New fascinating movie ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ reimagines the culture of 1969 and the Manson Family murders

once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-1___08154746386By Tom Siebert

From “Singin’ in the Rain” to the latest remake of “A Star Is Born,” many films have been made about the star-making-and-dimming machinery of Tinseltown.

But Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” twists and turns the movie-movie genre into an entertaining valentine to the culture of the late 1960s, even attempting to rewrite a fairy-tale ending to one of the most notorious crimes in American history, the Manson cult murders that occurred 50 years ago this month.

It is February 1969 in Los Angeles. Western TV series star Rick Dalton, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is driven around by his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, who has trouble finding work because rumor has it that he killed his wife.

Booth is a war veteran who lives in a rusting Van Nuys trailer with his pit bull Brandy, while Dalton resides in a Benedict Canyon mansion next door to actress Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski, who directed the blockbuster thriller “Rosemary’s Baby” the previous year.

Similar to Woody Allen’s “Zelig” and Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump,” this movie has its fictional characters interacting with real-life luminaries.

In a long tense flashback, Booth reminisces about beating up famed martial-arts actor Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of TV’s “The Green Hornet.”

Ms. Tate attends a party at the Playboy Mansion in the nearby Holmby Hills section of L.A. Some of the guests include mega-movie star Steve McQueen as well as Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliott of the Mamas and Papas, a highly popular soft-rock group of the times.

Director Tarantino’s genius is evident throughout the epic film, but especially when he digitally inserts DiCaprio’s character into the McQueen role in a scene from the 1963 classic “The Great Escape,” since Dalton’s name was on a list of possible replacements if misfortune had prevented the star from making the movie.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a Trivial Pursuit extravaganza for Baby Boomers, with references to 1960s music, movies, TV shows, catchphrases, and Southern California iconography.

And Mr. Tarantino is a virtuoso of verisimilitude who perfectly recreates the kitschy cultural pastiche of 1969.

Booth watches a black and white television showing Vegas-style singer Robert Goulet melodramatically hitting the high notes of “MacArthur Park,” an unlikely No. 1 song for British actor Richard Harris.

Trying to jump start his fading career, Dalton crosses over to the pop music show “Hullabaloo” and wails the 1956 hit “The Green Door” as go-go girls dance around him.

And in a particularly poignant scene, we finally get to know Sharon Tate, who was known more for her stunning beauty than her acting acumen. Actress Margot Robbie inhabits Ms. Tate, portraying the budding starlet as an intelligent free spirit who walks unrecognized to the Bruin Theater in the Westwood section of Los Angeles.

Sharon tells the ticket seller that she is in the current movie playing, is invited in by the manager, sits down, and delights in her own performance in “The Wrecking Crew,” one of Dean Martin’s series of Matt Helm films that spoofed James Bond.

Meanwhile, Dalton lands the lead role in a new TV Western, “Lancer,” which co-stars Trudi, an eight-year-old method actor played smartly by Julie Butters.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has a great soundtrack that showcases the eclectic radio of the late 1960s, which ranged from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” to Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” to “California Dreaming,” the José Feliciano B-side version, not the Mamas and Papas original––in a trademark Quentin quirk.

The music of Paul Revere and the Raiders, a Colonial-clad rock band that had several hits in the late Sixties, is also prominent in the movie. When Ms. Tate and her friend, Beverly Hills hairstylist Jay Sebring, rock out to the Raiders’ “Good Thing,” Sharon teases him about what his client Jim Morrison of The Doors would think of his taste in music.

And Manson cultists are shown watching an episode of “It’s Happening,” one of three TV shows that the popular Paul Revere group hosted during the era.

Thematically, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is about the old versus the new, the ushering out of the studio system in favor of maverick independent filmmakers, and the end of innocence for the tight-knit entertainment community.

The first half of this homage to Hollywood is all fun and gamesmanship. Brad Pitt acts just like the slick, hip, and handsome movie star that he is. Mr. DiCaprio, however, plays a much more complex character, acts otherworldly, and should win some awards.

The chain-smoking-and-coughing Dalton is an alcoholic who struggles with his lines during the lengthy, meticulously staged cowboy-series scene. He then has an emotional breakdown in his dressing room, goes back to the studio sound stage, and delivers a compelling performance.

The incandescent cast of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” includes Kurt Russell, the late Luke Perry, and film legend Al Pacino, whose casting-director character Marvin Schwarzs helps Dalton break into so-called Spaghetti Westerns, the Italian-made movies that propelled Clint Eastwood to international fame.

But when the soon-to-be-notorious Charles Manson shows up at the Tate-Polanski home looking for Terry Melcher, a record producer who had rejected his folk-rock songs, Tarantino’s tale gets real. Real scary.

