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Paul Williams: Alive and Well, Sober and Serene, Making Memorable Music Again at 74


Cover Photo

I didn’t expect to write a nearly 5,000-word story about Paul Williams, the songwriter who seemingly scored a good chunk of the 1970s.  But his story resonated with me.  First of all, there’s the fact he’s another in the long line of native Nebraskans I’ve targeted for my Nebraska Film Heritage Project.  It took awhile to get an interview with him, but it finally happened this past winter and it was worth the wait.  Then there’s the whole angle of him finding fame and fortune and throwing it all away during the depths of addiction and how he’s found sobriety and become an advocate for recovery.  As a fellow 12-stepper, that journey particularly hits home with me.  And then there’s the remarkable career renaissance he’s enjoying to go along with his reconstituted personal life.  My profile of Williams is the cover story in the May issue of the New Horizons.

Paul Williams: Alive and Well, Sober and Serene, Making Memorable Music Again at 74

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May 2015 New Horizons
Shame behind the fame, recovery after misery
Songwriter Paul Williams reached Hollywood’s apex by age 39 before losing everything to booze and pills and powder. As the Omaha native tried picking up the pieces of his shattered life and career, he virtually disappeared from public view. The title of a 2011 documentary about him, Paul Williams Still Alive, refers to the understandable assumption that somewhere along the line he suffered an untimely death, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

At 74 Williams is not only alive and well but riding a new wave of success that has people who don’t know his story wondering whatever became of him. His rise to stardom was so strong and fast and his descent into obscurity so severe and swift that even he excuses anyone for thinking he checked out. In a way, he did. He lost himself to addiction and in the process all the material success he’d built. But in recovery he’s gained things more important than money can buy. A book he co-wrote offers affirmations for daily living he follows.

“We don’t really control our lives as much as we think we do,” says Williams, who employs spiritual disciplines to stay centered. “My book Gratitude and Trust (Recovery is Not Just for Addicts) I wrote with Tracey Jackson is exactly about that process – staying grateful, trusting in the future, choosing faith over fear and watching your life get better. Tracy and I met when I was a mess. She then saw me in a very different light when I was 11 years sober. She has always claimed to have recovery envy. The concept of our book is that recovery is not just for addicts. It’s been wonderfully received. I’m happy to say the recovery community has embraced it.”

In the 1970s and 1980s Williams was seemingly everywhere at once in the entertainment world. One of that era’s top pop lyricists and composers, his music permeated radio, movies and television. His hit love songs or as he jokingly refers to them “co-dependent anthems” included “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “You and Me Against the World” and “Evergreen.” He was nominated for Oscars and Grammys. He scored the films Bugsy Malone, A Star is Born (1976) and The Muppet Movie. He wrote the theme music to the top-rated TV show The Love Boat. He was a popular concert performer and recording artist.

Also an actor, he turned up in films and episodic TV series, ranging from dramatic to comedic roles, sometimes even playing himself. His celebrity was such that he made countless guest appearances on talk, variety, game and awards shows, where he shined with his quick wit. At only 5-foot-2 his small stature made him stand out even more. Famously, upon accepting the Oscar for Best Original Song he shared with Barbra Streisand for “Evergreen” he quipped, “I was going to thank all the little people, and then I remembered I am the little people.”

Beneath the cocksure smile and glib repartee lurked a desperate man trying and failing by sheer willpower alone to battle inner demons. Then, the facade crumbled. As suddenly as he’d burst onto the scene, he vanished, his once ubiquitous presence no where to be seen. A half-dozen years ago or so a longtime fan, filmmaker Stephen Kessler, became intrigued with whatever happened to Williams. As the resulting film Kessler made shows, at the peak of his stardom Williams was an addict consumed by fame and ego, driven to get his next fix There are old clips of Williams doing TV guest spots while high, vainly, cavalierly bragging about his excesses. On national TV he openly joked about his infidelities. We see in the doc how uncomfortable it is for Williams today to view how recklessly he behaved back then.

His problems contributed to the breakup of his first marriage and derailed his career. Calls from producers and agents dried up.

But as the film also shows, Williams long ago kicked his addiction habit and along the way he remarried and rededicated himself to his family.

Journey of healing captured in song and on film
For the film Williams wrote an original song, “Still Alive,” that distills what it’s like to look at his addicted self from the lens of his sober eyes.

I don’t know you in those clothes
I don’t know you with that hair
Two dimensional reflection
Unforgiving unaware

Part time dreamer
Would be player
You thought fame could outrun fear

“That’s probably as accurate a line as I’ve ever written about anything and certainly about myself,” Williams says about fear. “One of the greatest challenges of my life was to look at a film about myself and then write a song kind of to myself.”

He still cringes at some of his boorish behavior caught on film.

“There are parts of it that are hard for me to watch. Like the Merv Griffin Show, when I was so arrogant and just a shallow little ass with this smirk on my face. What was most difficult about it is that I had no idea that’s who I’d become.”

The lyrics to his song “Still Alive” continue by asking “where did you disappear,” but as the film makes clear he’s never stopped writing and touring, he just plays to smaller crowds, in smaller venues, away from the spotlight. Williams is happier though than before because he no longer measures joy in terms of dollars, record sales and media spots but in the 12-step recovery work he does to maintain his sobriety and to be of service to others. All of which is why in addition to legendary songwriter, you can now add grateful survivor when describing Williams, who celebrated 25 years in recovery in March.

Kessler set out to make a documentary charting the artist’s rise and fall. It covers that journey but also reveals the most important things to Williams now are his recovery and family. A father of two grown children, Williams lives with his wife Mariana right on the ocean in Long Beach, California. Williams was a reluctant subject for the film’s unvarnished portrait of his failings and he only did the project on the condition that it share a message of hope and healing and that it highlight the changed man he is today.

In a phone interview he confirmed his new spiritual basis for living.

“My life has been changed drastically. The way I perceived my life changed drastically when I got sober and I began to see a little less through the distorted image of my own ego and began to see it as the absolute gift it was. I get up in the morning and I say a three-word prayer, ‘Surprise me, God.’ It implies complete trust. And then my second prayer is, ‘Lead me where you need me.’ If I’m relevant and useful I’m not in the way. If I’m not in the way, I’m not scared. If I’m not scared, I have a tendency to listen, and when I listen I sometimes actually learn something.”

Where Williams once saw himself as the center of the universe and responsible for all his success, he now sees things differently.

“The drugs and alcohol I consumed totally clouded how I perceived life. Then add the distortion of a growingly unhealthy ego. The fact is I never wrote a hit song because of the drugs, I wrote successful songs in spite of the drugs. The longer I’m sober the less I claim the success – the more I attribute it to a real gift. I’m not talking about my gift or the talent, I’m talking about the gift of the universe. If you tap into a sort of non-competitive thought process where you’re not worried about what the other guy’s doing but you’re just expressing what you feel, you connect.”

He says in the throes of addiction thoughts of grandiosity ran amok.

“You know, when I was drunk I was just brilliant, and the more I drank and the more I got into ego and the more I tried to write from my head and be clever and all…” the worse the music got. “One of the key elements of successful communicating is what we have in common, not the differences. So when I was authentic, when I would reach down into my chest and write about whatever I was feeling, whether it was loneliness or the longing for real love or how it felt to be falling in love, no matter how Hallmarky or sentimental the lyrics may have been, other people related because we have so much in common as far as the emotional scale we travel as human beings.”

He says he has drawers full of songs written under the influence of ego that will never see the light of day because no one can relate to them.

Williams shared the message of getting out of your head and getting in touch with your heart at a Neb. recovery convention he spoke at last year. He travels widely delivering recovery talks. The film shows him in action at one such event. About sharing his recovery message, he says, “It’s a chance to share the amazing gift I’ve been given and it feels like my most important work.”

A new life and a rejuvenated career
Instead of the movie Kessler imagined making about a man in despair over a fall from grace, he portrays a man content with his life. During production Williams was elected chairman and president of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which protects the rights of music artists. The post, which he continues in today, gives him a higher profile than he’s had in decades.

Since the film’s release, Williams’ profile has expanded even more, mainly due to a career resurgence he’s enjoying as a creative artist. In 2014 he shared the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year with Daft Punk, with whom he collaborated on their platinum release, Random Access Memories. Williams was asked to write songs for the smash animated film The Book of Life (2014). And he’s been tabbed to co-write the stage adaptation of the acclaimed film Pan’s Labyrnith.

Not surprisingly, he views this professional comeback from the prism of humility and gratitude he sees the world in today.

“I haven’t chased any of the things coming to me. I’ve really just been concentrating on one thing – my recovery – and living by those principles. I have found in that everything I needed and everything I wanted. I think the misplaced years of my addiction are probably the most important years of my life in the sense that they set me up for the life I have today.”

Where before fame consumed him, now it’s all relative.

“The perspective is so different. When I won the Grammy with Daft Punk almost my first thought was: I will once again be awakened by the cat that treats me like staff to feed her, and I’ll be on the bay where I live with a wonderful view and Mariana will be next to me and in a year it’ll be somebody else’s turn to have this.

