A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….
Meetings With Remarkable People. Episode 4: David Douglas Duncan
David Douglas Duncan / Credit Jorge Zapata/European Pressphoto Agency
This is the fourth podcast episode in my series “Meetings With Remarkable People.” Before I even finish posting all of my episodes with the remarkable Colin Wilson, the angry young man of British literature, today I wanted to leap ahead into January 2013 and put up today this interview I did with David Douglas Duncan. It felt urgent to me because today, 23 January 2023 marks what would have been the 107th birthday of David Douglas Duncan, one of the greatest of the 20th century war photographers, and a friend and photographer of Pablo Picasso. It just seemed I could not miss this anniversary, as it was also precisely 10 years ago this month that I conducted the interview with him. While I may have feared meeting this new friend too late in our lives, he went on to live for another five and a half years, dying only in June 2018 at the age of 102
And what a life this man – often referred to as DDD – had! From his very first published photograph in the 1930s when he was just a teenager and caught a shot of a man running in and out of a burning hotel in Kansas City that turned out to be the infamous gangster John Dillinger to his first ever photo of Picasso … in his bathtub! He had a blessed life, and one that traversed almost every major historical moment of the second half of the 20th century.
David Douglas Duncan Soldier
I was fortunate to meet him through my Formula One writing, as Duncan also had a love of cars and racing and I learned through a friend of his who was a Formula One photographer that he wanted to contact me about one of my articles on the series. I went to his place in the south of France for lunch one day and then asked if I could conduct an interview with him for a future column I planned about meetings with remarkable people who were also Formula One racing fans! He agreed and I left his home that afternoon with this extraordinary recording of his life in history.
Part 5 of the podcasts will probably return to Colin Wilson But I could not miss David Douglas Duncan’s birthday, and the 10th anniversary month of this recording!
AUBERVILLIERS, France – Now that was a fabulous breath of fresh – and cold – air: I performed five songs in an outdoor open mic on Wednesday, during a neighborhood afternoon snack in Aubervilliers. The neighborhood was the Quartier Maladrerie, and it is located in the town of Aubervilliers, which touches on Paris. I have written a lot about this town in the last couple of years, since TAC Teatro has been putting on a lot of shows and doing a lot of work there. It was actually quite cool – I mean cold – to perform across the street from the Espace Renaudie, the place that hosted a couple of TAC events recently, which I have written about in previous posts. This open mic had nothing to do with that, but with a meeting and some open mics that I did 15 years ago!
A year and more before I started writing this blog, I had already begun my musical open mic adventures. Among the places I discovered in Paris and its environs, was a regular open mic in Aubervilliers, most often at a bar called “Le Chien Qui Fume,” or, “The Dog that Smokes.” I say most often at, because the open mic was run by an association called “Les Artistes des Couleurs et de la Diversité.” It was run by a musician named Zayen, of Kabyle origin. It started in a bar in Paris, called the Aveyronnais, where I first attended, and then moved on to Aubervilliers, which is a town with a large Kabyle population.
I attended open mics there weekly for around six months – sometimes even twice per week – and had all sorts of interesting experiences, including once when the mayors of the twinned cities of Iena in Germany and Aubervilliers attended one of the open mics. Zayen had a small success with a song called Baden-Baden, about a Kabyle refusing to fight in WWII, and then returning to his country and passing on his story there.
In recent months I made contact with Zayen again, finding that he was now an elected politician connected to the new mayor’s party in Aubervilliers, while he remains a professional musician with growing success. In fact, his small association has also grown since it was founded in 2008, and we recently met with it and another Berber association in Aubervilliers to share ideas.
On Wednesday, though, it felt like old times as Zayen invited me to play at the “open mic” in the street, organized to celebrate an afternoon snack, music and poetry, at this holiday period with everyone in the neighbourhood. I took along my Gibson J200 and sang five songs, and then gave my guitar to another musician, Malik Kazeoui, and he played some kabyle songs and something in French.
