Friday, March 13, 2015

Count Basie and John F. Kennedy

The first celebrity encounter I can remember was when my father returned from California in the late '50's and said he had run into Count Basie at Disneyland and took this picture of the experience. I was probably ten then and had to go look up Count Basie to find out what he did.  My father also managed to get Guy Lombardo's autograph.  My older brother Frank came back from a trip to New York City and said he saw John F. Kennedy campaigning in 1960. He said Kennedy looked like a kid. I was 13 then.

Since those days I have always had an interest in encountering celebrities. Not so much for the sake of talking about it but more for the perceptual experience. These are people that you may "know" from their work and sometimes you have studied their work and have a comprehensive knowledge of it. But you don't actually know them and they certainly don't know you. In the case of film celebrities you have probably studied their faces when the faces are twenty feet high on a screen. You've read about them in books and magazines. They are your "favorites" or you really don't like them at all. You may have actually experienced being a celebrity yourself when someone approaches you with "aren't you so and so?"  Or maybe you have actually gotten to know someone famous. There are a few things I have learned about celebrities: They are smaller in person, they are older than you remember, and they usually do not want new friends.

ButterFly McQueen

Sometime in the late 1980's when I was teaching at the Atlanta College of Art we got a call from someone at the Gone With the Wind Museum who wanted to know if we would be interested in having Butterfly McQueen come and give a talk at the art college. As ranking member of the school's visiting artist committee I said Yes!  She was a really wonderful visitor. A lot of people came to the talk from around the city - some of them I am sure thinking she was really like the Prissy character she played in the movie. They probably didn't know she had been black listed as someone who had been involved with communism and had a tough time getting work or that she lived in Harlem and was a civil rights activist. She graciously refused to say "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies" and then went ahead and said it anyway. An older person in the audience asked her what her religious beliefs were for what reason I can't imagine. She responded "My religion is keeping my house clean." And from that moment it became my religion too. She told me later she was adding artists to her list of people who could get things changed - right behind teachers and politicians.

Don Knotts

Some friends that worked for the LA Times invited me to dinner at their house with Don Knotts when I lived in Santa Monica in the late '90's. I had always been a fan of his comedy since he was the "nervous guy" on the Steve Allen Show in the 1950's. My brother and I had always referred to The Andy Griffith Show as the Don Knotts Show - and I told him so at dinner. At some point during dessert he revealed that he started his career as ventriloquist. When he was in the army during WW2 he was in some unit of entertainers and was called upon to drag out his dummy and do his routine for the soldiers. He said he got really tired of it and one day he just left the dummy on the beach of one of the Pacific Islands that was being invaded. "I told them the dummy was a casualty", he said.  Our host, however, went into the next room and came back with a vintage Jerry Mahoney dummy. He passed it to Don who admitted he hadn't touched a dummy since the war. But in a split second the dummy was talking and Don's lips weren't moving. A little spooky. Don handed the dummy back, "Enough with the dummy".  I got him to sign his book that had recently come out - Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known and posed for the picture with me. I really liked that guy.

Jeff Corey

In November of 1970, Atlanta sculptor Martin Emmanual had a show at the High Museum in Atlanta - a well deserved exhibition by one of the country's best artists.  As a colleague at the Atlanta College of Art, Martin was a good friend and we had recently done a group show together. Sitting on a bench outside the show was a familiar face only I couldn't recall the name. I sidled up to Marty and asked who was that guy. "That is Clark Polling's (a professor at Emory University in Atlanta) father-in-law, Jeff Corey" Marty told me. Jeff Corey? Not the actor Jeff Corey? Oh it is, it's him!  So I made a bee-line for the bench. Corey was sitting by himself and I sat down and said "Mr. Corey I have always enjoyed your work".  He looked quite relieved that someone knew who he was. We talked for thirty minutes or more and I asked him what his latest projects were, what his reaction to Marty's sculpture was ( he like it a lot) and  he asked me about what I did. All the while I'm thinking this is the guy who taught everybody how to do character acting - Jack Nicholson, Leonard Nimoy, James Dean, Candice Bergen, Kirk Douglas, Robin Williams, Rob Reiner, Ann-Magaret, Anthony Perkins, Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, Steve Allen just to name a handful. And what a great actor - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Little Big Man, True Grit and dozens more. And here he was just sitting by himself and ready to have gab with a perfect stranger - but one who knew him, a little. There is an excellent Website about him at  .

