Ever since the day that Sister Johnora hauled him up in front of class after finding a parody of "The Diary of Anne Frank" in his desk, Fitzgerald has tried to live up to her prophecy: "YOU GOTTA WATCH OUT FOR THOSE QUIET ONES!" He was educated in the Catholic school system in the Chicago area (St. Vincent Ferrer, Fenwick High School, St. Procopius College (later Illinois Benedictine, later Benedictine University), Loyola University) before finally returning rebelliously as an adult to a school (Alfred Adler Institute) that observed Jewish holidays and not Catholic ones. Fitzgerald contracted a case of terminal student syndrome. He also provided much frustration to alumni associations because he never got around to graduating once and for all so he could send in big gobs of money. For that matter, he never got around to making big gobs of money.
Other notable accomplishments in the life of young Fitzgerald included (at age 10) tape recording the lady across the alley yelling at him and Tommy James for trying (and failing) to trap bees in her hollyhocks to record their buzzing. The two little delinquents retaliated by playing back her voice over and over until she threatened to call the police. Fitzgerald also managed, despite (or perhaps because of) attending one of the finest high schools for athletics in Illinois, to avoid all sports in high school and college except for intramural ping pong. (He made it to the third round). Fitzgerald and his cousin (and later his college friends) also produced mock radio programs which they sent to each other on tape. This prepared him for an exciting opportunity to have his own show on the Illinois Benedictine College radio station, which was shut down by the FCC because it was operating without a license. He later secured his own early morning drive-time show on the Loyola University radio station. Little did he realize that college students in the dorms (the only ones who could receive the station) were just getting to sleep at that time. Thus, his show went down in history as the only university radio program to run for over a year without a single listener in evidence.
Fitzgerald also had a hand in several ill-fated projects in college, including the attempt to replace the school yearbook with a satirical magazine. It was quickly killed after it was discovered that it made rude references to both the college president's girth and the apparent racial fears of the surrounding community. The magazine that finally came out was milder, but was met with puzzlement and anger by all at the school except for the editors and their friends. "How could you print a picture of the homecoming queen frowning?!" was one of the pointed criticisms. Fitzgerald was personally responsible for an article titled, "Cheerleading: Fanning a Dead Fire," which was none too popular either. For the school newspaper, Fitzgerald produced a series of quirky cartoons (in a style reminiscent of James Thurber after his eyesight gave out), and several articles including a literary critique of the graffiti in the washrooms of the Old Science Building.
Musically, Fitzgerald's odyssey began with piano lessons from Sister Louis Mary in grammar school. He convinced her that he needed to play something a little jazzier than "Bouree" and "The Happy Farmer," so she extended herself and allowed him to learn "Rio Rhumba" and "The Lichtensteiner Polka." He asked his parents if he could get a guitar the next year. To his surprise, they agreed, and a $40 Sears Silvertone acoustic was there on graduation day. After some excruciating lessons from Tinucci's Music Studio in Elmwood Park, and some more enjoyable lessons from Ralph Polinski (whose main failing was in recommending the purchase of a Gibson ES335 over a Les Paul), Fitzgerald was ready to take the world by storm. After all, he'd been through all the Mel Bay books (including the super chord book for any occasion), and he knew "Secret Agent Man" as well as "Pipeline" and "The Shadow of your Smile." Well, his first live gig (other than guitar masses and weddings) was with the short-lived folk-rock group, Buck Young (the first of several groups whose names were attempts to be suggestive). Fitzgerald played his 335 tuned an octave low because they didn't need another guitar player and he couldn't afford a bass. But he did participate in one memorable performance at "Grounds" in River Forest, the venue that inspired the "Coffeehouse Movement in America for Depressed People," almost got him his first almost-girlfriend, and probably started him on the long slippery slope down toward becoming a therapist, when he found a niche (of sorts) consoling girls who were being treated badly by the other members of the group or their friends.
College was marked by Fitzgerald's participation in several pretty bad rock bands, including "Salt Water and Crackers," and "Uncle Perspiro's Magic Balloon Band." The first featured Fast Eddie Novak, future air traffic controller and rock star, on lead guitar, and both groups featured Rob Bughman, future brother-in-law, on vocals. The multi-talented Gerry Leone (Advertising executive and the originator of "Gee-Purrs" cat snacks in later years) switched between guitar and drums. The sets were heavy on the Stones and other 60's staples.
After college, the Gibson was mothballed and finally sold when the kids needed new shoes. Fitzgerald, in perhaps the stupidest move of his life, put his Clyde McCoy Wah-wah Pedal (acquired from Fast Eddie in a weak moment) up for sale as well, asking $15.00 (heck, that was what Ed charged for it). Fitzgerald was quite unprepared for the stampede of ill-mannered musicians besieging him with angry and threatening phone calls, and trying to fight each other for a little box that (he was completely unaware) was THE SAME ONE HENDRIX USED!! The first caller, some scruffy guy from Chicago, got a really good deal because Fitzgerald, due to his high scruples (and his low tolerance for intimidation), let him have it for the agreed-upon price instead of holding out for more and risking burglary or mayhem. Fitzgerald became Acoustic Man, and diddled away his early married years playing Prine, Goodman, Kottke, Dylan, Utah Phillips, and a few of his own compositions. He currently awaits his musical rebirth, which may come on the fiddle or mandolin, if he can ever get himself to learn them. Mel Bay books, once again, seem the only way to go.
As a parent, Fitzgerald has received mixed reviews. His kids are alternately intrigued and exasperated by his puzzling attachment to taking long drives on smaller and smaller side roads while on vacation, and by his continuing quest to find the perfect little 40's or 50's style diner when there are perfectly good McDonald's right down the street. They have, however, been entertained over the years by his performances at home on the guitar. They have been especially fond of his rendition of John Prine's "The Bottomless Lake," as well as some original songs inspired by past shenanigans, like the ever-popular "Down and Drunk in Dousman," (celebrating an elusive, Brigadoon-like folk festival in Wisconsin). As a parent of teens, Fitzgerald has been especially challenged. According to his kids, he has a tendency to act as if he has acquired insects in uncomfortable areas of his anatomy, since he will suddenly go off about messes at home that have been there for months, but were never a problem before…
However, all who know him agree that Fitzgerald is at least moderately educable, and can be funny at times, even if he does tend to write long involved sentences with multiple clauses and (all too often) parenthetical phrases popping up (as it were) out of nowhere. Yet, most agree with the pithy description provided by several of his elementary school teachers - a description that remain true enough that it could be his epitaph:
"NOT WORKING UP TO POTENTIAL."
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Sailing, acoustic guitar music (especially Leo Kottke), science fiction (the good stuff only - Star Trekkers, you'll have to talk to my brother-in-law), and the precarious position of thinking in this society right now. I've also tried my hand at a number of other things at which I can't say I ever became proficient, but which were intriguing and fun. These included stained glass window and lamp design, beer and ale making (before the word "microbrewery" was coined, photography and darkroom work, and piano tuning and repair.
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Last Revised: Thursday, June 12, 1998