Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Chevrolet Sings

Driving a car can be an exciting thing, just ask the folks at Chevrolet circa the early 60s. They issued a driving hygiene record, "Chevrolet Sings of Safe Driving and You" for prospective drivers. A college roommate and KJHK compadre named Michael Bassin turned me on to the cool folk stylings of "(driving a car can be) An Exciting Thing", as well as other cuts, back in the mid 80s. Michael donated the album to the radio station in 1986 and for all I know it's still there. I was surprised today when I googled the term and found this picture and several website mentions. It popped up more than once on the play lists of eclectic radio shows. A copy of the vinyl album went for over 50 dollars recently online and I also stumbled across a blurb about a performer in Colorado who covered the album from start to finish as a performance. The lyrics and spoken word interludes are hilarious and very corny but I can't get some of the acoustic melodies (and earnest harmonica work) out of my head.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Q & A With Todd Gilmore

Todd Gilmore is the K.U. graduate (architecture, '88) who conceived the original "Beware of the Phog" banner that hung in Allen Field House. Our mutual history goes back to the fall of 1983 when I lived on the tenth floor of Oliver residence hall and he had some friends who lived in the same wing. I caught up with him over winter break and asked him some questions.

FJ: The KU men's basketball program was at a relative nadir when you and I arrived at school in the fall of 1983. People may not realize how different it was that year. What do you recall about the basketball program when you were a freshman?
TG: To be honest, I wasn't much of a basketball fan prior to college. I remember my Dad telling me during the summer before I left for KU that they were going to have a good team and I'd heard that Larry Brown was coming in to coach. Fortunately for me, a few of the guys on 10th floor at Oliver (particularly Pat Sieb) talked me into going to that first game and I was hooked.

FJ: What did you like best about living in Oliver Hall besides the clean restrooms?
TG: Walking up 144 stairs into the wind, both ways to get to campus. It was a little more wild freshman year than sophomore year. They ended up moving the guys to the first 5 floors and the girls to the upper floors because we caused "problems". Gobbies out the window were always fun and the yell fights with Naismith. Oh, and you couldn't beat the Pink Floyd paint job down the hall on the 10th floor. I wonder if it's still there?

FJ: People think I'm crazy when I tell them that as students we didn't stand the whole game or try to distract the opposing team's free throw shooters. What else has changed about the Allen Field House experience since the mid '80s?
TG: I think that was the case when we were freshman. But there were fanatics then trying to get everyone to do that and eventually we all started. One of the guys at Oliver was the guy that started the "Whoosh" yell after made free throws. I also remember the seating arrangements were MUCH tighter before they installed the permanent seating on the lower level. We used to stand kind of sideways to fit everyone in and then when we did sit down it was pretty cramped. The new seats gave us more room.

FJ: During the mid '80s, the two biggest personalities in Lawrence were William S. Burroughs and Larry Brown. Did you ever meet either one?
TG: I met Larry Brown a couple of times in passing as he was giving us doughnuts in the morning after we had camped out for some games. I never shook his hand or anything.

FJ: What's your favorite K.U. basketball moment besides watching the team win the NCAA tournament in 1988?
TG: It was the quietest and loudest moments at Allen Fieldhouse in the span of about 3 seconds. It was the night we were playing OU in 84 and Calvin Thompson drained a shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. When he let that ball go, it got so quiet as you could almost hear everyone in the building take a deep breath at the same time. Slow motion is what it felt like as halfway through the arc of the shot, the light came on behind the goal and then a HUGE explosion of emotion when the shot went down. I still get goose bumps thinking of it. It was the loudest moment I can remember in the building. (Although, I'm sure there were others, that one has always stuck in my mind.) Unfortunately, OU went on to win in overtime. They cut down the nets in OUR building and my roommate (remember Larry?) took a swing at Billy Tubbs as they headed back to the locker room. (He missed by a long shot as we were all being held back by security, but it was a swing nonetheless :-)

FJ: The Oliver Hall library had a subscription to Playboy but somebody kept tearing out the pictorial pages. Was it you?
TG: No, that wasn't me, but I noticed that some of the pages that hadn't been torn off were stuck together. Whoever kept checking it out must have eaten their French toast with their fingers.

FJ: How did you come up with the idea for the "beware of the phog" banner?
TG: I can't vividly remember any spark where I said, "Eureka!", but it had been something I had been thinking about for a while. I liked the fact that places like New Mexico and Clemson had stadiums with names like The Pit and Death Valley. I thought AFH should have something like that. The Beware of the Phog came from commercials for John Carpenter's movie, 'The Fog'. They used that line and I just changed the spelling. I can't honestly tell you where the pay heed came from. It just kind of popped into my head.

FJ: Where is the original phog banner now?
TG: I've been told that it's in storage and will supposedly be displayed in the new KU athletic hall of fame when it's built. I've heard that there is plans to build it right in front of the fieldhouse.

FJ: It would seem you have some merchandising opportunities there. Did you copyright the phrase "beware of the phog"?
TG: Um. No. We joke about it, but I probably lost out on some pretty good coin by not copyrighting it. Oh well. I just look at it like I've contributed a lot of money to the KU athletic department :-)

Learn more about Todd's unique contribution to K.U. history in this essay and this Journal World story by Joe Gose.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Remembering the Battle of the Bulge

When I worked for the Kansas Audio Reader Network in the late 80s, one of our volunteers, Mrs. A.B. Ewing, told the story of Christmas Eve 1944, and how the Battle of the Bulge came home to Lawrence, Kansas.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Twilight in the borderlands.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Meanwhile in New York

Steve Martin debunks the myth that King Tut was born in Arizona and Woody Allen reports that Daffy Duck is a scientologist. (Thanks Evanier)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Truman's 1947 Diary

I used to have this fantasy where I gained access to the Harry S. Truman archives and discovered a reference to the Roswell incident. You know the bit. I ask to see some papers for a "book I'm writing" and the ambivalent attendant brings me everything he's got and more. I discover a non-descript Manila folder from 1947. It smells musty. In a long forgotten memo, sandwiched between newspaper clippings and boring missives on the state of the White House restoration effort, a brief memo with the President's seal mentions the flying saucer recovery effort in the New Mexico dessert. I glance around to make sure I am alone in the stacks, remove my Minox spy camera, and snap a picture of the first official acknowledgement of the legendary cover-up. Later, I appear on the Donahue show and have Thanksgiving with Whitley Strieber.

It never happened. I always meant to front that fake book idea and drive over to Independence, but do you have any idea how hard it is to get prints made for Minox snaps?

Imagine my delight when the article I was searching for in my deep purple conspiracy dreams was found at the Truman Library recently. Some curious soul found Truman's 1947 diary in a heap of books. Best of all, they transcribed it on line. I quickly turned to the July entries and found that he made no mention of anything extra-terrestrial. Too bad.

There's nothing during the Roswell window. The Truman entries stop July 6th and don't resume until July 21st. Hmm. Furthermore, the 7/21 entry is loose-leaf. The next entry in the book is July 23rd. Is it possible the Roswell entries were removed after Truman wrote them? Perhaps. Maybe it looked like this:

July 10th - Sorry I haven't written. I've just been so busy with work and the commie menace. Just returned from Ft. Worth and a review of the "little green men". I don't know who smells worse, the dead aliens or General Blanchard.

[J. Edgar] Hoover stopped by to tell me who's gay in Hollywood. Bess was not amused by his joke about Edith Head giving good costume.

Or this:

July 14th - Was playing poker with the boys when Rose delivered an update on the flying disk salvage in N.M. It was so shocking I folded with three tens off the deal. It doesn't use gasoline and there aren't any cup holders. Detroit's not gonna like it.

Phoned De Gaulle to wish him and Madame De G. a happy Bastille Day. Forgot about the time difference and ended up waking his French butt out of bed. Played the piano in cross hall until 11pm. Had ice cream in the kitchen, did 25 push-ups, and so to bed.

Monday, November 22, 2004

River City Reunion - Lineup

River City Reunion - September 1987 in Lawrence, Kansas. Roster part two. Here's part one in case you missed it.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Lets Riff

First there was Mad Movies, then Mystery Science Theatre 3000 came along. Now there's Cheap Seats.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Q & A With Rob Neyer

Rob Neyer is a baseball columnist with and the author of four baseball books. He's a former K.U. student and long-time Kansas City Royals fan. His new book is The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers by Bill James and Rob Neyer.

FJ: I was looking over some old Royals box scores from the late 70s and was shocked to discover that George Brett was not a fixture in the three hole. He batted lead off, 2nd, 5th, all over. Looking back at the Royals of the 70s glory years, what statistic surprises you the most?
RN: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. But I suppose what surprises me the most is that during the two years both of us were in Kansas City, John Mayberry wasn’t a particularly good hitter. He’d been a great hitter in 1972, ’73, and again in ’75. But in ’76 he stopped hitting for average, and never really got back to where he’d been.

FJ: As a kid, describe the moment when the Kansas City Royals became your team?
RN: That’s hard to say. I only vaguely remember my first Royals game, which would have been in the spring of ’76, and we had good seats behind third base. The Royals were very good, of course, and I’d never really had a favorite team before.

FJ: What town did you move to after your family relocated from the upper Midwest?
RN: In the winter of 1975/76 (or perhaps the early spring of ’76), we moved to Raymore, Missouri. A year later my parents split up, and my mom, my younger brother and I moved to Lenexa.

FJ: Although you get paid to follow baseball, I'm guessing you're also a K.U. basketball fan. How do you keep up with the team these days?
RN: Obsessively, at least from November through March. I don’t pay much attention to all the recruiting stories during the baseball season, because I have a lot of other things on my mind. But once the games actually start, I put all of them on my calendar and do whatever I can to clear my schedule and watch on TV.

FJ: What do you miss the most about living in Lawrence?
RN: Gosh, that’s a tough one. I miss the summer sounds, the crickets and the cicadas. I miss walking around campus on a crisp autumn day. I miss walking around in the stacks at Watson Library. I miss a lot of stuff. But I’m sure I’ve romanticized things and would be disappointed if I moved back (which I do consider from time to time).

FJ: Were you in Lawrence the night we beat Oklahoma for the NCAA championship in 1988? If so, what are your recollections of that night?
RN: Oh, that’s another big thing I miss: Saturday afternoons inside Allen Field House. And yes, I was in Lawrence on that glorious evening. We – my girlfriend and my roommates – did what everybody else did: we walked to the top of Mount Oread and ran around screaming until we got tired, and then we walked home.

FJ: What's the best literature course you took at K.U.? Or if you didn't take any literature courses, who was your favorite K.U. instructor?
RN: My favorite literature course was (naturally) The Literature of Baseball, taught by Jim Carothers. I enjoyed the class, and it was one of the few that I took seriously during my time as a student. But I never felt particularly close to Carothers, perhaps because there were a few hundred students (it was very popular with the Greek set). I had a history professor that I liked quite a lot, though I can’t remember her name. But my favorite instructor was Burdett Loomis, a brilliant poly sci professor who’s still teaching at KU. It’s funny, I saw him a couple of years ago in Seattle and he looked exactly the same as he did twenty years ago, when I took my first class with him.

