Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Madison honors prankster

Leon Varjian



     I've only been to a couple of Chicago City Council meetings in my journalistic career. I distinctly remember just one, a debate over whether elephants should be barred within city limits.
     Which gives you an idea of why I seldom go.
     There were also endless motions to honor various individuals, police officers and Boy Scout leaders and such. Official resolutions are not generally news. Which is why it's so extraordinary that the moment I heard the Madison Common Council is honoring Leon Varjian, I had to tell you.
    Not for the honor, per se — Wednesday, Feb. 23, is Leon Varjian Day in Madison — but because I suspect you don't know who Varjian is, and I do. I'd like to dust off a chair in the back of your mind and invite him in.
     With a warning: Once he's there, comfortable, Leon Varjian has a tendency to never leave.
   

     To continue reading, click here. 


10 comments:

  1. Sad news. I certainly remember reading about Mr. Varjian and his escapades, in our blog host's first book, about college pranks, "If At All Possible, Involve a Cow".

    SandyK

    ReplyDelete
  2. I bet his math classes were fun too.

    john

    ReplyDelete
  3. A totally different topic, but since there are a few people here who like opera, I thought I would weigh in on the critical bashing Hedy Weiss gave the Lyric's Romeo and Juliet in today's Sun-Times. And express the hope that it doesn't put a damper on Neil's theatre party, if it hasn't already taken place. Gounod's Romeo and Juliet is not Shakespeare's play, which seems to be her main beef, but a pretty good opera. And in this incarnation a bloody good show. Of the four productions of the work I've seen over the years this was the most theatrically vivid, if not the best sung. Old opera hands will recall singers who were, perhaps, better cast as the eponymous pair of lovers, but these two acquitted themselves well enough. And the supporting cast was excellent. I know critics are not supposed to function as cheerleaders, but in this instance I thought MS Weiss, who usually comments on theatre and dance, might have been betrayed by an impatience with the theatrical conventions of the opera stage.

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I felt bad for Neil reading the Hedy's headline.

      john

      Delete
    2. We were at the same show as Hedy, opening night, so her remarks didn't color our view of it. And while in the past I've felt the need to defend a particular opera in the face of criticism, such as two years ago, when the late Andrew Patner lit into "Traviata," I can't say Hedy is off-base here. The play itself is something of a hash, and the performance, while enjoyed by all my readers, as far as I could tell, was not tinctured with greatness.

      Delete
    3. Perhaps a dead horse not worth the beating, but I thought devoting the first half of her review to berating the Frenchies for despoiling a great work of English literature somewhat inaccurate, as the libretto follows the main events of the play closely, and, more importantly, beside the point. I agree it wasn't one of the most memorable of this year's opera offerings, a category I would reserve for La Cenerentola, The Merry Widow, Nabucco and (sorry) Wozzeck. But it was a good show, and probably the best choice for introducing opera to newbies.

      As an opera, it's not one of my favorites, but I do recall fondly a Lyric production some years back, the staging simplistic by modern day standards, but made memorable by the presence of two marvelous singers, Alfredo Kraus and Mirella Freni. They were well suited, physically and vocally for their roles, and, although were both probably in their 50s by then, had no difficulty evoking the youthful lovers.

      Tom

      Delete
  4. Leon hosted the, "Banana Olympics," at Indiana University. I won the, "Banana Slip," category! He ran out of cigars so he gave me the cigar wooden box, which I still have. Sorry to hear of his passing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Neil, part of your story is not entirely accurate. Leon's career as a prankster started in Bloomington, Indiana, long before he moved to Madison. There, he ran for mayor on the Party party, started the Banana Olympics and ran a local hippie newspaper called Fun City! I wrote for Fun City! under the pen name Jack Merde, a Hoosier version of Hunter Thompson. From Bloomington, Leon actually moved back to Washington DC to work for Frank McCloskey, the former mayor of Bloomington who had just been elected to Indiana's 7th district congressional seat, and he gave Fun City! to me when he moved. After his second stint in DC, it was then that Leon went to Madison. I saw Leon again only once, many years later, when I moved to New Jersey to work for a trade magazine. He came to my apartment in Hackensack and we reminisced about the glory days. Leon was one-of-a-kind and not the type of person you could ever forget. I still have a complete collection of Fun City! Every now and then, I take them out and tell the tale of Leon the prankster to my kids.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think you mean "complete," not "accurate." I have 750 words in my newspaper column, no more. While I'm sure YOU would have preferred a lengthy detour into his early Bloomington days, they aren't germane to the story I was trying to tell. I mention the Banana Olympics in a far fuller treatment of Leon in my pranks book. But don't paint a choice as an error. It wasn't.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fun!!! Just what Madison needed. Now they've got...Ann Althouse!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.