Film Police Blog
Honoring Legendary Chicago Actor Jack Wallace
Jack Wallace was a born performer who fell into acting by chance. One hot summer day in 1969, Jack was walking past an open door at 2356 North Lincoln Avenue when he heard angry cursing and yelling inside the ramshackle storefront. He went in to see what was going on, thinking he might have to break up a fight. He found actors rehearsing a play. The woman in charge, June Pyskacek, asked Jack if he was there to audition. He was out looking for work, any kind of work, so he said Yes not knowing that he was obeying the classic Second City improv rule: Say yes to everything on stage. Jack was hired on the spot. He never looked back and he never had to take another roofing job again.
June needed a hip, catchy name for her startup theater, destined to be a legendary performance space. Jack s father spent time in Southern Illinois working as a coal miner. Jack suggested Kingston Mines and the name stuck.
Jack Wallace s acting career jump-started early when he got the lead role of McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at the Eleventh Street Theater in Chicago in 1973, earning him rave reviews long before the movie with that other smiling Jack came out in 1975. During the run of the play he was a guest on Kup s popular television talk show. A fellow guest, a big time Hollywood movie producer, was so impressed by Jack’s buoyant, larger-than-life personality that he cast Jack in a Charles Bronson movie on the air while they were chatting. The movie, Jack s first of many, was Death Wish and the producer was Dino De Laurentiis.
Soon after that, Jack Wallace was invited by artistic director Stuart Gordon to join the Organic Theater acting troupe. Talent spotting was among Stuart Gordon’s many skills. The Organic was a prodigiously gifted group that included Joe Mantegna, Dennis Franz, Tom Towles, William J. Norris, Meshach Taylor, Andre Robin De Shields, Bryan Hickey, Keith Szarabajka and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, all of whom were young and unknown at the time but went on to illustrious careers. Jack played Pap, Huck s father, in the Organic play Huck Finn Parts I & II in 1976, a physically demanding role that had him swinging from a chandelier.
Jack has appeared in every movie David Mamet has directed, twelve so far, and in most of his plays. Jack was in the ensemble cast of Glengarry Glen Ross in New York. That 1984 production, which earned Joe Mantegna the Tony Award for Best Actor and David Mamet the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was the hottest ticket on Broadway that year. One memorable moment of many stands out for all of them: Just as Joe was delivering the electrifying first act curtain speech, a bravura soliloquy filled with precisely timed pauses, a Mamet trademark, he glanced down for a split second and realized: That dapper, older gentleman with the wry smile front row center is Cary Grant.
David Mamet is a resident of Los Angeles who remains fiercely loyal to the same group of Chicago actors he has worked with for decades like Jack Wallace. When Glengarry was about to open in NYC, he posted a private note backstage for the all-male ensemble cast to read on the night the critics were seeing it. It read in part:
Remember, gentlemen, we are guests in this town.
Jack was close friends with beloved Chicago-centric actors Ron Dean and Danny Goldring. He married his longtime soulmate and best friend, Margot Wallace. Jack Wallace has over one hundred acting credits in film and television but he got his start in the glory days of Chicago theater—A Golden Age when Chicagoans were making history by bending the rules and reinventing the art form. Jack never lost his Chicago Mojo. I said about him often: You can take Jack out of Chicago but you can never take Chicago out of Jack.
Phillip Koch produced and Steve Elkins wrote and directed Medusa Challenger, a dramatic film starring Jack Wallace and Joe Mantegna about two flower sellers on Lake Shore Drive. The film won two Chicago Emmy Awards after it was broadcast on PBS WTTW in 1984. The film streams on YouTube and is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the American Film Institute.
Congratulations to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature! We were advocating this for years. See the story below about Dylan at Ravinia!
“Bon Jovi – New Jersey”
I don’t know exactly how it happened. It just happened. It all started with one tooth.
Nadine was a nasty, mean spirited and spiteful person. Unfortunately she was my boss.
Luckily I only worked part time at the Confetti Office and Party Supply Company.
Nobody liked her but we all had to put up with her.
Nadine’s office was decorated in typical bad taste. Lots of hideous little knick knacks,
a couple of half dead plants and lots of pictures of her dog, JoJo. I’m sure that she liked that
dog a lot better than any human she ever knew, with one exception. On the wall, in front of her
desk was a photo of that exception, Jon Bon Jovi.
I knew who he was, of course. But I wasn’t too familiar with his music. I guess he was quite
a sensation, back in the day, as they say. I had to admit, he was a pretty good looking guy.
It was summer and the full time staff were taking their vacations. Of course the part time staff got no
benefits whatsoever, so there was no vacation time to take.
Nadine had apparently planned her vacation around attending a Jon Bon Jovi concert somewhere.
I thought it was pretty amazing that he still did all that stuff considering how old he was. I don’t
know what he looks like now, but back then at least, he was a pretty good looking guy. Oh, I guess I already said that.
When Nadine was away on her vacation something mysterious happened. Every time I passed her
office, I noticed that something had been done to Jon Bon Jovi’s
picture. First, one of his teeth was blackened out, then another. Soon, fangs sprouted along with horns.
Then a black mustache and beard appeared on his face. His eyebrows became ragged and bushy.
(He was beginning to remind me of my Uncle Fredo who lives in his bathrobe and never leaves the
house.) Jagged scars began to etch his cheeks. He developed serious, dark circles under his eyes that no
amount of concealer could erase. His hair went from golden,nutty brown to bright neon green.
It was all a bit childish but no one said a word .
It was Monday morning . When I arrived there was a staff meeting going on. I crept to the back
of the room and sat down as quietly as I could. Nadine, or as I liked to call her, Miss Congeniality,
was standing in front of the room. Her face was bright red. I thought that she must have
gotten sunburned on her vacation, but I was wrong. Her face
was the color of fury. She held up the desecrated photo and let everyone
have a good look at it , as if we didn’t already know what it looked like.
“O.K.,” she said. “Somebody did this. I want to know who. This is private property. My
private property. No one had any business putting their grimy paws on it.”
In fact, she was absolutely right. Someone had defaced her private property. I only hoped that
the miscreants would confess so that we could all get back to work. But no one did confess.
Everyone remained silent.
“Well,” she said, through gritted teeth, “I’ll find out and when I do, there will be hell to pay
and then you’ll have to deal with me.“ As she stomped out of the room, clutching the
evidence, I noticed the words Bon Jovi-New Jersey in big black letters on the back of her jacket.
All morning long she ranted and raved about how someone was going to pay. She hung the picture back
on the wall just in case anyone forgot why she was angry.
Mercifully, she had to attend a supervisor staff meeting after lunch so we were spared her presence
for a couple of hours. When I left at three she still had not returned.
Tuesday morning rolled around and there I was back in the office. I knew I had to look
for another job. Even the pattern on the carpet was beginning to annoy me. Was it
the job or was it Nadine? Probably both.
When I walked in everyone was lounging about, laughing, drinking coffee ,
and talking on their cell phones.
I asked Kyle, one of the guys, what was going on. ”Nadine is gone,” he said. “Fired. Bye bye.”
“Fired?” I said in disbelief. “No way. She’s been here forever.”
“ I’m not surprised.” said Kyle.
“Wow”, I said ,never at a loss for words.
“What did it?“ asked Kyle. ”I’ll tell you. That tantrum she threw over that creepy little picture of pretty boy. Pushed her right over the edge and out the door.”
“Wow,” I said. “If only we knew, we could have done it months ago.”
“ We?” said Kyle, “I did nothing.”
“No, no, no. I don’t mean we personally. I mean, you know, we, in spirit.”