While driving Dalton’s car, Booth picks up a hitchhiker named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) and takes her to the old Spahn Movie Ranch, not knowing it is now a hippie commune where Manson and his drug-crazed followers are holed up.

Booth recognizes the desert ranch as the place where he and Dalton filmed the 1950s Western series “Bounty Law” and wants to say hello to his old friend George Spahn (Bruce Dern), the 80-year-old owner of the dilapidated outdoor studio lot.

Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, played creepily by Dakota Fanning, reluctantly allows Booth to visit Spahn, who is sleeping in a back bedroom. (The scene becomes more frightening when one remembers that Ms. Fromme tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford in Sacramento’s Capitol Park in 1975.)

After checking on Spahn to see that he’s all right, Booth walks back to his car, only to find that Mansonite Steve Grogan (James Landry Hebert) has slashed the front tire. He then brutally bashes Grogan and forces him to change the tire.

Then comes the fateful night of August 8, 1969, when Manson cultists Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel drive to Ms. Tate’s home with the intent to kill everyone inside, as the Mamas and Papas’ “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” plays prophetically on their car radio.

But they mistakenly arrive at the estate next door to 10050 Cielo Drive, occupied at the time by Booth, Dalton, and his Italian wife Francesca Capucci (Lorenza Izzo), as the Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic version of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is heard in the foreboding background.

And this reviewer will keep readers hanging on about the ending so that you may be inspired to go see this endlessly fascinating film.

What actually did happen that night was that Sharon Tate, her unborn baby, and her house guests Voityck Frykowski, Stephen Parent, Jay Sebring, and Abigail Folger were murdered.

And on the next night, grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were viciously stabbed to death by Manson Family members in the nearby neighborhood of Los Feliz.

If only Hollywood could have rewritten those tragic scripts.

Posted in Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Movie Review, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino, Tom Siebert | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

That old strange magic still sounds new as Jeff Lynne’s ELO enchants Chicago


By Tom Siebert

When Jeff Lynne founded the Electric Light Orchestra in 1970, his musical vision was to pick up where the recently disbanded Beatles had left off.

Nearly 50 years later, the legendary Lynne showed more than 20,000 fans at the United Center that his dazzling, dizzying songs still sound light years ahead of most music played before or since then.

The symphonic rock band opened the Chicago show of their 2019 North American tour with the orchestral “Standin’ In The Rain,” from ELO’s mega-selling 1977 double-album “Out of the Blue.”

The somewhat obscure song was elevated to stunning stature, with brilliant laser lights shooting across the sports arena and colorful images of rain, clouds, and lightning projected across five Stonehenge-like video screens.

But the music alone quickly stole center stage during the opening of the second song, as Mr. Lynne sang some familiar lines that thrilled and chilled the crowd:

“You made a fool of me. But them broken dreams have got to end.”

As if on cue, the audience joyfully rose up and clapped to the hypnotic piano groove of “Evil Woman,” the smash hit from 1975’s “Face the Music” album.

“Hello, Chicago!” Mr. Lynne shouted out to the cheering Baby Boomer-heavy audience. “You seem to be in good spirits tonight.”

Those spirits were lifted higher and higher throughout the nearly two-hour musical feast that featured some of the most sophisticated songs ever written and arranged––accompanied by a kaleidoscopic video and laser-light show that depicted and danced along with the perfectly performed music.

The 12-piece band played and sang lush, lively versions of  the irresistible sing-alongs “Do Ya” and “Livin’ Thing,” as well as the playful “Turn To Stone” and the beautifully bittersweet “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head,” on which Mr. Lynne paid homage to the late John Lennon’s serrated singing voice.

ELO’s music has always been futuristic but fun too. During the thunderous “Don’t Bring Me Down,” from 1979’s “Discovery” LP, the crowd delighted in shouting the name “Bruce!” following the title line.

And has there ever been a more entertaining tune than 1977’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” with its  bending guitar solo, cello chorus stop, and more cowbell than Christopher Walken could ever want?

The inventive songs of the Electric Light Orchestra dominated Top 40 radio in the 1970s and are now a staple of classic rock stations. The progressive rock band went through revolving-door personnel changes, with Lynne now its sole original member.

But the current ELO lineup is as good and gifted as any of the group’s previous iterations.

They are Mike Stevens, musical director, guitar, and backing vocals; Milton McDonald, lead guitar, backing vocals; Lee Pomeroy, bass guitar, backing vocals; Iain Hornal, guitar, vocals; Melanie Lewis-McDonald, backing vocals; Marcus Byrne, piano, keyboards; Jo Webb, keyboards; Steve Turner, keyboards; Donavan Hepburn, drums; Jessie Murphy, violin; and celloists Amy Langley and Jess Cox.

