Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Experiencing Sugar Man, Then Losing Track of the Song for Decades

One summer, I flew out from Chicago and spent the month of July in Berkeley, California, hanging around the University of California campus for no apparent reason, whiling my time away. I won’t carbon date myself by telling you the year, but it had a “7” in it.  

My friend Sue and I had spent a week in the area the previous summer and fell in love with the east bay. I went back, wanting to explore the area more and actually wait for Sue to again follow me after she finished a summer school session back home.

That previous year we had stayed in San Francisco proper, in the Tenderloin district, and at what seemed a well-kept hotel, even though in reality it was nothing but a $3 a night flophouse filled with its share of drunks, druggies and screamers – which we two little 18-year-olds on a budget found amusing and exciting, even though we didn’t chum up with anyone at the hotel.

After traveling over the Bay Bridge into Berkeley, we discovered a building that served as frat house during the school year but was rented out to both gals and guys by the week during the summer months. This frat house, Theta Delta Chi, was featured in the film “The Graduate,” where on an interior shot you’ll see actor Richard Dreyfuss in his first film role, speaking one line.

That following summer I knocked on this building's door when I got into town, with no reservations, no previous plans. They found a little room for me in a back wing for $10 a week. The room held a twin size mattress on the floor and nothing else. No drawers, mirrors or closets. There wasn’t even any electricity in the room. No lights. So at night, I entered and undressed to a flashlight.

The summer frat house roomed folks of various stripes, with some of the year-long frat boys still in attention. But mind you, in Berkeley even frat boys seemed like hippies, but with shorter hair. There was an open door policy. Meaning, the front door was always open and, as well, we kept the doors to our rooms unlocked. 

That is, until one sunny afternoon I found this short little rasta guy sitting on my room’s mattress, just about to crack open my knapsack to look through its contents. For some reason, I kept very calm. First of all, I knew he couldn’t steal anything because I didn’t have anything. A beat-up aluminum mess-kit, a camping knife and fork, and some well-worn women’s hippy clothing. 

He didn’t look like the violent type. I simply asked him,“What are you doing here?” When he didn’t answer, I just said, “You can’t be in here. This is my rom. You have to leave.” And he did. I was surprised. I locked my door from the inside every night after that, though I didn’t have a key to the outside.

Anyway, on the second floor, a few of the guys had one very large room that they shared and many of the summer residents were invited up there to hang around nearly any time of the day, including myself.  One guy showed me how to play chess for the first time, and I played everyday for a while. Another guy who came back from a local abalone diving adventure treated us all to breaded and fried abalone he made, fresh from the east bay.

And one guy from South Africa, big and blond, who was a summer student at the university brought a record album up to the room and held the cover before me.

“Did you ever hear this album?” he asked.

I stared at the guy in a bubble on the vinyl album cover, in tall hat and sunglasses, sitting cross-legged as if floating in midair.

“I don’t think so. I've never even seen it before,” I said.

“I’ve asked all these California people out here if they knew this guy Rodriguez,” he said. “And nobody does. But he’s from the U.S. I thought since you were from Chicago maybe you knew who he was. Maybe he’s from out there.”

I stared and stared at the cover that said “Rodriguez Cold Fact.”

“This album is a big hit in South Africa. In fact, it’s the number one album,” he said. “And no one here seems to have every heard about it.”

“Number one? And he’s not from South Africa?” I said.

“In South Africa, everything we listen to is either from Britain or the United States. Rodriguez is from here, but nobody knows exactly where,” he said.

"Why would you think he might be from Chicago?" I said.

“I figured Chicago is cold and Cold Fact might have something to do with Chicago," he said. "And the buildings on the cover look like older urban buildings.”

“A number one album from America, and no one here has ever heard about it?" I said. I was incredulous. "Play some of it. Maybe I’ve heard it before and just never saw the album cover,” I said.

He slipped the record out of its jacket and slid it onto the small stereo against the wall. He put the needle to the record, the record turned and the Rodriguez’ song “Sugar Man” began to expound.

