Jun 19, 2020
Muh & Lou: What to read and eat this Summer.
How do you do? Welcome to “We Will Meet Again, Part II” the second in our series of monthly newsletters to our friends, partners and family in the world of showbiz and culture.
This month, Mr. Lou, our 1-year-old Dutch Kooikerhondje – a very famous breed; even the Old Masters of Dutch painting such as Rembrandt depicted them! – and I decided to leave our home-office sofa every other day for summer road trips to the outback of Bayreuth, a sleepy Franconian town of 70,000, seat of the HQ of our company, Semmel Concerts. I prepared a picnic, grabbed Mr. Lou’s favourite toy and some magazines and books, and we set off in our vintage Mercedes 250 (a model from the iconic W123 series, built in 1980) on our first trip, heading to a nearby region of Bayreuth’s outback called the “Franconian Switzerland.” It bears this name because of its bizarre sandstone rocks and its cosy villages.
“Muh” is the sound cows make and the title of the magazine pictured in the photo above. I’m a subscriber to Muh, and in this edition I found a very good piece about Erika Fuchs, a charismatic woman who, for 40 years, translated the Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics into German. She lived not far from us, north of Bayreuth, and there’s a wonderful museum dedicated to her work. I’m interested in everything Disney for a special reason, which I’ll tell you more about soon. Muh is a quirky (but very refreshing!) left-wing magazine for “Bavarian perspectives” – outspoken against nuclear power and similar causes.
Thinking of nuclear power, I thought how dearly I miss the usual summer Super Hero buzz in cinemas! Marvel’s “Black Widow,” a Russian super-soldier-mutant-heroine, was scheduled to be in cinemas now but isn’t because of you-know-what.
Melanie, my wife, and I went to the Autokino (the German compound word for a drive-in cinema) to see “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” (sooo good!) for a second time, but it didn’t still my need for a fresh dose of Marvel and their Distinguished Competition on the big screen, which I follow avidly with my sons Konstantin and Maximilian.
Of course, we can witness the real heroes this summer – all the frontline fighters against you-know-what, colleagues who are laid off, our brothers and sisters in the refugee camps, the people who speak up against racism – but for those needing a more comic-style fix, a little literary helper can be found in the wonderful new biography about THE Super Hero creator, Stan “The Man” Lee, by Danny Fingeroth. “A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee” is also available as an audiobook, read by the author himself.
Mr. Fingeroth is one of the founding fathers and curatorial consultants of our touring exhibition “Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes” (opening with a three-month delay at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, in mid-July). I began reading Danny’s book on that road-trip with Mr. Lou, and back on our sofa, I skyped with Danny in New York City.
Christoph Scholz: Danny, fans (me included!) are disappointed at the delay of Marvel films, especially “Black Widow,” which was due out now. Can you tell us any stories about Stan creating Black Widow with Don Heck? As a Russian operative, was she originally more of a villain?
Danny Fingeroth: The Black Widow was completely a villain when she debuted. In the early 1960s, when the character was created, the Cold War was in full bloom, and many of Marvel’s stories concerned Russian/Soviet villains. The Black Widow was created from that mould.
CS: Another film that fans are eagerly awaiting is the “Spider-Man: Far From Home” sequel. Was Stan happy with the evolution of Peter Parker and the splitting of Spider-Man into so many more characters – from Spider-Gwen to Spider-Ham?
DF: I think Stan was genuinely thrilled to see the characters he co-created develop and grow. With the exception of the Silver Surfer, which he maintained proprietary feelings towards, I think he understood that for the Marvel characters to grow and maintain popularity across generations, he had to let Marvel’s writers, artists and editors do what they thought was best for the characters.
CS: What do you think started Stan Lee on his writing career? Was it what he always wanted to do, or did he stumble into it, being related to Martin Goodman at Timely Comics, which became Marvel Comics?
DF: Stan had always wanted to be a writer and had been writing as a high school student. When he came to work at Timely, he was able to pick up his writing skills again and use them to write stories and articles that added to that added to his meager role as an assistent editor. When I interviewed him for “A Marvelous Life,” he told me that if he’d gone to college, he would probably have studied something like journalism.
CS: When artists and writers collaborate to make comics, do they often talk out the story together first? Did Stan Lee do that with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko? What insight can you give us about that?