“I take nothing personally. I’m here for the paycheck,” said Kyle.
“Wow,” I said, again.” I wish I could be so totally indifferent.”
We had a glorious rest of the week.
Starting on Monday there would be a new supervisor, a transfer from the downtown office.
Nadine took all of her possessions with her except for the picture. She left it hanging on the
wall to glare out at us with bloodshot eyes.
The new supervisor was the exact opposite of Nadine. She was calm and business like. No one could stand her.
What happened to the picture? I think she put it in Nadine’s file.
The decoration of the office commenced. Knick knacks appeared on every available surface. Frogs being the obscure objects of desire.
Kyle said he wasn’t surprised.
In place of a pretty good looking rock star there was now a picture of a frog, sitting on a
rock. He wasn’t a bad looking frog, as frogs go, all plump and green, nice bulgy eyes.
Maybe I’ll see Nadine again someday. I just might run into her at a Jon Bon Jovi concert.
I had to find out what was so special about this guy. I started listening to his music and watching
his videos. Pretty soon, I too hung up his picture in my office. My home office though, not my work
office. I wasn’t about to revisit that scene.
Oh yeah, I got one of the jackets too. It’s kinda cool, BON JOVI – NEW JERSEY, big black letters.
By Sally Marschall
"Anna Karenina" & Keira Knightley
Lunch with Madame Karenina
If you could have lunch with anyone, even a fictional character, whom would it be? Batman? Harry Potter? Gandalph? Mickey and Minnie? Mayor Bloomberg? The list goes on and on. But at this moment in time, having just seen Joe Wright’s film interpretation ofTolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I would have to say Madame Karenina herself, would be my choice, pre Vronsky, pre the obsession that will forever change her life and ultimately destroy her. I would try to warn her of the dangers ahead. Of course there will be an affair, there’s no stopping that. But why not a discreet little affair that could go on for years without all the collateral damage? Could such a trivial little affair, barely more than a flirtation, suffice for so grand a passion? “My dear Anna,” I would say between bites of caviar and blinis and sips of vodka,“think of what will become of you, your son, your husband, your brother and even Vronsky himself if you pursue this affair.” Anna would smile and tilt her pretty head to one side and say, “I’m sorry. What did you say? I was distracted.” I would sigh and shake my head and see that her attention was focused on the handsome young officer in a white uniform who had just entered the dining room. “Oh, Anna,” I would say, “you’re lost already.” But she wouldn’t hear me. The waltz has begun.
I wasn’t sure that Keira Knightley could be convincing as Anna Karenina. She’s so contemporary, so very clipped English accent, she seems all angles, even her ultra slim body type seemed wrong for the lovely Anna. But, she pulled it off and broke my heart in the process. All the other actors were spot on, Vronsky, her dreamy eyed lover, Anna’s husband Karenin, Levin and the enchanting Kitty. Stiva, Anna’s brother Prince Oblonsky, as played by Matthew Macfadyen is an absolute standout. In one of the last shots in the film, we see Stiva, standing alone in the shadows, away from his bustling family, at a remove not only from them but from the world. A light has been forever extinguished in his life. He will never be the same.
The film is visually stunning. There is a haunting musical score. The costumes are sumptuous. The aristocrats of Imperial Russia spared little expense. The film captures all this. Although the horse racing sequence leaves too little to the imagination and in some of the scenes I felt as if I had to climb over a few obstacles to get to the story and the characters, this tale of many loves was worth the climb. --Sally Marschall
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Bond is back but we are a long way from Sean Connery, Ursula Andress and “Dr. No,” the template from which all Bonds since have evolved. We are so far away, so distant from the archetypical Bond world, that we need to step back and ask, “Have they gone too far astray?” “Skyfall” borrows from so many non-Bond films and television shows that you need a scorecard to track them all. Let’s walk through this crazy quilt of influences, plagiarisms, and copycats that make up “Skyfall”, a pastiche of so many non-Bond influences it’s hardly fair to call “Skyfall” a Bond film anymore. “Skyfall” owes a great deal to the “Jason Bourne” film series—in plotting, in style, in stunts, and in characters. The Bourne film series had the brilliant idea that what audiences really like about thrillers are the chase sequences so why not extend the movie into one long chase? It works so well that the “Skyfall” filmmakers thought “Hey, we could do that, too!” Bourne movies are executed so well that we really think that Matt Damon is on the motorcycle as he speeds through one foreign city after another (and not a platoon of stuntmen, each doubling for Matt). In “Skyfall,” there is an extended motorcycle chase that mirrors and matches cycle scenes in Bourne, particularly when Bond chases a cycle up a stairs in a crowded Istanbul and then across rooftops. It was exciting for Jason Bourne and it is just as exciting for James Bond. There is even a ”fruit cart” scene, evoking groans and winces from audience members familiar with Roger Ebert’s famous “movie glossary: Fruit cart: An expletive used by knowledgeable film buffs during any chase scene involving a foreign or ethnic locale, reflecting their certainty that a fruit cart will be overturned during the chase, and an angry peddler will run into the middle of the street to shake his fist at the hero's departing vehicle. (Of all the definitions in the glossary, this has become the most popular. It has been gratifying to be part of an audience where people unknown to me have cried out "Fruit cart!" at appropriate moments.” Number of fruit cart scenes in “Skyfall”: two!
The “Skyfall” villain is rather weak and pitiful, not the larger-than-life, transcendently scary Dr. Evil who will stop at nothing to rule the world as in all the early Bond films. The Javier Bardem villain only wants to get Judi Dench’s M to apologize to him for firing him years earlier. The entire plot machinery of “Skyfall” is based on this one personal slight—he’s not a megalomaniac who wants a “million dollar” ransom (sorry that was Dr. Evil in Austin Powers first go) or else he will blow up the White House, Fort Knox, or the entire world, and who is willing to allow thousands of people to die if he doesn’t get his way. Javier Bardem is just not a proper Bond villain. He doesn’t have a colorful “Number Two” henchman who is even more evil than he is. He just has a few guys who show up when he needs them. He doesn’t have a master plan to rule the world. His scheme is that he programmed a computer virus (boring) that infects M’s computer. Bardem has a one-note determination to get back at M, a sort of inter-office grudge match that goes too far—hardly the stuff of Bond films. When Bardem’s character is finally captured, MI6 places him in an underground secret prison with a glass cage, so they can view him at all times, identical to the one in “Silence of the Lambs.” Then, just like the Anthony Hopkins character Hannibal Lecter, Javier Bardem’s character escapes from the “impossible-to-escape” MI6 cage in “Skyfall.” He even wears the same pure white jumpsuit that Anthony Hopkins wore. Do the “Skyfall” filmmakers think that the audience won’t notice these things?
Another bone to pick: “Skyfall’s” love interest is not a gorgeous creature we see cavorting in a swimsuit, or slinking around a casino in a tight black dress, but a much older woman, who happens to be Bond’s boss, and who snaps at James with contempt. In other words Judi Dench as M is the woman that Bond ends up cradling in his arms at the end of “Skyfall.” She is not a typical Bond girl, voluptuous, alluring, a fierce and loyal fighter and a passionate lover, but the old-enough-to-be-his-mother, cranky, white-haired Judi Dench. Where are Pussy Galore, Octopussy, Holly Goodhead, Kissy Suzuki, and Miss Moneypenny, when we need them? Sure, there is a beautiful girl who has a brief fling with Bond at the beginning of “Skyfall”. But she is brutally killed on camera by the Xavier Bardem character right in front of us. James’ only comment after she is shot in front of him, and not long after they have made love: “A waste of good scotch.” Did someone mention bad taste?