Sugar man, won't you hurry
'Cos I'm tired of these scenes
For a blue coin won't you bring back
All those colors to my dreams

Silver magic ships you carry
Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane
Sugar man met a false friend
On a lonely dusty road
Lost my heart when I found it
It had turned to dead black coal

It was so quiet in the room besides the echoing lyrics and guitar music of the song, we held our breaths and felt just a gentle breeze enter through those second story windows. We were mesmerized.

I slowly came out of my reverie of the song. “I wish I could help you. The song is terrific. But what does it mean. Who’s sugar man?” I said.

One guy said, “A drug dealer. One who sells drugs, sells sugar, cocaine, pills?”

“What about that Sammy Davis Jr. song, ‘Candyman?’” I said. “You know, ‘Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two, the candy man, the candy man can.’”

Another guy, “That beat tune? I think that’s really about actual candy. But I could be dead wrong.”
"I know it's a beat song. But did he copy this 'Sugar Man' guy?" I said. "You know, like the concept, not the art of it."

I stared and stared at the Cold Fact cover. The image of Rodriguez floating in a bubble seared into my brain. I asked the South African to play “Sugar Man” again. Then again. He did. I blissed out on being in Berkeley, on meeting people from all over the world, on the song “Sugar Man” that seemed to come from nowhere and have no home, except in my heart.

Of course, I didn't travel all the way to California just to listen to records or play chess indoors. I joined the group of friends I made at the house and elsewhere in Berkeley for picnics, waterskiing outings, a day trip north to wine country, long discussions at coffee houses, a evening exploring San Francisco's Chinatown, endless billiards challenges, and a special night at a small, local dance venue where Carlos Santana hopped onstage as a surprise performer during a Tower of Power set.

Eventually, I found out my friend Sue wasn’t able to afford the trip out west after all, even on standby. By the end of July, I headed back to Chicago, saying goodbye to the guys and gals I met in Berkeley from California and other states, from South Africa, from Europe, and goodbye to the song “Sugar Man,” which I never heard again…

Until 2012, when the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” was released, winning an Academy Award for Best Documentary. My husband and I watched the film on our home TV via On Demand.

Rodriguez appeared onscreen and began to play the song “Sugar Man.”  

“I’ve heard that song before. I’ve seen that record album before. I love that song,” I told my husband.
"No one's heard it before. You just heard it now. No one knew who he was until this year," he said. 

“Why is that song so hauntingly familiar?” I asked. “Rodriguez lives not too far away. Didn’t the Chicago radio stations play the song for awhile, back when?”

“Listen, I know a lot about music, and I’m telling you, I never heard it before,” he said.

“Maybe I’m just getting it mixed up with the song ‘Candyman,’” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” he said.

“For some reason, I think I’ve had this silly problem sometime before,” I said. “It’s all unclear. It’s so hard to remember. A number one album no one ever heard of.”

But after a few months of soul-searching, I did remember. I remembered hearing “Sugar Man” in Berkeley so many years before and feeling song all the way up and into my solar plexus. And I remembered the South African student trying to find someone, anyone from the U.S. who knew anything about Rodriguez or where he came from. None of us knew.

But I’m so glad that now, finally now, all of us do. Here's to you, Sixto Rodriguez from Detroit!


