1958 - REHEARSAL AT TANGLEWOOD.
I hear classical music at Tanglewood. I thoroughly enjoy being out on the lawn with my mother and one of her actor friends with a picnic. Yet it is the rehearsal early in the morning that stays in my mind. I love watching the conductor go over and over a line of music until he gets it right and then move on until he hits another rough spot. Since I knew the Brahms symphony he was rehearsing, I could understand what he was trying to achieve. There is something about watching a great artist, (Pierre Monteux I think), polish his craft.1958 - 1975 MY MOTHER LIVES IN NEW YORK CITY
My mother leaves Sharon, Connecticut where we had lived for ten years and moves to the city, three hours away. I never feel at home in New York, but I learn to accept it for what it has to offer. Over the years I see dozens of Broadway plays including the original productions of: Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, West Side Story, Night of the Iguana, Raisin in the Sun, After the Fall and revivals of Hedda Gabler and Strange Interlude. Naturally I go to many museums and see numerous films.1958-1962 - BEING EXILED TO PHILLIPS EXETER ACADEMY, EXETER, NH FOR FOUR YEARS.
While others may consider attending this prep school a great privilege, I feel that I am sentenced to a golden prison for four years. As my father's alma mater, I feel obligated to stay. It's workaholic ethic (about 60 hours of academic work a week plus sports and other obligations) and it's oppressive all-male claustrophobic atmosphere (radios, going off campus, watching a movie in the town theater are all strictly forbidden) is my idea of hell. In addition it is bitterly cold; I walk 2 miles to sports in sub-zero temperatures, take a hot shower after swimming, then walk back 2 miles to my evening class.See my notes on the different kinds of intelligence:
My particular brand of creative intuitive intelligence does not fit well with this overly left-brained institution. most of the time, I am an outsider who does not fit with the various cliques. Yet I always have a close friend or two who helps me along. Several of my good friends are expelled and one goes insane. (However, surviving this place did give me a lot of confidence. If I could get through this place, what couldn't I do? As a result I found that I have the self-discipline to do whatever I put my mind to.)
1958-1961 - SIBELIUS.
Instead of doing my homework at Phillips Exeter Academy, I listen to the work of Finnish composer, Sibelius. His music speaks to me in this physically and emotionally cold environment. It somehow gives me the strength and courage to persevere even though many of my smarter friends drop out. Understanding the cycle of Sibelius's seven symphonies becomes pivotal because he is the first artist whose work I understand as a whole.
1959 - SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS.
This terribly violent and dark drama is like a breath of warm southern fresh air to my northern psyche. It is as though people are suddenly discussing what everyone has been afraid to talk about. Sexual, passionate, concerned with large cosmic questions, it seems like a dream. (I will never forget Katherine Hepburn's speeches or the wonderful southern garden. I have always loved this play which has been largely ignored in the US. I recently found that it has been highly regarded in Europe.)1960-1970 THE SIXTIES
This decade really was like no other in recent memory. The music that started in the fifties gained full steam and became a sophisticated means of artistic expression. I listened to The Beatles, The Doors, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Bobby Dylan, James Brown - it seemed like it would never stop. And there really was a sense of camaraderie which ended when this era ended.1960 - MY FATHER REMARRIES.
My father remarries and I am very happy for him. Unfortunately the curse of dysfunctionality continues to follow me, because a few years later I realize that my step-mother is an alcoholic and was from the start.1960-1962 - WATCHING INGMAR BERGMAN MOVIES IN BOSTON IN BETWEEN TRAINS.
During the brief period between leaving boarding school and arriving at one of my parents homes, I take a few hours and see a movie (a treat because the school does not let us go to the local movie theater). I am taken with Bergman at the time and manage to see a number of his films as they came out.1960 - READING ON THE ROAD BY JACK KEROUAC.
This is the only book I read that makes me want to get up and move. It gives me itchy feet. After I graduate from Phillips Exeter in 1962, I start hitchhiking, since I do not have a car. Over the next several years I hitchhike from Cape Cod to Boston and environs dozens times, I thumb my way out of downtown Manhattan to Cape Cod (which is very hard to do), I hitchhike in France, Italy, England and Spain. And I even get one ride straight from Boston to the door of a friends house in Chapel Hill, NC. The driver is a Vietnam vet who has just gotten back to the states and is glad to be alive. He picks up anyone who is thumbing a ride. For the next 24 hours his station wagon fills and empties with odd characters. (This ride was epic and I have tried to write about it.)
