Michael James : Sunrise on Lake Michigan, 1961

Sunrise on Lake Michigan, 1961. Photo by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James Pictures from the Long Haul.

Pictures from the Long Haul:
Sunrise on Lake Michigan,
Lake Forest, Illinois, 1961

In Chicago I am introduced to Polish sausages at a hot dog stand on North Avenue by Bill “Notso” Smart, who also took me to a strip club in Calumet City. I visit the Art Institute and I start going to jazz and blues clubs on the South Side.

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | July 14, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about — and inspired by — those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.]

There I was 33 miles outside Chicago, learning, meeting, hearing, and seeing so many new things. Yet the most dominant theme-issue-memory of my first year at Lake Forest College is of being 948 miles away from my girlfriend Susan who was at U Conn — not Siberia, but seemingly so.

I too wanted to go to U Conn, but my dad encouraged (forced) me to go to “away to school,” away from my Connecticut homeland. His influence is why I had driven to California in the summer of 60, instead of staying home close to my team dream girlfriend.

We called each other regularly; we wrote each other almost daily, and to this day I have a giant envelope of letters Sue returned many moons back. Someday I may read them.

The Phi Deltas got me a job washing dishes at Lake Forest Academy, a private school for bourgeois lads. This was where influential trumpeter and jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke had been sent off to school from Davenport back in the 1920’s, and from where he snuck out of to go to Chicago to make music.

And on another musical note, the Academy was not far from a bar out on Illinois Route176 that older guys on the football team took me to. A Black woman performer sang a song with the unforgettable line “who put the sand in the petroleum jelly?”

Later I took a job as an assistant counselor at Arden Shore, a home for gifted boys with behavioral and emotional problems. My dormmate was David George, an ex-Marine from a pottery making family in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He helps me get over my dislike of cheese, and we make many a grilled cheese sandwiche late at night in the cafeteria. And he teaches me to drink my coffee black.

In search of a gym off campus I make my way north, past the Great Lakes Navel Training Center (years later I’ll help organize a demonstration at a park nearby, SOS — Stop our Ships, Save Our Sailors!). I go past Abbott Labs in North Chicago (an incubator for high drug prices) ending up at the Waukegan YMCA.

 I am a product of YMCA activities. I have a letter of introduction from the Director of my hometown Y. I will do a sociology paper at LFC on the YMCA as and Occupational Institution.

Ahh, but the Waukegan YMCA is segregated. I check out and then get a part time job instructing weight lifting and working with little kids at the all-Black (except now for me) Genesee Street Branch YMCA in North Chicago.

Venturing further off campus I go to the Friday afternoon cattle auctions further west out on Route 176, and join others on a run to Madison where we drink beers in the Student Union. I head to Grinnell, Iowa, and visit my hometown friend and writer Ken Schiff during a folk fest at Grinnell College. I remember the legendary “Blind” Reverend Gary Davis pinching a coed’s ass.

In Chicago I am introduced to Polish sausages at a hot dog stand on North Avenue by Bill “Notso” Smart, who also took me to a strip club in Calumet City. I visit the Art Institute and I start going to jazz and blues clubs on the South Side.

There was the Wonder Inn where wordsmith Ken Nordine performed his “word jazz,” and the Sutherland Lounge where I am thrilled by the likes of Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, and the amazing Roland Kirk who played multiple instruments at once, including strange saxophones, the stritch, and the manzello.

Reading Downbeat Magazine I learn of “Crow Jim,” reverse segregation in jazz circles. The article says that the phenomenal Ira Sullivan, who played with Charlie Parker, cannot get a gig. I start working on a sociology paper: “The Socialization of the Negro Jazz Musician.”

On a Saturday on Chicago’s Near North Side I talk with Sullivan at his home. I am still in a time in my life where you dress up and I am wearing a sport jacket and tie. Sullivan seemed preoccupied, and he and others were probably high. I asked questions; he did not bad mouth any Black brothers, basically dismissing the issue.

At McKey Fitzhugh’s Disc Jockey Show lounge on Cottage Grove I try and talk with drummer Chico Hamilton, who basically laughed me off. (I still play his music.) At another club I met Johnny Hartman who would later sing beautiful vocals with John Coltrane.

The U.S. Marine recruiters show up on campus. I wanted to be a Marine, years earlier practicing crawling around on my stomach in kid war games, and learned to play “From the Halls of Montezuma” on the piano. I signed up for their Platoon Leader’s Corp, the plan being that I would spend summers training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and then serve two years as an officer in that fighting force.

However, an event on campus began to move me in another direction. There was something going on in the World called the San Francisco to Moscow Peace March. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an outfit that I was being introduced to while checking out religion (Unitarians, Bahia, Quakers, etc.), sponsored a two-day peace walk in March of 1961.

A scraggly band of beatnik types showed up on campus, and I talked with them about peace and atomic testing. I credit this encounter with encouraging me to move in a new direction. I never did follow through and become a member of the Marine Corps and I am grateful for that.

I was still missing Susan and began trying to transfer to a school back East. She came to visit and I was happy. I photographed her smoking a cigar on the same morning we attended an Easter morning sunrise service at the Lake Forest beach.

Yet when I visited her a short time later in Storrs, Connecticut, that was not fun. She was becoming friendly with my childhood pal Doug Fenton’s roommate. I took solace in following my 4H club instincts, visiting the campus’s dairy barns.

Another major and transformational shift-event in my life was about to take place.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago’s Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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