Sick call: Originally slated to share today's GO! cover with Richard Jenkins was another of our favorite B-N alums, Pokey LaFarge, back in town for his annual winter date.
Alas, a nasty strain of stomach flu forced him to cancel his scheduled interview earlier this week ... but not, as of press-time, Thursday night's Castle Theatre show, the yearly rendezvous he's been making since his first in 2011.
We were especially itching to ask Pokey about his new Rounder Records album, "Manic Revelations," released back in May to the kind of acclaim he routinely inspires these days — including a New York Times assessment of the lead cut, "Riot in the Streets," which pretty much nails it for the entire album:
"Here's one retro-rocker who lives in the present. Pokey LaFarge sings like an old rockabilly shouter ... but listen to the lyrics, which are about a race riot after a police shooting, trying to understand what happened and is happening. It's like an explanation of now, delivered in an ancient language."
As the story goes, the St. Louis dweller penned "Riot in the Streets" in the wake of the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., protests over the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Lest we doubt the connection, the song even name-checks the avenue where most of the rioting occurred:
"Preacher speakin', his fist raised singin', barely missin', tear gas whistlin', walking down west Florissant Road, it feels like this city is gonna explode."
In a March 2017 interview with St. Louis' Riverfront Times, Pokey said, "It is a tough thing to write about, but as a citizen of St. Louis, and as an artist, I had to say something. Hopefully this song does more good than bad and, ultimately, gets the dialogue started."
The grim irony, of course: Pokey's cautionary lament over what happened to his city in 2014 would also serve as an unwanted preview of coming attractions.
Barely four months after "Riot in the Streets" was unveiled, St. Louis was in turmoil again via the mid-September protests stemming from the acquittal of a former policeman in the shooting of an African-American man.
Ties that bind I: As Pokey's hometown fans well know, his annual winter show was originally begun in 2012, all the better to coincide with the February birthday of his beloved grandmother, who was usually in the audience.
Born Andrew (Drew) Heissler before going with his flashier stage name, the 2001 U High alum, made a point of singing happy birthday to Marion Heissler of Normal every Feb. 23 (or thereabouts).
Alas, that tradition has come to an end: Pokey's grandma passed last spring at the age of 91.
We bet she'll be looking down with pride on Thursday night's show.
Ties that bind II: As noted in an earlier GO! story this year, there's another hometown tie to the world of Pokey LaFarge.
As of 2016, another Twin Cities native, Ryan Weisheit, NCHS Class of 2003, joined Pokey's band playing sax and clarinet, with that story recounted here.
Ryan divides his time between playing for Pokey and fronting his own New York City-based jazz group, Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers, who were headliners at downtown Bloomington's Jazz UpFront in October.
Ties that bind III: And, lest we forget, re: today's Richard Jenkins interview, the Class of 1969 IWU alum has more family ties to the area than you can shake a Golden Globe at.
During his IWU years — in between hanging out at the Lucca Grill, the long-gone Brandtville restaurant and Lake Bloomington — Jenkins met his future wife, Sharon, on campus.
"We were just college kids having a great time ... she was a dance student and choreographer, and we did some (IWU) summer stock together. She didn't pay any attention to me at first, but we eventually fell in love," he recalls.
"We were both just 22 when we married."
A half-century later, the love and the marriage are intact.
"Artistically we've grown in the same direction, so we've both had that common experience and matured in the same ways. It's important that we've had separate lives, too (hers as choreographer-director at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I.)."
At the end of the day, he chalks up their long run on stage and off to "sharing a common understanding of a lot of things. "
Ties that bind IV: There's still more to the Jenkins clan's ties to IWU and B-N: Daughter Sarah Jenkins followed Dad to his alma mater, where she studied theater and graduated from the same department in 1997.
And for one last kicker: When Jenkins last returned to campus, for IWU's homecoming in October 2008, he attended a screening of "The Visitor" at the Normal Theater (his Best Actor Oscar nomination for the film had yet to be announced at that point).
Joining him for the screening was his co-star in the film, Danai Jekesai Gurira, who played one of the two illegal immigrants who rent the Manhattan apartment of Jenkins' character, a widowed professor.
Not only did the pair have the film in common, they shared more of those omniscient IWU ties.
Gurira's parents are both IWU alums.