Monthly Archives: April 2017

Norman Mailer

Many people reading this are aware that I have an interest in the 1960s era Apollo space program. I probably have 25 or 30 books on the subject and have read an equal number more. One of them that I own is Norman Mailer’s Of A Fire On the Moon. It’s in paperback, of course.

A month or so ago I was in a bookstore and saw a book called Moonfire credited to Norman Mailer. It turned out that some people took a selection of Mailer’s words from the earlier book and added a bunch of pictures. What hooked me wasn’t the writing – I already had that – but the pictures. Many of them have not been seen before, even by aficionados such as me. So now I’m reading Mailer again.

Mailer’s writing is like nothing else I’ve read on the moon program. He is intensely interested in the astronauts as men but not in the sense of what so many were writing in the newspapers and magazines of the day. The pictures give a reminder of that, as many of them are staged shots done for Life Magazine whose mission it was to make heroes of the astronauts. See Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff for more on that. Mailer is interested in drilling down to the core of their being.

One of his paragraphs struck me as funny given that my career has been dealing with amplified sound in theaters. Check this out:

 . . . They are in a modern movie theater with orange seats and a dark furrowed ceiling overhead, much like marcelled waves in a head of hair, a plastic ceiling built doubtless to the plans of one of the best sound engineers in the country. Sound is considerably ahead of smell as a fit province for scientific work, but since the excellence of acoustics in large and small concert chambers seem to bear more relation to old wood and the blessings of monarchs and bishops than to the latest development of the technical art, the sound system in this movie theater (seats 600) is dependably intolerable most of the time. The public address system squeals and squeaks (it is apparently easier to have communication with men one quarter of a million miles away) and one never gets a fair test of the aural accommodations, and so far as one can tell, the tone is a hint sepulchral, then brightened electronically, finally harsh and punishing to that unnamed fine nerve that runs from the anus to the eardrum. As the sound engineers became more developed, the plastic materials provided for their practice by corporations grew acoustically more precise and spiritually more flattening – it was the law of the century. One was forever adjusting to public voices through the subtlest vale of pain.

Perhaps ironic is a better word than funny, because sound systems have improved a great deal in the intervening time, while space travel has stagnated in Low Earth Orbit.



Recently someone posted something on FaceBook about the Litany of Fear. Subsequent comments showed that several people were aware of its origin in the Frank Herbert novel Dune.

I read Dune in high school although the paperback copy I have has a printing date of 1975. The original copyright date is 1965. For a science fiction novel, it’s stood the test of time. Perhaps most interesting from our current perspective is Herbert’s use of Arab traditions and language in the story. The only knowledge I had at that time was pretty much that the Arabs were the bad guys during the Crusades and they kept alive Western knowledge during the Dark Ages. And they invented algebra.

Many of the terms and traditions that Herbert gives the heroic Fremen of Dune are straight out of the Arab world. His vision of the Fremen’s world Arrakis is the Arab’s desert writ large.

I met Mr Herbert once. In the spring of 1976 I saw a small notice in the newspaper that he would be appearing at a local bookstore to sign copies of his new book, Children of Dune. I had read not only Dune, but the sequel, Dune Messiah, several times and was excited to find out what was in store next so I went.

As I entered the bookstore, I saw Mr Herbert sitting there next to a stack of Children of Dune books. They were all hardcover! I never bought hardcover! My paperback copy of the original Dune had been $1.95! I couldn’t even imagine what these cost. I had been working my steady job at Mervyn’s since the previous fall so I had some money but I never thought I should spend it on hardcover books when the paperbacks were cheaper and had the same words in them.

With the bravado of youth I walked up to the author and asked him where I could find the paperbacks. He gently told me that the hardcovers were the only ones available. So I gulped and bought one. $8.95!! He asked me my name and inscribed it to me with the date. There was no one else in the bookstore. He was sitting there with a glass of wine. He offered one to me and invited me to sit down and chat but I was so flustered and anxious to start reading the book, I declined both and left almost immediately.