FJ: We had a mutual acquaintance named Mike Kopf. I knew Mike as a volunteer at the Kansas Audio Reader Network with a passion for reading baseball stories. How did you know Mike?
RN: Mike ran a little second-hand bookshop inside Quantrill’s Flea Market (which I believe doesn’t exist these days). Mike, being a baseball fan, carried a nice selection of baseball books, so I dropped in occasionally and bought what I could afford (which in those days wasn’t much). I also noticed that Mike was listed in the membership directory of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), so eventually I introduced myself and we struck up a friendship. Mike later was instrumental in me getting my job with Bill James, without which you and I wouldn’t be chatting now.

FJ: About the time you went to work for Bill James, he quit writing the yearly abstract. Did you know of that development going into the job? Were you disappointed at the time?
RN: Sure, I knew. Bill had announced his “retirement” in the 1988 Abstract, which was published seven or eight months before I interviewed for the job. I was disappointed when I first learned that the Abstract was dead, but that didn’t have anything to do with my job. In fact, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me, because I’m a better writer and editor than analyst, and if Bill had continued with the Abstract I probably wouldn’t have been much use to him.

FJ: What's the most misused or abused statistic in baseball today.
RN: Oh gee, there are so many . . . Seriously, we’re smarter than we used to be. But I suppose it’s wins and losses, as applied to individual performance. I’ll never get over the fact that in 2003, three MVP voters really believed that Shannon Stewart was the most valuable player in the American League. I mean, that just defies belief. But it happened.

FJ: I can't stand it when a sportscaster or interviewee turns a unique entity into a generic quanity. For example, when somebody says "a Pat Sheridan" or "a Cookie Rojas". Care to share your favorite sportsese pet peeve?
RN: Yeah, that’s a good one. Or a bad one, really. My favorite? Nothing occurs to me at the moment, but here’s something that does make me cringe . . . I can’t stand it when a baseball writer repeats something he’s been told without even thinking to question whether the assertion is actually true or not. It’s intellectual laziness, and it’s something that all of us should remember, every day, to fight with every ounce of energy that we’ve got. All of us fail, of course, but we should do better.

FJ: Tell us about your latest book, The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers.
RN: How many words can I have? Essentially, if you want to know who invented the curveball and who’s thrown the best curveballs over the years, this is the book for you. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be the umpire when Sandy Koufax pitched, this is the book for you. If you want to know what nearly 2,000 pitchers threw, this is the book for you. Bill and I packed as many facts about pitchers and pitching as we could into nearly 500 pages.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The River City Reunion took place in Lawrence Kansas in September of 1987. It featured an impressive line-up of artists. Here's the first part of the program for your amusement.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The edge of Hell

For many years, A popular local legend placed the portal to Hell at an abandoned church in Stull, Kansas, just west of Lawrence. Find out what's become of Stull. Read Richard Gintowt's story from

Friday, October 29, 2004

Ode to the Oread

The Oread (say or-ee-add) is an older Lawrence, Kansas neighborhood with student housing and apartments, interspersed with single family dwellings and rehabbed and refurbished 100 year-old houses. Built on the hill (Mount Oread) leading up to the KU campus, its location and cozy ambiance make it a coveted choice for students who want to be within walking distance of school and downtown.

That's one take on the Oread. The Oread has also been called the student slums of Lawrence. Not every house is a landmark. Parking is tight. Many rentals do not meet building and safety codes. Last week a student walked off the unrailed balcony at 1045 Tennessee and went to the hospital. Drafty rooms and old furnaces made for cold winter nights. Students used space heaters and extension cords to keep warm. In January 2002, malfunctioning electric equipment started a fire at 1216 Ohio. (That's the house where the L.A. Ramblers played their first gig in 1985). Encroaching development removed some of the houses and replaced them with beehive apartments, parking lots, or university buildings.

I miss the Oread. I lived at 1340 Tennessee my sophomore year and 930 Ohio my junior year. I liked being in the action. You were never far from anything: a bar, a house party, the library. I didn't mind the traffic, or the freaks, or the public urination. To me, living in the Oread was a rite of passage. I survived the initiation of college life. I served a year in the high-rise dorm-i-tude of Oliver Hall and I was ready to move to an off-campus bachelor pad to be part of the scene. During one of our open house parties, the Tan Man showed up in full T.M. regalia, a brown leather jacket with no shirt and blue shorts. We had arrived!

Vintage detached garages housed long forgotten shade tree projects. Outdoor folk art, brick streets and third story pigeon roosts were often found in the same block. There were houses with french doors and upstair fireplaces and capped gas jets. Loud music echoed through the neighborhood. Beer bottles and old furniture were smashed, ignored and taken away. Big porches were shaded by big trees. At 1340 Tennessee, our kitchen featured the same model stove featured prominently in David Lynch's cult classic, "Eraserhead".

I loved it but I moved away after my junior year. A fellow Oread-dweller and I took an apartment southwest of 23rd and Iowa for a year. The Gazebo apartments were new and they had no character, no atmosphere. It was a combination of the atmosphere of the Oread and my station in life. I was the care-free college man and slave to the social scene. I lived as a new bohemian (or so I fancied) and took a few credit hours up on the hill to perpetuate the college experience. The Oread was sunday mornin' comin' down any day of the week. The Oread is dead. Long live the Oread.

Keep up with Oread News from the Lawrence Journal World or return to the Oread for a sleep-over.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Dogtown And Z-Boys

I love it when pop culture, history, and media come together like they do in the documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys. It's the history of the rise of skateboarding thanks to the Z-Boys of Santa Monica, California, circa 1975. Not only does it tell the story of a gang of renegade skate board punks who changed the culture and the sport of skateboarding forever, but there were people hanging with them pictures and capturing the whole scene on film.

This is the most entertaining documentary I've seen in years. It's got a great soundtrack and some nice editing tricks too. Directed by one of the Z-Boys, Stacy Peralta. I just saw it on IFC so check your local cable listings. Even if you're not a skate boarder you'll like this film. If you want to read up on the history of the Z-boys, here's an article that originally appeared in Spin magazine

Monday, October 25, 2004

Rave On: Carnival of Souls

Excellent Q&A by a couple of Carnival of Souls fans from Features video links to flim clips that feature Lawrence landmarks too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Roll Your Own Chest Hair

He's an erotic artist, sushi bon vivant, and mensa member without a clue, Ron Hutchenreuther.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Strangelove As Documentary

What do Daniel Ellsberg and Dr. Strangelove have in common? They both worked for the RAND corporation. Get the details in this fascinating story from the New York Times: Truth Stranger Than 'Strangelove'

Friday, October 08, 2004

Palindromes Make Me Mad

A man, a plan, a canal - Go to hell!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Check Out The Librarian

Now I know why you need a master's degree to earn 25 thousand dollars a year as a public librarian. One must be literate, frugal, and a master of the dispatch.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Flexing Your Nose

The Nobel prize for medicine went to big, sweaty researchers who pinpointed the genes that give us our sense of smell. They did the initial research 15 years ago. It was a mystery prior to their efforts, according to the press release. I'm surprised scientists didn't go for it earlier. "What's that smell?" That wasn't heard in a laboratory before 1991?

Perhaps aromas need more publicity. People who lose their sense of smell don't have charity telethons. In some cases they profit anyway. My daughter's pediatrician has a limited nose. I took her in for a small matter and became embarrassed when I thought I detected a dirty diaper. He assured me it was no big deal and told me about his nose. A pediatrician who can't smell caca. What a blessing for him.

The researchers were right. Memories associated with a scent are profound. I remember the perfume my kindergarten teacher wore in the fall of 1970. I can't describe it here but I'll know it when I smell it again. I have visual and aural memories of Mrs. Bates, but the nose - it's locked in and not available by other means. If I knew the name of the perfume, I'd go to the source and conjure her memory on demand.

In the late 1970s at Camp Zoe, Round Spring, Missouri, fragrances and smells were in abundance at the tennis court dances. During the slow numbers like Bread's "Diary" I embraced my camp crush in a long, slow turn. A scent crystallized the moment. One whiff of "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" today and I'm back on the concrete court in my terry-cloth shirt with my arms around a halter-topped girl swaying to the falsetto lyrics of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Please Don't Go".

I returned to Camp Zoe six weeks ago for an alumni weekend. I stopped at the Kroger in Rolla, Missouri and bought Revlon Flex shampoo and conditioner. I hit the fragrance like a snuff fiend, carefully removing the cap to allow the vanilla fragrance to reach my nostrils. It kept me in the moment. Our weekend was flooded with all kinds of memories. We were rewarded with the familiar sound of creek water trickling past our campfire. We touched the rough, aged wood of the monolithic barn. The Flex conditioner fragrance triggered additional memories. It didn't produce any revelations but the scent surrounded me like a comfortable blanket throughout my stay.

That's the reason they handed out an award to sweaty guys in lab coats who smell like old carpet, or Brut aftershave, or a disturbing mix of both. Our memory is a time machine and we travel back, aided by aromas. I'm glad for the scientists who won the Nobel prize. Quantifying the ability to move through time is no small feat. Remember that the next time you're in the shampoo section at the grocery store.

Monday, September 27, 2004

A Soda For Every Occasion

My folks had a penchant for soft drinks. In the 1960s, when new vices appeared every week, mom looked to score an eight pack of cola in a red and white cardboard carrier from the man in the apron at the A&P. I couldn't read but I recognized the logo. It was Coca-Cola.

My parents gave me Coca-Cola in my baby bottle. I wasn't a big napper. I was too spun out on caffeine. I once grabbed my father's cheeks in the throes of withdrawal and commanded him to "get the baby some coke".

We called all soft drinks 'coke'. Once while riding in the station wagon on a country drive, Mom said, "I'm thirsty, y'all. Stop the car and let's get a coke, big Daddy." Those weren't her exact words, but I like the way it reads so I'll leave it in for dramatic effect.

Mom spent time along the mason dixon line near Caruthersville, Missouri. For her, all soft drinks were 'cokes'. If we pulled over at the next full-service gas station and wanted an Orange Crush, we got an Orange Crush instead. We were under no obligation to drink a Coke. Most places carried Royal Crown Cola anyway. Mama said Elvis liked Royal Crown, y'all. (Now I'm doing it.)

In the those days when you ordered Coke and they carried Pepsi, they brought Pepsi instead. Waitresses who cleared the substitution with you ahead of time were an exception. Nobody cared as long as it wasn't flat.

