathers.

Pick a lane, dammit!

That’s an offer I’m gonna refuse.

Besides, some o’ them was fags anyway.

And stop with these stupid fucking lists, too.

And pick a destination, 

while you’re at it.

How else do you expect to get anywhere?


“I am telling you the truth: when you were young, you used to get ready and go anywhere you wanted to; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you up and take you where you don’t want to go.”


Oh, …is that it?


“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”


Okay. That’s different.

Carry on, then, bad lieutenant.

Maybe I’m lost, too.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 29, 2021

BTS, Music & Old, Old Me

It’s official. I’m old.

The new issue of Rolling Stone arrived by postal mail today, with BTS on the cover, and it makes me feel old.

Old for still subscribing to an ink-and-paper magazine (!!!) that I’ve read, on and off, since I was about 16. Old for knowing who BTS are, and what K-Pop is, in only the vaguest possible way. Old for turning the sound off whenever BTS’s new McDonald’s commercial comes on (and old for even watching commercials at all.) Old for the quiet but judgy rant that I feel coming on, before I even crack the spine of the RS “Future of Music” issue (only to find that I know about only three of the twenty-five current “big deals” in the industry–Jason Derulo, Lena Waithe, and L’il Yachty, and I just barely even know them).

It was bound to happen. My parents barely gave a $#!+ about my own favorite music, at any age. They were almost the right age to be Beatle fans, but they skipped it and held loosely to ol’ Sinatra and Johnny Mathis–since they were also quite busy raising my squirrelly, wriggly ass starting in ’65.

So I picked up the torch, and my first purchase of a 45rpm single was Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, around 1973, when the band was already 3-4 years in the culture’s rear-view-mirror.

Over time, I developed an appreciation for many and varied artists in every era of popular recorded music from about the 1920s onward, including both Sinatra and Mathis. Plus Dizzy Gillespie’s first adventurous forays into world music and Afro-Cuban rhythms in the 40s, Louis Prima and Little Richard’s wild rollicking style in the 50s, Joni Mitchell’s jazzy poetry in the 60s (not to mention Aretha, Motown, the British blues players, the South’s rise with the Allmans, garage rock, etc.), Gil Scott-Heron’s and Marvin Gaye’s seminal soulful hip-hop/jazz social critique in the 70s (plus the electric blues from Chicago, Texas & the Delta), the GoGos and Cyndi Lauper’s funky, punky fun with an edge in the 80s (plus Elvis Costello, U2, George Clinton, Marley, Public Enemy, Sade, Bowie the Chameleon, Springsteen the Steinbeck Imitator, and The Clash, …of course), Pearl Jam and their children in the 90s (yes, I ooted out on Nirvana… so sue me!), Ben Folds, Eminenemy Mathers, The Roots and the neo-soul movement of the Aughts, and finally in the Teens, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and so many of Willie Nelson and Neil Young’s rugged, recovering other children (plus Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Rhiannen Giddens and all the Newgrass performers of every shade, Lecrae, the exasperating Kanyeezus, and the many great newish voices picking up the mic, guitar, banjo or 808 unit to try changing the world–and/or music–for the better).

I’ve left out hundreds, of course. But I have finally come to admit that I can’t keep up anymore. Not if I still want to follow through with becoming a Beethoven, Stravinsky, Miles Davis, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, King Sunny Ade, Daft Punk, Danger Mouse, John Mayer, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey and Common completist (which I do). There ain’t enough hours in the day, nor enough money to go around.

So no, I won’t get on the case of BTS, Taylor Swift, or any other big star or indie darling. Not today, anyway. But I won’t get on that train, either. Like Woody Guthrie once sang, “this train is bound for glory”–and my train’s about full-up by now.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 10, 2021

Amazonian Robber Barons and Nanite Invaders

A Zoom and WiFi-enabled “live” concert performance, in-progress, on my back deck this spring.

–In addition to running the CIA’s servers, Amazon controls 40% of the global cloud, running Apple, Netflix, Facebook, Pinterest, Slack, and 1+ million other companies.

–Amazon is flooding D.C. with money and muscle, setting new lobbying records, with at least 104 lobbyists fighting for an Amazon advantage on at least 28 different issues. 

  –research by Jared Brock (a “cell-free futurist”) at the “Surviving Tomorrow” site

The above are business/war-like political practices not unlike those of Standard Oil/John D. Rockefeller, who is historian/economist/futurist Jared Brock’s favorite 19th century Old Skool robber baron to hate, with good reason. Brock is right to make direct comparisons to Amazon’s founder/trillionaire Jeff Bezos.

