This American Life; From a Distance; Part 1
Erika Yeomans knows when her search began, it began when she saw a photo in a magazine. The picture is. This one, it's this photo with his hand on his forehead and his eyes all squinted up with tears rolling down his his cheeks and. At the bottom of the black and white photo is written in cursive lettering. I'm too sad to tell you, as ironic, as charming as. And the man seemed unusually expressive and vulnerable. I just think I'm intrigued because because it shows a man crying and you don't see that image very often and you don't see a man letting himself have these true emotions. And yet he kind of pushes it away a little bit by sort of writing on there. I'm too sad to tell you it. Actually, there he is again and again with his hair longer. You see now you see you see the first the first version of the short hair and then the second one with his longer hair. And I prefer it short. You know, the two photos I definitely feel much more attracted to the one with his hair
is a little bit shorter, which is very it looks very now both the hairstyles are very retro. 70S now, guys. But in fact, the photo was from the 1970s, an art photo by a virtually unknown Dutch artist named Bazian Áder. Erika read the article about him and the facts of his life only enhanced the air of mystery and romance in the picture. He did a kind of conceptual art show later, this conceptual art that involved a lot of physical challenges that he would set for himself. In one piece, he was photographed falling off the roof of the house. In another, he falls out of a tree, the goofy, almost comical photos. But other works of his, like the crying pictures, have a kind of wistful longing quality. There was just something very appealing about it and very and sad. And I felt like I identified with that longing and longing for what? I don't know, a searching for something. What is it? Is it just this? You know, I didn't I didn't know. I wanted to figure. I wanted to know what he was thinking. And his last piece he did was his triptych called In Search of the Miraculous in which he
disappeared. He was trying to sail the Atlantic and a thirteen foot sailboat by himself. And he ended up he disappeared and his body was never found. And a year later, his boat was found capsized off the coast of Ireland. And it was like this big mystery. From WBC Chicago, it's this American Life, I'm Ira Glass, back for another week documenting life in these United States. And today on our program, admiring someone from afar, trying to get closer to them. Act One, In Search of the Miraculous. Act Two "A Thousand Miles to Miles Davis." Act Three, "Stalking Snuggles." And Act Four, "One thousand women become Selena." Stay with us, won't you.
When Erika saw the picture of Bas Jan, it had been a while since she'd had an adventure. For years she had been slogging away as director of a theater company, an experimental theater company that was perpetually strapped for cash, perpetually struggling to get reviewed and get attention. It was frustrating. She needed a change. And seeing the picture of Bazian reminded her that life could be an adventure. I feel hesitant actually saying it just flat out in those words, because so few of us carry the idea that life should be an adventure into our adult years. A lot of people think the whole idea is really silly, but this is what Erika Yeomen's believed. And Bazian, she thought, lived his life as an adventure. He was handsome, sensitive looking, and he died for his art and she decided she was going to find out everything about him, make a film or document of some kind, even though she had never done anything like this before. She was about to turn 30. It was time for a rite of passage, birthdays, certain birthdays are supposed to be these
big moments are supposed to be these big pivotal moments in your life. And when I was 13, I had a birthday party called Farewell to Childhood, which I had all my girlfriends come over and we had to dress like five year olds. And it was like a very when I think about it, it's like kind of a sick thing. And it's embarrassing that I'm even talking about it. But who cares? So at 13, I had this conceptual birthday party. Basically, I put a performance concept, a birthday party, and then I had to have the whole thing costumed and, you know, done it because I had to get over my childhood. And and so I thought he was a big year for me because I kept thinking prior to 30 that something was going to happen. When you're 30, I don't know what that something. Erica tracked down Bastian's widow in Los Angeles and decided to make a pilgrimage and rather than fly from Chicago, which she couldn't afford anyway, she decided she was going to drive. It will be more like Bastiaan. She thought more a test of will, physical endurance
and events conspired to make it more of a test. Her employer wouldn't give her much time off, so she would actually have to do the drive in two days, not three or four, which it usually takes. Part of my drive out there to L.A. in some stupid small way was my attempt to, like, be by myself on a journey that not that it has risk tied to it at all. It's not really an athletic feat. And, you know, to drive, you know, a couple of days in a beat up car by myself with a tape recorder and try to figure out if I'm going to be able to discover anything about myself, which which I don't know if I did or not. But but I started talking to the tape players, if it was at first my driving partner. And then second it became my therapist in some way. And then it became like a journal by the by the like the 48 hour. It became like my journal. Well, I've seen it all. My arm is peeling. My driving arm is peeling. My windshield wipers don't work. It's foggy and it's snowing. And I'm thinking about the eclipse.
