Transcript

20:

From A Distance
Transcript

Originally aired 04.19.1996

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Act One. In Search Of The Miraculous.

Different Voices

From PRI, Public Radio International. From PRI, Public Radio International. From PRI, Public Radio International. Public Radio. Public Radio International.

Ira Glass

Erika Yeomans knows when her search began. It began when she saw a photo in a magazine.

Erika Yeomans

The picture is this one. It's this photo with his hand on his forehead and his eyes all squinted up with tears rolling down his cheeks.

Ira Glass

At the bottom of the black and white photo is written in cursive lettering "I'm too sad to tell you." It was ironic. It was charming. And the man seemed unusually expressive and vulnerable.

Erika Yeomans

I just think I'm intrigued because it shows a man crying. And you don't see that image very often. And you don't see a man letting himself have these true emotions. And yet he kind of pushes it away a little bit by sort of writing on there "I'm too sad to tell you." And actually, there he is again. There he is again with his hair longer. You see now, you see the first version with short hair and then the second one with his longer hair. And I prefer it short, out of the two photos. I definitely feel much more attracted to the one where his hair is a little bit shorter. It looks very now, both-- the hair styles are very retro '70s now with guys.

Ira Glass

In fact, the photo was from the 1970s, an art photo by a virtually unknown Dutch artist named Bas Jan Ader. Erika read the article about him. And the facts of his life only enhanced the air of mystery and romance in the picture. He did a kind of conceptual art, Bas Jan Ader, this conceptual art that involved a lot of physical challenges that he would set for himself. In one piece, he was photographed falling off the roof of a house. In another, he falls out of a tree. They're goofy, almost comical photos. But other works of his, like the crying pictures, have a kind of wistful, longing quality.

Erika Yeomans

There was just something very appealing about it and sad. And I felt like I identified with that longing. And longing for what? I don't know. A searching for something? What is it? I didn't know. And I wanted to know what he was thinking.

And his last piece he did was this triptych called In Search of the Miraculous, in which he disappeared. He was trying to sail the Atlantic in a 13-foot sailboat by himself. And he disappeared, and his body was never found. And a year later, his boat was found capsized off the coast of Ireland, and it was this big mystery.

Ira Glass

Well, from the WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass, back for another week documenting life in these United States. And today on our program, admiring someone from afar, trying to get closer to them. Act One, In Search of the Miraculous. Act Two, 1,000 Miles to Miles Davis. Act Three, Stalking Snuggles. And Act Four, 1,000 Women Become Selena. Stay with us, won't you?

Act Two. Befriending Your Hero.

Ira Glass

When Erika saw the picture of Bas Jan, it had been a while since she'd had an adventure. For years, she had been slogging away as director of a theatre company, an experimental theatre company that was perpetually strapped for cash, perpetually struggling to get reviewed and get attention. It was frustrating. She needed a change. And seeing the picture of Bas Jan reminded her that life could be an adventure.

I feel hesitant actually saying it just flat out in those words because so few of us carry the idea that life should be an adventure into our adult years. And a lot of people think the whole idea is really silly. But this is what Erika Yeomans believed.

And Bas Jan, she thought, lived his life as an adventure. He was handsome, sensitive looking, and he died for his art. And she decided she was going to find out everything about him, make a film or a document of some kind, even though she had never done anything like this before. She was about to turn 30. It was time for a rite of passage.

Erika Yeomans

Birthdays, certain birthdays are supposed to be these big moments. They're supposed to be these big, pivotal moments in your life. And when I was 13, I had a birthday party called Farewell to Childhood, which I had all my girlfriends come over, and we had to dress like five year olds. And when I think about it, it's really kind of a sick thing. And it's embarrassing that I'm even talking about it, but who cares?

So at 13, I had this conceptual birthday party, basically, a performance conceptual birthday party. And then I had to have the whole thing costumed and done, because I had to get over my childhood. And so I think 30 was a big year for me, because I kept thinking prior to 30 that something was supposed to happen when you're 30. I don't know what, but something.

Ira Glass

Erika tracked down Bas Jan's widow in Los Angeles and decided to make a pilgrimage. And rather than fly from Chicago, which she couldn't afford anyway, she decided she was going to drive. It would be more like Bas Jan, she thought, more a test of will and physical endurance. And events conspired to make it more of a test. Her employer wouldn't give her much time off, so she would actually have to do the drive in two days, not three or four, which it usually takes.

Erika Yeomans

Part of my drive out there to LA in some stupid small way was my attempt to be by myself on a journey that, not that it has risk tied to it at all, and it's not really an athletic feat. To drive a couple of days in a beat-up car by myself with a tape recorder and try to figure out if I'm going to be able to discover anything about myself, which I don't know if I did or not. But I was sort of talking to the tape player as if it was, at first, my driving partner, and then second, it became like my therapist. And so then it became a journal by the 48th hour. It became like my journal.

Erika Yeomans

Well, I've seen it all. My arm is peeling. My driving arm is peeling. My windshield wipers don't work. It's foggy, and it's snowing. And I'm thinking about thick lips.

[SCREAMING] Aah! Come on, car.

When I was 18 and 19, I was like a Junior Mint.

For my life, the way I've jumped around to so many things, from so many different relationships-- Here I am 30, and I'm still not making money at what I want to do.

I started to suffer from a real sadness. When I was recording myself, my thoughts, late at night, it started to get very depressing.

Erika Yeomans

Because the way I'm doing it is backwards, the way I've done everything. And so I'm thinking everything will come to a fruition when I'm dead, like, when I'm 70 years old.

