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Jon’s Christmas List 2023

Food:

  • Hot chocolate, regular or dark
  • Ground decaf coffee
  • Loose green tea

Clothes:

Books or 2024 Wall Calendars with art by Bauhaus type artists:

Other:

  • Printed study scores of Prokofiev Symphonies, full size if possible


Categories
Friends

John Benneth

Sometime in the spring of 1994, I had returned to Portland after my whirlwind tour of the midwest playing country music.

By tour, I mean appearing in very weird bars and dives, playing songs I had not never heard.

At any rate, back home I saw an ad mentioning that a theatrical project at the coast was looking for actors. With nothing to lose, I showed up at Clackamas Community College, and met John Benneth for the first time.

He had a sidekick, a jolly fellow named, I believe, Don Black. Benneth was tall and thin, Black was shorter and somewhat rotund. As a pair, they were Laurel and Hardy with roles switched–Benneth did all the talking, while Black silently took notes and executed Benneth’s dictates.

Benneth worked well with sidekicks. I should know, as I happily became a sidekick of his for a couple of years.

Anyhoo, to my shock, I was hired–as an actor–to perform in a theater at the coast, in an amusement park called Pixieland.

Pixieland had made a brave attempt to form a sort of Oregon Disneyland near Lincoln City. My understanding is that it stood tall for a couple of years, but by the time I arrived, the place was somewhat shabby.

Benneth’s job was to put together a cast to do melodrama shows. They were about 45 minutes long, and they put up 5 performances per day, starting at noon.s


His obituary is here–

https://obits.oregonlive.com/us/obituaries/oregon/name/john-benneth-obituary?id=31729262

Here are the comments I made at his memorial service–

Intro

John’s obituary was nice as far as it went, but I was surprised that it left out an important item–John was an outstanding pinball player.

When we worked together at Pixieland in the 1970’s, he taught me this technique where you can trap the ball with the flippers, and then flip it with great control and aim it where you like.

He would comment on his own play, but that didn’t compare with how he commented when you were playing.

He would stand behind you while you played and comment on your performance like a coach or sportscaster. “Foolish flipping. Dangerous bumper action. Crazy cushions. Losing control. Ooo–downball! Bonus match!”

There’s nothing more helpful than having Benneth standing behind you alternating shouted compliments and insults to improve your pinball game.

Metaphor for how he worked with you. And I should know. We worked together on many projects.

How did this all start? In the summer of, I believe, 1974 I saw an ad that they were looking for actors. I auditioned.

This happened at Pixieland. Lacked a timidity gene.

Introduced me to PG Wodehouse. Throw a brick.

Thoughtful landlord

Songwriter inspiration–producer like Hal Prince?

•Melodrama
–You Are the Man
–Nothing But a Dance Hall Girl
•Laughing Gas
–When a Girl Falls in Love
–The Stagers Do
•Zorro
–Mark of the Fox
–Sargeant Garcia Song: Wine
•Count of Monte Cristo
–Overture
•The Night That Panicked Portland
•Studio Z
–Studio Z Theme
–Helter Skelter
–Sam Sam Sam Sam Sam
•Mysterious Planet
–Mysterious Planet Theme

He was also an interesting manager of actors. One time for the melodrama show, he spread the rumor that Hollywood actor Paul Newman was going to going to be in the audience. This was believable because a movie with him had been shot nearby during that era.

And sure enough, just as the show began, a mysterious character slipped in and sat in the front row at the far right of the house. He was with an attractive female, and was bundled up with dark glasses and a hat. The word was that that person was Newman, and that he might be scouting for acting talent.

It was nice to see actors begin to skew their performance more and more stage left, until, at the end of the show, the group scenes had all performers clustered hard stage left, almost crawling over other to reach the front of the stage.

None of the actors were later contacted by anyone, and it was confirmed that Paul actually attended. It was said the mysterious individual looked a bit like David Benneth, but who knows?

Drones/Druids?

Interviewer Firesign Theater

Difficult speech. So much Bennethania. I could on for a long time with similar stories. You might check my blog where I have written a post dedicated to our friend. Blog.jonnewton.com.

But let me finish with this. About six months ago, John called me from California, and we talked for an hour. I don’t believe I had spoken with him for maybe 10 years or longer.

This was, to say the least, a wide-ranging conversation. He mentioned his adventures doing Mark Twain, and he talked a lot about his family.

But he also began talking about projects we should do together, and for a while I was back in that weird house on Long Street, on a Benneth-fueled creative roller coaster trying to divide reality from fantasy, and not succeeding.

It was an exhilarating conversation, but unfortunately it was the last time we spoke together, and of course, I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few days.

I’ve worked with a handful of very creative people, some of whom are here tonight. These are people who’ve provided opportunity, and ideas, and inspiration, and support, and I’m grateful to each of the them.

But in John’s case, his influence on me is impossible to overstate. It was so strong that sometimes, when I find myself in a screwy situation, I hear his voice in my head, saying “Careful with the cushions, there Newton. Foolish flipper action. Bumpers out of control. And–downball! But wait–bonus…match!”

That voice won’t ever go away.

Rest in peace my good friend John Benneth. I miss you in many different ways.


 

Categories
Last Chair Seconds

Last Chair Seconds: The Story

At the start of 2020, before the pandemic had had a chance to overtake us all, I was looking forward to retirement in the spring, and practicing the violin. I had always played, but never very seriously.

However, a year or two earlier I had started practicing again, and had reached a basic level of competence. In fact, I had played a concert with the Portland Civic Orchestra of fairly challenging music and survived.

So, at the end of 2019 I had contacted the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra to ask if I could join as a violinist for their next concert, scheduled for March, 2020. I heard back that I could start by attending the early rehearsals, and if things worked out, I could play the concert.

You may be aware that the violins in an orchestra are organized into two groups called, unsurprisingly, first and second violins. Composers write creatively for these two groups, with the second violins (commonly called just “seconds”) often playing simpler, accompany parts supporting the more melodic parts played by the “firsts.”

You may also know that the players are organized into groups of two who share a music stand, and the the groups are staggered front to back. There is a hierarchy to this grouping–players closer to the conductor are considered higher in the pecking order. And of the players sharing a stand, the ones on the outside–the ones closer to the audience–have a higher status than the inside player.

So, of all the people who play violin in the orchestra, the top dog sits on the outside of the front stand of the first violins. That player–called the “concertmaster”–is considered the leader of the strings, responsible for creating bowings, assigning seating, and tuning the group.

Conversely, the person on the inside of the back row of the second violins–the last chair seconds, as it were–is tacitly understood to be the player on the lowest rung of the violin ladder.

In a great orchestra, of course, every player, including the one in this lowly seat, is world class, and there is little or no dishonor residing in that spot. But in a community orchestra, it is understood that the skill difference between first-chair firsts and last-chair seconds could be quite vast. The person parked in the latter location can be understood to be potentially lacking.

As you may be expecting, it was in that lowly spot that I found myself parked as the rehearsals for the BSO concert began.

-TO BE CONTINUED-