It was freezing cold, but I took off my coat and played hard and kept warm. It turned out to be a wonderful moment too thanks to an excellent quality of sound system and soundman support, provided by the same technicians from the Espace Renaudie, with whom I worked to show my film of Eugenio Barba a few weeks ago. That was a complete surprise for us all, as they had only known me as the journalist who interviewed Barba on film, or the man connected with TAC Teatro in its performance of Ajamola.
For me the most touching moment was when a five-year-old boy approached the stage after I had sung one or two songs and he handed me 1 centime as payment for my singing – or perhaps it was a signal to get me off the stage? In any case, I thanked him and told him that it was more money than I had earned in five years off the streaming rights to my CD, “Out of a Jam.”
Check out the videos to get a taste of this neighborhood event in Aubervilliers!
PARIS – Today I stumbled on a recording I did in Abu Dhabi exactly 10 years ago and I wanted to post it again to mark the occasion. It was one of my musical adventures following the Formula One season as a journalist, and that year, 2012, I had set myself the goal of recording a song with a local musician in every one of the 20 or so countries that I visited. The idea was a real challenge, and I think I succeeded in my goal, but unfortunately the sound quality of the recordings was not of CD-level quality. But what a treasure to find this one of a star oud player and musician living in Abu Dhabi named Layth Aldaene, who is an Iraqi, and who is still playing around the area and farther afield, including recently with a symphony orchestra. I decided to post this today because this weekend is also that of the season-finale 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Formula One, so it seemed a great moment to post.
This recording took place in the House of Oud, which was a community center and workshop for building ouds, teaching the oud, spreading oud culture and everything else oud that you can imagine. I suggest you check out Layth Aldaene’s web site, as it has lots of his amazing music on it, and some cool videos.
I chose as a song to play my song “Let Me Know,” which I always felt had a middle eastern sound to it. In fact, I had written it purposefully with a middle eastern sound – although the guitar chord progression had itself been given to me by Laurent Guillaume, with whom I recorded the song on my CD.
AUBERVILLIERS, France – It has taken me a while, but I desperately wanted to get this report up here before the next Ajamola show tomorrow in Aubervilliers. In my previous post I wrote about the great day with TAC Teatro at the Théâtre du Soleil with the Odin Teatret company, followed by the showing of my film interview/roundtable with Eugenio Barba at the Espace Renaudie municipal theater in Aubervilliers. The following day the magic really started when TAC Teatro performed its first of a season of scheduled performances of Ajamola at that same Espace Renaudie. (Tomorrow the show returns to 164 rue Henri Barbusse, TAC’s regular digs.) Both the challenge and the rewards were great at the 180-seat municipal theater!
Ajamola was written and created by TAC Teatro for performing in a specific, non-traditional space: With spectators lining up on either side of the stage, and the play being performed in the middle of them. I’ve seen the play so many times that way that I had a hard time imagining that it would work as well in the traditional kind of theater space that it was necessary to use at the Espace Renaudie. That is to say, there is a stage – not a raised one, by the way – and in front of the stage sit the spectators.
TAC, of course, had to bring its own special brand of performance even to this space, so the show began – as it usually does – in the bar area of the theater – where yours truly served the drinks! – but in this case, the bar area was up a couple of flights of stairs from the performance area. This meant a whole re-thinking of how the initial “performance” begins. (Doing away with a shopping cart that usually features in this first part of the show.)
Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 5
Pulled off perfectly, the new space even added another feeling to this first part of the show, something a little more special in this space where I suspect there has never been such a performance in the public area before.
Then the show moved to the auditorium, and there the actors also used the whole room, and not JUST the stage area. Still, there were few opportunities for climbing up amongst the audience, and most of the show did take place in front of the spectators on the stage. It was a revelation! I had mentioned in a previous post some time ago that with this play – that combines every human emotion, acrobatics, music, singing, text, shadow puppetry and other kinds of puppetry – I often had the feeling of watching something of Shakespearian proportions. In fact, because our modern experience of watching Shakespeare tends to be flat on, stage to audience, as at the Espace Renaudie, I felt that same sense even more!
Some of the characters came to life in a completely different way than in the usual manner the company uses to perform. And the lighting crew at the Espace Renaudie did a fabulous job – along with Ornella Bonventre, the play’s director – of bringing tones and textures to the show that I am not used to as well.
Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 4
It was a really fabulous experience of rediscovery of a piece I know like the back of my hand, and all thanks to the changed performance space. But as Ornella always says, the space in which you perform is a partner in the show. And this illustrated it better than I could have imagined. It was also great that there were many more spectators present for the show than are even allowed in the space at 164 rue Henri Barbusse – creating another dimension again. Not only am I looking forward massively to the next performance of Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie on 10 January 2023, but I am also really looking forward to seeing it again tomorrow in its “traditional” environment at 164 rue Henri Barbusse.
Tickets for either show may – and must – be reserved at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at: 06 14 06 92 23
PARIS – I wanted to do two quick reports, one today, the other maybe tomorrow, just to round up the amazing week with TAC Teatro. It started last Monday with the long-awaited double header starting at 8AM at Paris’s legendary Théâtre du Soleil in the Cartoucherie with the equally legendary Odin Teatret, then Monday evening at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers, where we screened my interview/documentary film with Eugenio Barba, the founder of Odin Teatret.
The morning event hinged around a couple of high moments: a conference given by Odin Teatret actor Julia Varley on the theme of the actor’s process of creation and training; which was followed by the actors of TAC Teatro performing excerpts from their latest show, Ajamola, for the spectators and for Eugenio Barba and Julia Varley.
Odin and TAC people at Theatre du Soleil
The conference was “prefaced” by introductions given by Ornella Bonventre, founding director of TAC Teatro, and by Raluca Mocan, a Romanian lecturer at a French university who is also a specialist on Odin Teatret. Varley’s conference was fabulous, starting with her echoing almost word-for-word what I’ve heard Ornella herself saying so often: As an actor she considers herself an artisan, not an artist. They build things – characters, plays, shows, etc., as an artisan might build a chair.
all Ajamola actors at Theatre du Soleil
Varley also spoke of the importance of the actual performance in unforgettable terms: Once you are on stage it is “not a democracy.” In other words, perhaps the actor can try all sorts of strange things during training and creation, but the performance is a dictator that requires the actors to follow the score laid out in advance and stay entirely inside the established character. I have certainly over-simplified that point, but that’s the rough idea.
After Varley’s grand performance as a lecturer, I felt a little worried about how the actors of TAC Teatro might be able to jump into their own characters from Ajamola and put on a convincing short excerpt from the show within confines that were far from anything even close to their usual performance space. As you can see from the video, it was a tight, obstructed space, where the actors did a fabulous job of reconstructing moments from the show – with Eugenio Barba, Julia Varley and others watching on. Ornella had planned this excerpt from the show as an homage to Odin Teatret, and there was every indication that it succeeded. Thanks to the actors, who did manage to get right into character and negotiate the space beautifully.
From the Théâtre du Soleil to the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers for the Screening of Eugenio Barba film
Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie
In the evening, we moved on for the second part of the Odin tribute to the municipal theatre in Aubervilliers called l’Espace Renaudie, for which TAC was supported by the municipality of Aubervilliers. Here we showed in public for the first time the TAC-produced film, an interview with Eugenio Barba, which is a film in which I have a half-hour long interview with Barba about his life and the Odin Teatret. I conducted the interview, Ornella filmed it, and I did the editing, splicing in all sort of documents, photos and films from Odin’s own archive, dating back to the 1960s.
It was a moment of great pride and wonder on my part to see the film on the big screen shown in front of a public in a 180-seat municipal theatre. Judging by the roundtable discussion that we then had following the film, it was a success. The roundtable was the chance to give all participants the floor to speak about the film, Odin and theatre in general. It went on for almost two hours.
Another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie
I will return with the report soon of the production of Ajamola itself in this same theatre in Aubervilliers the next day – with photos and videos….
From Ornella in French: L’Odin jouera Thèbes jusqu’au 19, nous du TAC y allons le mardi 15, ceux qui veulent se joindre à nous sont les bienvenus (envoyez-moi un message). Toutes les informations ci-dessous.