When I was 18, 19, I was like a junior, meant my for my life, the way I jumped around so many things, so many different relationships. Marium 30 and I'm still not making money at what I want to do. I started to suffer from a real sadness when I was recording myself my thoughts. You know, late at night, I started to get very depressed doing this backwards the way I'd done everything. So I'm thinking everything will come to fruition when I'm like that. Like what? I'm 70 years old. I kept thinking this was all wrong and this wasn't I kept comparing it sebastiaan like how is this adventure is how is this romantic. How is this, what am I, what am I trying to teach myself. What am I trying to, how am I supposed to grow from this. I'm tired, I've had too much coffee and too many cigarets. I haven't eaten anything that's healthy. Everything's been in cellophane, you know, it's like this whole thing of doubt, doubt, doubt, doubt down and not knowing why
I'm there and I'm stuck. I can't fly from wherever I am in the middle of Missouri or, you know, New Mexico. It's like I have to finish. I have to finish it. Slow down, OK? I love this car. Please make it. I love you. Car driving. Oh, oh. Where are the Cowboys? If you ask Erika how she pictured Bastian's trip is transatlantic trip this 13 foot boat? She answers without pausing. I envisioned him catching his fish off the side of the boat and having a little mock up barbecue pit and then grilling his fish and having this fresh water supply, eating very little fast food for a lot of it and writing a lot in his journals. And perhaps he was going through questioning things, but I don't think he was doing it in such a way, in such an alarmist way, in a melodramatic way that I certainly sounded on the tapes.
I don't care if my bright lights are on. I need to see Erika drove 15 hours a day for two days and the third day things melted down. She barely smoked nonstop. And though she had told her friend Marcie that she'd arrive at Marcie's house around 9:00, she didn't hit the nether region outskirts of Los Angeles until 9:00, which may not seem like a big deal with millions of lanes of roads whipping around on a Friday night, which, of course, you know, I pretend like it's not going to be any traffic. And of course, there's bumper to bumper traffic cars going really fast. And I'm just driving along and I start to start to feel really woozy and I get woozy as I go on and as I'm into the getting into the actual sitting, I'm looking for the exit from ARV's place. I start to have a panic attack where I know, I know I'm passing out. I've never passed out my entire life. I've never, ever even experienced that feeling. And here I was. And I know I was passing out and I couldn't stop my heart from pounding.
I couldn't stop myself. I'm like just either I was going to vomit or I was going to pass out. And I started to panic. And so I was shaking, trying to get off this freeway with cars whipping around me. At this point, I was going about thirty miles per hour and I wasn't about to go any faster because I was really frightened. I was completely paralyzed. I couldn't get over to the exit. I finally like weed my way around with people honking at me and they know I'm a tourist. They see my place from Illinois and I know they're saying all these things. I'm waiting for the gun to come out. I get off the exit and I'm in a neighborhood that looks really desolate. It looks really scary. It's really dark there. No streetlights. And I start weeping. I'm on the side street just thinking I'm going to sleep here tonight. I'm never going to find Mom's house. I was completely, completely, utterly frightened. No, what I was going to do, I pumped up myself. I tried to breathe, breathe, breathe, eat some peanuts. It was all I had in the car. So I got back on the freeway and I said, meanwhile, during this time, I'm in my car and I keep hallucinating and I'm melting in my car and that my back of my car is melting into the freeway. And so I keep. Hours later, she finally pulled over and called Mickey, who came and retrieved during her pajamas. The next morning.
