When I told Jeff three weeks ago that I wanted to go see Bret Michaels at Frontier Days, an annual local festival in Arlington Heights, he was a bit dumbfounded. So was I, quite frankly, because my musical taste, while eclectic, is more closely aligned with the likes of Regina Spektor, The Lumineers, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground … you get the idea. In any case, I think I was curious because Bret Michaels is above all a gutsy survivor. Regardless of the cheesy Rock of Love with Bret Michaels reality show or how one feels about his music, it is undeniable that this guy is scrappy. So what if I was the lone person (with hubby in tow) out of 22,000 folks who wasn’t there that night to rock out, get drunk, and boogie down. I wanted to see firsthand this cool country cat who must have been blessed with nine lives. If you don’t know Michaels’ story, I urge you to read on. In addition to coping with juvenile diabetes, a series of life-threatening medical events turned Michaels’ life upside down starting in April 2010. On April 12, 2010, Michaels was admitted to the hospital with intense stomach pains that led to an emergency appendectomy. About 10 days later, Michaels was rushed to the hospital with an excruciating headache. Doctors discovered that he had suffered a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage – or cerebral aneurysm. Only 30 percent of patients survive such incidents and many are left with permanent deficits. Miraculously, just 2 weeks later, his neurosurgeon Joseph Zabramski of Barrow Neurosurgical Associates, announced that Michaels was indeed one of the lucky few to survive and he would make a full recovery. However, he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
When teen pop idols Davy Jones and Don Grady died, I wrote tributes to both of them. When a pantheon of greatness like Roger Ebert dies, it is a bigger challenge to write a worthy piece. Roger Ebert is as synonymous with Chicago as Oprah Winfrey, Vienna Beef hot dogs, Wrigley Field, Deep-dish pizza, and Studs Terkel. Roger Ebert made me proud to be a native Chicagoan – I took other aspects of the city for granted, but never Roger Ebert. He was without a doubt the greatest film critic that ever lived. There have been others of considerable talent – the legendary Pauline Kael at the front of that list, but Ebert wrote in a natural, conversational style without any pretense. How is it possible to be so knowledgeable about film without sounding pedantic or pretentious? I think many of his colleagues hit it right on the head – Ebert was just a regular Joe at the core – a chubby, bespectacled, brainy geek from downstate Illinois. And he basically stayed that way despite fame, acclaim, and fortune. Think about it – he probably met more famous movie stars and directors than any person on earth – even Barbara Walters, yet never came off as elitist or snobby. Here are a few tributes to Ebert from his Chicago buddies/colleagues: Neil Steinberg Rick Kogan Richard Roeper Jim Emerson Dan Gire I first discovered the powerful magic of movies when at age 10, I found it difficult to tear myself away from Some Like it Hot – we were going to meet my dad at the Chicago Auto Show and had to leave the house before it was over. But my earliest memory harkens back to the age of 3 or 4 – very vague and I cannot remember the film, but a little girl who was paralyzed etched an indelible image…
Just before I lost my high level position as director of communications for a national medical association in mid-June 2011, I read Just Kids by Patti Smith. In the darkest days after losing my job, I found inspiration and salvation in Patti Smith’s words. Just Kids also sparked a rediscovery of her groundbreaking music, but with a more appreciative, mature ear than I had at RISD when my freshman roommate played Horses day and night. Her cutting-edge punk rock music was a bit too hard for me back then, but listening to it some 30 years later made me fully comprehend the sheer genius and depth of her musical poetry. Below is a collage I created in homage to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe that I exhibited in a group show at Studio 659. During my depths of despair, I played several Patti Smith songs over and over as if I was once again a young adult coming of age. Well, I guess in essence I did go through a rebirth of sorts spurred on by losing my high-paying job. Having more time on my hands enabled me to get back to my fine art and exhibiting my work. Gloria, Dancing Barefoot, People Have the Power, and the brilliant Horses among other songs inspired this burst of creativity … that continues to this day. While I haven’t had a major solo gallery show, I feel promise looming on the horizon.
I have a fascination with amusement parks dating back to childhood. This interest relates primarily to the imagery, colors, and people-watching potential associated with these venues rather than anything practical because I actually dislike most rides. I am a wimp when it comes to roller coasters and rides that spin, although when I was a kid I could handle some spinning rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and smaller coasters. There are a few fond memories that I will touch upon in this article, with Hollywood Kiddieland topping my list. I enjoyed this magical place from a wee tot all the way through my teen years when a high school boyfriend worked at the batting cages. I am very interested in amusement parks from a historical perspective and although I only went to Riverview Park once and never had the pleasure of exploring Coney Island, these two parks have been lifelong objects of my affection. My trips to NYC during college and more recently were too brief to justify the long subway ride, and now of course, Coney Island has changed drastically. I have been to Disneyland three times and to Disney World once, but these iconic parks really don’t rock my boat. If I had to choose one of these parks, my preference would be Disneyland.
