Monday, January 31, 2011

Powerful Emotions Flow Throughout "The Trinity River Plays" -- Theater Review

Theater Review

The Trinity River Plays
A new play by Regina Taylor
in three acts titled Jar Fly, Rain and Ghoststory
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 20, 2011

As I tried to convey above--and as the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones did much more stridently in opening his review--"The Trinity River Plays" is deceptively titled.

Certainly, as evidenced by the work, playwright Regina Taylor is a highly skilled writer and perhaps her reasoning for the nomenclature was simply lost on me. But what I saw last night at the Goodman Theater was essentially one play in three individually-named acts, with the characters and story arc continuing throughout.

In revolving around an African-American family in Dallas, initially in 1978 and then 17 years later, Taylor's three-hour tale--written after losing her mother to ovarian cancer--focuses on relationships both contemptuous and compassionate, mournful and remorseful, bitter and bemusing. As such, it reminded me a bit of August: Osage County, though not quite as sprawling in cast size nor levels of the on-stage house that served as the sole set piece. 

I can't really describe too much of the plot without revealing key crises, and though the show was powerfully written and significantly moving, I felt it was a more interesting in its dialogue-driven narrative than in providing any particularly novel insights. In fact, the symbolism that Taylor tried to incorporate mostly came off as too overt or cloyingly contrived.

While Act 2 was clearly the best, I was never bored with Trinity River, which is saying a lot for a 3-act drama on a Sunday night, especially as I've been less than enthralled with much of what I've seen at the Goodman in recent seasons. This was one of the theater's best in recent memory, certainly of those staged in the larger Albert auditorium.

Karen Aldridge, who played Iris, a fictionalized alter ego for Taylor, was excellent, initially as a gawky 17-year-old girl and then as a thirty-something professional struggling to deal with grim circumstances, past and present. Christiana Clark is also quite strong as Jasmine, Iris' slightly older and much wilder cousin, while Penny Johnson Jerald and Jacqueline Williams shine as their respective mothers.

Under Ethan McSweeny's direction, the new play, which world premiered in Dallas last October, may not have remarkable depth beneath the surface, but I was substantially captivated by a family's frayed yet tightly-bound kinship, as this 'River' ran through it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

His Back Pages: With Skokie's 'Magazine Museum,' Bob Katzman Continues to Subscribe to the Power of Print (and Perseverance)

It doesn't require a whole lot of deep reflection to realize the extent to which the printed page is evaporating from view. With online outlets and other electronic replications replacing printed newspapers, magazines and books, environmentalists may have just cause for rejoicing, but many of us will never get used to curling up with a good Kindle or searching through the Sports Illustrated website to see who made the cover this week.

Not surprisingly for a man who opened his first Chicago newsstand--built with his own hands--at age 15 and now runs Bob Katzman's Magazine Museum in Skokie (a successor to his longtime Morton Grove store, Magazine Memories), Robert M. Katzman feels a strong kinship with words and photographs on paper.
"Would you want a virtual kiss?" he asks, in philosophizing on the importance of his back-issue emporium, which he says is one of the last four such stores in America. "Whether my customers are looking for unique gifts to commemorate a birthday or anniversary, to surprise a valued client with something they'll never discard or to adorn theater and film sets with historically-accurate props, what is it worth that I have the actual item forever bound to a specific point in time?"

Although the question is rhetorical, it's clear that to Bob Katzman, the answer is obviously, "Everything."

Still, the earnest Katzman--a survivor in almost every sense, of cancer, of 32 surgeries throughout his 60 years, of a recession that shuttered his larger Morton Grove shop and devastated his personal finances--knows he, and his retail establishment, is something of an anachronism. 

"It's a prison, a paper prison," he wryly concedes about his eponymous Magazine Museum, which houses and sells 140,000 periodicals--including voluminous collections of Time, New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Esquire, National Geographic, dormant publications like Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post and what he boasts is the country's largest repository of magazines featuring African-American imprints or topics.

One can get a sense of the depth of Katzman's inventory through this page on, and marvel at the fact that he doesn't track it on a computer. Whatever portion of his stock isn't ingrained in his memory--still remarkable, despite two brain surgeries to remove tumors in 2004, which he says dulled his recollection of names and faces--is catalogued in an analog manner. For instance, thousands of National Geographic issues, dating back 80+ years, are organized by subject matter and referenced in a small Rolodex.

Certainly, as a place to peruse the back pages of history--but not sit and read, as Katzman admonishes that with much of his inventory in delicate condition and of estimable value, his store is not a library--the Magazine Museum, at 4906 W. Oakton St. in Skokie, IL, is well worth a visit...and likely a gratifying purchase or two. Besides the plethora of magazines lining the store on racks custom-constructed by Katzman, there are historic displays of publications dating back to 1681, and numerous other items of sentimental and decorative value, including classic advertisements, record albums, MAD paperbacks, miniature flags from every nation on Earth and over 30,000 posters.

With much less square footage than he had on Dempster St. in Morton Grove from 1989 to 2009, Katzman is intent on divesting much of his poster inventory and selling each for just $5-$10. On a recent visit, I bought my sister Allison an official, original edition Billy Elliot movie poster that Bob had dropped from $195 to just $10.

While the lifelong Chicago area resident didn't see many other career options aside from opening another store--"What else was I going to do with 3,000 boxes of magazines?"--Katzman admits that business still isn't quite booming in the new location he's occupied since March 2010.

"I come to work every day, but I'm basically unemployed," he notes, although one can sense how acutely Katzman relishes interacting with each person who comes through his door, not just as a potential purchaser, but as new ears to regale about his offerings and passions, which have long dovetailed.

Beyond his admiration for what others have written and published, Bob Katzman is an inveterate storyteller. And worried that his memory might dissipate precipitously following his brain surgeries, in 2004 he started producing his own books--primarily non-fictional Chicago-centric accounts of his life, businesses and proclivity for overcoming adversity.

"I write about standing up for yourself and not taking any shit from anybody," he told me about his five self-published books and four more in the can that await adequate resources to be printed. Many of Katzman's stories can be read for free online at and details of his books can be found on his publishing company website.

Seeing his store in large part as a venue to sell his books, which he had pulled from the shelves of Barnes & Noble and Borders because he didn't feel they were getting proper exposure, Katzman says he would love to work with an agent to broaden both his writing and storytelling outlets. To date, he has sold over 5,000 copies of his books and has been hired for more than 70 public speaking engagements.