Grandpa gave us mini Cokes in the eight ounce bottle when we visited his Illinois farm. It always tasted better in the little bottle. Grandpa surprised us with many things, but none so popular as the mini-coke. He once gave me spumoni ice-cream and I thought it was a practical joke with all the nuts and cherry bits. No thanks.

Dad followed mom's lead and called all soft drinks 'coke' unless we talked about Dr. Pepper. Dad liked those big bottles of Dr. Pepper. Drink it at 10, 2, and 4. That's what the label said. It tasted good and helped me learn to tell time. I won't say the same about Schlitz. It did not taste good and if Dad drank too many, he didn't give a cuss about the time. I'm kidding. Dad didn't drink much beer, but I like the way it reads so I'll keep it in.

I drank 7-Up at home on sick days. The sparkling lemon-lime bubbles helped me keep my fluid intake high while I watched "Dark Shadows" and "Truth or Consequences". Our sick-day routine included a trip to Dr. Kimura's office at 80th and Mission road and a stop at Safeway in the Prairie Village shopping center for 7-Up.

Friday night meant Shakey's for pizza. When we moved to the Kansas City from Columbia, Missouri in 1969, they were the preeminent pizza chain in the Midwest. The old-time piano music and Laurel and Hardy films flickering overhead made me thirsty for Root Beer.

Mom went to the beauty salon in the Fairway shops once a week. A row of googie-style bee-hive hair dryers warmed us with hot air blowing perm solution fumes down faces, across shoulders and into laps holding old magazines. The soda machine was a mechanical curiosity and a welcome diversion from the curlers and Dippity-Do. I deposited change, opened the tall, skinny door and yanked a bottle out by the neck, planting my foot on the facade for extra leverage. It sold Fanta orange, Fanta grape, Diet-Rite, Fresca and Tab. Later I ventured to the soda counter at the corner pharmacy. I got a real fountain Coke and lemon candy too.

Bargain-minded parents brought soda coolers to our sporting events. This exposed me to several cheaper soft drink lines like Craigmont, Vess, and Shasta. We clamored for the soda chest as soon as they unlatched it, lest we be saddled with the dregs: a lowly cream soda.

The original Dickinson theatre on Johnson Drive featured an unusual permutation of soft drink sales. The concession stand sold only popcorn and candy. There was a ten cent mechanical fountain dispensary at the far end of the lobby. The soda water and syrup mixed on the fly for a unique taste in every paper cup.

Some people in Kansas City call soft drinks 'pop'. It's a northern Midwest habit and it often comes out of their mouths as 'pap'. This bugs me. I'll stick with coke. But don't be surprised if I'm drinking a Dr. Pepper, especially if it's 10, 2, or 4.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Kealing Remembers Kerouac

University of Kansas alumnus Bob Kealing (journalism, 87) is a reporter working in Orlando, Florida for WESH television. He's the author of the book Kerouac In Florida: Where The Road Ends and is the co-founder of the Jack Kerouac project of Orlando. Bob's work has shed new light on previously little-known segments of Kerouac's life and he graciously agreed to answer some questions.

FJ: What's the most misunderstood aspect of the Kerouac persona?

BK: I think people tend to minimize Kerouac and his work due to his alcoholic decline and early death. But I think that's evolving. Now we know this was pre Betty Ford Clinic. Today we know alcoholics are diseased...and not to be ridiculed.

FJ: You've made an important contribution not only to Kerouac history but to Orlando history. What's been the implications of your work there?

BK: The Kerouac House in December, 2002 was officially recognized as the city of Orlando's first literary landmark. It's also lead to the creation of the Jack Kerouac Project and the establishment of the Kerouac House as a haven for young up and coming writers. It was a dream of Kerouac's to one day have a writing retreat in the woods...this is a sort of fulfillment of that dream.

FJ: What surprises you the most about the Jack Kerouac you've uncovered?

BK: What suprises me most about Kerouac is the vital role central Florida played in Kerouac's adult life...and the lack of historical context people had here prior to 1996.

FJ: At least one source credits a "friend in Kansas City" tipping you off about Kerouac's time in Orlando. Who was it and what did they say?

BK: My friend in Kansas City, John Griffin, a classmate from the Rockhurst High days and a friend today...first told me he thought Kerouac had died here. Instead he most certainly LIVED here.

FJ: What's been the response to your book?

BK: The response has been very good. I've made friends with people like Neal's wife Carolyn Cassady. She sent me a very nice letter about the book. I've also optioned it to a filmmaker.

FJ: What advice do you give young people on discovering history in the suburbs?

BK: DO IT. You'll be surprised at how open people will be. And there's so much out there. Pop culture history is new and waiting to be found!

FJ: Too bad we don't all have a Kerouac landmark in our midst. Of course, Lawrence has the Burroughs legacy. Did you connect with that at all during your under-grad years in Lawrence?

BK: I did spend some time at the Burroughs house about five years ago. I never met him...but it was cool to see his old house and car and typewriters inthe yard.

FJ: What's the most important lesson you learned as a student journalist at K.U.?

BK: As a student journalist I think I learned what a gift curiosity is...and ultimately how far it can take you.

FJ: Since graduating and becoming a working journalist, you've had the opportunity to return to K.U. as a distiguished alumnus. Describe the experience.

BK: The times I returned to KU I've treasured more and more the time I spent there...going to the Final Fours and being part of such a truly special place. We're so lucky to have a school like KU. I really mean that.

FJ: What's your favorite Oliver Hall memory?

BK: Oh all the Oliver Hall memories!! The keg parties...the roof parties...making all the friends whom I could call tomorrow and it would be 1987 all over again.

FJ: Closing thoughts?

BK: I'm also proud to tell you that a tv piece we did on finding lost photos of Kerouac was awarded with two regional Emmy awards in 2003. Roger McGuinn provided an acoustic version of Mr. Tambourine Man in the piece. He now lives in Orlando. How cool is that? One other thing...I'll be glad to give a wholesale rate and sign copies ofmy book for anyone interested. Just drop me a line at kerouacinflorida at

FJ: The house in Orlando is the spot where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums. As the narrator Ray Smith might say, Bob Kealing is a regular bodhisattva.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

There goes the weekend

If you google "hot kroger nights" in quotation marks it returns no results.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

My First Name is Fowler

Occasionally a well-meaning friend will ask why there is no Fowler Jones the fourth. I inherited the title of Fowler Jones III. Once you've plunged the family into the pretentious territory that comes with appending one's name with "the third", then moving to the fourth should be no large affair, right?

I'll tell you why there's no Fowler Jones the fourth. This town isn't big enough for three guys named Fowler Jones. Our bank accounts have been mixed and our credit ratings tabulated incorrectly but we came to expect such treatment from monolith institutions that surmised that there couldn't be more than one guy named Fowler Jones. In reality it was the personal items that added up over the years that precluded my family from inflicting this moniker on another generation.

My Dad took great delight in embarrassing girls who called for me when I was a teen when he said, "This is Fowler," in response to their gentle request to speak with me. For him, it was all about the delivery, sort of a mock incredulous exclamation that always made the girl sorry she called. More persistent girls called back with a new strategy. They'd ask for "Young Fowler". That wasn't bad, but sometimes my Mom answered.

"Which Fowler did you want, little Fowler or big Fowler?" Thanks Mom. This factor by itself kept me from living in my parents' basement after college graduation (for more than a year).

There's also no Fowler Jones the fourth because even intelligent people are confused by Fowler the first name. It has a long and storied history as a last name. People loved the last name, but as a first name it caused great consternation and cognitive dissonance. An acquaintance might remember meeting me as Fowler, but invented a first name for me because they assumed Fowler was my last name.

"I thought you were Jim Fowler," a well-meaning friend said, as if they paid me a compliment. They're really saving face. That's okay. When you have a name like Fowler you have to cut people some slack. This extended to the other members of the not-so-common F-family of first/last names. I've answered to Foster and Forrest. During my disc jockey years, a person called me "Father". I'm not a priest, but God bless you anyway.

"Is that a family name?" is a polite way of saying they hope it's a family name otherwise I really got screwed. Another popular question is "Do you have a nickname?" As if nobody named Fowler ever wanted to admit it. I had nicknames over the years: FJ, Birdman, Young Chad Casey. I think they were all given to me out of affection rather than obfuscation.

I like Fowler in spite of the trouble it caused me. It's a nice compliment to the uber-common Jones. I'm good to go as a basketball player, adventurer, or pimp. Its got nice balance with two syllables up front, and a single syllable in back. There may not be a novelty coffee mug with my name on it in the gift shop at Stuckey's, but I'm okay with the one that says "Future President" or "Gangster of Love".

But there will be no Fowler Jones the fourth. This much is settled. I gave my kid a fresh start. His name is Skyler.

Oh sure, there are some girls out there named Skyler and some of them are strippers, but that's another story. One day he'll thank me for his name, and for declining to carry on a family tradition by naming him after me. He won't realize he escaped fate twice. I could have saddled him with my middle name: Crittenden.

You see, Fowler isn't so bad after all.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Q&A with Scott Heim

Scott Heim is an author, poet, screenwriter and K.U. alumnus living in Boston. His first novel, "Mysterious Skin" has been adapted for the screen and opens tomorrow at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. Rather than tour Italy with the glitterati, Scott agreed to answer some questions about his K.U. days for this blog.

FJ: Did you attend any of the events during the River City Reunion in September of 1987? What are your memories of that time?

SH: Unfortunately, I didn't go to any of the events, really. I was immersed in school then, starting my junior year and getting pretty involved in a double major of English and Art History, and at the time I wasn't as interested in a lot of the performers and artists and writers who came to Lawrence. It's something I regret now.

FJ: There's a nice snapshot of you with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz on your website. Describe your Burroughs visit/experience.

SH: My first book Mysterious Skin had just sold to HarperCollins. My agent worked for an agency that had various dealings with James. I'd met him a couple of times in Lawrence, but had never met William. A friend of mine, Brad, also used to be friends with, and work for, William. So, through a few odd connections, my agent got James an early copy of the novel, and William read it. They contacted me, and the next time I was in Lawrence, James and Brad invited me over to have dinner with all of them.

It was a really great experience. William was charming and polite and lucid and pleasantly cranky. He made me feel very comfortable, and chatted a little about details in the book, which of course thrilled me. After dinner, he took me on a little tour of his backyard, with its goldfish pond. He showed me his cats. I can remember the odd crookedness of his bony body and his clean, starchy clothes and of course his voice. He actually reminded me of my grandfather, who had died twenty years earlier. I was actually sad when he died that I hadn't spent a little more time getting to know him, but I'm grateful for that one evening. It was certainly an experience that very few people can say they've had, I suppose.

FJ: According to the website, Burroughs sometimes referred to Learned Avenue as "Learn Hard" avenue. What's the hardest lesson you learned while living in Lawrence?

SH: That's a tough one... honestly, I can't think of a suitable specific answer. I think, though, that whatever the true answer is, it would probably be a lesson I learned from Carolyn Doty, who was my mentor and writing teacher during almost all of my years at KU. I still think she's the person who made me become a writer, the first person who really believed in me and could point out the good things and the bad things about what I was doing at that time.

