Archive for the ‘ Obits/Memoirs ’ Category


I drive by Findings on my way to a poet’s spoken word performance (she doesn’t want to call it poetry) My Life As a Dog. Findings will be open late and they’ll hold the head for me. The  poet reads a poem about her dog who gives a hat mold as a gift to its shrink. I nearly choke.  Afterwards we are going to see Brian Sander’s Patio Plastico, but I drag her down Race Street first. “Where are you taking me?” she asks protestingly. I pull her along like she was my dog on a leash. “You’ll see and you won’t believe it,” I say, “Just wait.” Inside, I hold the head/hat mold triumphantly aloft and announce “Arthur’s birthday present,” while she howls with laughter. I lay my dickering plans aside when Mel offers me the head at the top dollar price I was willing to pay for it.

Off with the head, we bump into my daughter and son-in-law, who are dumfounded when we show it to them. We dump the head in the trunk of my car before cutting over to Patio Plastico.  Sanders’ has recycled two-liter soda bottles as shoes for his dancers. What a whooshing noise they make. Eerie.

Wednesday, Fringe Fest opening day:

Making my way over from one reception to another I stop in Findings on Race Street. There I spy a rather abstract, faceless head. Turns out to be a Victorian hat mold.  I decide on the spot it’s one of the perfect gifts for my husband’s birthday. He loves Kandinsky and this head had a strange Kandinskyesque quality to it. Also it is made of balsam — my husband is a heavy thinker so I thought, hmm, maybe this’ll lighten him up. But I don’t buy it. Too bulky to carry around. I’ll come back Friday.

Later at Bald Mermaids most of the wonderful dancers who filled Smoke’s basement performance space with archetypal feminine imagery have shaved heads.  In one piece, as my colleague Miriam Seidel, put it in her review, They brought new meaning to the term couch dancing.”  Still I kept thinking of that hat mold.  I should go get it before it’s snatched by someone else.  But it gets late so my companions and I check out the Fringe opening party for the time it takes to down a beer and then we check out of Old City for the night…To be continued


Born on July 26, 1944: Mick Jagger, Annson Kenney and Joseph Franklin

© Merilyn Jackson

Photo by: Merilyn Jackson

Annson Kenney at a party six months before his death.

I don’t know where Jagger was born. I only saw Mick once in person, after a concert at the Spectrum. He was pacing up and down the sidewalk at a restaurant across the street from my Front Street house in Queen Village. In typical Philly fashion I threw up my window sash, stuck my head out and yelled “Yo Mick, how ya doin?” Startled, he stopped searched for my voice, gave me a wave and said “Quite all right, thank you.” I responded with something like “Glad to hear” and respecting his privacy, I lowered the window and left him to his to and fro.

I did know the late Annson Kenney and do know the very live and quick Joseph Franklin who were both born in the same Philadelphia hospital on the same day as Jagger. As I recall, the two did not meet until they were in their 20s and burning to make a mark on the city’s arts scene, Annson with his music, performance art, writing and neon works and Joe with his New Music. The two met through a mutual friend in the 70s who later also introduced them to Arthur Sabatini. (I would shortly meet and run off to live with Sabatini and still do.)

A quick friendship formed between the three men. Over the next few years Kenney and Franklin, along with Joseph Showalter, formed Relâche, the Ensemble for Contemporary Music, now known simply as The Relâche Ensemble. At first Sabatini was an ad-hoc advisor; later he wrote much of the copy for the programs and the New Music America Festival in 1987. By that time I was the Relâche publicist.

I’d cook for us all as the guys held meetings, interviewed musicians and planned concert programs. Many nights we sat in the living room overlooking the Delaware River, eating, arguing and laughing in front of that window through which I’d later greet Mick. We called it Café 752.

It was in the late 1970s that Relâche first introduced such contemporary musical giants as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars and John Cage, along with a host of other composers, to Philadelphia audiences. Make that, SMALL audiences. Philly wasn’t so hip and smart in those days to take these musics in their stride, let alone with enthusiasm. Save for a small but growing coterie, few so-called music-lovers liked what Relâche was serving.