Thursday, November 06, 2014

My easy, breezy fruit smoothie, veggie smoothie diet

Well then. I have been eating healthy for years, preferring organic, non-processed, non-GMO and/or grass-fed foods, and cooking at home as much as possible. But during those same years, several extra pounds came along for the ride no matter what I did. I exercise about four times a week, trading out yoga, strength training and the occasional Zumba class, but even this just seems to maintain my weight and tone me, not reduce me.
Recently, I introduced myself to my own self-styled smoothie diet. and lost three pounds in less than a week. As I child, I was tremendously skinny and didn’t like food. I preferred beverages. I could drink shakes, juices, milk, water, kool-aid with no problem, but the idea of food sort of made me ill. There were no such things as fruit or veggie smoothies back when I was young.
I remember on one particular birthday, my family asked me to make a wish and blow out the candles on my birthday cake, as many of us do. My special wish that young year was to become an angel, because I had heard in church that angels don’t have to eat food.
As I grew up, I somehow got over this food aversion. Fancy that. Today you might say, food, cooking and nutrition are major focuses for me. I even wrote a book of poems on food, Omnivore Odes: Poems About Food, Herbs and Spices (Finishing Line Press, 2013). But one thing hasn’t changed since childhood; I still love beverages. And yes, today that includes those savored glasses of wine and microbrew.  
Now that fruit and vegetable smoothies have arisen in our culture, I’m a great advocate of them. I have a juicer at home, and initially started juicing some of my favorite vegetables on the weekends when I had time to chop vegetables, go through the process and clean the juicer. But while juicing, I kept thinking of all the valuable fiber I was missing that was going instead into the back yard composter.
I soon realized that you can make your own fruit or vegetable smoothies right in your own standard blender, if you use the right ingredients. You don't need a Vitamix or other mega-blender. And these smoothies contain all the healthful fiber that the fruits and vegetables naturally hold. Weekends became the time I’d enjoy my fruits smoothies. And I’d bring vegetable smoothies to work to supplement my lunches. But didn’t these smoothies seem to make me feel full?  I did pack lots of nutrition into these 12-fluid-ounce portions. But then I'd eat food on top of them. Was this smart?
Follow your bliss, said Joseph Campbell. One of my means of nutritional bliss were smoothies. Why not try to incorporate these superfood powerhouses into a weight-loss program, I said to myself. After I started my smoothie diet, I lost three pounds in less than a week, as I mentioned above. What did I do? I changed how I used them.
What usually goes into my fruit smoothie: banana, mixed berries or cherries (the one pictured uses organic, frozen mango), a dollop of peanut butter, a tablespoon of ground flax seed and enough rice milk to allow it to liquefy in the blender.
A rundown of my usual veggie smoothie: cucumber, celery, spinach or mixed greens, Italian parsley, dill weed, avocado, peeled and seeded lemon, cayenne pepper, salt, one heaping tablespoon of green food powder such as Kyo-Green, two tablespoons olive oil, a cup or more of pure water.
Here's the Modus Operandi: The first weekend, I had a fruit smoothie for breakfast and a veggie smoothie for lunch, then a regular dinner. A regular dinner is similar to what’s pictured on the plate. During the work week, I add two hard-boiled organic or pasture-raised eggs to my fruit smoothie breakfast, and perhaps a couple of squares of dark chocolate to my veggie smoothie lunch, followed by a regular dinner.
The eggs, in addition to the peanut butter in the smoothie, provide added protein in the morning. The green smoothie has its fair share of good fats and vegetable protein for the afternoon, and the dark chocolate is a just-because treat! Plus, both smoothies are loaded with antioxidants and fiber.

Oh, by the way, a regular dinner means no dessert, y’all. And sadly, no wine or brewskis either, but maybe some hot herbal tea before bed. But I do plan to celebrate my success on Saturday nights with the reward of a glass or two of wine.
What are the measurements for the fruits and vegetables? I leave that up to quantities I have on hand in my refrigerator. Sometimes I chop up enough ingredients to make two veggie or fruit smoothies and keep them in mason jars for the next day.
Don’t go out and buy pre-made smoothies from the grocery store -- or purchase smoothies at a snack bar. They often contain hidden calories. There’s nothing like using fresh, organic ingredients that you process at home. This diet does take some preparation, which you might take care of the night before each day. Planning, shopping, peeling and chopping are required, especially for the veggie smoothie.

I don’t like to mix fruits and vegetables in my smoothies, through some people do. The way I make them, the fruit smoothies taste sweet and the veggie smoothies savory, almost as if like a green gazpacho.
I won’t lie. The first few days of the smoothie diet were tough. I’d usually feel quite hungry by late afternoon before dinner. Maybe not so easy and breezy initially. But after a short while, my system got used to it and I wasn’t very hungry. I’m planning to continue until I lose about 10 pounds. I’ll keep posting on progress.

