Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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David Douglas Duncan, a Great Photographer, and an Equally Great Man, Dies

June 9, 2018
bradspurgeon

Duncan and Picasso

Duncan and Picasso

PARIS – A 102 year old chapter of history ended on Thursday with the death of David Douglas Duncan, one of the world’s greatest photojournalists, a man who had started his career with a photo of the gangster John Dillinger in 1934, before documenting several wars and many iconic historic events, while also making a sideline career of photographing his friend Picasso from 1956 to the artist’s death in the 1970s. It was also the end of a five-year long chapter in my own life, from when I first learned that Duncan was a fan of Formula One racing, read my coverage of the series in the International Herald Tribune and wanted to talk.

Meeting DDD – as he was often called – in 2013 and maintaining a relationship occasionally over the telephone since then was the most satisfying consequence of my 25-year Formula One writing career. It also kept me humble to think that stories I wrote would be read by a man of this stature. But it was learning from the example of the man himself that was the most important aspect of having known DDD.

You might expect a man who had met and photographed Gandhi, dined with Khrushchev, befriended Picasso, and been in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War among countless other jobs and experiences would be somewhat unapproachable, full of himself and perhaps haughty. But I don’t think I ever met a man as humble, genuine, simple in his personal approach to people, and gifted with an ability to make people who met him feel great about themselves. In fact, I was reminded again and again of a quote I had once noted in my youth by G.K. Chesterton: “There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.”

I could not believe my good fortune in having known Duncan. I learned through a common friend in Formula One that he wanted to contact me about a story I had written, which he wanted to use as the preface to a book of photos of Formula One that he had taken off the Monaco Grand Prix on the television. I got in touch at the end of 2012, and found it was a story I had written in 2000, which he still remembered the details of! It turned out also to be the most unexpected revenge – in my mind only – against an editor at the newspaper who had pulled the story from the page before publication, as he thought it was not worthy of the newspaper. (Another editor defended it, and it was published the next day.) I got a copy of the story to DDD, and then with great pride again, I watched as he prepared the book and ran my story as the preface.

David Douglas Duncan Soldier

David Douglas Duncan Soldier

I then went to meet him, and his wife Sheila, at their home near Grasse, in the south of France. While there, I asked him if I could do an interview with him, as just meeting him had given me the idea of running a regular column of interviews with famous Formula One fans. He said I could, and told me just to call when I was ready. He was just days away from turning 97, and quite honestly, I was very worried that at that age, I could lose my opportunity, as he might die any day. In fact, while he walked most of the time with a cane after a broken hip, he was still going around his home up and down a hugely steep and narrow stone staircase with no railing – another reason I feared for the future – and was in fact in such incredible health that, yes, he would go on to live more than five years more.

DDD's first Picasso photo

DDD’s first Picasso photo

I cherished every time we spoke – the last time was in February – even though our typical exchanges would be quite short, as he seemed not to want to intrude! So I was instantly plunged into shock and remorse yesterday when I saw the headline about his death while reading my daily New York Times.

Duncan was truly a great man, and the greatest part was what he gave to others. I recall asking him what his favourite subject to photograph had been in his life, and while I had expected to hear any of the usual things – Picasso, a war, a great leader or the jewels of the Kremlin – he said it had been one of his most beloved dogs. He had even made a book of photos of the dog. It was the genuine response of one of the most genuine people I have ever met.

I am today posting on this blog the interview that I did with Duncan that day in January 2013, and in future I hope to perhaps create a kind of video of his photos and the sound recording of the actual and full interview I did with him, which was at least an hour long. But for the moment, here is the interview with David Douglas Duncan as it appeared in the International Herald Tribune, and New York Times in 2013.

Pandemonium at the Harmonium Parlour at the Plastic Factory at Nagoya

September 29, 2015
bradspurgeon

plastic factory nagoya japan

plastic factory nagoya japan

DUBAI – Just sitting half wiped out in the Dubai airport on my return flights from Japan to Paris, I’m still thinking about my last night in Nagoya, where I finally got to take part in the open mic of the Plastic Factory. I’ve played at the Plastic Factory a couple of times before, but I was never there on the last Sunday of the month when the official open mic takes place. This time I was, so I have something new to report.