Sid Caesar

The summer after my first year of teaching video and photography at the Atlanta College Art in 1976 I got a fellowship at WSB - the local NBC TV station. I had no real idea what I would do there other than get exposure to TV production. But one of the perks was meeting celebrities that came to the station. There were a number of them - John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Joel Gray, Carol Channing - more later about some of them - but the highlight for me was Sid Caesar. I had grown up watching Your Show of Shows and other productions he had done. I knew a lot of the bits by heart. That day he had a cold and was a little grumpy at his interview but gracious anyway. I was allowed to record the interview with my reel to reel black and white half inch video gear which he got a kick out of - shooting him in B&W.  I forget now most of what was said in the excitement of doing the shoot. The tragedy struck when I got back to the art school studio and realized I had threaded the tape backwards and didn't record a thing.  A Syd Caesar gag if there ever was one.

Senator Wayne Morse

When I was around 9 or 10 we lived in Syracuse, NY. I had a pal named Hibbard Van Buren Kline III. Hibbie's dad was head of the Geography Department at Syracuse University and his grandfather had been the head of the Art Department there. Hibbie's mother's brother was Senator Wayne Morse.

Hibbie's grandfather had given him a terrific collection of antique weapons - rifles, muskets, swords, daggers, bayonets, helmets from the 1700's to WWII. As kids we were allowed to play with them in the house and I learned a great deal about history from those objects, especially the value of actually handling something that someone else had touched back in time. I ended up with a small collection myself that I sold in the 1960's.

One of things I still have, however, is a menu dated April 17, 1957,  from the US Senate Restaurant inscribed and signed by Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon. It says "To Ben Davis - I am glad to know that you are a buddy of my nephew Hib Kline. Best Wishes always, Wayne Morse, U.S. S. Ore."

At the time, of course, I didn't really know much about Morse except that he was Hibbie's uncle. In college though I came to know a lot about  Morse and really valued my "encounter" with him on that menu.

As a Republican Senator he was one of six senators that supported criticism of Senator McCarthy's witch hunt of American communists. Morse was so disillusioned with Eisenhower choosing Nixon as a running mate that he quit the Republican party and in 1955 joined the Democratic Party.  In 1960 he tried to run for the Presidency but lost the bid to John F. Kennedy. Morse was one of only two US Senators that voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that allowed Lyndon Johnson to take military action in Vietnam without a declaration of war. Morse spoke out strongly against the Vietnam War at the time I was facing the US draft. He took a lot of criticism for his stand. I treasure that old menu with his inscription on it.

Gregory Peck

During my summer of 1975 fellowship at WSB TV in Atlanta I met stars. I couldn't help feeling that meeting Gregory Peck that summer was like meeting Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird Bird.  Peck was just like you thought he would be - gracious, funny, generous, geniune. I worried after encounters with John Wayne that Peck would be another annoyed star going through the motions. Not so. He was just as you would have hoped. I suspect the Atticus Finch character was much like who he actually was. He seemed genuinely interested in the questions he was asked, gave generous answers even to the dopey ones, and was relaxed and in no hurry to be somewhere else. It was impressive to see someone so famous being right there with you while all the while your thinking "Captain Ahab, Atticus Finch, Horatio Hornblower, Jimmy Ringo, F. Scott Fitgerald, Douglas MacArthur. Tom Rath!"

John Wayne

By the time I encountered John Wayne in the summer of 1976 on my fellowship at WSB TV I was not much of a fan. The reporter I was  with that was going to do the interview with him was totally awestruck and had a difficult time doing his job. The interviews were set up with a bunch of desks in a large room and Wayne would go from one network reporter to the other and he wasn't at all happy about it. "Come on will ya ask the questions" he would bellow at the poor guys. Then the WSB handler, which was a woman that Wayne had some earlier relationship with, would take him to someplace picturesque outside the room and make him do a station promo, which he really didn't like doing. He was supposed to be looking at something and then turn around and say "When I'm in Atlanta I always tune in to WSB". He would get about half way through it and then say something like "this is such crap" and the woman would come out and pet him and get him to try it again. They finally got a decent take. His hair piece did not look great from the back either.

