December 2, 1959
I was born in Oak Park, IL to Richard and Ann Schuurman and siblings David, Richard, Jan and Patty.
We had an elderly woman watching us while our parents were on vacation. She was uncomfortable with me stitching patterns into a swatch of fabric, and shut me down from doing it 3 times with increasing harshness. Boys don’t sew, apparently. I mentioned it to my mom when she returned, and we both had a laugh.
When my dad got home from work in the evening, we would watch the news together. One night, I remember seeing a report about the Woodstock Festival. It was a peaceful, creative, youthful celebration. We both found it interesting.
December 1, 1969
My Brother Dave was number 93 in the Vietnam War draft lottery. It was a low number. Bad news for the family, and a lot of stress. Fortunately, by the time he completed college, the draft was no longer a looming threat.
My parents left the Dutch Christian Reformed church and became Presbyterians after black worshippers were discouraged from attending there. My sisters and I left the private Dutch Christian Reformed schools for public schools.
Sometime around 1970 or 1971
My Dad’s company was acquired in a hostile takeover, and he was out. It began his personal, professional, and spiritual exile which transformed him, and the family, in a beautiful way.
September 26, 1972
We moved to Barrington, IL. It was a chance for my parents to re-group and make a fresh start. My Mom started her career and would go on to to establish her own company, an employment agency with a half dozen or so offices. My Dad contemplated his future.
I met John Halka at the school bus stop we shared. We lived across the street from each other. We picked up musical instruments at the same time, became band brothers, road-mates, and best friends until his death in 2012.
After graduating high school, John and I rented a house for our band St. Vitus Dance to rehearse in on the Fox River in McHenry, IL. Later, we re-located further south down the Fox River Valley to a pallet factory in West Dundee. Then to office space in Barrington near the train station. We worked crappy manufacturing jobs for minimum wage during the day, and played raw, loud, rock ‘n roll/blues/R&B at night.
Around 1979 or 1980
My Dad re-emerged from his private exile. He began his journey of service traveling between Washington, D.C. and Chicago, eventually creating the non-profit ‘Free the Children’ foundation which mentored disadvantaged inner city kids, and provided funds for their college educations. Soon, my Mom joined him, forming her own non-profit, an employment agency serving the poor in D.C. called ‘Jubilee Jobs’.
Summer 1980 through Winter 1983
Our band played mostly around Chicago, with trips to Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis. Twice we headed north to Canada, across the north shore of Lake Superior, winding our way south through Michigan, and back to Chicago. We traveled to the southwest with stops in Albuquerque, Tucson, and Phoenix. The Econoline took us east to New York City, Boston and New England. We crossed the Rockies and continued to California and back. On a writing trip, we hitch-hiked out to Mt. St. Helens, stopping along the way in Boulder, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland.
We had begun multi-track recording. I’d picked up a TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel tape deck to record St. Vitus Dance. We were finally able to experiment with layering sound, exploring new ideas and possibilities. We brought in players from Chicago and began a level of production that was beyond our prior reach. I also began engineering sessions for other bands.
With the intensity of our friendship and collaborative effort came an increasingly toxic rivalry. I decided to take a break from the band and go off on my own to knock around Europe with my Martin. I recorded a batch of original songs playing guitar and harmonica, and duplicated cassettes to sell while busking.
Just prior to leaving, after reading an article in the Chicago Reader, entirely on impulse, I called, introduced myself, and wound up meeting with Polish rock legend Stan Borys at a restaurant on the Fox River in Lake in the Hills, IL. He gave me the names and numbers of his former manager in Warsaw, and his ex-wife and daughter in suburban Warsaw, whom I would meet with. Stan’s poetic song ‘Jaskółka uwięziona’ resonated as an anthem for the last generation to live under communism. Martial law had just been lifted in Poland and Americans were beginning to hear about Solidarity. Getting to Poland and meeting with his people became the mission of my time in Europe. I met with them, and it changed my trajectory. That impulse acted on was the pivotal event of my life.
