Apologies to Fred Ho and Other Famous People I've Offended

           Times obituary here

Fred Ho's Saxophone Liberation Front & Scientific Soul Sessions
from Scientific Soul on Vimeo.

I saw Fred Ho in 1999, at the Walker, in a review called "All Power to the People! The Black Panther Suite" filled with talent and dance, music and joy. Before the show he treated the audience to some personal remarks -  he had gone rock climbing by the St Croix River and he also let us know that he was a dedicated Revolutionary and a Socialist. After the show there were questions from the audience.

My question was, what was a Revolutionary doing in a setting like the Walker, playing to a crowd which was almost all white and comfortably middle-class. I hadn't meant to sound accusing - it was actually a question I had been asking myself, - and still do. After all, I was at the Walker too.

He got very defensive - he explained that, well - they invited him and besides that, he also did a lot of valuable work in the community, which I'm sure he does. Afterwards Marv Davidov remarked to me, "That was a good question and it got a good answer." Marv always looked on the positive side.

I suppose I could have worded my question in a more comradely way. Still, I wonder about people who smugly proclaim themselves as a "Socialist" or a "Vegetarian" or a "Person of Color" or even an "artist' - as if that proclamation, in and of itself, made them somehow better than others.

*****
Eleven years ago one of the top jazz clubs in the country opened up a half a block from my home, (thank you, USA!) The Dakota attracts top artists from around the world and the intimate setting sometimes allows you to meet and chat with them - thus increasing my opportunities for celebrity faux pas.  A couple years ago Ben Sidran, a musician and professor at the University of Wisconsin was there promoting his latest book. He talked about the influence of Jews on American pop music
and popular culture. His lecture was witty, learned, profound and insightful. Occasionally he sat down at the piano and sang a song to illustrate his point. He seemed like the kind of charismatic professor whose classes were always overflowing and whom students sought out afterwards to sit at his feet.

At intermission, I told him what a great comedic sense he had. "Why, you could tour just doing standup comedy," I told him.  He gave a slight grimace and muttered, "I thought that's what I was doing." Then he started out the second set by saying: "Some guy just told me I could be doing comedy..." Oh, well.

In the Twin Cities there's a beautiful and talented jazz singer/pianist with the name of Joann Funk. Yah!  She has a regular gig in the lobby of the Saint Paul Hotel where I saw her last year. Her setup is actually in the lobby, just past the reception desk. There's a small bar and overstuffed
chairs scattered about. Waiters and guests with luggage were constantly passing through. The acoustics sucked. I was disappointed and felt bad for her.

Last March she played an evening at the Dakota which has an incredible sound system. I let her know how much I enjoyed hearing her in a setting like the Dakota. But, she said, she really liked the St. Paul Hotel. I tried to back off and mumbled something about me being comfortable in Minneapolis. Then she went on, the St. Paul Hotel (which has a kind of faded 1930's atmosphere) felt to her like what the Algonquin Hotel must have been like. "Yes," I said "except without Dorothy Parker or Robert Benchley or Alexander Woollcott." An old girlfriend once told me, "If there's anything worse than a New York City snob, its a New York City snob turned Minneapolis snob."

You've probably all heard about the time I met Leonard Cohen. I'm sure I said plenty of dumb things but at the time I was drunk and he was stoned so it didn't matter. And when I talk to beautiful European artists in their own language, I become quite charming.

French jazz singer Mina Agossi has become a treasured friend who invited me to Paris to read at the Trianon Theater for her CD release. Thanks to Mina I was able to bring my granddaughter, Marielle, to Europe. I also met Cristina Pato at the Dakota,  a Galician bagpipe player who tours with Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. I don't speak Galician, so we spoke Spanish with each other and that worked out. And she didn't invite me to tour with her or to go to Paris, but I did get a big hug and that worked out too.


I was reading some book reviews one night and a particular title jumped out at me: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. It brought back heavy memories, night after night circling through streets and bars in a twilight between drunk and hung over. The book by Nick Flynn lived up to its promise. He wrote about his father, a homeless derelict in Boston who insisted he was America's greatest novelist. Nick Flynn got to know his father when Flynn was working in a homeless shelter and his father showed up there.

It was a very good book, so good that it came to the attention of Robert de Niro who made a movie out of it starring himself as the father. Of course you'll never see a marquee advertising ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY so they changed the movie title to Being Flynn. But then, in order to co-promote, they changed the title of the book too.

Nick Flynn was involved in the filming, watching himself being played by an actor and seeing Robert De Niro in the role of his father.  He even brought De Niro to the nursing home to meet his father. Those experiences were the subject of Flynn's next book called The Reenactments: A Memoir. That's a lot of mileage out of one story, but what a story!

I caught up with Nick Flynn at a signing at Beyond Baroque, a multifaceted gem of a writers' center in Venice, CA. When I tried to commiserate with him for having to changed his title, he defended himself by pointing out the the content of the book was unchanged, only the title page and the cover and, of course, you should never judge a book by its cover. Grudgingly, I agreed, but I would not have bought a book just based on the title of Being Flynn.

The truth is, writers, singers, creative people generally, even the successful ones, are touchy and insecure for a good reason. They don't know how it is that they do what they do. It's not like you go to work in the morning and fire up the computer and out comes the data. It's more like you always need to tweak it and last month's tweak may crash the system this month and there's no IT to call. It's an uncertain way to live that puts artists on the defensive. Personally, I'm just as upset by praise for the wrong reason as I am by negative reviews.

Also, any successful artist has usually made lots of sacrifices to get where they are. They've played dives a lot worse than the St. Paul Hotel. Mina Agossi has played all over the world, she's been knighted by the French government, but she still had to give in to her record company and use a really dumb cover on her album, Red Eyes, in return for having complete control over the content. Please note, Nick Flynn, that she kept the title she wanted; she did not exchange gritty and depressing for pseudo-existentialist. In your position though, for Robert De Niro, I'm sure I would have done the same thing.

3 comments:

  1. Right On. Oh and i agree with marv. It was a good question. that is the kind of no bullshit questions i ask which explains why most of the "left" "revolutionary" "leaders" and groups get very uncomfortable when i walk into the room.

    Keep it real Chris and fuck the begrudgers.

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  2. I've heard since from people who know Fred Ho personally the he uses his "Revolutionary" image to impress women. Glad I called him out here. Also it appears Nick Flynn is at least a Progressive.

    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/04/flyn-a02.html

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  3. Wonderful essay. Yes and yes!

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