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Prompted By Group Photos

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While I have much enjoyed my participation on Retro, it has also brought out in me one disturbing trait, what I will call “photo envy. ” It is the realization that, by comparison to many Retro writers, I have very few family or other group photos of my own.  (And yes, Betsy, when I speak of this envy, I’m thinking particularly of you and your amazing photo collection.)

This envy may not be quite the Shakespearean “green eyed monster” that hounded Iago, but it is still there, and I felt it especially with this week’s prompt on group photos — or, in my case, the general lack thereof.  And I realized that the periods where I most lack these photos were my college and law school years.

The “photo lacuna” in law school is very easy to explain. What sort of fun group photo would there be of those three grinding years?  A lecture hall full of law students being tortured into submission by a sadistic civil procedure professor in full Socratic Method mode?  Frankly, I would have preferred to have just drunk the hemlock.

As for college group photos, the best of the few I have is this one of my roomies, a couple of classmate pals and moi, which I already discussed in a previous story: 

The only other one I could locate from my college years is this small, grainy one of me with my intramural football team, which was included in the 1969 Yale-Harvard game program (we played our residential house counterpart at Yale that weekend).  Not that it is very clear, but I’m wearing jersey number 10 on the right side of the bottom row:

Coincidentally, but frustratingly, I have been looking for another group photo from college in recent weeks.  Here’s the back story.  My freshman year, I was on our freshman weekend committee, called “Jubilee Weekend” for reasons relating to the lyrics of “Fair Harvard,” Harvard’s alma mater.  I co-chaired the concert committee and my co-chair Peter and I spent an afternoon in New York City during winter break at the William Morris Agency, where we booked the Lovin’ Spoonful for our Saturday night concert.

The Spoonful contract had an unusual clause, which the William Morris rep pointed out to us.  He said that they were aware that the stagehands union in Boston required that at least four stagehands had to be hired to assist with loading and unloading any band’s equipment in a Boston theater with a union contract (which was probably alll of them).  However, while our contract with the theater would require us to pay for those stagehands no matter what, the Spoonful contract prohibited any of them from actually showing up.  Why?  Apparently, all the touring rock bands hated the Boston stagehands.  The bands felt they were not only lazy, but they either broke or stole their equipment and, perhaps worst of all, they tried to hit on the band members’ wives, girlfriends and assorted groupies. The bands all brought their own roadies and they were the only ones allowed near their equipment.

Peter and I shrugged — what else could we do? — and said we’d sign the contract and pay the agreed upon total amount, which I believe was about $4,000, and make sure both the theater and the union understood that the stagehands had to stay home — a practice that, we were assured, both were already quite familiar with (it’s called “featherbedding”).  But Peter asked a really good question: notwithstanding the stagehands prohibition, could we on the Jubilee Committee at least go backstage before or after the show to have our picture taken with the Spoonful?  (Smart ass that I was, I also promised not to hit on John Sebastian’s girlfriend.)  The rep said that would not be a problem and even added it as a rider to the contract.

The concert went terrifically, and afterwards the Jubilee Committee did go backstage for a little small talk and a photo op with the Spoonful.  Beyond cool.  And, though I remember getting a copy of the photo shortly therafter, I have not seen it in years and just assume I somehow mislaid it in a move.

But I thought about that photo again recently because I am on the 50th reunion committee for our class, and we are going to have our (belated) in-person reunion this coming June in Cambridge.  And we have a concert planned for one evening.  This time it is with Tom Rush, who performed at our 35th reunion and was great — and, as importantly, is still alive.  So that got me thinking about the Spoonful concert and that picture of the Jubilee Committee with them.  As a result, I have sent out an APB to several of the other Jubilee Committee members to see if any of them still has a copy and, if so, could he/she send me one.  Unfortunately, so far, the ones I’ve contacted also have a memory of the photo being taken but don’t believe they now have a copy of it either.

