Last night I caught chilling wind that our world lost a truly wise and passionate soul – a man that I am honored to have been able to learn from, laugh with and call a mentor and friend.
Martin Jack Rosenblum was as honest an embodiment of Americana as ever walked the earth. An iconoclastic beat poet of the Midwest, lifelong devotee to rock and roll as religion, Harley Davidson Historian and true believer in the great potential of the countless young minds that he touched and lit fires within.
I first met Martin Jack in my sophomore year at UW-Milwaukee. Like any student of writing and serious music fanatic, I was intrigued by his classes on the History of American Music and the Literature of Rock and Roll. In no time flat, I became enraptured in his blunt style of teaching, his vast knowledge of all things blues, rock and generally American.
Through joining us devious students who used class intermissions to take smoke breaks, we soon started speaking on candid and friendly terms. He evaluated and encouraged my essays on the power of rock and roll, acting as an editor and fanning the flames of a no-nonsense Gonzo style of writing that I was desperately trying to hone in those formative times. When the formal classes had wrapped up, I kept my academic relationship taut with Martin Jack through an independent study where he’d pass along piles of books for me to read, we’d discuss them over coffee and cigarettes and, in the end, I wrote a long-winded essay on the topic of the decline and death of literate rock and roll as we knew it from Dylan to Cobain. I can honestly say that it was one of the most insightful and exciting times of my entire college career.
I vividly recall a meeting in his office, the walls covered in posters, a myriad of his albums and a weathered Fender autographed by the surf guitar pioneer Dick Dale, a good friend of his. As usual, we were talking music writing, specifically my interest in criticism, as I’d just showed him a few pieces I’d published in the school’s under-read paper, the UWM Post. Sensing my drive to do more with my words, to write on a more impactful scale, Martin Jack grabbed the phone, quickly dialed and simply said “Hello David, I’ve got a ringer for you.” He was talking to David Luhrssen, an old friend of his and A&E Editor at the Shepherd Express, Milwaukee’s widest circulated and respected weekly paper. Just like that, he threw me onto their roster of freelance music critics, where I regularly published articles for the next two years until I left the city.
When I did flee Milwaukee, finished with school and filled with blind ambition – I was lucky enough to be propelled by Martin Jack’s prize Jeep Wrangler. In one of our talks he mentioned that he was looking to sell the Jeep, which he’d meticulously outfitted and maintained, to help pay his wife’s medical bills. My getaway cohort, Max, bought the Jeep at a very friendly price. We fittingly dubbed it the Holy Ranger, which fueled our several month long adventure across the country, into Canada, and eventually landing us in Portland, where I lived for two years. Literally driving us over snow-buried mountains, through rivers and down desolate sandy beaches – the Holy Ranger gave us a real sense of freedom and the tangible ability to chase our atavistic dreams.
While these words can hardly do justice to the man, the living myth and legendary leader that Martin Jack was, my aim is to express how deeply he influenced and inspired me as a young man, a guidance that I carry to this day. The real power of his legacy lies in the cold hard fact that I am only one of innumerable students, poets, musicians, drifters, bikers and friends whose lives he touched and fortified.
Rest easy, Martin Jack.