And I kept thinking that this was all wrong. And I kept comparing it to Bas Jan. Like how is this adventurous? How is this romantic? What am I trying to teach myself? How am I supposed to grow from this? I'm tired. I've had too much coffee. I've had too many cigarettes. I haven't eaten anything that's healthy. Everything has been in cellophane. It's like this whole thing of doubt, doubt, doubt, doubt, doubt and not knowing why I'm there. And I'm stuck. I can't fly from wherever I am in the middle of Missouri or New Mexico. I have to finish it.

Erika Yeomans

Slow down. OK. Wahoo, wahoo, wahoo. I love this car. Please make it. I love you, car. [SINGING] Driving a steep hill. Whoa. Where are the cowboys and the [UNINTELLIGIBLE]?

Ira Glass

If you ask Erika how she pictured Bas Jan's trip, his transatlantic trip, in his 13-foot boat, she answers without pausing.

Erika Yeomans

I envisioned him catching his fish off the side of the boat and having a little mock up barbecue pit and grilling his fish and having his fresh water supply, eating very little, fasting for a lot of it, and writing a lot in his journals. And perhaps he was going through questioning things, but I don't think he was doing it in such an alarmist way and a melodramatic way that I certainly sounded on the tapes.

Erika Yeomans

[SINGING] I don't care if my bright blue lights are on, because I need to see. See where I'm going to nowhere.

Ira Glass

Erika drove 15 hours a day for two days. And the third day, things melted down. She barely ate, smoked nonstop. And though she had told her friend Margy that she'd arrive at Margy's house around 9:00, she didn't hit the nether-region outskirts of Los Angeles until 9:00, which may not seem like a big deal.

Erika Yeomans

It's millions of lanes of roads whipping around. It's a Friday night, which of course, you know-- I pretend like there's not going to be any traffic. And of course, there was bumper to bumper traffic, cars going really fast. And I'm just driving along. And I start to feel really woozy. And I get woozier as I go on.

And as I'm getting into the actual city, and I'm looking for the exit for Margy's place, I start to have a panic attack, where I know I'm passing out. I've never passed out in my entire life. I've never ever even experienced that feeling. And here I was, and I know I was passing out. And I couldn't stop my heart from pounding. I couldn't stop myself from-- just either I was going to vomit or I was going to pass out. And I started to panic.

And so I was shaking, trying to get off this freeway with cars whipping around me. At this point, I was going about 30 miles per hour. And I wasn't about to go any faster, because I was really frightened. I was completely paralyzed. I couldn't get over to the exit. I finally weaved my way around with people honking at me, and they know I'm a tourist. They see my plates from Illinois. And I know they're saying all these things. I'm waiting for the gun to come out.

I get off the exit. And I'm in some neighborhood that looks really desolate. It looks really scary. It's really dark. There are no streetlights. And I start weeping. And I'm on the side of the street, just thinking I'm going to sleep here tonight. I'm never going to find Margy's house. I was completely, completely, utterly frightened, didn't know what I was going to do. I pumped up myself. I started to breathe, breathe, breathe. I ate some peanuts. That was all I had in the car.

And so I got back on the freeway. And meanwhile, during this time, I'm in my car and I keep hallucinating that I'm melting in my car and that my back of my car is melting into the freeway. And so I keep--

Ira Glass

Hours late, she finally pulled over and called Margy, who came and retrieved her in her pajamas. The next morning, Erika didn't want to look at her car, though she had to.

Erika Yeomans

And I went outside and I noticed that my back rear tire had blown. And that was why I was hallucinating. I wasn't hallucinating. Because my tire had blown and that's what was making me feel like I was melting into the freeway.

Ira Glass

On their face, the facts of Erika's adventure do not seem like the stuff of myth. A car drive three days long on the interstate highway system. But what's remarkable about her story is that through sheer force of will, she turned it into the right of passage and test of endurance that she had wished for when she set out. And once she recovered the next day, she called Bas Jan's widow, Mary Sue, and headed out to meet her.

Erika Yeomans

I was wearing these very, very, very fluorescent yellow cigarette pants, my army combat boots, and my gas station jacket from the '50s, a very in jacket. I thought I'd fit in with the scene and this art community. At Bergamot Station, there are supposed to be all of these galleries. So I figured there would be a lot of groovy people. And I wanted to look as groovy as I could.

Ira Glass

Mary Sue liked Erika and answered anything she wanted to know. And some of what she said was very different from Erika's pretty picture of Bas Jan as an ideal man, a romantic art hero.

Erika Yeomans

I went through the rudimentary questions, at this point, of trying to figure out what did he sound like? How did he talk? Was he political? Was he not? And there were these very short answers to these things. But after about an hour or so of talking, she started to explain to me that he wasn't this perfect, beautiful creature. Because I kept saying, he's gorgeous.

And that's when she sort of said, "I can't paint him that pretty, though." Dot, dot, dot. There were problems. And that's when she started to talk about open relationships. And we sort of had a girl talk about open relationships and how they don't work and about the pain that was involved in her marriage.

Ira Glass

What happens when you admire someone from afar, partly because they seemed so sensitive and tragic, and then you find out they were sometimes kind of a jerk? In this case, Erika tenaciously held on to her picture of Bas Jan as a romantic, feeling man. And if you ask Mary Sue, she says there's something lovely about that.

