Tag Archives: Northwestern

LeBron James Comes to Los Angeles: It’s Good vs. Evil.

Those who follow this blog know that I’m a Cleveland, Ohio boy, born and raised – and a LeBron James fan. Just as I was a Jim Brown fan in my boyhood days. What else can you possibly be when the greatest player in a particular pro sport plays for YOUR hometown team?

But unlike many in Northeast Ohio, I continued to be a LeBron fan even after he left town to pursue championship rings in Miami.

Then, like everyone in Cleveland, I rejoiced in King James’ homecoming – and the fact that he took the Cavaliers to four NBA finals appearances in a row. And, oh yeah, the glorious moment when he brought Cleveland it’s first pro sports championship since Jim Brown led the Browns to the NFL title in 1964.

So, when LeBron decided to take his talents to Los Angeles this summer, I did not waiver in my fandom.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1990 – but that’s not the reason I’m still a loyal fan of The King.

charlie-hall-nathan-taphorn-0310In fact, the reasons that I approve of LeBron’s move to Los Angeles have been best expressed by the passionate words of a native of L.A., the son of a great friend of mine – and a wise young man who plays varsity basketball for my alma mater, Northwestern University.

Charlie Hall says it better than I could myself. (In bold italics below)

I am a LeBron James fan. I am a Cleveland Cavaliers fan. Despite being from Los Angeles, I have NEVER been a Los Angeles Lakers fan. That being said, this is bigger than me. There is a larger mission here. That mission is simple: restore good in the universe.

ct-northwestern-charlie-hall-tino-malnati-20170317In other words: Beat the Golden State Warriors. The 73-9, adding Kevin Durant, dancing, gaslighting, EVIL Golden State Warriors.

Perhaps shooting threes is more efficient than a hard drive into a contact layup. It’s worth more points and it takes less energy. I get it.

However, jacking up a three point shot from damn near half court and shimmying your way to your bench to high five Kevin Durant? That lacks heart. That lacks integrity. That lacks ANY of the qualities that are consistent with why we love basketball. The grit. The strength in the face of adversity. It’s all gone.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the Warriors are going to win. Again and again. Forever. Or until a core member leaves or gets injured.

ts_lbj18Now, there is ONE other factor that can derail the Warriors. His name is Lebron James. The philanthropist, family man, forceful inside presence. The man that brought a championship to the city of Cleveland. The GOOD GUY.

He needs guys around him and didn’t have that in Cleveland. Let’s get one thing straight, he doesn’t have it in Los Angeles either. However, he CAN attract the talent. The talent needed to dethrone evil. Horrible, horrible evil. 

A part of me wishes LeBron stayed. The little kid from Akron, bringing championships to his hometown, with little to no help? It’s picturesque. It’s gorgeous.

But he’s 33 years old. His time is running out. The chances of him bringing more rings to Cleveland were zero. ZERO.

I’m not sure how much time we have left with this legend, the greatest ambassador the league has ever had — this role model for so many. But I do know one thing: His work isn’t done. We need him to give us one more unforgettable moment. One more.

That moment could’ve happened in Philly, Houston, Boston, San Antonio, anywhere. But now it has to happen in Los Angeles.

Draymond+Green+Golden+State+Warriors+v+Cleveland+GXzIHuIEVQklSo please Mr. James. Whatever you have left. Use it to dunk on Stephen Curry. Use it to defend Kevin Durant. Get Draymond a tech. Do what you have to do. But let’s be clear: You HAVE to do it. There is no other option.

Forever a Cavs fan.

Forever a LeBron fan.

And for the sake of all things good: A newfound Los Angeles Lakers fan. 

Charlie Hall

 

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Otto Graham: The Greatest Pro Football Quarterback Ever

Ottobanner1 ottobanner21390174447012-USATSI-7685836The NFL conference championship games that were played today were as thrilling and satisfying a pair of gridiron contests as a football fan could desire. It was great to watch two veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off for the AFC title – and then enjoy the next generation of star quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, do battle for the NFC crown.

otto-grahamHowever, in the lead-up to these games – and undoubtedly in the two-week media hype extravaganza that will precede the Super Bowl, there’s one thing that will bug the hell out of me.

In all the talk about Manning and Brady and Wilson and Kaepernick and the great quarterbacks of all time – there’s one name that won’t be mentioned.

It’s the one name that should always be mentioned.

Otto Graham.

A couple of months ago I was listening to sports talk radio host Colin Cowherd hosting a discussion of the greatest NFL quarterbacks on his morning radio show. Cowherd had the nerve to say he didn’t want to hear about guys like Otto Grahama who played in the “no face mask era”.

JETS DOLPHINS AFC CHAMPIONSHIPWell, Colin, here’s proof that Otto Graham wore a face mask in the NFL.