The Allman Brothers

Chuck Berry


 Berry came to Guam when he was 47.  Berry traveled around on the "oldies circuit" alone in that period, just himself and a guitar. He would get a pick-up band that knew his tunes, do the gig, no encore, and move on. Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller performed the backup band function early in their careers. This time a local Guam band called "Friends" would back him up. No rehearsal, no discussion, just hit the stage, do the old tunes, and go to the airport. "Friends" was a very tight group and I think Berry actually appreciated it.

His concert on Guam was on August 17, 1974, Rand Coffman's 27th birthday. Rand produced the concert through a project he created called "Youth Incorporated" and a grant from the American Bicentennial Commission. I was the photographer-cinematographer for the Chuck Berry gig and Frank McGuire shot stills for the local paper.  I don't know what happened to the 16mm color footage I shot.  I was 27 and taking a break from graduate art school at Florida State University. I've been close friends with Rand since high school, some 50 years now. He still lives in Guam, has a radio program called "The Edge of Heaven" about phenomena, renovates yachts, teaches gifted children, and lot's of other interesting things.

Chuck thought I laughed a little too much. He was probably right. Mr. Berry on the other hand, was not very funny.   We picked him up at the airport in a Rolls Royce. The one and only time I've ever been in a Rolls. It belonged to somebody's uncle.  Why was he doing a concert in the George Washington High School stadium such a very long way from St. Louis? I got the feeling he might not have known how far it was to Guam and when he finally got there a bunch of scruffy hippies picked him up in a Rolls. He wasn't too cheerful. To top it off it rained at the concert and he went on early but played anyway.  He did a very good set and got a standing ovation which seemed to cheer him up. Before he could get off,  a bunch of kids jumped up on the stage and started singing and dancing around him. He started laughing. Laughing like a regular guy not a star. He took the microphone, pointed at the audience still applauding, and yelled "you're all my children!"  And we are.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey, 1970

I have a Kesey story. I know it's true, I've told it before. In the summer of 1970, after graduating from the University of Florida my pal Bob Gould and I set out in our VW Bus to go to San Francisco and get a job at the Whole Earth Store. Well they already had an employee at the Whole Earth Store so Bob went to Boston and I headed up to Washington with my new girlfriend Pat Thomas in her VW bus. On the way we picked up another couple hitch-hiking and he turned out to be a writer for underground papers with an address of a buddy in Eugene, Oregon, that we could stay with. We knew about the Springfield Creamery being owned by Ken Kesey's brother Chuck so of course we had to drive by it.

As fate would have it, there, standing in front of the Creamery  with his dog Stewart (we know it was Stewart because he yelled at him to stop barking at us) , was the man himself, Ken Kesey. We played it cool of course. I rolled down the window as we pulled up next to him and we exchanged the knowing smiles. I'm sure he had seen hundreds of scruffy hippies coming up there to hang out with him. "Would you know a place we could camp?" I asked as casually as I could. He smiled again and said "Yes, below the Jasper Bridge is a good place" and he proceeded to give us directions. Sure enough we found the Jasper Bridge and the little road leading down below it. There on the side of the bridge support in flaming dayglo spray paint was "KESEY SUCKS!!!" We laughed ourselves silly.

Jasper Bridge, Highway 222 
Next day we headed for the address our writer passenger had and wound up at Kesey's farm. There was the famous bus and Kesey's Edsel convertible. His wife came out and was very nice to us but said they were expecting a bunch of people to show up any minute and we couldn't stay there. The guy who had given the farm as his address no longer lived there. We had our brush with greatness and it was time to move on. We never did make it to apple picking.

Sam Shepard, Jessica Lang, Kirsten Giroux

Lang and Shepard, Boston, 1980's.

Maybe this has happened to you.  I was having breakfast with a Boston actress, Kirsten Giroux sometime in the late 1980's.  There was a couple at the next table. The woman looked really familiar. I kept thinking that I knew her from someplace and that inevitably she would look over and see me and saw hello and I wouldn't have clue who she was but I would have to pretend that I did. I would have to get Kirsten to introduce herself so the woman would tell her name because I couldn't remember it. I would have to prep Kirsten to do this before she recognized me. I kept flipping through my history - grade school, high school, university, jobs, trying to place her. I even started to "age" kids I knew in grammar school to see if I could match her up with somebody. Funny how quickly you become obsessed with something like this. I could always just say "Don't I know you from someplace?" if it came to that. I leaned over the table and whispered to Kirsten "I think I went to high school with the woman at the next table." Kirsten (who is a terrific actor)  smiled and said "Oh did you really?" " Yes, I said, " but I can't think of her name. "  "Did you go to school with Sam Shepard too? Because that's Jessica Lang", Kirsten said. Just then Shepard and Lang looked over at us and we exchanged nods.

