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Last Sunday, I spent the entire evening with rock and folk legend Richie Havens.

This is not a metaphor. I repeat, this is not a metaphor. One might interpret the above sentence to mean that I spent the entire evening listening to Richie’s music and thus was spending time in his company in a kind of tacit and imaginary way. But, no, this was as real as it gets. This was forty-five minutes together in the Green Room of the Old Town School of Folk Music on a Sunday night, listening to him tell stories as he methodically restrung his signature acoustic guitar — pausing now and then to emphasize a particular poignant memory — for the performance that was to immediately follow our discussion at around 8:00pm.

Green Room #1

How did I get here? The story to how I arrived downstairs with Richie last Sunday could start back in January of this year, but really began six months before. Either way, it would take a long time to tell every detail, so I will aim for brevity instead.

When most people think of Richie Havens, they think of him like this:

Richie Havens, opening act at Woodstock 69.

Richie Havens, opening act at Woodstock '69.

But when I think of Richie Havens, this isn’t the first image, the first memory, that comes to mind. Rather, I think of him in the context of good ol’ Billy Shakespeare:

Catch My Soul is a rock ‘n’ roll movie-musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello set in the American Southwest. It was Richie’s first, and so far only, venture into narrative film. It is also a film that nobody has seen for the past thirty-five years. So, too, it happens to be the subject, the primary (and initial) case study, for the project on liveness, disappearance and lost cinema which has become my senior honors thesis here at Northwestern University.

My soul has become befittingly caught up in this missing film. It has been my life for the last ten months. I am working to chronicle its history and so much more, but I will refrain from putting forth the details.

My meeting with Richie marked, to the date, the tenth month I have been researching the film, a sort of appropriately poetic marker to come in contact with the film’s star at just such a date. And as we talked in the green room, we were surrounded by walls covered with the names of musicians, band members, managers who had occupied this room prior to the two of us. My eyes drifted from side to side in search of the history held in this single room, the evidence that people had come, done their part, and moved on. So many signatures were present that there was no room for my own, had I wanted to add it to the ever-growing list. The room, in this way, was like a time capsule tucked away in the basement of a concert hall, proof for future generations that this room was not just a place to relax, but a historical artifact, a meeting of minds, a little piece of everyone who passed through — a mark only one can make.

Nearing the end of our chat, Richie began to tune his guitar and play a few chords, now readied for the big performance with a brand new set of strings. As he came closer to perfect pitch, the interview organically began to find its resting place, to come to a definitive conclusion — and with the final strum of his guitar, our song and dance on Catch My Soul was over. I only hope that in talking to Richie, in continuing on this project, I can succeed in renewing the strings (so to speak) on this film as a whole, bring it into the present so that it can be once again seen, heard and experienced by all, just like Richie’s favorite guitar.

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