Spark plugs and Chicago pink

UnknownIf you’re of a certain age, “Chicago” has multiple meanings. It’s a city, of course, but if you’re music saavy, you probably think first of tunes like “Saturday in the Park”, “Color my World,” and the mysterious “25 or 6 to 4.”

Put Scott Lewis (’85) in that category.

While Scott was a student at JMU, he sang with a band called The Spark Plugs. They were the rock stars of JMU at the time. Kevin Gallagher (’84)David Bell (’86)Chris Salamone (’86), Andy Perrine (’86) (now an associate veep for JMU), and the late Scott Causey (’84) were also members of the band.

They must have been good because they played regularly, three times a week. “Like a part-time job,”  Scott Lewis told me when I talked to him yesterday. Eventually, Scott graduated with double majors in anthropology and history. He went on to run his own software company, Proven Software Solutions, which does computer consulting for government and commercial enterprises. He’s also dad to four daughters — one, Jordan Lewis (’16) , is a sophomore at JMU.

During Scott’s senior year, two band members graduated, leaving The Spark Plugs with openings for a couple of guitarists. They picked up one guitarist named Keith Howland. A few years after Keith graduated with a degree in communications, he got another gig.  A pretty nice gig. Former Sparks Plugs guitarist  Keith Howland (’86) auditioned for Chicago, and he was hired. That was 18 years ago, and he’s been with the band ever since.

fade300b_img1Now Chicago is not your ordinary rock and roll band. Not only do they have the coolest and likely the most recognizable logo in all of modern music, they’ve taken their fame and finessed it into a way to raise money for cancer research through a promotion they call Sing with Chicago.

From their website:

Legendary rock and roll band, Chicago, has once again chosen to team up with the American Cancer Society to finish the fight against breast cancer. The fourth Sing with Chicago promotion will again give fans the chance to win the ultimate VIP fan experience through an online auction benefiting the American Cancer Society. Starting in April, fans can bid to win a package that includes a meet and greet with the band, two premium tickets, backstage passes, and the opportunity to sing the song “If You Leave Me Now” on-stage with the band!

As former band mates, Scott and friends have followed Keith’s career, and they’ll catch a show whenever they can. After seeing a not-so-great rendition of “If You Leave Me Now,” Keith commented to Scott, “You should put in a bid. You could sing that.”

So he did. And Scott’s bid came out on top — not once, but twice. Scott Lewis and Keith Howland, former Spark Plugs, were together again — backed up by Chicago. This time for a great cause.

Check out Scott’s performances below. You gotta admit, he sounds pr-et-ty good — and you gotta love it when doing something good, like promoting breast cancer research, gets a great prize! That’s being the change on a magical stage.

Documenting murder and mayhem

“When a frail-looking child with startled eyes breaks down crying, her tiny hands covering her tiny face as she talks about a neighborhood shooting, it’s hard not to gather her up in your arms,” wrote New York Times movie reviewer Manohla Dargis about the new film The Interrupters.

The newly-released documentary film by Steve James (’77) follows a group of former Chicago gang members returning to the city’s tormented neighborhoods with one mission in mind: to “interrupt” the cycle of violence that plagues the city with their special blend of wisdom and credibility.

Steve, who also produced the Oscar-nominated documentary Hoop Dreams, collaborated with journalist Alex Kotlowitz to tell the story through the experiences of three of the “violence interrupters.”

Working though an organization called CeaseFire, the interrupters get right in the middle of volatile situations to defuse them — to interrupt them. It is not an easy or safe job. It requires persuasion, finesse and courage to use their credibility as former gang members to funnel potential violence into more productive reactions.

The interrupters are saving lives and changing the culture of violence one crisis at a time. Steve told NPR in an interview this week: “What we wanted to do, in some ways was to refocus some attention on the issue….”

Focus they have. Their film premiered in New York late last month to very positive reviews.

Manohla Dargis also wrote that while some documentaries exploit their subjects, The Interrupters “rises above the usual do-gooder cant by giving the interrupters — and the people they work among and periodically come close to dying for — the time to share their stories about life in the trenches. Mr. James has put a face to a raging epidemic and an unforgivable American tragedy.

You can listen to the full NPR interview with Steve James at:

To read the full New York Times review, visit:

And you can also read Alex Kotlowitz’ original New York Times story that inspired the film:

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