I was in my second year of college and this event was my introduction to John Trudell. He did a kind of concert-monologue performance with a couple of percussionists and a woman chanting while he delivered a very long verbal essay which took me somewhere I had never been.

This was November 20, 1983. If you check Wikipedia you will learn/remember that this was the evening The Day After was aired. The Day After depicted an all out nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It led to crazy discourse in American politics, with Jerry Falwell demanding equal time and a wild debate on Nightline with a bunch of figures including Carl Sagan, William Buckley, and Elie Wiesel. And you had psychiatrists warning parents to send their children to bed.

It was a choice that evening. We could attend the John Trudell event in the Merrill Dining Hall, or we could watch the movie in the Baobob Lounge just a few feet away. Having already seen On the Beach, Failsafe, Dr. Strangelove and other movies about nuclear war, and been active on the issue of a nuclear freeze and disarmament since high school, I didn’t feel that the film would teach me anything I didn’t already know. But during moments of quiet in Trudell’s presentation, we could hear the nuclear explosions coming from the television in the Baobob. I think Trudell let those moments extend and improvised some words of hope earlier than he had intended. People watching the film told me that they could hear the chanting and drums which gave them some comfort even as it added some intensity.

I think I saw Trudell about 5 more times before he died, the last being at Beginnings about 15 or 16 years ago. KPFA and KMUD played him often. I didn’t agree with everything he had to say, including his abstention from voting. But I really miss his presence on this earth.

I found this poster in some boxes of old stuff tonight.

John Trudell poster