The Plastic Factory is a bar, music and art venue run by a German-speaking Swiss, a longtime expat in Nagoya, and the place is about to celebrate its 11th year of its existence. I discovered it four or five years ago – I think! – and always wanted to try the open mic. But my timing to get from Suzuka to the edge of Nagoya, by way of my hotel to pick up my guitar, was tight, to say the least.

Brad Spurgeon and others jamming at the Plastic Factory in Nagoya.
So when I arrived, the evening was already well advanced, with a nice big crowd of spectators and musicians, lots of expats, but many Japanese as well. I love the mix at this place. On the other hand, I was in such a state having gulped down a fast food hamburger of a kind I don’t dare mention, and having stopped off and got my guitar, and arrived to find that my name had just been announced for me to play, but I’d missed the slot….

Third at the Plastic Factory
No problem! I was up next! So I took a beer, tuned my guitar, warmed up my voice and got on stage. Turned out that I hadn’t been there long enough to realize that the crowd can be quite talkative when there’s just some guy with an acoustic guitar and vocals, since this is really a very hot spot for socializing and meeting fellow expats.

Sixth at the Plastic Factory
So, OK, I sang my three songs to myself, and got off stage, took another beer, and watched as the evening got better and better. The talk would continue for most of the other acts, but bit by bit the stage took over as the center of interest of the room, and bit by bit it turned into a jam session with various of the musicians mixing together on stage.

Seventh at the Plastic Factory
That’s when I pumped up my courage again and after the MC of the evening went up with a woman on violin, another on bass guitar and a guy on washboard, I said to myself, “I want a bit of this action!” So I asked the MC if I could do a song with the band, and his guitar. He immediately agreed, and the other musicians agreed too, and so we leaped into “Mad World.” And it was mad. I had a great time, I think the other musicians enjoyed it, and the people who remained in the crowd weren’t talking so much anymore but whooping it up with the music.

Second at the Plastic Factory
A memorable night! My only regret is that I did not get a chance to take a look at the apparently wildly cool art exhibition on the upper floor. When I went up to check it out, it had just ended.

Fourth at the Plastic Factory
I hope that my date for a return trip to Japan – if there ever is one – will again coincide with the last Sunday of the month, and the so-called “Harmonium Parlour” open mic of the Plastic Factory in Nagoya. It’s a real happening.

First at the Plastic Factory


Fifth at the Plastic Factory

Eighth at the Plastic Factory

Paris Roundup – From the Flea Market to the 2 Moulins and the Baroc, and Onwards to the Noctambules

July 16, 2015
bradspurgeon

St. Ouen Market after Closure © Brad Spurgeon

St. Ouen Market after Closure © Brad Spurgeon

PARIS – Aside from a great long cool and fun evening at the Baroc on Tuesday evening, I’ve just had spots of music here and there, and mostly there, over the last few days since Raphaëlle’s open mic at the Noctambules on the Place Pigalle last Friday. (Speaking of which, do NOT miss Raphaëlle’s Noctambules open mic tomorrow at this absolutely fabulous location, as this is becoming a not-to-be-missed Paris open mic, playing music overlooking the historic place….)

On Sunday night it was a quiet walk over the St. Ouen flee market and a small temporary art gallery where Joris Delacour was showing off his artworks, and holding an informal jam on the sidewalk in front. I managed to get this one nice little bit of music on video, having spent most of the jam wondering what or if I should play next. This one gives an idea of the feel of the area, which seems not to be anywhere near Paris, if even France.


The jam outside the gallery where Joris Delacour was showing his art.

From there it was on to a quiet Monday night stopover at the gig of Brislee Adams, who organizes and MCs the excellent Café Oz (Blanche) open mic on Tuesday nights. He had one of his once per month gigs at the Aux 2 Moulins bar restaurant on the Rue Lepic. This café is known lately for its appearance in the Amelie Poulain film. But Brislee brought it to life with his one-man band of popular music, and at least one invited guest….


Brislee Adams playing a Van Morrison song at his gig at the 2 Moulins.

And so onwards to Tuesday night at the Baroc, one of Paris’s longest running and best open mics. It felt in many ways like a classic night at the Baroc since you never know quite what to expect, and we got that, but also because the regular MC, Réjean, was on vacation, so the task was taken up with enthusiasm by Paul Cash. Cash is a character who has long been a part of Paris’s open mic scene, but interestingly, his contribution has been more in the area of the Slam spoken word open mic than in the music open mics. I say “interestingly” because Cash, in addition to being a poet, is also a highly talented pianist and composer.