“It was a nice moment but almost what was a better moment was realizing there was no sense of that being a target or something to sail towards. Whereas in the ’70s I was nominated for the Academy Award six times and was counting the nominations and looking for that second win, and I don’t do that anymore. The valuation of the recognition is very different and I think a big part of that is because I was so addicted to the attention. I was almost as addicted to the attention I was getting – plopping myself down on any couch in front of any camera – as I was to the cocaine and the vodka. Eventually the addiction to the cocaine and the vodka outran the other addiction and took me off the map and put me in hiding for a decade.”

The start of it all
The seeds of his addiction may lie in an insecure childhood that saw his family move wherever his Peter Kiewit and Sons engineer father’s work took them. Paul was born in Omaha and later lived in Bennington, Neb. for his father’s work on a major expansion project at Boys Town. “I was a construction brat. I went to nine schools by the time I was in the ninth grade. I went from living in Rapid City, S.D. to living in Lucasville, Ohio and from Albuquerque, N.M. to Omaha and Bennington to wherever next. I was always the new kid in school. I was the littlest guy in the class.” When Paul was 13 his father died.

He sees the roots of his collaborative nature – he’s teamed with Roger Nichols, Kenneth Ascher, Barbra Streisand and more recently with Gustavo Santaolalla – in all the moving around he did.

“I think I learned to adapt to the language wherever I was. People have said to me, ‘You have an unusual accent.’ Well, God knows what my accent is today because I’m a bit of a chameleon. It’s like there’s a little bit of bullshit in my DNA where just to survive I kind of learned to adapt as a kid to what was going on around me and I tried to sound a part of it. I think that social adaptability that was part of my growing up eventually morphed into the kind of collaborator I am. The opportunity to open up and be aware of what’s going on around me is part of the process that made the things I’ve done successful.

“The other thing is that now in sobriety I’m trying to be a better listener today with everybody.”

In the documentary Williams explains why he’s so short when the rest of his family is normal height for their age and sex. His parents became alarmed he wasn’t growing normally and they made the decision to give him male hormone shots.

“Actually what they did wasn’t the right thing to do because it closes off the bones and they stop growing.”

He displayed a knack for music as a child and while his body didn’t keep pace with his peers, his voice got deeper, faster than theirs. Further setting him apart was his fascination with swing music.

“I think it’s interesting the music I cared for in high school, when everybody was listening to rock n roll, was the Great American Songbook. I was listening to Sinatra and Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald, but specifically Sinatra.”

It all contributed to Williams feeling awkward because of how different he was, which began a lifetime pursuit of wanting to feel special. As he often says, “To be different is difficult – to be special is addicting,”

His parents entered him in talent shows. His father, who had a drinking problem, would wake him in the middle of the night to sing “Danny Boy.” His old man, who once drove drunk with Paul in the car, died in an alcohol-related one-car wreck in Ohio. Years later, when Paul was a parent and drinking heavily, he drove drunk with his own kids in the car, “something I swore I’d never do,” he confesses in the film.

Paul went to live with an aunt in California. What was supposed to be a short stay ended up years. In the film Williams relates that his aunt laid a heavy guilt trip on him by saying, “If you go back and live with your mom every bite of food you take will be a bite out of your little brother’s mouth because she cant afford you both, so you need to stay here.'”

“In a way,” Williams adds, “it was like I lost both parents.”

Music no longer held an appeal.

“When my dad was killed I kind of turned away from music. I quit singing, I didn’t want to sing, i didn’t want to be a part of music. It’s interesting because that’s about the point I wanted to be an actor and a good therapist would say, ‘Ah, you’re dad died, you turned away from music and you wanted to be somebody else,’ because that’s what acting is – a chance to be somebody else.”

His first foray at showbiz
He made his own way as a young actor.

“It was kind of learn by doing. I started doing plays and I worked in commercials.”

He also did improvisational comedy on a Los Angeles TV show hosted by political comic Mort Sahl.

His big break came with speaking parts in two mid-1960s Hollywood movies, The Loved One starring Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, Rod Steiger and John Gielgud, and The Chase starring Marlon Brando, Angie Dickinson, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. In the former. a surreal social satire, he was a whiz kid obsessed with rocketry. In the latter, an overripe Southern soap opera, he was a rebel teen. In each, he played several years younger than his real age.

“There was nothing close to a logical element of the decision to be an actor,” he says. “I mean, I always joke I felt like Montgomery Clift but I looked like Haley Mills. Into my 20s I played kids. I looked like a kid until you put me next to a real kid and then I looked like a kid with a hangover.”

Though neither film fared well and his part in The Chase was radically reduced in the cutting room, he got to work with A-list talent, including directors Tony Richardson (Loved One) and Arthur Penn (The Chase).

“When you’re a kid from Omaha there’s nothing more completely romantic and exciting than to walk on the set of a large motion picture production, to see the lights, the camera. All of a sudden you turn and there to your left is Sir John Gielgud and there to your right is Jonathan Winters. It’s a spectacular, life-changing even. Culturally it’s like going to Europe the first time. It’s like, Oh my God, look at all this.”

Williams was awed by Winters, whom he considered a comic genius. “I followed him around like a puppy. When I started recording one of the first appearances on television I made was on his show. He was always so kind to me.”

On the set of The Chase Williams began fooling around with a guitar and writing songs. In one of his scenes that survived the final cut he sings a tune he penned.

Two decades later, for Elaine May’s Ishtar, he had the tricky task of writing “believably bad songs – songs which sounded like they just missed” for the comedy about hackneyed songwriters played by Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. “I’m really proud of the songs. They’re almost good…almost.”

Other notable directors he worked with in front of or behind the camera include Melvin Van Peebles, J. Lee Thompson, Brian De Palma, Alan Parker, Garry Marshall, Oliver Stone and Luis Puenzo.

From acting to songwriting
Then, when his acting career stalled, music went from being a source of solace to his livelihood.

“Having no money to go out and wine and dine or go to the movies and being essentially broke, I turned to songwriting. It became my therapy and then the great surprise was that as soon as I started writing I knew this was what I was here to do. It was an amazing sense of comfort putting everything in the center of my chest into the songs.

“There was an element of craft in the very first song I wrote. I don’t know if you’re a believer in past lives but I am and it’s almost as if I had done it before. I had a sense of form, I had a sense of rhyme scheme, I had a sense for a story progressing. As I look back on it now I think you put your name on it but it’s almost as if you have unseen help writing these songs, and I still feel that way about the craft today. I think that inspiration is very difficult to truly identify.”

He and Biff Rose wrote a tune that took Paul to A & M records as a staff songwriter. Producer Richard Perry took a liking to his work.

“The very first songs I wrote began getting recorded. I recorded an album with Richard called The Holy Mackerel. I don’t think even my family bought the album but it was the beginning of my recording career. The song Biff and I wrote, “Fill Your Heart,” was later recorded by David Bowie on his Hunky Dory album. It was the first song he ever recorded he didn’t write and I am eternally grateful for that.”

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Williams was eventually paired with composer Roger Nichols.

“I would write during the day with Roger and he would go home to his girlfriend, and I would stay in the office and write with anybody that came by or write alone. None of my early songs were hits until I went to Europe in 1970 to work on a project called Wings with Herb Albert and Michel Colombier and when I came back I had two songs in the Top 10 at the same time – “Out in the Country” by Three Dog Night and “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters. That garnered a lot of attention and we were off and running.”

Having his music find a large, receptive audience was even more than he imagined possible.

“I had no idea I would have an opportunity to make the kind of living I did off of that music.”

An early concert gig brought him back to Omaha for a warm greeting.

“One of my great memories when I was first performing was on the road with The Fifth Dimension as their opening act. I was having some success as a songwriter but I wasn’t the most well-known person trotting onto a stage anywhere. When we got to Omaha it was as if they brought the Pope to Mexico City because the news had got out I was from Omaha and the audience gave me an amazing response. I’ll never forget that reception.”

Collaborations past and present
He says his experiences writing with Nichols and later Kenneth Ascher “were the longest lasting and most constructive and successful of the collaborations. Kenny had been a piano player for me and we started writing songs together. We wrote most of the songs for A Star is Born together. We wrote the songs for The Muppet Movie together. We wrote “You and Me Against the World” for Helen Reddy.

“Working with both Kenny and Roger I would describe as my music school. In the area of music discipline I learned a lot from both. To this very day there is nothing more interesting or exciting than to sit down with a total stranger in their kitchen or in an office and start sharing what’s going on in our lives and out of that conversation and kind of mini-therapy session comes a song all of a sudden.”

Of his recent collaboration with Gustavo Santaolalla – they wrote songs for Book of Life and they’re adapting Pan’s Labyrinth for Guillermo del Toro – Williams says, “I don’t think I’ve had a collaborative experience more emotional for me. Gustavo is a spectacular artist and composer. He writes incredible, heart-wrenching melodies.”

He enjoyed a warm working relationship with the late puppeteer Jim Henson on The Muppet Movie. Williams says Henson was so “easy-going and completely trusting” that he deferred hearing the songs Wiillams and Ascher wrote for the film until they were recorded. “Remarkable amount of trust and freedom for a major Hollywood film.” One of the songs, “The Rainbow Connection,” became a hit.