AUBERVILLIERS, France – Just a very quick word to say you must listen to this radio interview of some of the members of TAC Teatro – including me, and me playing my songs live – and you must also, if you see this post between now and 8PM tonight, get out to see the show Ajamola. We are putting on the show for the first time in a municipal theater, that of Aubervilliers called L’Espace Renaudie, just outside Paris. There is still time to book your presence, if you call up the TAC number at: 0614069223 This is a big beautiful theater, and the show will be great to experience in this different environment!
It is in this same theater that last night my film about Eugenio Barba was screened for the first time, and I will come back to that in the coming days on this blog. Now I have to prepare for Ajamola.
But have a listen to this radio show that was aired in Aubervilliers last Friday (and I have been too busy with the film and other things to get a post up before now!) Here are direct links to the show itself, without passing through the radio station:
The interview with TAC was 15 minutes long, and all in French, done by Daniel Graisset at the AR.FM radio station:
After this he approached me while I was playing some songs at the TAC Teatro stand of this local Fête du Quartier, and I was making a mess of both songs – the first “Mad World,” the second “Borderline,” my on song, for which for the first time ever I forgot some lyrics!:
More to come about the incredible day of yesterday…
PARIS – I’m already bubbling over with excitement about the premiere of my short, 30-minute, documentary/interview film with one of the giants of world theater of the last 60 years. I am talking about the work I did with Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro – of which I am a company member since 2017 – and our interview with Eugenio Barba, founding director of the Odin Teatret of Denmark. The film will be screened next month, on 7 November, in the Espace Renaudie, a municipal theater in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris. It is part of a double-bill of activities with members of the Odin Teatret and TAC, beginning in the morning at the iconic Théâtre du Soleil of Paris.
That’s a lot of stuff to pack into your brain in the first paragraph, so let me backtrack now a little: Eugenio Barba is an Italian-born director and writer who after working with the Polish theater master Jerzy Grotowski in the early 1960s, went on to create Odin Teatret – based in Holstebro, Denmark – and to become one of the great theater theorists of our times, as well as the founder of the International School of Theatre Anthropology. Odin has always been at the forefront of avant garde theater in the world, innovating in the area of what is often called “physical theater,” as it speaks as much, or more, through the movements of the body as it does through text. And even the spoken word itself – or the music – is considered a kind of physical action in the performance.
The company was founded in 1964, and some of the actors that still make up the company have been with it since the 1970s, others for several decades. They are coming to Paris next month to put on their latest show, “Thèbes au Temps de la Fièvre Jaune,” at the Théâtre du Soleil. (The latter is another of the world’s great avant-garde theatrical institutions, also founded in 1964 and still directed by Ariane Mnouchkine.)
The morning event with Julia Varley.
The Odin show will run there from 8 to 19 November, and TAC Teatro, in collaboration with ARTA, Association de Recherche de Tradition de l’Acteur, and the Aubervilliers mayor’s office organized two events that will take place the day before the show opens, ie, on the Monday 7th November at 10AM in the Théâtre du Soleil, and the film premiere at the Espace Renaudie starting at 18PM, with, following the film, a roundtable discussion. The event starts by featuring especially the intervention of Julia Varley, one of the Odin Teatret actors, who will give a conference about the process of training and creation for the actor in the morning part of the program at the Théâtre du Soleil. Ornella will take part in that too, along with Raluca Mocan, a theater expert and member of the Husserl Archives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
I am very pleased to be able to show this documentary interview film that I did with Eugenio Barba the last time Odin Teatret visited Paris, with their previous show, called, “L’Arbre.” The interview was conducted outside at the Cartoucherie, and Ornella filmed it – and organized it – and also intervened with some of the most interesting questions – when I think I took over the camera briefly! It was a wide-ranging interview with Barba covering his life story, his theories of theater, the history of theater and of Odin, and even comments about the state of Paris’s theater landscape in general. It also contains a lot of footage and photos of Odin’s work through the decades.
Brad Spurgeon interviewing Eugenio Barba.