Kirsten Giroux teaching in Oregon, 2013.

Billy Gibbon

Billy Gibbon's sister worked at the High Museum in Atlanta in 1985 and I worked at the Atlanta College of Art next door. When I found out she was Billy's sister I asked her to get my copy of Afterburner signed at the concert they were doing in Atlanta. I told her I was removing the CD from the case because I couldn't bear to be without it while I was getting the autograph. She told Billy that and he said "smart move."  We had seats in the fourth row.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ross Perot

I managed a multimedia group at Project Athena at MIT called the Visual Computing Group. It was an effort to integrate video and photography into the educational computing environment. We prided ourselves on being "application driven", basically making the software conform to the needs of learning environments. In that regard, prototyping different kinds of content was important. One of the connections I made was with the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Natural History. In addition to biology collections they also had a large collection of Native American artifacts. They were very interested in the notion of digitizing things and repatriating  them to the tribes they originated from.  We went down to Washington and took photographs as well as digitizing print images they had and made up a multimedia piece using our technology. We got word that Ross Perot was interested in visiting MIT to see the latest digital technology work. We also knew from the Smithsonian that he was interested in opening a museum in Dallas that would have no permanent collection and would basically borrow exhibition materials and display them. He came to visit us and we sat him down in front of our visual workstation and proceeded to show him  some of the work we had done. We had invited curators from the Smithsonian to attend as well so that when we showed him the Native American work they could pitch him the repatriation idea. They never got to do that. While he was looking at the Native American application he said "This is real interesting. You know when I met with some of the chiefs in Dallas to talk about exhibitions that actually ... can you believe this? ... they wanted their stuff back! Can you believe it? They actually thought maybe we could give them their stuff back! " The group from the Smithsonian got up and quietly walked out.

Visual Computing Group Native American application.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dennis Hopper

1998?  I think so. I was working at the Getty Center in Los Angeles and Steven Swimmer and I went to an opening. Steven worked at the Getty as well but he was also an independent movie producer and when we saw Dennis Hopper at the opening I started kidding Steven about pitching a movie idea to him. Steven, of course, thought that would be extremely uncool. But I kept after him. Nothing came of it and we wandered away. It was always fun to run into movie stars at the Getty. So on our way out we decided to hit the bathroom. As we stroll in who should be at the urinals taking a leak? Yep, Dennis. So I quickly went into a stall but Steven went right up next to him and starting doing his business. Meanwhile from the stall I start talking to Steven. "Hey you know what movie was a lot like what we were talking about earlier? The Last Movie! Do you remember that one?  A great picture."  Steven mumbled something like "yeah I liked that picture a lot".  Hopper washed up and left.  Steven couldn't believe I had done that - mentioned one of Hopper's movies in the bathroom!  I thought it was hilarious. We went on down to the garage to get our cars and who should be right in front of us getting into his car? Hopper looked up at us and smiled and shook his head.  So cool.

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters in Toronto photo by Jean Luc

In the summer of 1969 I was 22, in my last year of university, and number 8 in the US draft lottery.  I was not interested in being a soldier so I headed up to Toronto to visit a friend, Chris Lawrence. Chris was selling used cars in Toronto.  I knocked around Toronto some and it didn't seem all that friendly. We went to Toronto Pop Festival that summer. There was a club in Toronto then called the Colonial Tavern where a lot of jazz and blues players came. My only exposure to Muddy Waters at that time was his psychedelic album "Electric Mud".  We thought it was a great sound and only later learned that it was not at all what Muddy Waters normally played. I remember seeing the advertisement for Muddy Waters someplace in Toronto and telling Chris we had to go hear this guy who was like Jimi Hendrix. We went to the Colonial Tavern and got a table right in front of the bandstand. It was a small club. Muddy played his traditional stuff about three feet from us. It completely knocked us out. I have never listened to Electric Mud (I did actually to write this) again but I have a lot of his great records. That experience was like going behind a mask and discovering a whole world of music. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Steve Jobs

