jazzoLOG: Quintanilla So Long Ago    
 Quintanilla So Long Ago10 comments
picture20 May 2004 @ 17:27, by Richard Carlson

Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.

---Oscar Wilde

And a man shall be free, and as pure as the day prior
to his conception in his mother's womb,
when he has nothing, wants nothing and knows nothing.

---Meister Eckhart

I would believe only in a god who could dance.

---Friedrich Nietzsche

Paul Quintanilla and Frederik Rusch, standing 2nd and 3rd from left, in Maine, September 1958

In the Fall of 1958 I took my cool self on the road. I had worked increasingly hard to get cool. True, I lived in a small city in western New York, but I'd listened to and collected lots of jazz, tuned in Jean Shepherd most nights on WOR-AM (all 365 miles from Manhattan), and had subscribed to The Village Voice for 5 years. I had taken to our Senior Prom a sorta former girl friend who had gone off to Chatham in Pittsburgh the year before, and she remarked I was "so cool." And now I was going to a small, unknown college in Maine, which had to be one of the more uncool places on earth. So I figured I'd come on pretty strong at that campus.

What I hadn't counted on at Bates College in Lewiston, was meeting a small contingent of fellow freshmen who'd been raised in New York City. Well---I was from the same state at least, so I figured I'd fit right in with them. Most of the students at Bates were from Massachusetts and Maine and New Hampshire---you know, rustic sorts of places. But to my astonishment the New Yorkers thought I was kind of a hick. John Tagliabue wrote of me at the time that I was a "vague boy from the weeds"~~~

philosophic hobo
scatterbrain sophomore
playactor from the barn
cock's crow on an anthology,
shoe laces gone, barn blown down,
on the road with existentialism and college courses
deft daft dizzy stunned listening
loving Charlie Chaplin and Camus
on the road with pamphlets concerning peace
dreamy theological unorthodox easily and deliberately
weedy vague dim determined
listening to records
scholarly hobo

Paul Quintanilla was one of the guys from New York. I had noticed him and his family the first day we all had gotten there. He resembled his father physically more than his mother I thought, but on his own he clearly was an original. He was laid back before there was such a term. Strikingly tall and pale, with black hair, he was dressed in some of the most chic and expensive clothes I ever had seen. His was not the typical Beat look we aspired to...but his rhythm and wry smile revealed a perception so Beat it was beyond Beat. I don't think I met him that day though, but it would happen shortly.

Paul hung out in the dorm room occupied by Fred Rusch, from the Upper East Side, and a couple other guys from New England. He usually draped himself in a large wooden chair in there, while Fred studied and played music on his record player. Fred sometimes would put his speakers in the window and blast out folk music or Bach...but one day when I went by the room I heard Charlie Parker. I barged in and said, "Wow, I thought you guys were all squares!" Fred said, "You sound like a square the way you come in here." Thus I was shown my place with these New York guys.

Paul didn't say much, or apparently study much, but he often was reading. Over the months of that first year I began to learn a bit about him. He lived in the Greenwich Village section of New York with his mother. His father was elsewhere at the time I think, and was a painter who, like many artists in Spain, had fallen out of favor with Franco and fled into exile. Paul had a couple of the paintings at school and I remember my mouth dropped in amazement when I saw them. The best I can do is tell you the colors were mixed in similar deep richness that you might see in Braque. The forms were reminiscent of him too...or maybe Vlaminck and Dufy. My reaction was fairly typical, and everybody wanted to know why we hadn't heard of him. Paul would just shrug at this kind of question. His father was not interested in promoting his work in the American marketplace---and so he eked out a living doing illustrations here and there...including some of those little drawings you'd see strewn through the pages of New Yorker magazine, for instance.