After returning from Europe, I moved to Lincoln Park. I shared a basement apartment with Vince Salerno, a saxophonist and harmonica player John and I worked with. We inhabited the Chicago blues scene. Our girlfriends were bartenders in blues clubs. Vince introduced me to writer/musicologist Bill Dahl, who I’d been a reader of since prior to my move to the city. Through Vince I also met ‘Lil Ed guitarist Michael Garrett Wolancevich. My close circle of friends was Vince, Bill, Mike, and my girlfriend Mary Beutjer. It also included Stan Borys, who I’d begun writing songs for, and helping with his promotional effort.
Around this time MIDI, samplers, and sequencers were emerging, allowing high quality, multi-track recordings to be done by kids in basements and bedrooms. We managed to invest in gear; me by scrounging up some money from my parents, Vince by tapping into student loans. We took our rock ‘n roll/blues/R&B influences, and filtered them through the new technology to form something textured, electronic and post-roots. It gave me new palettes and layers I never had access to before. It allowed me to create a sound.
Vince introduced me to BB Bugaloo, a singer from Africa he met while practicing sax under the Columbus St. bridge while BB was parking cars in a nearby commercial lot. BB introduced himself, and joined in with Vince. Vince liked the soul influence that was evident in BB’s singing, and took up BB’s offer to join his African reggae band Asafo for some appearances at a south-side African expat bar. Before coming to Chicago, BB had made a name for himself in his country, Ghana, where he performed a blend of American soul and Ghanaian high-life. Vince invited me to record his rehearsals with Asafo, where he introduced me to BB. African businessman Robert Barimah Mintah brought me in to produce Asafo’s EP ‘African Rap’. My collaboration with BB later would slingshot me back to Poland and change the trajectory of my life.
Released ‘Autumn ’85’ with Vince under the band name Strange Romance. It was my first project without my brother and band-mate John, and it would be way too long before we would collaborate again. ‘Autumn ’85’ got some attention when Illinois Entertainer local release reviewer Mick Hans put it at the top of his list for the year’s best releases. We debuted it with a series of performances at the Get Me High lounge in Wicker Park. It received airplay on college radio stations in Chicago.
Valentine’s Day 1987
Mary and I got married. We’d met at a little neighborhood pub Vince and I frequented where she tended bar. She took a bartender job at the blues club Kingston Mines, which quickly became the defacto headquarters for our circle of musician, artist and writer friends. Employees and spouses drank free there, as well as at the other blues clubs in Chicago, through an agreement by the club owners, so long as people kept it together reasonably well, and tipped the other servers generously. It was a bohemian carnival of the night. The scene was inspired, colorful, loud and charged. It was all about a creative, nocturnal existence that pushed the edge.
After reading about ‘Autumn ’85’ in the Illinois Entertainer, Jeff Svoboda, executive producer of Risque Records, contacted me and offered to put up $10 grand for ‘Charms’, my next project. I had been laid off from my manufacturing job, so I was able to put my full effort into it. It was another Strange Romance release, but its sound was more synthetic, less roots. On it was my first collaboration with Polish artist Stan Borys, a song called ‘Waiting in the Rain’. The album was in rotation at WXRT, as well as a hundred-plus other college and commercial stations nationally. Using CMJ, sort of the college radio version of Billboard, we tracked the debut, rise, peak and drop-off of ‘Charms’ on the college/alternative charts.
And when it was done, we still were at pretty much the same place: a dank basement apartment in Lincoln Park. The creative fire that ignited when John and I first picked up our instruments more than a decade earlier went dormant as the reality of marriage, responsibility, and paying bills caught up with me.
Throughout the production and promotion of ‘Charms’, Mary had been the main breadwinner working at the Mines. I had a part-time job as a telephone fundraiser for CISPES, and I was doing medical and corporate animations on an Amiga computer from Risque Records. As my album was charting, her father was dying. Her mother had already been gone several years. She had battles with depression and direction. I had battles with self-absorption and marital neglect.
Ultimately, the situation required change, and in the spring of 1991, we separated. In March, Stan Borys and I ferried my stuff to my new place, a loft studio in Old Town, by North and Wells. During the day I worked an office job at my brother Dave’s company in the suburbs. At night, the smell of the freshly painted walls and the coffee, the clanging, steam and hiss of the radiator, and the serenity of running in Lincoln Park -from North, past the zoo, up to Irving Park and back- was balm for my soul.