Before leaving, I did ask him if the story had been plotted from the beginning as a trilogy and he said yes. Of course, once the series became successful, other sequels were written and after his death, Herbert’s son wrote some more. Who can blame them?

I still have that hardcover book.

Zach and Sarah

I’ve made much of the special relationship between Zach and Jeremy. His relationship with Sarah was no less special. It was strained in recent years because of their divergent opinions on what kind of relationship they each should have with their mother but the deep love never went away.

Even at an early age, Sarah showed that she had a talent for leadership. I remember noting once that when she got Jeremy to try cutting her hair it was Jeremy who had to shoulder the blame. He was, after all, older and should have known better. He might have been 5 and she was 3.

With Zach it was more of a traditional older/younger relationship. Sarah was brimming with ideas and Zach was happy to be included in the fun. Sometimes it was with one or more of Sarah’s friends but most often it was just the two of them doing drawings, writing plays, or goofing around with the cassette recorder.

Here are a few fun pix from the archives:

In 2014, Zach made what was to be his last trip to California. I don’t remember for sure, but I think both he and Sarah stayed at my apartment for a couple of days. One morning they sat at the breakfast table for a couple of hours and just talked quietly. I stayed out of the way but I did take this one picture.


Zach did a lot of reading. When he read something that he thought was worthwhile, he made a note of the quote. A year ago I could have told you where his quote files were but now I’d have to look around a bit.

I do have a sheet of paper on my wall with some quotes on it. I don’t remember how it came to be printed. Was it in his effects or did I find it in a file and print it here? It doesn’t have his name on it but I know it came from him. In front of the paper, tacked on the wall, are two photos, taken on the same day. Here is one:

To see the other one you’ll have to go here.

Anyway, here are the quotes. Only one is attributed.

A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.
— Goethe

We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.

People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television and let its pandering idiocy liquify our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery – it recharges by running . . . A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.


At the risk of incurring Sarah’s wrath, I’m going to confess I saw some of her diaries yesterday. Honestly, I didn’t look at them except to determine what they were. I was transferring some of her things stored at my apartment from old boxes into a nicer plastic tub.

The reason this is blog-worthy is that it struck me that all of my kids are writers and that makes me happy. On my front page I make reference to Zach’s prodigious writing being an inspiration. Now I realize that Sarah has written a lot as well. I haven’t seen anything of Jeremy’s writing but I know he’s done a lot.

Last year Mom brought out – I don’t remember why – a diary that my grandfather had written in 1915 of a train trip he took from Denver to southern California. Very little philosophizing, just the gritty details of travel. Great stuff!

It’s an arguable point as to whether pencil or pen on paper has more value than these electronic squiggles. I’m the first to agree that handling the actual paper that my grandfather held had value more than the words themselves. Paper can be free form in a way that is more difficult in e-writing.

It’s all valuable. I treasure those glimpses of my ancestors as I hope my descendants will enjoy a look into my mind, whether it’s this blog or some moldy spiral notebooks. Write on!

Tim Wilson

I just read this article and tears are in my eyes. Tim and Deanne Wilson were good friends of ours during our time in San Francisco at the Opera. They were passionate, caring people then. The article clearly shows that that hasn’t changed.

When we went away, we didn’t stay in touch with Tim and Deanne. We really didn’t stay in touch with anybody at the Opera but that’s another story. I worked Opera in the Park a couple of times after I came back to SF and said hello to several members of the orchestra who knew me. In the brief conversations we had, no one mentioned Tim and I don’t remember asking.

Now he has glaucoma and other health issues that are serious enough to make him quit his job – again! What makes me sad is not just that Tim is ill or that I’ve ignored a friend for so many years. It’s that our society – our country – values music education so little that heroic efforts like this are needed.

OK. I’m resolving right here to get back in touch with Tim and Deanne. Meanwhile, I’ll put up one picture. It’s Tim, but you can’t tell. He’s showing Jeremy and Sarah how to make pizza from scratch. I’m pretty sure it was vegetarian, too.