  …prompting the questions:

  1. What if a super-virus algorithm created by a talented bad actor/anarchist (or criminal group) ripped thru the server architecture/infrastructure of the one company now controlling 40% of the GLOBAL cloud, including portions of the banks’ and/or government’s real data about you and me?
  2. Who controls the other 60% of the cloud? And can we trust them? A digital Genghis Khan may be out there somewhere, and we may not know it yet.
  3. How much hyperspace cloud control is in the hands of the Chinese or some other GOVERNMENT (directly or indirectly), and how will they eventually use that leverage to increase politically oppressive power? How oppressive will that use of power be, without prompting a revolution? (Thus it’s now probably a “long con”, played out very subtly and quietly, as convenience and comfort become more advanced for us “worker bees”. The Age of WALL-E will be here, soon enough. Meanwhile the 12-72 WASP-ish and colluding families who control the world economy will continue to ravage our “hives”, communities and rights, and call it “progress”. The wasps will be here to eat us bees, soon enough, too. That’s all they do. It’s all they’ve ever done.)

As a long-time reader and sometimes writer of speculative fiction, it took me all of about five seconds on Mother’s Day 2021 to propose to my family the potential method of control, surveillance and consolidation of power that such multinational conglomerates and/or governments might use:


This is not some crackpot QAnon conspiracy theory, either. I’m a politically liberal resident of a small Midwestern U.S. city. I’m not selling anything, not typically inclined to undue or clinical paranoia, and I don’t work for anyone but myself. Yes, I’m “white”, highly “educated”, “male”, and thus probably have some biases, blind spots or conflicts of interest (and please, feel free to tell me if you think I do: I’ll pull those weeds right out at the root!). But I also subscribe to very few -isms, and the ones that I do give some credibility to are often in conflict with each other. I hold them in tension, as possibilities but not yet facts. Oh, and it’s not something I saw on Reddit either, because I don’t read Reddit.

This Big Idea was just a vague idea kicking around up in my brain, for at least thirty years, and I blurted it out to my family during a celebratory gathering, as we were shooting the $#!+ about the downstream aspects of getting vaccines versus not getting them. (And yes, I am vaccinated against COVID-19, in case you’re curious where I stand on politics, Big Pharma, science, and/or medicine and public health.)

The Big Idea: Technology probably exists now for bio-technological, signal-sending microscopic bio-robots to be in my bloodstream, without my knowing it. These bio-digital, one-way, weak short-range radio-signal machines could at least enable a surveillance-minded, wealthy, and powerful entity to have access to real-time data about my basic medical and biological health, my physical/geographic location, aspects of my digital “identity”, and so forth. My mother has one in her right now. They used to call it a “pacemaker”, for her heart, since she has occasional fibrillation (or is it defibrillation?… I always forget!).

This makes Mom the Bionic Woman. Wonder Woman. The Amazon Woman on the Moon? What if the data about her health, on its way to her cardiologist, is passing through one of those 40% of all server farms hosted by Amazon? What if the data is bouncing up into a satellite placed in orbit by a Russian Mob-controlled opportunistic and parasitic company instead, through a benign-looking shell corporation?

How would they do it? Would they piggyback on a wifi or Bluetooth-like channel, to send data about me back to whomever created these nanites (and/or maintains and monitors the secret signal channel they would be using)? Who would know this? How would they get the technology into my body? Would they tell us it was being rolled out?

“Siri, what does my kidney function look like today?”

And what would they do with that information? It would not even involve them knowing what digital or physical button I have pushed, what I have purchased online, or some “preference” that they think I have (in order to sell me more soap, snake oil, or a “you may also like” book or movie suggestion).

Those who know good science and human psychology, and who have the financial resources to implement that knowledge… can they also be expected to be ethical, and to root out all corruption? I have my doubts…


Frank Zappa at a celebration of Czech Republic’s liberation from Russia in the Velvet Revolution, in Prague, 1991. This was one of Zappa’s final public performances, as he was fighting prostate cancer at the time. It was a battle he eventually lost (not that he was all that broken up about it).

Zappa’s Black Page and Poem

(For a Good Friday in a Bad Year, 4/2/21, by Mark Nielsen)


What happens when you illuminate the black page?

It’s still black.

True, but is it reflecting?

Yes, dimly. 

I wouldn’t be able to see it otherwise.