"I'm an ordinary person with an extraordinary life," he states, and while I'd be the first to suggest that this may sound like puffery without knowing the biography behind it--including losing his jaw to cancer at 18, having his face partially paralyzed in a subsequent surgery, awaiting his 33rd operation and bringing up four children, including 14-year-old Sarah, who another couple gave to Bob and wife Joyce, as a baby, to raise in their stead--perhaps you can see why I felt he was richly deserving of a feature article.

In a just world, Bob Katzman would be the subject of a cover story in a mainstream magazine--publishers, some of whom seek copies of their own back issues from his store, owe him at least that much--but though he's been profiled on CBS 2 Chicago, in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, for now, a Seth Saith blog post will seemingly have to suffice.

And lest you think he's just a guy oddly obsessed with old magazines and telling "rags"-to-riches-to-rags tales about cruel winters and brutal economies, Katzman--who has been with Joyce for 36 years following a previous marriage--proclaims his greatest source of pride to be "raising good children, with good values, who are politically aware, environmentally sensitive and themselves good, loving parents."

Ernest Hemingway, of whom Bob Katzman's Magazine Museum has an extensive collection of magazines with stories by or about, once said, "In order to write about life, first you must live it."

Sitting behind a counter alongside the books he's written, in a storefront containing more magazines than almost anyone else has to offer--let alone can store in their own mind--the world-weary yet endearingly enduring proprietor quite appropriately concludes our conversation by proudly declaring, "I'm an original. I'm not a copy of anybody else."

Bob Katzman's Magazine Museum, 4906 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60077
Store Hours: Mon-Fri: 9:00am-6:00pm / Weekends: 9:00am-3:00pm
Phone: (847) 677-9444 -

(This story was not sponsored nor requested. I have no affiliation with Robert Katzman or his commercial enterprises.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Remembering a Day I Will Never Forget, 25 Years Later

What "I remember exactly where I was when I heard about ____________" moments resonate strongest with you?

I wasn't alive until nearly five years after JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and with December 7, 2011 being the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, that day will soon live in infamy well beyond a preponderance of people who can actively remember it.

With the MLK and RFK assassinations coming slightly before my birth (in October 1968), and the Moon Landing coming only 9 months after, I don't directly remember those events, but I think I slightly recall watching Nixon leave office on August 9, 1974. And I know that, while on family vacations in 1976 and 1977, I saw news reports about the deaths of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Elvis Presley, respectively. I can't really recall if I heard about John Lennon via Howard Cosell's announcement during Monday Night Football or the next morning from Steve Dahl & Garry Meier (on Chicago radio), but I remember being quite stunned, even though I was much more familiar with Paul McCartney, who'd been far more active during my years of awareness.

I remember coming home from school on March 30, 1981 excited to watch that evening's NCAA Championship and the Academy Awards, and having my dad tell me that President Reagan had been shot. (The game was played, with Indiana beating North Carolina; the Oscars were postponed to the next night.)

I also won't forget Frank Sinatra's death coinciding with the last episode of Seinfeld (on 5/14/98), and know I found out about Michael Jackson initially through a post on Facebook shortly after others about Farrah Fawcett made the rounds (on 6/25/09). Like most, I have vivid sad memories of 9/11/01 and can still recall WSCR's Dan Bernstein first alerting me to an airplane having crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, while I was driving to work after having seen Bob Costas on the Today show discussing Michael Jordan's decision to play for the Washington Wizards. I also remember my boss at the time insisting we treat it as a normal workday, even as all the horrible events unfolded.

But as much as any non-personal event--and even most of those--I'll never forget the day 25 years ago today, January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff, killing its seven crew members.

It wasn't just that it was a completely shocking tragedy--one that at age 17 I doubtfully ever even contemplated, at least not in a way so dissimilar from a "Ground Control to Major Tom" scenario--or that what happened was captured by television cameras for all to see. (I didn't witness the catastrophe as it happened, but repeatedly in its wake.)

No, what makes the Challenger tragedy so extraordinarily memorable was the timing of it. Especially for Chicagoans.

You see, just two days before, on Sunday, January 26, 1986, the Chicago Bears completed their greatest season in history by defeating the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. I'm sure you can imagine the euphoria being shared through the halls of Niles North High School--where I was a senior--and everywhere in the region that Monday, and carrying through Tuesday. Keep in mind that up to that point, other than the basically irrelevant Chicago Sting soccer team, no Chicago sports team (professional or collegiate) had won a championship during my lifetime. And with the Bears going 15-1 during the regular season, being coached by Mike Ditka, led by Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and many other stars, featuring William "The Refrigerator" Perry and boldly predicting their success through "The Super Bowl Shuffle," the '85 Bears were truly a phenomenon.

Even had the current Bears beaten the Packers last Sunday, advanced to Super Bowl XLV and won it, in my opinion it would have paled next to the '85 Bears for anyone old enough to recall the excitement they stirred around town and even across the country (and I still think theirs was the best defense ever).

So, Sunday, January 26, 1986, the Bears win the Super Bowl for Chicago's first major sports championship since the Bears won the NFL Championship in 1963 (about 5 weeks after the Kennedy assassination).

The city goes bonkers and celebrates into Monday, when a ticker tape parade is held along LaSalle Street, with a rally in Daley Plaza.

Jubilation was still abundant at Niles North in Skokie on Tuesday, January 28, 1986, when someone says in the hallway that "the Space Shuttle blew up." My initial reaction was to assume it was some kind of joke; disbelief is often the way we respond to horrific news. But the buzz soon became louder and I think it was in a classroom (so much for precise exactitude) that the grim truth was confirmed.

Talk about a downer.

I remember that it immediately felt wrong to feel so happy about the Bears. Seven people, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, lost their lives in such a stunning way. School wasn't canceled and thus life pretty quickly resumed normalcy, but as this article should attest, I'll never forget going from so high to so low in such succession, at least in terms of events that didn't involve a personal loss or direct consequence. The juxtaposition greatly exacerbated the shock of the tragedy, and the acuity of the memory.

For although I also remember the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster that killed its seven crew members, without looking it up just now, I couldn't have told you that it happened on February 1, 2003.

But January 28, 1986 is a day, and feeling, I will never, ever forget.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations Don't Leave Too Much Room To Grouch

Nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards--to be presented on Sunday, February 27--were announced this morning. While everyone with an opinion will share their thoughts about who was snubbed, who will win, etc.--and if you could give two hoots about mine, you probably should stop reading now--, excepting Christopher Nolan not getting a Best Director nomination for Inception, at first blush there doesn't appear to be too many egregious oversights.