FJ: Kellie Wells and I used to work together at KJHK. What are your memories of the mid to late '80s Lawrence music scene?

SH: It seems I was usually into more of what was happening with music in Europe than a lot of the US indie scene in the 80s. I had one of the world's hugest collection of albums, I think, which gradually turned into a collection of cds, but during the 80s, very little of that was domestic. I had a connection to the Lawrence scene in a peripheral way-- I played drums in a couple of bands from '85 through '88 or so, and both of them also featured Marc Tweed, who was in the band the Drowning Incident. Plus, I lived in Hashinger, where a lot of Lawrence musicians lived, too, and hung out. I really loved playing in the bands-- and I think I'm actually a pretty good drummer-- but at some point I had to make the decision whether to pursue my English / teaching / MA / writing career, or take a bigger chance and give more attempts at playing music. Obviously, I chose the former over the latter.

FJ: Various bios for you mention your Kansas origins. Looking back, how has your perception of your Kansas years changed since you left for New York in the early 90s?

SH: I like and respect Lawrence more on all levels. As for the rest of Kansas, I admire its geography and landscape and history in many ways, but its politics, and often the beliefs and ways of a lot of its people, scare and anger me.

FJ: What do you miss most about Lawrence?

SH: Besides Carolyn, I'd have to say my sister and the good friends I made while I was there-- a lot of whom have also gone their various ways. Cheap Free State beer, too. Nights in autumn, when it's not so hot, and you can hear the cicadas and the wind in the trees. That's something you just don't get anywhere else.

FJ: Some of my friends who've moved to New York enjoy a certain esprit de corps with other Kansas ex-pats in the area. Have you found this to be true?

SH: Yeah, a lot of my closest friends in New York were Kansans. They'd been friends of mine back in Lawrence, too, so we all kind of emigrated at different times and wound up keeping together in a lot of ways.

FJ: I've never been to Boston. Where should I go to hear some live music?

SH: Two places in Cambridge are good-- the Middle East, and a place called TT the Bears.

FJ: IMDB says Mysterious Skin is in post production. What's the status of the movie?

SH: Right now, at this date-- the first of September, 2004-- things are happening at a rather furious pace. It debuts tomorrow, actually, at the Venice Film Festival. In two weeks, it plays at the Toronto Film Festival. After that, we'll find out all the necessary information about a distributor, release date, and that sort of stuff. It's a beautiful and challenging film. I'm really, really, really happy with it, and I think it stays marvelously faithful to the goal I wanted for the novel. I'm honored at what the producers, director, actors, and everyone else have achieved.

FJ: Half serious question: You've been writing some text-book text. Care to share a passage that might otherwise not reach the extra curricular set?

SH: Lord... I can't do this because I'm under contract with them for everything I write. Let's just say that I usually write English / language arts / reading comprehension passages, both fiction and nonfiction, for grades 5 through 8. So I can't take many chances with either material or artful language and style. I try to divorce myself from any sense of artfulness; if I treat it as my job, a kind of mathematical detachment, then perhaps I can still have some zest and creativity left for my own work when all the freelance textbook writing is over. That said, it's funny sometimes when I realize I've written some 800-word fiction piece for 6th grade or something and, oddly, it has some kind of parallel plot or imagery that an old story or novel also had.

FJ: What are you working on now?

SH: I've been writing the same novel for the past 7 years. I'm still not done, which is very frustrating, but it's still coming along. It will happen someday. The book is called We Disappear.

Find out more about Scott Heim at his website.

Monday, August 30, 2004

KJHK Lore - The Album Review

I was in Lawrence last Friday and I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I parked my car and walked around the campus, visiting various landmarks, both personal and public.

I stopped in at KJHK and took a look at the vinyl stacks. Some of the albums still have the original reviews. Before most college stations got consistent CD service (lets say pre 1987), we were very much a vinyl shop. Five or six music staffers divided the incoming records for review, and the best albums were added to the studio for air-play. A hand-written review was taped on the front cover with track-by-track recommendations.

This is something of a lost art. With the rise of CDs, the amount of real estate available for such editorial commentary dropped sharply. A typical new release in the 90s got a couple of sentences. I also saw CDs with no commentary at all, just track numbers with star ratings.

These record reviews are an interesting bit of station history. In addition to the musical opinions they offered, they were signed and dated. Not all paper reviews have stood up to years of exposure and refiling, but many endure. The best preserved examples I found were those that were typed and covered in clear packing tape.

Here's a hand-written review with scotch tape that survived. It's from the Replacements "Stink" album, dated July 13, 1982. It's obvious that the reviewer put a great deal of effort into this review. Not only did the author take time to listen and critique the album, but he carefully wrote the review by hand. I like this example also because it features the original "Stink" cover design, a hand-stamped white jacket.

The author of this review (B.W.G.) was Blake W. Gumprecht. Blake Gumprecht graduated from K.U. by the time I started at KJHK in the Spring of 1984, but he remains one of the legendary personalities of the 80s. He worked hard as an under-grad, touting influential bands like The Replacements, and talented but relatively unknown artists like Tommy Keene. I also appreciate what he did after he left the station. He liked The Replacements so much he moved to Minneapolis and went to work for Twin-Tone. There aren't many guys that know more about the Replacements than Blake Gumprecht.

Blake has some serious street credentials too. He was mentioned in Michael Azerrad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life", a history of the 80s underground music scene. Not surprisingly, they quote him in reference to something he wrote about Paul Westerberg.

Blake Gumprecht went back to school after a time and he is now an Assistant Professor in Geography at the University of New Hampshire. But he hasn't forgotten his college days. Specifically, he's done considerable research on the phenomena of the college town, their unique properties, existing as islands of bohemia. While the focus of "Paradise for Misfits" is Athens, Georgia, Blake includes references to Lawrence, specifically KJHK founding father Steve Greenwood.

Hopefully, alternative elements of the KJHK vinyl collection will continue to resonate, not only through the airwaves with the listening audience, but as editorial artifacts, offering bits of literary lore and advice for those staffers who take the time to explore the history at hand.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Remembering Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (EKR) died this week. She was 78. Here is an excellent obit from her website.

Her 1969 book On Death and Dying heralded a hospice revolution in the west. The five stages of dying she outlined (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) are now common knowledge.

In 1977, Dr. Kubler-Ross was a guest at our house. As an 12 year-old, I was only vaguely aware of her stature. She was an intriguing personality, if only because her Swiss accent was not one we Kansans heard often around the breakfast nook. I asked my parents what they remembered about her stay. (My dad wanted me to mention that he is a psychologist).

MOM: In the previous year when your father went to Council Grove to the annual conference that Dr. Elmer Green [of the Menninger Foundation faculty] started he asked me if I would like him to bring anyone special home from the meeting. He often brought home one of the other attendees for an overnight before they flew out of town. "If you could bring Elisabeth Kubler-Ross home with you for a visit that would be great!" I had just read her first book on death and dying. When he returned she wasn't with him, but he said she had agreed to visit us at a later date when she came to speak at The University of Kansas Medical Center. The following letter relates to the above planned visit. Your father was going to have her speak at The Psychic Studies Institute when she came.

October 20th, 1976

Dear Fowler,
Thank you for your lovely letter which just arrived today, before my departure for Germany where I am giving my first one-week, in-depth workshop in Europe. I am not sure whether we have time to squeeze-in an hour or so with your group during my visit in the spring. As soon as I know more of the details about the hours of my presentation, I will be able to tell you then how much time I would have available for you. Needless to say, I would love to stay at your home while in Kansas City, since many new things have developed since I have last seen you and I am just bursting to share them with you. Keep up your good work and your good spirits.

MOM: She arrived in the early part of the evening. She carried with her some crackers and honey which she had been snacking on during her travels. She was a small woman, slight in stature. When she arrived in Kansas City she had been traveling for some time and was very weary. Your father had some cassette tape he wanted her to she lay down on our water bed with head phones to listen. When she didn't return to the family room I peaked in the room to see her fast asleep.

I covered her with an afghan and turned out the light. This was a highlight for be able to offer a caring gesture to a woman who was devoting her life to caring about others. The next morning she went to KU to speak at grand rounds. The auditorium was packed. After that, she visited about 20 or more dying children. Much of her work was helping dying children deal with the transition that lay before them. She made no charge for her services that day.

FJ: When did you first meet EKR?

DAD: I had known her for several years before [her KU med center trip]. We first met when psychiatrist Stuart Twemlow, and Jonathan Cohen, a Yale psychologist, and I went to Bob Monroe's in Virginia. Jonathan had invited Elizabeth to Monroe's. I had not met her before that time. I don't recall the year. Probably around 1973-75.
FJ: Did you keep in touch with EKR after that trip? Did you ever see her again?

DAD: Yes, Twemlow and I went to Chicago to visit her. I am not sure how many times I saw her afterward. I picked her up at the airport once when she came here for the annual Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship Conference. That was sometime after [the first visit].

FJ: I couldn't begin to write a summation of this incredible woman's life and work but I'll try to describe my thoughts. From her initial work on death and dying to her continued work with babies born with AIDS, she was a saint, a true angel of mercy. And now, our best mortal ambassador to the other side has crossed over. What kind of reception did she get in the afterlife? This final anecdote from my dad foreshadows...

DAD: In the 1970s, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was attending the Menninger Foundation sponsored Council Grove Conference. She came into one of the presentations and sat down. Several rows behind her sat the Native American shaman, Mad Bear. In a few minutes Mad Bear turned to his friend the author Douglas Boyd and asked, "Who is that woman?" Doug said, "That's Elizabeth Kubler-Ross." Mad Bear said,"Oh." A few seconds passed and he turned to Boyd again and asked, "Who is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?" Doug replied that she was a rather famous psychiatrist who worked in the field of "death and dying". Mad Bear said, "That explains it." It was Doug Boyd's turn and say, "What do you mean?" His shaman friend explained that as Elizabeth came in and sat down she was joined by several spirit-friends so Mad Bear knew she must be important to have so many spirit allies.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Existential Bonanza of Summer Camp

Recently I attended the 2004 Camp Zoe Alumni Weekend at Camp Zoe, Round Spring, Shannon County, Missouri. Camp Zoe operated as a sleep-away co-educational youth camp from 1929 – 1986. I attended Camp Zoe from 1975 to 1980. The primary activities were horseback riding and canoeing. This summer would have been the 75th anniversary of Camp Zoe. The following song was written by Zoe counselors Larry Eberle and Scott Patterson in 1976 at Camp Zoe.

Hey Look Around You

Hey, look around you,
see what you've found.
Think of the good times,
and your friends all around.

Look what has happened,
remember all the fun.
Hope it never leaves you,
Now that everything is done.