(Later in this post, I’ll show why Cowherd’s comment proves there’s an even deeper gash in his NFL football knowledge regarding Graham and face masks.)

imagesThen, last month, The Los Angeles Times ran an article by Mike DiGiovanna ranking the top 10 sports records that’ll never be broken. Candidates were chosen from professional sports, the Olympics and major college sports programs – and the writer limited his choices to records set from 1940 on.

Otto_GrahamBut DiGiovanna did not find a spot on his list for the most unbreakable professional sports record of all post-1940. It’s a record that will always be held by Otto Graham.

After his brilliant college career at Northwestern University was interrupted – and his professional career was delayed — by his service in the Navy during World War Two, the great Hall of Famer Otto Everett Graham, Jr. played 10 seasons of professional football for the Cleveland Browns – and took his team to the championship game all ten years!

otto-graham-brownsThat’s right, ten out of ten.

Let me say that again.

Otto Graham played 10 seasons of pro football for the Cleveland Browns – and took his team to the championship game all ten years!

And he won 7 of those 10 championship games.

Can you imagine a more unbreakable sports record?

13543826d76ec7bffd208f621ebdb2adFrom 1946 to 1949, Graham and The Browns dominated the All-America Football Conference. Then, they joined the NFL in 1950. Did Otto and his Browns struggle as an NFL expansion team? Hardly. They simply ran off an unprecedented and unequaled string of 6 straight NFL title game appearances from 1950 to 1955.

After that, the legendary Otto Graham retired as a player at the top of his game. (Just like another Browns legend, Jim Brown, would do in the following decade.)

tom-brady-bill-belichickjpg-95e8c0ab5d279e48_largeIt drives me crazy to hear otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable football pundits talk about Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick as perhaps the most successful quarterback and coach combo in NFL history.

Really?

Brady & Belichick? Oh, please…

otto-graham-1Paul Brown was coach of the Cleveland Browns during Graham’s entire career. Did Brady and Belichick get to the title game 10 seasons in row?

Okay, let’s throw out the AAFC years and stick to Brown and Graham’s NFL years. Have Brady & Belichick gotten to 6 NFL championship games in a row? And Brown & Graham won three of those title games, including Graham’s last game, the 1955 championship. Like I said, Otto Graham went out on top.

And, for all you stats geeks, consider this:

hof-grahamWith Graham at QB, the Browns posted a record of 114 wins, 20 losses and four ties, including a 9–3 playoff record. And while many of Graham’s records have been surpassed in the modern era — he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt with 9 yards per attempt. That’s not 9 yards per pass completion – that’s 9 yards per pass attempt.

Basically, Otto Graham was good for a first down every time he threw the damn football.

otto-graham-signed-image-3Graham also holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, at 0.814. If winning is the greatest measure of a pro quarterback – Otto Graham was better than Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and all the others.

And he was tough as nails, Colin Cowherd.

In fact, Mr. Cowherd, for your information — Otto Graham played a role in ushering in the face mask era in pro football.

pro53chinOtto Graham led the Browns to 11 straight wins to start the 1953 season. (Their lone loss came in the season’s final game against the Philadelphia Eagles.) Late that season, in a game against the 49ers, Graham took a forearm to the face that opened a nasty, bloody gash it took 15 stitches to close. Was he done for the game?

No way. This was Otto Graham.

His helmet was fitted with a clear plastic face mask and he came back into the game — which The Browns won. Graham’s injury helped inspire the development of the modern face mask.

Browns HOF galleryAll right, I’ve had my say. Look it all up yourself. I’m tired of getting pissed off and wanting to throw things at the radio and TV when I hear all this yakking about the best NFL quarterbacks ever – and never any love for Otto Graham.

Now, onto the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning is amazing. Russell Wilson is exciting. But Otto Graham was the best ever.

And I’d say that even if he weren’t a fellow Northwestern alumnus.00066

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A Wild Winter Weekend in the Windy City!

Brad Hall and I flew into Chicago on Thursday, February 3rd, to work on “Rock Me!” — our rock musical set to be performed by a Northwestern student theatre group on March 7 and 8.  The fact that Chicago had just been blasted by an epic snowstorm, the third largest on record, did not deter us. Harrowing tales of “thundersnow” and dozens of cars being abandoned on Lake Shore Drive could not keep us from our appointment with the brilliant musician, Steve Rashid, my daughter Emilia (an NU sophomore) and the other students involved in the production that we were hoping to meet despite the havoc caused by the tons of white stuff dumped on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The blizzard had stuck on Tuesday, February 1st, and by the time we flew into Chicago late on Thursday night, the skies were clear. So clear in fact that, as we made our final approach into O’Hare Airport, we were greeted with as spectacular a view of the city as we had ever seen. The city lights reflected off the snow blanketing every surface to create a stunning golden glow.