It must have been 1986 when Jobs came to visit Project Athena at MIT. He was known to come to MIT to see what was new and interesting. He made himself at home in the Project Athena demonstration room and asked me if I could find him a MacIntosh to work on. Project Athena was a 100 million dollar campus computing project sponsored by IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and used very high end workstations. Macs were scarce. I went around to the few offices I knew to have some MacIntoshes and asked if I could borrow one.  Nobody wanted to lend me one. So I went back around and said "Did I mention that it's for Steve Jobs? He's in the demo room."  Suddenly there was huge interest in lending him a machine. The news was like 10 minutes there were 20 people trying to casually run into him in the demo room. He was very good natured about it, took the first Mac that was offered him, shot the breeze for a few minutes, and then went to work. I said I was sorry about the crowd. He grinned and kept working.

Stephen Hawking

I was introduced to Stephen Hawking at a lecture he gave at MIT around 1989. I asked him about the computer system he was using and he replied in the synthesized voice of the computer:

This system allowed me to communicate much better than I could before. I can manage up to 15 words a minit. I can either speak what I have written, or save it on disk. I can then print it out, or call it back, and speak it sentence by sentence. Using this system, I have written a book, and dozens of scientific papers. I have also given many scientific and popular talks.  

I asked if I could take a picture of him with his screen and he smiled a small smile.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Calvin (Bud) Trillin

In the past 35 years I've "met" Bud Trillin at least 15 times. For some reason he never seems to remember who I am. In the summer of 1981, I had dinner with he and his wife Alice on Bill Zimmerman and Susan Hauer's island (Great Island) in Medway Harbour in Nova Scotia. I had never heard of him and did not know that he appeared on Johnny Carson occasionally. He just seemed like a funny guy you could joke around with. As it turns out he liked to try out routines on people to see how they might play on the Tonight Show. He was going on about how no self-respecting author would write before noon. I reminded him of Herman Melville which seem to catch him off guard.  That same summer I did a poster for his kid's film festival "Sound of Egg". It was nice oil pastel drawing. I could go on and probably will. Thirty five years is a long time to not remember somebody that you see every summer. It has become something of an annual event.

Robert Fripp

Sometime in the 1980's when I was teaching art in Atlanta I went to see Robert Fripp (King Crimson, League of Gentlemen, Bowie, Eno) performing at Peaches Records. Peaches was a hugh record store. Fripp was by himself with his black Les Paul Custom and a Revox A77 variable speed tape recorder which he called the Frippetronics System.   He took questions at one point and I asked him how he defined being at artist. He said, " You build the tallest building you can build, climb to the top of it and jump off. You can't be pushed", he said. "You have to jump."  His "new standard tuning"  CGD AEG  is quite a tall building.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Johnny Carson

I was having lunch at Schatzi On Main Street in Santa Monica, CA sometime around 2000. It is closed now but was a culinary venture by Arnold Schwartzenegger at the time. I never saw Arnold in there but on the day I was having lunch in strolled Johnny Carson.  My reaction was that it was like seeing your father unexpectedly in a place you never imagined he would ever frequent. But there he was, tan, casually dress, smiling. "Here's Johnny", of course, is the next reaction. He was a man I grew up with and paid a lot of attention to, very much like a father. But a funny father. Someone you could always count on for kidding around. And there he was and then he was gone, into some private dining room to have lunch with Arnold or somebody funnier.

John Fahey and Tim Berger

John Fahey
Sometime around 1985 for my birthday I was taken to see John Fahey perform at a music store in Atlanta, GA. He was touring for his most recent album " Rain Forests, Oceans, and Other Themes" which he autographed for me after the concert. He was much older than I expected but was not at all grumpy like his reputation seemed to dictate. He was quite nice actually and I told him I had always been a big fan which he seemed to appreciate. I'm not sure when I first heard him but remember listening to "The Yellow Princesss" one of his early albums quite a lot when I lived in Gainesville, Florida in the late 1960's. There seemed to be a little cult around his music then. 

Fahey and umbrella
He may have performed at the White Springs Folk Festival outside of Gainesville as well because I distinctly remember seeing him perform with a very attractive woman seated next to him shielding him from the sun with a large black umbrella which I thought was the coolest staging of a guitarist I had ever seen. 

Ben Davis and Tim Berger, circa 1990.

When I lived in Austin, Texas, in the early 1970's I met a guitarist named Tim Berger who taught me how to play in opening tunings which completely revived my interest in guitar playing especially when he revealed how Fahey got his unique sound that way.  