Taking place at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers starting at 18PM, the screening is free of charge, and there are about 200 seats in the theater. So if you want to come, best to reserve in advance at email@example.com or by telephone at: 06 14 06 92 23
By the way, this is the same location where the full production of AJAMOLA will be performed several times this year and next – so if you like what you see in the performance extracts at the event at the Théâtre du Soleil…don’t hesitate to book for the show too!
PARIS – Unless my mind is playing serious games with me, this last week I finally attended open mics in Paris again for the first time since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020. I have mentioned in these pages before that I have performed here and there occasionally in various performance formats – including the jam I did a couple of times in Sicily over the summer. But unless this old brain is fading, these are the first open mics I have done in Paris since 2020, or even 2019! And it was great to see that while I may have been playing it safe on the disease front for a lot longer than most open mic performers and spectators, clearly I am behind the times on open mic performing!
I have been waiting for a long time to attend the new open mic at the Cave Café, near the Lamarck metro in a part of town that – at least to my knowledge – has few open mics. This is the place where I used to love to go just before the pandemic, when Sheldon Forrest ran his “Montmartre Mondays.” I was very sad when it ended, because the Cave Café, owned by the American, Arthur, has such a wonderful vibe: Like its name, it takes place in a “cave.” Lest you get images of brutes with wooden clubs to beat you with, please know this has nothing to do with neanderthals. It is the French word for basement, and it drums up the beautiful image of precisely what we find here: a vaulted brick ceiling in the cellar room.
But the real cherry on the top of this cake is that the new open mic at the Cave Café is now the old Paris Songwriters Club run by Paddy Sherlock. This is one of the best open mics in the city, but one where you can ONLY sing or play your own compositions. No cover songs. Paddy had run this first at the Tennessee Bar, then at the O’Sullivan’s Rebel Bar. But this is not just his best location so far, it is also the most intimate and well-served sound wise. So it is also perfect for the precise kind of open mic it represents: play your own songs to an audience that listens in a location that makes you want to spend the whole evening there just for the comfort and fun.
I took advantage of this open mic to play for the first time in public anywhere, my song, “What’s All This Talk?!” which I wrote during the pandemic, in the fall of 2020, and which provided me the soundtrack for the video I made of and after the January 6th, 2021, attack on the Capitol. It’s always very difficult to sing a song for the first time in public, especially with that weak memory of mine – but I got through it pretty well.
From Tuesday’s Songwriter Open Mic to a couple of regular Wednesday venues
I mentioned Sheldon Forrest above, and on Wednesday, it was time to visit Sheldon’s open mic at the Osmoz Café in Montparnasse. From Montmartre to Montparnasse. Could anything be better? I have no need to introduce either Sheldon or his Osmoz Café open mic, as both have been around for years now. In fact, Sheldon was running this one at the same time as he did the one at the Cafe Café as I mentioned above. It was great to see that everything was the same as usual: Sheldon playing piano to accompany singers who do not play an instrument. Or if you do play an instrument then you are welcome to do that too. I took this opportunity to play a few songs that I had learned during the pandemic – or just before – so as not to be singing the same songs for more than a decade for Sheldon and his audiences. I also did “What’s All This Talk?!” and felt about the same as the night before at the Cave Café, so that’s down now!
I finished my tour of three open mics in two days by attending the open mic at the Bootleg Bar, heading directly from Montparnasse to the Bastille! How much better does it get than that? Montmartre to Montparnasse to Bastille!
I only discovered after I finished at the Osmoz that there was an open mic at the Bootleg. This is the one that I used to attend that was run by the former group running the Rush Bar open mic. It used to be on Mondays. Now, it is every Wednesday, and seems not to be run by the same groupe of people, and has a bit of a different feel to it: Wednesday evening it was mostly about jamming, with several musicians playing simultaneously. Although there was a woman who came to play her songs on the acoustic guitar, and she accepted some other musicians joining her – but it seemed not to be obligatory. First at Bootleg Bar
Here I was told I could go up to play, even though it was by then quite late, just before midnight. But after listening to the other groups and realizing I had a long hike across Paris to return home, I opted not to play. I had all I needed: I got to see that life continues at the Paris open mics, and now I will finally also be able to update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, which through Covid, had been collecting cob webs, but remains one of the most often consulted pages on this blog.