Nothing lasts forever,
even though you want it to.
Life is for living, and I'm glad
I lived this part of it with you.

“That’s the perfect summation. The existential essence of Zoe,” said Stuart Hanna as we motored down Shannon County road #250 toward Missouri highway 19. Another chapter in our personal Zoe histories was written with the close of the alumni weekend. When I got back home to Kansas, I did some on-line research on existentialism. I’m not a philosopher or a psychologist but I found an excellent web page that attempted to sum up the highlights of existential theory, sometimes referred to as ontology.

Existential Psychology is a combination of philosophy and psychology. Life is a series of decisions with two basic choices. You can face the fear of the unknown and push the envelope, or play it safe and deal with the regret of opportunity lost. At the core of existential theory is the tendency to be authentic. To be authentic, one must have courage to accept the fear of the unknown and minimize the guilt of regret when you miss an opportunity.

Life is for living - There’s the unwritten contract of Camp Zoe. Come and really live your life. You’ll face your fears and by the time you leave, you’ll be glad you did. And above all, we’ll do it together.

“This was the first place I rode a horse,” said Zoe alumna Samantha Gittelman. That’s not a proposition without risk, especially for a young, city girl. But Sam rode horses like the others, and found out that she loved it.

“Try not to walk behind a horse, but if you must, step close to their hind legs,” a barn counselor once told me. “That way when you get kicked, it won’t hurt as much”. It defied logic at first, but now I can see the existentialism at work. I got closer to an unknown force; I minimized its power, and ultimately my regret.

One of the basic existential principles is that people need others with whom they can relate to and learn from. This is summer camp in a nutshell. You relate to your cabin mates and camp friends, and you learn from those ersatz parents, your counselors.

“You are forced to deal,” said former Zoe camper Mary Otto. You make decisions on your own and realize the consequences. It’s not always easy, but it makes you stronger, and it gives you courage to continue.

Existentialism states that the road to authenticity and individuality starts with living in the moment. There is no regard for past or future and deep relationships are not formed. Some camper experiences do not progress beyond this point. This may explain why the most devoted Zoe alumni are people who returned year after year. While living in the moment is not an undesirable approach to summer camp, one begins to realize the value of returning to the same peer group the following summer. Values emerge that put a premium on maintaining relationships. You vow to write letters and get together during the off-season. This is part of what existentialists call the idealistic phase, a time of uncompromising principles and undying commitments. And yet, like our Camp Zoe song says, Nothing lasts forever. Coming to terms with the inherent paradox of the idealistic phase leads one to real authenticity.

Think of all the good times. This was Zoe compression at work; positive life experiences in a very short span. In two weeks or a month you encountered a dozen new best friends, found romance a time or two, developed new skills, and did things you’d never done before and didn’t know you can do. Furthermore, you did it as a group and received positive reinforcement from your counselors. The iterations were compressed from day to day, week to week, and year to year. The more time you spent at Zoe, the greater the impact. Two weeks may not be enough. It’s probably not a coincidence that I remember 1978 as the biggest summer in my personal Zoe history. That was also the first summer I stayed for a month.

And finally, the last principal of existentialism states that ontological anxiety stems in part from that notion of mortality; our awareness that our own being can end. As a man nearing age 40, I’m starting to sense my mortality like never before. That first colonoscopy isn’t far away! I’m also taking stock. Hey, look around you. See what you’ve found. This line challenges the participant to do that very thing. Taking stock isn’t easy for an eleven year old camper, care-free and living in the moment. But it’s perfect for the nostalgic guy on the cusp of middle-age.

I know I won’t be on my death bed lamenting the fact that I didn’t spend more time at the office. and your friends all around. I choose to relive the good times, not because I’m afraid of the future (death, the unknown). I value the social experience. By communing with others of like mind, our social interactions go beyond the contractual affairs of our day-to-day existence. There’s an intimacy at work that stems from an authentic place in our hearts, forged in an Ozark hollow long ago.

“Zoe is a mythical, magical place,” said former owner Jack Peters at the 2004 final campfire. Its power surpasses the tenure of any deed holder or personality. It goes beyond a single summer or even a decade. In the words of Eberle and Patterson, Hope it never leaves you, now that everything is done.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Frank Burge and John Waters

Historically, showing a John Waters movie at the student union has made KU officials a little nervous. When I say KU officials, I'm not talking about the people at the union who actually show the movie. But there might be a politico or a nervous-nellie in there somewhere between Strong Hall and the union, or Lawrence and Topeka.

It's been a while since the local academic gentry put up a fuss. Take this press release from 2002, John Waters was welcomed to town for an appearance at the new KU bookstore opening. Of course, nobody was screening anything at that event.

Dan Searles, former Student Union Activities (SUA) volunteer, recalls a pacification effort to avoid controversy prior to this 1989 Waters screening:

The John Waters film was Mondo Trasho starring Divine. We showed it in November 1989. It held an X rating then, though the MPAA has not rated it last I checked. The agreement I made with the SUA faculty director was that I get a [KU film] faculty member to introduce the film and speak of it's relevance. Chuck Berg gladly accepted and spoke before both showings.

Chuck Berg to the rescue! But the best story is from the 1960s and the tenure of the legendary KU Union man, Frank Burge. Burge died this year at age 82. In a feature from Oread magazine, Burge's profile alludes to an ingenious strategy he employed to prevent a Waters film from being confiscated by state officials. The article wasn't specific about the episode so I made some polite inquiries and received this response from a KU insider:

A group of legislators came to the university one evening to retrieve the film from the students. Burge reportedly took the film from the projection room and put it in the mail slot of the union's post office. To remove the film from the post office, he told the legislators, would be a federal offense.

No wonder they named the satellite union after him.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Echo Bluff, Sinkin' Creek, Shannon County, Missouri.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Q & A With Ron Schaumburg

Shawnee Mission North alumnus Ron Schaumburg ('70) authored "Growing Up With The Beatles" (GUWTB) in 1976. It's a personal tribute and odyssey. One might say it foreshadowed today's online web log explosion in style and approach. Ron Schaumburg is the Executive Editor of Medical DecisionPoint in Montvale, New Jersey.

FJ: It's been 28 years since GUWTB was published. What's the most enduring legacy of your book?

RS: I'm kinda proud to have my very own Library of Congress number. That means my work is a permanent part of the nation's archive, that I contributed a tiny (very tiny) bit to the country's cultural heritage. Perhaps the best answer is that every once in a while someone gets in touch with me to let me know that the book meant something to them. A few years ago (it happened to be on my birthday) a fellow wrote to say that by reading GUWTB, he discovered that it was actually possible to write about something you love. With that inspiration, he went on to become a sports writer, and is now the head sports correspondent for the Newark Star-Ledger. I can't ask for a more meaningful response than that.There's another odd angle on this. The section I wrote in which I expressed my view that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was not a direct reference to LSD has taken on a life of its own. Someone posted that passage on a web site a few years ago, and just a few weeks ago it was quoted in an article published in a magazine, "The Weekly Standard." [Note: That publication is NOT something I subscribe to, physically or philosophically.] Despite Paul's recent statement that it WAS a drug song, I stand by my belief, largely because a few years ago Julian confirmed that his drawing was John's inspiration (that image is even available on the web).

FJ: How was the book received in '76? Was it a success?

RS: Yes, by objective standards it was. The first edition of 80,000 sold out, and more copies were made. I think by the time it went out of print it hit more than 120,000 in sales. I never got a final accounting; the packager had gone out of business.

FJ: Do you see any similarities between your approach with GUWTB and today's explosion of on-line journalism?

RS: I never thought about it. Online info is usually produced quickly (sometimes sloppily) and is very much "of the moment." A book takes months to produce and is meant to endure, at least for a while. So on balance, I'd say no.

FJ: Upon rereading GUWTB this year, I was struck by all the great Beatles photos you included. That's definitely something that sets your work apart. How hard was it to secure the rights to all the photography, and is that something that makes it difficult to get the book republished?

RS: The book was put together by a book "packager" from New York. She brought me in to write the text and hired a photo researcher and book designer named Mick Rock (great name!) to handle the photo research. (The main selling point of the book was the pictures; the text was basically there to fill up pages!) Mick contacted the photographers and was able to rummage through their files to turn up a lot of the shots. Many were indeed previously unpublished - unused shots from photo sessions, during which hundreds of images may have been captured. Some of the pictures (like the tickets for the Kansas City concert at A's Stadium) were of things in my possession.And yes, the photo issue is what's kept me from pursuing republishing of the book (although my wife has been nagging me about it for years). It'd be impossible (and impossibly expensive) to retrace our steps and secure the rights for a new edition. Maybe a sequel: "Growing Old..."

FJ: GUWTB has a lot of obscure Beatles trivia. For example, I didn't know that the people that cut up the Beatle pillow cases and sold the one inch squares after the Kansas City show sold less than half their inventory. What's your favorite factoid from the book?

RS: Hmm. I haven't exactly read it lately, so I'd have to think. One part I like is the discussion of the "Paul Is Dead" silliness, because I think I collected a lot of information and added some of my own. (And I played a small role in spreading the rumor by sharing my list of clues with the Kansas City DJ, who read back the list the next day on his show.) I also had wanted to include a long list of every bit of dialogue discernible in "Revolution #9" (I listened to that damn thing for about 3 hours straight), but the publisher decided that those words counted as "lyrics" and we weren't allowed to quote lyrics directly in the book (for fear of violating copyright laws).

FJ: Your book is pretty evenly balanced between your adolescence and the Beatles. Was it difficult to keep a balance? What kind of discussions did you have with your editors about that?

RS: The book was sold to the publisher as a personal memoir, so the adolescent stuff was built into the concept from the beginning. I kinda resisted doing TOO much personal stuff, because let's face it, my life wasn't all that interesting. (That was sorta the point.) I was much more interested in sharing what I'd discovered about the Beatles and their music. The publisher was quite generous in letting me pretty much write what I wanted. (In hindsight, I wish they'd been a little tougher on me.) About the only significant change they made - and it's one I came to agree with - was the "tone" of my meeting with Ringo. To be honest, he didn't seem exactly overjoyed at having to deal with another fan. But the publisher wanted this to come across as a happier event, a climax to the book in a way, so the editors suggested how to change just a few words so that I could report the encounter accurately, but still keep it on a positive note.

FJ: How did your friends and family react to the book in 1976? Has that reaction changed in the last 28 years?

RS: They were happy to go along with the plan and were pleased with the book's success. Every once in a while a fan wanting to reach me gets in touch through my siblings, both of whom still live in KC. They happily put them in touch. My mom and dad are both gone, but my dad was a big booster. He even printed up some stationery with the book's cover on it for me to use. My mom was delighted that her son, who'd wanted to be a writer since second grade, actually saw his dream come true.

FJ: You mention Corky Carrell in your acknowledgement section. Were you a Capers Corner customer?