Mary Sue Andersen

Yes, I'm sure Erika does have a romanticized view of who Bas Jan was and what he was, of course, like. I think, however, that's just perfect. That's what Bas Jan would have liked more than the real picture. I'm sure he wouldn't want me to explain too completely all the details.

Ira Glass

Now, one of the oddest things about this whole story is that Erika sees Bas Jan as a purer artist than she is, a truer artist. When in reality, she labors, mostly in obscurity, following a vision that's completely idiosyncratic, completely her own. A typical show of hers is filled with odd, striking images, lots of strenuous movement, elliptical dialogue, no story. Some shows seem to have an unusual number of people throwing themselves on the floor. The shows can be hard to sit through. But from start to finish, they are clearly a labor of love and a labor of obsession. But to hear her talk about it, she has sold out compared with Bas Jan.

Erika Yeomans

He was more concerned about-- I don't want to say art for art's sake. But he was more interested in what he was doing to himself physically and mentally by putting himself in these images and doing these different tasks. And I don't think he was that worried about if he was going to be a big famous artist, or if he was going to be a successful artist, because he didn't even take care of the work that he had. After he died, they can't even find a lot of his work, because it got damaged in a garage, because they didn't really take care of it.

Ira Glass

Kristine McKenna writes about art for the Los Angeles Times. And she spoke with Erika about Bas Jan several times during Erika's visit.

Kristine Mckenna

This image of him as pure has more to do with something Erika needs than it has to do with the reality of him. Because Erika really is every bit the artist Bas Jan was in terms of intensity and single-mindedness. I'm not an authority on him, but I do know that he was just another guy hustling in LA like everybody else.

Basically, I got the impression that she was just completely romantically enchanted with him. And I don't know if she was really even looking for the facts of his life when she came out. It seemed more like some kind of mystical quest. And it was a very short history that he wrote. And that leaves her a lot of room to embellish it.

But I have to add. I was very moved by this whole trip that she made. I can totally understand it. Because yeah, I thought there was something really beautiful about it. I mean, she was the pure one. She's more pure than he was, I'm sure. There's something so innocent in her vision of him and her quest to come out here and get I don't know quite what.

And then in the face of all the evidence that I feel she probably came up with here, she went back home with the same vision. I mean, that's really kind of stubborn innocence. And it's pure in that there's no way she's going to make money off this. She's not going to end up getting a date with the guy because he's dead. So she gains the purity of the obsession.

Ira Glass

Erika Yeomans collected footage from old Hollywood films and from Mary Sue to make a movie about Bas Jan. Her goal was to finish the movie by the time she was 33, the same age Bas Jan was when he set out on the ocean and disappeared. The film she made, In Search of Bas Jan's Miraculous, has played in galleries in New York and Amsterdam.

Act Three. Snuggles.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Meet Your Hero. So what if you idolize someone and then finally do get close to them, actually become their friend? What happens to the romantic dream that you had of them? Well, Quincy Troupe first heard of Miles Davis back when Troupe was just a teenager.

Quincy Troupe

I was in this all-white high school. It was 3,500 kids, and there was only eight black kids that went to this school. And so I was trying to find some way to be hip at that time.

Ira Glass

Troupe was in East St. Louis, and Miles was far, far away. Part of what was appealing about Miles was the fact that he had begun in St. Louis himself and had gotten out. And of course, Miles was a blueprint for hipness.

Quincy Troupe

I was in a fish-fry place. And I saw these four black guys sitting in this booth eating jack salmon sandwiches and dinners with dark glasses on and hats and their hair was conked and everything. So I thought they looked pretty hip. So I went and got my sandwich and sat behind them. And at that time, they were talking about this homeboy from East St. Louis. And he was in New York City, and he was doing all these great things and playing all this great music and had played with Charlie Parker. Who I didn't know any of this.

And they said, Miles Dewey Davis. Miles Davis. His name is Miles Davis. And they went up to the record player and put in some money and played "Donna Lee." And I remember listening to "Donna Lee." And I said, wow. I hadn't liked jazz up until that point. I was about 14, 15 years old. I was into Johnny Ace and Chuck Berry and that kind of music, rhythm and blues. And when I heard this music, for some reason-- they played it twice. And the second time, it kind of went straight to my heart. I can't explain why it went straight to my heart, but I loved the music.

And I sat there, and they sat there for about an hour. And then they left. And when they left, I remember going up to the record player. And I had about $0.30 or something. It was a nickel to play those records. And I went up there, flipped through all those names, and found Miles Davis' name and played "Donna Lee." And I played "Donna Lee," then I played another one.

That's when I first heard Miles Davis. And then after that, my cousin told me how hip he was and showed me pictures of him and how clean he was. I started seeing how well he dressed and what great style he had.

Ira Glass

How clean he was?

Quincy Troupe

Yeah. We used to say he was "clean as a broke dick dog," which was a saying that came out of St. Louis. And so I said, wow, this is a guy that I really love. So I started really listening to his music at that time. And it kind of changed my life. And then I found some other friends who had been listening to him for a while. And I kind of left my other friends and started listening to Miles and hanging out with them. And we used to sit up in this stands at Sumner High School and say we were going to run away to New York and be like Miles Davis.

So I remember the first time he came to St. Louis. There was all this big buzz about him coming to play there. And I had doctored up my draft card, and changed all the dates and everything, so I could be old enough to get into the club. And I remember going to the pawn shop and getting these great suits and these Church's shoes, which were too small for my feet. They were those really hip English shoes. And I had this big Chesterfield hat, and I was really clean. But my feet hurt. And my feet hurt because the shoes were too small. The shoes were too small.