The hippie jam at the Baroc open mic.

With his draw there were some unusual acts, like the band of jammers that took us all back a few decades into something very hippie-like. At the end of the evening Paul handed out prizes for a draw, mostly consisting of small art books he put together, as he is also an artist….


A ripper rapper at the Baroc open mic.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1384499518523842/1384505788523215/
A very cool last few days in Paris…. So don’t forget the Noctambules open mic tomorrow!!!!


Isabelle on her ukulele at the Baroc open mic.


Another singer doing some soul at the Baroc open mic.

Paris on Monday and Tuesday, at the Open Mics

January 8, 2015
bradspurgeon

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo

PARIS – Woke up yesterday with the horrendous news that the entire world is trying to absorb: How three deranged idiots could go and kill 12 people at a newspaper because they don’t like the newspaper’s art. Five public figures, five brilliant, fun and life-affirming artists among the dead at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, as well as a couple of policemen who were clearly not as well-armed as the deranged guys. So it was that I did not much feel like writing my insignificant blog yesterday of my insignificant visits to open mics on Monday and Tuesday in this same city of Paris.

But since life does go on, I am going to put up my usual collection of videos and a few words about the evenings: Monday was the Galaway and the Coolin, like the previous week. Oh, wait, I also dropped into the Tennessee Bar open mic, which was long one of the best in Paris. I have no idea what has happened to it at the moment, but it seems to be floating in a netherworld of insignificance as no one seems to be running it, but the stage seems to be occupied by musicians as they feel fit to take to it.

I was so depressed by the lack of atmosphere that I immediately moved on to the Galway and had a nice dose of what I expect from this mainstay of Paris, which never ceases to try to improve and expand the open mic show. Catch the TV screen to the left of the performers showing performers at the open mic in the past throughout the evening. Neat idea. And now there are calling cards that seem to offer happy hour drink rates or something like that – I’ll have to confirm what the meaning of that is during another visit!

The Coolin was cool again, and yet it was so low on musicians on Monday night after New Years that I still managed to get a couple of songs behind the mic despite arriving around 11:30 p.m. Although I’ve had some of my best moments in the raging madness of the Coolin when it is full of people and I can belt out a crowd-pleaser, some of my warmest moments are like those of Monday, when there are few people, and you can sing quiet songs to a quiet crowd. And on Monday, there was the pleasure of discovering the interesting Melanie Horsnell, an Australian singer songwriter of international stature.

Tuesday was off to the Baroc again, and there I found a slightly more quiet night than usual as well. But it was fun. We couldn’t know that it was the calm before the storm.

Magic at Menil’Fest, in Menilmontant, Paris

September 28, 2014
bradspurgeon

Menilfest

Menilfest

PARIS – Menilmontant is a funky cool quarter of Paris, and this weekend it celebrated a funky cool arts festival on the boulevard, with artists and artisans displaying their wares in the middle of the boulevard, and musicians playing on two different stages at either end. I was invited to play in the festival by a musician I met at the open mics, who calls himself She-Me, and who was organizing the talent on the stages.
Joe Cady and Brad at Menilmontant festival
I leapt at the opportunity of playing outside on this open-air, middle of Paris, middle of Menilmontant stage, and as it turned out, the day would be one of the sunniest and hottest of recent weeks, and probably the real end of summer too. In any case, it seemed like the sun had come and the clouds had parted in order to create the absolute perfect weather for a street festival in Paris. And that ensured a large number of people talking part, passing by, and generally giving an atmosphere of a country fair to the center of Paris.

I made discoveries amongst the artisans, the musicians and the local businesses all afternoon long. The festival is just winding down as I write these words, and it had started Friday evening. I was a little jealous when I saw the big stage, but once I got to performing on the smaller stage, I realized that I had perhaps got the better deal. It was much more intimate, the passersby could stop if they wanted to – without making the commitment of standing in front of the big stage, but just sort of stopping at the edge of the small stage and checking it out, and I had better eye contact with the audience.