Paul continued to dress formally and strikingly, often tieless but in a Brooks Brothers suit. The shoes he wore possibly were the finest I ever had seen. He'd say, "Just touch the leather," and when I did it felt as soft as a girl's face. His wardrobe was not extensive, far from it. But the few articles he had he wore with a fascinating, slouched distinction. Paul was often alone, sitting here, sitting there, around campus, yet always open to conversation greeting you with a genuine smile. He seemed to be one of the most gentle people I ever had known, a mix of a young Don Quixote and maybe Bartleby the Scrivener. I don't think I ever saw him trying to attract a girl's attention. He was very shy.

At the end of freshman year we both wanted new roommates. I had almost nothing in common with the 2 guys I had been set up with, but assumed Fred and Paul probably would team up. But no, Fred wanted to stay put and so did Nick and Gray with him. Hesitantly and surprisingly, I asked Paul what he thought of us sharing a place. He considered it a while, and then said OK. It was hardly an enthusiastic commitment I must say---more of a I-guess-we-all-have-to-live-somewhere kind of thing. This was going to be a big change for me though. I was there on a debating scholarship and already had won a couple trophies for the school. My major was going to move me toward international law---but all that was before I got involved with Gerard Manley Hopkins and Samuel Beckett...and all that existentialism Tagliabue was talking about in the poem. In terms of the life I would end up living, this would be a major transition.

We were assigned a room on the top floor of John Bertram hall. It wasn't a terrific view up there, but one could see a big cathedral downtown in French-speaking Lewiston. Paul brought me a present to honor our partnership: a fabulous scarf from the Village, like one that he wore instead of a winter jacket I guess. We were an odd couple I'm sure, coming from as distinctly different backgrounds and upbringings as possible to imagine. I might have been unnervingly fastidious for Paul's style, but I think we did enjoy sometimes listening to Mozart and Bartok together. Mostly Paul continued the way he had done the year before, which was to ramble here and there...and rarely was in our room studying. In fact, there may have been a fatal loosening of focus on just what he was doing in college at all. He spent time thinking and dreaming. And maybe, he was taking a dive.

At some point he invited me to his home in the Village. The Quintanilla apartment was one flight up I think in the very center of Bohemian activity. Like most New York apartments, the place was an average room wide, and then 2 or 3 rooms long. Stacked on edge and on the floor along every wall of every room were his father's paintings. There literally was only a path to walk from one end of the apartment to the other. I believe there was a single chair in which to sit. Paul's mother was the heart and soul of gracious hospitality. I felt immediately at home and comfortable in her presence. She smoked incessantly however. All those paintings. I wanted to look at them, but out of respect I didn't peek even at one. Maybe you'll see at Luis' website that he considered one's browsing through an artist's life work to be the equivalent of looking up a woman's skirt.

Paul asked if I wanted to go up to Harlem, and of course I trusted him to take me anywhere. We subwayed up the 200 blocks north, and walked the streets. It must have been early afternoon, and Paul asked if I wanted some lunch. He gestured to a little joint in the middle of the block that seemed to feature Spanish food of some kind---about which I knew nothing of course. I could see through the plate glass windows that nobody was in there, and the kitchen help was just sitting around at a table with the waitress. Paul said, "Watch this," and he walked in.

They didn't know who he was specifically, but everyone was on his/her feet at once...and making a great fuss to welcome him. A clean tablecloth appeared and was spread. When they were sure we were comfortable they gave us a moment to read the menus. The look on my face was What Just Happened? Paul smiled his impish grin and said, "They know by the way I look that my family is aristocracy." I was shocked and impressed at the same time. Paul never talked about this kind of stuff, and his father after all was a revolutionary. But this wasn't Spain, this was America! Nevertheless, the honor to royalty will be paid. It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.

Paul left Bates at mid-term. It was sad for me, but I got a most cheery Irish Catholic jazz fan from New Rochelle for a new roommate and Don eased my concern. We didn't hear much about what happened to Paul, but at some point he and his mom moved out to the Midwest...and maybe that's where his father was. I remember that Fred dropped in on him in Iowa or someplace one day, and said when Paul answered the door, he fainted. Paul probably was just clowning though.