And besides, for many years there was no version of ELO either recording or touring. That gave Mr. Lynne time to perform his studio wizardry, producing Tom Petty’s masterpiece “Full Moon Fever” in 1989, and the surviving Beatles’ reunion songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” for their “Anthology” TV special/album in 1995.

Oh, and in 1988, Jeff joined a short-lived band that had a lot of potential, the Traveling Wilburys, whose other members were named Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, the aforementioned Mr. Petty, and George Harrison.

The late Beatles’ son, Dhani Harrison, was the opening act at the United Center rock extravaganza. He can’t help that he looks and sounds like his famous dad. But the younger Harrison is a fine performer in his own right, deftly playing rhythm guitar and leading a taut five-piece band whose songs ranged from progressive rock to melancholy blues to Beatlesesque psychedelia.

Dhani was brought back on stage during the main show to sing some of the clever verses from the Wilburys’ 1988 hit “Handle With Care,” a world-wise song that brought tears to some in the audience as iconic photos of the late Messrs. Orbison, Harrison, and Petty were displayed on the massive video screens.

Jeff Lynne is a genius and a gentleman, a self-effacing guitar hero whose voice can still reach the high notes of ELO’s operatic songs.

The evening’s encore was fittingly “Roll Over Beethoven,” which opens with the master composer’s dramatic first movement from his fabled “Fifth Symphony,” heady stuff for the pop music world of 1973 when the hit single was featured on the album “ELO 2.”

The classic song was written by Chuck Berry, who invented rock ‘n’ roll, and in recent years led a sad procession of music giants who have left us, including David Bowie, Tom Petty, and Glenn Frey of The Eagles.

All of which makes Jeff Lynne’s ELO even more of a treasure and pleasure to see, feel, and hear in concert.



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The Rolling Stones show Chicago that they are still rock’s best band ever


By Tom Siebert

I have long known that Mick Jagger has a heart. The mega-rock star once sent my then-wife two dozen roses and secured us press seats for a Rolling Stones concert at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Today, Mick’s heart is making headlines around the world as the legendary Stones front man showed last night that he is fully recovered from cardiovascular surgery.

He sang, skipped, mugged, and mimed during a two-hour-plus show before more than 60,000 fans, again at the historic lakefront stadium, with the majestic Windy City skyline as his backdrop.

The rock titans tore into their opening number, “Street Fighting Man,” from the landmark 1968 album “Beggars Banquet,” as their animated lead singer triumphantly pranced and danced his way down a runway that jutted into the audience, demonstrating that he still has moves, well, like Jagger.

The roaring crowd gave him a heartfelt heaping of cheers, shouts, and fist salutes as the Stones kicked off their 2019 No Filter Tour of North America, three months after the first 14 dates were postponed while Mr. Jagger recovered from a heart-valve replacement.

The storied band was back together, and guitar heroes Keith Richards and Ron Wood––as well as genius drummer Charlie Watts­­­­­­––could not contain their joy, in an emotional performance of still-stunning songs that changed the course of music and culture.

The second number was 1967’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” a once-controversial Stones tune that now seemed like just an enjoy-the-evening invitation to the cross-sectional audience that spanned four generations.

“It feels pretty good,” Mr. Jagger told the enthusiastic crowd, only coyly referring to his recent health problems. “We love Chicago so much we decided to start the tour here instead of Miami.”

But it was altogether fitting that the Rolling Stones should be born again in the city that gave birth to them, when schoolmates Mick and Keith met on a train in Dartford, England, in 1961, discovering their mutual love of Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf.

It was hard not to think of that unassuming meeting as the self-described Glimmer Twins, now in the biggest band ever, strummed acoustic guitars and sang harmony during the country satire “Dead Flowers,” from their monster hit album, 1971’s “Sticky Fingers.”

Friday night was the 38th time that they have played in the Chicago area, and the local fans, like those all over the globe, seemed to know the words to most of their songs.

But the official sing-along of the Soldier Field concert was the epic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with Mick thrusting his microphone at the crowd during the chorus and Mr. Wood performing a brilliantly beautiful guitar solo.

The Stones, who were once called “the bad boys of rock and roll,” are now grandfathers. Mick and Keith, who used to drink Old Grandad whiskey on stage, now get their satisfaction from bottled water.

The showstopper of the night was “Sympathy For The Devil,” whose opening primitive drumbeat was accentuated by a hellscape of real smoke emanating from the massive stage and fake fire burning on the giant video screens, while Mick and the crowd screamed “wooh wooh” in unison.

The samba-tinged song took on mythic significance after the Stones performed it during an ill-fated free concert at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco on Dec. 6, 1969, when Hells Angels fought with hippies and four people died, including a young black man, Meredith Hunter, who was stabbed to death.