The point is: If you're going to diet and want to lose weight, nourish yourself as deeply as you can in the process. Keep up your health. Don't fast. Make life enjoyable. Get enough fiber. Maintain your energy level. Sleep well. I believe the smoothie diet helps accomplish all of the above.
Note: In addition to  following this diet, I continue working out about four times a week from 40 minutes to an hour each session. I regularly take vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as Omega-3 fish oil and probiotics. Plus, I drink water. I always keep my water bottle handy at work and when I work out. Sometimes when we feel hungry, we’re actually just thirsty! ##


Monday, October 27, 2014

Are there natural preventives for Ebola?

At the time of this writing, the Ebola Virus Disease has had its sporadic brushes with the U.S., such as in Dallas and New York City, but has not become a pandemic, as it has in West Africa.

Even though some U.S. travel and quarantine restrictions are slowly being put into place, many keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  That is, waiting for someone with Ebola to come to our shores, get lost in the shuffle, infect others who might possibly mistake Ebola symptoms for influenza, and unleash a chain of infected individuals spreading it to a myriad of others. Let's hope this doesn't happen.

Think about it though. With no pharmaceutical cure readily available (maybe they have a couple of test tubes of the cure sitting at the CDC), the question remains -- are there natural measures we can take to boost our immune systems to help prevent Ebola -- and influenza and other viruses for that matter?

Remember, even in West Africa, not every exposed person is contracting Ebola. There are those who come down with it who don't die and eventually recover their health. As well, looking back 100 years, not everyone who was exposed to the deadly Spanish flu got it or died from it either. What is so different about these people than others who have contracted the Ebola or Spanish flu virus and died from it?

One's immune system may have a lot to do with it. Physical fitness, clean food, air and water, plenty of sleep, lack of stress, and the right nutrients coursing through one's body may have made the survival difference. Some people have strong constitutions. But others who don't have such a strong constitution or immune system can work toward having one.

In addition to keeping hydrated and well-fed with an organic, non-GMO array of superfoods, can vitamin and mineral supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, selenium, melatonin or curcumin (turmeric) have a positive effect in guarding one's immune system against Ebola and other viruses?

Recent articles issued by the Alliance for Natural Health "Government Ignores Natural Treatment Options" and Green Med Info "Can Vitamin C Cure Ebola?" have appeared and argue in defense of natural preventives.

If the Ebola virus becomes widespread in this country, the mainstream healthcare system may not be able to help you. As it is, many U.S. healthcare workers are hesitant in dealing with the few Ebola patients who've been on the roster. During a pandemic, you can believe these same workers would prefer to stay at home and protect their own families. What good it is getting to a hospital only to find no one's working there.

If and when we are on our own to improve the quality of our own immune systems to prevent the contraction of virus, natural methods may be all we have. Should we think of using them?

Special note: Nearly 20 years ago, a popular feature film "Outbreak" starring Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey, explored the "what-if" concept of what might happen during an Ebola pandemic in the U.S. Worth rewatching this eye-opening movie in light of our current situation. A Washington Post article from this past August (when only 900 had thus perished from Ebola) examines the movie "Outbreak" and other films on pandemics, such as "Contagion." ◦

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cool off this summer with homemade fruit & veggie infused waters

I found a large clear glass cold drink dispenser with a spigot at Tuesday Morning atop another glass unit which holds ice (not pictured). I haven't used it quite yet but hope to soon this summer out on the deck. Lots of people use fill these with iced tea, but they are often also used for purified water infused with delicious slices of fruits and vegetables. We need more water in the summer and drinking these no-added-sugar natural taste alternatives are ways to enjoy H2O in new and healthy ways. 

Why drink infused waters?

1. Green tea, mint, and lime - For fat burning, digestion, headaches, congestion and breath freshener.

2. Strawberry and kiwi - For cardiovascular health, immune system protection, blood sugar regulation, digestion.

3. Cucumber, lime, and lemon - For water weight management, bloating, appetite control, hydration, digestion

4. Lemon, lime, and orange - For digestion vitamin C, immune defense, heartburn, (Drink this one at room temperature)

Infused waters are good for detoxification energy and hydration. Put as much fruit in water as you like and let the water sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking.

Extra special infused water recipe: Sassy Water!

