Friday, September 21, 2007

Monkerstein Asks The Questions Here

After reading Barbara's interview with Monkerstein, I requested and received an interview from Dr. Monkerstein.

1) You've been a teacher for quite some time and you recently gave it up. What three things would you make mandatory that all students must learn before graduating high school?

1. How to do math in your head. I know that sounds silly, but I'm astonished at how poor mental math skills are. A person should be be able to estimate amounts; I'm always shocked to see people unable to approximate their share of a check in a restaurant, for instance.

2. Basic science. The fact that basic tenets of science, such as evolution are even questioned is beyond me. I think that the basic understanding of science is lacking in this country.

3. Howard Zinn's A Peoples' History of the United States.

2) You and I are roughly the same age and we share many of the same musical tastes. What are the four albums from your youth that you still listen to today and why?

1. Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. A couple of months ago, my father told me that he was getting rid of his vinyl and asked what I wanted out of his stash. Number one on the list was his monaural copy of Highway 61 Revisited. I remember the day discovered that "Like a Rolling Stone" was on that record, which I remember my father having since the mid-sixties, when we lived in Chicago's then-bohemian Lincoln Park. I dropped the needle on the groove and listened to the song about five times. When I was 16 or 17, I got my own stereo copy of the album and fell in love with the rest of the album-- "From A Buick Six," "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Desolation Row--" the album still blows me away.

2. The Clash's London Calling. This one came out in 1979, the year I graduated high school and started college. I was beginning to read about politics, alternative energy, etc. and I was floored to find that there was someone out in the world who had also figured out that something was wrong in the world. The album goes beyond politics, though. Over the years, listening to the album has been like peeling the layers of an onion. I was initially attracted by the overly political songs like "The Guns of Brixton" and the title track. In between those tracks, there are other fascinating tracks. "The Right Profile" is about the tragic actor Montgomery Clift. "The Card Cheat" is a song that is the most mysterious song on the album-- it's about a gambler who is caught cheating, seized, forced to his knees and shot dead. I've always taken it to be a parable of life-- that we spend our lives struggling for for answers, and that even at the end, we're begging for just a little more time to figure it out. It's an album that I never grow tired of. I know that in my last days, hopefully a long time from now, I'll still be listening to and enjoying "London Calling."

3. Joni Mitchell's Hejira. I've posted about this album before. I fell in love with this album when it came out in 1976-- I first heard the song "Coyote" on the radio. It was one of the first albums I bought when I got my first job in 1977. It's an exploration of love, friendship and the meaning of life. I want the Hejira song "Refuge of the Road" played at my funeral.

4. The Doors' First Album. This album just turned 40 years old. It was one of the first albums I ever bought. It still sounds great to me-- "Soul Kitchen," "Crystal Ship," and of course the big hit song, "Light My Fire." The Oedipal epic "The End" is still a great song to me. I never get tired of this album.

3) I know you and your son are big baseball fans, Cubs fans to be more precise. What would your dream Cubs starting line up be? Feel free to mix and match players from different Cubs teams and decades.

I consulted with my son Adam on this one.

Pitching staff:
Ferguson Jenkins
Kenny Holtzman
Carlos Zambrano
Greg Maddux

Bruce Sutter
Lee Smith
Dennis Eckersley

First Base: Bill Buckner-- A lot of people only remember his error in the 1986 World Series. He was a great player for the Cubs (and later the Red Sox).
Second Base: Ryne Sandberg
Third Base: Ron Santo, of course. As a kid, he was my favorite player.
Shortstop: Ernie Banks. People remember him as a First baseman late in his career, but he spent most of his career as an excellent shortstop.
Catcher: Randy Hundley
Left Field: Billy Williams
Centerfield: Kenny Lofton. He only played a part of a year, 2003, but was a big part of the Cubs going to the playoffs that year.
Right Field: Johnny Callison

4) What are the five best things about Chicago and
the two worst?

1. Its diversity. When I was growing up in the Lincoln Park and Albany Park neighborhoods, my friends were of every conceivable ethnicity. Chicago has become even more diverse since then, which I think has made it richer.
2. That it's essentially midwestern. People are, for the most part, friendly and warm.
3. It's a working town. Half the people I know work two, and even three jobs.
4. It's (mostly) laid out in a numbered grid, making it virtually impossible to get lost in.
5. The weather. The are gorgeous summer days when people are out playing softball, soccer, basketball, baseball, riding bikes, running. There are beautiful autumn afternoons where city blocks have lovely oaks and maples with the leaves a kaleidoscope of colors. We have snowy winter days where the kids play outside, neighbors help one another dig cars out or when shoveling their own walks, keep going and shovel a neighbor's. There are spring days when the trees start budding, the grass suddenly turns green and there's a smell in the air that's not just the diesel garbage truck.