But “Sympathy” is more historic than satanic, as it chronicles some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. It is also illustrative of the literate lyrics of Mr. Jagger, who was a history major at the prestigious London School of Economics.

“I watched with glee while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the gods they made,” he sang in a sparkly red shirt and tight black jeans. “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ when after all, it was you and me.”

Bass player Darryl Jones, who is an indispensable member of the Stones, was spotlighted during the haunting “Miss You,” from the Stones’ biggest-selling album, 1978’s “Some Girls.”

The band paid homage to Chicago blues with practically every number, but especially “Midnight Rambler,” a pulsating horror-show song from 1969’s classic “Let It Bleed” album, with Mick raucously playing a harmonica, while Keith and Ronnie traded distorted guitar grunges.

Mr. Richards, who has survived heroin addiction, drug busts, and brain surgery, was also warmly greeted by the Soldier Field fans, as he stood on the front stage to sing and play “Before They Make Me Run,” in which he wrote his own epitaph:

“After all is said and done, gotta move while it’s still fun. Let me walk before they make me run.”

The eclectic crowd not only got what they wanted, they got what they needed: almost every one of the Stones’ classic rock standards including “Angie,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Paint It Black,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Honky Tonk Women,” which was performed in front of giant Picasso-meets-Andy Warhol females depicted colorfully on the jumbo stage screens.

The first encore was “Gimme Shelter,” a thunderous, earthquake of a song, whose chilling line “Rape, murder––it’s just a shot away,” was screamingly sung by Sasha Allen.

Ms. Allen led a stellar cast of backup musicians that included Chuck Leavell on keyboards and backing vocals; Karl Denson, saxophone; Tim Ries, saxophone, keyboards; Matt Clifford, keyboards, percussion, and French horn; and Bernard Fowler, percussion and backing vocals.

The finale was of course “Satisfaction,” the number one song of 1965 that propelled the English rock group to international acclaim.

A second show at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, is scheduled for Tuesday night. Then the tour will head across the continent with scheduled stops in Arizona, California, Canada, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.––and maybe more dates added.

The No Filter Tour began in 2017 and has since grossed $238 million, with an attendance of more than 1.5 million concertgoers at 28 shows in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

The Rolling Stones have racked up those kinds of stratospheric receipts many times during their decades-long career.

But even if you had never heard of them or their songs, you would have still walked out of Soldier Field on Friday night knowing that you had just seen the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

Posted in Concert Review, Rolling Stones, Soldier Field, Tom Siebert | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

New documentary ‘Emanuel’ shows how faith and forgiveness healed survivors of Charleston church shooting


By Tom Siebert

Gun massacres are a common occurrence in American life. During this year alone in the United States, there have been more than 150 shootings that caused four or more casualties, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

When a mass shooter strikes a place of worship, however, the bullets emotionally pierce not only our hearts and minds, but ricochet straight through to our souls.

Such was the tragic case on the evening of June 17, 2015, when 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C., sat through a Bible study, then pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and shot to death nine black worshipers as they stood up to pray.

Last night Wheaton College hosted a screening of a brilliant new documentary about the Charleston massacre, titled “Emanuel,” before an audience of more than 100 people that included students, church leaders, and members of the community.

In the film, one of the three shooting survivors describes the horrific crime. “We closed our eyes to pray,” said Polly Sheppard solemnly. “That’s when he lit up the room.”

Another survivor, Felicia Sanders, recounts speaking to the shooter in the midst of his killing spree: “When he spoke to me, I was on the floor looking up at him from under the table. He just stopped and he said, ‘Did I shoot you yet?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘I’m not going to. I’m going to leave you here to tell the story.”‘

Ms. Sanders also tearfully recalled shielding her five-year-old granddaughter on the floor, saving the girl’s life, while watching in vain as her son Tywanza was shot to death across the room. “I felt every bullet that went into him,” she said, choking up.

Even more shocking than the shooting was the scene two days later when the mass murder suspect, wearing a gray-and-white jail jumpsuit as well as wrist and ankle shackles, appeared via video conference for a bail hearing in Charleston County court.

Some of the shooting survivors and victims’ relatives showed up in court, where Chief Magistrate James “Skip” Gosnell, Jr., asked them if they wished to speak.

The film portrays this tense encounter with somber silhouettes of the speakers slowly moving across the screen as audio from the hearing is played.

Nadia Collier, daughter of the slain Ethel Lance, is heard saying to Mr. Roof: “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Ms. Sanders told him: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study. We enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”

And Rev. Anthony Thompson, the pastor of a nearby church whose wife Myra was among those shot dead, tells the mass killer: “I forgive you. And my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Jesus Christ.”