So I would say that Fahey and Berger were my main inspirations for playing guitar.  I always keep a few instruments tuned in open G, D, and E.  I still have the album Fahey signed for me which he did with a ball-point pen that deeply etched his signature in the album sleeve.

Rain Forests, Oceans, and Other Themes, 1985

Sophie Tatischeff

One the interactive language projects we did at the MIT Visual Computing Group was "Direction Paris" by MIT French language Senior Lecturer Gilberte Furstenberg. It consisted of two full length interactive films:  "A la Rencontre de Philippe", the fictional story of a young man changing jobs and looking for a new apartment in Paris, and "Dans un quartier de Paris", a documentary about the Marais neighbourhood where he was looking for an apartment.  "A la Rencontre de Philippe" was directed by Sophie Tatischeff, the daughter of legendary French filmmaker Jacque Tati. I met Sophie in Paris in March 1994, with Gilberte and Alain Giffard who at that time was the Director of Technology for the Bibliotheque de France. 

We met at a L'Ebauchoir ( for lunch. It was the first time I had blood sausage in Paris. Sophie was a great person to talk to about movies and Alain, who's wife Catherine Ficat was then a curator at the Cinematheque France, was equally excited about meeting her. The film about Phillipe was beautifully directed with lots of Tati-like touches. One of the things she was most interested in was sound. She had been the editor on a number of Tati's films - Play Time (1967), Trafic (1971), and Parade (1974) - and learned a great deal from her father about sound production. 

Of course, a multimedia film for teaching language was a very rich real estate and Sophie had a lot of ideas that never got implemented for budget reasons. She imagined, for instance, that random conversations in cafes going on behind the main character's dialog could be interactively brought to the foreground so that you could not only hear the scripted dialog but unscripted conversations in "real French". The story might even branch off into the lives of characters in the "background" and off you would go into new worlds and stories that would keep you interested in learning French for a long, long time.  "Can you imagine overhearing something interesting as you often do in a cafe and then being able  to go with it!" The possibilities would be endless.  

Sadly Sophie passed away in 2001. After her father's  death she produced a colour version of his 1949 feature Jour de fĂȘte using previously unusable colour film elements shot simultaneously with the monochrome stock. In 2001 she also re-constructed his 1978 short film Forza Bastia.

She was an amazing person and that lunch in Paris with her, Gilberte Furstenberg, and Alain Giffard will always be one the best experiences I've ever had. 

Ben Davis, Sophie Tatischeff, Alain Giffard at Lebauchoir, Paris
Gilberte Furstenberg, Paris 
A la rencontre de Paris directed by Sophie Tatischeff

Samual Goldwyn, Jr. and Lupe Ontiveros

When I lived in Santa Monica, CA. in the '90's I invested in an independent film called "Gabriela" produced by a friend of mine, Steven Swimmer,  and directed by Vincent Miller. I was allowed to visit the set and watch the shooting and meet some of the cast. It was there that I learned that movie making was mostly waiting - like waiting for paint to dry. It was a sweet movie about love and had a mostly hispanic cast.  

The mother of the young girl love interest was played by veteran actor Lupe Ontiveros. When the film was finished it was screened for a number of studios and film distributors and as investors it was incumbent upon us to attend as many of the screenings as possible in order to laugh at the funny parts and gasp at surprise twists in the plot.  After you have done this three times it starts to get a little tedious and the laughter doesn't sound all that genuine. 

But we liked the movie and the director Vince Miller,  and to get our investment back had to make the effort. One of the best screenings was for Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. the son of Samuel Goldwyn of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM)   He was very nice and gracious and encouraging to Vince and made us all feel good about the movie. He didn't, however, decide to pick it up. We had a good time chatting with him though. Lupe also came to some screenings as well as the opening of the film at a local Santa Monica theatre. She was really funny and just as animated off screen as on. I think she was the most fun of everyone involved and I really liked kidding around with her.