RS: Faithfully. Corky advised me about other records I might enjoy, provided me with some nifty collector's items, and helped me get tickets to Paul's "Wings Over America" tour. He was a great source of info and very supportive. Last I saw of him, he'd opened his own record store in Mission, but that was easily a decade ago.

FJ: My older brother played the Beatles around the house in the late 60s and Simon and Garfunkel too. What other musical acts besides the fab four garnered your attention in those days?

RS: In my naïve (and kinda pigheaded) way, for a while I thought there was nothing else BUT the Beatles. A lot of my friends liked S&G; I thought they were a little pretentious but I grew to like them a lot. I tried to like the Monkees, thinking they were gonna be "the next Beatles," but I grew out of that phase pretty quickly. (I remember I couldn't sell their LPs for a dime at a garage sale, and ended up literally throwing them away, like frisbees.) The first non-Beatles record I bought was "Monday Monday" by the Mamas and Papas.

By about 1968, though, I was snarfing up all kinds of music. One way I broadened my taste was by collecting every record I could find released on the Apple label. I loved James Taylor's Apple LP; the Mary Hopkins stuff, Jackie Lomax, Modern Jazz Quartet, John Taverner, Billy Preston, Doris Troy... even the Hare Krishna stuff George produced! I credit the Beatles for opening my ears and eyes to a wider world of sound and experience.

With the Beatles my main influence, I've always gravitated toward pop stuff - melodic, harmonic, well-structured, imaginative orchestrations - rather than the hard-rock stuff, but I can groove to Led Zep, the Stones, the Who when the mood is right. I've always thought The Band had something special, especially their "brown" album. I've bought everything Elton John has released - for me, his early 70s stuff really helped fill in the gap after the Beatles broke up. Cat Stevens, Supertramp, Gerry Rafferty, CSN&Y. Basically anything you might label "classic rock."

FJ: How influential was WHB radio for you during the 60's?

RS: A lot. It was the first station I listened to faithfully, beginning with a little red-and-white plastic transistor radio with a painfully knobby earpiece. (I was the WHB high school reporter for SM North). But as I recall, KUDL ended up taking over, being more ambitious, playing album cuts and a wider range of other stuff.

FJ: Neosho Lane is within walking distance of downtown Mission, Roeland Park, and Fairway. Where did you spend more time?

RS: Fairway had the Fairway Theater, which played "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" But the shops in Mission were more fun - Hobby Haven, Baskin Robbins, TG&Y...

FJ: Ever eat a cheese frenchie at King's Food Host?

RS: Uh, don't think so, but I remember picking up the phone and ordering many a burger from the place. In Boy Scouts, when we were freezing our asses off in our fog-shrouded tents high atop Mount Phillips at the Philmont Ranch, we fantasized about getting back home so we could stuff our faces with "Kings Double Cheese!!!"

FJ: You're an east coast guy now. Do you still have family in Johnson county? How often do you get back to Kansas City?

RS: Not much. I've lived in Jersey for longer now than I ever lived in KC; my 2 daughters were born and raised here, but I don't think of Jersey as my home. It's just where I live. Whenever I come back to Johnson County, I'm impressed by how easy it is to get around (you guys have NO idea what a traffic jam REALLY is), how easy it is to get access to things (tickets to shows, etc), and how nice and friendly people are. However, living in the east, you get exposed to a much greater variety of people, ideas, and events. The midwest seems a bit isolated and provincial at times - but I think that suits a lot of people just fine. Personally, I thrive on a bit more variety.

FJ: This may or may not be in your book: What's your favorite Beatles album of all time?

RS: I think it's there. One day in college I did a side-by-side earphone comparison of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, and came down on the side of Abbey Road - great songs, amazing playing, astounding vocals, unmatched production. A fabulous farewell.

FJ: What kind of writing are you doing these days?

RS: Nothing you'd want to read. I work for a company that produces medical education programs for doctors. We teach them about new developments in lipid management (cholesterol), psychiatric disorders, arthritis, etc. I've published a dozen or so books on medical topics, mostly as a ghost-writer for physicians. As a sidelight I write short biographies that appear in a radio series (A&E Biography for Radio) in 200 markets around the country. And I'm involved in a years-long project researching the life and times of my great-great-grandfather, who was a gold miner in California and Nevada in the years following the Gold Rush. I'd like to turn his story into a book, but I'm a bit daunted by the prospect. Someday...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Arcata Eye

May I present the sublime prose of the Arcata Eye police blotter:

Saturday, May 29 7:10 p.m. Boys ages 14 and 16 aimed their bare asses at women, called people "nasty names" and committed unspecified effrontery to porta-potties in Redwood Park. The lads were admonished by police, with parental vengeance to follow.

Monday, May 31 2:30 a.m. Some guys thought it would be real funny to hide and then scare their friend on Blakeslee Avenue. They hadn’t anticipated the possibility that he’d get super-pissed at the sudden startlement and kick a door.

3:41 p.m. That’s the last time this person will ever leave his wallet and vest unattended on a restaurant table.

Wednesday, June 2 3:28 p.m. A boom-box moron blasted moron music at passing Plazagoers from an annoyance station at Ninth and F streets. But the moronic majesty of the music was lost on the largely non-moronic populace, some of whom complained.

5:25 p.m. If they weren’t morons, they were aspiring to severe sub-genius status by perching on the outdoor stairway landing of a 10th Street medical facility, sparking up a portable barbecue and then squirting lighter fluid into the flames just for the sheer delight of watching the pretty flames flare higher and higher.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Igor Wore Overalls

I heard the story of Igor and the haunted mansion when I stayed overnight with a friend in Westwood, Kansas in the summer of 1977. I was twelve years old.

“There’s this guy over in KCK and he lives in this haunted house with a belfry and everything,” said my best friend Kurt. I didn’t believe it. Despite the fact that the county line was just down Belinder, Igor’s house was too far away to reach on foot. We decided to visit to the candy counter at Velvet Crème Popcorn Company instead. I got a blow-pop and a fountain coke with real cherry syrup. Sunset lit the tree line behind Kurt's house when we returned. His older sister and her boyfriend sat on the hood of a muscle car.

“Get in, we’re going to Igor’s house,” she said. We piled into the Nova, sped north on Puckett Road, and received instructions from the boyfriend with sideburns. “Don’t walk in his yard. His Dobermans are trained to go for your throat,” he lectured. “And above all, be cool.”

Oh sure, it’s easy to be cool when you have facial hair and a fast car. What about me? I hadn’t even hit puberty yet and I’m in the back seat with a bladder full of cherry soda and a lollipop in my mouth.

“What’s this Igor look like,” I asked. A million thoughts raced through my mind. Did he have fangs? Were capes and a candelabrums somewhere in his wardrobe?

“He’s bald and he wears overalls, but don’t let that fool ya,” said the sister. “One of his relatives was murdered there a long time ago or something and it’s been haunted ever since.”

“This is it,” said Kurt, “Igor’s house.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if we’d stumbled onto the back lot at MGM studios in Culver City, California. I stared out the window at the 19th century German Gothic brick mansion, with tall living room windows, and a belfry above the second floor. The mansion was dark. We got out of the car and walked toward a wrought iron fence with stone lion gargoyles at the end of the driveway.

“Here come the dogs,” someone shouted. We ran back toward the Nova. Two guardians greeted us with toothy snarls and barks. That’s when I spied a man in overalls walking our way. He looked more like a farmer than a vampire. I didn’t think Osk Kosh made a cape.

Igor reached in his pocket for something. Now we’re in for it, I thought. He opened the gate and passed out slips of paper. “The Lord already knows the date when you’re coming home to heaven” it said. “Oh great,” I said. “I hope that isn’t tonight. I bought a pool pass and I only used it twice.”

Igor and his dogs retreated into the darkness. Somehow being served with religious literature took the sheen off the spookiness. “That was cool. We’ll have to come back.” I felt confident as we turned on 11th street. I saw a large complex of buildings surrounded by barbed wire up on the right.

“What’s that place,” I asked.

“That’s the experimental farm,” said the boyfriend. “They’ve got two-headed cows there and chickens that are six feet tall. Maybe we can sneak in.”

Note: Igor's house more popularly known as The Sauer Castle, 935 Shawnee Drive, Kansas City, KS

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Kitchen Genealogy - Molasses Cookies

In 1993, I got the genealogy bug. I ran with it too, spending countless hours in the North branch of the Independence, Missouri library and the National Archives outpost in Kansas City, Missouri. I poured over census records and learned how to interpret soundex file cards. I visited the Mormon LDS visitor center. It was an interesting experience and I uncovered valuable data about my family tree. I've got a lot of extended family out there. It's been very rewarding.
One source of family history I've ignored is the recipe. I don't do much cooking. But I appreciate the fact that these formulas are handed down like prized heirlooms. Without delay, I offer you my great-great-great Grandmother's recipe for molasses cookies (circa 1860):

1 cup molasses
1/2 cup sour milk
1/2 tsp baking soda, dissolved in milk
1 egg
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp soda, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves sifted with flour.
3 cups of flour (you will have to use your judgment about this.
Mix right before baking. Let stand in refrigerator. This makes it possible to use less flour.)
Roll about 1/4 inch thick and bake at 350 degrees. (bake time not specified)

Louisa Glovenia Brooks was born May 14, 1832 in Conn. She married Stephen A. Broadrick, April 9, 1851. Refrigerator reference added later by my great-grandmother Anna Horrocks Youker.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Stevie's Good Gig

This entry has been rewritten and removed pending possible publication.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Tonight on 60 minutes

Shawnee Mission North graduate David Mehnert ('83) appears tonight (8/1) as part of a story on musical savants on 60 Minutes. David is the founder of the Savant Academy, a non-profit organization working with the rapidly growing community of families who have a family member with the condition. A Savant is someone who has an amazing ability that co-exists with some kind of cognitive disability. There are artistic, mathematical, and musical savants, among others. Dustin Hoffman played a savant in Rain Man.

In June, Kodi Lee, a young musical savant whom David teaches, played a concert in Kansas City as part of the Focus Families convention. I attended the show and I found it most interesting. In addition to Kodi's musical talents, the audience consisted of many families with children who might be musical savants. Autism and many other birth defects are on the rise, but as David explains, some disabilities can actually mask miraculous talents. And these talents can be nurtured and developed, if they are noticed early on.

“60 Minutes” filmed 15 months ago, and just missed being able to tell the story about how a new form of blindness, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH), disposes to musical savant abilities in other children. I've now discovered 19 savants with the diagnosis."

After the Kodi Lee concert, as David and I were chatting, a family from Iowa came forward. Their daughter, they said, liked to play the piano. David told me later he thinks she may also be an ONH savant. It's a fascinating phenomena with more questions than answers, but one of the real benefits of Mehnert's academy is helping families who have an ONH kid discover their love for music. In many cases, these disabled kids start making progress in other areas of their lives (with motor skills and speech) after they get a keyboard to play with. Find out how you can help.