Take the Best Picture category; while the expansion to 10 nominees--begun last year--still seems silly to me and I have some minor quibbles based on personal preferences, 9 of 10 noms matched Entertainment Weekly's  most recent predictions (with just The Town missing out to Winter's Bone).

8 of 10 Best Picture nominees also matched the composite Film Critic rankings (as tabulated by MetaCritic), as well as IMDB's composite user rankings for 2010 films.

Before I comment on the major categories--you can see the full list of Oscar nominees here--I'll draw attention to my own Seth Saith ranking of the 2010's Best English-language Feature Films. (I separately ranked Foreign-language Films and Documentaries.) Since compiling that list on December 29, 2010, I have seen nine more 2010 releases, of which one--Rabbit Hole--would make my Top 10 and three others--Another Year, The Ghost Writer and Blue Valentine--would make my Top 25.

These lists provide a clearer indication of the films I liked best from 2010--and really, as replicated by your own favorites, are much more important than Oscar nominations or awards. In fact, although I won't deny enjoying the Academy Awards, I do so more as conversation fodder about movies, rather than as a historically accurate arbiteur of film greatness or as a star-studded telecast. So while there were movies I really enjoyed that were seemingly too much of the "popcorn flick" variety for Oscar consideration--Unstoppable, Salt--or just not as universally beloved--It's Kind of a Funny Story, Fair Game, Mao's Last Dancer, Easy A, Nowhere Boy, Four Lions--I won't spend too much time here griping about how they were overlooked. I understand why most weren't given much consideration, so will leave my pontificating largely within the vein of realistic possibilities.

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

I think The Social Network should and will win Best Picture, although I imagine The King's Speech might resonate more with older, more traditional voters. In a way, I like that Toy Story 3 got a nom, as technically it was remarkable and although Steve Jobs' health issues were publicized too late for the "sympathy vote" to be a factor, what he and Pixar have done over the past 15 years certainly merits industry recognition. But I don't even think it's the best Toy Story movie, yet alone one of 2010's very best films. Though only 4 of my Top 10 got nominated, it's not a bad selection; I have no vehement complaints, but Rabbit Hole is certainly deserving.

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

I haven't seen Biutiful, as it hasn't yet been released in Chicago, but expect Bardem is typically great. So was Bridges in True Grit, yet particularly after finally winning for Crazy Heart, I think I might substitute Ryan Gosling for his performance in Blue Valentine. I also think Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) and Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole) gave nomination-worthy performances. Of those above, I think Colin Firth will win, but would likely vote for Franco, who's also the co-host (with Anne Hathaway) of the telecast. He almost literally was the entire 127 Hours movie. 


Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Given their roles in The Social Network, it's interesting that Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield probably canceled each other out here. Bale was fantastic and both should and will win.

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

It never got much too press, but Naomi Watts was fantastic in Fair Game. I probably would include her here rather than Annette Bening, and actually think Julianne Moore was a bit better in The Kids Are All Right (I also liked what Moore did in Chloe). Hye-ja Kim, who was extraordinary in the title role of the Korean film, Mother, would have been a nice left-field pick. I think Portman will win, but feel Kidman, Lawrence and Williams--in that order--are more deserving.

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

I haven't seen Animal Kingdom, but having seen Another Year just yesterday can tell you that Lesley Manville deserves a nom (probably over Bonham Carter). One of the women from The Fighter should win, but might cancel each other out. I'm not betting anyone, but guess I'd put my money on Adams if forced to choose. 

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

I just saw The Illusionist and liked it a bit less than some other friends; haven't seen 'Dragon.' So I'll pick Toy Story as both should and will win.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

I haven't seen Gasland or Waste Land, but of those I did, can't fathom why The Tillman Story, Waiting for Superman or the Israeli-doc Budrus (if it was eligible) were omitted. Inside Job should win and I believe in a just world would run on ABC immediately following the Oscarcast. Restrepo--which follows troops and tragedies in Afghanistan--may well win given its subject matter, but wasn't the best-made film.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

I'm no technical wonk, but what Christopher Nolan accomplished in making Inception comprehensible, let alone a mainstream blockbuster, definitely deserves a directing nom; astonishingly the film also wasn't nominated for Best Editing. Fincher should and will win.

Agree? Disagree? Join me and other film fans at the Chicago Film Discussion Meetup Brunch on Sunday, February 13 at Holiday Club, where we will be talking about the Oscars. Prior to that, there is also a more general film discussion Meetup brunch, on January 30 at Fat Cat. And I'm not yet sure if there will again be an Oscar party at the bar within the Century Theaters in Evanston, but I might be up for it if there is.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wait 'til Next Bear Year (and why Caleb Hanie made me proud)

Photo Credit: John J. Kim, Chicago Sun-Times
Well, except for losing to their most hated rival in one the biggest home games in Chicago football history and thereby failing to reach their third Super Bowl, this is a season of which the Bears should be reasonably proud, especially given the low expectations--mine included--going in.

And in a perverse way, excepting that it ended without a ticker tape parade, it has also been a season that should have made Bears fans exceptionally happy. Because the defining elements for many Bears fans--again, myself included--are:

1) Rooting for the Bears through thick and thin
2) Complaining about the front office, coach and starting quarterback
3) A perpetual sense of disbelief, whether in how well or how poorly the team is playing

Today's NFC Championship game, in which the Packers beat the Bears 21-14, was a pretty good--or bad--microcosm of all of the elemental emotions Bears' fandom entails.

Wearing my Urlacher jersey and watching with my friend Dave, I wanted nothing more than for the Bears to punch their ticket to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV--and I honestly wouldn't have been too surprised had they beat the Packers--yet all season I've had the nagging feeling that they weren't as good as their record.

After I predicted the Bears would only win 4 games in 2010, and they then barely won their opener against the lowly Detroit Lions in a game they should have lost, the Bears wound up going 11-5 and taking the NFC Central. During the season, friends pointed out that the Bears mostly beat losing teams, but they did defeat the Packers (in one of 2 regular-season games), the Eagles and the Jets. Yet even as they put together an impressive record, their losses included some terrible clunkers, such as against the Giants, Redskins and Patriots.

Photo Credit: John J. Kim, Chicago Sun-Times
So throughout the season, all three elements were pretty well fulfilled, as fans relished the team's solid playoff push, but--while wondering if it might be a mirage--also spent a good amount of time ripping Coach Lovie Smith, Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz, GM Jerry Angelo and on up the ownership hierarchy.

