Stories indexed with the term ‘Alan Glenn’

A Conversation with Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly, grew up in Ann Arbor. (Photo courtesy of Owen Gleiberman)

Today, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly enjoys a position as one of the country’s most influential movie critics, his opinions read and respected (and sometimes reviled) by millions. Forty years ago he was a precocious middle-schooler who carried a transcript of the Chicago Seven trial in his pocket as he roamed downtown Ann Arbor, exploring the head shops and hanging with the hippies.

Soon after enrolling at the University of Michigan in 1976, Gleiberman was bit by the movie bug and began reviewing films for the Michigan Daily. He struck up a long-distance friendship with Pauline Kael of the New Yorker, who encouraged him in his writing and helped him to land his first job after graduation as a critic for the Boston Phoenix.

Though he now lives in Greenwich Village, Gleiberman makes regular return trips to Ann Arbor to visit family and friends. Over tea at Café Felix on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, he related what it was like to grow up in the countercultural milieu of Ann Arbor in the late ’60s and early ’70s, how that experience influenced his career as a film critic, and his thoughts and hopes on the future of journalism. [Full Story]

“Open It Up or Shut It Down”

It’s a warm, breezy afternoon in late March. On the University of Michigan’s Diag – a grassy square in the center of campus crisscrossed by sidewalks – students are tossing Frisbees, strumming guitars, basking in the sun, and generally enjoying the promise of spring after a long, cold winter. The clothes and hairstyles change, but for the most part the scene remains the same, year after year.

Black Action Movement protesters on the University of Michigan campus in 1970

Black Action Movement protesters on the University of Michigan campus in 1970. (Photo courtesy of Jay Cassidy.)

Except that if you could somehow step back in time exactly four decades you would be greeted by a very different sight: students shouting, marching, and picketing; classes disrupted, canceled, or being held in nearby churches; angry voices calling for the deployment of the National Guard; a campus and community pushed almost to the breaking point. If the events of the Black Action Movement strike of 40 years ago had unfolded only a little differently, today people might speak of “Michigan” rather than “Kent State” as marking the tragic and deadly end of the sixties.

Instead, the BAM strike became one of the few protests of that era in which the students could make a valid claim of victory. [Full Story]

The Day a Beatle Came to Town

John Lennon

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, playing at the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena. (Photo courtesy Leni Sinclair.)

The passage of nearly four decades can dim even the keenest of memories. But to Hiawatha Bailey, the events of that winter afternoon in 1971 are as clear as if they had happened yesterday. Bailey was 23 and working at the communal headquarters of the Rainbow People’s Party in the ramshackle old mansion at 1520 Hill Street in Ann Arbor.

“I was doing office duty,” he recalls, “which entailed sitting at the front desk and answering the phone. Some friends were there, and we were sitting around, tripping on acid, probably, and the phone rings. I pick it up and I hear this voice, ‘Hello, this is Yoko Ono.’”

Bailey, of course, didn’t believe it for a second. “I said something like, ‘Yeah, this is Timothy Leary,’ and hung up. We all got a good laugh out of it.” A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time the voice on the other end said, “Hello, can I speak to David Sinclair, Chief of Staff of the Rainbow People’s Party. This is John Lennon of the Beatles.”

“I wasn’t even that familiar with the Beatles then,” says Bailey, now lead singer for the Cult Heroes, an Ann Arbor-based punk rock band. “I was more into the Stooges and the MC5, more radical rock ’n’ roll. But I knew right away that it really was John Lennon.” He put the call through.

“Dave and John talked for quite some time,” Bailey recalls. “Lennon said, ‘I heard about the benefit that you blokes are putting on, and I wrote a little ditty about John Sinclair and his plight. I’d like to come there and perform it.’” [Full Story]

Column: Singin’ the Ann Arbor Blues

he crowd at Fuller Flatlands, courtesy Bob Frank

The crowd at Fuller Flatlands, site of the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival 40 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Bob Frank,

Forty years ago this month, a great crowd of young people converged on a small, unsuspecting middle-American town for an incredible three-day celebration of peace and music. They sat on the cool grass of an open field, grooved to the tunes of a dizzying array of legendary performers, smoked pot, drank wine, and generally had a blast. It was a landmark event that is still spoken of in hushed tones of awe and reverence among music historians.