Erika didn't want to look at her car, though. She had to. And I went outside and I noticed that my back real tire had blown. And that was why I was hallucinating. I wasn't hallucinating because my tire had blown. And that's what's making me feel like I was melting into the freeway on the face. The facts of Erika 's adventure do not seem like the stuff of myth. A car drive three days long on the interstate highway system. But what's remarkable about her story is that through sheer force of will, she turned it into the rite of passage and test of endurance that she had wished for when she set out. And once she recovered the next day, she called Bastian's widow, Mary Sue, and headed out to meet her. I was wearing these very, very. Very fluorescent yellow cigaret pants, my army combat boots and my gas station jacket from the 50s, a very in jacket, I thought I'd fit in with the scene and sort of this art community at Bergamot Station, which just all these galleries, I
think it'd be a lot of groovy people. And I want to look as groovy as I could. Mary Sue liked Erika and answered anything she wanted to know. And some of what she said was very different Americas. Pretty picture of Boston as an ideal man, romantic art hero. You know, I went to the root of my questions at this point of trying to figure out what is what did he sound like? How did he talk? How did he. Was he political? Was he not? And they were very kind of short answers to these things. But then towards after about an hour or so of talking, she started to sort of explain to me about them that he wasn't this perfect, beautiful creature because I kept saying I was gorgeous. And and that's when she sort of said, I can't paint him that pretty, though I thought, you know, there were problems. And that's when she started to sort of talk about open relationships. And we sort of had a girl talk about open relationships and how they don't work. And and, you know, about the pain that was involved in her marriage and what happens when you admire someone from afar, probably
because they seem so sensitive and tragic. And then you find out there was sometimes kind of a jerk in this case, Erika , tenaciously held on to a picture of Boston as a romantic feeling man. And if you ask Mary Sue, she says there's something lovely about that. Yes, I'm sure Erika does have a romanticized view of who he who Bostian was and what he was, of course, like. I think, however, that's just perfect. That's what Bostian would have liked more than the real picture. I'm sure he wouldn't want me to explain to completely all the details. Now, one of the oddest things about this whole story is that Erika sees Boston as a pure artist than she is a true artist, when in reality she labors mostly in obscurity following a vision that's completely idiosyncratic, completely her own.
A typical show of hers is filled with odd striking images, lots of strenuous movement, elliptical dialog, no story. Some shows seem to have an unusual number of people throwing themselves on the floor. The shows can be hard to sit through, but from start to finish, they are clearly a labor of love and a labor of obsession. But to hear her talk about it, she has sold out. Compared with Bastiaan, he was more concerned about. I don't want to say art for art's sake, but he was more interested in what he was doing to himself, physically and mentally by putting himself in these images and doing these different tasks. And I don't think he was that worried about if he was going to be a big famous artist or if he was going to be successful artist because he didn't even take care of the work that he had. I mean, he when he after he died, they you know, they can't even find a lot of his work because it got damaged in a garage, you know, because they didn't really take care of it.
Christine McKenna writes about art for the Los Angeles Times, and she spoke with Erika about fashion several times during Erika 's visit. This image of him as pure has more to do with something Erika needs than it has to do with reality of him because. Yeah, because Erika really is every bit the artist. But John was in terms of intensity and single mindedness, you know, I don't I don't I'm not an authority on him, but I do know that he was just another guy hustling in L.A. like everybody else. Basically, I got the impression that she was just completely romantically enchanted with him, and I don't know if she was really even looking for the facts of his life when she came out here, it would seem more just like some kind of mythical quest. And it was a very short history that he wrote. And that leaves her a lot of room to embellish it. You know,
but I have to add, I mean, I was very moved by by this whole trip that she made. I can totally understand it because, yeah, I thought there was something really beautiful about it. I mean, she was the pure one. She's more pure than he was. I'm sure there's something so innocent in her vision of him and her quest to come out here and get I don't know quite what. And then in the face of all the evidence that I feel she probably came up with here, she went back home with the same vision. I mean, that's really kind of kind of stubborn innocence. And that's pure in that I mean, there's no way she's going to make money off this. She's not going to end up getting a date with the guy because he's dead, you know, so she gains the purity of the obsession. Erica Yeomen's now lives in New York and Chicago. She runs the Derica Theater Company and is collecting footage from old Hollywood films
and from Mary Sue to make a video about Bastiaan, which she hopes to complete by the time she's 33, the same age he was when he set out across the Atlantic and disappeared. More searches for the miraculous when our program continues. Oh, great. Wider than a mile. I'm gonna send you in style some day. Audrey Maker. You can't break wherever you're going, I'm going your way
to do all. To see the world, there's such a lot of world to see. We're under the same radar and we rang the bell. Kobori friend. With. And we. Act to meet your hero. So what, have you idolized someone and then finally do get close to them, actually become
their friend? What happens to the romantic dream that you had of them? Well, Quincy Troupe first heard of Miles Davis back when troupe was just a teenager. I was in this all white high school's 3500 kids and it was only eight black kids that went to this school. And so I was trying to find some way to be hip. You know, at that time, troopers in East St. Louis and Miles was far, far away. Part of what was appealing about Miles was the fact that he had begun in St. Louis himself and had gotten out. And, of course, Miles was a blueprint for hipness. I was in a fish fry place and and I saw these four black guys sitting in this booth eating jack salmon sandwiches and dinners with dark glasses on and hats, and the hair was cocked and everything. So I thought they look pretty hip. So I went and sat, got my sandwich and sat behind them. And at that time they were talking about this homeboy from C.S. Lewis and he was in New York City and he was doing all these great things and
playing all this great music and had played with Charlie Parker, who I didn't know any any of this. And they said, Miles Dewey Davis, Miles Davis, you know, his name is Miles Davis. And they went up to the record player and put in some money and played Donna Lee. And I remember listening to Donna Lee and I said, wow, I didn't like jazz up until that point. I was about 14 or 15 years old. You know, I was into Genius and Chuck Berry and I mean, that kind of music, rhythm and blues. And when I heard this music, for some reason, they played it twice. And the second time it kind of went straight to my heart. I don't know. I can't explain why it went straight to my heart, but I kind of loved the music. And I sat there and they sat there for about an hour and then they left and when they left, I remember going up to the record player and I had about 30 cents or something. It was a nickel Plato's records. And I went to flip through them all those names and found Miles Davis, his name and played Donelli.