Many fans may have been satisfied with franchise quarterback Jay Cutler, who on the surface seemingly vindicated himself after an atrocious 2009 campaign, but I still found his decision-making rather suspect. He seemed to throw too many silly interceptions and, though I would be silly to say this really matters all that much, I've been disappointed with his off-the-field demeanor.

Rick Reilly's recent negative column about Cutler on includes too many outdated attributions to hold much water with me, but Cutler has always appeared mealy-mouthed and arrogant in post-game interviews and I've heard direct accounts about how he has been less-than-polite in his interactions with fans, even kids seeking his autograph. None of this is enough for me to hate Jay, or to demonize him, but I've never really liked him, on or off the playing surface.

Funny thing is, while many callers to sports radio after today's game are bashing Cutler and questioning his manhood for leaving the game due to an as-yet-clearly-defined knee injury, I actually think it is unfair to take him to task for that. I don't remember any other cases of him begging off the field, even in games where he got sacked on nearly every play, so I'm willing to take him at his word. What I have a greater problem with is the seven Bears' offensive possessions while Cutler was in the game, which ended in 6 punts and one interception. Plus, there were at least two throws that should have resulted in Bears' touchdowns, but Cutler overthrew his receivers. Superstar quarterbacks can't do that in big games, and in earning $22 million this season Cutler certainly has a salary to put him in that category, if not the pedigree.

Photo Credit: John J. Kim, Chicago Sun-Times
Other than Smith's stupid--and potentially catastrophic--decision to initially insert Todd Collins rather than Caleb Hanie for Cutler, I actually think Jay leaving the game was the best thing that happened to the Bears today. He couldn't get anything going and, after Collins failed miserably--justifying ire aimed at Angelo for making him seemingly the best backup option--third-stringer Hanie, pumped some life into the team, drove them to two touchdowns and had the Bears in position to potentially tie the score within the last minute of a game in which they were badly outplayed.

In fact, the 16 minutes for which Caleb Hanie was at the helm today were my favorite of the Bears' 2010-11 season. Up until then, the Bears lethargic performance today had me perpetually on the verge of posting my sarcastic Facebook comment asking, "When do pitchers and catchers report [for Spring Training]?" But Hanie kept proving rumors of the Bears' demise to be premature, bringing the score to 14-7 and then 21-14, even after throwing an interception that was returned for a 4th Quarter Packer touchdown. In a game the Bears didn't otherwise look like they had any business winning, Hanie made me proud. Although he ultimately fell short and threw a final interception to seal it for the Packers, after a "successful" season full of elements #2 and 3 above, he almost single-handedly justified my commitment to #1.

I don't know if I would want Hanie to be the Bears starting quarterback next year, and even had he pulled a miracle and led them past the Packers, Cutler probably would have been the right pick--on most levels--to start the Super Bowl (in which the Packers will now play the Steelers). But I also don't think I want Cutler to be the starter next year, although he almost certainly will be. Not because I think he "quit," but because Caleb Hanie showed far more than Cutler what may have been possible.

In fact, it's not with anger but enhanced expectations that I wouldn't mind the Bears starting anew in 2011, with no Cutler, Smith or Angelo. Otherwise, "next year," we might not even be lucky enough to get a repeat.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reliving Past Glories (in faded photographs): Bears Helmet on House, 1985; Bar Mitzvah Boy, 1981

As one might imagine, there's a lot of excitement around Chicago leading into Sunday's Bears game against the Packers in the NFC Championship. I can't deny being amused at some of the silly Packers jokes being posted on Facebook, but while I am very much looking forward to the game and cheering the Bears onto the Super Bowl, I can't honestly say that my fervor is quite the same as it was in 1985-86 or even 2006-07.

Maybe it's the residual effect of having predicted the Bears would go 4-12, but I've never quite believed in the greatness of this season's team. I hope they keep proving me wrong and would like nothing more than for them to beat the Packers, but that's about as much vitriol I can work up for the denizens of Green Bay. I've never been big on hatred, particularly when it comes to sports.

But, as I'd expected, like in their Super Bowl chases of '85-'86 and '06-'07, the city is supporting the Bears by putting oversized helmets on the lions outside the Art Institute of Chicago. I haven't been downtown to see it, but I also imagine the Picasso in Daley Plaza is adorned (as it was during the Blackhawks' run) and some buildings say, "GO BEARS" with office lighting patterns.

But I still fondly recall the above Skokie house (not mine) which was adorned with an oversized Bears helmet during the 1985-86 campaign. My friend Jeff went to take a picture of it for the high school newspaper, and as Sports Editor I tagged along and snapped one of my own. I have no idea what happened to the helmet and haven't seen anything quite like it since. But as the sign says...

Go Bears!


Besides the Bears game, it's a big weekend in my family because my oldest nephew, Jacob, will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah on Saturday. I've been invited to do an "aliyah" (a blessing before and after the Torah is read) and look forward to hearing Jacob recite his "Haftorah." A celebration with family and adult friends will follow the service and in the evening, Jacob's friends will party with him, and I'll stick around for that as well.

In looking for the Bears' helmet-on-the-house photo in some boxes at my Mom's house, I came across some photos from my Bar Mitzvah on October 24, 1981 (no photos are allowed during the service). Yes, that's me from nearly 30 years ago. Sure, make whatever requisite jokes about me trying to fit into the suit, but I wouldn't be surprised--if it still existed--that it would fit Jacob. Sometimes the past revisits us in strange and funny ways.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hard Working Cast Fails to Make "9 to 5" Worth Promoting -- Theater Review

Theater Review

9 to 5: The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 30

I think I saw the movie "9 to 5" once, but back near its 1980 release and I have no real recollection, other than that it starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, who had a hit with the title song.

And while I have plenty of respect for Dolly--who in celebrating birthday #65 yesterday still looks good--for the longevity of her musical career, I've never been much of a fan.

So without any built-in familiarity or fondness--and while a show like this was produced to capitalize on such, it lasted just 5 months on Broadway and was well undersold on its first night in Chicago--I can only judge the stage musical on its own merits. Unfortunately, there weren't all that many.

That's not to say "9 to 5" is horrible; it isn't and the touring production features a fine enough cast to make it sufficiently fun. But it just isn't anything special.