So I go to Peacock Alley with some friends of mine. And we get in. The guy kind of looked at me and said, are you really-- because I was really young looking. But he let me in, finally. He just let me in. And when that band hit, they were so fantastic. They were so fantastic. And Miles was so clean. He was so clean and so hip that I was just mesmerized.

And so I told my cousin, who went with us, that I wanted to go up and say hello to Miles and tell him how much I loved his music. And so my cousin said, "Quincy, don't go up and say nothing to Miles, because Miles doesn't talk to people. He doesn't like people coming up to him and talking to him. So don't go up to him and say anything. Just look at him from a distance."

So we kind of stood back and looked at him from a distance, all of us. It was a whole bunch of us, young guys and older guys. We had our glasses and everything on like he had his glasses on. And we kind of looked at him standing at the bar, smoking a cigarette, drinking a cognac. And from behind us someplace, I heard this voice say, "Oh, darling, there's Miles Davis."

And I turned around, and it was this white guy with his girlfriend. And I said, "Whoa, what is he going to do?" He said, "Let's go up and say hello." So he walked through us, "Excuse me, excuse me." And he walked up to Miles Davis, who was standing at the bar with Coltrane and all him. He said, "Hi, Miles. How are you?" And Miles said in that gruff voice, "Eff you. Get out of my face," like that.

And I was like, "Wow." That was stunning. I had never heard anybody talk to anyone like that, let alone an African-American man say that to a white guy. And I just said to myself, "Man, this is something."

Ira Glass

Now, when was the first time you met Miles as an adult, as the person who you are now?

Quincy Troupe

Yes. I was living in New York. And my friend, Leo Maitland, who is now deceased, was a doctor. And he was Miles' doctor. And he used to always say to me, "I know Miles Davis." I said, "You got to introduce me to Miles. You got to introduce me to Miles."

So one day, he said, "I'm going to have this party." And I said, "OK." "You want to come?" I said, "Yeah." So I go to the party. And I walk in, and I'm sitting around. And he had this great apartment. And I look over in the corner, and there's Miles Davis. I said, "My god, Miles Davis." And there was nobody sitting next to him. His was the only seat in the house with nobody sitting next to him. So I went and got some food and I looked around, no place to sit, and went into another room, there wasn't no place to sit. I came back, there was this seat.

So I went and sat next to Miles. So I remember him saying something like, "How are you doing?" I said, "Hi. All right." "Yeah, you sure?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "You see anything good in here?" I say, "What?" "Anything, man. I'm talking about do you see anything good?" And I said, "There's some nice ladies in here." "That's right. That's right. You got a good eye."

So I said, "Yeah, I love your music." "I don't want to talk about my music. I don't want to talk about it." I said, "OK." So then we had this general conversation. And then he went and got some food, came back, said to me, "Later." And he left.

So about two weeks later, I was walking down this--

Ira Glass

Wait, wait. Can we just hold on that part of the conversation? Was this a kind of nervous moment for you? I mean, you're sitting there next to Miles Davis. What was your feeling during this conversation?

Quincy Troupe

I was totally up for it. I had no fear in talking to him, I guess, maybe, because by this time, I was starting to get a little play myself, as a writer, in New York. I was starting to get some ink. And I had a kind of feeling about myself at that point. And so it was funny. We just kind of had this exchange. And then when he got ready to leave, he just left. He just left. But he came over to me and said, "Later." So I thought it was some kind of indication that he liked the conversation or whatever.

And so about three weeks later, I was walking down Broadway. And here he comes walking straight towards me. And I said, "Oh, that's Miles Davis." So when he got up next to me, I said, "Hey, Miles. How you doing?" He walked right by me. Like I didn't even exist. Like I wasn't even on the planet. I mean, he didn't even nod, or nothing. He just walked right by me.

And I stopped. I remember stopping, and I kind of looked back and said, "Wow, was that Miles Davis?" And it was. I said, "Yeah, that's him. But he didn't speak." I said, "Hey, Miles." And he didn't even turn around. He just kept going. So I said, "Wow, that was kind of cold." I mean, that was kind of cold. It was like, I had never experienced that before in my life.

And so when I got to know him, I finally got to know him real well, when I did the Spin Magazine. I did a two-part piece for Spin Magazine. And when I walked in his place, he looked at me and he kind of said, "Yeah, sit down." So I sit down. And I remember him reaching out with his hand to grab my dreadlocks. And I hit his hand. Pow. And he said, "What are you, crazy? What are you crazy, hitting me like that?"

I said, "No, man." I said, "Because I'm over here to interview you doesn't mean that you have the right to invade my space." I said, "Plus, the other times that I tried to talk to you, you just shined me on." He said, "Oh, you mean the time out on the street? The time out on the street?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Man, I don't have to talk to you, man. I didn't have to talk to you. What you got to talk about this time?"

And that's the way it started. And we got to be the best of friends until he died. But Miles was always testing you. He was always testing you. He was the kind of guy-- and I loved him because he was always the kind of a guy that was always testing you. And if you passed the muster, if you could stand up to him, then if he liked you, he would bring you in. If you couldn't, he'd just run over you, you know?

Ira Glass

More with Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. Also Snuggles the fabric softener bear and 1,000 Selenas. That's in a minute, from Public Radio International when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Quincy Troupe spent three years collaborating with Miles Davis on Davis' autobiography, talking to Davis and interviewing him, actually, until Davis got sick of being interviewed, to create a book written in Miles' voice and syntax. It sold over 1 million copies. And if you ask Quincy, when did he stop seeing Miles Davis as the mythic, legendary figure and start seeing him as just another friend, he really can't tell you. It was gradual. One day he was on the outside of Miles' life looking in. And then at some point later, he realized that he was on the inside.