And I played down a lead and I played another one. That's when I first heard Miles Davis, and then after that, my cousin told me how hip he was and showed me pictures of him and how clean he was, I start seeing how well he dressed and what kind of what great style he had, how clean he was. Yeah. You know, we used to say he was clean as a big dog, you know, which was which was a saying that came out of St. Louis, you know. And so I said, wow, this is a guy I really love. So I start really listening to his music at that time. And it kind of changed my life. And then I found some other friends who had been listening to him for a while. And I kind of left my other friends and started listening to Miles and hanging out with them. And we should sit up in the stands at Sumner High School and say we were going to run away to New York and be like Miles Davis. So I remember the first time he came to St. Louis and was all this big buzz about him
coming to play there, and and I doctored up my my draft card and changed all the dates and everything so I could be old enough to get in the club. And I remember going to the pawnshop and getting these great suits and these these churches shoes, which were too small for my feet. You know, they were it was really hip English shoes. And I had this big Chesterfields hats and I was really clean. So but my feet hurt and my feet hurt because the shoes were too small. The shoes are too small. So so I go to the Peacock Alley with some friends of mine and we get in the guy I looked at me and said, oh, you really? Because I was really young looking. But he let me and finally let me in. And when that band hit, they were so fantastic. They were so fantastic. And Miles was so clean, he was so clean and so hip that I was just mesmerized. And so I told my cousin who went with us that I wanted to go up and say hello to Miles and tell him how much I love his music. And so my cousin said, Quincy, don't go up and say that to Miles because Miles doesn't talk to people he doesn't like. People come up to you and talk to him. So don't go up to him and say and just kind of
look at him from a distance. So we kind of stood back and looked at him from a distance. All of us was a whole bunch of us, young guys and older guys. We had our glasses and everything on, like he had his glasses on and we kind of looked and started at the bar, smoking a cigaret, drinking a cognac. And from behind us someplace, I heard this voice said, Oh, darling, there is Miles Davis. And I turned around and it was this white guy with his girlfriend. And I said, wow, what is he going to do? He said, let's go up and say hello. So he walked through us. Excuse me, excuse me. He walked up to Miles Davis, who was standing at the bar with Coltrane and all of you. He said, Hi, Miles, how are you? And Miles said in that group was, if you get out of my face like that. And I was like, wow, that was stunning. You know what I mean? I had never I had never heard anybody talk to anyone like that less long. An African-American man say that to a white guy, you know, and he and, you know, I just said, muscle man, this is something. And
then what was the first time you met Miles as an adult? Kind of as the person who you are now? Yes, I was living in New York and my friend Leo Maitland, who is now deceased, was a doctor and he was Miles's doctor. And he used to always say to me, you know, I know, Miles, you've got to introduce me to Miles. You got to introduce me to Miles. So one day he said, I'm going to have this party. And I said, OK, you want to come? I said, yeah. So I go to the party and I walk in and I'm sitting around. And he had this great apartment look on the corner. There's Miles Davis. I said, My God, Miles Davis. And it was nobody sitting next to him. It was his was the only seat in the house with nobody sitting next to him. So I wouldn't get some food. And I looked around, no place to sit and went into another room with no place to sit. I came back, there was this seat, so I said I wouldn't sit next to Miles. So I remember him saying something like. How you doing? I said, all right. Yeah, you sure? I said, Yeah. He says, You see anything good in here? I say, what, if anything, man, I'm tired.