Spring 1991 through Summer of 1993
I had been writing again since finally, innately, accepting the end of my marriage months prior to actually leaving. By the time I had re-configured my studio in Old Town in spring of 1991, I was wide awake, and ready to work again. Songs started flowing. I felt creatively re-charged. ‘Old Town’ took form. The sound was rawer and more blues than ‘Charms’. I worked fast, and had a million ideas.
In June of 1991, Stan Borys was returning to Poland for his first major appearance since he’d left in the seventies, at the Opole Festival. It was being heavily promoted. On another impulse, I decided to go with him to experience the event. In late June, Stan and I flew out to Warsaw where we were greeted by Arthur Winiarski, Stan’s manager for the festival. Arthur and I hit it off immediately. The appearance was a big success. It was a 10 day party doing interviews and mingling with Polish celebrities. Our rock star friend Stan Borys was the center of attention. Arthur and I agreed to keep in touch after the festival.
I returned to Chicago, and after completing ‘Old Town’, I began recording demos for BB Bugaloo in spring of 1992. One song, ‘Love Dangerously’ stood out. We recorded it in a series of sessions that produced songs for ‘Soul Roots’. Midway through development of ‘Soul Roots’, I had a conflict of vision with Vince Salerno, who was my partner in the project, and it was shelved. But before it ended, promotional material had been distributed, with one package sent to Arthur Winiarski back in Poland. BB, Vince and I headed off in different directions.
By 1993 my brother Dave had sold his share of the company to his partner. Soon after, I was laid off from my job there. I relocated to a cheaper loft in Pilsen at Cermak and the Chicago river, in a building called the Spice Factory. Some rentals were built out and comfortable, but there was still a lot of rough space for artists, musicians and raves on the roof. I occupied a corner on the 3rd floor, sandblasting the timber beams and brick walls.
Tom Waicunas was a songwriter and musician in a space on the 5th floor overlooking the Chicago river traffic. In the summer of 1993 we recorded 20 ‘Spice Factory Demos’ with the idea in mind to produce an album of his music. Shortly after completing the first bed of tracks, Tom shut down the project. He was not satisfied with his performances. I was bewildered by his decision, and disappointed that the project with him at the Spice Factory had stalled.
After 2 stranded projects, I was spent. I decided to go back to school to enhance my employability. Taking out student loans, and with help from my family, I left the funk of the Spice Factory, moved to Wicker Park and enrolled at Columbia College.
I had been taking multimedia and computer courses for almost a year, when I received a call from Arthur Winiarski in May of 1994. Arthur had entered BB’s version of ‘Love Dangerously’ into a competition to determine participants in the 1994 Sopot Music Festival. He told me that it had won us a spot in the lineup. I told Arthur the project was off, I’d moved on and wasn’t interested. Arthur explained to me the significance of the opportunity. The Sopot Music Festival was a major cultural event in Poland held towards the end of summer. It was the second biggest song competition, after Eurovision, in Europe. The idea of it fired, I woke up and changed my mind.
I hired a music student from Northwestern to chart the instrument parts for the orchestra that would be provided at the festival. I drove down Lake Shore Drive to BB’s house on the south side to rehearse him and coach his vocals 3 or 4 times weekly, until leaving for Poland the 3rd week of August.
We joined Arthur in Sopot and immediately began the series of performances, interviews and appearances he had scheduled in co-ordination with the festival organizers. Then, after a week of red carpet treatment in the spotlight, partying, and sleep deprivation, BB woke up late Friday morning, the morning of the Grand Prix event, sick with a sore throat. That night, it was BB’s conscious decision to compensate for his damaged vocals with a buzz-worthy, jaw-dropping performance.
From my vantage point on the stage, I watched as he climbed down and disappeared into the startled, receptive audience with a hand-help mic, yelping and moaning as the orchestra wailed behind him, oblivious to my charts by this point, all ecstatically improvising. BB accomplished his goal of delivering a huge performance, winning the Grand Prix event’s audience award. Invited to return the next evening, with a big Saturday night audience for the nationally televised broadcast of the Sopot Festival’s concluding Gala event, we encored ‘Love Dangerously’, received our award, gave acceptance speeches, and encored the song again.