Quincy Troupe

You know, I got very up close with Miles. I mean, I was in his pocket and he was in my pocket for two and a half, three years. Until the time he died. I mean, I was really close to him. And so I saw flaws in his personality that-- because I think when you idolize a person like him-- like he was one of my heroes-- especially when you're young, you don't think they have flaws. You kind of see them through these rose-tinted glasses. And you kind of look at them as perfect.

And so when I started to see some things that was not perfect about Miles, like his way of treating women and his way of treating other people sometimes and little small things, like cleanliness sometimes.

Ira Glass

You know, cleanliness is coming up in this interview a lot more than I ever would have guessed.

Quincy Troupe

Well, Miles was a clean person. In terms of his body and the way he dressed, but there were a couple of times when I went over his house one day-- I went over to his house one day, and it was a mess. I mean, stuff was everywhere. Clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste, music, trumpets.

And I said, "Miles, man," I said, "Miles, you living like a pig, man." I said, "You're living like a pig, man. This is a pigsty." He said, "So what? So what? So what, it's a pigsty? What did you expect? I just play music, chump." He said, "Somebody cleans it up. That's the deal."

Well, I would see some of that. And first I would say, man this guy could be a pig, you know? But then, I got to the point where I said, no, he's just a human being. He's a human being. He has flaws. He plays beautiful music. But he had these little areas where he was just a human being, where he was flawed. Like, I never thought Miles would be as country as he was. You know, what I mean by country. I mean country-country, like a Southern-- instead of a jazz musician, when you got to know Miles, like some elegant jazz musician, Miles was like a country blues singer.

Ira Glass

When was it that you first saw that side of him really clearly?

Quincy Troupe

When I was doing the book, and I was about three or four months in, when he started dropping the mask. And he'd just drop the mask. And I'd come by, and he'd have food. And he'd cook for me. And we'd look at boxing matches and look at the basketball games. And at first, when I would go over there, he would always be dressed elegantly in very fashionable stuff. And then after that, he started dressing just really casually. And especially on the West Coast. When I'd go up there, he'd have on blue jeans, a torn sweater. And he would just cook. And we'd just sit there and look and tell lies. And he'd listen to the fights. And we'd go for long walks on the beach. And he'd take me for rides in his car.

So it was just a beautiful kind of relationship. As a matter of fact, I told him, I said, "You know, when you're in California, you're much different than you are in New York." And he said, "Yeah." After a while, he acknowledged that. He said, "Yeah, because in New York, I've got to keep my mask up." I said, "Yeah, that's right. You got to keep it up."

Ira Glass

When did you first figure out about the way he was treating women? When did you first figure out that he was kind of abusive?

Quincy Troupe

Well, when I started to hear some of the stories. Because Miles was brutally honest. He was brutally honest when he did that book. I remember he was telling me the stories of him beating up these women and chasing his wife around the basement of their house with a knife and a gun. And so I started to think to myself, wow, this is ouch. I mean, this is a strange kind of situation, because I'm just the opposite. I don't believe in hitting women. I don't believe in hitting anybody like that.

But I figured out that Miles Davis was the kind of person-- he wasn't an intellectual, where he could respond and talk it out, talk the whole thing through. So if you got up in his face, whether you were a man or a woman, he would hit you. That was the way he was. I mean, he would hit you.

I can be truthful and say I didn't like the way he did certain things. But then at the same time, we who knew him really well knew that he was a warm and generous person to us. And we'd look at those things and say, hey man, that was kind of cold what he did there. But the way I looked at it, I'd say, well, that's between him and that person.

I never saw him hit a woman in front of me. Because you've got to remember, I knew him from 1985 until he died, which was a period of six years. And so when he was in his most desperately insane period of really doing these kind of things to women, this was from 1968 to 1980, 12 years. And I didn't know him then. So I never saw that.

Ira Glass

Would there be an occasional moment sometimes, once you got to be friends with him, where it would suddenly strike you, man, I'm friends with Miles Davis?

Quincy Troupe

When it would generally happen was when somebody would come up to me and say to me, "Man, what is it like to be with Miles Davis? You know, I always wanted to be with Miles Davis." And then I would think, whoa.

But for me, after it got to a certain level, I never thought about it. Because we just had this natural relationship. He'd call me up or I'd call him up.

I remember telling somebody one time, Miles called me up from Japan. He had just taped this new thing. And he said, "What do you think of this?" And he put it on. And he played for about five minutes. And he said, "What did you think?" And I would tell him whether I liked it or I didn't. If I didn't like it, I would tell him I didn't like it. And I was relating this to somebody. And they said, "You mean Miles Davis calls you up, and puts on the tape, and you listen to it?" And I said, "Yeah." He says, "Well, what's that like?" I said, "I guess it's like any one of my friends who is a poet, who will say 'listen to this poem,' you know what I mean? It just so happens it's Miles Davis' music, and he happens to be internationally famous."

Ira Glass

Many public figures up close lose the larger-than-life quality that they seem to have from afar. But there's something about Miles Davis that even today, even though Quincy Troupe was as close to Miles Davis as he's ever been to anybody in his life, that even today it's easy for Quincy to see Miles as this mythic figure. He says Miles just had this effect on people.

