Monday, April 3, 2017

Keeping the Faith

“If we had more Charlie Kings, I’d be less worried about the future of the world.” Peggy Seeger

Protest singer Charlie King performed at an ACLU fundraiser at Temple Israel dedicated to the memory of social justice stalwarts Lotte and Seymour Meyerson. I first saw Charlie at a Bailly Alliance anti-nuke concert in 1979 and then again when Ron Cohen brought him to IUN.  Last year he was part of an anti-death penalty Midwest caravan that included Gary native Bill Pelke, who championed Paula Cooper’s appeals to avoid the electric chair even though Paula had killed his grandmother when 15 years old.  Many Miller mainstays were on hand, including Jim and Elaine Spicer, whom I sat with.  Learning that I had repeated on my blog Elaine’s story of how they met at Marquette Perk and went on a movie date that very evening, Jim revealed that driving to Valparaiso on Route 49, he’d missed his exit and then pulled onto a dark gravel road to turn around, which, he speculated at the time, must have given Elaine pause. When I he heard that I had used some of his Facebook jokes in Steel Shavings, he told me that when he taught at Gary West Side, every Friday at the end of class, he’d tell a funny story.
 In the Temple Israel audience for Charlie King; photo by Ruth Needleman

Rick Busse, Robin Rich, Larry Galler; photo by Ruth Needleman

Prior to the concert, former local ACLU presidents Steve Tallackson, Larry Galler, and Rick Busse discussed past causes that the organization had championed and the contributions of Lotte and Seymour Meyerson not only to free speech but to civil rights and the cultural life of the community - in particular, Temple Israel.  Toni worked for her at the Northwest Indiana Open Housing Center and during the 1972 George McGovern campaign, and we were invited to their home for dinner and folk dancing.  Robin Rich then introduced Charlie King as one who has kept the faith throughout his life as a troubadour for peace and freedom.
Charlie King at Temple Israel; photos by Ruth Needleman

Calling himself a musical storyteller and political satirist, Charlie King, like Pete Seeger, whom he resembles on stage, involved the audience in singing along to numbers such as “Mic Check” (about the aims of the Occupy Wall Street movement) and “Goon Squad” -  sung to the tune of “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens - about George W. Bush henchmen refusing to let Yusuf Islam (Stevens) into the United States.  One of my favorite Charlie King songs is “Who Will Be Next on the Gallows?” - about our connivance in having Saddam Hussein strung up after he no longer served our government’s purpose. The final line references Kissinger and Cheney as war criminals and candidates for the gallows. Charlie chose Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” to go with the lyrics to his anti-war song “Send in the Drones.”  Fitting.  One number turned applied the epithet used against Sixties protesters – “Go back to Russia” – to Trump.

Charlie King’s most moving numbers dealt with civil rights issues such as the mass incarceration of black men and shooting victims in Ferguson and elsewhere. Taking a cue from a 2013 speech by Reverend Al Sharpton on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, which he attended, he wrote lyrics about voter suppression in the South, evoking civil rights martyrs Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner.  He introduced me (and others, I’m sure) to Ohio State sprinter George Nicholas, who during the 1980s refused to compete in track meets until university trustees divested from South African bonds and financial holdings due to that government’s apartheid policies.  Eventually, his lone action sparked a successful campus protest.

On James’s final week of bowling I gave a copy of the new Steel Shavings to Kevin Horn, who reciprocated with a long-sleeved Inman’s shirt.  Dave noticed a Shavings photo of line dancers at DC Country Junction in Lowell, which closed last year, and noted that Voodoo Chili played there several times and that the owner loved them, especially when they played such Lynyrd Skynyrd numbers as “Free Bird” and “Gimme Three Steps.”  Eight of us had lunch at Round the Clock, including Miranda and Sean, who then took the South Shore to Chicago en route to Cancun, Sean’s first time in Mexico.
 Miranda and Sean at Chicago's "Bean" - nickname for "Cloud Gate" by Anish Kapoor

On the way to Red Lobster and then bridge at Brian and Connie’s we stopped at the Gardner Center where Pop Up Art was in progress.  Corey Hagelberg and Samuel A. Love were collecting one-liners at their poetry booth. I chatted with Nancy Cohen, Eve Bottando, Mark McPhail, and Gloria Biondi.  Gloria knows someone who took her boyfriend to a Charlie King concert, and the guy walked out after a few numbers, muttering, “He’s a goddam communist.”   Michael Chirich told me a hilarious story about when Gloria’s husband Clark lent him his Cadillac convertible for a Halloween party with a date he’d just met.  Michael didn’t realize that the fuel gauge was on empty and ran out of gas on the way to the Radisson Hotel.  He had to walk to get help dressed as Mickey Mouse.
Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis

After reading a favorable Rolling Stone review of the FX anthology “Feud,” I binge-watched the first four episodes about Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and the making of the 1962 horror classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”  The series reveals the sexism and naked opportunism of the Hollywood studio system, personified by Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci), and highlights gossip columnists such as Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) who thrived on scandal and catfights.  It was a treat spotting Alison Wright from “The Americans” as director Robert Aldrich’s assistant and Kiernan Shipka, the teenager in “Mad Men,” as the daughter of Bette Davis.
Bryan in California with AmeriCorps

In Steve McShane’s Fall 2016, Indiana History class Robert Humphreys interviewed Bryan Brown, who in 1995 quit college and joined AmeriCorps, a program started by President Bill Clinton. After training, he was sent to San Francisco and assigned to a project to eradicate invasive plants and plant those native to the area.  His crew lived in storage buildings.  He got to stay in Alcatraz for a night in the same cell “The Birdman” had occupied.  He also visited O.J. Simpson’s house before it was torn down.  In San Diego, the crew was doing something similar to an archeological dig, and Bryan dug up a whistle.  He blew into it and everyone around him was amazed.  Bryan turned 21 that year and decided he wanted to celebrate by himself.  He went outside and lay under the stars as the clock struck midnight.  On New Year’s Eve, his crew played a murder mystery game.   Working in AmeriCorps helped Bryan decide what he wanted to do next: work on computers. AmeriCorps made college possible without accumulating enormous debt.  Bryan went on to obtain a B.S. degree in Computer Science at Purdue Calumet in Hammond.

At Quick Cut hair stylist Anna asked about the family and vowed to come see James as Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family.”  On the way home, I stopped at a liquor store and picked up a case of Yuengling beer on the first day it was on sale in Northwest Indiana.

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