As his celebrity increased Williams became a rarity among songwriters – a household name and face. He also joined a long line of native Nebraskans to find Hollywood success. He made nearly 50 appearances on the Tonight Show, whose host, Johnny Carson, was a fellow Nebraskan. Paul’s notoriety benefited from his lilliputian size and shoulder-length locks. He simply looked like no one else.

The success of his music career led to new acting opportunities, including his role as Virgil in Battle for the Planet of the Apes and the part of Little Enos in the Smokey and the Bandit franchise.

A film Williams scored and acted in, Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974) owns a small but devoted following but he never expected it would lead to a career boost four decades later.

“We assumed Phantom of the Paradise was a failure when it came out because it had so little attention, especially in the United States, but in France (and in Winnepeg) it was a revered odd little cult film. Two young Frenchmen went to the theater where it was showing and saw it 20 times and they formed a group called Daft Punk. They sought me out to come and work for them on their album Random Access Memories. I wrote a couple of the songs and sung on the album with them and last year we won the album of the year.”

Another devotee of the film turned out to be Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican-born producer-director.

“I was approached by Guillermo del Toro because evidently I performed back in Mexico City when he was in his late teens and he apparently came to me with a vinyl of the soundtrack album of Phantom of the Paradise. He was a huge fan then and his affection for the film did not wane and years later he’s on the phone with me asking if I would do this adaptation of his Pan’s Labrynith.

“So I’m having all these amazing opportunities walk up to me because of something I could have written off as a failure, and I think there’s a great life lesson in that for me and for all of us.”

Seeing and living life differently
Not only does he see things in a new light in recovery, he approaches work from a new vantage point, too.

“My whole creative process is so different now. It’s back to a very unconscious effort. I would say the most important time of my writing is the time between when I look at the project, know what I’m supposed to do, and then sit down to do it. I always leave a little space now – a couple days where I’m not thinking about it. But I know my unconscious is because when I sit down to work on it so much of it’s done and I know it came out of me but I wasn’t there when it was worked on.”

Though he lived in the Heartland only through adolescence, he says, “I think there is an element of Midwestern values that may have been an undercurrent to my success. My simple background and upbringing made its way into songs that were not clever but were honest about what I was feeling. I think there’s a lot of Neb. in that.”

In a lifetime of achievements, he says “probably the highest, greatest honor is the great work I get to do for ASCAP,” adding, “We have 526,000 members and to be able to make sure that they’re properly compensated for their work is key. I mean, I have a daughter who’s a social worker and I was able to acquire the education for her, put food on the table and gas in the car because of ASCAP. Other people deserve to have the same.”

Success the second time around is a different experience for Williams because he’s a new man. The misery that led him to act out and to repeat his father’s sins, has given way to appreciation.

“As I get older I’m recognizing I’ve had magnificent opportunities that were absolute gifts.”

He lives life now trusting new blessings will arrive and new dreams will be fulfilled. One day at a time.

Once reality’s your roommate
And the truth stands at your door
All your records may be broken
Trophies won’t shine anymore
New beginnings are the challenge
But you’re not sure where to start
Unimagined gifts are waiting
Love will find your grateful heart

Then again
Once again
You will come to know the simple man you’ve always been.

And someone asked me once
Where do we go when we arrive
If you’re lucky, when it’s over
The dreamer’s still alive.

Visit http://www.paulwilliamsofficial.com.

Pad man Esau Dieguez gets world champ Terence Crawford ready

April 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Terence Crawford of Omaha is a two-time world champion who’s proven his mettle time and again against tough foes. When he climbs through the ropes into the ring on fight night it’s just him and his opponent in a mano a mano test of will and skill and toughness. But he’ll be the first to tell you that a whole team of people helps get him ready for that harsh proving ground of the square circle and its sweet science. His Team Crawford is a group of coaches and trainers who put him through his paces so that come fight night he’s prepared to take care of business. The people who make up Team Crawford have been with the champ for years. One of its members is Esau Dieguez, a Guatemala native who fought for many years and wound up in Omaha looking for work and fell in with Crawford and Co. and has been the fighter’s trusted pad man during his remarkable rise up the boxing ladder. In my El Perico profile of Dieguez learn something about his own journey to get to this point of being a key member in the camp of one of boxing’s greatest new stars and perhaps it’s next superstar. Top Rank’s Bob Arum thinks Crawford is that fighter and after Crawford easily dispatched Thomas Dulorme in Arlington, Texas on April 18 to capture the vacant WBO light welterweight title only months after his second successful defense of the WBO lightweight title he won in early 2014, it’s jard to to argue the point. Just know the next time you see Crawford fight that Dieguez had a hand in his success.

Pad man Esau Dieguez gets world champ Terence Crawford ready

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico
Few know what it’s like being on the receiving end of punches from a world boxing champion. Esau Dieguez knows. Most days he absorbs punches thrown by former world lightweight boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford when the champ’s in training. That’s because Dieguez is the mitt man or pad man in the Team Crawford camp.

Wearing well-padded gloves, Dieguez catches blow after after blow offered by Crawford as the two men move around the ring in a classic workout to help the fighter deliver crisper, faster single shots or combinations. Perfecting the Sweet Science gets Crawford sharp.

He was plenty sharp last year. He dethroned lightweight champ Ricky Burns in Scotland to win the WBO title before twice defending the title in his hometown of Omaha in front of large, CenturyLink Center crowds. Those three big wins in 2014 earned him wide acclaim as fighter of the year. Crawford then relinquished his title to go after the vacant WBO junior welterweight title in an April 18 fight against Thomas Dulorme in Arlington, Texas.

Dieguez, 43, is among the veteran coaches and trainers who get Crawford ready to fight. Dieguez has worked with him since 2004. Their association goes back earlier, to when Dieguez, 16 years his senior, fought professionally and a promising teenager named Terence Crawford was a sparring partner.

The young fighter impressed him.

“Even when he was like 13-14 years old, he was really good. I thought he was going to be a world champion,” says Dieguez. “He has the talent. He’s just a natural. And he works really hard. A lot of fighters, they’ve got the talent, but they don’t work hard. He’s got the talent and he works hard, too. Man, he works really, really hard.

“You have to be smart and work hard to be somebody in this sport.”

For a long time Dieguez harbored his own boxing dreams. After a successful amateur career in his native Guatemala, where he won national championships. he moved to Calif. to turn pro. Things didn’t work out and this husband and father of five resettled in Omaha. He found a steady job with Quality Pork International in the shipping department and hooked up with the CW boxing club, whose budding star was Crawford.

By the time Dieguez called it quits as a fighter, Crawford emerged as one of America’s top talents. Dieguez has been there as he’s evolved from promising amateur to dominating pro.

Dieguez still works with young boxers at Crawford and McIntyre’s B&B Boxing Academy in North Omaha, where he works with national qualifiers Abel Soriano, Sergio Ramirez and Treven Coleman Avant. But his niche catching leather from Crawford trumps everything as he may not get a chance to work with a world champ again. Besides, it’s special being part of the inner circle that prepares the champ for battle.

“I’m the coach that works the mitts with him. It helps him a lot with snapping punches. It helps him with a lot of techniques like counterpunching. That’s what I do with him – I have him work on his combinations and counter punches, his timing, his speed.”

Dieguez has been called “the best pad man in the business” by Crawford and by Crawford’s co-manager, Brian BoMac” McIntyre.

“Yes, that’s what they call me,” he says. “I’m just trying to be the best at what i do. God gave me the skill to work with the pads and I enjoy it.”

McIntyre also refers to Dieguez as “my right-hand man,” adding that his trust in him is such that “he can step in the head coach’s position at any time – if one of us goes down, Esau is right there. Esau is the man. He and Terence have the best rhthym I’ve seen since (Floyd) Mayweather and Roger (Mayweather). I do the pads during camp but that week of the fight I step back and I tell Esau to make sure Terence’s rhythm and speed and power is there, and Esau will be right on it.”

So just how hard does Crawford hit?

“Man, I cannot explain it,” Dieguez says. “I work with a lot of fighters but he’s stronger than the rest. He’s naturally strong. When he throws his punches he doesn’t throw only with the arm, he throws with his whole body. That makes his punching stronger. He’s still working to snap those punches and put them together with more power.”

Heading into Crawford’s April 18 fight, his first since moving up to the junior welterweight class, Dieguez felt Crawford would be stronger than ever with the added five pounds and not struggling to make weight. Crawford indeed proved strong in the heavier division, scoring an easy technical knockout of Dulorme to capture the vacant WBO title.

Dieguez sees Crawford “getting better and better” and the team around Crawford getting better, too.”

He says just as Crawford’s learned to hone his instincts to become a real technician, Team Crawford members have learned to combine their experience and expertise to push the fighter to greater heights.

Contributing to the champ’s success and seeing it happen in Omaha, he says, “is something I thought would never happen,” adding, “Being part of the team of a world champion is an honor and a blessing.”

When Crawford goes off to train in Colorado Springs, where the altitude improves his conditioning, the team goes with him, including Dieguez, and they train right alongside the champ.

“We do all what he does, running in the mountains, cutting weight. We’re always together. That’s motivation for him. We keep pushing him. We all have the same goals, we’re all thinking greatness for Bud and working really hard for it. All of us are focused on it.”