These pictures don’t quite capture the wondrous sight we beheld – but they’ll have to do.

Once we were on the ground, we drove northeast to Evanston, where we were Steve’s houseguests. As we arrived in his neighborhood near Central and Green Bay Road, the city street crews were hard at work clearing tons of snow from the main street. Clearly, every city employee that could drive a snowplow or a Bobcat was being pressed into service for every overtime hour they could stand to work.

This video was taken at the corner of Central Street and Central Park.

And here’s where they dumped all that snow: Lovelace Park. (No, it’s not named for Linda.)

And BTW – these are not rolling hills dusted with snow.  This is a flat parking lot on which they just dumped these man-made mountains of snow. The Evanston kids were loving it! King of the hill!

Over the weekend, our meetings with Emilia and the musical director and director of “Rock Me!’ took us to the Northwestern University campus on the frigid lakefront in Evanston, which had been transformed into a winter wonderland.

Brad and I had been on campus for the great Blizzard of ’79, so this fabulous frosting brought back many snowed-under undergraduate memories.

We left Chicago on Monday, February 7th – and it was snowing again. Here’s Steve’s neighborhood on Hartzell, just before the flakes began to fall…

In this video, shot in front of Steve’s house, you can see the big flakes falling. It was time for Steve’s industrious neighbor to get his snow blower out again – and time for Brad and me to get out of town while we still could.

Getting back to the relative warmth of a February night in Los Angeles, I hurried to the Terminal 4 parking garage and found that my car battery was dead. As I waited for AAA to arrive, I was comforted by the thought that at least I wasn’t waiting while stuck in a three-foot drift on a slushy road in Chicago. And that I didn’t end up like one of those unfortunates snowbound on Lake Shore Drive.

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2010: The First Year In Review

This snapshot by Rob Mendel (above) appears to have been taken at The John Lennon Auditorium at 703 Howard Street in Evanston, Illinois on what looks to be New Year’s Day 1982.  (Note my Beggars’ Holiday hair and beard.) My 18-month old daughter Maura appears to be grasping a champagne bottle in her right hand, the stage looks as though it’s set up for a Rockme gig, and the numerous empty beverage containers and crumpled gift-wrapping all suggest a big holiday party the night before. (Maura certainly didn’t close the party, so this must be the day after.) Of course, I’m on clean-up duty. (I trust the amazing Rush Pearson will let us know if my photo analysis is correct.)

30 years after this picture was taken — and just one year ago — I started this blog.

So far, it’s been a fine voyage.

As of this writing, Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted over 22,250 views. I’ve made 73 posts and readers have contributed 565 comments. That’s a pretty healthy start — and I’m grateful for everyone’s interest, enthusiasm, and participation in this admittedly idiosyncratic forum.

This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little...

I’m especially gratified by the 63 subscribers who have signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And when Mark Lancaster gets his e-mail address straightened out, we’ll be back to 64.) Are you a subscriber? If not — just look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey, then look below the photo and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!” I know most of us just can’t get enough e-mails stuffed into our inboxes, but I promise my posts will be at least marginally more entertaining than the daily onslaught of Viagra ads, MoveOn broadsides, replica watch ads, and assorted unrelenting spam you’re already inundated with.

My posts on this blog largely stuck to the main topics I established at the outset: history, adventure, politics and rock & roll — including a four-part history of The Practical Theatre Company. And to what type of posts were readers of this blog most attracted? What follows is a list of The Top 12 Posts of 2010, listed in order of the most views. Taken as a whole, they represent a sort of oddball Year-in-Review.

THE TOP TEN POSTS OF 2010

Note: Just click on each the title of each post to access the original article.

1. The Saints Come Marching In…

The New Orleans Saints got 2010 off to a great start by winning the Super Bowl. So, why does a man who was born in Cleveland, went to college and met his wife in Chicago, and moved to Los Angeles twenty years ago care if the New Orleans Saints finally won a Super Bowl after decades of epic gridiron failure? Simple: my daddy was New Orleans born and raised. Who dat say what about dem Saints?

2. All About The Rockme Foundation

It’s not possible to write everything about Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation in one article, but I tried my best in this post to tell the basics of the band’s ongoing legend. A spring reunion gig at SPACE in Evanston was the catalyst for telling the story. The band is making plans to play SPACE again this year. Rockme-mania lives.

3. The Practical Theatre Co. Part 1

One of my goals this past year was to tell the story of The Practical Theatre from start to finish. (Is it ever really finished?) This first chapter covered the period from the company’s founding and the establishment of The John Lennon Auditorium  — to just before our 1982 comedy revue, The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee, brought the PTC to SNL.