The show opens with a video introduction of Dolly Parton accompanying the title song, which is by far the best one in a musical for which she newly wrote all the others. Some of Parton's other numbers work as passable show tunes, which is both a positive and negative at the same time. Dolly is talented enough to have written some nice melodies and well-crafted lyrics, but very few have the country-flavor one might imagine, nor as befitting the show's 1979 setting, any homages to disco or other sounds of the '70s.

For example, the late second act number, "Get Out and Stay Out" was a decent ode of female self-empowerment very well-sung by Mamie Parris as Judy Bernly (the Jane Fonda role). But in a musical that greeted attendees with a curtain adorned by '70s icons like Sylvester Stallone, All in the Family, Jimmy Carter, Burt Reynolds and Cher (unless I was right in thinking it was Linda Ronstadt)--it might have been shrewder had the song hewed closer to "I Will Survive" than just a typical Broadway torch song.

Multiple Tony nominee Dee Hoty was excellent as Violet Newstead (aka Lily Tomlin) and American Idol alum Diana DeGarmo sufficiently filled Dolly's bra if not quite her shoes.

Diana DeGarmo
But there was just something amiss about the flow of the show. I realize the narrative--and much of the dialogue--was likely matching that of the movie, but on-stage it didn't really connect with me. And I'm sure I'm being way oversensitive given recent real-life events, but for me the scenario of three terribly mistreated secretaries fantasizing about killing their boss, then kidnapping him at gunpoint and holding him hostage even bordered on bad taste. Maybe there just wasn't enough mirthful glee to their vengeance, but I almost felt bad for the jerk.

Despite the lack of any incumbent affinity for the source material, I was actually excited that Broadway in Chicago was presenting its subscribers with something new; a recently-created show with new songs and featuring a first-rate touring cast. But by intermission I was already looking forward to seeing Les Miserables for the sixth time, which I will in just three weeks.

And for those who might think it was my responsibility to know the movie going in, or that I would have better enjoyed "9 to 5: The Musical" if I had, "The Producers" and "Hairspray" are two examples of musicals I instantly loved despite not having seen their film inspirations. I also admired "Legally Blonde" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" for the way they enhanced upon comedic films I only somewhat liked. So while screen-to-stage adaptations are being created en masse these days, in order to capitalize on built-in branding, I still think it's requisite that each new musical be able to shine within its own spotlight, even--or especially--to the uninitiated.

Thus, while I have no problem saying "Nice job" to the cast of "9 to 5," which also features some strong choreography by director Jeff Calhoun, I can't suggest you work really hard to see it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recommending a Few San Francisco Treats

My friend Dave will soon be going on a trip to San Francisco. His impetus is a Film Noir Film Festival, which should be phenomenal for him, as no one I know loves the genre more.

The movie screenings will be at night and it isn't exactly baseball season--another of Dave's most fervent passions--so he will seemingly have several daytime hours to explore the wondrous City by the Bay.

He has been there before, probably as often as the four times I've been, but I was telling him about some cool places I remembered from my trips (most recently in '03 and '05). So I thought I might expand my list of suggestions--really just possibilities--into a blog post, allowing Dave to easily access it.

And while I hope some other Seth Saith visitors might enjoy reading this, I'm also hoping a few might have some places to add. Please do so in the Comments.

This isn't intended as a comprehensive Travel Guide and as Dave has seen or knows about many of the more obvious tourist attractions--Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, Ghiradelli Square, Chinatown, the Embarcardero, Sausalito and Napa Valley/Wine Country--I won't mention them again.

But some places he (and perhaps you) might like knowing about are:

Haight-Ashbury - The legendary Summer of Love conclave is still a vibrant, albeit touristy neighborhood with some fun hippie-ish shops, centered around the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. The Grateful Dead House, at 710 Ashbury, won't welcome you inside, but is an excuse to walk past several beautiful Victorian homes.

City Lights Bookstore - I'd have assumed a voracious reader like Dave would have already visited this famed shop on Columbus Avenue, a great walking street through the heart of Frisco, but he hasn't. Co-founded and still (I believe) co-owned by legendary poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, it was a 'Beat hangout' for Kerouac, Ginsburg, Neal Cassady, etc. and still retains much of its original spirit.

Vesuvio Cafe - Next to City Lights--with just Jack Kerouac Alley in between--this is a trippy old cafe (from 1948) with wonderfully kitschy decor (see photo at right) that likely hasn't changed much since the famous Beats hung out there.

Caffe Trieste - When heading north on Columbus from City Lights, turn right on Vallejo St. and you will find the original location of Caffe Trieste. Most times of day, it's just somewhere to get great sweets and coffee (I don't drink it, but have heard great things), giving a little flavor of North Beach, SF's famed Italian neighborhood. There is often opera music playing and, although the website is confusing as to exactly when (Thursday or Saturday?), there still seems to be regular weekly live music at the Caffe.

John's Grill - At 63 Ellis St., close to where Dave will be staying, this steakhouse is famed for having existed since 1908, for being where Dashiell Hammett often ate and for being featured in Hammett's book The Maltese Falcon. I haven't actually eaten there, but it's worth a peek inside.

Saints Peter and Paul Church - In the heart of North Beach, Columbus Avenue intersects Washington Square Park, where in the morning many Asian residents do group exercises. Overlooking the park is a beautiful white church, magnificent in its own right but more important to me as the place where Joe Dimaggio married Marilyn Monroe. Although, according to what I just found Wikipedia, this isn't quite true, as the couple only posed for pictures there after getting married in a civil ceremony. I think the church displays some photos of the SF-bred Yankee Clipper, whose funeral was held here. The church, also according to Wikipedia, is prominently featured in the movie Dirty Harry.

San Francisco Movie Tours - I haven't done this but think Dave might enjoy. According to the website, it includes locations from Vertigo, Bullitt, The Maltese Falcon, Mrs. Doubtfire and more.

Cafe Zoetrope - located in the beautiful Sentinel Building (at left), on Columbus near the Transamerica Building, this is an Italian restaurant owned by Francis Ford Coppola. I haven't eaten here, but the reasonably-priced menu may offer a deal you can't refuse.

City Hall - Well off the Columbus Ave. tourist drag, it takes some effort getting here, but the gorgeous city hall building looks more like a state capitol and affords the chance to explore other historic buildings near Civic Center Plaza, home to many a demonstration.