Team members wear T-shirts, sweatshirts and caps that read: Mindset. A not so subtle reminder of their single-minded focus.

Dieguez and Co. were in Colo. six weeks, stopped in Omaha for a few days and then went to Texas for Crawford’s fight with Dulorme.

“It’s not easy to stay away from the family but this is what we have to do. When we work for our goal we have to make sacrifices. It’s part of the price. People that don’t pay the price, don’t get nothing. We’re paying the price and everybody’s happy with the results.”

Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution

April 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Soccer is still no where near as popular in America as football, basketball and baseball but it’s undeniably growing year by year in having a hold on people’s interest and imagination. The emergence of soccer as a prime sport at Omaha South High School gives insight into the demographics at work that will likely one day see the sport challenge the big three team sports and perhaps even overtake them, not just in Omaha or greater Neb., but around the nation. South High is a microcosm for how South Omaha has changed from its largely Eastern European population base from the late 19th century through the 1970s to a largely Hispanic, African and Asian base in recent years. Then and now many of the immigrant and refugee families drawn there have found work in the meatpacking industry, and thus the school’s nickname, Packers. This demographic transformation has had many effects, including a student population that is increasingly soccer-centric. Boys soccer head coach Joe Maass has been there since 2000, when the change was near full flower. Since then he’s taken a moribound program that couldn’t win and nobody wanted to coach and turned it into a budding dynasty. He’s done it with players of Mexican and Latin American heritage and more recently of African heritage who have played soccer practically from the time they could walk and run. These experienced, skilled and passionate players, wave after wave and class after class of them, have made South a perennial contender for metro, district and state titles. Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for a a high school soccer game to outdraw a football or basektball game, but that’s often what South high soccer manages to do. When the program first emerged as a force to be reckoned with a few years ago and the team made it to their first state finals, record crowds turned out and most of the fans were rooting for South. The majority of fans were Hispanic. It was a hugh love fest for the team, the school and the South Omaha community. Maass is the mastermind who’s embraced this flood of talent and passion and let it flourish. My El Perico story about Maass and the evolution of South High Soccer was published just as this year’s team has found itself and climbed to No. 1 in the rankings. With the way the Packers are playing, they will be the odds-on favorite to win their second state title in three years.
 Embedded image permalink

Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico
Omaha South High soccer coach Joe Maass enjoys being part of a transformation that’s seen his soccer program blossom from awful to brilliant and his school rise from woebegone to thriving.

He was 26 when he got the job in 2000. That’s unusually young for a big school head coach but it wasn’t like candidates were busting down the doors. Slowly but surely though Maass turned that no-win situation around. He now has South soccer a perennial contender and a point of pride for the school and community it represents.

South has built a near dynasty on the strength of mostly Latino players who’ve become the new face of the more than century-old school. Michael Jaime became the first Gatorade Nebraska Boys Soccer Player of the Year (2013-2014) from South, one of several all-state players with Spanish surnames the school’s produced. In 2010 Manny Lira was the captain of the all-state team. Those players and several others went on to earn college scholarships.

For the ninth consecutive season South’s regarded as a major threat. The No. 1-ranked Packers opened the season with 10 straight wins. Since their first and only defeat of the year, 1-0 to Papiliion LaVista-South on April 13 in the Metro Conference championship game, they’ve beaten traditional rivals Omaha Westside and Omaha Creighton Prep, and on April 20 they avenged their lone loss to Papio LaVista-South. They’ve come together as a team despite injury and suspension.

Maass says the prospects for his 2015 team are promising.

“As a unit we’re really good. I have a lot of pretty good players but there’s not like one or two players miles ahead of everybody else in the state, so this is definitely going to be a team year where a lot of different kids contribute. I think making state would be a fair goal and then maybe when we get there…”

Anything can happen. Only a few years after being a losing team, South made its first state final in 2010, the game infamous for the “green card” incident when opposing fans threw mock green cards on the field to insinuate South players were illegal immigrants. It was the most public in a long line of racial insults directed at South.

Maass says he was proud of “the way his team handled it,” adding, “The kids didn’t retaliate – they stood up for the team and school and for what was right and wrong.”

South then put together arguably the greatest season ever by a Neb. Class A boys soccer team in 2013, going 23-0 en route to the state title, setting many records in the process. Elite Soccer Report named South the top team among states where soccer’s a spring sport.

“We won the whole thing and we did it the right way,” Maass says.

Joseph Maass's photo.

None of it seemed possible 16 years ago.

“Everything that’s been accomplished I would never have imagined. I have a huge sense of pride in that and in knowing that if I stopped coaching tomorrow South High soccer’s still going to be pretty good because we’ve built a strong program.”

Not bad considering what Maass started with.

“The guy who was the head coach before me saw I had some energy and passion, so he stepped down and recommended me to replace him. The truth is nobody else applied, so they just gave it to me because essentially nobody wanted that job. There was nothing desirable about it. It was not very forgiving.

“The program was pretty bad back then. The school really didn’t fund the program. The uniforms were really old. The sport of soccer didn’t get much attention or respect, especially down here.”

Besides low interest and expectations – South won eight games his first four years – it was hard getting kids to play and fans to follow.

“I had somewhere around 11 or 12 players. The first practice there were 15 kids on the field and four of them were off the streets, they weren’t even students. I only had one senior. The next year it was maybe 13 to 15 players. Then 18. Each year it just grew a little bit.”

He scoured South O parks and fields for promising talent and before long gifted players, even some elite club players, filled his rosters.

The facilities were subpar until Collin Stadium opened in 2009, giving the by-then vastly improved program a distinct home advantage with its full-sized soccer field.

The one constant, Maass says, is that “the kids were great kids.” “But,”
he adds, “I don’t think anybody saw South going from being the worst team in the state to what it is now. We’re pretty much a projected top 10 team every year and that’s where we want to be – a top 10 team that everybody has to kind of somewhat fear.”

These days the program gets 100-plus students trying out and carries 80 to 90 players across its varsity, junior varsity and freshman squads. Grads are getting scholarships to play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Bellevue University and other schools. Several are coaching for South, including Leo Enriquez and Cesar Lira, and several others are coaching for club teams or competing schools.

Where South soccer used to be an after-thought, it’s now a conversation starter. Cara Riggs was South’s principal when Maass engineered the turnaround. More than all the wins, she appreciated the way Maass cared.

“Joe sometimes comes off as tough, maybe even gruff. Underneath that exterior is a very soft-hearted, compassionate man who cares very deeply about the kids he works with. He has high expectations of your hard work and he’s willing to go above and beyond for you and your success. His loyalty to South High, its students and South Omaha is as strong as a Mack truck.”

Tobias Maertzke, a German exchange student who played at South a few years ago, lived with Maass and his wife while going to school there. “He’s like a family member almost,” Maass says.

Maass acknowledges he’s softened and matured since becoming a father. He and his wife have two children.

“I’ve mellowed quite a bit. I’m still fiery but not overly fiery like I used to be. The first couple years i was probably a little bit rough actually. I had a great understanding for the game but maybe not an understanding for all the kids, whereas now I feel I understand the kids, the game, how the referees work. I feel the refs respect me, so they’re not as quick to give me a yellow card if I step out of line.”

Riggs says South soccer made a positive impact far beyond the field.

“The success of Joe’s soccer program has been a definite booster for school pride and community respect. The success helped put South back on the map and recognized again in the Omaha community.”

Joseph Maass's photo.

Maass, whose roots are in that neighborhood, says, “The sense of community that came back to South Omaha is just amazing to me.”

Having built South to be an elite program and kept it there, Maass is not sure which feat is more difficult.

“It was really hard to get there but it’s hard to stay on top though because more kids are playing the sport now and other schools are starting to mirror the things we’ve done.”

Of all the achievements South’s attained, including district and metro crowns and records for most goals scored and most shutouts recorded in a single season, the 2013 state title stands out.

“Winning a championship at South after they hadn’t won one in years was big. It felt great to feel our program was on top of the world.”

Championships and records are nice, he says, “but at the end of the day” it’s the relationships he forges with “the kids” and following their life pursuits that matter most to him.

“I see them out in the community. It’s interesting to see where they end up. I hope in some way I’ve impacted these kids. That by far outweighs everything else.”

Just like the team’s Twitter page tag line reads, “We are a family, friends and a team with one big heart.. Packers.”

Omaha South Soccer

For Omaha Film Festival guru Marc Longbrake, cinema is no passing fancy

April 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Those of us who make our living in full or in part as film artists, exhibitors, historians, or journalists all come to our love of cinema differently.  It’s a very personal thing.  Marc Longbrake, one of the founders and directors of the Omaha Film Festival and a veteran crew member on Nebraska-made indie films, followed his own path in losing it at the movies.  Read my Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/) piece about him and his film love affair.
Marc Longbrake Web

Marc Longbrake

No Passing Film Fancy

April 22, 2015
©Photography by BIll Sitzmann
Originally published in Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

Techie Marc Longbrake was in college when he lost it at the movies. Intrigued with doing something in cinema, he managed computer-aided drafting designers for his 9-to-5 but crewed on local independent film projects for his moonlighting fix.

