Path Crossings


Path Crossings 

                                                    written  late 2001

     I used to write a lot of “famous people.”  I’d send them my work and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.  Through this endeavor I received autographs from James Cagney, Frank Capra, Ginger Rogers and others.  Sometimes I’d get little notes or short letters with the autograph.  These were, most notably, from James Stewart and Lillian Gish.  

    I received a nice signed photo from Mel Blanc (surrounded by cartoon characters he’d done the voices for) signed  “eh!…What’s up Maurice?”    Then, I had told Groucho Marx that I was cursed with some measure of “funniness” and intended to go into the comedy racket.  He sent me a photo of the three Marx Brothers in their prime and signed it “To Maurice—good luck with your career.”  Insofar as I’ve gotten laughs from some of my puppet shows and some of my more humorous writings—I feel my being blessed by Groucho has helped more than hurt.  

    At the main library in Detroit I heard talks by some old-time actresses.  I said hello to Sylvia Sidney and got her autograph.   Margaret Hamilton (the “wicked witch of the west” in the 1939 Oz film) spoke there too (I believe).  I once met Lotte Lenya, here for a talk at Wayne State University.

     I used to go to comic book and old movie conventions in downtown Detroit.  At such events as the Detroit Triple Fan Fair they’d have marathon screenings of classic comedy, horror, sci-fi and cartoons (for fifteen hours straight-or more!).  I got comics signed by artists like Barry Smith, Neal Adams, Mike Kaluta and Jim Steranko.  There was a talk and signing by Stan Lee, head of Marvel Comics.  There were also guests from the film world–such as director George Romero and numerous “Star Trek” people.                                                                                                                                   

     I  met and got autographs from animators Chuck Jones (friend of Bugs Bunny) and Ray Harryhausen (skeletons dinosaurs, monsters etc.).  At the main library I met Harvey Kurtzman (and heard him talk).  He was the founder of MAD and involved in EC comics—always an inspiration.

    Some of my siblings have ended up in Athens, Georgia.  I’ve been down there several times  I met people from the band R.E.M. (primarily Michael Stipe) both in Georgia and New York.  For one of my earlier performances (on kazoo) with the Don’t Look Now Jug Band we opened up for Vic Chesnutt–at Alvin’s here in Detroit.      I got to say hello to Randy Newman at a mid-1970’s show.

    I knew musician Joe Henry a bit.  We had a mutual friend, Gregory Peters.  Greg died too young and was a great guy.  Once, the three of us went and saw Ornette Coleman in concert.

     I’ve also seen Patti Smith at a record store appearance.  I gave her some of my photo-copied poetry & artwork.  I got a signed photo.  I’d see people from Detroit  bands around town—especially Rob Tyner from the MC-5.      

    Various “underground film-makers” had appearances in Detroit.  Most of them I did talk with or “say hello”  (or give them some of my work, get their autographs etc.).  These include Stan Brakhage,  George Kuchar, Ed Emshwiller, and Carolee Schneeman.   I once met Michael Moore here too.                 

     I’ve been friendly with the surrealists for years—some I’ve met, some I’ve written to.  I met Philip Lamantia in San Francisco in 1977.  The painter-sculptor Gerome Kamrowski lives in Ann Arbor.  He was a  participant in surrealism as far back as the 1940’s and was a friend of Jackson Pollock’s.  I’ve met him several times and send him mailings. 

     I’ve met poet and performer Jayne Cortez several times and given her a few art pieces. 

     After years of correspondence, I finally met Franklin and Penelope Rosemont.  I’ve written to various surrealists and plan on writing others.  I  stay in touch with the surrealist entomologist Christopher Starr.  I tried to find him in Athens, Georgia and years later he wrote to me.  

      In 1996, I was in an art exhibition in France.  I was the only American in the show.  My friend Jacques Karamanoukian showed me around.  I also did some wandering on my own.  My French skills are poor to non-existent. Thus I didn’t understand a lot.   I met such artists as Jaber, Claudine Goux and Gerard Sendrey.   I also met one man who showed me a photo of poet Ted Joans (saying he’d recently seen him).

    Through showing at Jacques’ gallery and much reading and looking, I’ve also got in touch with the art brut, naïve, outsider art sensibility.  I’m self-taught myself and often come from that sort of place, that spirit.  Surrealism,  reading too many books,  listening to too much music,  seeing too many movies and (sometimes!) talking to too many people—these are my primary influences/atmospheres.                               

     On my only trip West (in 1977) I also met Edie Parker Kerouac at City Lights books.  We ended up living in the same neighborhood, back here. I’d visit and she’d show me Jack Kerouac’s artwork and letters and tell me stories about him.  She was his first wife.

    I’ve had books signed by William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and others—at “book signings.”  I  last talked to Ginsberg at an anti-censorship rally, in New York City, in the rain.

    Kenneth Patchen’s widow, the late Miriam Patchen was on my mailing list.  She wrote me back once saying she appreciated my work–in the spirit of her husband’s,  the spirit of jazz.     

    I’ve always been a huge jazz fan.  I’ve seen a lot of classic shows from Ornette Coleman to the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  Yet trying to remember shows I’ve seen goes off into another topic.  This is more about encounters-both postal and face to face.  

