Wednesday, February 21, 2018

John Bushey Legacy Leaves No One Untouched

"My brain is the key that sets me free." --Harry Houdini
On Monday, February 19, we gathered at Clyde Iron Works in West Duluth to memorialize the passing of a significant contributor and gift to our community, John Bushey.

You know how it is. Funerals and memorial services can be emotionally challenging, so we steel ourselves because of all the people we will be meeting, interacting with, touching, sharing the moment with. In spite of such efforts to play it out, something deep was happening because this was no ordinary man we were honoring and remembering. This was John Bushey, a man whose influence and impact went far beyond what most of us realized. He was too modest to call himself important, but as we listened to the stories Monday it was evident to all that this was one remarkable man.

In so many varied ways all who attended Monday's Memorial Service were touched by this guy who was so unassuming and yet noteworthy. Special thanks to Zane and the family, his brother Jim and sister Barbara, and all who helped craft this special occasion.

Cowboy Angel Blue (Bill Maxwell, Jamie Paavala and Bill Bulinski), John's favorite band who helped keep him alive by always giving him something to look forward to, provided the music for this service, opening with the poignant "Girl from the North Country," followed by "He Was a Friend of Mine."

Karen Sunderman, host of the WSDE program Making It, opened the program by sharing a bit of John's life story and its varied elements--magician, teacher, Eagle scout, musician, Dylanophile and host of Highway 61 Revisited. A noteworthy feature of his personality was its total commitment to whatever he was interested in. During the service story after story would be told revealing the extent to which John pursued his passions, whether it be magic, teaching or Dylan. The speakers that followed amplified each of these themes.

Magician Mark Mitton was first to present, beginning with one of John's talks to a lock convention. Yes, he was a master of locks. In addition to a remarkable locksmith, John collected an extensive handcuff collection and even created locks of various kinds.

Mitton began with a number of rope tricks, which John always loved to perform whenever opportunities presented themselves, including the annual Blood on the Tracks Express during Dylan Fest. He also told a story about the time John's brother shackled him to a pole in the basement for several hours, a story Jim would add details when it became his turn to speak.

Terry Roses, founder of the Duluth Mystics (magician club), was an early inspiration and influence on John with regard to this fascination with a career in magic.

There were several stories told that highlighted John's sense of humor. People who knew him knew that he could be a prankster. One of the stories Mitton told was about an incident that took place out east at the home of a famous magician friend. One of the items in his possession was a magic wand once owned by the legendary Houdini. Unbeknownst to everyone, John made a reproduction of this wand and replaced it where it had been displayed. Later, with everyone gathered round, he took the wand and broke it, leaving everyone startled. Until he did the reveal.

Other stories were shared and then a special ceremony performed, a magician tradition. Alex Madsen, Terry Roses and Jodie LeBlanc joined Mitton to perform the traditional Broken Wand Ceremony. When a magician dies, his fellows perform the broken wand ceremony that "his magic would live on in the hearts of all who were enchanted by him."

The next to share was Linda Stroback Hocking, who owned and ran Zimmy's with her husband Bob for near three decades. The first time John came to Zimmy's he noticed that there was no Dylan stuff on the walls. John arranged for Bob Dylan's mom to bless the place so that they could assimilate Dylan memorabilia for interior decorations. John began it all by donating several items. A week later he returned and saw that they had been framed, so he donated more.

Linda shared many other stories about John, and Zimmy's as a place for many people who came to Hibbing from other countries seeking a touchstone to connect them to Bob.

Cowboy Angel Blue followed with the evocative "Not Dark Yet" from Time Out of Mind which has been a special favorite of John's in this past difficult year.

Maija Jensen, program director for KUMD Radio, shared emotional reminiscences and how John loved the May Dylan Days so much that he would begin talking about it on his program in January. The power and reach of John's show resulted in the studio he recorded in being renamed The John Bushey Highway 61 Revisited Studio. His show's importance was profound. Maija then thanked all who were involved in giving him rides or devising set lists that he could air.