DF: Traditionally, comic writers would discuss story ideas with their editors and then go home and write up scripts that described every panel for the artist and provide all the dialogue. Stan and his collaborators in the ’60s worked more informally. They would discuss the stories in lesser or greater detail and sometimes pretty much the whole story would be developed by the artist after that brief initial discussion. Stan would then – in his roles as editor and art director, as well as writer – write appropriate dialogue and captions, often changing the story the artist had in mind, giving the stories his personal stamp. This way of working – the “Marvel Method” – produced many great stories and characters but also led to some hard feelings along the way, regarding appropriate credit and compensation for the creation of stories and characters.
CS: When people speak of Stan Lee’s writing style, the word “enthusiasm” often comes up. Was it mostly his endless enthusiasm that fuelled his writing? What is your take on this?
DF: Stan was enthusiastic about pretty much everything he did, which is not to say he didn’t understand sadness and despair. He had his share of sorrows and setbacks. But he enjoyed entertaining people, including the people he worked with. He had the gift of being able to become excited about whatever he was working on. When people asked him who his favourite character was, he’d say it was the one he was currently focused on. I think that was true. What he hated was not working. He hated not being busy and not having multiple projects to be enthusiastic about.
CS: If Stan were still with us and writing his “Soapbox,” do you think he’d be writing columns about today’s events?
DF: I think he would be. He was especially concerned about matters relating to equal rights and fair treatment for all people.
Danny and I are planning to meet again this autumn, because work on a new, still secret, project has begun…
My boss, Dieter Semmelmann, gave us his blessing to work from our home-offices throughout July and August (our offices are open to everyone who’s not afraid of you-know-what). Staying put in the home-office for another couple more weeks leads me to a serious problem – I’m running out of recipes!
Usually I cook only at the weekends, but during the past three months or so, I have prepared quick lunches almost every day. Who can help? Remember Ari Weinzweig – the food entertainer, thinker, author, blogger and entrepreneur behind “Zingerman’s Community of Businesses” in Ann Arbor, Michigan – from the first edition of this newsletter? I called Ari to ask if he could help me with a recipe or two, and we entered into an almost philosophical conversation …
Christoph Scholz: Ari, let me start my Q&A with a serious, personal problem: usually I cook lunch only at the weekends, but during the ongoing home-office period, and with the kids still off school, I’ve started this new tradition of preparing lunch on weekdays as well. Ideally, these are cooked and served up in less than an hour. We at Semmel Concerts will remain in our home-offices for another couple weeks, and with the lockdown lasting for almost three months now, I’m running out fast of quick-to-prepare recipes! Can you help me out with one?
Ari Weinzweig: Sure! Zingerman’s Pimento Cheese recipe is great. While everyone in the South knows this stuff at a level of intimacy my family would have reserved for chopped liver, it’s still relatively unheard of up here in the North. Although the “official” Pimento Cheese recipe doesn’t have bacon in it, I’m giving you the recipe with, because it’s so good with bacon on it – the two pair up nearly perfectly.
Small slices of toast, spread with pimento cheese, topped with a bit of crisp bacon and a leaf or two of celery make a superb appetizer. Pimento cheese sandwiches with bacon and tomato are terrific. I like them grilled, but they’re actually very good toasted, too. As for the bacon, I’d go for Broadbent’s, Edwards or Burgers: nice and meaty and smoky, but not so much so that they overpower the cheese.
We make a Pimento Cheese Macaroni & Cheese at the Roadhouse too, which at its best is topped with crisp bacon pieces. This is also outstanding on a burger – not really melted, just softened up a bit from the heat of the meat. In that case, I’d go for a couple of slices of Arkansas peppered bacon, along with a little bit of chopped celery leaf to lighten the whole thing up just a touch.
Here’s the recipe for Pimento Cheese Ari sent me:
- ½ pound sharp cheddar, coarsely grated (we use the two-year-old raw milk cheddar from Grafton Village in southern Vermont)
- 1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman’s up here, but it’s sold under the brand name Best Foods out West)
- 2 ounces roasted red peppers, diced (about ¼ cup)
- ¾ teaspoon juice from the roasted red peppers (if you’re using jarred roasted peppers)
- ¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- Scant ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1 Pinch coarse sea salt
1. Fold all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
2. Mix well.
Repeat as regularly as you like: it’s addictive. As more than one person around here has said more than once, “It’s kind of good on pretty much everything, isn’t it?”