Filmed mostly inside the 203-year-old church, colloquially called “Mother Emanuel,” and the homes of victims’ relatives, the 75-minute, award-winning documentary was financially backed by Viola Davis, an Oscar-winning actress and South Carolina native; and superstar point guard Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

Director Brian Ivie (“The Drop Box”) also employs the film-making technique called “cinema verite,” using actual television footage that showed how the monstrous act turned downtown Charleston into a frantic, flooded mass of screaming police cars, TV news trucks, hurried EMS workers, and panicked onlookers.

In addition to reporting the terrible story in a raw, riveting way, Mr. Ivie manages to seamlessly weave into the narrative Charleston’s sordid past as a slave port, South Carolina’s history as the only one of the 13 colonies that had a majority black population, and Mother Emanuel’s role in the civil rights movement.

The film also recounts Mr. Roof’s history of hatred, which included a racist manifesto that he had written as well as photos of him waving a Confederate flag and posing before symbols of white supremacy. And he is chillingly shown entering the church on a side-door surveillance camera, his fanny pack concealing his weapon of mass destruction.

The Confederate battle banner, long a source of controversy in Southern cities such as Charleston, was removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State House within three weeks of the tragedy. Then-Gov. Nikki Haley skillfully negotiated the move with state legislators and local guardians of Civil War culture.

Mr. Roof was convicted of mass murder and hate crimes, and is now awaiting execution. He had hoped to spark a national race war, the FBI stated.

But Charleston remained calm in the aftermath of the shootings, thanks to the forgiving sentiments of the survivors, calming words of city leaders, prayer vigils of activist groups like Black Lives Matter, and presence of President Barack Obama, who led mourners in the singing of “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the church’s prominent pastor.

Most of all, the documentary honors the so-called “Charleston Nine.” They were: State Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, and pastor of Mother Emanuel; Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54, manager of the Charleston County Public Library system; Susie Jackson, 87, a member of the church choir; Ethel Lee Lance, 70, the church sexton; Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a pastor and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University; Tywanza Sanders, 26, a member of the Bible study and grandnephew of fellow shooting victim Susie Jackson; Daniel L. Simmons, 74, a pastor who served at Greater Zion AME church in nearby Awendaw; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a pastor, speech therapist, and track coach at Goose Creek High School; and Myra Thompson, 59, a Bible study teacher.

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the movie was the interview with Myra’s husband, Rev. Thompson, in the garden that he built for his late wife behind the church. The reverend recollected not being able to touch his spouse earlier on the day she died because “God already had her.”

The film screening was followed by a question and answer session that included Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother, two cousins, and a friend were killed in the gun tragedy. Rev. Risher said that forgiveness did not come quickly for her. “It took me two years. I was angry at God. I argued with him.”

She is the author of “For Such a Time as This: Hope and Forgiveness after the Charleston Massacre,” in addition to being the spokesperson for both the Everytown Survivor Network and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Others on the panel were the Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, and Dr. Jamie Aten, founder of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute.

Rev. Schenk, who ministers to elected officials in Washington, D.C., told the audience that “the church has a role to play” in the prevention of gun violence. And Dr. Aten, a psychologist, said that he was called upon to comfort the loved ones of the five workers killed and six police officers injured in the mass shooting at a manufacturing plant in Aurora last February.

Pastor Sharon noted that the Charleston shooter should not have been able to legally buy his gun, since he had been arrested four months earlier on a felony drug charge.

She asserted that mental health screenings should be included in background checks for gun purchases, and further questioned the need for assault weapons as well as the seven ammunition magazines that Mr. Roof carried with him into the church.

During the six-minute shooting, he reloaded his weapon five times with large hollow-point bullets, according to police reports.

Also appearing at the Wheaton College screening was the film’s producer, John Shepherd, a Glen Ellyn native who now lives in Santa Monica, Calif. Mr. Shepherd, who has many acting and producing credits, said, “We need to start a national dialogue about gun violence.”

“Emanuel” is an uplifting lesson about how to forgive the next mass shooter. But it does not tell us how to stop him. Moreover, it is too late to prevent another Charleston. Since the Mother Emanuel shootings, some of the worst gun massacres in U.S. history have occurred.

Later in 2015, 14 people were shot to death at a social services building in San Bernardino, Calif.; 49 at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016; 27 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in 2017; a record 59 at a country music concert in Las Vegas, later in 2017; 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018; 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, also in 2018; 12 at a bar and grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., again in 2018; and 11 at a public works building in Virginia Beach, Va., 17 days ago.

Since 1963, nearly 1.7 million people have died from shootings in America, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Among those shot to death were President John F. Kennedy; civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York; and singer-songwriter John Lennon of The Beatles.

“Emanuel” will break your heart in a million tiny pieces. But the grace and goodness of the survivors will painstakingly put it back together and restore your hope for humanity.