Cable Car Turnaround - At the corner of Powell & Market Streets, this is a fun gathering of humanity and lets you jump on a cable car for a ride up the hill. (also quite close to your hotel, Dave)

Legion of Honor Art Museum - A fancy name for what is the primary San Francisco art museum; I like it better than the SF Museum of Modern Art, which is much easier to reach. The 'Legion' has a great collection, beautiful setting and I believe admission is free (but either can or must be reserved in advance; you might want to call - 415-750-3600)

Xanadu Gallery - Just to the east of Union Square at 140 Maiden Lane (also walking distance from the hotel), this art gallery is notable for having been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The photo at right might illustrate why it reminds me of a mini-Guggenheim.  

House of Prime Rib - A good place for good prime rib (if you're looking for one), but not essential compared to what you can find in Chicago.

Berkeley - You can get to the home of the University of California on BART and I've found Telegraph Ave. near the campus an enjoyable place to stroll.

SF Playhouse (Harper Regan) - Dave, I don't know if you'll have time for this around the movies unless you have a Saturday afternoon (for a 3pm matinee), but a theater very close to your hotel will be having a play called "Harper Regan," which I saw in Chicago and think you might like. It's about a woman in England who grew up in the heyday of punk; the show isn't about music per se, but relates to it. (This was my Chicago review.)

Obviously, you're not going to get to all of this, if even any. But although San Francisco is one of those cities that's really hard to "do wrong," I've found that wandering somewhere previously unknown based on someone's suggestion can often provide much residual enjoyment beyond the specific place itself.

If you need any further details on anything, just let me know. Have a wonderful time and try not to leave your heart.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Truly Devastating Account of How America Got Taken For (Nearly) All Its Worth -- Book Review: Griftopia by Matt Taibbi

Book Review

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America
by Matt Taibbi
Non-Fiction; published by Spiegel & Grau in November 2010

This Wednesday, I imagine at least 25 million people will watch the season premiere of "American Idol." Nothing wrong with that, even if I won't be among the huddled masses, but I can't help but think that if, at most, one-third of domestic American Idol viewers--or roughly the 8.45 million who watched the season debut of "Jersey Shore"--also chose to read Matt Taibbi's 250-page book, Griftopia, there would most likely be a revolution in the United States.

That's how powerful and precise Taibbi--who regularly writes incredibly incisive pieces on similar subjects for Rolling Stone--is in explaining, in as close-to-layman's terms such esoteric information can get, the root causes of the financial collapse of 2008 and the complicit culprits who continue to swindle the American public.

Matt Taibbi
His skewer is surprisingly non-partisan and impales both Republicans and Democrats (including Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel) and not simply the obvious targets such as the Wall Street investment banks--particularly Goldman Sachs--and subprime mortgage brokers (although the depths of their duplicity is descriptively detailed). The caustic but never churlish Taibbi also rips Alan Greenspan a new asshole (or more accurately, calls him one) in a remarkably revelatory chapter that debunks any notion of the former Federal Reserve chief as some sort of economic oracle. With in-depth research, much historical context and numerous substantiating sources, Taibbi shows how continuously and catastrophically wrong Greenspan has been about most economic forecasts and decisions.

As a Chicagoan--actually a suburbanite--it was also interesting to read Taibbi's take on Mayor Daley's decision to sell the city's parking meters, for, as it turns out, a fraction of their true worth and to a consortium comprised largely of Arab wealth funds. You'll also be stupefied by the real reasons behind skyrocketing gas prices.

And though at odds with what I would like to believe, Taibbi's arduous accounting of the manipulative reality behind President Obama's health care bill--mainly that it was concocted by Emanuel as a deal to give insurance companies oodles more cash in exchange for a few election cycles' worth of campaign contributions--really helped me see the ever-dimming light about the American political power structure.

In sum, Griftopia further and more comprehensively clarifies what a variety of other sources--including the books The Big Short and The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown and documentaries Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story and Casino Jack and the United States of Money--have already put into my head. Namely that A) Unless you are a member of the top levels of government, the Wall Street investment banks or their co-conspirators, you have been directly screwed by them in ways you can't even imagine, and B) the 2008 financial collapse (and resulting recession) was not caused by everyday citizens buying homes beyond their means and being unable to pay their mortgages when home values dropped.

This is what the powers that be want the American Idol-worshipping public to believe, but as Taibbi does a great job in explaining--as did Michael Lewis in the more mortgage meltdown-specific The Big Short--outright criminality was at play, not merely misfortune or consumer overreach. (I tried explaining what happened a bit more in this piece, but you really owe it to yourself to read Taibbi's and Lewis' user-friendly expositions.)

I have never been much of a conspiracy theorist and I am not an anti-capitalist. But having lost my job amid the fallout from the financial collapse of September 2008--and Taibbi reveals how it may have been avoided, not just by redressing years of deregulation, collusion and avarice, but had Goldman Sachs not pulled an unnecessary, cohorts-in-the-Treasury-aided power play to push AIG over the precipice--I've felt obligated to investigate the root causes a bit further than the mainstream media has presented. (Taibbi, who has only been on the financial beat for a couple years, embarrasses most of the press by revealing so much that the general public has never known, but should have.) And though in my case, Griftopia was a tremendous complement to other coverage I'd read and seen, I recommend it as strongly as possible to anyone as a place to start in deciphering what has brought us to where we still are today.

It won't be easy, throwaway reading, but Taibbi artfully keeps it from becoming too dense, with considerable humor to mitigate the detailed explanations of complex matters (like financial derivatives). And while Taibbi never advocates specific actions that us Main Streeters should take, he includes more than enough fodder for anyone looking for a reason to take to the streets.

I don't want to give away too many of Taibbi's numerous great tidbits, but this was one that especially made me cringe:

In 2008, the year by which the routinely immoral actions of Goldman Sachs, among others, would wipe out roughly 40% of the world’s wealth, the investment bank paid out $10 billion in compensation and bonuses—including $42.9 million to CEO Lloyd Blankfein—and made a $2 billion profit, they paid just $14 million in taxes. Ruin the world, get bailed out by the American taxpayer and give back less than what a superstar athlete makes in a year.

Where's my pitchfork?

Next up, from the Skokie Public Library, I will be reading Washington Rules by Andrew Bacevich, about how Congress is in bed with the military-industrial complex, and Travel as a Political Act, by my favorite travel writer, Rick Steves.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Celebrating a Decade of Wikipedia (with the help of Wikipedia)

As evidenced by much of what I write about on Seth Saith, and even more so the tidbits I throw up on Facebook, I enjoy recognizing milestones—birthdays, anniversaries and the like. This isn’t due to any overt sentimentality nor need for vicarious celebration; a living or long-dead celebrity, or historical event, isn’t really all that more important to me on any given day than the other 364.