Serves, how many? Well, it’s kind of hard to say. A real addict could probably consume this entire recipe in a single sitting. But being more conservative, let’s say it’s enough to serve eight as an appetizer. You’ll probably have to test it on your family and friends to see how much they can eat!
Now we’ve had some lunch, back to our conversation …
CS: How would you describe “Zingerman’s Community of Businesses” to somebody who has never heard about it?
AW: Well … we’re a Community of a dozen businesses, all located in (apart from one, just outside) the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor is one of those college towns that people like me often go to intending to stay for four or five years for school, but then somehow never seem to leave! About 45 miles west of Detroit and about four times that far to the east of Chicago, it’s got a population of maybe 100,000. Paul Saginaw and I started the business as partners in 1982 with two staff members in 1,300 square feet (around 120 square metres), making and selling traditional Jewish American foods, as well as a small (by our current standards) selection of artisan foods from around the world.
This year, before the Coronavirus “earthquake” hit, we had a staff of over 700 and would have been collectively doing sales of about 70 million dollars. With everything going on though, it’s hard to say where things will settle out, but … right now as I speak with you, we might have about 500 staff and will do about 50 million dollars in sales for the year.
We work as one organization, with each business as a semi-autonomous part of the whole. In each business, we have managing partners who own a share of the business. We have about 200 staff members who own what we call a “Community Share” as well. We use a consensus model of the partners to govern the organization, and six years ago we added three “staff partners” to that group to bring staff voices directly into the consensus. Additionally, all our meetings are open, as are our finances. All the food we make and sell is the traditional, full flavoured kind of food.
These days, our businesses include the original Deli, now expanded three times, Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Zingerman’s Creamery, Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory, Zingerman’s Coffee; we do events at Cornman Farms, Zingerman’s Food Tours and have our small traditional Korean restaurant Miss Kim, too. There’s Zingerman’s Roadhouse, which is our restaurant serving regional American food. We have Zingerman’s Mail Order and ZingTrain, our training business too. We also publish all the books I write [see Zingerman's press website] – we print them here locally, so they’re sort of the book equivalent of farm-to-table … “Brain-to-book” we call it! So we’ve grown a lot.
CS: Wow! That is a lot. What does a typical day at the office look like for you?
AW: Well, for a start, I don’t have an office! Right now, I’m sitting outside on the wooden bench in front of ZingTrain and opposite the Coffee Company – it’s a beautiful morning. I did my daily journaling (I do it every morning) and then finished the edits on the weekly newsletter; I answered a few emails and then I’m going to a managers’ meeting at the Roadhouse, working on some writing for our summer print newsletter and a few more meetings. Then I’ll go for a run, then back to the Roadhouse to work on the floor at the restaurant during dinner. We just reopened the dining room two days ago, so it’s a bit like being a start-up business again!
I’ll go home after that, where I’ll make dinner with my girlfriend – we call each other “co-adventurers,” and we have four dogs, so they’re part of the picture. Two are Corgis, and two are rescues from Jordan. I’d normally fit in some regular reading during the course of the day and few phone calls to connect with friends and colleagues. And plenty of emails!
CS: How do you find the time for writing books, newsletters and articles, like a journalist or novelist, in addition to managing Zingerman’s?
AW: Well … I wrote an essay called a Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Time Management, that’s in Part Three of the book, “Managing Ourselves.” It has all my various tips – they may not work for other people, but they definitely help me. I hold the belief that there’s generally always time. In the essay, I wrote a lot about my relationship with time. My belief is that most people have pretty unhealthy relationships with time, which can mean that things don’t go that well.
CS: What do you think we will take away from this current time?
AW: Well … people keep saying “everything will be different.” On the one hand, that’s already been true each day for all of history; no day is the same as the day before. I’ve come to think of this as an earthquake in our ecosystem. I actually wrote about this in the e-news a few weeks ago, I’ll send it to you.
Here’s what Ari sent on the idea of “earthquakes in our ecosystem,” which made for very interesting reading:
"Clearly, when an earthquake happens, everyone in the ecosystem feels it. But while some buildings come down completely, others (even some right across the street) are barely damaged. While the impact is evident, most things are still sort of in the same place they were the day before it happened. Many things are still identifiable in their old form, even if they’re no longer functioning. Aftershocks continue to convulse. Cracks have opened – people and organizations have fallen in and been lost to us. Grieving and loss commence. First responders are out in the world doing their best, under duress, to make a positive difference.