The BBC produced a terrific television series on MI5, the domestic British secret service that “Skyfall” blatantly copies. MI6 is the foreign secret service that James works for but in the BBC’s “MI5” we see rogue agents, loyal agents, Cabinet Ministers, innocent civilians, all caught in a web of intrigue that is heightened by time deadlines that the villains set in motion. “Skyfall” borrows so much of the BBC’s “MI5” playbook that it appears to be another episode of that series; another case of “Skyfall” ripping off something very un-Bond-like. Then there’s James Bond himself as he is portrayed in “Skyfall”. He’s a wreck! His gun arm shakes, he’s got circles under his eyes, he rarely smiles or cracks witty quips, he barely notices beautiful women, much less pursues them. Like Austin Powers, the poor man has lost his mojo! He does have one, very brief sex scene very early but we have no idea who the woman is. James gets out of bed, walks out of the room, and never sees her again. How rude!
The one good part of “Skyfall” is the relationship of the much younger African-Anglo female MI6 agent who is sent to back up James at the beginning of “Skyfall” in Istanbul. They have a nice time exchanging clever banter since she has smarts, guts, grit, and, natch, a spectacular figure appropriate for a Bond girl. Will they end up together? We don’t know. She is written off early. She has great potential. She wants to prove to James that she is just as daring and brave as he is as they chase a bad guy through Istanbul. That’s a great premise for a Bond/Bond girl relationship but it never gets traction. Spoiler alert: They kill off M at the end. M is the woman that James wraps his arms around in the end, his mother substitute! Aaargh! No, No, Dr. No! That’s not what we expect from James Bond. Let’s hope they go back to the basics and re-read Ian Fleming’s first few Bond books. And then get it right this time! Sean, we forgive you, come back, you can wear the toupee, or go commando! We don’t care if you’re old! Just restore order to the Bond universe, please!
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As I walk through the neighborhood tonight it seems as if everyone is out walking their dogs. I don’t have a dog. I have a cat, Ferrari, who doesn’t mind walking on a leash but who spends most of his walk time eating grass, rolling around in the dirt, escaping from his leash and running up trees. Nevertheless, he is an outstanding cat and when I tell people that I have a black Ferrari they seem impressed.
I am not smitten by Ferraris although I do like the symbol of a Ferrari. The first time I actually saw a Ferrari in person was on a beautiful early summer day. I was out for a walk in the neighborhood. I was curious about a house that had been constructed recently. It had that remote, unlived in look. The original house that stood on the property had been a ramshackle, gloomy old place that stood back off the street in a wooded area at the end of a long driveway.
As a kid I would walk by the house and wonder why I never saw anyone there. Supposedly an elderly woman lived there. My Mother knew all about her and her family. But no one had seen her in years. We kids all thought the house was haunted.
On Halloween we would roam the neighborhood and eventually wind up standing at the
end of the driveway that led to the haunted house or as my Mother called it, the old Froggle house. It had been there for ages and had belonged to the Froggle family for as long as
she could remember.
Old Mrs. Froggle and her caretaker lived there now. My Mother said what all the good
Mothers said, “Leave that poor old woman alone. Don’t bother them.”
There were no bad mothers except for Cindy Hansen’s who liked to drink in the
afternoon and answered the door in her nightgown. Some of the boys would ring her bell
just so that they could see her in her nightgown or as my Mother would say, her
For some reason I didn’t believe my Mother’s story about old Mrs. Froggle living there with her caretaker. I thought it was more likely that a pack of ghosts and monsters lived there.
She just wanted to keep us away from that old house and those dark woods where any
derelict could hang out. There were never any lights on in the house. Was it the undead or just someone trying to save on the electric bill? Halloween would be the perfect excuse to pay the alleged Mrs. Froggle a visit. I decided to dress up as a ghost. Perfect cover for visiting a
a haunted house. A ghost would venture forth fearlessly, not much to lose. A little princess might not. So off we marched, we merry band of ghosts, pirates and assorted monsters. None of
the various princesses would venture down the dark driveway. Maybe they didn’t want to scuff
their dainty little shoes or dirty the hems of their gowns or be eaten by the goblins that surely
lurked in the woods.
Only we brave four, the ghost, the pirate, the mummy and the businessman were daring enough to risk our very lives to solve this ancient mystery.
The businessman had on perhaps the scariest costume of all. He wore his white Holy Communion suit with an orange tie in honor of St. Halloween. His hair was slicked back. He had on black eye glass frames without the glass and stuffed all of his treats into a battered old briefcase. We arrived at the old Froggle house just after dark. The real Halloween doesn’t begin until after dark. We shuffled down the driveway slowly, crunching leaves and twigs.
The mummy was dragging chains. I had rimmed my eyes and mouth with red instead of black. I was a sort of vampire ghost. The air had a tinge of frost in it. The moon hid in the clouds.
The farther away from the street and the closer to the house we got the darker and colder it became. It was like stepping into a cold, dark cellar full of bats and rats and giant spiders poised in their webs. An owl hooted and flew across our path.
The businessman decided that business was closed for the day and ran back up the driveway, briefcase flapping at his side. None of us said a word. We were like a trio of zombies focused on our goal, moving relentlessly forward through the shadows. We approached the house. Inside, everything was dark. Then I realized that the windows were covered with shades. Behind the shades was something, maybe a fabulous Halloween party that we could crash. And why not? We were suitably attired.
But to gain admittance we would first have to knock on the door. Which one of us would knock? None of us wanted to get too close to the door lest it open up just enough to suck us in to untold horrors. I kept hearing my Mother’s voice, “Just leave them alone. Don’t bother them”.
But we had come so far and on the only night that we could justify a visit. Just then little Barton, the businessman, crept up behind us. We all shrieked in fright.
“What do you think you’re doing, you little creep?, said the Mummy.
“Oh pipe down you bunch of sissies,” he said and walked right up to the door and knocked with the big brass lion’s head knocker.
We stepped back a few feet and waited. Nothing. The shriek of an animal somewhere in the woods. He was about to knock again when the door opened and a tiny, ancient woman peered out.
“Yes, can I help you?”
Her hair was white and wispy around her face. She was wrapped in a huge, plaid bathrobe with a ratty old scarf tied around her neck. In her arms she was cradling a frightened looking little Chihuahua.
We all cried out, “Trick or treat. Money or eats.”
She spoke to the Chihuahua. “Did you hear that Martini? They want treats.”
Didn’t she know that it was Halloween?
Just then a very large woman, also wearing a plaid bathrobe, lumbered up behind the old lady.
“Now Mrs. Froggle, you know you shouldn’t answer the door. You and Martini go right back to bed before you both catch a cold.” With a disapproving look she turned to us, “Now, all of you, shoo, scat, skedaddle.”
“Oh, but look at the children in their costumes. They’re so sweet.”
Sweet! What an insult. Didn’t she realize that we were scary, creepy, horrendous?
“Quickly Loretta, bring them some treats”.
“What treats are you talking about?” asked Loretta.
“Why cookies of course. Children love cookies and milk. Come in children and have some chocolate chip cookies and milk. Don’t worry about Martini. He doesn’t bite”, said Mrs. Froggle, eyes shining brightly behind her slightly crooked one armed glasses.
“No thanks,” we all stammered at once. “We have to be going now. But, thanks, yea, thanks, bye, bye.” We stumbled over each other and ran as fast as we could back up the driveway. We heard the Amazonian caretaker say, “Now come back inside this minute” and the door of the not so haunted house slam shut.