The film will be shown nationwide in selected theaters on June 17 and June 19, the anniversaries of the shootings and court hearing, respectively.

Mr. Shepherd said that Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron and multiple Grammy winners Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake have paid in advance for two-week showings of “Emanuel” in Los Angeles and Nashville.

The producers are currently looking for a distributor so the documentary can run longer in movie houses. They have pledged to donate all of the box-office profits to the victims’ families. Those who wish to learn more about the film or contribute to the survivors fund may visit

Following the screening and discussion, Rev. Risher led the Wheaton College audience in prayer. She did not lower her eyes.

Posted in Mass Shootings, Mother Emanuel, South Carolina, Tom Siebert | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karen Beyer, ‘champion of human services,’ retiring as chief executive officer of Ecker Center for Mental Health in Elgin

ECK_8080.jpgBy Tom Siebert

Karen Beyer has a lot of abbreviations at the end of her name: CEO, MPA, MSW, and three MBAs. But her life’s work is spelled out in the improved lives of the many whom she has helped in her 53-year career in social services.

The chief executive officer of the Ecker Center for Mental Health in Elgin is retiring at the end of the month, and the homages to her are just beginning.

She was called a “champion of human services,” by Ecker board chairman Alan Kirk, in announcing a fundraising effort to ensure that members of the community facing mental health challenges will continue to receive services and support.

“In her honor, we have created the Karen Beyer Circle to acknowledge her distinguished career, the impact her work has had on our community, and to ensure that the Ecker Center will continue to provide services in the face of increasing financial challenges,” Mr. Kirk said.

Ms. Beyer began her career as a child caseworker, later serving as a therapist for Lutheran Social Services. After earning a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University, she became clinical director for the Family Service Association of the Greater Elgin Area.

She also worked for several years in private practice as a marital counselor, helping couples to resolve their differences and stay together, and if they couldn’t, preparing them for life after divorce.

In 1983, Ms. Beyer became clinical director of health and human services for Hoffman Estates. There she defended the right of privacy of a traumatized police officer in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, “Jaffee versus Redmond and the Village of Hoffman Estates.” She also was a pioneer for the advocacy of employee assistance programs.

After earning another master’s degree, this one in public administration from Roosevelt University, she was hired as executive director of The Larkin Center group homes in Elgin, where she increased fundraising and developed new programs.

She has served at the Ecker Center since 2000, helping steer the mental health facility through many challenges, such as the increasing number and needs of its clients as well as working within the guidelines of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ObamaCare.

“Karen never gives up,” asserted Victoria Gesinger, assistant clinical director at the Ecker Center. “She has led us through so many difficult financial crises with immense state budget cuts, and the more recent crisis where there was no budget at all.”

State Rep. Anna Moeller plans to introduce in the Illinois General Assembly a resolution honoring Ms. Beyer for her many contributions for the betterment of the community, according to Ecker’s events manager Karen LeBuhn.

For more information about the Ecker Center for Mental Health, visit All donations to the Karen Beyer Circle that are received by June 25 will be recognized on her final day of work before her retirement begins.

Added Ms. Gesinger: “We have been so fortunate to have a leader such as Karen to see us through these difficult situations with little impact to client care and employees.”

Posted in Ecker Center for Mental Health, Elgin, Karen Beyer, Tom Siebert | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the new Who–better than the old Who? Better, you bet!


By Tom Siebert

The Who don’t do drugs anymore, their mad-genius drummer and brilliant bassist having sadly succumbed to overdoses in 1978 and 2002, respectively. And it has been decades since the visionary, explosive rock band closed their concerts by nihilistically destroying their instruments.

But last night, a renewed Who elevated their storied songs to stratospheric heights before more than 25,000 fans at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, during the Chicago-area stop of their 31-date Moving On symphonic tour.

Rock giants Roger Daltrey and Peter Townshend fronted an astonishing musical assemblage comprised of their stellar seven-piece backing band and a magnificent 48-piece orchestra, some of them local musicians, conducted by Keith Levenson and arranged by David Campbell.

“Thanks for coming out tonight,” Mr. Townshend said to the frozen people who braved 50-degree weather to see the fabled performers. “We’ll try to warm things up a bit.”

That they did. The first elegant eight songs were from 1969’s “Tommy,” The Who’s groundbreaking rock opera about an emotionally and physically challenged boy who becomes a pinball wizard/pop guru.

Mr. Townshend, who turned 74 the other day, wrote the famed concept album to heal from his own childhood sexual abuse.

And the original guitar hero seemed to still be playing his instrument as a catharsis, hunching over it, attacking the strings, and flying his fingers up and down the frets–then standing survivor-tall with his trademark windmill power-strumming.

