Hi, I’m Deborah Holdship, editor of Michigan Today.
Welcome to the 25th episode of “Listen in, Michigan”! A celebration of the miracle that I have actually survived making twenty-four of these podcasts. No small feat for a print journalist working alone in a recording studio. I have cut together some of my favorite snippets from the podcast so far. If you haven’t listened or subscribed yet, I hope you will, as you’ll hear I have a lot of fun with my subjects. I’m going to start with episode fifteen, featuring Jerry Bilik a composer, arranger, and musician who began arranging with the Michigan Marching Band in the ’50s under William Revelli. Jerry created arrangements for the band when he was just a sophomore, that fans still hear today. He’s the best. Here he is, talking about a time that the marching band tipped its hat to the hi-fi, that’s an old record player with speakers for you kids in the back. Here’s Jerry.
Jerry Bilik: I was in music school and I had become very interested in music theory and acoustics. And I began analyzing my own scores of what Revelli was looking for, and I will tell you what happened. I mentioned the hi-fi show, I did an arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I don’t know if you (sings a part of Fugue in D Minor) it’s an organ piece.
Holdship: Mhhm, oh yeah.
Bilik: And it’s going to be about a stereo system so they said, the announcement said, of course you have to have tweeters and high notes and then it’d be like (sings high notes) and then you have to have the mid-range (sings mid-range notes) and then you have to have the woofers (sings low notes), you had all this stuff. I mean it was designed that way, we knew that that’s what they were going to say. In that piece, there’s a kind of pyramid where all of the instruments come in on top of each other. We were playing it in the stadium, this was probably the second year I was arranging, and all of the sudden, the entire stadium stood up and started screaming. Revelli was conducting and he turned, and he thought some woman was getting passed up or whatever it was. They were all pointing at the band and screaming and what had happened, thank Bach for this, but the way that the chords lined up, they reinforced each other and the sound it totally consumed the stadium. Every molecule in that stadium was vibrating and when that happened, we all, you know, I was playing at that time, it was the first time I saw the music move the stadium.
Holdship: And you’re still a student at this time, you’re just a young kid right?
Bilik: Right, a sophomore.
Holdship: Wow, I loved that episode. Okay, here’s another favorite episode, lucky number thirteen. It’s about a book called “Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor” co-written by an alum named Gail Offin. Gail will take you back in time to the diners, dives, and pubs that made your college and ann arbor experience so memorable. You can practically taste that orange sauce at Pizza Bob’s when she talks about it. Here’s Gail describing how food, memory, and nostalgia work together to stimulate your mental palette.
Gail Offin: Sometimes it’s the food, sometimes it’s a place, like for example the Pretzel Bell, so many people celebrated their twenty-first birthday there, so it was like a rite of passage kind of place. People would go there and they would tell their friends to go there and again it was really iconic. But then I look at a place like Dominic’s, and their schedule revolves around U of M. They open up at spring break and they close the week after the last home game. So you think about it, it’s mostly spring and summer you’re sitting outside, you’re with your friends, and so that’s the kind of thing you look back on. In your mind’s eye, you can see yourself sitting there, almost like a movie, sitting there and enjoying things with your friends. I think a lot of these gathering places are the places that people remember, for example, Drake’s. My mother used to study at Drake’s, and that was a long time ago. So again you remember some of those cozy moments where you would be in a booth at Drake’s eating a grilled pecan roll and drinking a limeade and that, there’s no other place you could do that.
Holdship: And then, you bring up an interesting point, being able to go someplace that your parents may have gone, or your children can come to a place where you may have gone, that, that connection…
Offin: That loop it’s so true because I find people tell me when they come in for football games, they always go to Pizza Bob’s or I always go to this place. my uncle used to make donuts at the brown jug. The Brown Jug actually is the longest surviving restaurant now still operating, it’s been around since nineteen thirty-six. So think about that, I think about my uncle working there, I think about my mother at Drake’s, I think about all these places that I also went to. And then you look back at some of these places and you look where Drake’s is now and it’s Bruegger’s Bagel now, and you go, really? Nobody could save Drake’s? You look back and you just look at some of these icons and why couldn’t have somebody stepped in and saved them?
Holdship: How much do you love Gail and her Michigan accent? (laughs) and I say that with true affection I promise. Okay, next we have a nutty interview with sports writer and alumnus John U. Bacon. He released the book of some of his favorite essays last year, “The Best of Bacon”. It was the perfect opportunity to talk through some of his nuttiest experiences. Literally trying out for sports teams at the George Plimpton and paper lion to give his readers the most visceral sports experience. John really cracks me up, as this clip from episode twenty reveals…
John U. Bacon: (laughs)
Holdship: I love your self deprecating humor and these like George Plimpton adventures you went on. Like there’s a hockey one and football too, right?
Holdship: There’s one where there’s a lot of puking (laughs) and another one where…
Bacon: Yep that’s the football one, and hockey was pretty close (laughs)
Holdship: (laughing) The one where your whole body shut down.
Bacon: It did. I tried out for the Detroit Vipers hockey team and lost six pounds the hard way and that was brutal. The hardest one by far though was the working out with Mike Barwis the old strength coach at Michigan, back in ’09. I puked every day for a week and a half working out with those guys. I couldn’t walk after these workouts, you couldn’t get down the steps. I mean you went home and you got on your couch in the fetal position and you whimpered for an hour and realized I’m going to die here. You have to get up and feed yourself in some way. That’s when I realized, by the way, no exaggeration, anybody who’s gone through this it’s called hypertrophy, where your body just breaks down. It’s a cataclysmic event to your body it just shuts down and these guys go through it twice a year. And then they get used to it and they start lifting weights again. Read that piece and you’ll see football players in a different light man, it is not an easy life. And I don’t care if they are full rides, they are not free rides. They pay a price.
Holdship: Well if anyone knows about respecting athletes, it is John. Okay onto our next clip. This is award-winning, beloved and revered professor, Ralph Williams. You kinda have to say it like that because he speaks like this, in a very important way. He is an expert in religion and he’s one of those people that places very high importance on civility, mutual respect, dignity and so on. Here’s Ralph in an especially thoughtful moment about the meaning of life. This is episode 6.
Ralph Williams: Happiness is not a state into which you fall, it’s a choice of the will and it’s always against odds. I’m not pollyanna, I am in anguish and moral anger at the pains and injustices of the world. I’ve studied and studied and studied but the brand answers out there are frequently not available so you need to make a choice, right? And I don’t know frankly whether as a race we’re going to make it, whether as a society we’re going to make it, right? I don’t know finally, know, whether love is at the basis of the Universe where Dante speaks of as the love which moves the sun and other stars, right? But one makes a commitment finally if one chooses that that’s the way it should be and tries to work that out, right? And that’s an arduous thing.
Holdship: Ralph is so amazing, true Michigan treasure. Alright now here’s an interesting one from episode twenty one. You’re about to hear from photographer and filmmakers Andy Sacks and Jay Cassidy, two alumni who worked as staff photographer at the Michigan Daily in 1968 when Robert F Kennedy came to Detroit, prior to announcing his candidacy for president. It was the first time these young photojournalists had ridden in an open-air motorcade, taking photos, standing up in a moving convertible alongside representatives from Life, and Time and all sorts of magazines. Their images are among the last photos of RFK. He was assassinated three weeks later. The first voice you will hear is Andy’s.
Andy Sacks: I talked with a friend of mine the other night and, and he said well, you know when you’re twenty years old, you don’t think you’re inexperienced.
Jay Cassidy: You know it helped us as teenagers grow a lot, the Michigan Daily. Because we were thrust into a situation where you’re dealing with adults and you have to deal with them because that’s the mandate of the paper.
Sacks: If I look at the pictures of me that Jay shot, for instance, I look pretty green and unkempt, but I was concentrating on what was going on. We kinda knew the ropes and we were going to go about our job and get some good pictures for the day. Do you have any sense of that Jay?
Cassidy: Yeah I, you know, look, the ethos of the Michigan Daily was we’re a national newspaper, and and were going to cover stories as a national paper. You know, so when there was activity on a national level in the geographic area, the daily covered it.
Sacks: Or beyond the geographic area.
Cassidy: And beyond the, yeah that’s true.
Sacks: Yeah Larry Robins and I went to Cape Canaveral because we didn’t think they should shoot a rocket to the moon without us witnessing it. You know?
Cassidy: Yeah so I mean that part of that certainly is the arrogance of youth uh too, kind of, but at the same time it’s why the paper was respected. Is because it did assume a kind of an attitude that you know, that said well there’s the New York Times, the Washington Post and Michigan Daily.