But I am still trying to track the photo down.*  And, in putting together this story, I did a bit of google research about that concert.

Per this link, the concert was on May 4, 1968 and was the next to last concert at the Back Bay Theater on Mass Ave in Boston before it was torn down later that year (after a final Judy Garland concert).  And who played at the Back Bay two weeks before?  Why, Tom Rush.  Talk sbout synchronicity.

In any event, I am going to make sure that we on the 50th reunion committee have a group photo taken with Tom Rush after our reunion concert.  And I’ll damn well hold onto it this time.


* For the record (literally), here’s a photo of the Spoonful in which the Jubilee Committee has presumably been photoshopped out:


Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Since you name-check me in your story, John, my story is ALL family photos. I didn’t even use college reunion photos, or camp cabin photos (yes, I have all those too). I had to limit what I used to a family theme. I do keep everything, in neat order.

    I love the “Missing Child” milk carton that you use as your Featured photo. It graphically sums up the text of your story. Your Loving Spoonful story is beyond. I believe, but can’t BELIEVE how corrupt the Boston stagehand union members were. Revolting. So sorry that no one can come up with your photo with the band. That would be cool. I look forward to your photo with Tom Rush. We saw him in Santa Cruz several years ago. He’s still got it.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so much, Betsy. And, again, I am in humble awe of your family photo collection.

      As to Tom Rush, some of my reunion committee members caught a concert of his this past August and also confirmed he still very much has it. One less thing to worry about as we do our planning.

  2. John, you never cease to surprise! Here I’ve been thinking you’re just a stuffy old Ivy League lawyer, and it turns out you were practically a wrangler for the Lovin Spoonful.

    Now how cool is that!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Tom Rush. That should be a great concert, John. And by all means, take that photo and post it on Retrospect as an addendum to this prompt.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. As I mentioned in my comment to Betsy, some of my classmates “auditioned” him at a concert last August outside of Boston and he was still terrific. I will be sure to have the photo taken — in a group, of course — and add it to this story. Great idea!

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    I love the term “photo lacuna!” I actually have several multi-year lacunae. I know pics were taken in those years, but I have none. Many old family photos were lost in a basement flood. Also, my Mom later in life developed a habit of just throwing thing away if they no longer interested. In later years I was the one taking the pictures.

    Tom Rush was once a big fave of mine.

  5. Marian says:

    Hope you find that photo, John. I, too, have times of photo lacunae, especially compared to some of the other Retrospecters. And I can believe the issue with the Boston stagehands, based on my experience doing trade shows at the beginning of my advertising career. We weren’t allowed to touch a plug when setting up equipment, for fear of the unionized electricians. Fortunately my company had a tough, Chicago-born trade show manager who knew how to pay them off, putting the expenses down as “tool money.”

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    I also relate to the photo lacuna (love the medical terminology). It makes the few that remain more precious. I hope you do find that Spoonful photo and share it.

  7. Suzy says:

    Great story, John, and love the “missing children” milk cartons. What an incredible story about the Lovin’ Spoonful and the missing picture! Just goes to show that you can write a fabulous story about a picture even without the picture. (I must admit I had to look up the word “lacuna”!)

    P.S. Are you sure there were women on the Jubilee Committee? I had the impression it was just a Harvard thing, not a Radcliffe thing. After all, the alma mater talked about “thy sons” thronging to the Jubilee!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Sort of like “the dog that didn’t bark” in one of the Sherlock Holmes story, right?

      There absolutely were women on the Jubilee Committee and, by pleasant coincidence, one of them is my current co-chair on the reunion program committee. (But she didn’t have the Spoonful picture either.) That said, I must admit that they were selected by the guys on the Committee and our main souce of selection was poring over the pictures in the freshman photo directory (the infamous “pig book”).