My first semester at Harvard Divinity, the Dean Samuel Miller summoned me to his office one day. He said the FBI was here to talk with me. This was autumn of 1962. Sam, as everyone lovingly called him, told me it was the policy at Harvard to defend students against incrimination and investigation, and that he would be glad to send them away if I wanted. I, however, was proud of my political involvements and the people I knew...and said I'd talk with them and be as open as I felt appropriate. If I needed help, I'd call for him. He agreed and said they were waiting in a garden, beside the theological library.

There were 2 guys, and they proceeded with some warmup questions about me and my family and academic history. It all seemed to check out, so they went on to the purpose of the visit. They wanted to know about Paul Quintanilla. They wanted to know about his beliefs, his political views, his religious affiliations. It seems Paul had filed for conscientious objector status with the Draft Board. There was no war going on, and Kennedy was only sending "advisors" into Viet Nam at that point. But Cuba was heating up fast...and everyone in Boston feared we were on the brink and not backing down. Now I didn't know an awful lot about Paul's beliefs, but I knew for sure he was a peaceful soul. And I remembered he and I had taken required gym class together---and I smile even now with the recollections. I don't think there was a competitive bone in Paul's body! The idea of a gun in his hands was beyond my imagination. I told them that sort of thing. I guess he was successful with his appeal.

That's about all I have on Paul, except for intermittent reports and exchanged greetings and things. He spent many years in California. He's written an exhaustive biography of his father, all of which is available now I believe. About a year ago Don emailed to ask me to contact a friend of ours at the Museum of Modern Art. Paul had built a website to honor his father, and the thought was to turn MOMA onto the paintings at last. The most recent I heard was that 2 curators are reviewing the work. Paul lives in Rhode Island now, and in the last few weeks we've reconnected by computer. I'm sure we'd love to see each other again, after nearly 45 years...and maybe that can happen. I'll bet we've both changed quite a bit, but the essence may still be there. One day when I came back to our room, Paul had a window wide open, was seated in the sill, and looking out across the Maine landscape. I remember that searching look he had...and I wonder what he's found.

Paul's biography of his father, Luis Quintanilla, can be found here~~~ [link]
The website he has built to feature the paintings is here~~~ [link]

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21 May 2004 @ 02:12 by shawa : Hi! My best wishes for a speedy recovery
I would believe only in a god who could dance.
---Friedrich Nietzsche

And cook. And make love. Lol.

Jazzman, you´re at your best when you tell us about your life. :-)  

21 May 2004 @ 04:14 by jstarrs : I second that emotion...
...it's so good to hear about the heart of this period, from you.  

21 May 2004 @ 19:08 by vibrani : Gosh
great story, Jazz, and absolutely, stunningly beautiful art by Luis Quintanilla.  

22 May 2004 @ 17:29 by b : Fabulous Art
Splendid commentary. Thanks Jazz for putting these links and your story of your friendship up.  

24 May 2004 @ 08:14 by dempstress : Hope
the meeting, when it comes, is all you hope for. Meanwhile thankyou for giving us access to these lovely paintings.


(Rumour reached me through the aether that SOMEONE was a bit picky about copy proofing, so have come back and made a kerrechion to urijinal kommentz.)  

11 Jun 2004 @ 05:30 by jazzolog : About Luis Quintanilla
The essay here is about Paul, Luis' son, but readers have ventured into Quinty's beautiful site at which he generously shares the painter's great work---with most of the world for the first time. I also included a link to a rather amazing publisher who is offering Paul's 2 volume biography of his dad...entitled Waiting At The Shore: Art, Revolution, War, And Exile In The Life Of The Spanish Artist Luis Quintanilla. The publisher Lulu practically GIVES these books away...so I rushed to order them.