The trip was a mind-bending adventure. For me it illustrated the possibilities of being open to the spontaneity of the moment. It was another act of impulse, the slingshot in a new direction.
After the success of the Sopot Festival, before returning to Chicago, Arthur asked me if I wanted to collaborate on music projects in Poland. He offered to relocate my studio there. I returned to Chicago and thought about how I could make this a reality. In the spring of 1995, I was accepted into an independent study program, ‘University Without Walls’ offered by Northeastern Illinois University. The program I’d proposed was ‘Technology and the Arts in Poland.’ It had some academic requirements, but was broadly open to interpretation. It gave me access to student grants and loans, and opened the door for me to relocate to Poland. In August, I loaded my studio into a 20 foot shipping container, and boarded a flight to Warsaw, where I met Arthur and his family, and drove north to Sopot where they had a large, comfortable 2 level apartment.
I spent my first month in Poland waiting for my gear to arrive, with Arthur introducing me to musicians and music industry people in the Gdańsk area. The artist club Spatif in Sopot was my haunt, where I fell in with Polish and expat musicians. One night after a long session in Gdańsk, on my way back to Arthur’s where I was staying, on an impulse, I got off the bus and made a detour, walking down cobblestone Monte Cassino towards the sea for a couple of beers at Spatif. Standing at the bar by myself, a beautiful, young blond Polish woman caught my eye. She was sitting with her friends, chatting and sipping drinks. I found a way to cross paths with her and engage her in conversation. She invited me to join her group. We spent the night talking, and when the bar closed around dawn, we left and walked on the beach together, talking as the sun rose and the gulls skimmed the water. This was our beginning.
My equipment finally arrived. One of my new expat musician friends, a German sax player, Roland, was also looking for a place to stay where he could rehearse and record, and unfold with his Polish girlfriend. We located a villa rental on the outskirts of Sopot, in a little village called Chwaszczyno. I set up my studio, settled in, then began looking for ways to supplement my rapidly depleting funds.
I became aware of an opening at a video facility for an editor. I was hired to edit a nationally syndicated, weekly film review program called ‘Bliżej Filmu’, working on an Avid video system at Grafbis, a boutique digital studio in Sopot. By early 1996, my daily routine consisted of taking the bus into Sopot, editing the program all day, then joining my girlfriend from Spatif for dinner and drinks before returning to the villa on the late bus out of Sopot. When Roland’s girlfriend returned to her boyfriend, Roland returned to Germany, and I had to abandon the villa for an apartment overlooking the Sopot tennis courts near the Grand Hotel that I shared with the son of my employer.
The prior summer, during the 1994 Sopot festival, in the ever-present music that surrounded us, the standout that was in heavy rotation was a song called ‘Nie pytaj mnie’. When I got to Arthur’s apartment in August after relocating from Chicago, I discovered the song was from the album soundtrack of a hit Polish film, ‘Psy 2: Ostatnia krew’, and learned the artist was Tomek Lipiński. Arthur told me that Tomek Lipiński was Polish punk royalty, with his influential punk/new wave bands Tilt and Brygada Kryzys being among the first in Poland.
I had been introduced to the outrageous bandleader/VJ/radio personality/concert emcee Jarek Janiszewski by Arthur. He was supposed to make an introduction to Tomek Lipiński for me after his performance at the Student club near Gdańsk University. Not being able to wait for a formal introduction, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Tomek as he left the performance area, heading towards the dinner in his honor. He asked me to join him at his table. We chatted in a huddle for about 40 minutes as people attempted access to him. At the end of our meeting, I gave Tomek the number where I was at, and he gave me the number to his apartment in Sopot.
Tomek Lipiński stopped by Grafbis where I was editing video one morning in February. He gave me a cassette with songs he was completing for another major film release. I put it in my player and listened to his music and was blown away again. A month later, my girlfriend and I attended the film’s premier in Gdańsk where Tomek performed acoustic versions of the songs, and the stars of the film and the director spoke about the production before introducing it. The film, ‘Słodko gorzki’, was a big hit, as was Tomek’s song ‘Jakby nie stało się nic’ in the film. The music that I first heard on the cassette that Tomek gave me at Grafbis, rose to the top 10, and again his music was everywhere.