It was with a melancholy pang of nostalgia that I reacted to the death of the legendary Phyllis Diller on August 20 at the age of 95. While her stand-up routine was never quite my cup of tea, I admired her feisty determination and grit. She was a remarkable woman who did not embark on her comedy career until she was nearly 40 with five kids. Upon her death, there were many articles published with trivia/facts and quite a few of her jokes – these are among the most intriguing: Phyllis had a voice-over role with Boris Karloff in Mad Monster Party (1969). Phyllis appeared with bombshell Jayne Mansfield in The Fat Spy (1966). Phyllis was an accomplished pianist and although she gave it up professionally, she owned a custom-made harpsichord that she played at home. Although she used cigarette holders in her comedy routine, she was a confirmed, lifelong non-smoker. Phyllis outlived three of her children – one died in infancy in 1945 before Phyllis embarked on her comedy career – it was her son Perry (who is 62) who found his mom had passed away peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face. Phyllis holds the world record in the Guinness Book Of World Records for most punchlines delivered in 60 seconds, averaging 12.
I was very sad today when I heard about the death of actor Don Grady, known for his role as Robbie Douglas on My Three Sons. The show aired from 1960-1972 and I don’t recall watching it much back then – after all, I was still in diapers when it started. It was actually my older sister Debbie who had the mad crush on Robbie and plastered pin-ups of him from 16 Magazine on her wall. But since losing my full-time job last June, I admit I have been waxing nostalgic and vintage TV helps me stay lighthearted about my situation. I am grateful to Me-TV for airing these programs since I don’t have cable.
I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener that is what I’d really like to be ’cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener everyone would be in love with me Oh, I’m glad I’m not an Oscar Mayer wiener that is what I’d never want to be ’cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener everyone would take a bite of me Truthfully, I never wanted to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener – I am a Vienna Beef kind of gal, through and through, followed by Hebrew National. When I was a teenager, my dad and I decided that we would become hot dog connoisseurs and pursue the perfect dog. Growing up in Chicago – the hot dog capital of America, this seemed like a logical and glorious quest. Zagat and the Internet did not yet exist for suggestions, but hot dog dives were abundant and we stumbled upon several prime examples within just 2 miles of our house. And on occasion there was a review in the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Reader and we tried those establishments. Quite a few of these “Ma and Pa” places still exist, but many are long defunct.
On many an occasion, Betsy and I have been delighted about how our interests and experiences with candy, toys and pop culture have coincided, despite having grown up in very different circumstances. Numerous times we have brought up the subject of Sid and Marty Krofft and the psychedelic Saturday morning shows they created. Last weekend I discovered that all 17 episodes of H.R. Pufnstuf were available on Netflix. So Sunday morning when we sat down to eat breakfast I fired up the Roku box to watch the first episode. I guess our expectations and memories of the show were quite different since we had last seen it more than 40 years ago. I tried to keep in mind that I was just 10 years old when I first saw it, but I still sat there in disbelief at how BAD it was. Betsy and I glanced at each other numerous times to communicate our astonishment.
When personified, there is something about rabbits and bunnies that can be downright creepy … eliciting a similar reaction as clowns do. This morning on ABC7 Chicago News, a viewer shared a shot of her baby crying hysterically on the lap of a human dressed as the Easter Bunny. I cannot say I blame this child – the costumed creature was downright scary. Stuffed bunny rabbits are very cute and Jeff’s daughter, who is now 24 and married, was in love with these until the age of 13 or 14. And dwarf rabbits apparently make wonderful pets, as evidenced by my older sister turning to mush when her little bunny Shana is nearby – my serious, scholarly sister with the PhD! Rabbits have been used effectively and annoyingly in advertising, by film directors and artists, in cartoons, and of course – as a lighthearted symbol of the Easter holiday.
As an impressionable young woman, I journeyed to fabled Manhattan from my relatively sheltered life as an art student at RISD in Providence, R.I. Upon alighting at Penn Station for the very first time, there was a bit of a glitch. My older, worldlier sister who had already been living in the Big Apple for 3 years had not given me clear instructions on where we were to meet. Those were the days before cell phones – there was no way to get in touch with her. I was an innocent 18-year-old in New York City wondering what the hell had happened to my sister – after about 40 minutes or so I decided to go search upstairs and there she was … my street-smart sister nearly as frantic as I. For a good part of this visit I was on my own – marveling at the gritty, wonderful streets of NYC. Camera in hand, I attempted to summon the spirits of dead immigrants on the Lower East Side, admired the Art Deco lines of the Empire State Building – imagining King Kong and Fay Wray at the top, and prowled Canal Street for Vintage. A longtime admirer of the photography of Bernice Abbott, Jacob Riis, Walker Evans, and Helen Levitt, I too desired to capture a moment in time in “The City that Never Sleeps.”