You can see the difference by looking at the edges.

The true black 

is mostly beyond it, behind it, unlit, in shadow–

and certainly further away toward the horizon,

the still unseen but truest edge.


Let the Light illuminate you.

Even if you must only walk forward 

into the dark,

the Light is still behind,

still doing its work

upon the page.

Upon you, unseen or not.

The memory and awareness

of even that black page

is enough to give you strength

to head toward the true edge

and step outside of it.


Once you are there,

the light is within you

and there is no darkness to be found anywhere


   *       *       *   ** **     *****             *        *********

A performance of the actual piece, by Zappa Plays Zappa (Frank’s son Dweezil and band), with special guests guitarist Steve Vai and drummer Terry Bozzio, who both worked a lot with FZ:

Lastly, see the new documentary “Zappa”, by Alex Winter (yes, of “Bill and Ted” fame), if any of the above strikes a chord with you. It is a very unique and moving film about the great experimenter, with lots of never-before-seen footage from Frank’s private vault. Plus a piano and drums only performance of The Black Page that is also terrific, but quite different from the above video. Now streaming on Hulu.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 30, 2021


Photo of Mark as Santa Claus, Dec. 2001; painting in background,
“The Golden Rule” by Norman Rockwell, 1961.

Fragile Fake Santaat enfleshed today, from the prompt “fragile”, a poem by Mark Nielsen


A beautiful but difficult memory of hearing 

Sting’s song “Fragile” in the car, 2001, driving to work as a mall Santa Claus, 

tears on my face, violence and injustice on my mind, …and here I sit, complicit.

I don’t want to be Santa, or even Sting: I want to be the Song.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 7, 2021

Kirk Douglas Rape of Natalie Wood: Another Take

Natalie Wood… Older and wiser here, but she had her “demons” from a very young age, and never entirely got free of them.

Now that the 2021 Golden Globes have been given out–and upon seeing a pal’s tweet of a glammy photo of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones here— I decided to revisit a story that emerged in the wake of the 2018 awards show.

Three years ago at the Golden Globe Awards where 101-year-old Kirk Douglas received a great honor, an old “Hollywood gossip” story got some fresh life breathed into it. I was then, and still am, working on a historical showbiz novel in which Kirk plays a small role, and Natalie Wood plays a more pivotal role. So in 2018, I already knew the story about Kirk’s hushed-up rape of a teenaged Natalie Wood. But when Robert Downey Jr. quietly commented about it on the so-called gossip blog Gawker in 2018, a lot more people noticed. At that point, I wrote about it, HERE, in what has become by far the most widely-read blog post in ten years of Marking Time.

Fast-forward two years from 2018:

Below is a link to a now one-year-old story (from the week that Kirk diedin 2020) about his life in light of the #MeToo movement, by Hadley Freeman at The Guardian. Here she explains why she didn’t ask him that tough question when she had a chance:

Basically, I couldn’t swallow her justification. It was very convenient– maybe wise, though definitely gutless–for Hadley Freeman not to have asked Jirk directly about Wood, then for her to explain it away two years later as “unconfirmed”.

Why did she REALLY dodge the issue? Here’s my not-so-hot take:

1) It would be denied immediately, as he always had done in the past;

2) she’d likely have been shown the door immediately, by whomever was likely there at the interview WITH Douglas (either assisting him medically or protecting his P.R. interests);

3) Freeman’s own career from then on could possibly have been negatively affected, if she asked that toughest of tough questions, and she wasn’t willing to risk it.

It was a “lose-lose” moment, so I get why she didn’t ask, I just disagree with her justifying it after the fact.

In the moment, if she had asked, Freeman and The Guardian come off looking good only if he suddenly says “Yes, I did it”. But even then, in some people’s eyes, she’d be unnecessarily and unfairly picking on a feeble, 100-year-old man. Lose-lose.

In other words, she didn’t want to muckrake, nor try to “break” that particular 60+ year-old story which powerful people keep burying, over and over. Freeman played it safe.

But more recently, in her 2020 post-mortem of Kirk Douglas, she’s whitewashing *herself*, while explaining gently that Kirk MAYBE had some gray area in him. Meanwhile she’s discounting the pre-internet biographers & journalists, and eyewitnesses including Wood’s own sister, Lana. Meanwhile, Freeman’s also downplaying how white male power/aggression has always worked, in Hollywood and around the globe. Freeman doesn’t even commit to saying “maybe he did it” in the above story.