While Paul offers much commentary at lqart.org the books are really the complement one needs to get inside such an extraordinary life. Combined they are 500 pages, beautifully bound---but I must dash any expectation of painting reproductions here. (Obviously they couldn't do that so inexpensively.) You get one on each cover, in sepia or something, but what you're buying is a chronicle of a man who charted his life through more difficulties than you or I ever could imagine---and left a treasure of art that only now Paul gradually is revealing to the world. Clearly I recommend them.

One of the occasional books for which Luis supplied illustration was entitled Franco's Black Spain (Reynal & Hitchcock, New York: 1946) for which the distinguished critic, Richard Watts Jr., provided commentary. Here is a sample from the Introduction which may pique your interest:

"Most Americans have a guilty conscience about Spain -- and this book will not make them feel any less guilty. Only too late have they come to realize what a few had long tried to tell them: that what was going on in that sad, brave country in the days before the official outbreak of the Second World War was neither a meaningless fratricidal strife nor a crusade in defense of Christian civilization, but the tragic prologue to that global struggle against international fascism and aggression. Too late they have been brought to see that the Spanish Republicans were fighting the battle of all of us, and that the Franco forces were the agents of their German and Italian masters. Slowly they have come to understand that if they had listened to men like Quintanilla recent history might have been less terrible and fascist aggression cut down without recourse to world-wide war. There is bitterness in Quintanilla -- the bitterness of the prophet who knew not only the heroism and the hope of the Republican Spain which our heedlessness helped to wreck, but the black ugliness of the corrupt reactionary Spain which we helped to survive. It is that black Spain -- the Spain of decadent, diseased medievalism in thought and deed, a mockery of even the things it pretends to defend -- which fills him with a loathing that gives every detail of his work such brutal power. Here is the Spain that Americans helped to make." http://www.graphicwitness.org/undone/blackspain.htm  

15 May 2005 @ 21:01 by Frank Mc Alonan @ : your story
I kind of tripped into your web site. I thank you for sharing part of your adolescence with me. I started highschool the year you Paul and Fred came out of the cosmos and met each other. So while we are of different ages I share your wonder at Greenwich Village. One memory is of coming on a bar/bistro called the Fat Black Pussycat on a crooked lane with no other businesses on it. And seeing real cool looking guys in black berets and black courdory pants going into that smoke filled cave. And the bastards were meeting beautiful women in black fish net stockings, aerodynmiclly perfect busts and trademark black berets. I felt like a fish out of water but then we all did, I think, at that age. And it galavnized us to become the illusion. Going to Greenwich Village with my friends from St, Agnes Prep School on East 44th Street and seeing Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' was one earthquake of a look at Europe and a unhungup way of living. Thanks again for sparking a few of my own memories. Best regards,Frank  

2 Feb 2006 @ 02:28 by Meg (Clark) Gardner @ : Paul
I was astonished to first unexpectedly find Paul Quintanilla's website with his father's paintings and then to find this wonderful story. I lived in the Village after we graduated from Bates in '62 and somehow had a connection with Paul -- I don't remember the details of how we encountered one another, but we did live in the same neighborhood -- then my life took some rapid ninety degree angles and it was all gone. Thank you for reminding me that once upon a time I brushed against this remarkable father and son.  

2 Feb 2006 @ 09:01 by jazzolog : Truly,This Is The Wonder Of The Internet
Ain't life grand! It would be interesting to learn what Marguerite M. Clark, a quiet beauty from Saco, Maine, thought of us boisterous boys of Parker and JB Halls back then...but amazing to learn of her adventures with Quintanilla in the Village. Paul has his own blog at this site, Meg: search "quinty" and encourage him to get it started again. Ah yes, those 90 degree turns. And you hippies thought you went through changes!

PS and incidentally, I see that Fred Rusch, who figures in the entry here, put out a couple of books over the years, at least according to Amazon.com. I should give them a reference~~~


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