Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

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

June 9, 2018
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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.

Paris Photo Shoot and “Out of a Jam” on all Music Download and Streaming Sites

December 11, 2016
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Brad Spurgeon by Pierre Nguyen

Brad Spurgeon by Pierre Nguyen

PARIS – At about the same time in the fall, I had a fabulous day in a hot, Indian Summer in Paris in a park and on the Seine River shooting with a photo group that wanted to do photos of musicians, and I released my CD, Out of a Jam, online.  

With the photoshoot, a Paris “meet-up” that I found on Facebook, I jumped at the opportunity and it resulted in some nice photos.  It felt more special with that coinciding with the release of my album, “Out of a Jam,” on all the usual online music sites, a few months after the album came out in CD format. I finally got the photos up on my personal music site, and BradSpurgeonMusic.com in a gallery.

Check out the gallery and check out the album at all the usual suspects: iTunesSpotifyBandcamp, and who knows how many others!

Bar Hopping, Open Mic Playing, Austin Living – a Few More Days in the Live Music Capital of…

November 5, 2014
bradspurgeon

End of an Ear store

End of an Ear store

AUSTIN, Texas – On this trip to Austin, I’ve been discovering musical joints both with live bands in concert, and open mics for me to play. In the past I would always try to find ONLY places for me to play. But this time, I decided to relax a little and find out what else exists. That has led me from a dive bar to a record store to a cool open mic I did not know in the center of the city….

The dive bar is the Longbranch Inn on 11th street, and the music was about as raunchy as the bar. I was pleased that I brought my earplugs from the racetrack, since the music was so loud I could not really hear it. So I managed to record some of the set and take the recording back to the place I’m staying in, and there I heard the band for the first time. Liked the guitar, and the harmonica – and great rhythm too. But you’ll hear the singer’s voice was too low through the amp and we can’t make out much.

That was Saturday night, by the way. Sunday night I spent the whole evening writing my race report of the U.S. Grand Prix. So last night, I attended two different events, in fact. The first was at a record store that is reputedly one of the best two in Austin. And I can confirm that “End of an Ear” is a great shop. Not only full of CDs, but mountains of vinyl. I went to the record store because there was a photo vernissage by a friend of the friend I’m staying with, as well as a band.

We got there too late for the band, but I enjoyed looking at the photos by Renate Winter, the photographer. It was photos of bands, young people, musicians, from around the U.S., some from Austin, some in Atlanta and elsewhere. In some ways it reminded me of a world I know in Paris…. Check out my short video of the photos….

And Then Off to the Ten Oak Open Mic in Downtown Austin

It was my host who told me about the open mic at the Ten Oak bar on Colorado near Fifth Street, and boy was I happy to discover this relatively new open mic, which began nearly two years ago. Run by Ronnie Hall, who has a fabulous duet called Thomas and Hall, it’s worth going to just to hear them play!

But ultimately, the real pleasure is playing through the nice sound system on the terrace of this bar in downtown Austin where other musicians and music lovers can hear what you’re doing, as does the appreciative audience within the bar. Singing in the live music capital of the world, you feel a different vibe to many other places, like being part of a secret club run by musicians and music lovers.

The level of the musicians was so high at one point that I was begging in my head for someone crap to go up just before me, but that never happened!!!

Gotta run now to another couple of musical events….


Of a Photo Shoot in Paris Around the Mouff

December 21, 2013
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PARIS – I have not been to an open mic in a few days, and this post is something of a non-post, except to say that I had a superb day yesterday exploring the Rue Mouffetard and Montagne Ste. Geneviève area with a multitalented guy whom I met at the Galway open mic a few weeks ago. His name is Brett Walsh, and he asked me if I would be interested in being a photographic model for him for the day as he is a photographer in search of subjects in Paris, many linked to his love of music.