Meanwhile Kenney had a late night radio program on WHYY called NOIZE, taught at Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) wrote on a variety of subjects for Philadelphia Magazine, Metropolitan Magazine, Foxylady and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote columns under the pseudonym Blackie Carbon for long defunct alternative paper, The Drummer and a restaurant review column called Oral Gratification for the Daily Planet. He composed music (performed solo and by Relâche) and created astonishing videos and performance art he called stunts. Simultaneously, he was showing his neon art at galleries like Marian Locks, The Painted Bride (where Sabatini and I met after he read his poetry) and his last show, Variations on Three Bauhaus Bends at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

“Eternity is a long, long gig.” Annson installing a show at the Art Alliance

On New Year’s Eve Eve, 1981, Annson and Buster Thompson, a racing car mechanic from the UK (working on Roger Daltry’s cars for one) began bar-hopping. Sabatini and another friend, David Erlich, had planned to meet up with them at one of the places they usually hung out back then: Lickety Split, Sassafras, Purgatory, The East Side Club. But everywhere they went they were told Annson and Buster had just left. Someone had stolen Annson’s custom racing jacket off his barstool at Lickety and they were searching for it, partying the night away as a matter of course. Well after the after hours clubs closed and not wanting to troll the after after hours joints, Arthur and David gave up their chase.

About 1 p.m. the next day, the phone rang. Arthur answered, talked for a few minutes and came up to our attic office white-faced – and not just from his hangover. I stared at him from behind my desk and said “Annson?” He nodded. I said “Dead?” He nodded again, this time nearly crumpling. I said “Gun?” He shook his head no. I said “Car?” He said “Yes.”

Later, we learned that about 5:30 that morning, according to Buster, the tires on his Ford Fiesta got stuck on trolley tracks up in Germantown where they had just dropped off a couple of guys. The trolley stopped in front of them and Buster says he could not brake in time. The Fiesta’s hood smashed under the trolley’s “cow catcher.” Annson was not wearing a seatbelt and the dashboard crushed his chest. He did not die instantly. He was still alive while the firemen used the jaws of life to free him. It took an hour. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Only 37 years old with what he had started ending in the middle.

That night, Arthur and I were having our usual New Year’s Eve party, where Annson had been expected. I had already prepared a lot of food and bought two Peking ducks from around the corner. Within hours we had called a number of people to let them know and invite them to what was then a wake. Annson’s Irish mother, Ann, and his sister Charlene came. We had ordered two more ducks and more than 40 people (some strangers who had just heard) came laden with food and drink. We asked for donations for the funeral and one jerk asked if it was a rent party.

Nicholas Boonin, a close friend and the one person Annson entrusted to install his gallery shows, was there. Joanne Hoffman steamed us a salmon which I swear was salted in tears. Julius Scissor (Frankie Pinto) talked about Annson dancing The Worm and when Annson’s mother asked what that was, Julius got down on the floor and shimmied.

At midnight the fireworks went off at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and some went outside to watch while the rest crowded around our three windows. When they were over, Nicholas threw his glass out on the pavement, cursing. Joanne chided him. She knew I had just bought 10 new champagne flutes for the celebration. But I said “It’s only a fucking glass,” and threw mine out the window as well. Nicholas looked at me in quizzical amusement.

In the morning, as I washed the glasses, I found I still had nine, not eight of those good Rumanian-made flutes. I called Nicholas. “No,” he said. “I didn’t throw a glass. I threw the champagne bottle. But when you threw yours, I thought it was the most gracious gesture of commiseration and hostessing, so I didn’t say anything.”

I ran to the window, the very same I had yelled out to Mick Jagger, threw it open and looked out. Sure, there were the remains of green glass scattered and my glass about he pavement.

This year is the 32nd anniversary of Annson’s death. To the asshole who stole Annson’s jacket, you will never be forgiven for setting off this terrible trail of events.

Annson was brilliant and funny and aggressive. And thoroughly Philly. He titled one of his neon exhibitions, Loose Language. “As an artist I am ethically sworn to make the move which spawns the memory.” That he did.

Happy Birthday and rest in peace, Annson. Happy Birthday and many more years to come, Joseph. And Yo, same to you too, Mick.

For photos of the 54 piece retrospective neon exhibit of Kenney’s work that took place at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia from October 21-November 13,1983, see the link to Nicholas Boonin’s website in the links column.