Fast forward to today, when he’s a veteran lighting technician on area shoots, including a feature recently accepted into Sundance, Take Me to the River. Longbrake is also a co-founder of the Omaha Film Festival (OFF).

The March 10-15 festival at Marcus Village Pointe Cinema celebrates it 10th season this year. Longbrake and fellow movie enthusiasts Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering distinguish their event from other fests here with an ambitious, multi-day slate of features, documentaries and shorts, a conference of film industry panelists, and meet-and-greet parties.

The event receives 600-plus entries from multiple states and nations. A screenplay reading series complements the script competition. A team of judges spends months viewing films and reading scripts to determine which submissions make the final cut.

“It’s a pretty intense process,” Longbrake says. Getting all the moving parts in sync is a feat. He and his partners divvy up duties. Longbrake oversees the technical side.

“I deal a lot with the projection. We take great pride and care in the way we project the films we show. That’s a huge part of it.”

He also makes sure the fest connects to the local film community via social media.

This labor of love is fueled by shared passion. “It’s not been easy, it’s not been without sacrifice,” says Longbrake, a still-video photographer and lighting grip. “The fact we’ve stayed together all this time and managed to get along and to remain on the same page—I mean we’re all very different people with very different opinions—has made for a good marriage that helps us put a good product in front of our attendees.”

Longbrake and Co. displayed vision and courage launching OFF when they did as it preceded Omaha’s much-embraced art cinema, Film Streams. They saw an indie void and filled it with the help of sponsors.

He says despite the fact “we’re all broke from this, at the end of the day we know it’s a good cultural thing for the city to have,” adding, “We’ve got enough of a fan base that if we were not to do it there’d be some disappointment. I don’t know who would pick up the ball and run with it, so we feel sort of an obligation to keep it going.”

Besides, he says “it’s pretty cool to be a part of Omaha’s cultural renaissance the last 10 years.”

Occasionally, OFF features break big, giving Omaha audiences sneak peaks of awards contenders. Then there’s moments like the one a few years ago when Longbrake introduced filmmakers Logan and Noah Miller to their idol, screenwriting guru Lew Hunter, at an OFF screening of the brothers’ debut feature, Touching Home. The twins had read Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 to learn how to write a script.

“It was a great moment for the brothers and Lew to meet and it was a great moment for me to be able to put them together.”

He enjoys it, too, when Nebraska film artists such as Yolonda Ross, Mauro Fiore (see related story on page 117), Mike Hill, Dana Altman, and Nik Fackler make OFF appearances to share their passion with audiences.

Now they’re pushing for Alexander Payne to be a future guest.

Marc Longbrake Web

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend; Going to Africa with The Champ; B & B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

April 21, 2015 2 comments

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend

Going to Africa with The Champ

B&B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

©by Leo Adam Biga

All hail Terence Crawford of Omaha for claiming his second world boxing title with his 6th round technical knockout of Thomas Dulorme on April 18 in Arlington, Texas.

Crawford vaulted to world prominence with his three signature wins last year in the WBO lightweight diviion, beginning with his unaminous decision over then-lightweight champion Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland and followed by Crawford twice successfully defending his title in his hometown before huge crowds at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Those three wins earned him consensus boxer of the year recognition, including the coveted Fighter of the Year nod from the Boxing Writers Association of America. It was long anticipated that his dominance of the rather weak lightweight division would see Crawford move up a weight division or two in time. With the junior welterwight title vacant, it only made sense he would test himself there, though doing it this soon after reaching the top may have been a bit of a surprise. Then again, Crawford, who had trouble making the lightweight limit, has the frame that allows him to naturally carry the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds with ease and with his performance against Dulorme it’s obvious he can carry his power up to that weight class, and probably well beyond it, too. It’s a good bet that within a few years he’ll move up another weight class or two, certainly to welterweight and perhaps all the way up to middleweight. When all is said and done he stands a good chance of fighting for and perhaps winning another world title or two or three. Should he do that, perhaps adding another Fighter of the Year award for good measure, on top of what’s already, he will be mentioned with maybe a dozen or so all-time boxing legends. That’s where he’s come to already at age 27.

No single Nebraska-born athlete has dominated his sport in this way or to this extent since Bob Gibson went on his 10-year pitching tear for the St. Louis Cardinals from the early 1960s through the early 1970s. Gibson led the Cardinals to two World Series titles and very nearly to a third. His combined Series numbers of 7 wins and 2 losses and 1.89 ERA give you an idea of how brilliant he was in the post-season. He was twice the Series MVP. His regular season numbers and awards were equally impressive. He posted a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts in 1968, when he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP. He won a second Cy Young another year. His dominance contributed to Major League Baseball lowering the mound. Terence Crawford’s string of four wins in a year-and-half over world-class fighters, two of those wins earning him world titles, and each victory more impressive than the last, is just about equal to where Gibson was at his peak in his sport. Just as Gibson was acclaimed by many to be the best pitcher, not to mention the best athlete, player and competitor in baseball, Crawford is nearing that kind of accilmation as the best fighter in the ring today. Once Floyd Mayweather retires, Crawford may be the guy everyone talks about in that vein. Just as Gibson still had a few good years left after 1968, Crawford has at least another three to five prime years left. Anything after that will be gravy.

As Crawford’s career blossoms, it’s rapidly becoming obvious that Bob Arum, the man behind Top Rank, the fight organization the fighter is contracturally signed to, is not alone in procaliming this warrior as the next big thing in boxing. When he looks at Crawford’s considerable talent and prodigious work ethic Arum sees a dependable and bankable star that he and Top Rank and HBO can ride for a decade or more, barring injury or other things that could interrupt this meal ticket. Having covered Crawford the last year or two, I see what Arum and others see in him – a dedicated, mature young man with a good heart who is also well-grounded about who he is and what’s he’s doing and how he wants to help his family, his friends and his community. Like all great fighters and athletes regardless of the sport, he views what he does in the ring as a job, and he views all the work that goes into preparing him for his fights as part of the job. It happens to be a profession that he’s passionate about and respects and thus he never cuts corners. That attitude and practice will keep him sharp and help him avoid the pitfalls many top-flight boxers suffer once mega fame and fortune come their way.

On this same blog you can find my various stories about Terence, who also goes by Bud. I have links to those stories below. I recently did some new writing about him for a project drawing attention to his B&B Boxing Academy in North Omaha and I’m sharing that here for the first time. Bud and comanager Brian McIntyre are founding partners of the academy and they have a beautiful dream to make it a full-fledged resource center for underserved youth. What follows is a kind of prospectus for what the gym is about and who it serves.

To learn more about Bud and his boxing journey, here are inks to my stories about him:

http://leoadambiga.com/2015/01/08/sparring-for-omaha-boxer-terence-crawford-defends-his-title-in-the-city-he-calls-home/

http://leoadambiga.com/2014/06/25/bud-rising-bud-crawfords-tight-family-has-his-back-as-he-defends-title-in-his-own-backyard/

http://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/25/terence-bud-crawford-in-the-fight-of-his-life-for-lightweight-title-top-contender-from-omahas-mean-streets-looks-to-make-history/

http://leoadambiga.com/2013/07/30/in-his-corner-midge-minor-is-trainer-friend-and-father-figure-to-pro-boxing-contender-terence-bud-crawford/

Look for more from me about Bud and his ever expanding story as I preview the trip to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa that he and BoMac will be making.

I am going on this adventure as the 2015 recipient of The Andy Award, a grant for international reporting presented by UNO’s International Studies and Programs to a news entity, reporting team or individual journalist whose reporting raises the global awareness of Nebraskans.

Terence

Going to Africa with The Champ                                                                                                                              Every year Nebraskans make humanitarian mission trips to Africa, often through medical, educational or religious institutions and other non-governmental organizations.

In June a small group of Nebraskans will travel to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa with the goal of raising awareness about challenges facing people there and ongoing efforts to find solutions. Headlining the trip will be two-time world boxing champion Terence Crawford from Omaha and Pipeline Worldwide co-founder Jamie Nollette, who was the fighter’s fourth grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha. Nollette’s nonprofit works with partners doing sustainable water and agricultural projects in Rwanda and Uganda that aim to improve living standards and encourage self-sufficient practices.

Last August Crawford traveled there with Nollette. What he witnessed profoundly impacted him. He saw a scale of human need he’d never experienced before. He saw people trying to move on from a traumatic past. If progress can be made there, he thought, then perhaps problems facing his northeast Omaha community, where his B & B Boxing Academy serves at-risk youth, can be surmounted.

Joining the fighter this time will be Crawford’s co-manager and B & B partner Brian McIntyre and myself. I’ve closely followed Crawford’s rise to boxing stardom in a number of articles I’ve written.

The reporting I do in Africa will be featured in a future Omaha Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com) issue as part of its long-running Journeys series. I will also write about the experience for The Reader (http://www.thereader.com) and the Omaha Star (http://theomahastar.com) and possibly other publications.