I went to a memorial yesterday. That’s what I was calling it anyway. It could have been styled as a celebration of life, as we did for Zach. I’ve been calling it a memorial since celebrating a dead person doesn’t work very well for me.

Lynn McKee was a stage electrician for the Opera for the whole time I worked there, with the exception of one year away at ACT. He went on for quite a while after I left. I don’t know exactly when he retired but it was less than ten years ago. He died earlier this year in Thailand, where he had been living. Lynn was 69 years old and had children and grandchildren in his life, most of whom were at the memorial. They all seemed like very nice people.

Many of my old friends and colleagues were there. Late in the afternoon, when it was time to leave for the memorial, I hesitated because I had had a bad day grieving Zach. I thought I would have a hard time handling the emotions. Luckily, I went, but it was a roller coaster ride.

Several people express sympathy over my loss of Zach but when I asked how they were doing, I heard stories of spouses with cancer, children on heroin, strokes, and divorces. In most cases, these people had a vision of a certain kind of life going forward and now everything was changed. Sound familiar?

There’s another memorial today, for Kirk. I’ve committed to driving a couple of other people so I have to go. I want to go, because I get to see people I like and respect and I don’t often get to see them. And I want to pay my respects to the family of the dead man, just as I did yesterday. We are a community.

missing Zach

A bunch of things happened today that were not particularly significant by themselves, but, taken together, they got me to where I’m missing Zach more than usual.

There was a question about his finances and I couldn’t find anything. I guess I sent it all to Ally. But I looked through the bulging file from 2015 that has all the cards I got.

I dug out his iPad and found that an ‘administrator’ had deleted his Outlook account. That was his LSU email. Nothing significant has come through there for a long time but still . . . His Yahoo mail account has a few postings from services that I couldn’t (or didn’t bother to) cancel. Nothing from real people. Yahoo had thoughtfully notified us that several attempts have been made to log into that account using an email address from his early days at Xavier. From China, Russia, you get the picture. Time to shut that down, I guess.

Zach used an app called Evernote to make to do lists. Opening Evernote shows me his list from the last week of his life. I’m not ready to give that up. There’s also a recording app that has some interviews he did in that last week for his research. I think I downloaded them but right now I can’t remember where.

MLB At Bat. Oh yeah, there was a message in the Yahoo account about how they re-upped him for this year using the same credit card as before. I hope Ally has cancelled it. I took it off the iPad. ESPN Radio. Gone.

Jeremy called today and among other things he said he had some things he wished he could talk to Zach about. We all miss his wisdom, his empathy, his humor. I was a poor substitute.

It’s not an anniversary or anything special. It’s just an ordinary day and I’m missing Zach.


Kirk Schriel died last Saturday. Kirk was a member of Local 16 and on a job. He collapsed at the mixing board during a show and could not be revived.

I first met Kirk when he was working for ProMedia and I was working for the Opera. He was a sassy guy but he knew what he was doing. At that time he was doing the scut work of a big rental sound company. At some point, while I was gone in the foothills, he left ProMedia and started working out of the Union hall. He completed the apprentice program and became a full member.

I was on a job Sunday morning with Hal, who called me to give me the news. Hal was pretty broken up. Kirk had been the best man at his wedding. Hal had talked to him two weeks ago. There had been no warning signs.

I had seen Kirk a few times since I returned to SF but not recently. In the community of big time sound mixers, I am only on the edges, but Kirk was the real deal.


I listened to the Airborne Toxic Event album. It’s called Tales of God and Whiskey. It’s not bad! One title caught my eye. It was April is the Cruelest Month. Being April, I played it first.

I’m really bad about getting lyrics out of listening to a song. It’s usually dozens, if not more, listenings before I pay more than cursory attention to the lyrics. Sorry, lyricists!

But ‘April is the cruelest month’ is a quote from somewhere. I thought it was Eliot and I was right. Here’s an excerpt, posted on, from The Waste Land:

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

Right below the Eliot quote are two poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The second hit me right between the eyes:

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers