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Gene Deitch & Kim Deitch Together Again !

gabbing & spinning rare discs on WNYC Radio, 9 January 2004 on Dave Garland’s 2-hour New York show, “Spinning on Air.” But you didn’t actually miss it. Hear the complete archived show, or as much as you can stomach, at: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/spinning/episodes/01092004.

I played and discussed the rare jazz records that inspired me to make the cartoons and cover designs nearly 60 years ago for the old Record Changer Magazine, that have now been collected in the giant book, “The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove,” plus many private recordings never before played on the air, including two of my 1949 John Lee Hooker recordings, and other rare tapes of little known but great jazz bands in Prague. Kim filled in with his own memories of how he grew up in the cartoon jumgle of strange animation studios where I worked, which resulted in his great comics novel, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” It was a great and wonderful opportunity for both of us to sit together and rap on our common creative experiences. Take a listen, because this broadcast led to an amazing, maybe spectacular result, and you will see in the following news!


This is Kim, my 62-year-old genius son! 1/2004

The Mystery and Magic of Connie Converse

In 1954 by best friend, Bill Bernal, a writer on food under the name of “Stendahl” and the most enthusiastic person I ever knew, brought his latest discovery to our house at 9 Ronny Circle in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

She was a reticent, plain young woman, who struck me at the time as the physical type who might be a Catholic nun. But then she opened her guitar case and began to sing for us. She was anything but a nun! Elizabeth “Connie” Converse transfixed us with her songs, full of a unique mix of very personal sadness, joy, longing, frustration, and ironic humor. She didn’t fit into any category that existed at the time. For that very reason, she was a professional failure. Outside of one chance on the Today Show with Walter Cronkite, which failed to lead to anything, she was known only to a small circle of people, and was never professionally recorded. That became my role.

Bill Bernal aka “Stendahl” about 1954 Elizabeth “Connie” Converse

Since shortly after the end of WW2 I’ve been an avid blues, jazz and folk music fan and a consequent avid practitioner of home recording technique. If you’ve checked out the story beginning on page 7 of this journal, you’ll know that in 1949 I happened to be the first person to record the future great John Lee Hooker, and that 50 years later my recordings of him became one of the most important blues CDs of the time.

So it was that five years later I recorded the entire “guitar song” repertoire of Connie Converse on a series of her visits to our house. Bill Bernal exerted every effort to his dying day to get recognition for Connie, and I tried to carry on the quest. But her time had not arrived. In fact, her time seemed to come to an end. I did make contact with her younger brother, Philip, who became an important author and professor at the Univesity of Michigan. I learned from him that Connie, suffering from depression, and diagnosed with a serious illness, left a note stating she did not wish to be found, packed her things into her Volkswagen bug, and drove off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

In 2004 when visiting New York, I was invited, with my son Kim, to be on Dave Garland’s “Spinning On Air” WNYC radio show to play our favorite jazz records. Even though it was completely out of the jazz context, a flash came to me, that here at last was a chance to sneak in at least one Connie Converse song. I played “One By One,” a song that moves me to tears, as it represents to me in one song, Connie’s basic story. Nothing much resulted from that broadcast… then… but three years later I received an email from a record producer named Dan Dzula, who said that he heard “One By One” on the show three years earlier, and couldn’t get it out of his head. The rest, as has been said before, is history.

55 years after my recording her, my tapes were restored, and in a first volume, Connie’s creations live at last! The only miracle left would be for Connie herself to magically materialize. Three weeks before my writing of this history you couldn’t have found Connie Converse’s name on Google. Now take a look! And look at Amazon.com. And look at http://www.wnyc.org/shows/spinning/episodes/2009/03/15 and look at the new website www.connieconverse.com If you are not thus swept into Connie’s world I personally guarantee you “double-your-money-back!” The critical raves resulting from the airing of her songs include many statements that had I not recorded her, and I had not happened to play that one song on WNYC, the poetry and music of Connie Converse would have been lost forever. I’m proud of that role!
Gene Deitch Spring 2009


The Tooth of Time!
Recently unearthed photo of beautiful young U.S. Air Cadet, training at Washington State U in 1944, and who might have become a bombardier and bombed Zdenka, who was at that very time dodging American air raids on Prague, but was spared that awful duty by the shutting down of the cadet training program as World War 2 neared its end.


Zdenka, just as we met,1959, (taken by studio cameraman,
Zdenka Hajdová)

After 41 years together I finally found out the meaning of Zdenka’s name. Several people told me the English version of the name is “Sidonia.” I am content to ignore that.