Friday, July 30, 2004


I removed this blog entry as it has been re-written and submitted for publication.

SMN Glee Club, 1965

By today's standard, this faculty member profile from the 1965 Shawnee Mission North Yearbook seems rather odd. Meet Darrell Benne, former S.M. North vocal music teacher. This photo has not been retouched. Click on the image to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Foiled by the Bat

In June, The Christian Science Monitor solicited for summer camp anecdotes of 350 words or less. I sent in two stories but they were not selected for publication. Here is my first submission, based on a true story: Foiled by the Bat (word count 347).

Taps was at 10pm at Camp Zoe. Campers soon drifted off to sleep in the Ozark darkness. For some of us, the fun began when the lights went out.

Our cabin was the largest in camp and contained a big central space with table and chairs. The gabled ceiling had rafters and air vents high above the floorboards. One night in 1977 a late-night bull session and poker game commenced. The subject was girls. Who were the hot babes in camp? Were you going to ask one for a slow number at the next dance? My best friend Stu and I enjoyed great popularity that summer as girls outnumbered the boys 2 to 1.

We didn’t have a lot of cash so we played cards for snack shack credit too. A good night at the table might get you and extra slush and some candy. It wasn’t the world series of poker, but when you were 12 it was good loot. I was down 50 cents when I finally got a decent hand; three kings on the draw.

Someone at the table looked up and noticed a bat in the rafters. Great uproar ensued. Stu stood on the table and tried to knock it down with his beach towel.  Snack shack tickets, coins, and cards went flying. The bat swooped and darted through the central room while campers dove for the safety of their sleeping bags. I couldn’t stop giggling. I think I swallowed my gum.

Suddenly, camp owner Jack appeared at the screen door. He patrolled the campgrounds after taps to quell exactly this kind of nonsense. No one could hide from the searing glare of his Sears search beam. That is, no one who didn't have a bunk to jump in and play possum. I suddenly became a deer in Jack's flashlight. I turned into a demure Eddie Haskell, uttering a few "Yes Sirs" and "No Sirs" before being dismissed. I don't remember what happened to the three kings. Maybe they flew out the vent with the bat. Our counselor slept through the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Mark Adams - Q & A

When I was in the middle of undergraduate work at the University of Kansas in the mid 80's, the Radio-TV department degree sequence changed. They split it into two distinct programs. I ultimately chose the video production path through the Journalism school. It emphasized news reporting and commercial production. The other path, through theatre and media arts, concentrated on the traditional aspects of film making. Mark Adams is a prolific independent filmmaker who chose the other path. He's created a website filled with fabulous stories of film making. Here's an informal discussion of Chuck Berg, Centron, Jolliffe Hall, and other KU film making touchstones.

FJ: How did the degree sequence split effect you?
MA: During my freshman year at KU I was in the Radio, Television and Film (RTVF) department, then it became the Theater and Media Arts (THMA) department, and finally when I graduated it was the Theater and Film (TH&F) department, so there were a lot of changes when I was a student at KU. Of course I didn’t really start taking a lot of classes in my major until my Junior year, so I’m not sure how much things were still changing by the time I was taking the video production and film history classes rather than the required Math and English classes. I guess I was just an ignorant underclassman, so I don’t think it really affected me one way or another. I was just happy to finally be taking courses in my major. Since I was more interested in filmmaking rather than television broadcasting, I ended up on the theater and film side rather than journalism. I think at one point someone mentioned that the Journalism department had their own video editing equipment, and when I suggested we could try to use those to edit something it was made very clear to me that they would never allow someone from the Theater and Film Department to use them. So I realized there was some sort of separation there. I was just a naïve underclassman.
FJ: How many films/videos did you have in the can by the time you graduated from KU?

MA: I started making films and videos in high school in Kansas City, and by the time I started at KU in 1985 I had made over 30 videos. Most of these were between 10 and 30 minutes in length. By the time I graduated from KU in 1989 I had made at least another 20 videos, including several 20 to 75-minute films. You can read about my high school and KU filmmaking experiences at my website I’m not selling anything on the site, and there are no annoying ads popping up everywhere. Back in the 1980’s home video cameras were not in as many homes as now, and kids didn’t use them to make films as much as now. So I think I was unique in shooting a lot of films back then, as well as lucky to have my own video camera, and I certainly enjoyed going out with friends and making films. I’ve kept a list of every film and video I’ve ever made, including my narrative films as well as videos from my jobs at Barton County Community College and now at SCETV, and I’ve made over 1,500 so far.
FJ: What's the most important thing you learned from Chuck Berg?
MA: I never had Chuck Berg as a teacher in any video production classes, but I did take several of his film history courses. So what I learned from Dr. Berg was the history of film and an appreciation for the classics. The first time I ever saw SINGING IN THE RAIN was in one of his classes, and that’s become my favorite movie musical. I never saw CITIZEN KANE before attending KU either. He helped me to see the importance of such films and how they led to today’s films, and frankly how today’s films aren’t as good as the classics sometimes. He also introduced me to foreign films, and LA JETEE showed me you can make a narrative film in a non-narrative way.

FJ: What other KU instructors influenced your work?
MA: To be honest, I don’t remember any of my other KU instructor’s names from the Theater & Film Department. Except for John Tibbetts, I took his Film Theory class, and again learned a lot about various theories and approaches to filmmaking as seen in classic films. I was able to try these approaches and styles in my own filmmaking experiences, and see how they were similar to what had been done before. At the end of the class I made a video, instead of an oral presentation in front of the class, using clips from my two films THE HONEY THIEF and PETER’S TREASURE, to demonstrate the films theories we had learned. Mr. Tibbetts seemed to really enjoy that. Unfortunately I was the last person, and because everyone else took so long in their presentations, my film was shown after the class was over. So most of the students had already left and never saw it.
FJ: Where's the best location to shoot a scene in Lawrence? Why?
MA: The first place that comes to mind is Clinton Lake, although one can argue it’s not really “in” Lawrence. I always liked shooting out by the dam. I liked the wide-open views of the lake and a nice area where there was a picturesque valley. I wish we could have shot 16x9 back then. Within the city limits I have to say I only shot on the KU campus. My films like THE HONEY THIEF and PETER’S TREASURE were shot during the summer breaks from KU in Kansas City and Topeka, so I only shot my student projects in Lawrence.
FJ: Jolliffe Hall was the armpit of the campus and it was the home laboratory of the film/video students. What do you remember most about Jolliffe?
MA: I actually have fond memories of Jolliffe Hall. I remember being told that it was a condemned building, but we were still having classes in there anyway. My first introduction to Jolliffe was my freshman year when a friend of mine, Johnny Johntz, and I showed up to act in someone’s video project. It was in the studio with the multiple color video cameras run through a switcher, and it was someone’s final project of directing a studio shoot. Unfortunately Johnny and I didn’t really know our lines very well, so it was a terrible experience for us, as well as the director. It was interesting later to use the black and white studio for my broadcast performance classes, where we used old black and white cameras from the 1960’s, I think. By the time I took my first video production class in Jolliffe Hall I had my own home video camera and had already made the videos in high school and college including my first feature length film THE HONEY THIEF, so I didn’t try to get a lot of hands on experience with their cameras. That’s why a lot of the student films I have from that class I’m actually an actor rather than the camera operator or director. What did catch my attention was their editing equipment. They had cuts-only VHS editing decks with an edit controller, where you can do both assemble editing and insert editing. This opened a whole new world to me as far as filmmaking was concerned; I had only done very simple and crude assemble editing using two home VCR’s. So insert editing was a big step up for me. Brad Jordan and I made our final project together, called 2001: A BANK ACCOUNT, shooting and editing in Jolliffe. He was the director and I was the lead actor, and we ended up using my camera for a lot of the shoots. Since it was the armpit of the campus I felt like no one cared what we did in there, and maybe we had some freedom to not only mess around and have fun but to try to do some creative things.

FJ: Like a lot of video students, you worked part-time at Channel Six cable. Did you ever get tired of reading the MTV plaques in the hallway?
MA: I think I read the plaques once and then didn’t look at them again. I don’t even remember what they were for. What I remember the most about Channel Six is feeling like I was working at a real TV station, and once you go to a real TV station you realize it’s not - or at least it’s a much smaller version of one. I don’t want to sound like I’m putting it down because it was a great place to become introduced to video production on a more professional level. Of course I haven’t been in Channel Six since about 1990 so a lot has probably changed since then. If you’re a student interested in a career in video production you have to get an internship or part-time job at a place like Channel Six. I was lucky I had that internship.

FJ: What's your opinion of the state of the Centron legacy and how can we expand it?
MA: When I was a student at KU hardly anyone knew or talked about Centron. At the time it may have still been a company producing educational and instructional videos, and I heard a story of a student working there who had a really bad experience. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I began to learn about its legacy and importance to Lawrence and to filmmaking in general. I was really pleased to see the material about Centron on the Criterion Collection DVD of CARNIVAL OF SOULS. It would be great if a show could be produced for PBS or one of the cable networks like TLC or The History Channel about the Centron Legacy. I don’t know how the KU Theater and Film Department addresses this now, since they’re in the old Centron studios, but I would hope they teach their students about this. Could there be a Centron Film Festival? Or have the Centron legacy become a part of the KAN Film Festival and try to really publicize it?

FJ: I saw CARNIVAL OF SOULS on Halloween night my freshman year. I thought it was more campy fun than true fright. Over the years, I've come to develop a deeper appreciation for the film. How do you feel about it?
MA: I think filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, can truly appreciate CARNIVAL OF SOULS more than just the general public. The first time I saw it, which I think was back at KU, I thought it was like a really long Twilight Zone episode. I love The Twilight Zone, so I was intrigued by the story. Like you, I’ve grown to really appreciate the film more and I even bought the Criterion Collection DVD. I’ve really grown to like the look of the film, and the black and white cinematography. You can really see that on the DVD. But there are still some campy parts to it, some over-the-top acting and obvious low-budget problems with picture and audio that tends to be distracting. But to anyone who has tried to make their own low budget film, especially a horror film, they can still be in awe of how well this film was made back in 1962 by some Lawrence, Kansas filmmakers. That really does help elevate the film to a higher level; the fact that professional people with experience making educational and industrial films made CARNIVAL OF SOULS. If it was just a group of students or someone just learning to use the film camera, it wouldn’t have held up as well all of these years later.