But milestone recognition and referencing serves as a rather cogent reminder—mainly to myself, but also to anyone who may care about the things I share—of people and events that have much merited significance or deserve for me to learn more. 

While I already knew that today’s date, January 15, is the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I also just discovered that it is also the birthday of (late) musicians like famed drummer Gene Krupa, Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant and the recently passed Captain Beefheart. On the flip side, two disparate but highly acclaimed songwriters, Sammy Cahn and Harry Nilsson, both passed on this day, a year apart (in 1993 and 1994, respectively).

January 15, 2011 is also the 44th anniversary of the first Super Bowl, precisely 112 years since the incorporation of the Coca-Cola Company and the first anniversary of the miraculous landing—by Captain Chesley Sullenberger—of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, resulting in the survival of all 155 people on-board.

Not coincidentally, today is also the 10th anniversary of the source of all this knowledge (trivia? minutia?): Wikipedia.

Yes, on January 15, 2001, what has become the world’s predominant encyclopedia and 8th most popular website, first went online.

Sometimes it's hard to remember life before Wikipedia, although I clearly do. In fact, when considering possible detrimental effects of the all-too-instant and frequently impersonal Internet age, I often wonder if Wikipedia makes it too easy for people—especially those without another point of reference—to instantly find what they seek while eliminating the residual benefits I gained from riding my bike to the library, walking past the stacks of books and perusing the encyclopedia far beyond my assigned subject.

But while I worry that a desirable balance between the analog and digital world is forever slipping away, my opinion about Wikipedia, in and of itself, is 110% favorable.

I visit virtually every day, often several times per day, both on my desktop and through its handy iPhone app. There is rarely a movie I watch, a play I attend, a book I read, a band I discover, an artist I recall or a blog article I write that isn't enhanced by learning more through Wikipedia. If I'm confused about a movie's plot, the Wikipedia article helps explain it. If I'm curious about where an author's or artist's given work fits into his or her entire oeuvre, Wikipedia fills me in. If something "based on actual events" leaves me wondering where the line was blurred between fact and fiction, Wikipedia sets me straight.

And beyond simply looking things up on Wikipedia, I've come to also love it for what I've drawn upon here: discovering milestones. On the main page (in English or many of its 257 active language editions), there is an "On This Day" section through which you can find Events, Births, Deaths, Holidays and Observances. Such as it being John Chilembwe Day in Malawi.

I know that Wikipedia has its detractors and skeptics--probably out-of-work encyclopedia salesmen--but studies have shown that the accuracy of articles on Wikipedia holds up against Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources, despite their being compiled and edited by the general public. It's never smart to take any single source as 100% gospel truth, but I've yet to find any substantive reasons not to believe what I read on Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales
Larry Sanger
Of the billions of websites in existence, Wikipedia is probably my favorite--excepting, of course--or at least the one I find most useful. So on its 10th anniversary, which is being celebrated in myriad ways around the world wide web, I thank and salute its founders, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger--though I doubt either is starving, they are to be applauded for not selling or commercializing Wikipedia, which could have easily made them billionaires--and all who have contributed to making Wikipedia the phenomenal resource it is today.

Ironically, I learned that today was Wikipedia's 10th anniversary not through Wikipedia itself, but via Time magazine, whose new issue features a "10 Questions With..." piece with Jimmy Wales. Like much on Wikipedia, it is well worth reading.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A 50th Birthday Video Celebration For Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, plus a bit of Madness

I have a book called This Day in Music, which lists numerous births, deaths and other anniversaries for every day of year. It's pretty fun to reference and--excepting anything that's happened since being published in 2005--has always seemed rather thorough.

But while it lists four birthdays for January 13, including two that have some pertinence to me--Graham McPherson (known by the moniker Suggs), the lead singer for British ska sensation Madness, turns 50 today and Zack de la Rocha, lead singer for Rage Against the Machine, turns 41--it missed a pretty big one (at least in my book) that I discovered on Wikipedia.

Wayne Coyne, lead singer, guitarist and chief songwriter for The Flaming Lips, also turns 50 today. I have enjoyed the Lips since 1994, when my friend Jordan introduced me to their album Transmissions From the Satellite Heart and their great single, "She Don't Use Jelly."

The video for that song--which still remains my favorite by the Lips, despite a boatload of great work since--is below, followed by a few others that showcase the Flaming Lips' quirky brilliance and their ability to do knockout cover versions.

Happy Birthday Wayne.

In 1994, I went to Lollapalooza in Tinley Park, IL. The Flaming Lips were on a side stage and I only saw them do one song. But it was the one below, and I've never forgotten it. Though I am glad someone caught it on video and posted it to YouTube years later.

Awhile back, I was in Oklahoma City, OK, the hometown of the Flaming Lips and saw them immortalized with this street sign, intersecting with that of another local hero.

As I mentioned above, today is also the 50th birthday of Suggs, the lead singer of Madness. While never as big a fan of theirs as the Flaming Lips or myriad other bands--in fact, their only big U.S. hit, "Our House," kinda annoyed me when it was popular--I've come to realize their output and UK fame was rather substantive.

Though I've come around on "Our House" and also like "Baggy Trousers," "It Must Be Love" and others, the one below, "My Girl" is my favorite.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Farewell to a True Blue Friend as DuPage Democratic Activist Amy Tauchman Departs for Denver (on "Inauguration Day")

“I think I’m gonna be sad, I think it’s today
The girl that’s driving me mad is going away
She’s got a ticket to ride, she’s got a ticket to ride, she’s got a ticket to ride
But she don’t care”
The Beatles, “Ticket To Ride”

Ever since I thought about writing an appreciation of Amy Tauchman as she prepares to leave her longtime home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois for the wide open possibilities offered by Denver, Colorado, the above stanza has been in my head as the way to open such a piece.

And yet, virtually nothing about it is particularly accurate or apt. Yes, I am “gonna be sad” because Amy is going away, but I’m also happy for her to be making a new start. Rather than a girl that’s driving me mad, she’s a woman who’s been one of my best friends over the past five years. Instead of having a ticket to ride, she’ll be driving her own car as she goes on her Rocky Mountain way.

And more than almost anyone I’ve ever known, Amy very much does care.

So I hope some of what I write conveys just how passionate she has been about many things of great import, and how impressively she has inspired change as a result.