Every name has a meaning, and finally, yesterday’s edition of the Prague daily, “Lidove Noviny” printed the authoritive etymology of “Zděnka.” Each day in this part of the world is someone’s “Name’s Day.” That has always baffled me. After all, I am interested in only one Zdenka, so why should I care about a day celebrating all of them? They’re thousands and thousands of Zdenka’s in this country.

Well June 23rd was “Zdenka” Day… and it was also “Pavlina” Day. My Zdenka’s name is “Zdenka Pavlina Deitchová!”

(Pavlina = Pauline)

The name Zdenka is derived from the Old Czech name, “Zdeslav” That won’t meaning much to you, but the root of the name is from The Czech word “dělat! which means “to do.” It is a name for a person of action! No one is more active than my Zdenka… And there is more:

Pavlina or Pavla (from Paul or Pauline) is someone very small !

There you have it: My Zdenka is both active and small! Both names fall on the same day! Do you imagine that her mother was at all aware of this coincidence or special meaning?

[Incidentally, you may notice the hook or “haček” above the n in “Zdeňka” in the headline above. That mark is supposed to soften the ň sound. My Zdenka rarely uses that mark in her name – only in official documents.]


Zdenka and I were shopping in the humungus Carrefour Hypermarket near us in Prague, with its vast acreage, (The staff are on rollerskates!), and its stupifying array of foodstuffs. Zdenka tossed a fresh pineapple into our shopping cart, and it reminded me of the recently reissued DVD of Miloš Forman’s film, “AMADEUS, The Director’s Cut.” That great film was shot entirely in Prague in 1983, 20 years ago when it was still under communism. On the second disc of the DVD set there is a documentary about the filming here, telling about the incredible difficulties they had. One of the actors told about how he brought a fresh whole pineapple from the States as a gift for one of the Czech personnel. No one had seen a whole pineapple here for maybe 40 years, and the spikey fruit created a sensation. It and was passed from hand to hand as a holy object. Seeing this episode reminded us once again of the incredible changes we have seen here. The consumer society is now so total that young Czechs can’t even imagine how such a simple food item was once a wonder.


THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD

In the earliest of human times, the foxiest realized that death was the most universal fear, and that if eternal life could be convincingly promised, absolute power and control of the mulitudes could be had.

Thus religions were established, gods were created, and their self-anointed spokespersons have ruled us ever since.

We can’t confirm any eternal life, but we do know that millions have died horribly in religion’s name.

Other millions have gained comfort and hope in their beliefs, however ephemeral. So who can tote up the balance sheet?

We give power to the priests, and they give us faith. Perhaps it’s a decent deal,as long as we’re able to accept fairy tales as fact, and ritual as reality.

But hey, everyone loves a good story, and this one is the greatest ever told.

-G,D.

PS: God was created in the image of Man. That’s how we know he’s a good guy.


IN GOD THEY TRUST

I was really tickled by the great American uproar early in 2002 over a guy who had finally announced that the Emperor is naked.

When I was a school kid in Los Angeles, our pledge of allegience to the flag of the USA every morning was this:

"I pledge allegience to the flag of The United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!"

I was shocked as an adult when I heard that in 1954 Congress inserted the words "under God."

Finally, some brave guy has called attention to the fact that this was clearly unconstitutional; that the U.S.Constitution is based on the principle of the separation of church and state. I've read that even Thomas Jefferson, when drafting the Declaration of Independence, (written of course long before the Constitution), was pressured into adding the phrase, "by our Creator," when declaring that we are endowed with "certain inalienable rights." No "Creator" endowed us with the right to Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness; the American rebels were simply demanding it.

I have also long puzzled over why it was ever decided to put "In God We Trust" on each and every U.S. coin, or why churches are afforded a tax-free existence.

But it has fallen to a lonely and pilloried American doctor to finally proclaim the nakedness in all this, and to get a court ruling to support his claim!.

But what will the Supreme Court decide on this, if it is ever allowed to reach it? Will it bow to public clamor, or will it read the Constitution which it is established to uphold?

One senator bellowed, “I won’t let some crazy athiest tell me what I can say!”
A few others might retort, “We‘re tired of having a majority of religious zealots
force their slogans down our throats.” I agree with the litigant: Religious pledges have no place in public schools.

The school prayer crowd is chanting, “No one is forcing any child to recite the pledge!” Hah! How many young kids are willing to isolate themselves from the pressures of the pack?

-G.D.