A documentary on Nelson Algren was filmed at Titles in Highland Park. At least a portion of the film. Being interviewed were ME, Art Shay (again) and surprise!, rock star Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins).
Me first. They had to move the huge light stand to get my wheelchair in position. “Don’t look at the camera,” cautioned interviewer and producer Michael Caplan, Associate Professor and an Associate Chair of the Film & Video Department at Columbia College. “Address your answers to me.” Good advice – when I see Art’s camera aimed at me, I direct my most beguiling smile to this lens.
Since Nelson Algren hung out at our house long ago, Caplan was looking to me for some human interest. The first answer set the tone of our interview and was not what he was anticipating. He asked, “What was Nelson’s personality like?” “Personality?” I repeated. “He didn’t have one.” Mike baffled, just looked at me. I said “He didn’t have a Presence.” When he came to the house, we didn’t say, “oh look, Nelson’s here. He was just there.”
I had a few anecdotes to relate: Nelson shows up to join us at a party we will be going to. He asks, “Is this alright? I couldn’t find a belt.” He was referring to the rope through the belt loops. For Nelson it was alright. Do you think I’d let Art out with a rope?
Then Art, who has had two books published about Algren, “Nelson Algren’s Chicago,” and the second one, “Chicago’s Nelson Algren’s.” (No comment about the publisher’s choice of title on the second book – don’t get me started) was interviewed again with new questions.
Then Billy Corgan sat in the chair under the big lights. He had read all of Algren’s books and discussed them and how they related to his own life and this music. He discussed Nelson’s place in literary history. He spoke fluidly, explaining Nelson and his works.
We listened in awe at the scholarship of his presentation.
Thank goodness that’s not the Bily I know. The Billy I know buys books and chats. This other Billy is intimidating.