We launch this episode with a talk inspired by the part of Wilson’s autobiography in which he speaks of trying mescaline, and of course the obvious inspiration for that, the work of Aldous Huxley in his book The Doors of Perception. I talk about my own decision that drugs are not a way to reach the “peak experience” that Wilson made one of his life goals to achieve. This leads to his discussion of his “seven levels of consciousness,” and his ability in the previous year of his life to stay in this higher state than ever before. In short, the segment is all about trying to control our levels of optimism and general contentedness, and to induce the peak experience.
PARIS – Just a quick note, a thought, a loss and a regret. As if it wasn’t enough to learn of the death of Peter Brook in early July, yesterday brought the news of the death of Marcello Magni, one of Brook’s fetish actors. I am drawn to mention it on the blog because it was just over two and a half years ago that I did a post on this blog in which both featured: The Unique Vision of Peter Brook and Shakespeare’s Temptest Work-in-Progress at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris. The focus was on Brook, of course, so while I did speak about Marcello Magni’s wonderful contribution on stage, I did not mention the long talk we had after the show with the Italian, who died over the weekend at the age of 63.
Not only that night did Ornella and I see a great demonstration of work of Brook’s “Tempest” – with Magni playing Ariel – but after the show we said hello to – very briefly – Peter Brook, and then we met several of the actors in the theater’s lobby, and discussed theater with them. The one we found the most interesting, friendly, simple and engaging was Marcello Magni. We actually had no idea of quite who we were talking with, except that he was a brilliant Ariel, a regular Peter Brook actor, and that we had been impressed with his work onstage in the role, as well as during the demonstration of warm-up techniques for the actors that he showed the spectators.
In the simplest sort of matter-of-fact conversation we might have with anyone, we spoke about the life of an actor in Paris, Italy, the UK, etc., as he and Ornella as two Italian theater people living out of Italy might do. He told us he had been in the UK for some 40 years, but before that he had studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq, etc. It sounded like any aspiring actor Ornella might meet looking for a first job in TAC Teatro – although he was certainly not looking for work!
Only later did we find his history working with Peter Brook and the many roles in theater he had been involved in, and his co-founding of the Complicité theater company, etc. A real pillar of the the theater world on the level of the working actor…. Not a master innovating director like Brook himself, of course. But an extraordinarily talented and heavily occupied actor involved in many different areas – including some interesting television and film roles.
We left our little meeting feeling, nevertheless, as if we had opened a door to meeting someone whom we could relate to and who shared, above all, Ornella’s conception of what theater and the life in the theater is all about. (My own involvement being very limited.) As this meeting had happened just as the Covid pandemic was beginning to take hold – in fact, a few weeks later Ornella would have to cancel TAC Teatro’s own “demonstration of work” on the show it is now putting on – Ajamola – and any dreams we might have had of continuing to attend Peter Brook shows at the Bouffes du Nord, or trying to make contact with any actors linked with any other theater companies, like Complicité, had all to be put on hold.
That is why, now, after a little more than two years of near hibernation due to the pandemic – two years of putting many things on hold – that momentary meeting and feeling of hope in the way of great shows and theater-moments-to-come through the world of Peter Brook or Marcello Magni feels so suddenly, abruptly and cruelly at an end. There they were just yesterday in our minds and standing before us, and now, a little more than two and a half years later (but years that barely existed due to Covid) and both are gone. It feels a half century of history and lifestyle – theaterstyle? – has departed with them.
That is the reason I felt compelled to write this blog entry today: DO NOT WAIT! Do not put off until tomorrow what wonderful thing you want to do. All the clichés about life being too short are true, and that is why they are there: Within the blink of an eye all we know and dream of doing will go, disappear with the passage of time. While we already knew that Peter Brook, on the verge of his 95th birthday at that time (he died at 97), was not likely going to be around that much longer, we could not imagine for a moment that the seemingly healthy and full-of-life Marcello Magni would be gone so soon. We must all live as if none of us has a moment to spare.