In March, my girlfriend gave me the news that would reshape me and the way I saw myself in this world: she was pregnant. The two of us had been together since September. We moved into a small apartment on a hill overlooking the Baltic. From our balcony we watched ships sailing between Gdańsk and Gdynia and discussed the implications of starting a family together, deciding to get married in July. Returning to Chicago, where I could make a better living, remained a practical option.
Grafbis lost production rights to ‘Bliżej Filmu’ and had been unable to pay me for several weeks. I’d heard that a Polish friend from Chicago had been hired as the chief of a music television station in Warsaw called Atomic TV. I took a job there in late May, traveling by train from Sopot Monday mornings, renting a room on the 3rd floor of the Madame Skłodowska-Curie museum building where the Atomic TV editing suite was located, returning to Sopot at the end of the week. The museum was located in Starówka, the old city district of Warsaw. The Atomic TV business offices were in a building that used to be the nuclear bunker for the Polish heads of state. It had been purchased by two real estate developers from Chicago. Also located in the building was a nightclub named Ground Zero, which was a popular setting for video shoots by big name Polish bands. During the day I edited rock videos. At night I drifted through the narrow cobblestone streets of Starówka, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the ancient city.
We got married on July 27, 1996. I worked at Atomic TV until the end of summer when new people were brought in by MTV, who had purchased them. In September, my wife found me work creating websites for a businessman in Gdynia who had begun one of Poland’s first ISP’s. The work was sporadic though, and she would have to stop working soon with the arrival of the baby in November. We decided to leave for Chicago the next summer.
It was real now, and as part of me retreated into slumber, another part of me mobilized. At a maternity clinic in the shadows of the cranes of the Gdańsk shipyards where Lech Wałęsa rallied Solidarity, our beautiful Natalia was born on November 25, 1996. She came home on Thanksgiving Day. My existence now mattered.
Summer 1997 through Summer of 1999
The ‘University Without Walls’ program was incomplete, but it had served its purpose. We boarded a flight to Chicago with seven-month-old Natalia in late July, 1997. We moved to an apartment in Jefferson Park, on the northwest side where my wife felt comfortable among her fellow Polish expats. I found work with an instructor friend from Columbia College, programming educational software for journalist Bill Kurtis. I worked project-by-project for agencies as a freelancer, eventually forming my own company. We bought a home at the edge of the city in Edison Park, bordering Park Ridge and Niles. Our family grew roots and blossomed.
Beautiful Julia cried for the first 45 minutes of her life after being born at 9:50, the Night Before. The next morning, I was getting ready to take my in-laws, who were in from Poland, to meet their new grandchild. My father-in-law came in from my Polish next door neighbor’s house, and told me to turn on the television, where I saw replays of a jet crashing into the World Trade Tower. I wasn’t going to turn on the tv in the hospital room, but it was already on when we got there. Julia had snuck into this world before it was forever changed. I completed my Chicago evacuation instruction list shortly before driving Julia and my wife home from the hospital in Skokie, later in the week.
February 5, 2003
After living to know his youngest two granddaughters, my father died of cancer. He was an inspiration to our family, and far beyond. His character, and the example of his life, had the effect of inspiring optimism, benevolence and generosity in others. As the last of 5 kids, and being a late-in-life father, I feel grateful for the time we had as 3 generations together, brief as it was. I benefited profoundly from my father’s enlightenment and love.
With the establishment of my family came a creative re-awakening, a blessing and a curse. I’d loaded my Mac with two audio production tools: Logic and Reason. I had an isolated recording booth installed in the corner of my basement. My notebook was filling steadily. The songs were coming again. One more time…
So, the phone rings. I pick it up, and it’s brother John Halka, whom I’d pretty much lost contact with. I tell him that it’s a wonderful mind-fuck, and talk with him. We discuss getting together, and I tell him I’d call him after returning from a family trip to Florida. When we return I call him, but his number is disconnected.