Do you see anything good? And I said, It's a nice lady, isn't it? That's right. That's right. You got a good eye. So I said, Yeah, I love your music. I don't want to talk about my music. I don't want to talk about it. I said, OK, so then we had this general conversation and then he went, got some food, came back, said me later, and he left. So about two weeks later, I was walking down the road on that part of the country. Was this a kind of nervous moment for you? And you're sitting there next to Miles Davis. What was your feeling during this conversation? I was totally up for it. I had no fear in talking to him. I guess maybe because I was by this time, I was starting to get a little play myself as a writer in New York. You know, I was starting to get some ink and I had a kind of feeling about myself at that point. And so it was funny. We just kind of had this exchange, you know, and then when he got ready to leave, he just left, you know, he just left and but he came over to me and said later. So I thought it was some kind of indication of that he was you know, he liked the conversation or whatever. And so about three weeks later, I was walking down Broadway
and he comes walking straight towards me. And I said, oh, that's Miles Davis. So when he got up next to me, I said, Hey, Miles, how are you doing? He walked right by me. Like I was like I didn't even exist. I wasn't even on the planet, you know? I mean, he did he not. And he just walked right by me and I stopped. I remember stopping and I kind of look back and said, how was that Miles Davis? And it was I said, yeah, that's him. But he didn't speak. I said, Hey, Miles, turn around. You know, he just kept going. So I said, wow, that was kind of cold, you know? I mean, that was kind of cool. It was like I had never experienced that before in my life. And so when I got to know him, you know, I finally got to know him well. When I did the Spin magazine, I did a piece on two part people, Spin magazine. And when I walked in his place, he looked at me and he and he kind of sit down. So I sit down and I remember him reaching out with his hand to grab my dreadlocks. And I hit his hand. And he said, What are you crazy?
What are you crazy? Hit me like that. I said, No, man. I said, you know, because I'm over here to interview you doesn't mean that you have the right to invade my space. I said, plus plus the other times that I tried to talk to you, you dushan me on, he said, Oh, you mean the time out on the street, the time out on the street. I said, yeah, he said that I don't have to talk to you man. I didn't have to talk to you. What you got to talk about this time. And that's the way it started and we got to be the best of friends, I mean, until he died, I mean, you know, but it was you know, Miles was always testing you. He was always testing you. He was the kind of guy that loved him because he was always the kind of guy that was always testing you. And if you passed the muster, if you if you could stand up to him and then if he liked you, he would bring you in. If you couldn't, he just run over you, you know. More with Miles Davis in Quincy Troupe.
Also, snuggles the fabric softener bare and 1000 Salina's when our program continues.
- This American Life
- From a Distance
- Part 1
- Producing Organization
- WBEZ (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
- Contributing Organization
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This is "From a Distance" as described above. The first story, "In Search Of The Miraculous," is about Erika Yeomans, whose strong reaction to a photograph sent her on a mission to learn about Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader. "Meet Your Hero / A Thousand Miles to Miles Davis" is about Quincy Troupe, who idolized Miles Davis as a boy and became his friend as an adult. "Snuggles" is about a man in New York who runs an apology line, and "1000 Women Become Selena" is about auditions to play the slain Mexican pop star in a movie.
- Series Description
- "Every week, This American Life features an hour of stories documenting everyday life in these United States. Some of the stories are traditional radio documentaries, where a reporter has spent days or weeks recording the lives of his or her subjects. But the program also features stage performances, original radio monologues, original fiction, 'found recordings' and occasional radio drama. It's a program that combines fiction and non-fiction in an innovative way, with funny, emotional stories from around the country, presented in a friendly, lively format. Each week the producers choose a theme and invite a variety of writers, performers and documentary producers to take a whack at the theme. "We've submitted x programs to show the innovation, variety and excellence we strive for each week. 1) Cruelty of Children - This show includes a funny live performance by writer David Sedaris, an eerie and disturbing piece of fiction by Ira Sher, and a short documentary report by This American Life host Ira Glass. 2) When We Talk Music - This show includes a funny and moving story by New York performance artist Dael Orlandersmith, Dan Gediman's affectionate documentary about his brother who is a Tom Jones Impersonator, Sarah Vowell's story on the world's biggest fan, and host Ira Glass with an accordion teacher. 3) From a Distance - Stories about worshipping someone from afar and trying to get closer. A documentary about a woman who becomes obsessed with a 1970's era Dutch artist, a story about worshipping Miles Davis, a Mexican teenager who idolizes Selena tries to become her, and Snuggles the Fabric Softener bear. "This American Life is heard on 65 public radio stations across the country each week."--1996 Peabody Awards entry form.
- Broadcast Date
- Asset type
- Media type
Producing Organization: WBEZ (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the
University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-a52b43b358e (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio cassette
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “This American Life; From a Distance; Part 1,” 1996-04-19, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-d96ff50187f.
- MLA: “This American Life; From a Distance; Part 1.” 1996-04-19. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-d96ff50187f>.
- APA: This American Life; From a Distance; Part 1. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-d96ff50187f