1. The weather. The summers are way too hot and way too humid. The winters are brutally cold, snowy and windy. Autumn and Spring are wet and cold.
2. The stupid ethnic and racial tensions. I love Chicago's diversity, but not everybody feels that way, unfortunately.

5) I'm a Midwest guy by birth and I remember all those horribly long depressing winters. Where would you love to go to escape the Midwest winter?

Seattle. I love Seattle, and co-best friend Andreas lives there. I wouldn't mind the San Francisco Bay area-- Oakland or San Francisco.

Okay, part of the deal is that I'll interview anybody who asks. Email me at if you want to be interviewed.


Bubs said...

Hey, that's a great interview

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Excellent answers! You and the son field a mighty fine all time Cubs team and I'm always glad to see my man Fergie Jenkins get some love. Im so with you on the Dylan and the Clash too.

Dale said...

It's amazing how timeless those albums are! Basic science sounds like a great idea along with your other top 3 Johnny. Nice interviewing and answering.

Chris said...

You're right. Zinn's book definitely needs at least some coverage in schools.

vikkitikkitavi said...

You graduated the same year I did!

Oh, and regarding number 3, where is Andre Dawson? Where is Mark Grace?

vikkitikkitavi said...

Wow, I just flashed back to listening to stupid, drunk Harry Carey calling the Cubs game and saying "Next up at the plate, Andrew Dawthon."

Skylers Dad said...

Great interview, and great answers! But JY, going to Seattle to escape dreary midwest? I have been to Kathy's home about 30 some times now and only once was I not rained on!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Great call and response there, gentlemen!

It's a shame that you aren't teaching anymore actually, as I couldn't agree more about basic math skills and fundamentals of science.

Nice album choices too!

Natalie said...

You could not be more right on about the best and worst things about Chicago.

Beth said...

I love three of your four albums. HATE the Doors, though.

Bob performed (can you really use "sang"?) "Highway 61 Revisited" Saturday night ...

Erik Donald France said...

Very cool. I'm down with it ;)

The Elk said...

No Dickie Noles, Goose Gossage, Steve Ontiveros, Barry Foote or Carmen Fanzone??????
How could you leave Don Young off your list?
Tsk Tsk
BTW Tell your son I've got some $$ in the form of pennies for his payoff the next time I see him....

BeckEye said...

I agree with #1...I can't do math in my head to save my life.

Johnny Yen said...


Thanks! I had a feeling you'd approve of Jenkins' inclusion. He was incredible-- had six straight 20 or more win seasons.

Isn't it? Some albums sound dated after ten years, and others are timeless.

I gave my so a copy of it recently. Should be required reading.

For the life of me, despite the fact that I probably saw more games in 1987 than any other season, I couldn't remember Dawson's position-- was it right field?

Regarding first, it was hard to choose-- in the end, Buckner was a slightly better offensive player than Grace. I was pissed at how badly the Cubs treated Grace at the end, and was really glad he got a World Series ring.

Do you remember Carey reading the players' names backward?

Skyler's Dad-
I must have good Seattle karma-- very little rain in the many times I've visited. Still, with the rain, I love it. I don't spend a whole lot of time outside-- lots of cafes and taverns to explore!

Thanks! Monkerstein provided me with some great questions.

I had a feeling you'd agree with those!

It's funny-- I think the Doors are, like the Three Stooges, mostly a guy thing.

I've got to check for a Dylan review on your blog after I finish this.


Stop it! You're stinkin' up the place!

Did you know that Swisher on the Oakland A's is the son of Steve Swisher?

One time, Dobie and I drove (well, he drove-- I was still in a cast from my motorcycle accident) down to St. Louis to see Kringle, a friend from Eastern. We went to a game, and Gossage was warming up near where we were sitting. I yelled "Hey Goose-- you should stay in St. Louis!" and he turned and smiled broadly, until I said "I'm from Chicago," and he shot me a dirty look.

It's definitely a learned skill, that needs to be worked on more in school. When I taught sixth grade, I really pushed it.

lulu said...

OK A, would you interview me? You know my email address.

B, when you were growing up in Lincoln Park did you know a guy about our age named Ross Cavanaugh? Or his brothers? I figured he might be on your radar. Went to St Iggies.

Johnny Yen said...

A. With pleasure! I thought you'd never ask!
B. I don't think I did. I went to public school, so a lot of times we didn't know the parochial school guys.

SamuraiFrog said...

Oh, man, I haven't heard that Joni Mitchell song in years. I need to dig that out. By "that" I mean I need to see if it's on my Mitchell hits collection.

sexy said...