1961 - AN APARTMENT FOR THE SUMMER IN NEW YORK.
I think that I can find work in the summer in NY. I look for an apartment and find one for $40 near Greenwich Village. The rent is so cheap I can live off the money I had planned spending on rent, which is just as well because I cannot find a job. I watch Naked City on TV and become addicted to its gritty manner. Then I hang out every night in a small cafe in Greenwich Village. I take a book with me and watch people play Go, an eastern board game. After a while I start to make friends. It seems that if I have the patience and simply hang out for a while, I can meet people. This lesson becomes very valuable later in my life.1961 - SENIOR YEAR AT EXETER.
I do have one good year at Exeter. This year is almost the opposite of the others. I am suddenly accepted by a group of people who respect my unique intelligence. Most of them are on their way to Harvard. During this year I study Friedrich Nietzsche who becomes pivotal to my thinking and gives me the courage to follow my own path. I start listening to Beethoven systematically, tackling his sonatas, piano concertos, and string quartets. (I already know his symphonies.) This task occupies me for the next five years. I also read Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. When I graduate I win the first prize for religious studies. To top it all off I have a wonderful girl friend who attends a prep-school close-by. I know the ropes by then so I know how to get the necessary permission to leave Exeter and visit her as often as possible.1962 - RAY CHARLES SINGS ON A COLD WINTER NIGHT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE.
This is one of those experiences that is hard to explain. On a freezing cold night with the wind blowing and the sidewalks covered in slippery ice, a friend and I flee for a hour to a restaurant in the town of Exeter. Walking into the restaurant is like escape and warmth and friendship all rolled into one. Someone plays Georgia on my Mind by Ray Charles on the juke box. Although I had heard this song many times before, hearing it this time is like a revelation.1962 - LA DOLCE VITA BY FEDERICO FELLINI.
In a flash I understand completely: it is about the state of Georgia and the love for a southern woman and how the south could become part of your soul and how the south was like woman you could never forget. I was suddenly transported to the "moonlight through the pines" and wanted to be there standing on red clay instead of being in cold barren New Hampshire. I believe that after that moment, I know (perhaps unconsciously) that I will live in the south and that it would be my home. In May of that year I am rejected by my first two choices for college (which were in the North) and instead accepted by the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Since the fall of 1962 when I started college, I have never moved from North Carolina.
From the opening shot of the statue being carried by helicopter, I am captivated. And the message was even better. "The sweet life" is empty if it has no soul. I could not have heard this message at a better time.1962 - THE NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR.
Because my mother lives in NY, I visit her and spend days at the World's Fair. (I am glad I saw it because this was one of the last great world fairs in the US after a hundred year tradition of fairs.) I remember the Kodak exhibit in particular. The building is empty (oddly) and I have the whole place to my self. A multi -media multi-slide show is playing. I watch it several times. (In graduate school about 10 years later, I make my first three screen slide/tape show and after that create almost 20 other such shows.)1962 - ATTENDING UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL.
From the moment I arrive, it feels like I am finally home, even though I had never been to Chapel Hill before and had only traveled through North Carolina on the way north or south. The students are open, accepting and intelligent. I have truly reached the "southern part of heaven." Most semesters I am on the Dean's list.1962 - THE CAROLINA COFFEE SHOP.
I find a 24 hour coffee shop and start hanging out there just as I had in a New York's Greenwich Village a year earlier. I recognize that artists and thinkers congregate here. Because I bide my time, I am able to get a sense of who I will like and who I want to avoid. Within a month I have become friends with several people and these become my core group of friends at UNC - Chapel Hill, people who I am still friends with today.1963 - MALCOLM X.
While it may seem odd that a white guy would want to see Malcolm, I do. While I do not believe in his message of violence, I certainly understand his feelings. He is a brilliant speaker and his presence fills the auditorium.1963 - DR. CHARLES WRIGHT.
A new English professor becomes one of my closest friends. Later he is my creative writing teacher and mentor for my first efforts at poetry (which he does not like, but tolerates). Later he moves away to another University and we loose touch. He dies of cancer in his mid-forties.1963 - WRITING SHORT STORIES IN COLLEGE.
What a difference changes in latitude can make! After enduring Phillips Exeter Academy for four years where I kept writing short stories that everyone seemed to hate, I find myself at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Suddenly I am the star of my class. Virtually everyone loves my stories. Members of the class wait anxiously for my next work. No one is more surprised than I.1963 - THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.
