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Pioneer Press article about Gangsters and Gurus
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Article published in the Pioneer Press and Lerner papers

Tales of making it in music

Pioneer Press News-Star
March 7, 2007

When Wilmette native John Green went to New York, seeking success as a singer-songwriter, he didn't expect that it would lead to an encounter with a mobster.

But one day, as Green plugged away at selling his songs to New York music publishers, he found himself sitting down with a guy who clearly had connections to organized crime.

John Green's new show tells of his life in the music industry.

"He was going to put me in touch with one of Sinatra's people," Green recalled. "I was so freaked out by this guy that I thought, 'Let this go.' The hairs on the back of my back stood up."

Green's suspicions were correct. The man who offered to help his career was later killed in a mob murder.

Green never did become a commercially successful singer-songwriter, but that hasn't stopped him from playing his music. Meanwhile, Green has achieved recognition on the stage, winning Jeff Awards for acting as well as writing.

Combo show
He combines all of those talents in a new show that humorously recounts his attempts at making it in the music industry. "Gangsters and Gurus: A Search for Something Sacred in America ," now in previews at the No Exit Cafe in Chicago .

While Green saw himself as "searching for meaning," selling himself as a songwriter sometimes felt demeaning. When Jane Fonda's workout video was popular, Green wrote a song that juxtaposed references to Fonda and Karen Carpenter, who had tragically died from anorexia. He played it for a music publisher, who didn't really get the concept.

"He said, 'I love it. How about doing this as a workout spoof for Rodney Dangerfield?'"

Although John Green is the focus of "Gangsters and Gurus," there's another actor-musician onstage, interjecting comments and playing guitar and banjo -- his brother, Rich Green.

"It's a one-man show with two people, we like to call it," John Green said.

"There's a lot of levels to what he's doing, and I'm prodding him along," Rich Green said.

The two have worked together in previous plays, and audiences have often responded best to the moments when the brothers interact. "People kept saying, 'That stuff with your brother is cool,'" Rich said.

They also sound good when they sing together. "People have said there's something special about brothers performing together," John said.

In addition to John's experiences in the New York music world, "Gangsters and Gurus" includes the brothers' reminiscences of growing up in Wilmette .

It's not surprising that they pursued artistic careers, given the fact that their father, Jim, produced Chicago television programs including the 1950s children's show "Mr. Wizard" and soap operas.

While Rich focused on playing bluegrass -- he has won competitions for banjo virtuosity -- John won acclaim for his acting. He won a Jeff Award for his performance as George in "Of Mice and Men" at Wisdom Bridge .

Jeff winner

After that, moved to New York in the 1980s to pursue music and acting. He appeared in soap operas and commercials, but he began to get more attention for his playwriting. One of his early plays, "Hamburger Twins," was a success in New York , later moving to Chicago 's Briar Street Theatre.

John Green, now a resident of Edgewater, moved back to Chicago in 1989. A few years after that, Rich Green returned to Chicago from his home on the West Coast, partly because he wanted to collaborate again with his brother. The brothers have a Web site,, and Rich, a Skokie resident, owns the audio-visual production company Stillpoint Creative Services.

John's plays have included "Twilight Serenade," "Let it Play," "My Song" and "The Liquid Moon," which earned Green his second Jeff Award in 2002, this time for writing the best new play.

"Because I'm an actor and musician, my plays are very actor-friendly," he said. "If it's a comedy, it has a serious theme, and if it's serious, it has some comedy in it. There's always a sense of seeking. I write plays when I'm trying to figure things out."

"He's a renaissance guy," Rich Green said.


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