The small stage was also set up in a spot where I could look off at the facing cafes and the place where the Métro exit sits, and feel really as if I was kind of floating around in Paris playing my music to all who cared to listen, and even those who did not. Helping me out on that was my friend Joe Cady, backing me up with fiddle and lead guitar, just as he has done in Paris open mics for several years now, and at the F1 FanZone concert that we did at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London in July. Joe’s fabulous accompaniment was just what I needed to feel completely at ease in providing the passersby with a full musical experience.

Of course, that was helped by the good sound system also, that ensured a crisp and clear sound to my vocals and some adequate mixing on the rest. The festival was organized by an association called ArtMachine, that has as a goal to help artists, artisans and musicians show off their creations.

Now, if only every quarter in Paris could come up with one of these. The free meal ticket providing food at a local North African restaurant was absolutely insanely good, as I found all the main dishes cost the price of the ticket of a measly 7 euros, and the food was amazing! My lamb chops and french fries beat just about any I’ve eaten recently in other French restaurants for twice the price. Menilmontant really feels like a village within the bigger Paris, and I would live there at the drop of an equally cheap apartment!





From My Archives: Internet Hieroglyphics in La Repubblica in Italian

August 6, 2013
bradspurgeon

hieroglyphicsPARIS – Another day of no music at the open mics for me as I work on my books and documentary film intensively this August break. Somehow, I was reminded of a story I wrote and published in the newspaper where I worked in February 1996. The story could go almost go into my rejected stories category, as one of the top editors of the time tried to stop the opinion page editor from publishing the story, saying that it was old news and that everyone in the world knew this stuff anyway. The story was about smileys on the Internet, and the premise of the story was – humorously said – that the latest high technology of the day – the Internet – had brought back letter writing, and above all, had sent the world back into prehistoric times as we suddenly reverted to using a modern form of hieroglyphics – the smiley.

My op-ed page editor who wanted to run the story defended the writing approach and style, and the story appeared. And again, while the all-knowing other, critical, editor said it was useless information that we all knew, the story was good enough to attract the attention of the Repubblica, one of Italy’s major newspapers, and within days of its appearance in my paper, it appeared in the Repubblica, on its op-ed page, translated into Italian. I’m putting that Italian translation on this site, along with the original English version of my Internet smileys story from 1996, which was not exactly years into the phenomenon in the popular mind. So here, too, is my first bit of Italian on this site….

Micro-post from Budapest: Remembering and Feeling a Beethoven Expression

July 25, 2013
bradspurgeon

chain bridge budapest

chain bridge budapest

BUDAPEST – Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have not been writing as much lately, and I have not been playing as much music in open mics lately. In fact, I have not even been playing as much music at home as I usually do – although I have managed at least one song a day, with the exception of one day where I did none – and while part of me has felt dejected, destroyed, messed up and worried about losing the movement of these passionate fun things I do, TODAY, having arrived in Budapest, a city of much classical music, I was suddenly reminded of an old aphorism once said by Beethoven to a student:

“Habit may depreciate the most brilliant talents,” he said in 1812 to his pupil, Archduke Rudolph, who he warns against too zealous a devotion to music. I’m quoting from an Internet source on Beethoven on that, but I had written the same quote in one of my “Nothing Book” diaries when I was 17 or 18, and I recall my translation as having been: “Habit may depreciate even the finest of talents.”

In any case, I do not consider myself either one of the finest or most brilliant talents musically, but I have always remembered that quote since I thought it could apply to any form of artistic endeavour, or even any profession or job anyone does. And today, after travelling to Budapest and doing my day job and finally finishing everything that needed doing, I finally picked up my guitar in my hotel room and I played for half an hour. And I felt so refreshed, so happy, so powerful playing my songs and cover songs, and strumming the guitar and being liberated once again in a hotel room at the beginning of another of my open mic adventure’s faraway locations, at the beginning of a weekend of musical and other fun.

And I thought, there’s no panic on the blog, no panic in the music, shake it up. Shake it all up. Do what you love doing, and make it fresh and fun. Don’t fall into habit for habit’s sake.

Many regular readers of this blog may also have noticed that in recent weeks I have been filling out other parts of the blog, while not doing as many open mics as usual. That’s part of the same effort to break the habit…at least momentarily. There are plenty of open mics and gigs and musical adventures to come – starting, I hope, with the coming days in this beautiful city….

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