I simply know that segregation is wrong. I do not fault the South because I feel the North is just as segregated without putting segregation into it's laws; in short it is hypocritical. Because of the physical and verbal abuse that I suffered at the hands of my older brother, I am sensitive to the needs of the oppressed. "The Movement" has a lasting effect on my life. As a minority white person within the Movement I am exposed to black culture in large doses. The speeches, the music, the rhythms, the camaraderie effects my art and work ever since.See NOTE 3.
I was only a soldier in the civil rights movement. On the day this photograph was taken, I just happened to be leading the parade. That's me holding the pole on the right side of the banner (count to the 4th head from the right side).
1964 - MY FIRST INTENSE EXPERIENCE OF BEAUTY THAT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY.
See NOTE 4.
For a description that tried to conjure up the feeling,
see my short story at URL: ../writings/loves_2.htm
1964 - BRUCE RENSHAW.
Working in Boston in the summer, I meet Bruce who quickly becomes a close friend. He is going to Harvard to get a degree in mathematics. Later he gets a PhD from MIT. We click artistically and spend numerous hours listening to Ravi Shankar, or playing the juke box at a lunch counter at Harvard Square. He can read music by sight, loves Mozart yet also understands musically how pop music works. He does not see any difference between Mo Town pop hits and Mozart. Once we play a game in which we drive down a road flipping coins at each intersection; left is tails, right is heads. We go wherever the coins take us. (I have had many dreams about this night. Tragically Bruce's family has a history of mental illness. In 1975 he committed suicide.)1964 - STRANGE INTERLUDE BY O'NEILL.
At a theater revival I see a production of O'Neill's Strange Interlude which goes on for hours. While not as passionate as Tennessee Williams, his words have a poetry and rhythm that draws me into the language.1964 - REHEARSAL OF A DELICATE BALANCE BY ALBEE
My friend Doc (see 1954 actors) directs the production of A Delicate Balance by Albee at the Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, Connecticut. Again (like the rehearsal at Tanglewood in 1958), I see him work though and polish 20 minutes of the play during a period of three hours. I love seeing this process and imagine creating a play within a play that uses this.1965 - THE PIVOTAL YEAR FOR ME ARTISTICALLY.
Because I had been so over prepared at Phillips Exeter Academy, I have almost two full semesters of credits that carry over to college. I take the spring semester off in 1965 and stay at my father's empty home in Cape Cod (the house I had lived in as a child in the summer). I am determined to make some headway in my artistic quest.See my notes about the importance of experience:
During my three months stay at the house, I write six short stories and a short novel (all terrible but what the hell you have to start somewhere). I also spend one of the months completely alone somewhat like Thoreau. I even have a pond to look at and I fly kites in the afternoons on the beach. (I'm glad I took this opportunity to be alone because it never happens again in my life.)
I also make ten mobiles from balsa wood and tissue paper. I create the mobiles because I want to do something different, something that is not writing which I assume is my major art form, something that uses a different part of my brain. I consciously search my memory for creative experiences that I had enjoyed as a child. I realize that I loved to work with my hands and make models, especially the projects I had made for my history class. Since I liked Alexander Calder's work and had looked at my mother's mobile for years, I decided to try my hand at mobiles. After several attempts I made one that turns constantly, even in still air. I also begin to keep a notebook and have kept one ever since. (I attribute much of my progress as an artist to my constant note taking.) After these three months, I do not know if I will be any good as an artist, but I am committed to creating art.
As a kind of finale to my artistic efforts during these months, I hang all the mobiles in my childhood room, the room with dark blue wall paper and stars on the wall and slanted ceiling. The look of the turning mobiles, some with candles, is spectacular in that room. It is a turning point; a completion. A time to celebrate. (Not one of my mobiles has survived. Yet my memory of them is still quite clear.)
( As a result of these three months I somehow knew that I would need to try many forms, experiment, and expose myself to numerous artists before I could find my true voice. I realized that it might take years before it all jelled, which was what happened All the pieces did come together until I was in my late forties.)
1965 - THE OBLIGATORY TRIP TO EUROPE.
My father had promised to take me to Europe for years. He had been a prisoner of war in World War One and as a result had gotten to know a number of fellow prisoners who were French. He felt almost as comfortable in France as the US. Yet we never made the trip. In 1965 I decide that I am going to go, come hell or high water. I buy the book, Europe on $5 a Day. Somehow I put just enough money together, get on a boat (which is as cheap as a plane then), and arrive in Paris knowing virtually no one! I suffer severe culture shock the first day and am scared to go out of my hotel room. Yet the next day I get my bearings and by accident happen to find a friend from college living in Paris. He and I became close friends as a result.
