From the basement to the stars

“Behind the Byline” introduces you to those who write stories, take photos, design pages and edit the content we deliver in our print editions and on We are more than journalists. As you will see, we are also your neighbors with unique backgrounds and experiences that proudly live in Sonoma County.

Today we introduce you to art and entertainment writer Dan Taylor.


One of my earliest memories is seeing my parents on stage. It was a super low budget community production, and definitely more of a skit than a play, but I can still imagine them in oversized coats and floppy hats, screaming back and forth on a nearly empty stage. .

The arts were a way of life for them. Neither made a living – my father was a veterinarian and my mother a teacher – but their dedication to the arts was evident in many of their activities.

My father painted in oils and watercolors, made wood-fired reproductions of Charles Russell’s Old West paintings, wrote pun-filled stories, and played a dozen different musical instruments. My mother played the cello and the piano. They kept a ceramic kiln in the basement of our house just north of Seattle.

Naturally, I followed all of these activities in my own way. My first love was comics, but I also took violin, piano and drums lessons, performed in high school and college plays, and entered college as a major in art.

When I heard an inspiring talk at Washington University from a former newspaper editor, I decided to choose my own working definition: artistic journalist. I thought it worked for HL Mencken, who called himself “a critic of ideas”.

“Alright,” said a cynical friend. “But how do you make a living out of it?”

First of all, I developed my own tutorial. Once I had completed all of my compulsory courses at university, I chose art history, classical music and opera as optional courses. I wrote an article for the school magazine on a new training program for professional actors.

After graduating from college, I spent nearly five years in an eastern Washington daily covering police, municipal government, and the courts, while reporting on the visiting musicians. and the local theater.

Not only did I rack up a few clippings for future job applications, but I also met folk trio Limeliters, singer-songwriter Bill Withers, opera singer Beverly Sills, comedian Victor Borge and ukulele player and popular late-night talk show guest Tiny Tim.

Then I went to work as a full-time art editor at Sun Newspapers in Omaha, a group of 50,000-paid urban weekly newspapers that had just won a Pulitzer Prize for their investigation of finances in Boys Town.

The owner of this post was financier and investment guru Warren Buffett, and I covered his wife Susie’s performance as a cabaret singer. It was a relief for a nervous new recruit like me to find out that she could really sing.

There were always artists on tour, offering the chance to interview Joel Gray of “Cabaret” fame, comedian Steve Allen, Leonard Nimoy from “Star Trek” and Henry Winkler, then a sensation like The Fonz on “Happy. Days “. Some of the interviews were in person and some over the phone, but they all added to my continuing education.

Best of all were movie star Henry Fonda’s visits to his home state of Nebraska, where he rented a hotel suite in downtown Omaha and, between presentations by his liberal political candidates favorites, shared stories about famous friends, including the director. Josh Logan and actor Jimmy Stewart, with passing references to his sometimes infamous children: Jane and Peter.

Fonda once remembered making a movie that got re-released and re-titled after its initial release. “This is not the photo I signed up for,” Fonda drawled. “But I’m too bored to fight it.” (It has become a motto for me: disappointments are inevitable, but move on.)

From there I stepped into the world of the dailies in a small newspaper in eastern San Diego County.

As always, I focused on the arts, but there were also reports. I had learned early on that if I wanted a stable job, I had to do a bit of everything. I met country singer Merle Haggard, who spoke about serving time in San Quentin for burglary.

Eventually I found my way to The Press Democrat in 1981. Shortly after arriving in Santa Rosa, the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts opened, and over time I met visitors from renowned, including the Righteous Brothers, Lou Rawls and Roy Orbison. And I spoke to Steve Allen again. (I didn’t expect him to remember me, and he didn’t.)

Then nine years ago the Green Music Center opened, soon bringing Audra McDonald, Ben Harper, John Hiatt, and Lyle Lovett to perform, and I was there for those shows.

Sometimes there were multiple encounters with the same person. I interviewed Joan Baez first on her music and later on her paintings, and Eleanor Coppola on her art and her cinema, at different times.

A friend in a pub once said to me, “I’m going to mention a famous person and if you say you met them I’m going. (I had interviewed the person in question, Garrison Keillor, in San Francisco, but I didn’t say anything to my friend.)

Most people seem to like to drop the name and ask me who I interviewed, and I’ve only mentioned a small sample here. But with every post I’ve written for, I’ve found the local talent to be just as interesting as the visiting stars.

I won’t forget the machinist from Omaha who wrote musicals about Lucifer and Dracula, or the man who overcame his physical disabilities to start his own acting studio in San Diego.

Here, in my fourth article, I had a lot of time to get to know the locals better: actors, artists, musicians, dancers, poets, playwrights, actors, directors and novelists.

More than ever, the experience of the pandemic has demonstrated just how resourceful creative people can be, exploring the possibilities of online and outdoor-only events and discovering new avenues of expression. Now they are using what they have learned as they cautiously exit the lock.

Some readers say they find the daily news sad. Accidents will happen, disasters can be inevitable, and crime unfortunately can still be with us, but there are ways to improve our lives, and one of them is through the arts.

You can reach Editor-in-Chief Dan Taylor at [email protected] or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

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