I got a call from John’s brother and found out that John was locked up. I was able to get his address at a county jail in southern Wisconsin, and I wrote to him. We met, speaking on a phone with a glass plate between us. John had forged a prescription for Vicodin, and got busted. Fined and paroled, John lost his job after his PO let his employer know about the felony. Un-employed, and therefore in violation of his parole terms, he took off. He stole a gun to kill himself, and was caught near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We discussed collaborating on a project where he would provide poetry from his incarceration. I secured a transponder to my landline phone, called him, and pressed record. John’s poem is excerpted in ‘Johnny Thirteen’.
After a two-and-a-half year production cycle, my eponymous album is completed. It is the first batch of my own songs released since ‘Old Town’ in 1991. Daughters Natalia and Julia both had fun indulging dad with their contributions to ‘Monkey and the Button’. Stan Borys and I release ‘For Nothing More’, our first collaboration since 1987. Tomek Lipiński contributes his processed voice on ‘Far Enough Away’. Vince Salerno is back with his horn and harp throughout. It represents for me the right balance of synthetic and organic. It is the project I have been waiting to release. Nothing happens. Album fails.
John is released. I pick him up from Oshkosh and help him settle into a halfway house in Milwaukee. Shortly after that, he’s able to relocate to space in a business in Bedford Park where I had helped BB Bugaloo set up a studio. When I can, I hire him as a photographer on interactive projects. After all the time that has passed, we pick up on our friendship as if the time in between never existed.
Great recession begins. My business production budgets dry up. Technology leaves me behind with obsolete job skills. Schuurman Communications ceases to be. With neglect, my marriage struggles. This is the beginning of my loss of identity. I enter an extended period of darkness.
John’s girlfriend Laura calls to tell me John’s died. He had a heart attack. She tried to do CPR, but it was too late. She’d just signed the death certificate. He was gone. Deep exile.
Autumn 2013 – Spring 2015
5 years into a debilitating depression, a job counselor at the state of IL unemployment office suggests that with my background using computers, I may want to consider computerized manufacturing where jobs were plentiful. I sign up for CNC training, and sail through the courses. At the training facility, I discover the 3D engineering software Solidworks. After teaching myself the software, I get my Solidworks certification.
Things finally stabilize when I begin working at my mechanical drafting position in an engineering office. The family remains together. My wife has a good job at a bank. The kids excel in school. I have emerged from a very dark place, and I am sleeping soundly again at night.
November 9, 2016
Retreating from the world, I summon ‘Music From Another Life’. Submersion into my past, a barrier from national events, redirects me back to earlier efforts. This document takes form.
July 26, 2017
After a decade-long descent into her twilight, my mother passed peacefully in her sleep. My siblings and I were the recipients of an unconditional love that accepted us as we were, and celebrated us as individuals. Ann Elaine Schuurman was elegant, generous, positive, tolerant and up-lifting. My mom was a successful business woman with employment offices in northwest suburban Chicago. She served the poor in Washington DC, inspired by my father’s example, creating a program model to help inner city, crime-challenged residents who struggled to find work. My mom and dad provided us with an example where parents protect and nurture their own family, and serve the world beyond the safe fortress of home. My parents were enlightened, loving and accepting of us. Not sure how we drew this straw.
My brother Richard set me up with two guitars and encouraged me to be musically creative again. I hadn’t played or recorded in over a decade. I realized I’d been on solid ground for some time, and decided I felt safe enough to indulge creatively again. I bought some music software and an interface for my Mac, and went to work grinding on the ancient guitar and keyboard scales, patterns and exercises hardwired into my memory. I watched software tutorials on Youtube. After several months, I began writing and recording and experimenting with the new technology I was learning. I went into a cycle of song creation again.
We endured the pandemic better than many, gratefully. For me, it was the backdrop to a prolonged stretch of creativity, writing and recording much of A Prodigal Son. With this project, I close a cycle and begin a new one, transformed, creative musically again.
Natalia, Julia and I met with Tomek Lipiński at his studio in Warsaw. We discussed possible collaborations. Tomek invited me to join his production team with him and his engineer. He also asked me to co-produce his English language project for an international audience. Life suddenly veered off into an unexpected, surreal, dreamlike direction. Once again I’de extracted my future from a visit to Poland.