4. Baseball Season Opens: Of Mud Hens & More…

Readers loved those Mud Hens. What was written as a tribute to The Practical Theatre Company’s contribution to the Chicago Theatre 16-inch Softball League became a post that hundreds of Toledo Mud Hens fans found online, attracted to the info and photos of Toledo Mud Hens history — especially that picture of Jamie Farr. Go figure. Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!

5. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

20 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! It’s true. I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog.

6. The Vic & Paul Show

After more than two decades off the stage, Victoria and I once again wrote and performed in an original musical comedy review, The Vic & Paul Show, in June at PUSH Lounge in Woodland Hills. It was the most fun we’ve had in years. We hope to bring the show to Chicago sometime in 2011. If you’re curious about what the show looked like — there are a series of clips on my YouTube channel. Click here to get there.

7. “I have not yet begun to fight!”

History and politics are two of my greatest passions — and this article combined the two. I’m gratified that so many people have continued to find it and read it since it was first posted on January 20, 2010 at the time of President Obama’s first State of the Union Address.

8. Le Salon de Crawford

I wrote this tribute to the incredible Crawford family early in the year — and I feel as though I must already write another. Ron and Sydney Crawford and their fabulous children are a gift that keeps on giving. I cannot imagine what this blog would have looked like in 2010 without all those wonderful Ron Crawford drawings lifting each post into the realm of true art. We love Ron & Syd. And we can’t say it enough.

9. Will California Buy a Used CEO this Election Year?

In an otherwise bleak mid-term election for progressives, California turned back the conservative tide by rejecting the self-funding, millionaire ex-CEO candidates, Meg Whitman for Governor and Carly Fiorina for Senator. Instead, liberal Democrat Barbara Boxer was returned to the U.S. Senate — and former “Governor Moonbeam” Jerry Brown was sent back to the California governor’s mansion (where he refused to live back in the 70’s). Maybe Jerry will pass on the mansion again. But thank goodness California passed on Meg and Carly.

10. The Practical Theatre Co. Part 3

This installment of my Practical Theatre history covered the insanely creative and productive period from the aftermath of the PTC’s headline-making success in 1982-83 to the closing of The John Lennon Auditorium in 1985. Looking back, it’s hard to believe a bunch of inexperienced, counterculturally-inclined twenty-somethings accomplished so much in so little time. That Practical spirit lives on today — and I hope this blog has helped in some small way to keep it alive.

11. The Matey’s Log: Sailing Season Begins

This blog has a nautical theme for one reason: Captain George Moll, who invited me to sail with him some years back, and instilled in me a love of the sea that had first been aroused by my reading of the entire Patrick O’Brian canon. I am grateful to Captain George for allowing me to serve as a crewman aboard his fleet of racing sailboats — and my accounts of several of our races proved to me among the most popular series of posts on the blog this year. And did I mention we won this year’s TGIS Series Championship? Hats off to Captain George!

12. A New Day of Glory for the Great (you heard me right) Cleveland Browns!

Great football teams bookend this list. When my beloved Cleveland Browns upset the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the early part of the 2010 NFL season, I was moved to write this remembrance of the Browns’ glorious past. Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar are just a handful of the memorable stars that made history with the Cleveland Browns. Now, it’s up to Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis to write the next glorious chapter.

So, that’s the best of 2010. Stay tuned. Subscribe. Post those replies!

Here’s to another fine voyage in 2011!

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Practical Theatre: The Last Laugh

I’ve finally wrapped up my four-part personal history of The Practical Theatre Co. To read the final chapter of the Practical Theatre story click here — or click on the graphic above. You can also find a link to all four chapters under “Landmarks” on the right hand side of the home page.

It only took me two decades to finish this project — so please enjoy!

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Mr. Crawford Goes to Washington

Our favorite artist, the brilliant Ron Crawford, went to the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” in Washington DC this past Saturday, November 30th and captured his impression of the crowd of over over two hundred thousand folks. (Which dwarfed the crowd at Glenn Beck’s rally.)

If you look closely, I think Ron has actually drawn every one of the quarter of a million progressive sanity enthusiasts at the rally, hosted by The Daily Show host John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (yet another funny Northwestern University alumnus.)

Click on Ron’s drawing to enlarge it. You don’t want to miss all those Rondraw details!

And because Ron couldn’t draw ALL the inspired signs, placards and banners he saw, Gardner Loulan sent me this link to the 100 Best Rally for Sanity Signs.

Enjoy, folks! And don’t forget to vote tomorrow. Early and often.

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More Thrills & Glory…

THRILLS & GLORY: THE BRIEF, BLESSED HISTORY OF THE PRACTICAL THEATRE CO.