The mystery was over. It was just an old house and she was just a sweet, slightly daft old woman who could have been anyone’s grandmother. We would have to find something new to be frightened of. I didn’t go trick or treating the next year. I was getting too old for Halloween.
Eventually old Mrs. Froggle passed on to a better world where there were probably
lots of chocolate chip and many other kinds of cookies to delight her.
After a while there was a big sale at the house. All the neighbors went. No one had
seen the inside of the house for thirty years. By the time of the sale all the good stuff,
if there had been any good stuff, was gone.
The house was sold and shortly thereafter it was torn down. Trees and brush were cleared, and bit by bit piles of beige stone were transformed into a very grand house which stood haughtily in place of the old haunted house. The grounds were landscaped to within an inch of their lives.
I was mildly curious about the house and the family that moved in. I had seen a couple of
boys running around on the rare occasion. Eventually someone would have to tell them
that there was once a haunted house on the property and that the ghost of old Mrs. Froggle had been seen wandering around, looking for her chihauhau, Martini.
As I was walking past the house that day, I stopped and looked down the long driveway, remembering that fateful Halloween night when my cronies and I had fearlessly ventured forth. I walked down the driveway wondering what old Mrs. Froggle would think if she saw what had happened to her house and her woods.
The new house was as quiet and still as a mausoleum. There was no shade and no sign of life anywhere. There were some white peonies on one side of the driveway. One had broken off and fallen to the ground. As I bent to pick it up a car came barreling up the driveway. I jumped out of the way. The car, a sporty red convertible, stopped a few feet in front of me. In the driver’s seat was a man with dark hair and sunglasses.
“May I help you?” he asked proprietarily.
“Oh”, I replied. “You startled me. I was just admiring the flowers. This one was on the ground so I picked it up.”
It was then that I noticed the prancing horse emblem on the car. A Ferrari I thought, perfect. He mumbled incoherently and continued up the drive, the red Ferrari flashing in the sunlight, unshaded by old growth trees. Just in case he had said, “I’m going to get my shotgun and you’d better be gone before I get back,” I decided to remove myself from the premises.
I turned to look back but the Ferrari and its driver were nowhere to be seen. The house was once again as still as the grave.
The only sound was the rumble of the automatic sprinklers gushing on.
When Halloween rolls around this year I’m pretty sure there will be kids walking down that drive heading for the mausoleum. There will be no sound of an owl hooting from the branches of some towering gnarly beast and no leaves or twigs crunching up the driveway. But the kids will be there.
Maybe they’ll dress up like old Mrs. Froggle and Loretta in matching plaid bathrobes complete with a little Chihuahua borrowed just for the night. I wonder what kind of treats they’ll give out? Or if they’ll even open the door. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the spirit of the holiday, there were a few eggs and some toilet paper tucked away in someone’s treat bag.
I’d like to think that Mrs. Froggle and Martini will have a good laugh over the whole thing. I’m sure that they’ll be out there somewhere, watching.
As for me, on Halloween night, I’ll be at home with my very own, black Ferrari and a bag of candy waiting for trick or treaters to ring my bell. There will be a grinning jack o’lantern on the front porch waiting to greet them after dark when the real Halloween begins.
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"Christopher Kimball Country Cook"
I was on the corner of Michigan Avenue in Chicago on a blustery November day waiting for a traffic light to change when whom should I see sauntering down the street in a very stylish trench coat looking here there and everywhere like any other tourist but Christopher Kimball! I was sure that it was Christopher Kimball even though I couldn’t really see if he was wearing his trademark bow tie under his coat.Now there are many people I would not be surprised to run into on the street in Chicago, even some celebrities now and then, but Christopher Kimball, never. It was almost as startling as if I had seen Pa from Little House on the Prairie strolling down the Magnificent Mile in his home spun shirt and overalls waiting for Laura and Ma to come out of the American Girl store. Despite the fact that Mr. Kimball or Chris, as he might prefer to be called, is a frequent guest in my home vis-à-vis America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country and the pages of Cook’s Illustrated magazine there is little doubt that Christopher Kimball belongs in a small town in Vermont sitting at the round table at the Wayside Country store or at the firemen’s summer carnival or just hashing things out with the friendly if somewhat taciturn old timer down the road.
You expect to see Christopher Kimball taste testing and pan and gadget rating and of course cooking to perfection everything from classic brownies to All American Potato Salad. Christopher Kimball is just about as close to being an icon as you can get. There just aren’t many like him around.I love the idea of a real person living an authentic life, raising a family in small town Vermont. Do people go there on pilgrimages to see where Christopher Kimball grew up, is a farmer, a cook, a family man, a good neighbor, and then shared all that with us?
When it’s time to tape his television shows I like to think of Chris jumping into his truck, driving a few miles down bumpy country roads, exceeding the speed limit because he’s running late, one of his sows just had piglets, making it just in time. Washing his hands, slicking down his hair, putting on his apron and his bow tie, doing the show and then hurrying back home carrying some freshly made biscuits so that he can have dinner with his family and tend to his sow and her babies.
Obviously this Christopher Kimball is basically a fantasized figment of the imagination. This could be somebody’s story but it’s not Christopher Kimball’s, not exactly. I’m sure that Christopher Kimball would laugh himself silly to think that anyone would see him as plain and simple. He is after all a sharp and shrewd businessman and entrepreneur, with an Ivy League education, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The man is a raging success at what he does, radio, television, publishing, magazines, writing cookbooks, and all this making him quite a hunk of change. I found out later that Mr. Kimball was here for a book signing. But for me, the charm and appeal, what makes me want to watch his shows and read his books comes from the editorials that he writes about life in small town Vermont. Those stories put me in touch with a world of things I’ve never known and things I’ll probably never do, like tapping maple trees for sap in the spring or gathering eggs from the hen house.
Although raising chickens in the backyard has become quite popular in the city. There was even a tour given recently so that chicken lovers could see how other chicken lovers have set up their backyard coops, ranging from basic to elaborate designer chicken condos. No doubt the city will find a way to tax the owners of these little chicken critters. Make each chicken wear a name tag or some such thing.
Christopher Kimball is out there in TV and magazine land putting forth a simple, countrified life style as an ideal. Stirring up dreams of a sweeter, better more peaceful way of life. We know that there is something missing in our lives, something that seems to be just out of reach, otherwise why the longing?