Vincent Price

Must have been sometime in 1966 when I was a sophomore at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. He was there as a visitor to the art department giving a talk about his art collection. I remember nothing about the lecture. I talked to him after the lecture and found myself fascinated with his hair. It was the most elaborate comb-over I have ever seen. Seemed to sweep up from the sides, over the top. How it stayed in place was a wonder. He wasn't scary at all, except for the hair.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ralph Nader

Sometime in the 1990's I was having dinner with some friends in Washington, DC.  Sitting at the next table was Ralph Nader. My first reaction was that he was an old friend and I should get up and say hello. Having never met the man that really wasn't an option. I tried to not look over at him too much as you always wonder if someone looks the same in person as they do on television. My friends suggested if I was so interested maybe I should go over and tell him I was a big fan. But of course you never do such things. So I just got through dinner and thought how nice it was to have a friend like Ralph Nader. Whenever he ran I voted for him. Citizen Nader still going strong at 82. I recently heard him tell an interviewer that when he was in his 40's he was told by someone in their 90's that you never really age until your ideals begin to erode. He said he carried that thought through the rest of his life.  Much like Ben Franklin, Ralph Nader is the only President who was never President.

Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age, Halifax, July, 2014

Saw Bill Frisell at the Halifax Jazz Festival in July 2014 playing his "Guitar in the Space Age" set. When it was over and he was gathering up his equipment I went up to the stage and thanked him for coming. He said he was glad he did.   Always fun to meet your guitar hero and have him be a nice guy.

Nick Manoloff

I'd write and order me books. There was a guy called Nick Manoloff. Nick Manoloff had books. Guitar instruction books in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, the big one. I'd order those books and I studied them religiously, and that's how I learned to put my fingers on -- learned how to tune the guitar and learned my first bit of learning how to read music.
B.B. King
Academy of AchievementJune 10, 2004, Chicago
I don't know how B.B. King got much out of Manoloff's Spanish Guitar Method, Book 1.

I found it fairly impenetrable at thirteen.

Manoloff's Instructions for the Guitar on page 7 should have killed all interest right off:
The first care of a beginner is to procure a perfect instrument ( unless you have only $16.83 in which case there is no need to read further) . The strings when tuned must not be too high a distance above the fingerboard nor too low so to rattle against the frets (unless you have a no-name guitar with the fingerboard markers painted on) . Very often a pupil with delicate hands will have their finger blistered (most beginners already have calloused fingers from nervous drumming and tapping) ; to prevent this the frets should be rounded and smooth at the edges because, when gliding up and down, the fingers should not be interrupted in their passage (unless of course interrupting the passage is your thing).
There is a pretty useful set of instructions for tuning the guitar. You had to get a pitch pipe. Hidden deep in the fine print was the instruction:
In tuning to a 6 note pitch pipe or tuner be sure to tune an octave lower than the tone actually produced by the pitch pipe, otherwise the strain of the string will be too great and might cause damage to the instrument.

No mention of ever cleaning the pitch pipe. I still have mine but would no longer put it near my mouth.

How to Hold the Guitar is good too:
Sit upon a chair of ordinary height, with the left foot slightly elevated, and the right leg crossed over the left.
So you sit with your left foot up in the air, slightly, and cross your legs. So basically you have both feet up in the air.


There is a certain correspondence of pain with the the blistered fingers inherent in the holding of the instrument in this way.

The best part of the book for me was the "Names of the Principal Parts of the Guitar ... know your instrument thoroughly before you begin to practice" page. There is a full page photo of Nick's guitar with all the parts clearly labeled.

It's a mysterious instrument.

I've tried to find out what kind it was but no luck.

It appears to be a concert sized flat-top with a split, square headstock like a Martin but with no brand name on it (just like mine!). The pickguard is tucked up next to the bridge though - sort of flamenco style. I've still never seen another guitar with a pickguard like this. You can see Nick's fingers actually resting on it in the photos.

It's a twenty fret neck. His doesn't have the double fret markers at the 12th fret where the neck meets the body. I studied that picture a lot, matching everything to my own instrument. Especially useful is the "FRETS (little metalic bars) and the SPACE BETWEEN FRETS.

On page 9 there is what appears to be a Man Ray photograph complete with solarization of Nick's disembodied hand and shirt cuff floating in deep black space demonstrating the correct way to hold the pick.

It looks very much like the hand shadow puppet for a chicken head.

Nick refers to the pick as the "plectrum" which was very confusing but there was a picture of one "actual size" as well.

I am assuming you could match your plectrum to the one on the page in order to be sure you hadn't gotten one that was too big or too small. He went on to say that the pick should "not have an extremely sharp point, since the rounded point will give better results in every way."