On our journey we will glimpse various aspects of Rwandan and Ugandan life that reflect on these nations’ troubled recent history. Tribal-sectional tensions and harsh government policies have led to coups, revolutions, civil wars, reprisals and atrocities. In Rwanda, feuding ultimately resulted in a genocide whose repercussions are still felt today as reconciliation efforts continue. In Uganda, a succession of dictators and instability has given way to the iron clad rule of president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, whose reign has been marred by human rights violations and the invasion of Congo.

Picking up the pieces is not the only narrative with currency in Rwanda and Uganda. But recovery is a primary theme there. So is the need for these poor, developing nations to build infrastructure, stimulate work, maximize resources and achieve enduring, empowering solutions to fresh water and arable land shortages, among other problems.

My chronicles for various Omaha publications will cover my and my travel companions experiences with:

•meeting perpetrators and survivors of genocide
•visiting a genocide memorial and the Hotel Rwanda
•visiting projects building fresh water wells and growing food
•meeting aid workers

We will meet meet people who have been internationally recognized for their humanitarian work, including the famous Sister Rosemary.

We will go on a safari, do gorilla trekking and see all manner of natural wonders.

We will also attend an African boxing convention where we will meet athletes and coaches from across the continent.

The trip is just one way Heartland residents engage with Africa and other developing regions. Opportunities to serve and learn about places in need are as far away as Africa and as near as North Omaha. Everyone who goes on these journeys comes away changed, their world vision broadened, their humanity deepened. My reporting will cover this transformation and lessons learned, too.

Look for more on this in the weeks to come.

Terence

Here’s a look at the B&B Boxing Academy that is so close to Crawford’s heart.

Terence

The B&B Boxing Academy 

The Mission
B & B Boxing Academy is a community-based athletic center that builds body, mind and character. Expert, caring coaches help members reach goals inside and outside the ring. Positive, structured activities teach confidence, discipline and healthy habits for a lifetime. Learn the winning edge at B & B, the home gym of two-time world champion Terence “Bud” Crawford.

Boxing Brothers
Boxing brothers Terence “Bud” Crawford and Brian “BoMac” McIntyre have shared the same dream for years. Coming up through North Omaha’s hard knock streets, they were determined to make it in the sport they love in order to give back to their community.

After a solid amateur ring career BoMac turned pro but found his real calling as coach and manager. His prize pupil, Bud, fulfilled the early promise he showed as a youngster. Under the tutelage of BoMac and Midge Minor, Bud became one of America’s best amateur fighters and now has carried his hard work and talent all the way to a world professional championship.

Omaha has entered the spotlight of the sport after his two rousing WBO lightweight title defenses in front of packed CenturyLink Center crowds and loads of HBO viewers. Those victories, combined with his winning the title at the start of 2014 in Scotland, earned him Fighter of the Year recognition. He recently added to his lustre by winning the WBO light welterweight title with a TKO over Thomas Dulhorme on April 19 in Arlington, Texas.

But reaching the top was never the end of Bud and BoMac’s quest. Their vision has always included a gym serving youth located in the very neighborhood they grew up and got their own boxing start in.

The pair’s B & B Boxing Academy, opened in October, 2013, is a nonprofit dedicated to building the body, mind and character of young people, including at-risk youth in need of positive, structured activities. Team Crawford has expended blood, sweat and tears turning the former garage and storage space into a working gym that gets lots of use. Since the doors first opened it has been a magnet for young people. Some are there for competitive boxing, others just to get fit. Many kids who come reside in the neighborhood. They walk or ride their bikes there. Gang violence is a real threat on what can be mean streets. It reminds Bud and BoMac of when they were young and flocked to the neighborhood CW Boxing Club. It was their refuge from the lures and dangers of those same inner city streets. They want the Academy to serve the same sanctuary role for today’s youth.

“It’s not just all about boxing,” Bud says. “We’re trying to teach the kids how to be young women and young men. We’re teaching them to have respect and dignity. We’re teaching life skills. You’ve got to be able to control yourself in the ring as well as outside the ring and boxing is a great way for kids to learn discipline.”

Team Crawford’s coaches and trainers are mentors who care. They teach lessons for life. Having a caring adult to provide direction means the world to young people who may not have that support at home or even if they do still need another guiding hand.

“If they feel like nobody cares than they’re not gong to care, but if they feel one person cares than they tend to listen to that person,” says Bud, who had parents, teachers and coaches steer him straight.

Bud knows from personal experience the difference a gym can make for a young person working out anger issues.

“It’s a good place to come and get away, release some stress, release some steam if you’re having problems at home or school and you just need to let it out. What better way to let it out than on a bag, rather than going somewhere else and letting it out the wrong way. I look at it as an outlet for the kids that are just hardcore and mad at the world because of their circumstances. They come to this gym and they feel loved and they feel a part of something. For some kids, feeling a part of something changes them around.”

Kids who compete under the B & B banner train as a team, vying for titles and trophies against fighters from other gyms. But you do not have to fight to be a B & B member. Every member receives instruction and mentoring from top-flight coaches and trainers with decades of experience. Every member is exposed to winners and champions.

BoMac says the Academy, located at 3034 Sprague Street, offers “the remedy” for young people at-risk of falling prey to negative behaviors. All that he and his fellow coaches need is to get youth through the door and then, he says, they can “shape and mold” them to develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

As B & B expands it will offer tutoring and academic support programs through community and corporate partnerships. A commercial kitchen serving fresh, hot meals for members of the gym and the community is envisioned. The renovated-expanded gym will add showers, a dedicated fitness-weight training room, meeting spaces, a second ring, more punching bags and new workout equipment.

Even as Bud’s career grows ever larger, he pledges to make B & B an ongoing part of his unfolding legacy.

“This is my community, B & B is my gym, so I am in it for the long haul. I’m not in it for the fame or anything like that. I could be anywhere but my heart is with Omaha. We just want to help as many kids as we can. Everything is for the kids.”

His fondest wish is that some young people training at B & B now or in the future will one day take over the Academy. Then they, too, will pay forward what they received to help a new generation of young people. Each one, to teach one…

Terence
Terence

The Fighters
The young people coming to the B & B Boxing Academy all have different reasons for being there but all share in common a desire to improve themselves with the help of coaches who care.

Haley Roberts
Small for her age, 14-year-old high school freshman Haley Roberts struggled with self-esteem issues until working out at the gym.

“I was self-conscious about how small I was and everything. I felt different from everyone else because everyone had a sport they were good in but i was never good at sports. Then when I found boxing I realized I had more strength and power than I thought, and I put it to good use,” she says.

“I enjoy coming. I just enjoy the sport. It helps my confidence, it helps me feel better about myself all around.”

She likes the communal approach used at the gym.

“I enjoy the different people who train me. Certain days we’ll work on certain things, like our footwork or straight punches. We just work on different things as a group. It’s really a team environment.”

Having a world champion on hand in the person of Terence “Bud” Crawford is an extra benefit of training there.

“When Terence is in town to train everyone comes in and wants to train with him. It’s really cool seeing the Crawford entourage coming in.
It’s amazing actually just watching his fights and realizing, ‘Oh, I train with him.’ It’s really cool, too, that he kind of helps everyone (with pointers).”

With Bud and Co. behind her, Haley is excited about her potential in and out of the ring. She looks forward to traveling to tournaments next summer to prove herself in competition.

“I’d like to show everyone that girls can do what guys can do. I’d like to go as far as I possibly can in the sport.”

Away from boxing, her new-found confidence has her intent on studying forensic science in college. Her goal is to become a crime scene investigator.

Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo
Siblings Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo hail from a boxing family. Their uncle Alfredo Angula is a highly regarded Mexican prizefighter who once held the WBO light middleweight title. The boys, ages 10 and 13, respectively, were trained by their father at home before they tried out some gyms. After meeting Bud they fell in with him and his B & B Boxing Academy and they have not looked anywhere else since.

Training there Alan’s learned the value of putting his all into the sport.

“It’s like really hard work – hitting the pads, hitting the bag, doing pushups, doing jumping jacks, it’s just a lot of hard work. It pays off in fights, you know,” says Alan, who was among the first fighters to compete for B & B.

The brothers say the work ethic that boxing demands carries over to their schoolwork and chores.

Alan says it doesn’t hurt either being surrounded by champions who exemplify what it takes to be successful. “It gives me motivation,” he says. Getting advice from a world champion, he adds is, “really awesome.”

Ary also appreciates having Bud in his corner. “He’s very gracious. He motivates everyone in the gym. Whenever I’m tired and I sit down he’s like. ‘Go hit the bag and exercise more.’ He’s like always there. He’s great, he’s really a nice guy to be around. He’s very cool and funny. I like him a lot.”

He says the coaches look out for him and his brother: “They’ve always got our back.”

Ary. who’s battled obesity, appreciates the health benefits he sees from getting in good shape and staying fit. “It’s helped me lose weight and it’s gotten me in good condition.” That’s given him a better self-image.

At other gyms the brothers were sometimes the only kids present. At B & B they often work side by side with kids their own age trying to get in shape and learning the ropes of the Sweet Science just like them.

Alan says, “You’re not like the only kid around here, you’re surrounded by kids that want to do this sport. too.”

The brothers have become good friends with Haley Roberts.

While Alan has been fighting in competitions and winning trophies for the gym, Ary has yet to enter a tournament, but he feels boxing has already given him much.