Would I want to live in small town countryside USA? Sounds great but for the moment, I’m more or less planted here in Big City, USA. Carving out my very own little bit of Paradise right here in my own back yard. But will I continue to watch and read in wonder and admiration as Chris and the gang continue to do their thing? You bet.--Sally Marschall
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"New Hard Times"
I entered college as a tabula rasa—a blank slate without a clue. When I met some of my fellow freshmen at orientation week, I realized we were all innocent naïfs, thrown into the deep end of the pool. For some of us it looked like it may be hard just to stay afloat. I was lucky to be housed with four senior men in a dorm suite. Many of the other freshmen were housed amongst themselves in high-rise dorms, with each building housing all freshmen. These four seniors became my friends and my mentors. Some of their advice was romantic in nature. Each was dating and active socially. One was already engaged to be married. But the real value of their advice was in more far-reaching life lessons. Mark S. was a pipe-smoking, well-read, sophisticated intellectual from Joplin, Missouri. Mark later went on to the London School of Economics for his graduate degree. We might end the day chatting about literature, current events, or politics. Or, we might jump into his car and drive to O.T. Hodge Chili Parlor in downtown St. Louis for a late night snack. One night Mark had an idea. He had been looking over the Student Union budget, the student organization that ran so many of the social activities on campus. He noticed that there was a line item for a dorm newspaper. He knew that the former dorm newspaper, “Grouch,” was discontinued years ago due to lack of interest. But the Student Union kept posting the line item in their budget year after year. Mark advised, “Go down to the next Student Union meeting, ask to be put on the agenda, and request that you be allocated the monies for the dorm newspaper. Then you can publish your own newspaper and print anything you want.” This was the late sixties and “underground newspapers” were all the rage, popping up all over American college campuses. Mark thought it would match my interest and talents to put out one of these rags. I hadn’t any previous experience or aptitude that would lead him to that conclusion but I proceeded to follow his advice to the letter. I realized later that it would also give him a platform to express his own views, which were somewhat left of center. That would not be a problem, as mine were as well. I went to the next student union meeting and asked the secretary to put my name on the “new business” agenda. After some long-winded debate about co-ed visits and curfews, the president called on me. I stood up and said, “I see a real need for a dorm newspaper. The student union has already budgeted for one. Right now is a great time to publish a brand new one with fresh new voice.” The president hesitated. I might get shot down right then, defeated before I had a chance to try anything. Then the president spoke up and agreed with my proposal. He asked for a voice vote. It was carried and approved on the spot without debate or opposition. With a bang of a gavel, I was now a publisher and an editor. That evening, I huddled with Mark and another one of my mentors, Rick B. I needed a catchy name for the newspaper. While we were talking, one of Mark’s records was playing in the background. Rick picked up the album cover, “The Stone Poneys” with Linda Ronstadt, glanced at it, and pointed to the title of the last cut of the album, “New Hard Times.” We all spoke up at the same time, “That’s it!” When I went to the administration building the next day to make arrangements for accessing the money, I was told to just bring the printing bills to them and they would pay them. Then they handed me a key. “What’s this?” I asked. The key had an address and door number on it. When I found the door in one of the dorm basements and opened it, I was amazed. It was a suite of three offices with desks, drafting tables, chairs, typewriters, telephones, file cabinets, even a sofa, everything you would need for a newspaper office, all clean, shipshape, well-stocked with supplies and ready to go. I picked up one of the telephones and was amazed to hear a dial tone. I called Mark. “Guess where I am standing.”
A few weeks later, the first issue of "The New Hard Times" was distributed in kiosks all over campus. It was a great thrill to go everywhere and see every other person holding the tabloid pages wide open in front of their eyes, as they sat in the cafeteria, in the dorm lobbies, in classrooms, even as they were walking to class. The usual chatter and din had quieted as everyone was engrossed in the new paper. It was particularly thrilling to see older students and even professors reading the paper with great interest. Almost immediately I got a note in my mailbox from the dour, dreaded and feared Chancellor of the University, Thomas Eliot, first cousin of T.S. Eliot, the poet. This was T. H. Eliot, former liberal New Deal Congressman. He wanted to see me in his office. As I announced myself to his secretary in his outer office, T.H.E. yelled to me from his inner office, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” Apparently, T.H.E. had taken great offense to a tongue in cheek satire about him in that first issue. I had dark visions of the newspaper being shut down, of being kicked out of school, of mortification and chagrin, but blessedly he settled down. He even had kind words for our poetry section. I was encouraged to keep going with a smile and a firm handshake. The old campaigner still had it in him. I had no idea how close I had come to a yawning precipice. I was too busy planning the next issue in my head. I had a staff to manage, stories to chase down, and deadlines to keep. --Phillip Koch
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"Catering To The Stars" --Sally Marschall
Hiring a catering company for film shoots and other events is always a tricky business, never more so than in Tinsel Town itself where Joyce’s brother, Josh, an artist, was living. Josh’s “day job” was working for a catering company that literally catered to the stars, “The Holly Go Lightly Catering Company.”
The detective side of Josh’s brain went into overdrive—what was he doing answering the door dressed in a bath towel around his waist? He wasn’t wet so he hadn’t stepped out of the shower. Maybe he was just stepping into the shower; but why come all the way down to answer a door? Surely there were staff around to do that, somewhere. Maybe he was in the workout room, in the buff, studying his physique, and simply grabbed the quickest thing at hand which was, presumably, a bath towel.
Josh, mustered up his courage and remembering all of his training, smiled pleasantly and said, “Guten abend, uh, I mean, good day, sir. I’m here from the Holly Go Lightly Catering Company.” For a moment Arnold looked confused. Josh, thought, “Oh God, am I at the wrong place?” He started to reach for his directions, when Arnold bellowed over his shoulder in his inimitable Teutonic accent, “Maria! Dah caterers ah he-ah!” Then he turned away and walked barefoot down the dimly lit hallway to the netherlands of the mansion—perhaps to the kitchen to help his cook make some spaetzles. Josh couldn’t help but feel that Arnold was disappointed. Perhaps he had been expecting a perky little miss and what he got was tall, lanky Josh.
Suddenly Maria came swooping down the staircase in a sparkling blue negligee or was it a sparkly blue tennis outfit? Josh always did have an overactive imagination. Maria’s dazzling white smile melted away all his apprehensions. He felt the tension falling away just as he had feared that the towel might only moments earlier.It’s going to be a great night, he thought, straightening his little black bow tie, for me and the Holly Go Lightly Catering Company.
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Joshua E. (Posted Nov. 22, 2011) "Ms. Marschall, hypothetically, let's just say the Arnold story is uber familiar. Perhaps Mr. S was with his maid, making a baby, preparing for governorship in twenty years. "Mawweea, tha' catarreers ahre heeerr!" Arnold was always good at one-liners. There are a slew of Hollywood catering stories from the 80's and early 90's...smiles."
"Good Morning Patty Panozzo"
Some years ago on a bright Sunday morning, when Patty Panozzo was still serving a fabulous brunch at her eponymous (I've always wanted to say that word) restaurant in Lakeside, Michigan, my family and I were having brunch at a table in the front of the restaurant.
The system that they used for the brunch was that you could select a big plate or a small plate, serve yourself from the buffet, and you were charged accordingly.
Apparently they had just run out of big plates when Roger and Chaz Ebert walked in. When Roger saw this, he boomed out in a cheerful voice, "Oh, so you saw the Eberts coming and you put away the big plates!" Everyone within earshot laughed. I still chuckle when I think about it. It was just a small incident but it was a day brightener. Thanks for that, Roger, and for your great sense of humor.
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"Roger Ebert and Brendan Behan: A Meeting at O'Rourke's"
Sometime in the seventies my friend Roberta was taking a film studies class with Roger Ebert. There was to be a private screening of a film that was going to be discussed in class. Roberta invited me to attend with her. When we arrived at the screening room there were only a few people there. Roberta was surprised that she didn’t recognize anyone from her class. The film screened that night, probably for the first time in Chicago, was “Last Tango in Paris.” Well, that was exciting! As a budding filmmaker, I was a big fan of Bertolucci’s earlier film “The Conformist.”
“Last Tango” was pretty amazing. Roberta and I were bubbling over with enthusiasm. Where else to discuss the film and have a drink but O’Rourke’s, the Irish pub on North Avenue, a favorite neighborhood hangout where you could have a good drink in great company, play a game of darts if you were so inclined and sit under a very large black and white photograph of one of your favorite Irish authors, including Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, and James Joyce.
We sat under Brendan Behan. We no sooner got our drinks then who should walk in but Roger Ebert himself! “Oh Roger, hi, come on over and join us,” Roberta called out. Roger came over and sat down not surprised at all to see one of his film students at O’Rourke’s. We, of course, were thrilled at the prospect of actually discussing “Last Tango in Paris” with none other than the great film critic, Roger Ebert.