No, it wasn’t Woodstock. It was something similar, yet very different, something smaller yet in some ways bigger.

It was something called the Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

In early August 1969, two weeks before the mammoth fete in Bethel, N.Y., approximately 20,000 eager spectators came to the Fuller Flatlands on the banks of the lazy Huron River to hear an absolutely astounding lineup of living legends of the blues – B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Big Mama Thornton, Son House, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and on and on – at the first major blues festival in the United States.

Although the Ann Arbor event has been almost completely overshadowed by its big brother in New York, to many serious music fans – especially blues enthusiasts – it is by far the more important of the two. Writing in the October 1969 issue of Downbeat, critic Dan Morgenstern made his preference plain, dismissing Woodstock in favor of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which he declared was “without doubt the festival of the year, if not the decade.” [Full Story]

The Battle of Ann Arbor: June 16-20, 1969

June 17, 1969: Officers confer as the crowd swarms on to South University. (Photo courtesy of Jay Cassidy.)

June 17, 1969: Officers confer as the crowd swarms on to South University. (Photo courtesy of Jay Cassidy.)

Ann Arbor, like many college towns, is usually a quiet place during the summer months. Most of the students are away on break, the university goes into hibernation, and a calm descends upon the city as residents sit back to enjoy a few months of peace and quiet.

During the turbulent 1960s the summer break was even more eagerly anticipated, offering as it did a brief respite from the regular succession of student-led sit-ins, protests, demonstrations, and strikes that occupied the fall and winter months. But the influx of large numbers of non-student “street people” (i.e., hippie youths) in the closing years of the decade made those last few summers of the ’60s decidedly less peaceful.

Forty years ago this week, the normally sleepy summertime streets of Ann Arbor were violently awoken by a series of violent and occasionally bloody clashes between police and a motley crowd of hippies, radicals, teenagers, university students, and town rowdies. Ostensibly at issue was the creation of a pedestrian mall, or “people’s park,” on South University Avenue – a four-block shopping district adjacent to the University of Michigan campus that caters primarily to a student clientele.

Even in those “interesting” times, the violence in Ann Arbor attracted national attention – including that of J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. After the fighting was over, the national press lost interest and moved on to other, juicier topics. But on the local scene the repercussions of that summer would reverberate for years after.

The Detroit Free Press would refer to the four nights of conflict as “The Battle of Ann Arbor.” [Full Story]

Turbulent Origins of Ann Arbor’s First Earth Day

The sixties are known for being one of most turbulent decades in American history. Ironically, however, perhaps the most turbulent year of the sixties was actually the first year of the seventies. Before it was even half over, the Weathermen had blown up a townhouse in Greenwich Village, killing three of their own number (including former Ann Arborite Diana Oughton), the unlucky Apollo 13 moon shot had ended in failure, Nixon had invaded Cambodia, four students had been killed at Kent State while protesting the invasion, and a week later, two more students had been killed at Jackson State in Mississippi. Even the Beatles broke up that fateful spring.

Photo courtesy of

A popular button made by U-M student activists to promote their March 1970 teach-in and its tie-in to Earth Day. (Courtesy of John Russell)

The sudden swelling of tension and conflict seen across the nation in early 1970 was also occurring in Ann Arbor. In February, the University of Michigan chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized a series of spirited protests against campus recruiters representing corporations such as General Electric that were supplying material for the war in Vietnam. At one of these “recruiter actions,” thirteen protesters were arrested following a street battle with police.

At the same time, a coalition of African-American student groups calling itself the Black Action Movement (BAM) were demanding that the university take immediate steps to increase black enrollment, and threatening a campus-wide strike if their demands were not met. (Eventually, BAM would call the strike, shut down the university for ten days, and win accession to all their demands.) On top of this were almost daily smaller protests and demonstrations on the war, women’s lib, gay rights, tenant’s rights, and nearly all the other sociopolitical issues of the day.

It was into this maelstrom that a group of U-M natural science students dove when they decided to set about organizing a teach-in on the environment, the latest movement to emerge in a nation awash in movements. The students initially desired to keep the teach-in apolitical, sober, and focused on science. In the highly charged atmosphere of the time, such a goal would prove impossible. Ironically, though, the eventual politicization of the teach-in would prove to be a significant factor in making it the watershed event it would ultimately become. [Full Story]