A Catalogue with biographical material, photographs (many by Joseph Czarnecki) and writings by Annson Kenney available upon request (limited supply in stock).

Price:  $ 25.00 includes shipping.

Pina Bausch: a personal memory

She made dance theater out of life


While millions routinely mourn the death of burnt-out pop stars, the death of an artistic genius at her peak at 68 goes largely unremarked in these United States.

Josephine (Pina) Bausch, who died of cancer June 3o, 2009 at 68, was to dance what Brecht was to acting, Wagner was to opera, and Dali to painting. She changed our perception of ballet, of modern dance and of theater. In the nearly 40 years since she became artistic director of Germany’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, Bausch made dance into theater in two to three hour-long evenings. People who sat the same length of time for a play complained her programs were too long. But those are people who need to be told, not shown, who need to look, not see.

Whether in Japan (where she was awarded the 2007 Kyoto Prize for arts and philosophy) or in Italy (where she received the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, also in 2007), Bausch was treated like a rock star. Her death was front-page news in Europe’s major newspapers.

Pina traveled the world making dances. Wherever she went, she soaked up the essences of a community and then, as the best artist should, held what she absorbed back up to it like a mirror. In Turkey in 2003 she created Nefes, whose semi-erotic scenes drew us into a dream world that stays in our memory as if we’d been born in Constantinople.

An Arizona interview

In 1996, she made Nur Du (“Only You”) in collaboration with four universities, including Arizona State University in Tempe. And that’s how I had my magical morning with her.

I had flown in to Phoenix on an early October day to interview Pina for an advance story for the Phoenix New Times. I was nervous to meet this woman with her martyred, saintly serene face– and her formidable reputation for being remote and unapproachable.

Before my flight, I went to a farmer’s market and spied some beautiful Dinosaur Egg plums, striated in creamy white and purple. I bought two dozen, thinking to make a gift for Pina and her entourage. Directly from the plane, I met her in a most unlikely place: a desert golf resort in Tempe.

Here, strapping tow-headed dudes in chaps and red neckerchiefs served barbecue and beans to our highly amused group seated at a wood plank table. Sawdust covered the rough-hewn floors. The lighting was basement rec room.

Breaking the ice

After being introduced, I sat tongue-tied for a few moments. Then I remembered the delicate plums I had carried on the plane with me that morning. I withdrew one from the sack and held it out in my palm. Pina’s hands fluttered to her chest as she cried, “For me?”

The ice broken, I asked Pina what she knew about the Southwest. “Really, not very much,” she replied. “I am here to learn.”

“Oh,” I asked, jumping in feet first, “would you like to see a Yaqui Indian town where packs of dogs roam free in the dust, gaunt and taut as your dancers? Where the Yaqui dance their Easter Deer dances? Where they dance the rosary?”

Bausch met each question with the Garbo-esque flutter of hands across her chest.  “Really?” “Could I?” “Where?”

“It’s right down there,” I pointed to a spot in the distance. “We could see the Yaqui Temple tomorrow morning if you like.”

“So close?” she asked, drawing out her vowel.

More than anything, I wanted Bausch to see the inside of the temple where the townspeople keep icons of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I knew that her new work, as inexplicably as anything else in her vast oeuvre, would have an icon of the Virgin– but with the face of a man.

‘I too am a dancer’

The following morning, when we pulled up at 10:30, the temple doors miraculously yawned open to the sight of lit candles colonnaded along the dirt floor.

Adjusting our eyes to the dark interior, we noticed that a local resident had followed us in. I introduced Pina to him, explaining that she was a dancer from Germany.

“I too am a dancer,” he announced defiantly, training his Peyote-red eyes on ours. “I am Richard A. Valencia, head of the Matachini Yaqui dancers. I have 12 dancers. How many do you have?”

Pina’s hands crossed her chest and she bowed slightly, tipping her head as if to meet his height, “I have 28,” she answered apologetically.

Valencia received this information stoically. After Pina gave him a donation to the temple’s new roof fund and invited him and his dancers to her show, we crossed over to DeLeon’s Western Wear, chatting about our kids— she had one son, still in his teens at the time.

At DeLeon’s, a shop crammed with western wear and turista trinkets, Pina spied a basket of Mexican paper flowers and wanted to take some. She had difficulty choosing quickly from the vast palette of colors, so Guillermo DeLeon, a tall, striking man, gallantly flung hundreds of flowers at her feet. Kneeling among them, she picked the colors she wanted.