Part Three: A Tale of Two Spaces

To read the latest chapter in my personal history of The Practical Theatre Company, click here.

After you’ve read our ancient history, you can check out video clips of far more recent PTC-style comedy if you click here.

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Rockme Music Goes Online!

Make the kids jump at CD Baby!

Just in time to fill those 2010 Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza) stockings — the newest Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation tunes — and a collection of all-time Rockme classics — are now available online at CD Baby:

Click here to be a part of Digital Rockme-mania…

http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/RiffmastertheRockmeFoundation

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The Practical Theatre Co. Part Two

THRILLS & GLORY: THE BRIEF, BLESSED HISTORY OF THE PRACTICAL THEATRE CO.

Part Two: Saturday Night Live Comes to Piper’s Alley

When my wife Victoria and I take the stage on June 10th at PUSH Lounge in Woodland Hills for our first preview performance of “The Vic & Paul Show” — it will have been 28 years since the improvisational comedy of The Practical Theatre Company made national headlines in 1982. As Victoria and I get back to doing what we love most, it’s a good time to look back on the heady days when all we wanted to do was make people laugh – and the pursuit of that simple goal changed all our lives.

Bolstered by grants from the Illinois and Evanston Arts Councils, 1982 was going to be a good year for The Practical Theatre Company. As fate would have it, ‘82 would prove to be an epic year. As the cast of the PTC’s new improvisational comedy revue, The Brothers Bubba, assembled for rehearsals at the John Lennon Auditorium in February of that year, the weather was freezing outside, the mood was warm and upbeat inside – and nobody had a clue what was coming.

The biggest problem that Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger, Rush Pearson, Jane Muller and I faced at that time was an inability to find lederhosen – which we thought would be the perfect apparel for our publicity photos. But despite our plaintive calls, not even the German and Swiss consulates in Chicago were any help in our quest to dress like the Von Trapp Family. Alas, there was no Internet or E-bay back then. Your fingers had to do a lot of exhausting non-digital walking.

Looking back on those momentous days of ‘82, each month seemed like a long, long time. It’s strange how four months can pass nowadays without anything of real significance happening — but the four-month period from the opening of The Brothers Bubba on April 1, 1982 through the opening weeks of The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee in late July and early August — were week-by-week, and month-by-month, a brief but revolutionary time. Art was made. People laughed. Lives were changed. And it was good.

Anyone studying business management learns that dealing with sudden success is one of the biggest challenges for a young company — and nobody involved with The Practical Theatre Company went anywhere near a business school. We didn’t know that managing the rate of your small company’s growth was critical, and that coping with good fortune is as problematic as struggling against bad luck. We were young and funny and idealistic – and we had a lot to learn. 1982 would prove the start of an education in The Business of Entertainment 101.

On April Fools Day 1982, The Brothers Bubba opened at the John Lennon Auditorium and ran for six weeks, breaking all PTC attendance records. 1,314 adventurous, comedy-loving souls crammed into our Howard Street shoebox, and we pulled in $5,743. The reviews were good, too. Less than two years out of college, playing to those sold-out houses in our own tiny storefront theatre felt like victory. We were as successful as we could have imagined. And it was just the beginning.

Sheldon, Alan Arkin, Dick Christiansen (Tribune), and Bernie Sahlins.

With The Brothers Bubba a hit, our comedy guru, Sheldon Patinkin, hipped his old friend, Second City founder Bernard Sahlins, to what was happening on Howard Street. Within weeks, we were in talks with Bernie to open a new cabaret in Piper’s Alley behind Second City in the space formerly occupied by the Paul Sills Story Theatre.

Paul Sills was a legendary figure in the history of improvisational theatre: a Compass Players founder and son of Viola Spolin, the woman who authored the seminal book, Improvisation for the Theater. In 1959, Paul Sills and Bernie Sahlins opened The Second City. We were thrilled and dazzled to be even tangentially connected to figures associated with such rich and fundamental modern comedy history.

We reached an agreement with Bernie Sahlins to turn the old Paul Sills Story Theatre into a cabaret space for PTC comedy revues, served by The Second City’s bar. John Lennon Auditorium architect, Louis DiCrescenzo, designed a wonderful 150-seat theatre – and the PTC’s Piper’s Alley Theatre at North and Wells was ready to open in the summer of 1982. We planned to open this new cabaret with our latest improvisational comedy revue, The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubliee — a collection of our best sketches and songs performed by Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and this author.

Meanwhile, we had a season underway at the John Lennon Auditorium on Howard Street – and while the Piper’s Alley Theatre was being built – my original play, Song of the Snells (a swashbuckling Shakespearean parody, written in faux iambic pentameter), opened on May 20, 1982 and played for five weeks on Howard Street.