Brad Spurgeon at Dame Blanche / Brett Walsh photo

Brad Spurgeon at Dame Blanche / Brett Walsh photo

Brett, in fact, is a wonderful musician himself, and I was quite subjugated by the songs of his that I heard at the Galway. And then I looked at his web site where he has examples of his work in art, photography and graphic design. The work was so impressive that when he proposed to me that I spend some time as the subject of his camera lens, I did not hesitate. I know at least one of his other model subjects, and possibly more, and I thought he did a magic job of photographing the guy.

So it was that we met at what Ernest Hemingway calls in his memoir about Paris – A Moveable Feast – the “cesspool of the rue Mouffetard,” known officially as the Place de la Contrescarpe. I have always loved the rue Mouffetard and surrounding area (the rue Mouffetard, in fact, is the subject of one of my early rejected articles), and I have been spending a lot of time there in the last few months. So part of Brett’s idea of photographing his subjects is for him to photograph them in their environment or somehow linked to their interests.

Brad Spurgeon with guitar / Brett Walsh photo

Brad Spurgeon with guitar / Brett Walsh photo


He took several shots of me with my guitar, a few of me at a café on the place de la Contrescarpe with my computer open as if I was writing this blog post, and some in other locations where the sun was kind. But one of the high points of the expedition was that Brett had remembered a cool looking record store on the rue de la Montagne Ste. Geneviève and had a hunch it would be a good setting – especially for me with my interest in music.

So we went and asked the owner of the store, which is called, “La Dame Blanche,” and is located at 47 rue de la Montagne Ste. Geneviève, if we could photograph me there. The store is a treasure of a place with massively high ceilings and, needless to say, a tens of thousands of vinyl records from floor to high ceiling. It was like stepping into a past time. And although the collection consists mostly of jazz and classical music, there is a nice little collection of rock that has some insane progressive rock originals such as Tangerine Dream and King Crimson.

rob amours

rob amours

The owner was extremely kind, and as we left, he handed me an album to listen to, which it turns out was made by his brother, a keyboard player, in the year 2000, along with a certain Sebastien Tellier as a contributor as well. The album is Rob Amours. It turns out that this brother is now the keyboard player for the French band Phoenix….

In the end, it was a day to remember both artistically, as a model and for the musical discovery…. Check out the video I did of one of Brett’s songs at the Galway a couple of weeks ago:

Picture Postcard Perfect Paris and O.K. Open Mic Night as Well

June 20, 2013
bradspurgeon

Another Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

Another Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

PARIS – I was able to shore up my spirits and play to my heart’s content at the Vieux Léon open mic last night even when there were only two spectators listening, because it had been one of those nights where at home I had a desperate urge to go out and play in public. In fact, the Vieux Léon had quite a big crowd of people, but most were out on the terrace drinking and chatting, and not there for the open mic. So I decided to go to the Highlander after that, but got my kicks playing at the Vieux Léon, just for myself and those two spectators.

I also decided under those circumstances that I would play only my own songs, and that’s what I did – “Crazy Lady,” “Borderline” and my newer “Shake Her.”

From there I walked on the walk from the Vieux Léon to the Highlander – it is only around 10 to 15 minutes saunter – and on the way there I was struck by a perfect postcard image of the scene: the Seine, the boats, the sky, the Eiffel Tower and a search light on the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I said, “What an amazing city I live in! I have to stop and take photos of this picture perfect postcard scene that is almost a cliché, but actually, so beautiful that it HAS to be taken, it cries out to be taken. So I took the shots and paste them on this page here….

At the Highlander, the list was again over 20 people and I was dead last. The ever-fair, ever helpful Thomas Brun said he would try to get me up. But in the end, after several performers did their three 15-minute songs, it became clear there would be no way for me to go up. So Thomas told me he couldn’t do it this time, and I didn’t blame him. I was the late one…. (It DOES make me wonder, though, why performers insist on 15-minute songs in an open mic, when spectators need to be entertained and say goodbye to the performer while still wanting more….)

Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

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