A journey with stops along the way

A few years later, the Wuppertal Tanztheater returned to Tempe to perform one of Pina’s most infamous pieces, Carnations (Nelken, in German), where the stage is studded with thousands of pink carnations, and four gaunt black mastiffs handled by brawny trainers roam among the dancers.

The day after the performance, most of the troupe had gone up to the Grand Canyon, leaving behind the veteran dancer Dominique Mercy, a Wuppertaler for more than 28 years and one of the world’s most brilliant comedic dancers. He asked if there was a place to swim. I drove him up to Canyon Lake. After his swim we ate pâté and what passes for French bread in Arizona that I had brought along. I told him about the dogs running wild in Guadalupe, the incident with DeLeon and how the carpet of paper flowers he threw out around Pina had reminded me of Carnations.

Nelken is like that,” Mercy said. “Like going through a little journey with little stops along the way. We make theater out of life.” Yes, wherever Pina ventured, dance and theater happened.♦

This originally appeared in Broad Street Review, June, 2009

By Merilyn Jackson

© Merilyn Jackson 2003

Director Lee Breuer and his Mabou Mines crew came over for supper after their last Peter & Wendy workshop/rehearsal at Arizona State University in 1992. It went on to win two Obie Awards and many others around the world.

First to arrive was the great Scots drinker and fast talker, Johnny Cunningham, (Nightnoise; Silly Wizard) composed and played his violin for Breuer’s show, Peter & Wendy. (Check out his brilliant CD on Itunes.) We had grilled salmon, black beans in dark rum, corncakes, and grilled eggplant in balsamic vinegar and a key lime tart. But Johnny ate nothing, having found our liquor supply early. He claimed to have gotten an upset stomach the night before and that only a few shots of tequila would stay down.

At the Pub

Everyone left by 11, so we took Johnny over to the Dubliner Pub. His dirty blond locks fell down between his shoulder blades and he constantly threw his head back like a horse tossing its mane.  He dressed in black with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, but tucked into his jeans. Around the instep of his thick boots were heavy chrome chains, ready for riding or fighting, depending on which came first – a motorcycle or a moron.

At the pub, John sat in with the band for a few tunes, fiddling madly. Back at the table he picked up on the stories he’d been regaling us with at supper. His stories of a  recent gig with Hall and Oates held our attention.

In Vegas

“I was, I mean, there I was, in Caesar’s Palace, down the hall from Elvis Presley’s suite.  Sleepin’ in a huge bed that could’ve slept six.  It was so big they called it “The Four or More.”  So there I was, livin’ the life of Elvis, shit, with a huge sunken tub right next to me bed.  And I had me a wakeup call everyday at 5 PM and breakfast sent up shortly thereafter.

And at the wakeup call, the fuckin’ faucets to the tub go on so when they bring me me breakfast each evenin’ there I am, already in the tub waitin’ for me coffee and me International Herald Tribune. I mean t’say, I was livin’ the life of Elvis, sittin’ on, maybe, the very toilet seat where he’d once sat. And if I went out, the chauffeur would be waitin’ right outside t’take me anywhere.  Angelo was his name.

“Good evening, Mr. Cunningham, sir,” he’d say. “Where to?”

And then, West Virginia

“And then back in the room after the show, Darryl and me and some of the others would wind down. Hall went to his room with his young chippie — can’t be blamed — and there we all were, livin’ the life of Elvis. And when the gig is over I fly off to West Virginia, to this little coaltown college where I’m givin’ a master class and they show me to this little dormitory room with no air conditionin’ a’tall and they hand me sheets to make up me own bed!

“This, after livin’ the life of Elvis!

“I tell you,” he paused to down the fresh Tequila Sunrise that had just appeared before him, “I tell you,” he began again, “What I did was I got them to get me a refrigerator in the room and I unscrewed the fuckin’ light bulb and slept all night with the door of that refrigerator wide open on me. I mean, once you’ve lived the life of Elvis,” he winked, “there’s no turnin’ back.”

John Cunningham: 1957, Portobello, Scotland – 2003, New York, NY

Peter Pan: 1902, United Kingdom –


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