By Brad Spencer
When Bruce Springsteen was climbing over the entrance gate at Graceland hoping to meet his idol, Elvis Presley, his longtime E Street Band drummer, Max Weinberg, was knocking on the doors of strangers who lived in Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, hoping to gain insight into his idol's works of art.
On Thursday night, Weinberg strolled into Tim Pearson's 101-year-old Wright-designed gem in the 600 block of North Kenilworth Avenue in Oak Park and regaled a group of Oak Parkers with interesting stories on keeping the beat for Springsteen for the last 37 years and what he deemed his "obsession" with Oak Park's legendary architect.
Weinberg, currently in the midst of a world tour with Springsteen that stops at Wrigley Field on Sept. 7 and 8, greeted guests at Pearson's home (known as the Oscar B. Balch House) and then spoke at length at Unity Temple as part of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation's Break the Box fundraising event.
Wearing gray dress pants and a colorful plaid shirt — Springsteen wouldn't be caught dead in such a wardrobe — the 61-year-old, bespectacled Weinberg looked more like an architect than a legendary rock 'n' roll drummer. He spoke like one too. Weinberg's vast knowledge of Wright surprised and impressed those in attendance at both locations.
"When I was riding buses and vans around the country in the 1970s on tour, I would literally knock on the doors of Wright-designed homes and ask, no, make that beg, to see the inside of the house," said Weinberg, whose obsession in architecture began when, as a child, he visited the Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York. "I would get to see some really fascinating places off the beaten path."
For Oak Park resident Dennis Ryan, board president of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, Weinberg's visit was a dream come true.
"I've been a fan of Springsteen and the band for decades. I was at a show at the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall in '78 that lasted three-and-a-half hours, and I'd never seen a group of artists working so hard on stage," said Ryan, who works as an architect. "When we heard Max was a Wright aficionado, we kept tabs on he and the band's tours to see when would be a good chance to have him come for such an event."
Weinberg didn't disappoint. He stood in Pearson's home with the eyes of 30 or so guests focused intently on him and talked about everything from Wright being ahead of his time to how Springsteen kept rock alive in the '70s. He also doted on his daughter, Ali, who had recently been hired at MSNBC to cover the president, and his son, Jay, a drummer in a band called Against Me!.
Oak Parker Kevin Trim, who has seen upwards of 25 Springsteen shows and was set to see both performances at Wrigley, said it was a pleasure getting to meet one of his idols.
"It's not every day you're going to get an opportunity like this, and it's all for a good cause, which is even better."
Brian Crawford, who has lived in Oak Park for 20 years, said he was impressed with Weinberg's knowledge on Wright and his willingness to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with fans.
"He was extremely engaging and well-versed in architecture," Crawford said. "I've been a fan since the beginning, so this was a real treat for me."
On the dais at Unity Temple, Weinberg told an audience of 150 people that he had a confession to make.
"I'm really awestruck to be standing here right now. I'm a true Frank Lloyd Wright nerd — I mean, aficionado."
It wasn't Weinberg's first visit to Unity Temple. A few years ago, he revealed, he talked his way into the historical building when it was closed.
"I had to use the 'I'm in this band' line to a custodian, who eventually gave in," Weinberg said.
He reminisced about his musical influences — Elvis's drummer, D.J. Fontana, and the Beatles' Ringo Starr. And he talked about his self-made Wright atlas that he pulled out during a tour in the winter of '77 and pinpointed a home to visit.
"It was freezing cold, and I told the owners, who had no idea who I was, if they let me in I'd give them tickets to see Springsteen," he said. "Later that night, they were dancing in the aisle."
Weinberg, known for his acute focus on Springsteen during shows, even entertained the audience with a story about how in his first few months playing in the band he took his eyes off you-know-who and missed an important break during the popular song "Rosalita." The show was being broadcast live on radio.
"I was 24 and got distracted by a beautiful woman in the audience … Bruce introduced me that night as 'the Not-So Mighty Max,'" he said.
The woman, Weinberg disclosed when queried by an audience member, went on to become his wife, to whom he has been married for 30 years.
After calling Unity Temple Wright's "Born to Run," in reference to Springsteen's hit song and declaring Wright was "the Springsteen of his time," Weinberg auctioned off two pairs of concert tickets complete with backstage passes.
He ended his speech by saying, "Oak Park, I'm just really impressed. You made my night."
Answer Book 2017
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