Nicole Garza and Michael Cunio; below, Cunio with producers Krysten Ester, Charlie Blum & Dawn Stokes
Monday, August 17, 2015
“Most of those who made the Movement were the nameless, the marchers with tired feet, the protesters beat back with fire hoses and Billy clubs, and the unknown women and men who risked jobs and home and life.” Julian Bond
Julian Bond in 1966 and 2007
Civil Rights icon Julian Bond passed away. A leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Southern Poverty Law Center, and, most recently the NAACP, Bond was a professor at the University of Virginia whom I ran into several times at Oral History Association conferences. Bond’s father was a university president and his mother a librarian. Ray Smock said he personified what W.E.B. DuBois labeled the “Talented Tenth” of potential African-American leadership, and he risked life and limb on behalf of the dispossessed. I recall vividly his excitement that the Birmingham, Alabama, Civil Rights Institute had a “Memory Book” for ordinary folks to describe their participation in the 1963 demonstrations that paved the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Bond was co-director of an oral history project entitled “Explorations in Black Leadership.” Eulogizing Bond as “a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend,” President Barack Obama stated: “Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life. Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
In 1977, in an inspired move by producer Lorne Michaels, Julian Bond hosted Saturday Night Live. Famous Julians include John Lennon’s son, a musician in his own right, and controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Julian the Apostate, so-named because he renounced Christianity, ruled the Roman Empire between 361 and 363. A learned philosopher and brilliant military commander, Emperor Julian was the subject of a 1964 novel by Gore Vidal, who, along with William F. Buckley, is featured in a new documentary, “Best of Enemies,” about their televised debates during the 1968 national conventions. The liberal Vidal and reactionary Buckley had a visceral hatred for what the other stood for. When Vidal labeled Buckley a “crypto-fascist,” Buckley lamely retorted by calling Vidal a “fag.”
Fifty years ago the Watts ghetto in Los Angeles went up in flames, set off by an incident involving the nearly all-white police force. A blue-ribbon committee concluded that the uprising, which critics dismissed as a commodity riot, was a result of rising expectations and blocked opportunities. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page wrote:
Watts was a pivotal event in shaping the polarized racial and political landscape through which we Americans struggle today.
Coming on the heels of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s historic civil rights bills and the early days of his “war on poverty,” Watts helped spur a conservative backlash that continues to push back against similar progressive reforms today.
You can even hear echoes of the Watts debate in today’s “Black Lives Matter” protests over fatal encounters between unarmed black men and white police officers – although without today’s cellphone cameras.
A day after Watts erupted, looting broke out in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood after a fire truck veered out of control and uprooted a street sign that struck and killed 23 year-old African American Dessie May Williams. The all-white crew left the station without a tillerman, whose responsibility was to control the ladder that had knocked over the sign. Unconfirmed rumors spread that the tillerman had been drunk at the time of the accident.
below, Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield
In “Ricki and the Flash,” the best movie I’ve seen this year, Meryl Streep plays a small-time musician who after many years returns home to deal with a suicidal daughter and two resentful sons. Her brother having died in Vietnam, Ricki has an American flag tattoo on her back and twice voted for George W. Bush. The musical numbers are awesome, beginning with Streep belting out Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Eighties heartthrob Rick Springfield played her band mate and love interest and Kevin Kline her decent but square ex. At one point Julie, played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, says, “Hey, you guys are fighting; it’s like the 80s all over again!”
In John Updike’s “Rabbit Remembered” plug ugly Ronnie Harrison, now married to Harry’s widow Janice, has a middle-aged son who’s a gay dancer struggling to survive in New York City as a hawker of Broadway tickets. At a 1999 Thanksgiving dinner he tells Harry’s love child Annabelle, “The most amazing production I’ve seen lately has the rather embarrassing title ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ a one-woman show by Eve Ensler, and it’s really more serious than it sounds. It’s about us and our bodies. All of us. Men, women, and in-between.”
