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John Wallerich and Russ Fields


Russ sitting up in the skylight


In front of my house.  L to R: Vicki, Oz, Bill-O, Daryl Jones, Al, Mari


Rear view of the apartment.  Photo by Al Penny

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apartment

The year was 1969.  As a performing band, the 1010 B.A.G. had broken up about a year earlier.  Chris was going to school at the University of Boston. Scot had moved to Atlanta.  I was 19 years old soon to study photojournalism at Columbia College in Chicago.  

The most important thing in my life at that time was spending all my waking hours hanging out with Russ, Al, and Oz.  We were constant companions.  The three of them moved in to a large three bedroom apartment with a spacious kitchen and back porch overlooking the alley in back.  It was on the second floor of an old building in downtown Hinsdale built in the 1920's.

Richie Hope and his gorgeous Swedish wife (What was her name?  Please help!) had recently opened up the "Trough House" in the first floor store front where they sold blue jeans, psychedelic posters, and rolling papers. 

First time I saw the apartment was right before Al, Russ, and Oz moved in.  It didnít appear habitable.  The old wooden floors creaked and in some places gave way to an unsettling bounce when stepped on.  The plaster walls had more cracks than not and probably would have crumbled were it not for the many coats of paint holding it together.  Wide decorative wooden door moldings framed the several interior paneled wood doors typical of the period.  Each room had one or more gas light valves and fixtures still mounted on the walls though crudely converted to electric light.  The wall switches were the old double push button type. 

Were the place not in such disrepair it would have been charming.  As it was, it was pretty scary.  Through my friends eyes though, this place was home.  Soon after moving in, the charisma and energy of those guys brought new life to that old apartment.  It came alive with friends, food, and music and was host to a seemingly endless stream of creative and interesting characters. 

Becky Schmidt was often there painting and drawing.  Russ had his little room with his books and notebooks.  It was in this apartment that he became obsessed with writing.  None of us could comprehend his stories, but we all respected his passion and diligence.  George was the musical host and master of the stereo, playing songs of the day that have now become the timeless anthems of our youth. 


Georgeís older brother, Bill lived there for a while also.  Bill Ostrum defines boyish charm.  Heís one of the most thoughtful gentle people Iíve ever known.  Youíd often find Bill sitting alone on his bed perfecting guitar licks for Blackbird, or Fire and Rain on his Martin D-28.

Though all these guys had a great sense of humor, Al Penny was the master of levity effortlessly bouncing puns off of puns, dropping double entendre upon innuendo, and slipping seamlessly into sidesplitting character dialects that seemed to go on for hours.

The chemistry working among those guys was infectious.  Everyone was a comedian and nobody would let the ball drop.  Even if from another room, the jokes and come-backs peppered the air almost constantly.  It was a marvelous time of life and my almost magically lovely friends made sure that a splendid time was guaranteed for all.

I arrived late one Sunday morning to find a very somber Oz sitting still in his big easy chair situated squarely between the stereo speakers listening to Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies.  His eyes were riveted straight ahead.  He briefly glanced my way but didnít greet me.  I knew immediately that something was wrong and walked toward him.  Georgeís eyes met mine and all he said was ďJimi diedĒ.

I slumped onto the couch next to the chair where George sat as my mind raced with questions I knew not to ask then.  We listened to a couple of songs before George rose from his chair to tell me what little he knew about the tragic death of our beloved Jimi Hendrix.  It was telling to see Georgeís countenance at that moment.  His face is the one on whom I could always count on finding a contagious smile or mischievous grin.  I learned more about Georgeís love for music by the grief on his face then I had in the countless smiles Iíd know previously.

Iíll never forget one winter Sunday afternoon when Chris was home from University of Boston  for Christmas break. Other of our friends home from college were there also.  I was sitting with Chris in Russís little front bedroom when he got out his Martin D-28 (that was the "must have" guitar of the time) and simply started to play and sing. 

One by one, people slowly came over and sat near by to listen.  Chris sang a number of his own songs.  We were entranced, captivated by his beautiful voice, haunting lyrics, and powerful guitar playing. Time seemed to stand still when Chris sang.  I was startled back to reality by the sound of the clicking closing clasps of his guitar case as Chris put his Martin away.  The room was silent.  Looking around I noticed people wiping tears from their eyes as they too came back to reality. 

Unwittingly, Chrisís music had so moved us all it was as if weíd been transported to another world far more beautiful than the place where we sat.  Chris has a way of doing that.  We never talked about that afternoon.  There are some things better left unspoken.

I spent many lazy days and late nights in that apartment goofing off, growing up, bonding with admired peers, and hoping this is how life would always be. 


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