Quincy Troupe

I remember one time, I was with him-- I can't remember the Japanese, it was not [? Miashi, ?] but it was another Japanese designer. And he had his clothes in New York. And he had his clothes, and he had Andy Warhol, before Andy Warhol died, and Miles Davis modeling as the star models of the clothes, along with all these beautiful, gorgeous women. So Miles called me and said, "Do you want to go down with me?" I said, "Yeah, I'll go with you."

So we go in this place called The Tunnel. It was some kind of a discotheque. So we're in there and they're modeling the clothes, and everybody's going out. Miles would walk out. Andy Warhol would walk out. So I'm backstage with Andy. And these are two legends. These are two American icons in culture. So Miles was the finale. And he had this outfit with this gold lame cape that he was supposed to walk out, with a hat.

So he started to walk out. And Andy was standing there looking at him. And the cape was dragging on the floor. So he started to walk out. And he turned around and looked at Andy Warhol. And he said, "Andy, Andy. Pick up that cape." So Andy picked up the cape and they walked out together, you know what I mean? And Andy had this sheepish look on his face.

And Miles strutted out, and Andy was holding the cape off the floor. And they walked up the thing. And so everybody in the room-- they left us in the room. Andy's handlers, they were like shocked. They had never heard anything like that. They were like, "Wow, did you see that? Did you see that?" But Andy was smiling. He was happy to be in it. He was happy to be in it.

And so that was Miles. Miles Davis was almost like a king, you know what I mean? He was like a king. And so that particular moment, I remember his attitude was like, "I'm the king here. Pick up the cape. We both might be icons, but I'm a bigger icon than you."

Ira Glass

Quincy Troupe co-authored Miles Davis' autobiography, Miles. He is a poet and journalist and essayist and author of several books. He latest is called Avalanche from Coffee House Press.

Act Four. 1000 Women Become Selena.

Ira Glass

Well, now we have this artifact. This is Act Three of our program, Snuggles. From 1980 through 1995, a guy in New York ran what he called an apology line. And the idea is that people would call up. They would call this anonymous line, and they would apologize for anything they believed that they had done that was worthy of apology. Eventually, this guy started to call himself-- or maybe he called himself this from the start-- Mr. Apology. His real name was Allan Bridge.

And over time, people would apologize. And some apologies would be real. And some would be fake. And some would be some combination of the two, you couldn't really tell. And then people could call in and respond to the apologies they were hearing as well. Anyway, this particular apology was transcribed in the magazine of the apology line, Apology Magazine, volume one, number four. This is called "Snuggly Bear," from August, 1993. This is a transcription of something somebody said on the phone line.

"I have an apology to make. And I suppose this is as good a place to do it as any. I was watching TV and a commercial came on. It was a commercial for fabric softener, I believe. It was a small, furry bear, Snuggly Bear. And Snuggly Bear was extolling the virtues of this product, this fabric softener, I believe. And I don't know what it was about this bear, but I was fascinated. Small bear, high-pitched voice, indeterminate sex, not sure if it's male or female. I was fascinated.

"A few days later, another commercial came on again. Once again, I stopped what I was doing and I watched. This time I kept watching and hoped. I kept the station on. I hoped that the commercial would come back. And sure enough, later on in the evening, another commercial came on, a different commercial with the same Snuggly Bear. Same product.

"I went to the supermarket, and I saw the product. And I saw the picture of Snuggly Bear. I purchased the product. I didn't use it to soften any fabrics. I just wanted to have a picture of Snuggly Bear. I wrote Snuggly Bear a letter. And I was hoping for an answer, but I didn't receive one. Then I wrote another one. I was hoping to get some sort of response, a photograph, an autograph, something. Still no response.

"I wrote a third letter, and I'm afraid I was rather upset when I wrote the letter. I've since learned that the letter was turned over to the FBI. I was warned not to try to contact Snuggly Bear again. Snuggly Bear travels around. I believe the bear has one residence in Martha's Vineyard and another residence on the West Coast. I'm not sure where the West Coast residence is, but I've been to the Martha's Vineyard residence. I let myself in.

There was, of course, a certain amount of security around the house, but I let myself in. I climbed the gate and I found a window open around the back of the house, a rather large house. And I wandered around. He wasn't home, of course. He or she wasn't home. I'm sure he was out on the road doing his pitch for the fabric softener.

"Well, if I can only reach Snuggly Bear. If I can only make Snuggly Bear understand that I understand. I'm sure if I get through to Snuggly Bear that I'm sure we could establish a relationship, or just an understanding. But the way it's going now, everything is in limbo. Every time I try to contact this bear, I'm thwarted. I'm calling to apologize, because I guess I've been a bad boy. I'm not stalking Snuggly Bear. They've accused me of stalking Snuggly Bear, but I'm not a stalker. I simply want Snuggly Bear to understand that I understand. That's all. I'm sorry."

Well, somebody heard that apology on the apology line. And then they called in with this message. "This is out to the man who has the fixation on Snuggles Bear. I do understand, and I would really like to give you my emotional support. I do care. I sort of had a similar experience with McGruff the crime dog. And actually, we managed to get together. I can barely even say his name now.

"We did manage to get it together. And I got into his life. He accepted me. He cared about me. But you can imagine. You see him all the time on TV. And life with a cop is difficult. I just didn't know when he'd be coming home at night, and I couldn't take it anymore. Plus, he was sort of spraying all over the furniture. Basically, what I want to say to you is maybe loving from afar is the best thing to do. And maybe it's best that you never actually get to meet Snuggles. Because then you'll have this pure, this untainted image of Snuggles. You take care. Bye-bye."