This I have found to be very true. Yes. No pointy picks. Roundy pick good.

Also rest your pinkie on the sounding board because "the tone is clear and powerful and locating the strings is very easy."

I have found that wearing a tuxedo to play in also improves your playing enormously. Nick doesn't really go into that and it takes quite awhile before it sinks in somewhat subliminally.

Very clever teaching method the Spanish method.

Right opposite the sheet music for "Massa's in de Col' Col' Ground" (B.B. must have loved that huh?) are instructions for "Hot" Accompaniment and How to Make It.

But before we plunge into staccato playing we have to have a look at the very best part of Book 1: The Modern Accompaniment Guide.
This is a really nifty thing. I still have it and I still use it. It's a computer actually. My first computer now that I think of it. And it was free with Book 1. Says so right on it.

It also says "For Spanish Guitar". Confusing. Is this for flamenco or what?

Note Nick's raised left leg and tuxedo.

Anyway it is worth repeating the instructions on this. It is a musical education in itself. If you don't need a musical education you can skip this. It's long and theoretical.

If you don't like music theory you won't like this.

Don't read it. Skip it. Come back to it.
To accompany any key the student should know either the name of the key or find the number of sharps or flats in the piece he will play. Then turn the disk until the arrows point to the desired key or key signature. Use the 3 chords tonic, subdominant, and dominant for accompaniment. The 3 relative minor chords shown in the upper right opening, have the same key signature as the major key. To determine whether a key is in major or minor see the last note or chord in the piece. If it ends on the tonic note of the major, accompany with the 3 major chords; if it ends on the tonic note of the minor, accompany with the 3 minor chords. When a sharp or a flat occurs in the music and does not appear in the key signature, accompany with 3 accidental chords.
The accidental chords I found extremely interesting. I had learned a lot of chords by accident already just fooling around. Maybe I could work backwards from accidental chords.

It was worth a try.

I might have found the secret to learning the Spanish method: a tuxedo and accidental chords - the keys to the kingdom of guitar.

This exposition probably makes me sound like I can read music. I can't. I won't lie. But it does make me sound like I want to read music. That's important.

The Modern Accompaniment Guide is a wonderful thing. Two pieces of cardboard with a rivet in the center. You just turn it and it tells you what goes with what and has little fingering drawings that tell you where to put your fingers. Forget the book. Focus on this primitive calculator/computer. I've had mine for 49 years and it still functions perfectly.

I don't have much I can say that about.

I nearly forgot this part about "Hot" music. This is important. This is rock and roll but in 1935. I will always remember the scene in the Benny Goodman Story when Steve Allen turns to Donna Reed and says "So you like hot music?"

How many times have I used that line huh?

Because I had read Manoloff when I was thirteen I knew from hot music.

I have to quote this extensively because its important that you read it all. If you want to know how hot music is played pay attention. You'll never listen to Eddie Van Halen the same way again.

"Hot" (the quotes are Manoloff's) Accompaniment AND HOW TO MAKE IT
This term, commonly used in playing popular music, is known in the theory of music as staccato playing; i.e. buffed, damped, suppressed or muffled sounds. To play staccato means to detach or separate notes from each other giving them only about one quarter of their time, making a rest of the remaining time belonging to each note. It is usually indicated either by round or pointed dots over or under the notes. When there is no indication in the music, the performer could use staccato at liberty for greater "hot" effect.
Staccato at liberty..get it!!!??? That's the whole secret to pop music - staccato at staccato..staccato gone your face staccato!
To perform effective staccato on the guitar, strike the strings quickly with a heavy down stroke, then stop the sounds by stopping the vibration of the strings. There are two ways of playing the staccato (this is before Hendrix remember):

1. By damping or muting the strings with the right hand.
2. By releasing the pressure of the strings with the left had.

The first method is employed when there are open strings included in the chord. In this case, the staccato is produced by quickly laying the edge of the palm of the right hand across all the vibrating strings, or by quickly laying the thumb across the strings on its side.

The second method is employed when the chord is composed of all closed notes. The vibration is stopped by releasing the pressure of the left hand fingers, so that the strings may rise a little from the finger board, but not taking them entirely off the strings.

Staccato is very important, being used in modern orchestra music frequently. At first it will be found rather difficult and will require considerable practice.

Strike the strings quickly with a heavy down stroke. I'll bet Pete Townsend read Manoloff too.