Featured events

7-9 September 2012
Brussels Games

Brussels Gay Sports will offer a weekend of fun and fairplay in the capital of Europe, with volleyball, swimming, badminton, and tennis, as well as fitness and hiking.

Learn more HERE.
26-28 October 2012
Bern, Switzerland

The success of the first edition of the QueergamesBern proved the need for an LGBT multisport event in Switzerland. This year will be even bigger, with badminton, bowling, running, walking, floorball.

Learn more HERE.
17-20 January 2013
Sin City Shootout
Las Vegas
The 7th Sin City Shootout will feature softball, ice hockey, tennis, wrestling, basketball, dodgeball, bodybuilding and basketball.

Learn more HERE.

13-16 June 2013
IGLFA Euro Cup
After this year's edition in Budapest at the EuroGames, the IGLFA Euro Cup heads to Dublin for 2013, hosted by the Dublin Devils and the Dublin Phoenix Tigers.

Learn more HERE.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Roger Brigham tells the story of relationships based on sport and art

John Winterhalter playing a piano sonata 
composed by Ben Olsen. (Photo: Roger Brigham)  
Music and the Mat - How Sports and Culture Intertwine
by Roger Brigham
Published 05/03/2012, Bay Area Reporter, reprinted with permission

When folks in the vast beyond think of San Francisco, they think of couples such as Don Jung and Ben Olsen. Their story is so typical, so representative, so... San Francisco. And now, long after they were both lost in the 1980s onslaught of AIDS, one man whose life they touched is working to make sure their works are not forgotten.

This is a story about wrestling and music – about how the threads of culture and sport can be so intertwined in our lives it is hard to see where one begins and the other leaves off. It is a story about taking the time to change a life and to remember one. The end hasn't been written yet, but the morals of the story are clear: Never forget the folks who made you who you are, and never leave without saying goodbye.

Jung and Olsen were transplants who met in San Francisco. Olsen was from Missouri, where he studied at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. Olsen moved to San Francisco in the 1950s, then in 1968, the year after the Summer of Love, he met Jung, an artist from Montana.

That began an 18-year relationship. They lived in a tiny apartment in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, opening the Newest Sphere junk shop in 1969 before moving across the bay to Richmond to open Glass Blast, where Jung churned out etched glass and sand-blasted artistic creations. Olsen taught music for many years before retiring to write music full-time at home.

It was while they were in Haight-Ashbury that their paths crossed with 14-year-old John Winterhalter.

"I was out there running around, smoking pot," Winterhalter told me during a visit to the Bay Area over the weekend. "A friend told me he knew a composer and I was in shock. I didn't know there were still composers living."

Soon Winterhalter, who had tried unsuccessfully years earlier to learn to play piano first from his father and then in group classes, was paying Olsen $5 a session for piano lessons. "I was more a pain in the ass than anything," he said. "I was supposed to be there for an hour and I would spend all day."

Often Winterhalter would learn by playing one of the dozen variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" Olsen had arranged. They are complex, often humorous riffs on the classic children's theme, demanding patience and discipline.

"I could never make that tinny piano sound the way he could make it sound," Winterhalter said. "He could make beautiful sounds on that piano. Sometimes I would make a mistake just to hear him play it."

The mark those days left on Winterhalter was more than musical; it became a part of his inner psychic core.

"He filled in a lot of what my father couldn't," Winterhalter, 45, said. "We talked a lot about philosophy. One time he took an hour asking me about a coffee pot and about which was invented first, the handle or the pot. Eventually I realized what he was telling me was that form follows function."

Those sessions were prized moments of sanity and stability away from the crazy streets of San Francisco, where Winterhalter felt his life was spiraling down into an inevitable mess. Then in 1979, when he was 19, he suddenly left the city and enrolled in the military. It was part impulse, part fear, part adventure, part desperation.

He never said goodbye. "I always felt badly about that," he said. "But I kept thinking later that maybe they escaped all of the madness going on, that maybe they escaped AIDS, that they were alive."

And alive they were for some time after that. Jung, whom Winterhalter remembered as always being rather quiet and puttering around in the background, creating the artwork that paid their bills, began wrestling once more. Jung had placed in the state high school championships when he was a kid back in Montana and drew on that experience in 1982 when he accepted Dr. Tom Waddell's challenge to create a wrestling club to host the Gay Games I wrestling tournament. He also created a new wrestling program at Mission High School. Jung took the gold medal in that inaugural Gay Games.

But just four years later, suffering from AIDS and pneumocystis, he was dead, just days after winning the silver medal in Gay Games II. Two and a half years later, Olsen was dead as well.

All of which Winterhalter belatedly learned only after going online and doing Internet searches for his old mentor. He said when he found out Olsen was dead, he balled up and cried. "It was like my father died," he said.

And then three months ago he set out to see if he could make sure that the music his mentor composed would never die.

"There are a few pieces out there I know of," he said, "but I remember two big drawers full of manuscripts. I know there's a full symphony he finished." Winterhalter has some of the sheet music in his possession, including pages of the "Twinkle" variations he worked on in his youth, and a dramatic sonata that through themes of urban madness repeatedly returns to a compelling love theme and a wedding march.

"He wrote it in 1968, the year he met Don," Winterhalter said. "I think the sonata is about what meeting Don meant to him."

These days, Winterhalter, who is straight and married, lives in Northridge and drives for a delivery company. He has been trying to track down all the information he can about Olsen and Jung, find as much of Olsen's music as he can, and make sure it is archived rather than lost. Most of the people he knew who knew the couple back then have long passed on, but he is trying to learn as much as he can through conversations and Internet searches.

Which is how he ended up at my home last weekend, tapping out bits of Olsen's tunes on our grand piano with my husband, Eduardo.

During one of his Internet searches, he had found a reference to the Don Jung Memorial Wrestling Tournament run by Golden Gate Wrestling Club. Winterhalter had left San Francisco before Jung had returned to wrestling, but he remembered hearing that Jung had been a wrestler. He contacted the club and next thing he knew, he was in our house – just as before, the home of a musician and a wrestler.

Which brings us to the morals of this story. Winterhalter can't say goodbye to the mentor he left more than 30 years ago, but he can do his best to pay him back by making sure his musical legacy is remembered, just as GGWC did in 2007 by renaming its tournament after Jung, its founder.

So, any of my readers who were active in the local music scene back in the day or know of people who might have known the couple can email Winterhalter at jw7754@yahoo.com to help him with research. Who knows, maybe the symphony will be unearthed and resurrected for a performance one day.

The best source of information Winterhalter was able to find online about Jung and Olsen was, sadly, the AIDS obituary archive of the GLBT Historical Society and the Bay Area Reporter. It is a sad place to reflect but a wonderful place to post comments in memory of those we have lost. The archive can be accessed at HERE.

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