Act 4.

Ira Glass

Act Four, 1,000 Women Become Selena. It's one thing to admire someone from afar and try to get close to them. It is another thing to actually try to dress as someone you admire, try to look like them, try to become them, even for a day. Well, that's what happened recently here in Chicago at Clemente High School. Let me get some sound going here.

That was a very NPR moment, huh? Picture, please, a gray, cold Chicago day, two lines of women and girls stretched around the block in both directions around this high school. One line is 18 year olds in scanty clothing. Scanty, I guess, would be the appropriate word. The other line is full of eight year olds, many in scanty clothing, though not all. Music blares, people are singing and dancing. And nearly every woman and girl trying out to be the star of the upcoming Selena movie has brought her extended family with her. The director of the film says that he wants to find two Selenas, one to play Selena as a child, one to play Selena as an adult.

Selena, or Se-leh-na, was, of course, the Mexican-American pop star recently killed, widely revered. And perhaps you saw footage of these auditions on the news. We decided to send 18-year-old Claudia Perez to cover the event. Claudia loves Selena, and she wanted to audition herself.

Claudia Perez

12-year-old Jessica [? Letta ?] almost didn't make it. On Friday, she and her family drove seven hours from St. Paul, Minnesota. They arrived late at night and showed up at Clemente High School at 5:30 Saturday morning. Before coming down to Chicago, Jessica's mom told me something terrible had happened.

Jessica's Mom

Yesterday morning that we planned to come here, she was really sick.

Jessica

I ran down the stairs, she goes--

Jessica's Mom

High fever. And I said, Jess, we're not going. You're very sick.

Jessica

I started crying.

Jessica's Mom

My husband goes, take her to the hospital.

Claudia Perez

This is yesterday?

Jessica's Mom

That was yesterday. And look at her now.

Jessica

My grandpa was scolding my Ma. You better take her to that concert or I'm going to hit her. My grandpa is just a lovable man. He told me to go and he wished me the best of luck. And he goes, even if you're sick, you've got to go. You've got to go. I want to see you win. And I'm like, Grandpa, there is a lot of people that can win. Not just me.

Claudia Perez

To hear the family tell it, it's like a miracle that Jessica got well. It was like she was chosen. In fact, Jessica was chosen once before. When Selena was still alive, Jessica and her family were at a concert in [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. She and her mom were standing outside the backstage entrance. And Selena's sister, Suzette, picked Jessica out of a huge crowd of little girls to have her picture taken with Selena.

Jessica

After I took the picture with Selena, the guard that was standing by the door, the guard goes, I'll give you this picture that you took with Selena for $5. And I'm like, I don't have any money on me right now, but if I go back to table, I can. And they were joking around. Suzette goes, no, no, no, $2. And then Selena turned around and goes, no, I know how much. She goes, for nothing. You can just keep it for free. And I started laughing.

Claudia Perez

Jessica is a beautiful little girl. She has long black hair and a cinnamon complexion. She's wearing a Selena outfit, knee-length boots, spandex hot pants, and a black, padded bustier with gold trimming over the breast. It's Jessica's dream to be like Selena. She wants to be a singer and sing in English and Spanish. She came to the auditions, but not just so she could be a movie star. It's like she wants to feel closer to Selena.

Jessica

I don't want to do the movie for money or anything. Because money's not the answer. Money's not everything. Look at what it brought to Selena, nothing. I mean, I want to do it because I want Selena to see me, what I'm doing. I just want to do it for Selena.

Claudia Perez

A lot of people still cry over Selena. She was so lovable, just her smile. She was like a little girl. When she went to the Grammy Awards, she went there with her camera, wanted to take pictures with everybody. Selena put a positive role. She made it seem like it's not bad to be Mexican-American. I asked Jessica in Spanish how she felt about Selena's death. She started crying.

Jessica

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudia Perez

Then I started crying too.

Jessica

She is my best friend. And a lot of people say things that aren't true. And the people don't know how she is. And she was a very nice person. She was a very nice person. Because I met Suzette, and I met her. And they were talking to me and it was-- I mean, I was so happy.

Claudia Perez

After Selena's death, Jessica and her family went to visit her grave in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Jessica

I was sitting down, and I was hugging the grave, and I asked myself, how come you died, and this and that? And I sang to her. I think I sang "Como la Flor" because it reminds me of her.

Jessica's Mom

Sing a little part of it.

Jessica

[SINGING IN SPANISH]

Claudia Perez

The words mean, "Like the flower with much love, you gave to me. I'll march on. I know how to lose a love. But oh my, how it hurts me."

Jessica

A lot of people say that she might be dead and stuff. But she's not dead. It's that she sleeping. She's sleeping for a very long time. And wherever she is-- in heaven, or wherever-- she's probably singing her heart up there too.

Claudia Perez

I met all sorts of people at auditions. Everybody was really dressed up and looked fabulous. There was Selena music everywhere, TV cameras, girls were fixing their hair and putting their makeup on. People were dancing. At one point, we were talking to these two girls. They sang us a Selena song. And pretty soon, people we didn't even know were joining in. Everybody was singing. It was just that kind of thing. One of the girls we met came all the way from New York with her mother and her little sister. It was kind of a secret mission.

Claudia Perez

So your dad's at home?

Auditioner 1

Yeah, he doesn't even know we're here.

Claudia Perez

No. He doesn't know that?