  8. John, I’m with you on the picture envy. Either because of my mobile and often hasty transitions, I don’t carry much from the old days. Thank goodness I do have archivists in the family who are treasure troves of pics, but most of our photos reside in two big baskets in one of our larger closets. One of these decades, we’ll probably get around to scanning them.

    What a terse, terrific description of law school, complete with sadists and Socratic methodologists. You make it sound like the 7th circle of hell, and I imagine it was.

    Loved your Lovin’ Spoonful story about Boston’s lascivious and kleptoid stage hands! My partner, Susan had a boyfriend in what what she describes as the world’s worst rock band in the Village who used to open for the Spoonful in their early days. I learned ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ from Tom Rush, way back as well, probably downstairs at Club 47.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks. I couldn’t really accuse law school of being a ircle of hell, as I willingly chose to go there, but it certainly as a necessary evil.

      And also thanks for memory of Club 47. (47 Palmer Street, Cambridge, for those who might not know.) Here’s a cool link about it from Tom Rush himself — check out the list of alums: https://www.tomrush.com/about/club-47/

      • Tom Rush’s page: Yes, all familiar names! Or mostly so. I left Cambridge in ’67 but before that, the glory days go all the way back to 1961 when I was still in high school and in love with a Harvard professor’s daughter. https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/the-unrequited/

        Joan Baez was still a teenager, the Kweskin Jug Band had not dissolved into a cult on Fort Hill, Eric Von Schmidt was a regular as was Geoff Mulduar and the spectacular ‘I’m a Woman’ Maria Mulduar. I’m pretty sure Dave Van Ronk would leave the White Horse in the Village to make the Cambridge scene. An iconic time. I never saw Dylan there.

  9. Well, John, this narrative has put me in a tizzy like few if any others! I was a huge fan of the Lovin’ Spoonful. One of my most expensive dates ever was to see the Spoonful and The Association in concert in Indianapolis during my senior year of high school (in fact, on my birthday in December 1967) at an elegant new concert hall on the campus of Butler University–yes, they are more than a basketball team–called Clowes Hall.
    Yet I am certain I did not see the Spoonful in May of 1968 and I don’t even remember even knowing about this event! So you may be missing a photo but I am missing an entire segment of my brain–or maybe I already was, back then? I know I had very little social life and was constantly aware of having to “catch up on my reading,” but surely someone among my friends in Weld North should have been talking about it?
    So anyway, thanks for the riveting discussion. It was a great side trip to take off this prompt, and now I just hope I can remove the rivets.

    • Of course I meant I saw the Spoonful in December 1966 not 1967.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Dale. Sorry that you somehow missed Jubilee and the Spoonful concert; we certainly tried to publicize it. Indeed, to announce it, we on the Committee staged a stupid little skit in the Freshman Union one Sunday night at dinner and we even arranged with the dining hall staff that the meal that would be served would require only spoons to eat. (Get it?) And, of course, the whole skit ended up in a massive food fight, with the primary ammunition being the ice cream that we were served for dinner every Sunday night. Any of this ring a bell?

      • Wow, I am sure I would recall if I was served a meal with only spoons, and would have appreciated the humor and creativity, even if I thought the “food fight” was just a few of our more tumultuous classmates having a good time. None of it rings a bell! Too bad I don’t have a calendar for the spring of 1968, to know if I left campus for the weekend.

        • John Shutkin says:

          I believe the main course was mainly those ghastly “mini-pizzas” (think English muffins with ketchup and melted American cheese) and then the ice cream sundae bar — complete with a variety of extremely sticky toppings and, of course, whipped cream and candied cherries. Also, because someone in Dining Services had a sense of humor, for the only time I can remember, olives. I distinctly remember being pelted with olives. And the cherries.

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    Quite a thrilling experience for an undergraduate, John. It’s a wonder you didn’t (I assume you didn’t) become an entertainment lawyer.
    As for planning the Tom Rush concert, I’m sure your classmates will have the urge for going, for sure. Have a great time!

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