“A lot of kids go through bullying at school and I think it’s good for those kids to go in the sport because it gives you confidence. I know because I was bullied when I was smaller. If kids want to mess with you, you know how to defend yourself.”

The confidence that comes with being able to handle oneself is important to Alan, too.

Both brothers also enjoy traveling to different cities and states for tournaments for the education and experience it gives them.

Treven Coleman-Avant
Promising amateur lightweight Treven Coleman-Avant, 24, an Omaha Burke High School graduate, wants to be the next champion produced by the gym. In addition to Bud, there is top U.S. ranked amateur light heavyweight and Olympic prospect Steven Nelson. Treven, who trains with both in Omaha and in Colorado Springs, has shown well at regional and national competitions and so he sees no reason why he cannot follow their footsteps.

He uses their dedication to the craft and what they accomplish inside the ring as inspiration and benchmark for himself.

“It all comes with work ethic – hard work and heart. I feed off those guys’ energy and I add it onto mine. Omaha isn’t done producing champions, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Just like his role models, he wants to be a champion outside the ring, too. He senses the same is true for all the people who train there.

“There’s been a flood of new people coming in wanting to get their life changed and that’s the goal of the gym being down in this environment – to pull people off the streets and change their lives.”

Treven says the mentoring he’s received there inspires him to mentor others by “giving advice, showing the right steps to take that you didn’t take.” At B & B, he says, “you learn great leadership,” adding. “It’s built me up as a person. Boxing takes a lot of discipline and dedication and I take that attitude to the other things I do in life – to my work, to being a father. You’ve got to give it your all or you’ll come up short.”

Treven, who has been around boxing his whole life, has developed a special bond with Bud that’s made him a member of Team Crawford.

“To be part of his team and to see where he’s come from to now is a tremendous thing. He’s been like a brother to me.”

In the spirit of giving back to the community, Treven conducts fitness classes at the gym most weeknights and weekends to help young men and women sharpen their minds and bodies.

The Dream
“We’re busting at the seams.”

That assessment from B & B Boxing Academy co-founder Brian “BoMac” McIntyre sums up why the popular North Omaha gym must grow in order to meet the surging demand for its services.

Located at 3034 Sprague Street in a former garage and storage facility, B & B is home to WBO world lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, who trains there under BoMac. Together, they opened the gym to provide their underserved community a safe, clean environment to box and get fit in.

With the Academy attracting more participants, the gym has reached physical capacity. On warm summer nights the place over-brims with youth and young adults going through their paces – running, working the bags, shadow boxing, sparring. To accommodate the overflow, the doors and fences are opened and the parking lot emptied of vehicles to create a makeshift outdoor training site. If the numbers keep growing as expected members will need to train in shifts.

A much larger connected space, three times the size of the existing one, is available. The vision is to acquire that warehouse and convert it into a spacious, state-of-the-art gym and to repurpose the current space into new uses that provide academic and community support.

B & B Boxing Academy is a nonprofit, community-based athletic center developing young people to reach their potential. The youth and young adults who train there share the same aspirations and dreams of wishing to improve themselves and realizing their potential.

BoMac, Bud and their Team Crawford family of coaches are dedicated to touching as many lives as possible. B & B is their vehicle for producing winners in the ring and in life.

 

Hot Stuff: American comedy classic ‘Some Like It Hot’ pushed boundaries


Ribald comedies are old hat in Hollywood.  If prostitution is the oldest profession, than comedies with a good dose of sexual intrigue in them, whether you call them romantic comedies or screwball comedies, comprise one of the oldest genres since the dawn of the sound era.  However, it’s one thing to use sex as a comic lynchpin or prop – I mean, anyone can do that – but it’s quite another thing to go beyond being merely risque or naughty and fashion a really good story to support the old nudge, nudge, wink, wink, as a Monty Python bit put it, and present three-dimensional characters.  As my story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) argues, Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic Some Like it Hot miraculously turns what would essentially be a one-joke premise or sketch in the hands of most filmmakers into a satisfying two-hour farce tinged with pathos.  Wilder’s great script. expert direction and perfect cast pull it off.  Omaha film impresario Bruce Crawford is reviving this gem for one night only on the big screen, April 24, at the Joslyn Art Museum.  Introducing the film will be Kelly Curtis, a daughter of Tony Curis, the magnetic who was never better than in this tour de force performance in which he plays the straight man for most of the picture until his character wondefully imitates Cary Grant in order to seduce Marily Monroe’s Sugar Kane.  Curtis and Lemmon are great in drag and Monroe is never more fully Monroesque than in this film, where her voluptuous figure, sensual power, and emotional fragility create a most alluring combination.

Hot Stuff: American comedy classic ‘Some Like It Hot’ pushed boundaries

Tony Curtis’ daughter, Kelly, to introduce film in Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in April 2015 isssue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

The 1959 gender-bending film farce Some Like It Hot came at an interesting juncture in the careers of writer-director Billy Wilder and stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.

For each legend it marked a career boost. It reaffirmed Wilder as a comedy genius after a succession of mediocre mid-’50s.dramas and comedies. It further stretched Curtis. It began Lemmon’s long, fruitful collaboration with Wilder. It represented Monroe’s last great comic role.

Paying tribute to a classic named the funniest American movie of all-time by the American Film Institute is a no-brainer for Omaha impresario Bruce Crawford. He’s presenting a one-night revival April 24 at Joslyn Art Museum as an Omaha Parks Foundation benefit.

“Some Like It Hot is to film comedy what Casablanca is to film romance,” says Crawford.

Casablanca found a magical mix of perfect casting, memorable lines and universal themes to make its wartime romance work for any generation, Hot miraculously made a one-joke men-in-drag-meet-sex goddess premise into a timeless romp of provocative puns, innuendos, sight gags and set pieces.

The 7 p.m. event will have special guest Kelly Curtis, the oldest daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, introduce the picture. Her sister is actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Kelly accompanied her late mother to Omaha for a 1994 Crawford event feting Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho. This time she’ll share reminiscences and insights about her father, who died at age 85 in 2010. In a recent Reader interview she spoke about how Hot came at a crucial time in his Hollywood ascent.

Starting with Trapeze, Sweet Smell of Success, The Vikings, The Defiant Ones and on through Hot and Spartacus, Curtis showed a heretofore unseen range in rich, demanding parts of enduring quality.

“I think he wanted to prove to himself and to the world he was more than than just a pretty face and those films gave him a great opportunity to do that,” Kelly says. “He loved that he was given a real gift in Some Like It Hot to be able to show his comedic talents as fully as he did. Doing comedy like that is very difficult.”

The plot finds two down-on-their-luck Depression-era Chicago musicians, Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon), needing to skip town after witnessing a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-style slaying. The only open gig is with a touring female band and so they pose as women musicians. Aboard the Florida-bound train they fall for the band’s woman-child singer,s Sugar Kane (Monroe), only Joe’s more determined to bed her once they hit the beach.

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Kelly Curis

Kelly says her father’s idea to impersonate Cary Grant within the context of his character posing as a millionaire in order to seduce Sugar Kane, reveals much about the man who became Tony Curtis.

Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx to Hungarian parents, he grew up running the streets with a gang. Talent agent-casting director Joyce Selznick discovered the aspiring actor at the New School in 1948. His quick rise to movie stardom as a Universal contract player was the American Dream made good. Kelly says it only made sense he would pay homage to Grant because the actor was his model for learning how to court women and to project a sophisticated facade.

“Once he had money my father really took to the trappings of being a suave, debonair, European-style playboy. He loved fine houses, fine wines, fine cars. He loved living the life of an Italian count. That was one of his personas and stages he went through. So I think jumping into a role like that to woo a woman is what he’d been playing at his whole life. Even back when he was in a Hungarian Jewish gang, he used his black hair, blue eyes and olive skin to pass as Italian so he could spy on the rival Italian gang I think he always pretended to be something he wasn’t just to survive.”

Much as Grant transformed himself from his poor Bristol origins as Archie Leach into the screen’s most desirable gent, Kelly says, “Tony Curtis was an avatar – it’s the man he invented for himself, which was an amalgamation of all his parts, yes, but it definitely was not Bernard Schwartz.” She adds, “Tony of the Movies is what he liked to call himself and that’s what he aspired his legacy to be.”

She says the multifaceted man she knew took his off-screen work as a painter, photographer, assemblage artist and sculptor seriously.

“It was much more than a hobby. He was constantly creating and he exhibited and sold his art late in his life.”

His heritage was important to him, too.

“My father was a lot more a Jewish man than he presented himself to the world. I think he had a deep sense of Jewish values and a deep love for Judaism. I think he wanted to be more religious but with his lifestyle and interests it just wasn’t to be.”

Kelly worked with her father on the Emanuel Foundation in raising money for the restoration of cemeteries and synagogues in Hungary damaged during World War II.

“It’s something he was very committed to and proud of and during that time we got very close. It was a very good time for us.”

Despite a “libertine” way of life as a notorious Hollywood wild man, she says her father was a staunch American patriot and conservative Republican. Yes, she says, he fell prey to the excesses of fame with his multiple marriages (six), infidelity and substance abuse problems, but he appreciated how far America allowed him to rise.