“We just went to the film screening,” said Roberta. “OK,” said Roger, “How did you like ‘Day of the Dolphin’?” ‘Uh, we didn’t see ‘Day of the Dolphin,’” said Roberta. “We saw ‘Last Tango in Paris.’” Roger looked ashen. “What! You saw ‘Last Tango in Paris’! I haven’t even seen ‘Last Tango in Paris’!”
Roberta and I would have been only too happy to discuss this weird, wild and wonderful film with Roger but he cut us off at the pass. Roger put his hand up. ‘Whoa,” he said. “Since I haven’t seen this film, I do not want to discuss it whatsoever. If you even look like you have an opinion, I will have to leave.” Or words to that effect.
No, no, of course not we have no opinions. We will not utter one word about the film. Hmm, what should we talk about? The weather? The Cubbies? Whatever we talked about, it wasn’t “Last Tango in Paris.”
However it was still a great night in O’Rourke’s sitting under a picture of Brendan Behan, having a drink with Roger Ebert. --Sally Marschall
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“Step Away From the Chess Table and No One Gets Hurt.”
It was a beautiful fall day in New York—bright, sunny and mild. It was the kind of day that only enhances the experience of being in New York, one of the most exciting, entertaining, stimulating, dynamic, idiosyncratic cities in the world. It was early Sunday morning, a time when few pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorists venture out, most of them having spent the previous night out and about in the city that never sleeps, and were resting up for another night of only-in-New-York revels.
Two couples, longtime friends, one couple visiting from the Midwest, the other couple native New Yorkers—planned to meet in Tompkins Square Park, a changing neighborhood that offered some tantalizing dining opportunities and interesting scenery. They headed for the Odessa, a Russian-Jewish restaurant with a great Sunday brunch menu. It was the type of meal that afterwards required a slow walk around the park to settle the stomach and work off the lethargy that a rich, carb-laden meal at Odessa usually generates.
The park was totally deserted when the four friends sat on park chairs to discuss their next destination. One of the men, a busy, well-respected attorney, had been going through chemo and needed to rest. They happened to settle around one of the unoccupied chess tables in the park. They thought nothing of it since no one was playing chess. No one was in the park except themselves. They hadn’t been seated for more than a minute when a loudspeaker squawked at them: “Step away from the chess table. You can not sit there if you’re not playing chess!” They looked around to find the source. A NYPD prowl car a hundred yards away was idling and pointed at them. They could not see inside the cop car—the glare of the sun bounced off the windshield. They grumbled to each other, got up and moved to a park bench thirty yards from the chess table. The police car slowly rolled away, to seek out, vanquish and annihilate other evildoers in the park. The NYPD can never rest; since after all, sitting at a chess table and not playing chess might be a cover for something more sinister.
They settled on a park bench, and just as they were starting to relax and enjoy the novelty of having the park to themselves, a uniformed NYC park worker approached them. He was pushing a trash barrel on wheels and carried a broom. He was testy, belligerent and surly—a typical New Yorker. “You can’t sit on that bench! Can’t you see I’m about to sweep this area?” The attorney who was used to dealing with this type of New Yorker all his life spoke for the group. “No! Really? Gee, for a minute, I thought you were about to do brain surgery here. How are we supposed to know what you’re going to do?”
Park worker: “I don’t know, wise guy, but you can’t sit here.”
Attorney: “Oh of course, our mistake, we thought this was a public park, a place where anyone can sit and rest. So where are we supposed to sit now? On your head?”
The park worker was a very large man who might actually accommodate several people on his person. He appeared to take his fellow New Yorker’s question literally and with rising ire: “Hey buddy, I know where you can’t sit. You can’t sit here! You want to make a federal case out of this?!”
Before things escalated further, the three others quickly escorted their exasperated companion to another bench, as friends who know each other’s tipping point will instinctively do, without any hesitation or verbal cues. Later, they could not stop laughing about the whole thing. For several days (in fact for years) they would crack each other up by imitating in turn, the cop on the loudspeaker (“Step away from the chess table!”) and then the park worker (“You can’t sit here!”). When it seems like a perfect day, when nothing bad can happen, New York happens.
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February 28, 2011, New YorkSuze Rotolo, the first serious girlfriend of Bob Dylan, who inspired him to write some of his most romantic songs, passed away at 67 in New York City. The indelible cover photo of the couple on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” became an iconic image for a generation. Bob was 20 and Suze was 17 when she met the struggling songwriter in 1961. Bob Dylan in “Chronicles: Volume I” wrote: “Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard.” Suze described Bob in her own book, “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the 60s” (2008), as “oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way.” They began seeing each other and shared a walk-up apartment on West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. They were together for four years. Don't think twice, it's all right.
BOB DYLAN AT RAVINIA,
The Broken String Incident, Barefoot Servants, Too
When I was in junior high school, my friend Benny and I went to hear Bob Dylan perform at Ravinia, a summer music venue near Chicago, on June 17, 1964. Dylan was not very well known at that time. In fact, it was early in his career and the legend of the mythical, inscrutable Dylan had not yet been formed. He was known to a few cognoscenti as a young, up and coming New York folk-singer. Ravinia had reserved seat pavilion seating and outdoor lawn seating, which was cheaper. For Dylan’s first Chicago area concert, the pavilion was barely a third filled and the lawn was practically empty of listeners. Dylan sang a few songs before it started to rain. Dylan coyly announced from the stage, "What are you doing out in the rain? Why don’t you join us in here?" It took a moment for the polite, well-behaved crowd of clean-cut suburban teen-agers on the lawn to realize that Dylan was giving us permission to jump the fence into the pavilion without paying the extra charge. The ushers, who were all college kids, smiled and stepped aside to let us pass to the empty, more expensive seats. Even so, the place was still not quite half-filled. Dylan spent an especially long time tuning his guitar between each song but the audience waited patiently. Dylan’s extended tuning only heightened the anticipation among the crowd. Finally, Dylan played another song. Before he finished the third song of the concert, Dylan broke the low E string on his six-string guitar. Dylan apparently did not have another string or a second guitar because he asked the audience, "Does anyone have an E string?" With any other touring artist, then and now, at this moment roadies would rush out from both sides of the stage, grab the now dead five-string and hand off a fresh six string, already tuned. At the very least the artist would look to the wings in supplication and a worried flunky would come out and huddle with the talent to discuss the situation. Nobody came out. It appeared Dylan came to the concert completely alone; this was well before he surrounded himself with bodyguards, assistants, and backup musicians. There was a long awkward pause when the entire audience looked around and realized that we might have just heard the end of the shortest Bob Dylan concert ever when Dave Lauterstein, who went to high school, dramatically walked up the center aisle with his guitar strapped along his back and handed his guitar up to Dylan. Dylan thanked him and proceeded to perform the rest of the concert with Dave Lauterstein’s guitar. To be perfectly honest, I was not yet a confirmed Dylan fan. I considered Dylan at this time to be a novelty act: a scruffy young man singing old-fashioned traditional folk songs. I was more interested in Dylan Thomas the Welsh poet.
Benny and I went back stage after the concert and waited for Dylan. After we knocked on the door, Dylan came out and graciously autographed our programs. (I saved that program for years but it is since lost.) We were the only ones to do so. Both Benny and I were struck by the fact that Dylan did not seem much older than us. He was actually years older but he has always had the rare ability to both appear younger than his real age and to never seem to get older, even when he was well past middle age.