“Sometimes we move with no choice /
To the call of wild crazy voices”
BoDeans, “Dreams”

I met Amy Tauchman almost exactly five years ago. We lived a half-mile from each other in Glen Ellyn for more than 10 previous years, but never had reason to interact until we both made our initial forays into the world of campaign politics. After meeting Christine Cegelis at a candidate debate in January 2006—she was making her second run for the U.S. House seat in Illinois District 6—I volunteered to do some office work and Amy was Christine’s Office Manager and de facto Volunteer Coordinator.

I enjoyed working for Christine and with Amy; both warmly welcomed some proactive marketing concepts I shared, though it was too late in the campaign for them to be implemented. Although Christine had done better against longtime incumbent Henry Hyde in the 2004 general election than any previous challenger (as far as I’m aware), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee— headed at the time by Rahm Emanuel—decided to enlist wounded Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth as a primary challenger. Tammy won a tough battle in March 2006—by less than 1% in a race where a third candidate, Lindy Scott, earned 16.5%—before losing to Peter Roskam in November.

Although I had made some friendly acquaintances on the Cegelis campaign, including Amy, this was before Facebook had become a ubiquitous way to further fledgling relationships and Amy & I never even exchanged phone numbers or email addresses. But soon thereafter, through the power of Google, I discovered that she was the co-leader and co-founder of DAWN (DuPage Against War Now). Given the political climate at the time, especially in DuPage County, where every elected official was a Republican (and most still are), I was somewhat surprised to find Amy’s phone number listed on DAWN’s website.

Even Amy’s compatriot in the formation and leadership of DAWN, Kathy Slovick (who continues to run the organization), says, “I felt that she was pretty courageous to allow her phone number to be published in the paper and on our website. I still remember some of the confrontational phone calls she would get from people.”

But as I soon came to know, even beyond the tenacity she brought to the Cegelis campaign, Amy Tauchman has never been one to let popular sentiment keep her from demonstrably championing her beliefs. 

“I won’t take all that they hand me down /
And make out a smile though I wear a frown”

The Kinks, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”

In 1994, as a suburban mother and housewife—albeit one who had ruffled feathers on the local PTA by surveying the entire biography section of her children’s school library and insisting that it expand to better reflect the cultural diversity of the community—Amy Tauchman dyed her hair purple.

And kept it that way for the better part of two years.

For most of us, doing something sure to engender such attention, incredulity and derision would be merely a ‘pigment of our imagination.’ (Amy loves my puns;-) But in finding her surroundings far too homogenized—in practice if not in truth—she felt obliged to shake things up a bit while advocating for a greater sense of inclusion and acceptance among citizens outside the Caucasian Christian commonality.

The YWCA of DuPage would recognize Amy’s efforts to raise cultural awareness at the Parkview School and beyond by giving her their “Racial Justice Award” for Outstanding Women Leaders in 1998. 

So although Amy wouldn’t truly “get political” until 2006 or become an avowed peace activist until 2002, her social stridency was readily apparent long before DAWN. In fact, prior to starting a family, her first job out of college (at the University of Illinois) was as a social worker at a battered women’s shelter in Pilsen.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Outstanding Octogenarians and Beyond (or: Remembering the Legendary Among the Living)

The other day I went to a concert by one of the greatest living legends I can think of: Chuck Berry.

OK, so as I wrote about here, it wasn't the most satisfying evening. But it was still a thrill to see a man who basically helped to invent rock 'n' roll. As I said to a friend, it costs $22 to visit the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. To see one of its greatest members live on stage for not much more, even for a subpar, abbreviated show, wasn't hard to justify.

Anyway, as I was looking forward to seeing Chuck Berry, it got me thinking about all the "living legends" that I, and perhaps you, don't think about often enough. Too often, it takes someone posting an RIP notice on Facebook to remind me that a legend who recently passed--such as Blake Edwards, Bob Feller or Jerry Bock--had still been alive until they weren't. And in some cases, such as with jazz great Billy Taylor, I wasn't familiar with someone I should have been until reading their obituary.

So today, I'm going to spend a few moments remembering, researching and citing legendary artists and athletes that are of this writing--unless my information is faulty--still alive. I'm sure I'll omit some folks I shouldn't and I'll be happy to hear about such cases. But as a barometer, I will limit those included here to people who are 80 years old and above (or will turn 80 in 2011) and who I perceive as having been among the best or most famous in their particular field.

The people below are listed in no particular order and for each I will link to Wikipedia so that anyone so inclined can learn more about some of history's greatest figures while they're still with us.


Chuck Berry
Fats Domino
B.B. King
Tony Bennett
Ravi Shankar
Harry Belafonte
Sonny Rollins
Ornette Coleman

Stephen Sondheim
Burt Bacharach
Jerry Herman
John Kander
Charles Strouse
Sheldon Harnick (lyricist)

Actors & Actresses

Kirk Douglas
Ernest Borgnine
Sidney Poitier
Joan Fontaine
Olivia de Havilland 
Lauren Bacall
Mickey Rooney
Clint Eastwood
Robert Duvall (turned 80 today!)
Gene Hackman
Doris Day
Angela Lansbury
Betty White
Andy Griffith
James Earl Jones
Hal Holbrook
Jean Stapleton
Harry Morgan
Cloris Leachman
Eva Marie Saint
Maureen O'Hara
Carol Channing
Elaine Stritch
Theodore Bikel
Jerry Lewis
Christopher Lee
Max von Sydow

Movie Directors, etc.
Franco Zeffirelli
Richard Attenborough
Sidney Lumet
Mel Brooks (and Carl Reiner)
Stanley Donen
Norman Jewison
Norman Lear (TV Producer)

Stan Musial
Yogi Berra
Willie Mays
Ernie Banks
Whitey Ford
Duke Snider
Tommy Lasorda (manager)
Earl Weaver (manager)
Bob Cousy
Gordie Howe
Y.A. Tittle
Frank Gifford
Don Shula (coach)
Joe Paterno (coach)

Edward Albee
Maya Angelou
Ray Bradbury
E.L. Doctorow
Tom Wolfe
Toni Morrison
Harper Lee
P.D. James
Elie Wiesel
Maurice Sendak
Stan Lee

Artists & Architects
Jasper Johns
I.M. Pei
Cesar Pelli
Frank Gehry
Claes Oldenburg

Buzz Aldrin
Neil Armstrong
Jimmy Carter
Noam Chomsky 
John Glenn
Hugh Hefner
Andy Rooney
Mike Wallace
Barbara Walters
Chuck Yeager

Suggested Additions
Eli Wallach (actor)
Vin Scully (baseball announcer)