FJ: Did you ever meet Herk Harvey?
MA: Unfortunately I never did meet Mr. Harvey. I did meet the writer of CARNIVAL OF SOULS, John Clifford, in 2003. I was making a documentary about The Micheaux Independent Film Festival taking place in Great Bend, Kansas, and Mr. Clifford and Bill Shaffer, of KTWU in Topeka, came to show CARNIVAL OF SOULS. I had a 45-minute interview with them and even Bill was amazed at the stories Mr. Clifford told me. I felt very fortunate to have had the chance to meet and interview Mr. Clifford and even had him and Bill autograph my Criterion Collection DVD of CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Besides Bill Shaffer, I may have the most extensive interview on video with John Clifford about the making of CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

FJ: Did you ever tour the Centron studios (now Oldfather studios)?
MA: Around 2000 or 2001 I did take a tour of the Oldfather studios, to see how the KU Film and Theater department has improved since I was a student. That was the first time I had ever set foot in the building. I was a little jealous that today’s film students at KU had a facility like that, compared to our Jolliffe Hall. I hope they appreciate what they have.
FJ: The independent film scene has exploded in the last 15 years. How was your timing on that? Did it help you or hurt you?
MA: It certainly helped me in regards to more people becoming more interested in independently produced films. But there was still a prejudice against anything shot on video rather than film, and most of my productions have been on video. That’s begun to dissolve since the digital video and HD technology has arrived. But since the term ‘Independent Film’ could mean anything from THE ENGLISH PATIENT down to a pornographic video, the viewing public isn’t always as receptive about seeing something that isn’t from mainstream Hollywood. In the end I think it will help me, especially with some of the current trends in Hollywood and how they make movies for the mass audience versus the alternative stories in smaller productions that can find a smaller niche. I don’t worry about what the audience wants or what the independent film scene is doing and how that might influence what I do. I just make the films I want to make and would want to see. Growing up in Kansas City in the 1970’s and 80’s, I was influenced by such films as STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and other blockbuster films. Since the 90’s I’ve realized that the formulaic, grandiose kind of films made today don’t appeal to me as much as the smaller, more personal films that are sometimes harder to find. But this influence can certainly be seen in the films I’ve made since KU. I’ve gone from the generic horror film DEATHGRIP (1995) and the ‘DIE-HARD-on-the-college-campus’ action film OMEGA RED (1997) to the much more personal films like DECONSTRUCTION (2001) and END OF THE LINE (2002).

FJ: After KU you tried your hand in Hollywood. How long were you there?
MA: I was in Los Angeles for the summer and early fall of 1989. You can read the details of my adventures working on the two smaller films in L.A., as well as the NBC Miniseries and the Merchant/Ivory film that I worked on in KC before and after my trip to California, on my website at The one thing I realized working on these productions is that I still had a lot to learn, and that’s when I started seriously looking at graduate schools. I also realized that I wasn’t interested in staying in Los Angeles. I knew if I had stayed I would have been working as a grip or gaffer, or something even lower than that, and it would have been years before I ever got the chance to direct anything. And if I did get the chance it would have been one of those terrible straight-to-video productions I had just worked on, and I would not have been a very good director. So I had more opportunity to make my own films the way I wanted to make them if I left L.A. than to stay there.

FJ:After seeing some of the film studies facilities at USC and/or UCLA, did you think you'd blundered by doing your undergrad work in Kansas?
MA: I didn’t feel like I was ‘blundered’ by my education at KU. At the time USC (I never saw the facilities at UCLA) certainly had better facilities and equipment than KU. But my two roommates in L.A., who happened to be USC film students, complained that they got very little hands on use of that equipment. Only a select few were chosen to direct a big, final senior project like George Lucas or Kevin Reynolds did, which could lead to your big break and a chance to direct a commercial film. Otherwise you’re just part of a crew for these productions. Plus there’s a waiting list to get into the film school at USC, and it’s very expensive, so I felt like my time at KU wasn’t wasted. Of course the KU Theater and Film Department today is very different from when I was a student there, with Avid non-linear editors and film and video equipment in a real studio. So I would love to be a film student at KU now. There was also the phenomenon that I call “College Freedom” at play here. That refers to any student who starts college right out of high school and experiences the freedom they never had before, and basically wants to party all the time. Or at least sees their social education as important or more important than their academic education. I certainly experienced this at KU, and if I had been an undergraduate at USC I would have done the same thing. After I graduated from KU I went out into the real world and realized I wasn’t ready, so I went to graduate school and was a lot more serious about studying and learning than I was as an undergrad. The more effort you put into your education the more you get out of it. So if anything was blundered in my undergraduate experience it was of my own doing. A great filmmaker can come from either KU or USC, it just depends on their own talent, vision, drive and ambition.

FJ: Many of the old Centron films are available on the web. Where on the Internet can we view some of your work now?
MA: Unfortunately my website does not have any video you can watch, only still photos from each of my films. Right now the only film I have available for viewing on the web is my 1992 student film JUDGMENT DAY, which was my Thesis Project for my masters degree from The Savannah College of Art & Design. Dennis Ward, graduate of the KU Theater and Film Department, is releasing his most recent film called GRASSFIRE on DVD in August. He’s including on the DVD one of my films, DECONSTRUCTION, in a section called ‘The Best of Independent Cinema’ that includes several other filmmaker’s works. You can find out more at The producer of my most recent film, a low-budget horror/thriller that I wrote and directed called MINDS OF TERROR, is looking for a distributor right now. It will most likely only be released on home video over-seas at this point. I worked with the B-movie legend Joe Estevez for this film. He’s very nice and a lot better actor than people give him credit to be. Unfortunately he seems to end up with poorly written characters in terrible films. Hopefully my film isn’t one of those. Those are about the only places right now you can see any of my films. While I was working at Barton County Community College I showed most of my films, starting with 1989’s WAR, DEATH AND PIZZA, on the college’s cable channel on the weekends. But since moving to South Carolina I stopped doing that. The college does have copies of all the films I made while working at Barton in their library to check out.

FJ: The Kansas City film scene, once booming with the likes of Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, Article 99, Kansas City, The Day After, Nice Girls Don't Explode, Kansas, and Cross of Fire. What's happened?
MA: Since I haven’t lived in Kansas City for over 11 years I’m not really sure what happened. Part of it may be the fact that Hollywood studios are making the bigger and bigger blockbusters each costing over $100 million dollars, and Kansas City is not a location they tend to think of using in such films. Plus a lot of the productions end up in Canada or Australia these days to save money. Things have changed in Hollywood, and KC may need to try to cater to more independent productions, rather than the big studios. I would love to see more locally produced films make it to a national audience. The only thing I worry about is quality. Can independent filmmakers make films that are not the usual low-budget/straight-to-video fare? One thing that amazed me on the two low budget films that I worked on in L.A. was the fact that even though the first film only had a budget of 100,000 dollars, and the second film only cost 20,000 dollars, they both looked really good. Shot on 16mm film, they both technically looked very good, especially compared to ‘independent films’ that you would see on TV from the 70’s. I was equally amazed that the scripts were absolutely terrible. The producer didn’t care about the script, as long as there was enough violence, nudity and sex to help them market the film. Today we now have video equipment that can record broadcast quality images for less than 5,000 dollars. Editing software than can allow people at home to edit professionally for less than 10,000 dollars. There’s an explosion of filmmaking out there, but how much of it is any good? It starts with the script, and that is where the problem begins; making a movie that is fresh and interesting versus one that is marketable and attractive to investors and/or distributors. Hopefully a major change in distribution is just around the corner that will open the doors for more independent films to be shown nationally. I just hope the films will be worth seeing.
FJ: You're a KAN film festival winner. How has that scene evolved over the years?
MA: My first KAN Film Festival was in 1993, where I won a 2nd place award for my student film JUDGMENT DAY. I’ve been entering films/videos every year since then, winning 7 awards along the way including 1st place for my film END OF THE LINE in 2003. The quality of films and videos has certainly increased over the years. The focus of the festival is on the student divisions, so as an independent filmmaker I’ve felt like anything shown in the open division has been overlooked sometimes. Especially in the drama/comedy over 30 minutes category, which is the one I most often entered. When the festival was at the Lied Center at KU my category was always in the auditorium in a completely different building, and often had less attendance than the venues in the Lied Center. I don’t know what the coverage was like by the local media in Lawrence and KC, but out in central and western Kansas no one even knew there was a KAN Film Festival. I hope the festival can continue to grow and possibly increase its overall exposure to independent filmmakers and to the general public.

FJ: Your website describes your behind the scenes experiences with Mr. & Mrs. Bridge and Cross of Fire. Did you work on Article 99 or Nice Girls Don't Explode?
MA: No, I did not work on ARTICLE 99 or NICE GIRLS DON’T EXPLODE. It’s not that I didn’t want to…When were these films made, anyway? It seems like NICE GIRLS DON’T EXPLODE was made either right before or right after I started at KU, and I was too naïve to try to work on the film. It seems like ARTICLE 99 was made when I was either in L.A. or off to graduate school in Savannah, Georgia. I was a production assistant on the TV show CANDID CAMERA when they were shooting in Kansas City during the summer of 1991. That was an interesting experience. It was the first time I ever saw an Ikegami video camera, and Betacam SP decks. I was amazed most of the people never realized that cheesy looking fake bookcase with a mirror might have a camera behind it. And never try to pull something like that on business executives; they’ll never sign the release forms. They don’t want to look stupid on TV.

FJ: Tell me about the book you've written?
MA: I decided to try to write a book about my filmmaking experiences for my daughter, Morgan. When I started writing in 1998 she was only about 2 years old, but I knew someday she will inherit all of my films and tapes and will wonder why did I make all of these films and why were they important to me. So I wanted to write some of my thoughts and memories down while I could still remember some of it, and someone read it and thought it would be a good book on it’s own. That’s when I started going back and interviewing my former cast and crew members and using quotes from them as interesting stories about the making of each film from their perspectives as well. Right now there is no publisher lined up, and I really need to have an editor go through it and help me get it into a form that could be published. But when I started my website in 2003 I was able to use excerpts from my book as the text for the sections on the making of each film. Now as I make another film I just add another chapter to the book, and a new section to the website.

FJ: What are you up to now?
MA: After graduating from the University of Kansas I went briefly out to Los Angeles to see what the film industry was really like, and decided I still had a lot to learn. I ended up going to the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia earning a Masters Degree in Video. After graduating in 1992 and getting married I worked for 11 years at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kansas as their video producer/director. Each year in my free time I also made short and feature-length narrative films that I wrote, produced, directed and edited. I entered them into various film festivals around the country, including the KAN Film Festival, and won some awards along the way. Starting in July of 2004, I just started working as a Production Manager/Field Production Specialist at South Carolina Educational Television in Columbia, South Carolina. I’ll be working on various programs and documentaries to be aired on SCETV, which is the PBS/Educational Television station for the entire state of South Carolina. I’ll also keep making my own films in my free time, although it may not be a film a year like I did in Great Bend. My wife’s parents live in Columbia, and my father retired from teaching in Kansas City and moved to Florida, so we wanted to move closer to them and have our daughter grow up closer to her grandparents. Plus SCETV is giving me more opportunities than I would have found in Great Bend, Kansas.
FJ: Thanks to Mark for the great Q&A. Visit his website for more great film making memories.