1.I Spent the First Part of My Life on a Navajo Reservation
From 6-months old to almost three, I lived on the Navajo reservation. It was the early-mid 60s, and my parents were VISTA volunteers, teaching Navajo and Hopi children in
My Aunt Mary lived in
3.I Was a Professional Disc Jockey
Ancient Radio Broadcasting Studio, ca. 1980s
Ancient Radio Broadcasting Studio, ca. 1980s
I majored in Radio and Television (and English Lit) in college, got my FCC License, and spent three years working on KWSB, an FM station broadcasting to the local community from our campus. My first job after school was as a nighttime disc jockey in
But I never really clicked with commercial radio and its creative limitations. I have many fond memories, though, of DJ-ing in the free-form environment we had for a while at KWSB. Though I grew up as a rock-and-roll kid, I was always curious about other things and liked finding odd or unexpected combinations: Echo and the Bunnymen back-to-back with Judy Garland, or T.S. Eliot reading “The Wasteland” over the Cure’s 27-minute instrumental track, “Carnage Visors.” I also did a classical show for a while. At 6 am on Sunday morning. Was anybody listening to me, I wondered? I decided to conduct a test and started making up outrageous lies on the air to see if anyone would call up. I said I was doing a special on Italian composers and here’s some music from Antonio Ravioli, the son of a Venetian pasta-maker. Then, Giuseppe Tetrazini, and his “Tortellini” concerto. Rodolfo Lasagna and his “Concerti Fettucini.” Etc. For half an hour I did this. No one ever called.
Ah, radio . . .
4.I Almost Went to Seminary
When I realized that I wasn’t cut-out to work in commercial broadcasting, I decided to pursue my spiritual yearnings and enter the seminary. Though raised Catholic, I knew I had certain earthly yearnings that precluded any real interest in the priesthood. Also, I wasn’t comfortable anymore with the Roman Catholic Church and had begun investigating other approaches to Christianity. I had come to a somewhat strange place where I still enjoyed the liturgical aspects of the Church but was also intrigued by some of the Anabaptist traditions, communities such as the Bruderhof, groups with a strong social action component, aspects of the Charismatic Movement, and a kind of Christian Anarchist/Early Church thing. Basically, I was all over the map. I investigated an Episcopal seminary, an American Baptist seminary, and eventually settled on the New College of Theology in
The decision to not become a minister upset me quite a bit for a while. I felt like I had failed G-d. Partly because of this, I spent the next year looking into various missionary groups, albeit ones with a social action element, but I never felt comfortable blending evangelism and trying to “help” people. In the end, it seemed disingenuous, too much like Sales. And by then I had started to question what was for sale: the radical, intimate Jesus of the New Testament seemed far, far away, replaced by some kind of banal, middle-class American Social Religion based on Adam Smith and Miss Manners. Looking back now, I realize those two years marked a big shift in my life. I was forced to think and feel more deeply about what I truly believed, about the kind of spiritual path I was supposed to follow. The comfortable behavioral system I had known up to that point in my life, suddenly crumbled. Going to seminary or becoming a missionary may have made me feel like I was serving G-d, but I’m not sure now which god it would have been. Without the trappings of religion, the path became harder, a little more confusing, full of strange twists and turns, and sometimes I’m not even sure there’s a path at all; a lot of it feels like bushwhacking through unexplored territory. But as the poet Antonio Machado said:
Caminante, no hay camino
Se hace camino al andar
The path is made by walking
5.I’ve seen all 31 of Fred Astaire’s Musical Films
Some favorites are: The Gay Divorcee (1933), Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936), all with Ginger Rogers; Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940); Holiday Inn (1942), with Herr Bing; The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), which re-united him with Ginger; The Band Wagon (1953), with Cyd Charisse; Funny Face (1957), with Audrey Hepburn; and Silk Stockings (1957), again with Cyd Charisse.
There are many other good or very good ones. Astaire’s sheer talent and joyful screen presence turned even mediocre projects into something worth watching. Some of his films aren’t great, but there’s almost always something great in them, usually his dance routines, sometimes a song or songs (he worked with many great songwriters), and sometimes his wonderful (and underrated) comic ability. In fact, I can only think of two Astaire films that I thought were real dogs: Yolanda and the Thief (1945) and The Belle of New York (1952). And even Belle has some good dance scenes – and Vera-Ellen. And Yolanda is actually a cult favorite for some people, with its garish colors and bizarre
Fred also made three award-winning musical TV specials in the late 1950s. I'm trying to track those down.