Song of the Snells was nominated for several Joseph Jefferson Awards, but that success was just an inkling of the PTC’s critical and popular breakthrough to come.

A breakthrough that would be national in scope.

On July 28, 1982, The Practical Theatre Company opened The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee at the brand new Piper’s Alley Theatre behind Second City. A collection of the our greatest hits and some new material, The Golden Jubilee was directed by Sheldon Patinkin, and earned rave reviews. The Chicago Reader proclaimed, “Practical Makes Perfect.”

It would have run for a lot more than 6 weeks at Piper’s Alley if it weren’t for the intervention of the great Tim Kazurinsky, a Second City veteran and Saturday Night Live cast member.

I have no idea how it came to pass – maybe Sheldon Patinkin was involved — but I do know that Tim Kazurinsky came to Piper’s Alley and saw The Golden Jubilee. Tim must have liked what he saw, and he must have talked to his producers at Saturday Night Live, Dick Ebersol and Bob Tischler.

Within a month after we opened, both Ebersol and Tischler came to Chicago to see our show. They came, they saw, and they immediately hired all four of us to write and perform for NBC’S late night comedy institution. Lightning struck. We had been “discovered”.

It was a crazy summer after that. Brad and I tried to manage our looming transition to New York and SNL even as the PTC’s second season on Howard Street moved forward. Two days after The Golden Jubilee opened at Piper’s Alley, we opened another improv comedy revue, No Restroom for the Wicked, at the JLA on Howard Street. No Restroom ran for three weeks, starring John Goodrich, Rod MacLachlan, Ross Salinger, Rob Chaskin, and Catherine Martineau.

A month later, in late August, I can remember painting the set for our Howard Street production of Bertolt Brecht’s In the Jungle of Cities in between interviews with The Associated Press and The Illinois Entertainer about our SNL hiring.

In the Jungle of Cities (starring Herb Metzler and Bill Dick) opened on August 27. By then, our Piper’s Alley Theatre was dark and the cast of The Golden Jubilee was in New York preparing for our SNL debut.

From a personal standpoint, my experience at SNL was, like “A Tale of Two Cities”, the best and worst of times. It was an undeniable honor to be elevated as a writer for the foremost comedy show of the era. But it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

To put our Saturday Night Live experience — and the pressure we felt — in perspective, it’s important to know that when we came to SNL, it had only been on the air for seven years. We arrived at 30 Rock  just three years after John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd left the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.

For four young comedians from Northwestern University who had enjoyed absolute autonomy onstage at the PTC — and who were used to the generous, supportive, and beneficent guidance of Sheldon Patinkin – the constraints of the big time TV process at SNL were not easy to deal with.

I was particularly ambivalent about my role at SNL.

For one thing, unlike Brad, Julia and Gary, I was hired as a writer, not as a performer. The SNL executives said I’d get a chance to perform. But despite the fact that Tim Kazurinsky and other writers — especially my Golden Jubilee cast mates —  wrote roles for me in sketches week after week and month after month, I only played some minor roles. I was honored to perform in a sketch with one of my all-time comedy heroes, Sid Caesar, and as a writer, I got a lot of sketches on the air — including one with another pair of comic heroes, The Smothers Brothers. But I was an unhappy young man during most of my stint at Saturday Night Live.

During most breaks in our SNL schedule, Brad and I were back on Howard Street, helping to keep the PTC’s 1982 season alive and thriving. On October 21, we opened a full length Attack Theatre production entitled, Kablooey: a satirical look at the nuclear arms race, directed by Terry McCabe. (Remember, Ronald Reagan was in the White House.) And on November 26, the PTC’s first all-female improvisational comedy revue took the JLA stage.

A Cast of Squirrels Before Swine was the first mainstage  show by The Practical Women, founded a year earlier by PTC co-founder, Angela Murphy. Squirrels Before Swine featured Angela, Isabella Hoffman, Lynn Baber, Sandy Snyder and Eileen Getz — and it’s 13-week run was the PTC’s longest to date.

On New Years weekend, as 1982 became 1983, Brad, Julia, Gary and I brought The Golden Jubilee back to Piper’s Alley for a triumphant, sold-out weekend of shows. We also taped an Emmy-winning TV version of the show for Chicago’s PBS station, WTTW. Rush Pearson joined us in the cast of The Practical Theatre Company Meets Godzilla. Rush, of course, played Godzilla.

While all this was going on, plans for our next PTC comedy revue at Piper’s Alley ran into a power struggle for control of the cabaret space we’d established in partnership with Bernie Sahlins. Now that we’d put it on the map with the success of The Golden 50th Jubilee and our stunning ascension to SNL, our Piper’s Alley theatre was coveted by Second City’s improvisational comedy classes and touring companies. But despite the contention of Second City’s brass that the PTC could not survive without the four cast members that went to SNL, we put together a great cast for our next Piper’s Alley revue, and Brad and I shuttled back and forth between NYC and Chicago to provide direction. It was well worth our effort.