Perhaps most importantly, she’s staying safely out of legal trouble, for herself and for The Guardian, a generally decent and fair journalistic outlet overall (imho). On the other hand, I myself have nothing to lose by saying it bluntly:

Kirk raped Natalie and got away with it.

Freeman was scared to be the failed “gotcha” girl, and more puzzlingly still scared to lose her job or reputation, three years later. This was not brave, independent journalism. It’s just lazy, status quo, pro-misogynist B.S.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 5, 2021

#Markis – The Santa, The Rabbi, The Artist, The Fool

A visual statement of my ever-emerging identity in God, in community, and as an artist and teacher.

The Chinese-American fortune cookie slip framed with the photo of myself as Santa Claus reads as follows:

“You are the center of every group’s attention.”

Yeah… I WISH!

The print in the background is “Golden Rule” by Norman Rockwell, a fairly famous painting from circa 1961. I purchased the print in-person at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 24, 2021

Schrödinger’s Cat’s Litter Box (two poems by Mark Nielsen)

The above poem, along with Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday”, inspired the poem below.


Schrödinger’s Cat’s Litter Box

Schrödinger’s cat’s litter box

–which exists both in and beyond Time, 

Both inside and beyond 


isn’t going to change itself.

We live in the midst

of shit

of our own making.

Dust and dander, skin and bones,

are ground up and ground down,

then mixed with holy spit,

and placed upon our eyelids

so that we may see again;

thus dust becomes the stuff

of our remaking.


The first things I saw

when my eyes were opened

were dust motes and dander–

dancing, they were–


by a ray of light.

I fell to my knees and praised them

(not Dr. Schrödinger,

but his Father, 

and his blessed/cursed cat).

=== ===

Redeem/ The time. Redeem /The unread vision in the higher dream…” -Ash-Wednesday, T.S. Eliot, 1930

Erwin Schrödinger, 1887-1961
Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 19, 2021

Hindsight Is Hell (Song for Neil Young & Marc Maron)

My first attempt (in awhile at least) at a Dylanesque or Neil Young-ish modern protest song. (Chords to follow… maybe).

This lyric is inspired in part by some Marc Maron podcast interviews (in mid-2016? So why the reference to 2020 in the song below? Weird? “You can’t trust memory”, like that key line from the recent and excellent French movie La Verite (The Truth), featuring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and Ethan Hawke). The interviews on the WtF podcast that inspired this song were especially these two: 1) with the black comedian Godfrey, an old pal of Marc’s ; and 2) with musician Neil Young, who told the story of his first partnering up with Stephen Stills, by spotting the hearse he knew Stephen drove around L.A. at the time… Side note: the two lines about Roger Stone and Trump were added 2-19-2021. This was the last piece of the puzzle I had apparently been waiting on…

_Hindsight Is Hell_ (Song for Neil & Marc)

(v1 ) The hippy honcho now takes his orders

from the red-faced dwarf who closed the borders.

Seawater’s warm and the bees are dying,

But the (G)green (P)party fairies just waste time crying…

While Sambo and Rambo both tapdance a tango

To the ratatat tunes of Mr. Bojangles.

I ain’t seen you, girl, since that night in the hills

When we worked it all out (except who’d pay the bills).


And it’s 2020 and hindsight is hell.

The past few decades ain’t gone so well.

I still sing for my supper, and business is good.

But I can’t go back to my old neighborhood.

(v2) I kept up the fight, though my sword is dull.

Seems I just can’t get nothin’ through Jonesy’s thick skull.

But Smith and Wesson, they’re doing just fine,

Though it’s ’cause of them Jonesy’s back doing time

For being wheelman to some bank-Robbing Nazis.

Now they’re all in a prison that feeds inmates matzoh.

Roger Stone, he was pardoned just last week,

Just before Cheeto Man’s losing streak. 

Repeat Chorus

(v3) Time travel’s a bitch. We can never get home.

It’s all gone now, like the fall of Rome.

I saw you last week on your way to church,

On Sunset and Vine, in that tangerine hearse

With Ontario plates –there’s a sight for sore eyes!

Then followed you in, which was far from wise,

‘Cause you made my ears bleed with your Caterwaul Choir.

You used to get high, now you try to get higher,

But you crashed on the rocks, then rolled out that joint.

I was still in the pew, but I’d lost the point.

Chorus 2/Outro

Home is where the heart is,

But home is where it’s hardest.

[Repeat 2-line Chorus 2, x3, to end]


by Mark Nielsen, Bloomington, IL

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