Stories told in June, 2011

City Hall

This story takes place in 1963. It was told on June 20th, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

My first tangle with City Hall took place after the Beatles concert. I got a call from Col. Jack Reilly, who was Daley’s special events director, jack of all trades, the guy who made the river turn green on St. Patrick’s day. For the City Hall milieu, he was very sophisticated. He was married to a ballet dancer. The “Colonel” part was for real, I understood; he may have served with the CIA. He was a very smart hatchet man. He called and wanted to have lunch with me, and he showed me this leaflet that the city had put out. It practically directed City Hall employees to go out to Arlington Racetrack. And since Arlington Racetrack was outside the city, there was very little justification why the city’s ofhce of special events should be instructing city employees to go out to Arlington.

Marge Evert had somehow gotten control of the track from her brothers and sisters. She was the adopted daughter of Ben Lindheimer, who had founded Washington and Arlington racetracks and was the committeeman in the 5th ward. I already knew something of her reputation: she was considered a piranha. I also knew she was represented by the mayor‘s law firm. I went out there and had lunch with her, and she was at her charming best, which was not saying much. Between the time we left for lunch at the hotel (which the track owned at the time) and arrived, she fired one elevator operator, a young girl. I remember the lunch because she inquired about my wife and children, and insisted on ordering four pastries from her bakery for my three kids and my wife.

But she was trying to ingratiate herself with me, and suggesting that Arlington Park would be a great venue. And to the extent that any racetrack could be a good place for concerts, Arlington Park was. It was located in the suburbs. Certainly for square, middle of the road acts it would have been perfect. The problem was, a racetrack is a racetrack and you can’t make it into an outdoor concert hall overnight. But I thought it was worth a shot.
I talked to Herb Alpert’s people and they agreed to do it. And we set up the stage on the track and we were in business.

It never got better. We made a deal and I kept writing her confirming the deal, because I had some idea of who I was dealing with. I had lunch with her a second time to confirm things and this time I only got one sweet roll for Francoise. That should have let me know what was coming.

About five days before the event I got a contract that directly contradicted everything we’d talked about, and contradicted my letters. I called her lawyer up and he in essence said, there’s nothing I can do, sue if you want… sue the City of Chicago, that is. So we just went ahead with it. I remember we did $72,000. Alpert did fine. I lost $3000, which to me was like making $50, because it could have been much worse. I figured it was just a lesson to get the hell out.

Pete breaks out

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on June 12th, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Not satisfied with losing my shirt on the Oranim Zabar dance group, I somehow got in touch with Pete Seeger’s manager. Pete was essentially an underground act by now. I told him I had put together enough money to reserve a weekend at Orchestra Hall, and would be Pete take a chance on playing. To my surprise, almost 7,500 people came out to see him in three nights. Here’s what Pete Seeger had to say when I asked him what it was like when he noticed things were starting to open up.

“Well, it happened slowly. It didn‘t happen overnight. I could see it slowly building. I would say that after the Korean War ended, every week things were just slightly better. The further the Korean War faded into the past, the less the red scare had people running.

“I’d done the preparatory work. I had sung at chiidren’s camps, and then I’d sung at private schools, and now I was going to colleges, as these kids from the summer camps and the private schools were getting me to sing at their colleges. At Oberlin in 53 I sang for about a hundred and fifty or two hundred people. In 54 I sang for seven or eight hundred people. In 55 I sang in their biggest auditorium, for about twelve hundred people. And by the end of the fifties I was even singing in the state colleges. lt’s the old case of finding a wedge, you know, and enlarging it. And finally I could sing in an auditorium like Orchestra Hall in Chicago, and these kids had graduated, and they brought their friends. And one thing led to another, and next thing you know we had a thing called the folk boom.

“I feIt good, needless to say, because I feIt like I was making at least halfway good music, even though I‘ve been aware that I never had much of a voice, but I could get a crowd singing along, which has been fundamental to what l‘ve been trying to do all my life. Because I’m very much my father‘s child. My father said, “Music listened to is not as important as music made.“ Some of the people that came to Orchestra Hall had been lefties at some time and now would be called left-liberals; I would call them potential democrats for a future society, people who could see the way the present system was not working. They were trying to see if there was some hope in a rather bad situation. Personally, they were not hungry; personally they were most of them well-housed, well-clothed, as well as well-fed, but they could see the world was in a bad way: the threat of the atom bomb, the threat of the Cold War, and the poverty of the Third World. And they could walk down the street in New York and see the inequalities in this country as well. And while I wasn’t offering any short-term solutions, I was pointing — I was saying, “The solution is somewhere in this direction, not in fascism.” Now, I was probably not as explicit as many people wish I had been, in one way or another, but I think that was purposeful. ln fact, I‘ve often laughed about this: almost all great songs are triumphs of oversimplification.”

On my own

This story takes place in 1958. It was told on June 1st, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Albert Grossman and I drifted apart after about a year. Albert knew, although he never asked about it, that the Gateway Singers wanted nothing to do with him, and he knew I would give up my relationship with him to manage the Gateway Singers if I had to make a choice. Al, not one to force a decison or provoke a confrontation, never brought it to a head. When he became more successful he had other people to do that sort of thing for him, but with me he just let things slide until the relationship more or less faded away.

When Albert decided to move to New York to embark on his meteoric career, he casually asked me if I wanted to come along. I thought about it. I said no. I wanted to create my own little world for myself, and I was aware that I could only do that if I stayed in Chicago. I think I understood at some level, even if I hadn’t really thought it out, that I could get away with what I was doing — being the insider who was really on the outside, or vice versa — only as long as I could completely control my own circumstances. I also didn‘t want to be involved with Albert any more. I was well aware of his talent for developing performers and his uncanny ability to pick out trends in American society. But he was not the kind of person I wanted to partner with.