Can we rebuild? Yes. I believe we can. It will be a long term project. I remember visiting San Francisco after the earthquake of 1989 – parts of the highways that collapsed didn’t come back for years. So maybe, for the moment, I’ll posit that pandemics are the corollary of an earthquake. If that’s the case, then, to Maggie’s good question, the Natural Laws continue – as they did last year and the year before that – to govern the ultimate effectiveness with which we work. So, do the Natural Laws still hold true in a pandemic? I believe they do. Living in harmony with them will not make all the problems go away. But it does mean we will be more effective as we struggle through the recovery from this massive ‘earthquake.’
What does that mean? The conclusion seems likely that the organizations and individuals who live in harmony with the Natural Laws will, for the most part, I believe, come through this period of recovery and reflection more effectively. University of Michigan professor and agroecologist, Ivette Perfecto, says, ‘Our philosophy is mostly one of prevention, keeping the farm strong and healthy with a lot of natural enemies that can combat the pests, rather than trying to solve a problem once it has emerged.’ Or, as jazz musician Thelonious Monk once said, ‘Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.’
Ultimately, I believe less will change than many people think, but some things will change that no one has yet considered. Ultimately, we will all, I believe, take away from it what we want to take away. If you were already pretty self-aware and always working on improvement every day, then this is just one more step towards the future."
We are planning to have Ari Weinzweig as a speaker at our next conference in Los Angeles. Thinking about LA, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (or ASCAP) is usually very busy in Los Angeles around this time of the year – hosting, among other events, their annual Pop Awards and their regular conferences, which were previously held under the title EXPO.
But it grabbed my attention that this year’s ASCAP June events are not called EXPO any longer but headed under the title Experience. This is so much in line with what we at Semmel have been thinking and the reasons behind the rethink of our own conference, The Touring Exhibitions Meeting, having introduced a new programme under the name The Experience Economy Meeting – TEEM.
The ASCAP Experience events can be found at their website, while the awards programming will be on ASCAP’s social channels. I will tune in on June 25 at 3 p.m. (EST), when our friend and touring artist, Oscar and Grammy-award-winning film composer Hans Zimmer will hold a conversation with Walt Disney Studios’ president of music, Mitchell Leib.
The ASCAP people are calling this year’s Experience event the “Home Edition.” Well, I do hope that we will not need to produce a “home edition” of The Experience Economy Meeting – TEEM, firmly scheduled for April 15–17, 2021, in Downtown Los Angeles.
We will meet again with this newsletter, if you like, on July 17. The planned theme for the third edition of our newsletter is “Do we live in an era of super fans?” Plus: Mr. Lou and I are planning to go to Berlin to visit an artist’s studio!
Sending you very best wishes from good old Germany,
Director of Exhibitions and International Projects at Semmel Concerts
Member of the Management Board
You can reach me at: schlzchrstphsmmld
To order Danny Fingeroth’s excellent biography of Stan Lee, please visit Amazon.
Ari Weinzweig’s e-newsletter – now a Wednesday tradition for me – can be subscribed to here.
“We Will Meet Again,” the motto of this monthly newsletter, is inspired by the video speech Queen Elizabeth II made after the outbreak of you-know-what. The Queen quoted Dame Vera Lynn’s famous wartime song, saying that the UK should take comfort in the fact that “better days will return, we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”And as we put the final touches on this newsletter, the news broke that Dame Vera Lynn had passed away at the blessed age of 103. What a lifespan! R.I.P., dear Vera. The celebrated Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins performed a virtual duet with Dame Vera for the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II last month. Accompanying the recording of this duet on Ms. Jenkin’s YouTube channel are the messages people from around the world sent to their loved ones to say “missing you” during the covid crisis. Watch it at YouTube.
The Newsletter Team:
Stefanie Stubner (Research and Writing), Annie Nocenti (Research and Writing), Oliver Zietzke (Production), Hannah Sarid de Mowbray/Mandi Gomez (Proofreading).
If you want to join me on the sofa for a video chat or have something to share with our newsletter community, drop a line to Stefanie Stubner.