Sacks: Well maybe not in that order (laughs)
Holdship: As a former college journalist myself, I loved those two. Alright, finally we’re going to take you out on this clip from episode twenty-three in late twenty eighteen with alumnus and filmmaker Dan Chase who recently completed a documentary called “Football’s Valhalla”, about legendary football announcer Bob Ufer. Those of you who are fans will remember Ufer’s unique “Uferisms”. And whacky turns of phrase that add so much color and laugh out loud humor to every football broadcast. Dan’s got some great stories from the interviews he conducted for the picture. He even teared up once while we chatted. Here’s Dan…
Dan Chase: Um I think I was probably about seven or eight years old and my mother was listening to Bob Ufer on a little portable radio that she would carry around the house. And she’d be doing housework and she’d have this radio on. And was thinking well why on earth is my mother listening to a Football game. This is you know sports. I didn’t think of her of being a sports fan in particular. She was entertained by all his Uferisms and all of his funny phrases and I’m sure just his sheer joy. And the one that was probably my favorite is “running down that mod-sod like a penguin with a hot herring in his cummberbun”.
Holdship: (laughs) That’s genius.
Chase: And, I have Ann Curzan breaking that down.
Holdship: That’s so cute
Chase: She’s great. She says something like, well let’s start with mod-sod. You know and proceeds to you know kinda work through it. Where do you get the penguin? Where do you get the hot herring? That’s fun, that’s one of my favorites that’s fun. You know there are so many others. He could run in the phone book for fifteen minutes and never touch the sides. Also, a big thing with Bob Ufer was nicknames. He nicknamed a lot of the players which also made kinda them more legendary. Rick Leach the guts and glue of the maize and blue. Anthony the darter Carter. All these things added to his flavor and helped to magnify these heroes that we were following.
Holdship: Well thanks so much for listening. I hope this inspires you to check out my past episodes. You have twenty-four to choose from. Find Listen In, Michigan at iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and Tune-In. Also, we are always under the topics tab at michigantoday.umich.edu
Ok, take it easy. Until next time, you know what to do. Go Blue.
The best of Listen in, Michigan
Welcome to the 25th episode of Listen in, Michigan. In celebration of the miracle that I have actually survived making 24 of these podcasts, no small feat for a print journalist working alone in a recording studio, I have cut together some of my favorite snippets from the podcast so far. If you haven’t listened or subscribed yet, I hope you will. As you’ll hear, I have a lot of fun with my subjects.
Let’s start with Episode 15, featuring Jerry Bilik, BMus ’55/MMus ’61, a composer and musician who began arranging with the Michigan Marching Band in the ’50s under William Revelli. He created arrangements for the band when he was just a sophomore — arrangements that fans still hear today. In this clip, Jerry harkens back to the first time he saw music come alive in Michigan Stadium. Literally.
Next up is Lucky No. 13. This episode features alumna Gail Offen, BGS ’78, co-author of a book titled Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor. Gail talks about Ann Arbor restaurants with undeniable passion. She will take you back in time to the diners, dives, and pubs that made your college experience so memorable. You can practically taste that orange sauce at Pizza Bob’s as she describes it.
Meanwhile, we have a clip from Episode 20 with sports writer and alumnus John U. Bacon, BA ’86/MA ’94. He released a book of some of his favorite essays last year: The Best of Bacon. He’s got tales about Bo Schembechler, Ernie Harwell, and other local luminaries. Some of his nuttiest experiences – a la George Plimpton and Paper Lion – make for colorful copy as he tries out for various sports teams with disastrous results. The podcast gave me the perfect opportunity to let John tell his own stories in his own voice.
Speaking of voices, I had to get Ralph Williams on board for Episode 6, simply because he has the most elegant and beautiful way of speaking. This award-winning and beloved professor covers a wide range of topics in our interview, from the meaning of life to his own talent for reading upside down.
Then we come to an interesting one from Episode 21. We’ve got photographer/filmmakers Andy Sacks and Jay Cassidy on the phone (so please forgive the audio quality). These two alumni worked as staff photographers at The Michigan Daily in 1968 when Robert F. Kennedy came to Detroit prior to announcing his candidacy for president. It was the first time the young photojournalists had ridden in an open-air motorcade, taking photos alongside seasoned professionals representing Life, Time, and more. Their images are among the last photos taken of RFK. He was assassinated three weeks later.
And finally, we play you out on a clip from Episode 23 with alumnus and filmmaker Dan Chace, BA ’83, who recently completed the documentary Football’s Valhalla about super-enthusiastic Wolverines football announcer Bob Ufer. Fans will remember his quirky “Ufer-isms” and wacky turns of phrase that added so much color to his radio broadcasts. Chace has some entertaining stories to share about his experience making the film. He even teared up once while we chatted.
So, here’s to Episode 25! Thanks for listening.