“Here’s this immigrants’ child who made it, who became rich and famous, which is why he considered himself an American prince. It’s why he loved America as a land of opportunity. The possibilities are endless. He said you just have to want it bad enough, have the talent to back it up and really go for it.”

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She says her father’s career descent after The Great Race and The Boston Strangler was largely self-made.

“He didn’t transition very well into New Hollywood. He wanted to but he wasn’t really interested in letting down the facade of the young virile guy by playing older roles. It bothered him until his death he wasn’t asked to do more but he burned a lot of bridges. He went through a lot of dark years in the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. That could have been a lot riper time for him had he not fallen to prey to his demons.

“Here was this gorgeous man getting older, going through a mid-life crisis and perhaps an existential crisis of trying to figure out who he was and what he was. It was a very troubling time for him.”

There were a couple bright spots (The Last Tycoon, Insignificance) but mostly Tony Curtis was an artifact from a long gone Hollywood. He did live the last several years of his life sober. As his old studio peers died away and his own health failed, he could take solace in having made several stand-the-test-of-time films.

He thought enough of Hot to write a book about its making. Kelly says the movie allowed him to show “his chops” as an actor. He wrote that during the shoot he had an affair with Monroe, whom he claimed was his lover years before. Kelly says, “I don’t know if it’s just one of my father’s stories, but I would love to know.”

Tickets are $23 and available at all Omaha Hy-Vee stores.

For more info, call 402-926-8299 or visit http://www.omahafilmevent.com.

Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled


So, everyone has a story, and that’s certainly true of two Omaha native music talents, one now passed, Julie Wilson, and the other, Dominque Morgan, whose future seems bright after some dark days.  Julie Wilson performed on and off Broadway, in movies and television, but she made her greatest mark as a cabaret singer in New York City.  Life wasn’t always roses for her, though.  A marriage to a famous theater figure didn’t work out.  Her folks back here got ill and stopped her career to care for them.  Her two sons went through some wild times, including right here in Omaha.  One of her boys died young after years of drug abuse.  In more recent times Wilson suffered health problems that affected her voice.  But she was one tough broad who wouldn’t give up.  She was only human though and after fighting the good fight she died the other day at age 90.  I only interviewed her once and she was a hoot.  I also interviewed her actor son Holy McCallany, who spoke lovingly about his mother. The subject of this story though is a musical artist of a very different kind, Dominque Morgan, who is only his 30s and has a modest career as a R&B, soul and hip hop artist based in his hometown.  Dom, as his friends call him, spent some years behind bars for bad decisions he made as a young man and he lost both his parents.  But he’s all in these days with doing the right thing by his life and music.  He’s very active as an advocate in the gay-lesbian-transgender community.  My profile of him for The Reader (www.thereader.com) reminds me that we all carry baggage, we all experience heartache, we all long to express passion.  He and Wilson couldn’t have been more different, yet they both loved performing music and sharing their gifts with others.

NOTE: Later this week I plan posting the interviews I did with Wilson and her son Holt as a kind of tribute to her.

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Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled

Singer-songwriter doesn’t let travails slow his roll

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

R&B and soul singer-songwriter Dominique Morgan, 33, has emerged as an urban music force with multiple Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards nominations for his Love Chronicles album.

His tunes of love and loss come from personal experience: an abusive relationship, homophobia, both parents passing, incarceration.
Alfonzo Lee Jones, founder-president of Icon One Music, the local label Morgan records on, says the artist has “absolute determination.”

Music is Morgan’s passion and sustenance. When he bravely came out at 14, he leaned on music for solace.

“It was an important part of my secret life. I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music.

No one knew this was my salvation, this was my safe space,” Morgan says. “I was very closeted about music. I didn’t sing in front of people. But I had this desire to perform. I wrote songs in a notebook I hid under my bed. I was just very insecure and being a performer is the ultimate exposure.”

He got up enough nerve to sing in Benson High’s mixed chorus and to audition for its Studio Singers show choir.

“I was frightened to death to audition. I didn’t know how to dance in time, I didn’t know how to read music, I felt so behind.”

He made the cut anyway.

“It was the first time I had been chosen for something and somebody saw something special in me. That experience was amazing. It opened me up to discipline, group dynamics, being a leader.”

Though his parents accepted his sexual identity they didn’t want him dating. At 16 he got involved with a 21 year-old man. Full of rebellion, Morgan left home to live with his partner.

He says he silently suffered abuse in that co-dependency before finally leaving at 19.

“I really had no self-esteem. The relationship tore that completely apart.”

Broke and feeling he had nowhere to go, he lived a gypsy existence between Omaha and Lincoln

“I did not want my family to see me.”

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He committed nonviolent crimes – stealing cars in a valet dodge and writing bad checks. He slept in the cars and attended to his personal needs in public and dormitory restrooms.

“It was how I was surviving.”

His desperation led to many poor choices.

“I have this need for people to like me and to want to be around me. I was constantly putting myself in precarious situations because of that.”

He let friends think he was going to school.

“I had to keep up a facade with them.”

He did the same with a local boy band, On Point, he joined.

“It was my first experience recording in a studio and performing outside of high school. It was bittersweet. I was enjoying it but I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew eventually it would blow up in my face.”

The pressure of maintaining the illusion grew.

“Those internal thoughts are hell. All these balls i was juggling. I found myself in a cycle. I didn’t want to face how bad of a situation I was in.”

Once again, his only comfort was music.

“It was how I got through each day. It was just peace for me.”

Wracked by fear and blinded by denial, he says, “I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t go on much longer like that. I just didn’t know what the stopping point was for me.”

Getting arrested in Lincoln in 2000 was that point. Assigned a public defender, he pleaded no contest to several counts of forgery and theft. Unable to make bail, he sat in Lancaster County

Jail months awaiting sentencing. The judge gave him eight to 12 years.

Morgan’s reaction: “My life is over.”

His next tour months were spent at the state correctional system’s Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

Life in stir came as “a complete culture shock,” he says. “I couldn’t let anybody know I was frightened because you can’t show any weakness. Besides, I was out. I was young, gay and black – three strikes against me. So I came in fighting. I wanted them to respect me. I was watching boys get raped, people be sold, stabbed, beaten with padlocks. I was like, I just want to make it home.”

He didn’t pursue an appeal – “I thought if I fought it I was going to go crazy” – and instead accepted his lot.

He served in Omaha, Tecumseh and Lincoln facilities, sometimes segregated from the general prison population, for his own safety he was told. Other times, he mixed with convicted murderers and rapists.

While incarcerated his father died suddenly. He’d been Morgan’s only regular visitor. Morgan stopped calling home. Hearing freedom on the other end only made his confinement worse. “It was too much for me.”

He turned to music to cope.

“It was like this wall burst in my head and these words, these songs, these melodies just flooded out of me. I thought, One day I want to sing my songs. Music kept me going. It was my saving grace.”

He wrote the songs in long-hand, with a pen, in notebooks and on kites (internal request forms). He utilized mics and mixing boards in prison music rooms, buying access to the gear via handmade checks he covered with the $1.21 a day he made working in the kitchen. He earned a culinary degree he uses today as a caterer.

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In a prison talent contest he revealed music chops he’d kept on the down low. The prospect of using those chops on the outside kept him sane. After serving eight-plus years, he got out February 2009 and cared for his ill mother until she died that December.

“It was devastating.”

His youngest sibling, Andrea, came to live with him.

He tracked down Icon One’s Alfonzo Lee Jones and began writing songs for the label. Jones admires “the soul and feeling” Morgan puts into his writing,” adding, “Dom paints a vivid picture with every song he composes. You can feel the emotion. That’s powerful.”

Morgan says in Jones he’s found “more than a producer – he’s like a brother to me.”

Meanwhile, Web and radio hosting gigs brought Morgan to the attention of East Coast artists he’s now working with.

His music took off as a recording artist and live performer, he says, once he stopped trying to position himself as a gay singer-songwriter. That transition came with his outreach work for the nonprofit LGBT advocacy group, Heartland Pride.

“I am a singer who happens to be gay. I can still be myself through that but I let the music speak for itself.”

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His life and career were rudely interrupted last fall when informed he’d not served the mandatory minimum for one of his charges. He found himself detained four months at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

“It was like watching my life die. It almost killed me wondering how much of my life is slipping away while I’m gone.”

A parole board review set him free in February.

During that limbo he was removed from the Pride board for not disclosing his criminal past. That prompted a Facebook post by Morgan laying out his troubled journey and hard-fought redemption.

“I can’t be OK and love who I am now and be ashamed of such a large portion of what made me who I am,” he says. “I felt I needed to own my story. I wanted people to really know where I came from.”

He’s since co-founded Queer People of Color Nebraska. It seeks to start conversations in the African-American community and larger community about the challenges of being black and gay in America.

His advocacy for equal rights led him to co-direct a recently released “Black Lives Matter” video.

“I want to do it loud and proud,” he says.

The release party for his new album, Loveaholics Anonymous – Welcome to Rehab, is April 25 at The 402 in Benson.

Follow Dom at http://www.facebook.com/dniquemorgan.

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