The mother told her husband that she was at a Mary Kay conference in Philadelphia and that the daughters would be spending the weekend at their older sister's house. Then she flew them all to Chicago for the auditions.

Claudia Perez

Yeah, that's good. Mama saved her daughters.

Auditioner 2

My daughters first.

Claudia Perez

When you finally get inside to the audition, it's kind of disappointing. It's like it's over before it starts. There were 20 girls on the stage at a time. They sit you down at these tables, give you this fake smile, hand you a card to fill out, ask you one question, then tell you to stand up and dance. You dance for 30 seconds. Sometimes they don't even play music. When I went up there, the woman running my table didn't even know who Selena was. She didn't bother to look at me. When we were dancing, they only gave you 60 seconds total to make an impression. So what are they looking for?

Gregory Nava

Magic.

Claudia Perez

What kind of magic?

Gregory Nava

Well, I don't know. That special magic that made Selena that-- she was very outgoing, an incredible entertainer, very gifted, very beautiful.

Claudia Perez

This is the director Greg Nava. He told me there were three auditions, in LA, Chicago, and in Texas. I thought, if he wants magic, I'll give him magic. I told him about Jessica. Of everyone I interviewed, she had the pizazz. She looked like Selena, she had big dreams like Selena, and she has Selena in her heart.

Claudia Perez

I want to show you this little girl. I don't know if you've seen her.

Gregory Nava

Oh, she's beautiful. Fantastic.

Claudia Perez

She came.

Gregory Nava

Is she here?

Claudia Perez

She left already. She told me that she wants to be Selena. She made me cry. And she doesn't even want to get paid.

Gregory Nava

I guarantee you, if she gets the role of Selena, she will be paid.

Claudia Perez

I thought that maybe the auditions were just a publicity stunt, not serious auditions, something Selena definitely would not approve of. But the director said they will most likely pick the little girl from the open auditions. And there was a 50/50 chance they'd pick the big Selena.

After a long day, the crowds are cleared. Two cousins who flew in from Texas were sitting outside in the cold, eating pizza, and waiting for a Chicago family friend to pick them up. They had arrived early in the morning and didn't get much sleep. They weren't sure when their ride was coming or where they were going to spend the night. I asked them what they thought of the auditions.

Auditioner 3

I don't know. I don't think it went as great as I thought it would be.

Claudia Perez

Yeah, but why? What did you expect?

Auditioner 3

Well, because, it's like, I don't think the producers were there when I got to do my stuff. So I don't know. I don't know. They're looking for something different. I don't know.

Claudia Perez

What makes you think that they're looking for something different?

Auditioner 3

Just because the people that they choose, they talk to, they don't even-- I don't know. Their appearance. They're not looking for more deeply. They're not looking for a true Selena. They're just looking for appearances. And it's really bad. They might know who Selena was, but not truly what she meant to us.

Claudia Perez

They had spent $135 each, saved from babysitting, to get to Chicago. But they didn't feel bad.

Auditioner 3

It's fine because we got to meet a lot of people and stuff. I mean, we just came. And we knew we're going to not get picked. But we still came and take the chance, because that's the thing that Selena would always say. If you have a thing, you go for it. Don't let nobody put you down because they say, well, we already chose the person. Give whatever you have. And that's what we did. So that's a reason why we came here.

Claudia Perez

They just sat there on the bench waiting. They weren't really dressed for Chicago weather. They wore fishnet pantyhose, real short shorts, bustiers, and thin leather jackets. You could tell they were really cold. They were anxious for their ride to show up.

A couple weeks later, it was announced that none of the girls from the open auditions were chosen for the Selena part. Not them, not me, not Jessica. Nobody.

Claudia Perez

Are you doing something tonight?

Auditioner 3

We don't know. We have to get a ride first here. And then we'll know where to go. Well, give me a pen. I could give you some places. You can call me. Go to some party.

Ira Glass

Claudia Perez is an 18-year-old former high school dropout who recently got her high school equivalency, hopes to go to the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall, is looking for a full-time job right now. This is her second report for our program. She says she wants to be famous, but up until now we are the best that she can do.

Ira Glass

So Claudia, explain why this is the song you wanted us to play on our program after your story about Selena.

Claudia Perez

I like it because she sings it with a mariachi. And it's an old song from Mexico.

Ira Glass

When I think of Selena, I don't think of her as a mariachi singer.

Claudia Perez

Well, you don't. That's why she didn't sing with mariachi. She was more of a beat-y person, with a lot of beat. And that's why this song, this one and this other song that she sang, everybody sang it when she left.

Ira Glass

Everybody sang when she left? You mean everybody sang it when she died?

Claudia Perez

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Listen to you. You sound like that girl in your story who's like, she's not dead, she's just sleeping, the way you just said that. "When she left." She didn't just leave, honey.

Claudia Perez

I don't like saying death. That's why.

[MUSIC - "TU SOLO TU" BY SELENA]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, today's program was produced by Dolores Wilber and myself with Nancy Updike, Alix Spiegel, and Peter Clowney. Today's show was first broadcast back in 1996. Contributing editors for this show, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Margy Rochlin. Margy helped do the reporting and the interviews for our story on Erika Yeomans.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

To buy a cassette of this or any of our programs, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Or you can visit our website where you can also listen to most of our programs for free, www.thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who welcomes his beloved radio staff every single morning to the radio station with this greeting--

Quincy Troupe

Eff you. Get out of my face.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Quincy Troupe

Later.

Announcer

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