Sassy water is part of the flat-belly diet and is a healthy way to get your hydration while controlling your appetite. Keep the skins on your sliced items. Here's a recipe:
Five to eight cups of water
One teaspoon grated ginger
I medium cumber, thinly sliced
I medium lemon, thinly sliced 
12 spearmint leaves

Combine everything and let stand in the fridge overnight. Transfer to your dispenser and enjoy the water throughout the next day. The quantities and steps for the sassy water recipe can be equated for the combos numbered 1 through 4 above, as well. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What is wabi-sabi? How is it continually and intimately expressed in the life of a frugal poet?

One of the most refined, thoughtful and poetic societies, Japan, has gone through unfathomable disasters in recent history, such as the profound earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. Nevertheless, the Japanese people continue to push forward in quiet strength, dedicated to and motivated by their culture, history, sense of humility and connection with one another.

Wabi-sabi is a philosophy based in Japan that embraces a sense of flawed beauty, the profundity in nature, and of things impermanent, humble, primitive, transient and incomplete. It celebrates the modest, rustic and unconventional. It is the organic versus synthetic, the rough-hewn and uneven over the measured and laser-edged. Loosely explained, wabi means a philosophy of imperfect, natural beauty and sabi means the artistic expression of what’s asymmetrical, aged or unpretentious.

Daisetz Suzuki, one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, considered wabi-sabi “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.” Rather than a poverty of pain and a sense of desperation, it instead gives the relief of removing the weight of material concerns from our lives.

Wabi-sabi suggests the notions that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect. The Persians are known for a proverb about the true beauty of rugs, a wabi-sabi attitude reflected in a different culture, “A Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise.”

Remarkably, wabi-sabi has everything to do with the spirit of the frugal poet. We exist. We go with the flow. We focus on the beautiful. We have strength in light of hardship or snags in our lives. And our poems reflect this attitude. The concept of wabi-sabi reminds me of the lyrics in Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” It is the poets and those with a frugal poet’s spirit who can see both implicit meaning and opportunity in any situation, and can find voice, or at least search for it, to express compassion and humanity even amid injustice or when in mourning.

I had signed up for a multi-evening workshop in the craft of handmade bookbinding at Chicago’s Hull House. Our upper floor studio itself was a wabi-sabi space of lovingly worn benches, nicked but well-used work surfaces and natural lighting pouring in from screenless windows. We used hand-crafted papers, linen thread, monster-sized needles, scads of glue, bone folders,  thick pieces of cardboard and stiff oilcloth in an array of colors. There, I crafted and sewed a number of hardcover blank books, Japanese side-stitched bindings and cloth-covered boxes. I admired a fellow student’s finished handmade book, even though the pages were uneven and had a naturalistic waviness to them. “The only thing perfect is God. I try to remember that in everything I do,” she said. “I am imperfect and every act of creation carries human imperfect along with it.” But therein lay the beauty of her handmade book!

Flawed fictional characters, for example, are more interesting, textured, memorable and beautiful than perfect, static ones. What would Cyrano de Bergerac be without his big nose, The Little Match Girl without her poverty, or even Star Trek’s Mr. Spock without his lack of emotions?

I tried to pin down concrete examples of what wabi-sabi is and what wabi-sabi is not. You might also try the same exercise as I attempted below and see where your concepts surrounding wabi-sabi take you.

Scribbled musings as to what wabi-sabi can stand for:

·         The haunted mansion versus the McMansion.

·         The vase off to one side instead of the center of the table.

·         A piece of driftwood carved by water instead of a diamond faceted by human hands.

·         A simple one-pot meal versus a block-long Las Vegas buffet.

·         A weekend in solitude versus a month of whirlwind travel with a dozen destinations.

·         The hand-polished wood floor, simple screen and rolled-up futon versus a football-field-sized bedroom with wall-to-wall carpeting, big screen TV and thick brocade drapes.

·         Browns, greens, greys and off-whites of nature versus neon, day-glow brights.

·         Rock, leather, wood, candles and copper instead of steel, LED lights, vinyl, mirrors and glass.

·         A coffee-stained, hand-illustrated journal of random thoughts instead of the word-perfect, crisply printed scholarly treatise.