Megafun opened at Piper’s Alley on March 24, 1983 to universally great reviews and became the PTC’s longest-running, most successful show to date — running for 19 weeks and earning more than $65,000 at the box office.  Among the cast were Jeff Lupetin, Lynn Anderson, Tom Virtue, Richard Kind and Victoria Zielinski – a lovely and gifted comedienne who would loom large in my professional and personal future.

Megafun was an even bigger hit than The Golden 50th Jubilee, which hadn’t really had a chance to run, caught short when SNL swooped in and carried us all off. To have followed up our breakthrough national success with another big critical and popular hit firmly established The Practical Theatre Company. And for that brief moment in time, The PTC was arguably the preeminent comedy company in Chicago and the nation — momentarily eclipsing the legendary Second City. It was our high-water mark. But we were artists and comedians, not businessmen. Megafun consolidated a comedy beachhead we could not hold for long.

Victoria (bottom center) and the cast of Megafun, including Richard Kind (left), Jane Muller, Tom Virtue, Lynn Andersen, Jeff Lupetin and Jamie Baron.

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Rockmes @ SPACE: Making the Kids Jump!

(Photos by Paul Barrosse, Suzy Crawford, Ronny Crawford, Richard Henzel, Mark Wohlgenant and Tom Kalicky)

From the band’s inception, the motto of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation has been “Make the kids jump!” We put that slogan on posters, t-shirts, record covers, and even on our own custom-painted Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars back in the day. But on Monday night, May 17th at SPACE in Evanston, Illinois, “Make the kids jump” became more than a motto: it became a reality for a whole new generation of young rock & roll lovers. To see so many teenagers and young adults dancing so fervently that night in a garage music mosh pit was a vital, unexpected shot of Rockme renewal.

But I’m getting ahead of the story…

As I reported earlier, the far flung members of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation gathered in Evanston on Saturday, May 15 to rehearse for our gig at SPACE (the Society for Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) that Monday night. Our sax man, Thomas “The Iberian Wolf” Larson, who recently moved with his family to Madrid, traveled the farthest. Our keyboard whiz, Steve “The Decider” Rashid, who lives in Evanston, didn’t have to go anywhere at all. In fact, we were invading his studio, Woodside Avenue Music, for our rehearsal. Lucky Steve.

Bassist Rush Pearson came to the rehearsal equipped with set lists and color-coded index cards for each song we were thinking about playing. We gave Rush a lot of grief for his color code – guys in bands love busting each other’s balls – but everyone was secretly glad that someone was paying attention to the details. And, boy, was Rush on top of the details. He took the organizational bullet for all of us – and managed to survive. And thanks largely to Rusty and his index cards, we managed to arrive at just about the perfect number of songs for our two sets at SPACE. (Sorry, Emilia, but we couldn’t squeeze in “I Forgot”.)

After our long day of rehearsal at Woodside Studios, the band was invited to a party at the Evanston home of our Northwestern classmate, Katie Tabor and her husband Sam Fishkin, who’s also an NU alum.

One highlight of the Tabor party was a screening of “Max & Helena” a beautifully shot short film starring one of the band’s best buddies (and yes, another NU classmate) “Fat Dave” Silberger. The other highlight of the evening was meeting so many children of our Northwestern pals. At our age, many of our kids are well into their teens and, in some cases, they’re college age. They’ve grown into real people. Interesting people. It was a pleasure to see so many of them gathered in one happy place, enjoying each others’ company and making it seem as though they thought their parents’ old Rockme pals were interesting, too. (Little did we realize we’d just met the core of our Monday night mosh pit.)

On Sunday morning, the singers in the band met for a vocal rehearsal at Steve’s house. With Brad Hall strumming an acoustic guitar, Steve, Casey “Casemo” Fox, Brad and I worked through vocal arrangements for such Rockme classic as “I Fall in Love Everyday”, “Surf”, “I Wanna Be There”, and new Woodshed @ Woodside CD tunes like “Hitchin’ A Ride” and “Steve”. This sweet sounding, harmony-laden, easy-on-the-ears musical interlude inspired the idea that our next reunion should be “Rockme Unplugged”. With Riffmaster playing lead on a ukulele. (Just kidding. About Riff and the ukulele. We’re serious about the “Unplugged” idea.)