Two years later in 1966, I was hanging out at my friend Paul’s house one afternoon after school. We were seniors in high school. Pop music in those days was either derivative rock and roll, cheesy ballads, or forgettable bubble gum. People did not buy a lot of records because there were few songs worth listening to a second time much less collecting. Paul told me he had a new album he wanted me to hear. I was politely interested but not expecting anything that would particularly strike my fancy as I knew Paul had esoteric tastes that I did not entirely share. He played jazz bass in a group. He also foraged for classic jazz records in the remainder bins at the Jazz Record Mart in downtown Chicago. I asked him about the new record but instead of showing me the cover or giving it a proper buildup, which he usually did when he wanted to share a musical discovery, Paul just smiled cryptically and said, "Wait." I slouched down in a comfortable listening chair as Paul placed a set of expensive headphones on my head and cued the needle on the record. As the startlingly new and powerful sounds of "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" from the "Blonde on Blonde" album washed over me, Paul chuckled, pleased with the visible effect it had on me. Paul was a teen-age connoisseur of pop culture and relished the opportunity of introducing what would be a major musical force in all our lives. I literally sat up and took better notice of what I was hearing. This was no twangy folk singer any more and Dylan was not just rock ‘n rolling. He was way out there on the horizon where no one else would dare go. I went out and bought my own copy of the album that same day.
In the summer of 1967, the summer of love, the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. Although I did not see the magazine until later, there was no question that as I was eighteen and traveling through Western Europe by car with two high school friends. the times were a’ changin’. Starting in Paris for a two month odyssey, we drove to Madrid, Seville, Grenada, Barcelona, the Cote d’Azure, Cannes, the Italian Riviera, Naples, Rome, Florence, Munich, back to Paris to ditch the rental car, and then we to London for more touring and in particular, the Windsor Blues festival, (Cream, Jeff Beck, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, many others). Everywhere we went, the common thread, the one person American, European and British Commonwealth kids wanted to ask about, to talk about, to figure out was Bob Dylan. What’s he really like? Have you heard him play in concert? Have you heard his new album? Does he have a girlfriend? This last was typically from wide-eyed, long-haired girls in jean jackets, miniskirts, and beads, openly emulating Joan Baez’ signature look. Is it any wonder why some of us dressed, behaved, and acted like Dylan?
In the late sixties and early seventies, Bob Dylan grew in stature until he became the apotheosis of hip and coolness. He was not just a rock and roll role model, someone to look to for style lessons, to model oneself after. He was a rock god who was unique, unapproachable, unknowable, mysterious and endlessly fascinating. Whatever music he created was thrillingly original, sui generis and impossible to copy without sounding false. He was the coolest guy in an era when coolness was hard to acquire and maintain, given the vast numbers of wannabes, posers, charlatans, and no-talent losers masquerading as pop stars. Even the Beatles, themselves a revered group of rock innovators, looked up to Dylan as the embodiment of authentic hipness and cool. The Beatles may have created the most revolutionary and exciting pop album ever made, Sgt. Pepper, but Dylan was the one musician all the Beatles considered to be The Heaviest Dude of All Time. (They had worked hard to emulate another rock god: Chuck Berry.) George Harrison and John Lennon were pretty cool cats themselves but even they knew that Dylan was the Coolest Cat. John and George wanted to meet Dylan, hang with him, become his friend, because, they, like everyone else in the sixties, knew that Dylan was the coolest guy. Everyone, at that time, was living in Bob Dylan’s dream.
Dylan’s albums were considered sacred texts, anticipated eagerly for new insights, enlightenment, revelatory statements, and avant-garde musical directions. The first day of a new Dylan record release, we would grab the record from the store, race home, place it on the turntable, and gather around in respectful silence to listen, absorb, and wrap oneself in the Master’s aura. He never disappointed. Each record was a step forward for music, for society and for every one of his fans.
Dylan almost caused a cataclysmic break with his fans when he started singing and recording Christian songs in the early eighties. Now of course there is nothing wrong about singing Christian songs but it was not the sort of direction that was easily accepted from a revolutionary musical hero. It was thought to be a regressive, unhip, backward direction for a previously progressive, revelatory, even revolutionary composer of music. His fans wanted him to continue to be the advance guard of a hip, sophisticated, musical evolution that was shared by the Band, the Beatles, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, the Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young (CSNY was the first "super group."). Of all those incredibly creative, talented, musically adventurous musicians, Dylan was always the one everyone else was chasing, who was just a little bit further down the road, leading the way. Whether it was that historic, startling switch from folk to electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival or a temporary foray into country with "Nashville Skyline," Dylan did it first. Every major musician and musical group would judge themselves against the reference point of Dylan. It was a demonstration of respect and homage that Jimi Hendrix, a rock god himself because of his inventive, ground-breaking guitar playing but then only slightly less revered than Dylan, covered the Dylan song, "All Along The Watchtower." Hendrix, after all, was a true original himself and didn’t have to cover anyone’s songs.
Dylan changed and evolved musically over time, embracing various American traditions such as folk, rock, country, bluegrass, traditional, gospel, soul, blues, spiritual, hillbilly, but always re-imagining the music in his own voice. The Woodstock Festival, in July of 1969, attracted so many hundreds of thousands of music fans partly because Dylan was rumored to make a surprise appearance, after spending three years without performing live as he recovered from a motorcycle accident. He was known to live and hang out in Woodstock and so many of his Woodstock neighbors, like Van Morrison and the Band, were scheduled to appear. Famously, Dylan did not appear at the Woodstock Festival, which only fueled his growing legend as a one of a kind rock god. The Last Waltz, the Band’s 1976 farewell concert in San Francisco in which Dylan did participate, was a gathering of equals but Dylan was first among equals. The Last Waltz could have been billed as Bob Dylan and his friends since Dylan was the widely acknowledged headliner and main attraction.
Inevitably, male singer/songwriters who followed Dylan have had to face criticism for being copycat followers when their only crime was to be both younger than Dylan and his ardent admirer. Bruce Springsteen and Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits, both singer/songwriters like Dylan, were plagued by unfair comparisons to Dylan. Dylan didn’t seem to object. In fact, he produced an album together with Knopfler ("Infidels," 1983).
Dylan’s long, fruitful extended career is an anomaly. Legendary rock gods typically die young. Elvis evolved from rockabilly to rock and roll, from young Elvis to Vegas Elvis, from fat Elvis to dead Elvis (at age 42). While other musicians seemed to fade, or immersed themselves in drugs and alcohol, or wallowed in their old hits to ultimately destine themselves for D list reality shows and gigs at Holiday Inns, Dylan never suffered that sad, slow decline. Janis, Jimi, and Jim Morrison all died much too young of drugs and excess. More recently, Ozzy Osbourne, the Beach Boys, and many others are doomed to live longer but to suffer more pain through the embarrassing exposure of their lack of depth. Dylan doesn’t allow for quick analysis. He always took his work and himself seriously. Of the thousands of photographs of Dylan in existence, few of them show him smiling. He seems to be wearing a mask at times. Inscrutable? Yes, definitely. Strange? No, that’s just Dylan.
When he appeared at the 2001 Academy Award show to accept an Oscar for writing the theme song for Curtis Hanson’s film "Wonder Boys," he was not in Los Angeles like the rest of the nominees but actually on a stage in Australia, performing a concert. The Academy Award show simply beamed him in by satellite. Imagine if his piped-in appearance had set a precedent for actors. "The award goes to Meryl Streep, but she’s not sitting in the front rows of the Kodak Theater in Hollywood but thousands of miles away on a location set in New York. She thanks the Academy but static and interference muffles her voice." Only Dylan, because of his mystique and elevated status as a revered cultural figure, could have been allowed to get away with not actually attending the Academy event to receive an Oscar. One of the ways Dylan protected his mystique throughout his career was to avoid subjecting himself to endless interviews.