Taylor Swift, on the cover of Vanity Fair’s style issue, seems to have jettisoned her distinctive eyebrows that contributed so much to her uniqueness. Ryan Adams recently announced that he would record a complete cover version of Swift’s “1989” CD. Swift, tongue in cheek, supposedly declared, “COOL. I’m not gonna be able to sleep tonight or ever again, and I’m going to celebrate today every year as a holiday.” Adams promised his version of the celebratory “Welcome to New York” would be the “saddest ever.” Proclaiming “the lights are so bright but they never blind me,” the song also includes these lines:
“When we first dropped our bags on apartment floors
Took our broken hears, put them in a drawer
Everybody here was someone else before
And you can want who you want
Boys and boys and girls and girls.”
When I saw “The Vagina Monologues” at IUN, its large cast included Sociology professor Tanice Foltz. The sexual candor caused one secretary to storm out in disgust. The play has been performed in 140 countries with such celebrities as Jane Fonda. Glenn Close, Cyndi Lauper, Whoopi Goldberg, and Oprah Winfrey. The most controversial skit, “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could,” involved a teenage girl given alcohol and then seduced by a 24 year-old woman, which is portrayed as “a good rape” – in other words, a positive experience in contrast to sex with abusive men.
Toni and I visited nieces Lisa and Mary Anne in Granger, the affluent South Bend suburb. Lisa’s sister Mary Anne and husband Derik Cavignano had just returned from Iceland and showed us striking photos of the rugged terrain through which they hiked. During the trip Bella and Ben, whom we hadn’t seen in several years, stayed with Lisa and Fritz Teuscher, who had lost 40 pounds in the past year. Fritz recently picked up a 40-pound weight and shuddered at having carried around that much excess baggage.
Saturday I watched “Birdman” on HBO, bought a steak taco for $2.50 at Chesterton’s European Market, and at the library read a review of David McCullough’s account of Orville and Wilbur Wright and the dawn of the airplane age, a follow-up of sorts to McCullough’s books about such engineering marvels as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. After dining at Miller Bakery Café eight of us played bridge at Hagelbergs, four hands each with the seven others. I won first place, $4.00, thanks to a hand Toni played as my partner. An opponent holding over 20 points doubled our two-spade bid, and with a couple singletons and brilliant cross-roughs, Toni made the game contract plus an overtrick.
At the Star Plaza Becca performed in the sold-out production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Playing Jesus was Michael Cunio, who is in the vocal group Under the Streetlamp and has starred on Broadway in Hairspray and in the Chicago cast of Jersey Boys. Providing comic relief as King Herod was Hoosier Marc Summers, host of Double Dare on Nickelodeon and the Food network hit Unwrapped. Local talent Nicole Garza shined as Mary Magdalene. In the Playbill my buddy, former IUN Fine Arts major Stevie Kokos, was listed both as Maintenance Manager and part of the set construction crew. I’d love to see Star Plaza CEO Charlie Blum and General Manager Mark Bishop stage Henry Farag’s “The Signal” in the same manner as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” combining local talent (i.e., the ensemble already assembled by Farag) with established star Michael Cunio and maybe an Oldies performer such as Lou Christie or even Frankie Valli.
I agree with David Bromwich’s critique of online education. In the New York Review of Books “Trapped in the Virtual Classroom,” he concluded:
In the age of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, it is not a foregone conclusion that our society will continue to support teaching at all levels as one of the honorable professions, a respected calling on a par with medicine and law. The support will continue only if – against the allure of the most seductive of technologies – we remind ourselves how much the contact between teacher and student can matter in the physical classroom. I can’t see what is risked by this conservative approach. Without embracing online education, we can still choose to take the help it offers.
IUN grad and incoming law student Marla Gee wrote from Valparaiso:
Hitting the ground running. Orientation week is winding down, we've been going 9:00-5:00 all week. Assignments are already due for next week, reading cases and writing briefs. Meanwhile, I'm liking Valpo! With my I.D., THE BUS IS FREE: magic words for me, whose world revolves around public transportation. There is a V-Line bus stop about a block and a half from my place. So far so good with school stuff. Law students have 24/7 ACCESS TO THE LIBRARY, simply swipe the I.D. at the front door. This was amazing news to me, such a privilege.