·         A random scattering of fallen leaves on a neatly raked Zen garden.

·         The changing nature of paper and cloth as they fade, fray and tear.

·         Floors cleanly swept, folded laundry and made bed without regard to the type of flooring, price of clothing and thread count of bed sheets.

·         A few hand-picked flowers in a bud vase versus a formal English garden.

·         The patina versus the polish.

·         The flea market versus the big box store.

·         The used and cared for versus the new and garish.
Living happily in simplicity instead of living sadly in luxury.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Gaylord Ravenal: Did My Grandfather Serve as Inspiration for This Showboat Character?

Stanger than fiction? There are circumstantial reasons to believe that the characters of Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawks in Edna Ferber’s novel “Showboat,” and in the subsequent musical, were based on my grandfather Charles Gallaher and his first wife Grace Dennison. The character of of their daughter, Kim, though female, could also be based on my half-uncle Donald Gallaher.

Back in 2003, I had a one-on-one meeting with my musical theater writing teacher John at Theatre Building Chicago.  I presented him with three one-page synopses of ideas for musicals I had come up with, for which I hoped to write book and lyrics. One was about a family relative, Neysa McMein, an artist and member of the Algonquin Round Table; another, a children’s one-act musical, which I called “The Cat and the Kings,” based on an old Danish folk tale “Peter Humbug and the White Cat;” and lastly, a musical about the early Chicago jazz era called “Black and Tan,” which contained opening scenes set on a Mississippi showboat, with the remainder of the drama taking place in Chicago.

John wanted me to first pursue the children’s musical the coming year, but was also interested in my eventual development of the “Black and Tan” piece. He said he saw a lot of potential in it and many musical possibilities within the story. Also, almost as an aside, he observed that it seemed rather “showboat-y.” At first, I thought he meant it might be too flamboyant or “in your face,” like someone who’s “showboating.” But it really isn’t that type of story. I quickly realized he meant it resembled the musical “Showboat.” 

I was taken aback somewhat and felt a little embarrassed because, even though I attested to familiarity with most American musicals, I didn’t know anything about the musical “Showboat.” I didn’t know the Edna Ferber novel, and had never seen the musical version by Kern and Hammerstein that had the songs “Old Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine.” I didn’t tell the teacher of my ignorance, as most of my fellow students were well-versed in the majority of musicals from the late 1920s onward. Also, I was a little alarmed because I definitely did not have any intention to attempt rehashing a classic. I did not want to write a musical that was “like Showboat” and cared to change it if anyone would see a connection, or more accurately, a weak imitation.

I thought about my initial inspiration for “Black and Tan,” which was my own family and my continuing interest in the early jazz era of Chicago. My grandfather, Charles Gallaher,  had come from a Quincy, Illinois, family of newspaper people. Instead of following in family footsteps, he became a Mississippi river boat gambler and was dubbed the black sheep of the family back in Quincy. At age 26, he got a 16-year-old girl on the boat by the name of Grace Dennison pregnant, and married her in 1894. I have their marriage certificate. The two moved to Chicago, where he got a straight job setting type at the Chicago Herald. 

By the time son Donald reached age four, stage mom Grace had him cast in a play at Chicago’s Grand Opera House. One night, New York producer Charles Frohman was in the audience and determined the boy had talent. Soon enough, Grace and Charles’ marriage was a thing of the past, and Grace and son Donald moved to New York, where she signed a contract with Frohman. Donald soon became the highest paid juvenile actor on Broadway.

My story synopsis “Black and Tan” is very loosely based on these family characters. My grandfather’s character does not appear at all and the Grace Leyden character resembles Grace Dennison, who moved to Chicago, although the latter didn’t pursue a career as a jazz singer. And son Jimmy resembled Donald who fulfilled his dreams of filming and recording by directing a few early talkies, which he did later in his career. All the jazz connections and relationships that make up most of the story have nothing to do with my family.

I did a little research and found online synopses of both the novel and musical “Showboat.” I was amazed by what I discovered. As I said, my teacher had found my “Black and Tan” synopsis “Showboat-y.” But my family’s real story is so very “Showboat-y,” that I believe that it is in fact the basis for the actual “Showboat.”   