1965 - PARIS.
What a beautiful city. And I loved the people and the culture. Some highlights: seeing The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky at the Paris Opera, eating onion soup at 5 AM at Les Halles (the central market), "people watching" for hours at virtually any cafe in the afternoon, making the rounds to shop for food at the various stores in our quartier, Brancusi's studio, the stain glass window at Chartres, the Impressionist paintings at the Jeu de Pomme and the gardens, the Miro mural a the UNESCO building, the Noguchi garden at the UNESCO building (a major influence).1965 - MAJORCA, SPAIN.
After six weeks in Paris I go with new friends to stay in Deja, Majorca a small island town. This artistic town attracts a lot of people because Robert Graves (who wrote I, Claudius and is the world expert on Greek and Roman mythology) lives there. No one ever sees him and he lives apart from the village, but that is why everyone is there. Somehow, I have the good fortune to actually meet him. This chance meeting has a lasting effect because I have touched the hand of the master, so to speak. As a result I find myself reading Grave's definitive book on Greek and Roman mythology as well as his book on the Hebrew myths and thinking about the Greek view of the world.1965 - HITCHHIKING IN EUROPE.
One event in particular stands out. I have dinner with a number of my new friends, on a tiled porch, on a cliff, over looking the Mediterranean. The food is a French fish stew with wine, bread, cheese, fruit and salad. One of the great meals of my life.
I spend three days hitchhiking from the Spanish boarder through southern France to Naples, Italy. This is perhaps the most intense three days of my life. By chance I meet two other Americans who are also going my way and we travel together. I remember every moment of this trip, such as: seeing Monaco in twilight as our gracious driver shows us the sites, sleeping under a boat on the beach in northern Italy, and seeing the red room in Pompeii after virtually no sleep for 24 hours (that shade of red is burned into my brain).1965 - I MOVE TO A CABIN IN THE WOODS.
Returning to Chapel Hill, NC I find a spare room in a cabin in the woods. I share the cabin with a roommate who is an old friend. It is an idyllic setting. This is my first real home that I have away from my family. I live here for the next five years and create most of my early work here. My father gives me a Matisse poster that stays with me for the next 20 years.Where you live is important!
1965 - IN LOVE.
I fall madly in love with a brilliant woman who is painfully shy and artistically inclined. Two years later we are married, but our happiness is short lived and we divorce in the mid-seventies. Nevertheless, during our early romance we manage to devour the work of numerous artists and share our insights with each other.1965 - T.S. ELIOT, PAUL KLEE, WASSILY KANDINSKY.
I always like Eliot but never find the poem of his that speaks to me until I read the 4 Quartets. Visually the work of Klee also speaks to me in a pictorial vocabulary which seems obvious. While others find his work hard to fathom, it is as though I have known these images all my life. While Kandinksy's work is more cerebral, I find his paintings have deep spiritual undertones.1966 - DESIGN CLASS.
My class in design is perfect. I seem to have a knack for placement of design elements and at the end of the year, one of my works is selected for the annual student exhibition.1966 - I REALLY HEAR BEETHOVEN'S 32ND SONATA.
Although I have listened to Beethoven for five years now, I suddenly understand his last sonata written when he was stone deaf and could only hear sounds in his mind. When the piece ends, it is as though it begins to play again in your mind. None of his other sonatas have this effect. I realize later that because it is his last; the music you hear in silence is Beethoven passing on in death. This has remained my favorite Beethoven sonata.1966 - I GRADUATE FROM UNC-CHAPEL HILL WITH AN HONORS IN WRITING.
(NOTE: Beethoven's late work was so unusual, many critics decided that he was mad. Now these pieces are considered his greatest. So even Beethoven got bad reviews for superb work.)
I remain an English major even though my interests are shifting toward the visual. When my beloved creative writing teacher, Jessie Rehder, tells me that I will receive an Honors in Writing, she adds that what she appreciates most is that I write! So many people talk about writing and never do it. Woody Allen's famous line is "90% of life is showing up." (I believe that I have accomplished what I have because I have shown up for work. I have had many smarter friends who could not follow through. I have managed to keep cranking out work for almost 40 years in spite of the many set backs. I was able to do this because I created the work not for others but for myself.)