After vocal rehearsal, we took a trip to the Ukranian Village neighborhood on the west side of Chicago to meet he rest of the band at a rehearsal studio called Fabsound, owned and operated by an Eastern European native named Fabien. Fabien’s spare, cramped studio, built in the basement of his turn-of-the century house, reminded me of the basement room that the Romanovs were ushered into by the Bolsheviks. And a glance at how close I would be to Riffmaster’s amplifier in this confined space triggered fear that I was doomed as well. But, despite the fact that we left with our ears ringing, Fabsound turned out to be a fab place for us to focus on nailing our two sets down.

The band in the alley outside Fabsound after rehearsal.

Fabien and "Bubba" George McClellan snap the band in the alley.

Beefma & Wolf: The Tom Tom Horns

On the day of the gig, the vocalists met at Woodside Studios for a quick harmony brush-up before the whole band came together to rehearse a few songs with Tom “Beefma” Kalicky”, my old high school pal and bandmate, and a member of The Rockme Foundation back when the band was young.

We hadn’t played with Tom for years, but his familiar baritone saxophone was soon adding the big bottom to “Young Boys & Girls”, “Surf” and “Louie Louie” — just as it did in the days when all of us but the Riffmaster had a full head of hair.

Arriving at SPACE for our sound check we were greeted by our friend, fellow musician, bon vivant and impresario, Stuart Rosenberg, one of the SPACE partners. Stuart showed us around his magnificent facility, but there was little time to absorb it all. Melissa Etheridge had just performed a WXRT radio sponsored event in the room that afternoon, and we would have scant time for a sound check. We were soon on the stage, knocking out several tunes for the engineers at the soundboard before the doors opened at 7:30 for our 8:00 show.

That's my daughter Emilia on keys (at left).

At 8:00, the room was already getting packed when I got onstage to introduce our opening act – MORI and the Moonwalkers. It was a particularly moving moment for me because the keyboard player in the band is my own daughter, Emilia Barrosse – and, like Emilia, the entire band is made up of Northwestern students. As Mori Einsidler led her group through their tuneful, rocking 3-song set, it was a moment for Rockmes (and many Rockme fans) to reflect on our own roots as classmates and friends at Northwestern, and to appreciate how the next generation is carrying the music forward. The kids are still driven to pick up guitars and play – nearly 6 decades after Elvis electrified American youth, and 46 years after The Beatles came to our shores to shake up “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the nation’s entire social order in the process.

After “Bubba” George McClellan’s elaborate and inspired Dragnet-Peter Gunn influenced introduction, the Rockmes took the stage – and the rock and roll party was on! SPACE was jammed with hundreds of rocking revelers on a Monday night. It would be impossible to list all the great friends who came out to share the evening with us. The only frustration that night was not having the time to personally let each of them know much we appreciated that they came, they saw, they rocked. And paid the cover. In fact, it went so well at the box office that SPACE invited us back to play again next year.

Suzanne Plunkett and Bea Rashid on the dance floor. (Note the guy with the earplugs at left.)

Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner. (The main reason for that guy's earplugs.)

The best thing about our wonderful crowd was that they DANCED. There’s nothing that drives a rock and roll band to perform at its best than a happening dance floor – and SPACE was not so much a concert venue that night but a crowded, crazy, sock-hopping dance hall. And there were a lot of young people, high school and college students, filling out that dance floor.

The next generation was also at work off the dance floor. Our Rockme logistical coordinator, great friend, and, of course, fellow NU alum, Terry Barron, brought his teenage son, Taidgh, with him from New York to share the adventure. But enterprising young Taidgh was not content to just listen to the music – he sold the music: moving a remarkable number of “Rockme All Stars” and “Woodshed @ Woodside” CDs. Taidgh was recently named the Rockme Retail Merchandising Coordinator. I tell ya, that kid is going places!

Back on the dance floor, the greatest moment for me, and for entire band, came late in the second set – when we realized that the large group of young people that commanded the first few rows on the floor were getting more and more into it with each song, passionately singing along with me every time I jumped off the stage and offered them the microphone. The kids sang just about as much of “I Saw Her Standing There” as I did.

Then, at one incandescent moment, the kids all started jumping up and down in a simple but dynamic dance that we who remember the late 70’s punk rock scene would call “pogo-ing”. The kids were, quite literally, jumping! Eureka! We had made the kids jump – and thus honored our motto.

There could not have been a better way to end a memorable weekend of friendship, nostalgia, family, and rock and roll renewal.

See you all back at SPACE next year.

Mark Wohlgenant's Rockme SPACE collage.

And stay tuned for more news about “Rockme Unplugged” and our grand plans for the “Rockme Iberian Tour.” How do you say, Make the kids jump” in Spanish?

A shot from Richard Henzel's perspective.

The Tom Tom Horns. Gotta love Beefma's pink Stetson.

Rockin' Ronny Crawford: the beating heart of the Rockme Foundation.

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