Partial synopsis of the musical “Show Boat” as it appears on U. of Virginia website: Show Boat is the story of three generations of the Hawks family on the River Boat, The Cotton Blossom. The saga spans the period from the mid 1880's to the then current late 1920's, and follows the fortunes of Magnolia Hawks and her gambling husband Gaylord Ravenal. Magnolia, or "Noli," struggles throughout the story with her relationship to the Cotton Blossom, owned by her parents. In the second act of the book, Noli and Ravenal separate, and she leaves the familiar stage of the River Boat and the waters of the Mississippi for Chicago, and a future as a musical comedy star. Magnolia and Ravenal's daughter, Kim Ravenal, follows in her mother’s footsteps as an actress and performer.

Partial synopsis of Edna Ferber's novel "Showboat" as it appears on amazon: The story concerns three generations of women: Parthenia Hawks, a ram-rod upright New Englander who heartily disapproves of her husband's decision to purchase a show boat and involve the family with actors, God forbid; her daughter Magnolia, whose fresh beauty eventually propels her fame as one of the most popular actresses on the river; and her granddaughter Kim, who becomes a Broadway star. But the backbone of the story concerns Magnolia's  ill-fated love for ne'er-do-well gambler Gaylord Ravenal, a love that tests her strength to the last degree. 

Just as Magnolia has to change to meet her constantly shifting circumstances, so is the nation changing around her, gradually shifting from a rather innocent, rural society to a much more hardened and sophisticated urban world. And Magnolia's adventures will take her from the savage natural beauty of the mighty Mississippi to the gambling dens and brothels of 'Gilded Age' Chicago to the jumpiness of the 1920's 'Great White Way' of New York.

Evidence arises. Donald Gallaher was cast as Ethel Barrymore’s son in the 1915 Edna Ferber play, “Our Mrs. McChesney.” I have copies of the New York and Chicago playbills. There is no way Ferber and Donald would not have met, and the possibility of Ferber learning the family saga from either Donald or his mother Grace is very strong.

In addition, by the 1920s, Edna Ferber was a close friend with family cousin Neysa McMein. The two were both members of the Algonquin Round Table. In fact, Ferber created a character, Dallas O’Mara, in her 1924 novel “So Big” based on Neysa McMein. Neysa may also have told Ferber the family story, and Ferber, knowing a good juicy yarn when she heard it, moved on to develop it as a large part of her next novel “Showboat,” which appeared in 1926.

One afternoon, my husband Carlos was chatting on the phone with an old friend, Marc Zimmerman, a professor who has taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago and served as a dean down at the University of Houston. He's a guy who knows just about everything about every topic. Carlos relayed the details of my family, not leading him with any context or reason why he was bringing it up. Zimmerman just said, “Sounds like Showboat.”

During a musical theater intensive at Chicago Humanities Festival, I told Robert Kimball, the well-known musical theater historian, about my family story. He suggested I contact Showboat expert Miles Kreuger, who is also the author of “Show Boat: The Story of a Classic American Musical.” Kimball gave me Kreuger’s home phone number. I called Kreuger and we had a nice chat over the phone for about an hour. Essentially, what Kreuger told me was “I think you may be onto something.” I later told Kimball, and his eyes widened.  

I mailed a copy of this document, minus the last paragraph (above), to Kreuger to keep in his “Musical Theater Museum,” called the Institute of the American Musical, which comprises an array of musical theater archives in his private duplex in Los Angeles. Here is a piece about his museum from National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134207970/Musical-Theater-Museum-Struggles-To-Preserve-Archives ##


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Frugal poets guide to dreams as inspiration

“Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?” ~ Joan Didion

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really can come true.” ~ “Yip” Harburg, lyricist for the film “The Wizard of Oz”

Frugal poets have both an unconventional bent and creativity to release untapped or under-appreciated sources of wealth – out of necessity! Frugal poets who are resourceful adopt the philosophy “The best things in life are free.” But free is no good unless you use it. That includes tapping into our dream life.

