Photo courtesy of Elliott Landy
"Michael Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues," by Jan Mark Wolkin & Bill Keenom
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Bloomfield Family Chronicles
Michael Bloomfield's Early Days, Part II
By Allen Bloomfield
Michael was coming into his adolescence and had put on enough weight for me to call him "fatso," "lard ass," "fatboy," "grosso mundo," and "pimples," "cater face," "zit puss" and "kink head." As you might have surmised, we fought all the time. There was a weight difference of fifty pounds in his favor and six inches in height. In order to compensate for these differences, I had to arm myself. Slowly I developed and arsenal including a Wammo sling shot, an eight-foot bullwhip, several swords, knives and pellet guns. The moment we went into the pushing mode, I would hightail it to my room, pick up an equalizer and lock the door an wait for the confrontation on the landing. Michael would barrel out, screaming invectives, take one look at what I had and scoot back into his room, to return with something to hurl at me. I would be screaming, "Taste the lash, fat boy!," while he threw books at my head.
After every verbal assault was exhausted, we would retire to our respective rooms. But the conflict was not over in my mind. Patiently I would wait for the knock and, " Alley – hey man, let's forget this. Come on, let's watch Bonanza."
"Mickey, look – you go down and get the TV set up. I'll be right there."
Meanwhile, I waited to hear his footsteps going down the stairs and then made a break for his room where the guitar was resting on the bed. Depending upon the severity of the fight, I either would detune all the strings, leaving them drooping on the neck, or clip them off completely with my nail clipper. And if I was really upset, out came the fuse in his amp as well.
So, with this type of warfare, these fights could go on for weeks. Just so that you don't think I was a monster, Michael would sneak into my compulsively neat room and trash it beyond recognition. I went to the hospital several times for stitches in the head and from fighting with him. I recall one time when he was so convincing and personally pleasant that he talked me into climbing into the laundry hamper. He promptly jumped up and sat on top of it and stayed there for forty minutes while I screamed, "I can't breath, you fat fuck! Let me out." He finally hopped off the lid and while running and waddling back to his room while convulsing with laugher, he spat out, "How do you like the coal mine, sucker!"
Sibling warfare between Mike and myself, although frequent, blew over pretty quickly. The bulk of each day was expended at New Trier High School. The singular purpose of moving from the city to the suburbs and the town of Glencoe was this school. It was ranked the number one public high school in the country. As Holden Caulfield said, "Big Goddamn deal!" New Trier was the ultimate nightmare for the creative, nonconformist type. Ninety percent of the male students dressed alike, wore the same aftershave, went to the same barbers and talked the same shit. They sat in their little cliques in the lunchroom, always at the same table, with the same conversations and the same lunch. In fact there was very little difference socially from elementary school through high school. If you weren’t a good student or a jock or socially motivated, then you were left completely alone.
Michael was not a jock. He was placed in all accelerated courses but refused to do the work, and couldn't have cared less about social acceptance. Case in point – he had a friend who was seen to be undesirable by the ruling elite of his class, and they told Michael to loose this guy and join them. He told them to go fuck themselves. If Michael liked you, that was enough. Like seeks like, and Michael found friends that were very much like him. They were smart, funny and unconcerned about social acceptance – or the rules.
When Michael was a Sophomore, I was a Freshman. I always will remember the instructor’s reaction on the first day of classes when he was reading the attendance roll. Vern Condon, who taught biology at the age of seventy, came across "Bloomfield" on the register and said, "Not again, never again! Where are you? Are you any relation to a Michael Bloomfield?" Later that day, I learned from another student who was in Mr. Condon’s class with Mike why the teacher reacted that way.
Mr. Condon was fond of what he called "critter collections" and, at the beginning of class, everyone was assigned the task of creating a butterfly collection, leaf collection or biology grouping which counted for fifty percent of your grade. You were given a month to finish the project. On the day it was due the year before, Michael had nothing ready. As the rest of the students brought in their elaborate collections, Michael was rummaging through the cabinets looking for a petri dish. Once he found one, he proceeded to expell a juicy hocker into the gel. When Mr. Condon asked him where his collection was, Michael handed him the moist dish and said, "Here Vein, I brought you a whole civilization." He was promptly booted out of class.
Another time he spied a fetal human baby in a bottle of formaldehyde and started shaking it vigorously shouting, "It’s the Gerber bouncing baby."
Then there was the annual New Trier science project competition, which was renowned among all of the North Shore high schools. All the stops were pulled out for this event and, due to the competitive nature of the students and their parents, the projects in many cases were museum quality.
It didn’t quite go down that way in the Bloomfield household. Mike informed our Father about this science fair project a week before it was due. He didn’t have any idea what he would like to present and placed the whole mess in Dad's lap. As it turned out, Michael’s entry was a pegboard, sixty inches by seventy-two inches, painted dark blue with golf tees painted silver and set out depicting the constellations.
There were no rave reviews for this project.
Michael’s English teacher was a wizened, old and emaciated woman with legs so thin her nylons would balloon out and gather at her ankles. She smelled from camphor and gin and rancid Lily of the Valley toilet water. It seemed inconceivable that someone so slight could have developed such an acidic tongue. They were discussing Herman Melville and she asked the class, "What was Moby Dick?" Michael replied, "It was a disease." As usual he was sent to lrv Weingarten, the school's vice principal and disciplinarian.
Michael was required to take shop with a Mr. Bray. On this particular day, Mr. Bray was demonstrating the table saw. He emphatically stressed the safe practices of wearing protective eyeglasses, tying your apron so the strings are facing away from the front of your body, and lof putting your full attention on the wood moving through the saw. It was at that point that he sliced his thumb off and Michael was said to have been yelling out, "Auk, auk, Bray, Bray Bird lost his thumb – Auk, auk, Bray-Bray has four to go!"
Once a year, the Junior Class put on a talent show called Lagniappe (meaning a thing given as a bonus or gratuity). Rock Hudson had gone to New Trier, and Ann-Margret was in Michael’s class. This talent show was very tame and favored the classical arts. Somehow Michael and his band were given permission to perform with the stipulation that, under no circumstances, could they do an encore. I was not in attendance when they played but my cousin, Chuckie, who was the same age as Mike, tells all in his recollections on this site. I only heard what occurred when Michael got home that night and told me they expelled him and the band because they did play an encore and the kids loved it. Apparently they brought the house down, and it was Mike's first large gig.
Shortly after the expulsion, our parents started shopping for a private school to send Mike to. Michael wanted to go to Windsor Mountain, a school his best friend Roy Ruby was going to go to. This school was intended for kids with emotional problems and their needs. My father felt only a military school environment would straighten him out. A compromise was reached with Cornwall Academy in Cornwall, Mass. In hindsight, an obvious fact about private schools is that students there have similar problems to those your kid has. The student population comes from all over the world and their parents are very rich. I am sure that Michael was first exposed to drugs at this school.
When Michael came home for his first holiday break, he brought his school yearbook. We sat on his bed and he told me about each student. One that stuck in my mind was Abdullah Busbate from Abu Dhabi. They were roommates, and Michael sold him the lining out of his overcoat, assuring Abdullah that it was a Moroccan smoking jacket.
I think Mike lasted about a year-and-a-half at Cornwall before he came back home and went to the YMCA School. Barry Goldberg and Nick Gravenites were also there. It was the gateway to the Southside of Chicago and the pursuit of the Masters of the blues.
Early Days, Part I
Michael demonstrates his fire-breathing trick, a stunt he often performed while playing "East-West" with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1966.
Photo courtesy of
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