Mr. Daltrey, now 75 and a survivor himself of meningitis and throat cancer, sang the soaring refrain from “See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me” with vigor and vulnerability, pointing at members of the Tinley Park throng.

“Listening to you, I get the music. Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you, I climb the mountain. I get excitement at your feet. Right behind you, I see the millions. On you, I see the glory. From you, I get opinions. From you, I get the story.”

The delighted crowd got the story, the glory–and the lyrics right–singing along, smiling, and tearing up with emotion.

It was an eclectic audience that spanned at least three generations: Baby Boomers who perhaps first listened to Who albums in smoke-filled dorm rooms; their adult kids, who are all right; and younger aficionados, who were likely introduced to the band’s iconic songs from the opening credits of TV’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” trilogy.

About 10,000 fans sat in the reserved seating section of the scenic outdoor amphitheater, while another 15,000 or so huddled on blankets or beach chairs in the sprawling lawn area, bathed in the sparkling colored lights streaming from the titanic stage.

The gifted orchestra somehow made violins sound like guitar solos and inserted majestic flourishes to The Who’s writ-large songs with cellos, bassoons, French horns, a harp, and timpani.

After the “Tommy” set, the orchestra exited the stage, leaving the core band members to thrill the crowd with legendary rock standards.

Mr. Daltrey good-naturedly noted the cold wind blowing in his face and shouted out, “Don’t you people know it’s nearly summer?!”

His band mate of 55 years added: “We love Chicago. Everyone seems to be so warm and friendly, except the ones who aren’t so warm and friendly–just like home.”

The showstopper of the enchanted evening was a surprising acoustic rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” an epic song from 1971’s classic “Who’s Next” album.

The frigid fans, many of whom were dressed as if they were at a Chicago Bears game in mid-December, warmed up by standing, dancing, and chiming in word for word–including the song’s cynical, lyrical conclusion about the political revolution of the late 1960s: “Meet the new boss! Same as the old boss!”

Mr. Daltrey, whose performing skills include singing, mike tossing, tambourine banging, and harmonica playing, donned an acoustic guitar and strummed credibly during “Eminence Front,” a mesmerizing electronic funk from 1982’s “It’s Hard” album.

A violin-driven version of 1971’s “Behind Blues Eyes” gave added drama and depth to the bittersweet ode to codependency.

Roger and Pete were joined together on stage by violinist Katie Jacoby, vocalist Billy Nichols, and regular band members Simon Townshend on guitar, Loren Gold on keyboards, Jon Button on bass, and drummer Zak Starkey–whose father, Ringo Starr, used to play with a little band called The Beatles.

The Who could not and did not perform all of their many greatest hits. I was disappointed that they did not do “You Better You Bet,” a quirky love song whose ironic, yearning verses have been heard on rock radio since 1981.

But this was no loose “Freebird” type of concert. No, it was an immovable feast of precisely measured music that required exquisite timing among the 55 master musicians who often shared the stately stage.

The massive symphonic assault of the senses was at once thrilling and even more chilling than the Windy City weather.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the night was achieved by just Pete and Roger dueting a pretty offering of “Tea & Theatre,” from their 2006 album “Endless Wire.”

“Two of us–we will have some tea,” sang Mr. Daltrey, wearing a black down jacket and raising a cup of tea to Mr. Townshend as the moving ballad drew to a close.

Watching this emotional scene, I could not help but recall The Who’s star-crossed history. As children, they played in the rubble of post-war Britain.

Mr. Townshend has said his melancholy lyrics and scorched-earth sounds grew out of his Cold War generation’s growing up under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.

Then, on Sept. 7, 1978, their comedic, dynamic drummer Keith Moon died in his London flat after consuming 32 tablets of clomethiazole, which had been prescribed to ease his alcohol withdrawal.

Many more losses came on December 3, 1979, when 11 young Who fans were stampeded to death prior to a concert at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati. The horrific tragedy led to nationwide bans on festival seating, where the first to enter music venues got the spots closest to the stage.

And original member John Entwistle, who was voted the greatest bass player ever in a Rolling Stone magazine readers’ polls, died at age 57 from a cocaine-induced heart attack in a hotel room in Paradise, Nevada, on June 27, 2002.

So the change, well, it had to come. Last week, Mr. Daltrey cussed out a fan in Nashville for lighting up a joint, saying that he was allergic to marijuana smoke and it adversely affected his voice.

But through it all, the band played on, right up to last night’s mega-gig at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre.

The third act of the two-and-a-half-hour, 24-song show featured orchestrated numbers from The Who’s 1974 magnum opus, “Quadrophenia.”

The highlight was that album’s “Love Reign O’er Me,” which began with a dramatic piano interlude by Mr. Gold and reached rock ‘n’ roll high heaven with Mr. Daltrey’s up, up, and away wailing of the chorus line.