Our greatest resource and most valuable commodity (if you can call it a commodity?) is our own life. Two-thirds of our life is spent awake. Yet, what about the other third of our life, when we’re asleep, when we enter that timeless realm of symbols and scenarios we call our dreams? Our sleeping and dreaming hours makes up a huge part of our life, a part we shouldn’t dismiss and a part that many of us totally under-utilize. Dreams are free – and can be fabulous. Are we using them to their fullest potential?

Each one of us dreams every night. When someone says, “I don’t dream,” what they really mean, according to dream experts, is “I don’t remember my dreams.” As it is during our waking hours, we get more out of life when we “pay attention.” Can’t we give a little more attention to our dreams? A poet or any person with a frugal poet’s heart, no matter their talents, pays closer attention to the details and nuances of life. A true poet has a keen sense of observation.

Why should we pay attention to only two-thirds of our life and pay not as much to the other third, when we are asleep and dreaming? Ah, we may say, but it’s only a dream! Only? Dreams are not to be dismissed as a series of frivolous visuals. A true poet never looks at a grand oak or a red-winged blackbird and says, “That’s ‘only’ a tree,” or “That’s ‘only’ a bird.” Each tree and bird carries deep its own layered significance and inspiration. So why should we look on what we dreamt just before we wake in the morning to say, “It’s ‘only’ a dream.”

Robert Moss, proponent of “active dreaming” and author of The Three ‘Only’ Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination, argues quite convincingly against the notions of what many might say is “only a dream,” “only a coincidence,” and “only one’s imagination.” According to Moss, and to paraphrase Mark Twain, we observe coincidental connections around us because of the fact that “life rhymes.”

By far, not every dream is a prophetic dream or a “big” dream that may carry long-lasting significance. Yet every single dream we have is loaded with personal meaning that only we can interpret and use more fully. By digging more deeply into our dreams, we can better understand -- if not simply enjoy -- that part of ourselves that acts out these nightly dramas.

Not to mention that dreams hold a lengthy history of inspiring poems, songs, plays and other creative and inventive works. Our dreams can release a wealth of creative material if we so desire. Some have called our dream state “a secret laboratory” or “a creative studio.” If you truly use your dream world as a creative studio, you can’t beat the rent!

Beatles’ singer/songwriter Paul McCartney first imagined the tune of “Yesterday” through a dream. When he awoke, he ran to his bedside piano and pieced together the melody. As well, Beatle John Lennon said, “The best songs are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night, and you have to get up and write them down, so you can go back to sleep.”

In the twilight space between waking and dreaming, Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley imagined the character “Frankenstein.” The chemist Kekule’ dreamt of a snake biting its own tail, which helped him identify the theoretical structure of the benzene ring and basis of organic chemistry.

Elias Howe experimented with the idea of a sewing machine, but couldn’t figure out how the mechanical needle would hold the cloth together. He had a dream in which a group of men were holding spears, but the spears had holes near the tip. This was exactly the type of needle that allowed thread to effectively sew cloth on Howe’s invention, the first sewing machine.

Horror writer Stephen King’s novels “Misery” and “It” found basis in his dreams. In an interview, King said, “I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn't see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back. To me that’s what dreams are supposed to do.” 

William Blake, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, Margaret Atwood, Gary Snyder, Nikki Giovanni, Dorothy Parker and nearly every other poet you can think of past and present have turned to their dreams as fuel for poems.

The following is a lighthearted poem by the late Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska. It isn’t focused on one dream, but playfully includes some of the classic dream symbols and images:

 In Praise of Dreams

In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not just with the living.

I drive a car
that does what I want it to.

I am gifted
and write mighty epics.

I hear voices
as clearly as any venerable saint.

My brilliance as a pianist
would stun you.

I fly the way we ought to,
i.e. on my own.

Falling from the roof,
I tumble gently to the grass.

I’ve got no problem
breathing under water.

I can’t complain:
I’ve been able to locate Atlantis.

It’s gratifying that I can always
wake up before dying.

As soon as war breaks out,
I roll over on my other side.

I’m a child of my age,
but I don’t have to be.

A few years ago,
I saw two suns.

And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day.