    There were good shows at “P Jazz” atop the deck of the Ponchartrain Hotel in downtown Detroit.  I saw Count Basie wheel by me in a sort of “motor scooter.”   I said hello to Earl “Fatha” Hines when he played there.  When Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers played there, a trumpet playing friend introduced me to the young Wynton Marsalis.  

    In New York City, I’d always run into good jazz.  I once said hello to Teddy Wilson—on break from playing a free outdoor concert. He signed a small paper bag for me.                                                            

    I met Randy Weston once, in Brookyn.  He’s very tall.  He was playing a show in the park.  He had a lot of family and friends hanging out with him.

    Buck Clayton was playing a free Sunday afternoon show and talk.  He just played a little.  He seemed very fragile yet very refined, elegant and well-lived.  I talked to him a little and gave him some of my work.

    Then, I once ran into James Moody and Lee Konitz outside of a club.  They were taking break in-between sets.  We talked awhile (“Detroit eh?  Detroit’s quite a town…” etc.)   I gave them some of my photo-copied handouts.  They both bought copies of my “WORLDS” book (recent then—so this was probably in the early 1980’s). 

   I  met Dizzy Gillespie after a show at Detroit’s Renaissance Center—an autograph, a quick hello. 

    There were some excellent jazz shows at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  I met the late Jaki Byard.  I got to exchange a few words with Roy Eldridge.  The trumpet great (“little jazz”) was in the men’s room having a nip or two of “liquid fortification” before he went on to play his set.  I also talked to such pianists as McCoy Tyner and Sir Roland Hanna (and got their signatures).   

     Barry Harris plays a yearly Christmas time “homecoming” concert here.  He plays solo piano.  I usually catch that and have talked with him a few times.  I’ve met Roy Brooks and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave.

     I’d painted a mural on the empty Hudson’s building in downtown Detroit.  They’d asked artists to paint on the building–on a theme of  “Detroit Heroes.” I did two paintings side by side.  One was for R & B singer Little Willie John.  The other was for jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan.  When all these works were painted over with black paint, it led to me doing 500 chalk drawings all over all four sides of the building.

     Later, I met the late Tommy Flanagan (at a concert) and told him I’d done a painting dedicated to him on the Hudson’s Building. 

     In 1979, I attended a memorable Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festival.  I got to talk with some of the members of various bands.  My “signings” included Jimmy Knepper from The Mingus Dynasty Band and Famoudou Don Moye from the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  I also got a signature from Marshall Allen from the Sun Ra ensemble.  I later had a memorable talk with him (at the bar) when they played at Alvin’s.

    Sun Ra and his Arkestra once did a week-long stand in downtown Detroit.  I was there 5 nights out of 7 and got to hang out with the band.  John Gilmore, June Tyson, Danny Davis, Marshall Allen etc.  were all very nice, very interesting.  Then, I actually got to meet Sun Ra himself.  We talked ten minutes or so—his talk was much like it was in his writings, songs and interviews.  I gave him a small painting “What has happened to the sun?”  I saw him several more times including a Central Park show I photographed.  

    I saw Lena Horne give a talk and interview session at a record store in New York City.  It was being taped for t.v.  I’d just got in town and still had my travel gear with me.  They passed out autographed CD covers afterword (to those who wanted them).   

    I used to correspond with Harmonica Frank Floyd.  I sent off for one of his LP’s direct from the artist himself.  He’d play several harmonicas at once (using his nose as well).  I have some unique and unusual letters he’d sent me. 

    I met Willie Dixon at a signing at Detroit record store “Sam’s Jams.”  He signed the back of a Martin Luther King postcard for me. 

    Before I was in the Don’t Look Now Jug Band, they’d backed up Howard Armstrong at a Peterboro Gallery show.  He was already a sort of “Detroit legend”  even before his movie.

     “Louie Bluie” , a documentary film about Howard,opened..  When it played at the Art Institute, they had him come out and do a short set live, before they showed the movie.  I’d run into him while walking around the neighborhood or after a show.  He’s been playing music (violin and mandolin) and singing for over 75 years now!  The man is full of personality and is quite young for his age.  He draws, paints and makes wild “tiki” necklaces.  He has a lot of great stories and he knows how to tell them.  Now, he’s no longer in Detroit, so I see him less often.  I’d better write him a letter. 

     These are some people, whose work I like or love, whose paths have crossed with mine.             


    I could update this more thoroughly, but you get the idea.  Beyond mere “name-dropping”, I believe that it’s my duty as an artist  to try to make contact with a variety of those whose work I admire and/or love.

     Some of these people   have died since I’ve written this.  These include my good friend Jacques Karamanoukian and my “constant inspiration” Franklin Rosemont.  Then too, musicians Howard Armstrong, Vic Chesnutt and recently, Lena Horne.  We’re all here but once, it seems, to do what we can, as best we can.


One Response to “Path Crossings”

  1. Don Handy (Mud) Says:

    “Everybody’s a dreamer, and everybody’s a star
    And everybody’s in movies, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
    -Ray Davies

    I’ve got Maurice Greenia’s autograph! I treasure that far more than I would most anyone mentioned above…

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