I attended The Who’s allegedly final U.S. concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1982. And if their lead singer has lost a step or note, I couldn’t tell.

The same goes for Mr. Townshend. He seems to be ever exploring the sonic depths of his guitar. And they have a new CD coming out later this year.

The encore was the anthemic “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland),” propelled by Ms. Jacoby’s stunning violin solo.

Most everyone yelled out on cue rock’s most-famous last line, “They’re all wasted!”

If you missed this once-in-a-lifetime performance, The Who will be destroying audiences at venues across the nation throughout the summer and fall, including a concert on September 8 at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

But wherever they play, from Woodstock to the Super Bowl to Tinley Park, The Who’s still on first.

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‘Shark Tank’ star Mark Cuban jaws about health, happiness at Judson University’s World Leaders Forum in Elgin

Cuban 2

By Tom Siebert

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team, took some bank shots at President Trump on Tuesday, but dribbled away from whether he will wage his own independent campaign for the White House.

Speaking before the World Leaders Forum at Judson University in Elgin, the star of ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” took stances on several simmering political issues but stopped short of announcing his own third-party candidacy for president.

“My legislative priority is to win a playoff game,” Mr. Cuban quipped, referring to the Mavs’ missing the NBA postseason for the past three years, and drawing laughs among the more than 400 people jammed into Herrick Chapel at the Christian college.

About his rags-to-riches journey, he said: “I’m just a grinder. I always have been. I didn’t get a small, million-dollar loan from anybody.”

That was an indirect reference to Mr. Trump’s self-narrative about how his father lent him the money that launched his lucrative real-estate business, although a recent New York Times investigation concluded that the president’s paternal assistance amounted to many more millions.

Mr. Cuban, who told CNBC last Tuesday that he was considering a presidential run, was interviewed by Mark Vargas, a 2004 Judson graduate, health-tech entrepreneur, conservative opinion writer, and former U.S. Department of Defense adviser on rebuilding war-ravaged economies through private and foreign investment.

The two Marks talked substantively about healthcare reform, gun control, income inequality, reaching diverse business markets, and even artificial intelligence (AI), which Mr. Cuban predicted will radically change the world’s economy in the same way that computers, the internet, and social media did.

“Vladimir Putin thinks so,” Mr. Vargas noted.

“I’d like to hear what Putin has to say about Helsinki,” joked Mr. Cuban, alluding to the Finland summit in July 2018 when the Russian leader spoke privately for two hours with President Trump.

But most of the hour-long conversation focused on the guest’s success story, which began with him selling garbage bags door to door at the age of 12.

“I was fired from a software store, living with five other guys, and feeling stressed and stuck,” he recalled. “I wanted to control my destiny, and starting my own company was the only way to do that.”

Mr. Cuban started several successful companies, including MicroSolutions, a computer consulting service that he sold in 1990 to CompuServe, and, a sports radio website that was sold to Yahoo for $5.6 billion.

He elicited enthusiastic applause twice after asking the audience if they watched “Shark Tank,” the long-running series that allows aspiring entrepreneurs to make business presentations to a panel of five investors that includes Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, and Kevin O’Leary.

And the reality-TV celebrity regaled the audience with impressions of two television characters from his youth, Fred Sanford of “Sanford and Son” and Sergeant Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes.”

“I thought he was super funny,” said Judson freshman Carista Richie, who is majoring in Christian ministry. “And very knowledgeable.”

Graduate student Taylor Hilliard, who plans to work on his master’s degree in biomedical services at the university this fall, was particularly interested when Mr. Cuban spoke about the prospect of AI leading to more-accurate health diagnoses.

“The focus of medicine should be on the patient, and I want to be a part of that,” he asserted.

The World Leaders Forum resumes on October 8 when author, attorney, and diplomat Caroline Kennedy will be the keynote speaker at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center.

The daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy will be interviewed by conservative commentator Eric Metaxas, host of a nationally syndicated radio show.

The format will be similar to last year’s World Leaders Forum, which featured a lively but civil discussion between Democrat Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, and Republican Newt Gingrich, ex-speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Previous keynote speakers at the forum were former President George W. Bush, ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, then-President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.

To purchase tickets for the fall event, visit

Located in Elgin since 1963, Judson University offers a Christian, liberal arts and sciences education through its bachelor of arts degrees for more than 60 majors, minors, graduate programs, and online, as well as certification and accelerated adult degree programs.

Proceeds from today’s event support entrepreneurship and diversity scholarships for Judson students.

“My advice to students entering the workforce is that you don’t need to find the perfect job right away,” Mr. Cuban concluded. “Take that first job, find joy in the moment, approach it as a learning opportunity, and get smarter every day.”

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