That is, up until recently. The two part PBS documentary that Martin Scorsese directed was eagerly and nervously awaited by both Dylan music fans and Scorsese film fans. Marty was not only a revered master filmmaker, drenched in his own myth, having collaborated with another legend, Robert De Niro for several decades, he had a long history of artfully editing great music and film. His greatest films, like "Mean Streets" and "Good Fellas," are filled with well-chosen pop music gems. He also directed the iconic documentary/concert film, "The Last Waltz." Marty is a longtime friend of Robbie Robertson, the leader of Dylan’s backup band, the Band, probably the hippest musical group after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And how did the Band earn that status? Simply by becoming known as Dylan’s backup band. Marty was even one of the editors of the film of the Woodstock Festival. If anyone could be true to the spirit of Dylan and his legacy, it would be Marty. He could be trusted to make sense of it all. Reportedly, Marty had access to miles of footage never seen before, mainly hours of interviews with Dylan. And this was an authorized biography, initiated by Dylan himself, who preferred a talented filmmaker like Marty to create his definitive film biography. Finally, after an over forty year career, the real Dylan would be revealed with Dylan talking to camera at length. Would this mean that Dylan would be exposed as a manipulator, a charlatan, a faker, the artful copier of other people’s styles? Holy Dylan shattered into pieces?! Please, no, we don’t want to see that, that would be a nightmare! As the air date for the two part series approached, the fear and dread pervaded even Dylan’s loyalist fans.
With "No Direction Home" airing on PBS and available widely on DVD both Marty’s and Dylan’s reputations come through not only intact but built up, buttressed, and bronzed for the ages. "No Direction Home" both re-mythologizes Dylan and explicates him as well, through his own musings and through reminiscings of his earliest companions, rivals, and associates. Dylan does not disappoint his fans. He does talk intelligently yet as always enigmatically at length about himself and gratefully, does not shatter any of our illusions about him. Dylan is re-affirmed to be an authentic cultural icon. He did write, compose and perform an astonishingly wide-ranging catalog of extraordinarily memorable songs. He did somehow tap into a great shared zeitgeist and create something unforgettable, transcendent, inspirational and as unmistakably American as the flag and apple pie. Dylan is a master poet who richly deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s all true: Dylan is as important now as he ever was.
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Frank Visco: (posted June 29, 2008)
"I have been an avid Dylan fan since 1963 as a first year college student, and your thoughts represented in this wonderful article have been in my head for years. I had a similar experience with Blonde on Blonde with my friends. One thing for sure as Joan Baez said "either you get Dylan or you don't." I feel sorry for those that don't. Over the years I have known people that have met or known him. One was the owner of the Palamino Club in North Hollywood, where Dylan would show up and frequently join a performer on stage. Nice article."
Roger Fernandez-Rojo (posted April 24, 2008)
"I was also at that concert. It was as you said. The guitar was a Martin that was a better guitar than Dylan's. I have followed the career also, and I believe your opinions have the ring of reality about them (I hesitate to say truth because what is truth in this sort of endeavor?) A forum debate I am participating in has to do with whether Dylan was ever trying to emulate Leonard Cohen. I said no, of course. I've heard Leonard read. He is great in his own way. And Sharon, whom I took to that concert, never married me. Just walkin'. Ain't talking."
David Lauterstein (posted December 16, 2010)
"During his third song, Dylan broke a string. He yelled out, “Anyone out there have a string or a guitar?” I was 16 then and carried my guitar everywhere. So I walked up to the stage (my friends shouting, "Lauterstein, Lauterstein!") with my guitar – a beautiful Martin Dreadnought - and handed it to him. He started his next song. He said, “If this song’s no good, it’s the fault of this guitar!” When he got done, he said, “This guitar’s better’n my guitar!” Needless to say, my already uncontainable excitement overflowed - the entire concert was an ecstatic experience, especially for me, but certainly for the whole crowd. And Dylan played the rest of the concert on my guitar. To this day, pride and excitement well up in me that Bob Dylan played a whole concert on my guitar on that liberating night during that world-changing time in history. Come on people - let's keep on doing it! Singing, playing, working and changing the world for the better!"
Keith "Hairbone" Harris (February 9, 2011)
“ I was sitting in the Pavilion when Dylan broke the string. What I remember is that when Dave arrived with his guitar, Dylan started removing the string he needed in order to put it back on his guitar. Dave then told him to just use the guitar. I still remember the look on Dylan’s face when he strummed the new guitar and realized it was a pretty nice axe! I wonder where that guitar is today. :)”
Mike Leonard, NBC Today (posted Feb. 12, 2011)
"Great article about Bob Dylan. Count me in as another who was at Ravinia the night he broke the string. I was a junior in high school and was riveted by the scene having little knowledge of Bob Dylan's music at the time but totally drawn in by the situation. That night changed my life. Dylan's unique, poetic, story-driven music inspired me to seek a life of creativity."
Woody Stemms (posted March 3, 2011)
"We remember our first time seeing Dylan, years after hearing about him and hearing his songs covered. A girlfriend had an older brother who was a "folkie". He was the first person we ever heard call a performer by their first name. He'd go on and on about "Joanie", the same way black hipsters referred to "Miles". It was after Dylan had crashed his bike and dropped out of sight. "The Band" was scheduled to play at Southern Illinois U. at Edwardsville. It was an open-air amphitheater, with a tent over the seats. A girl we knew tipped us off during set break that Dylan was backstage, that he might perform, and the vacant seats ( of which there were quite a few ) would be opened up to everyone. Thus forewarned, we quickly scrambled from the lawn to a center seat in the the second row. When Dylan appeared, the place went nuts. It was his first public appearance since the wreck, and it was inspiring to hear him, backed up by such a great group of musicians."
David Lauterstein (posted April 25, 2011)
“Like many musicians in the old days I would sell great instruments just for the next months rent and I sold the guitar Dylan played on long ago. However, it is a deeply resonant moment in my life and a memory that goes way beyond its actual significance - not only for me but also for some other people. I can't exactly explain it and maybe that's why - it's still got some kind of mystery to it.
The great Walter Benjamin said, "To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it "the way it was". It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger."
That moment somehow represented the coincidence of many lives. We all sensed we were in a historical moment of danger and opportunity.
It certainly represented the intersection of the traditions of the the folksingers, the troubadours, the protest singers, the sincere Beatnik, the Dionysian lyricist - with so many of us in the audience desperately wanting an enormous change in the world.
In bodywork we talk about the creation of "free-standing wave forms". The idea is if the person is already in an agitated state and then gets for instance in a car accident, the injury is often more severe, of greater duration, and more complex to resolve. Similarly there are positive contexts in which a people in a high energy state of great hopefulness experience something wondrously unexpected - it becomes a "fulcrum". An experience around which we reorganize, re-orient - the fulcrum/experience becomes itself the origin or the seed for something new in one's life.
So when I gave him my guitar it was like our collective aspirations met with his, and these all were suddenly amplified in the act of giving him the guitar. He played on our instrument - just as we wished to play on the historical moment. To this day I hold out the hope that something vastly better could happen in this world. Of course, everyday somewhere, fulcrums of equal or greater significance are happening. Just still there is the hope, still alive in a vast number of people, that we can precipitate a world in which finally peace on earth gets to be a true guiding principle. In which learning the art of living becomes primary and technology and profit just tools to sustain our humane evolution."