I started this morning with a big bowl of monhinga in Mandalay, before flying back to Bangkok where a torrential rain greeted me. Or maybe it followed me all the way from Shan State. It’s been a very wet week no matter where I’ve wandered.
After returning to Mandalay from Shan State a few days ago I braved watching the mind-numbing coverage on CNN for a few hours in order to catch up on what was going on around the world. Like most people, I was horrified to hear about the murder of yet another American journalist in the Middle East by the religious lunatics being called ISIS. One report about the latest victim, Steven Sotloff, mentioned that he attended the University of Central Florida, the same university that I did. We also both majored in journalism. I hope he was lucky enough to have the great Timothy O’Keefe as an instructor.
Unlike Sotloff, I never properly pursued a career in journalism, although I continued to do freelance writing, mostly in the form of interviews and album reviews for various music publications in Florida. While Sotloff courageously reported from hotspots around the Middle East, the most dangerous task I ever encountered was perhaps interviewing Wolfman Jack at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Orlando.
Even though we attended UCF about 20 years apart, I still feel like Sotloff was a kindred spirit of sorts. Being a journalism student at UCF, I’m sure that Sotloff, as I did, wrote for the campus newspaper, The Future. I have fond memories of being on The Future staff, serving under fine editors such as Lisa Chandler and Anthony Toth. I reported on a wide range of subjects, but due to my fascination with music I also got to do a lot of album reviews and interviews too. One of my most memorable assignments was interviewing jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, and showing him around the campus one day. In a “It’s a Small World” moment, a few decades later, I was interviewing Sirabhorn Muntabhorn, a Thai female guitarist in Bangkok also known as “Dr. ka-Ti.” She mentioned that she had attended the famous Berklee College of Music with Pat Metheny. She must have made a favorable impression on Metheny; one of the songs on his Bright Size Life album was titled “Sirabhorn.”
So, in a strange sort of way, learning more about the life of Steven Sotloff has triggered many emotions and resurrected lots of good memories for me. For example, when I think of “Isis”, the first thing that still pops into my mind is the great Bob Dylan song of the same name, from his fine Desire album, featuring Scarlett Rivera on violin! The same year that Dylan released Desire he embarked on his famed Rolling Thunder Revue, a tour that passed through Orlando in 1976. I recall seeing Dylan on stage with an amazing troupe of musicians, including Joan Baez, Mick Ronson, Roger McGuinn, T-Bone Burnett, and the audacious Kinky Friedman (who has since gained more fame from his humorous mystery novels).
But in the end, we come back to the horrific and senseless murder of Steven Sotloff, a man who by all accounts was a dedicated, diligent, and compassionate journalist. In this era of tabloid trash and Internet idiocy, it’s a true tragedy when we lose people as good as Steven Sotloff.