Cher Obst, the next speaker, shared stories about John's gift for teaching. This is where John's legacy goes into the outer limits. His teaching career began as a substitute. He loved working with children and enjoyed dazzling them with his magic. The next year he was a 4th Grade teacher at Piedmont and based on the results he was a spectacular teacher. Legislators can propose fancy statements like "No Child Left Behind," but John lived it. His aim was never to "win" as an excellent teacher, but to excel at teaching for the sake of his students.

"Ah, youth!"
When "No Child Left Behind" was implemented, he was able to achieve the remarkable result of having 100% of his students achieve scores of 100% on the required tests. Later, after the memorial service, I met and talked with two of the students from that class who were now in college. They shared how John not only set high standards for the kids, but also produced ways of motivating the kids to achieve those results. When John required them to learn their times tables, one of them said she has no ability to memorize anything, let alone times tables. The way he showed them how to improve their memory was to have them memorize all the lyrics to one of Dylan's longer songs. This experience gave her the confidence to learn her times tables.

For John, Obst said, "the music was not only patterns and rhythms, it was also history and modern culture."

Ms. Obst shared many other stories about John's involvement with Wolf Ridge, bird classes, Chickadee Landing -- now renamed Bushey Landing -- and the all night grad parties, ending with the affirmation, "As long as he was alive he was going to live life to the fullest."

John with his magician friends.

Friends through shared musical dreams,
Billy Hallquist (L) and Marc Percansky (R)
Cowboy Angel Blue followed up with "Red River Shore," another beautiful song that John loved to listen to and play on his show.

The Bushey siblings, John, Barb and Jim
Jim Bushey was the final speaker. He told of John's (lack of) hunting prowess. He also set the record straight on how John missed school one day by being handcuffed to a pole in the basement that morning. Jim got blamed, but John played a role in his situation.

"Shelter from the Storm" closed the testimonial story telling and Karen Sunderman's closing remarks released us for a time of fellowship and refreshments.

Susan Laing of Australia, who is helping with Duluth Dylan Fest this year, later shared with me the following observation. It wasn't just the quantity of people who came, but the caliber of those who came that impressed her. What's more, sometimes we can get jaded about the superficiality expressed at many such services, people paying respects because it's expected of them, but with John "people gathered out of a genuine desire to bear witness to the strength of friendship they had with him." I can't think of any better way than that to express what we experienced Monday.

Mayor Larson honoring John for his service at KUMD.
Most funeral and memorial services have a photo display, but the extensive collection of photos of John was far beyond anything I can recall ever having seen. His various lives, situations, places and growing up shots in manacles served to affirm all that had been said. Photos told the true story of John friendships, achievements and interests. Also on display was the official Mayoral Proclamation of October 15, 2016 as John Bushey/KUMD Highway 61 Revisited Day.

I share these things as a memorial for John, but the family is especially interested in gathering your stories as well. Email your stories to

If you have photos or videos of John Performing magic, or other stories, you may also mail them to Barbara Bushey, 279 E. Harney Road, Esko, MN 55733.

Special thanks should be extended to Clyde Iron Works for donating the space, Valentini's and family members for providing treats, and everyone who shared photos or stories.

John Bushey -- December 6, 1961 - February 8, 2018


OldBobFan said...

Thanks a million, Ed, for all of this. I've been sitting here for over 20 minutes trying to think of something to say, but all I can say is thanks to you, John, his family and all the people in Duluth that have lost such a dear soul.
- Frank ( & Pati, too)

mark lyons said...

I regret that I could not attend John's Memorial.
I am happy that it was well attended by his "school' people, "Dylan" people, Magician friends, Musicians, and Handcuff collectors.
These facets were his major loves and he excelled at each and every one of them.
R.I.P. my friend. My life is so much better since the day we met.

Ed Newman said...

Thank you Frank, Pati, Mark... and those who have sent personal notes. All good vibes... in John we experienced and shared something rare.

B Thom said...

I came to realize that John steered me in more than one better direction than someone I had just met might have been expected to do. In the magic world, it is very easy to succumb to small mindedness, but John saw through all that and kept a level head and by example taught me to avoid the traps. The welcoming hand that sought everyone out and brought them close to the fireside. High time to start passing that particular gift on to those I meet now in the community.

Mr.Magic said...


Marc Percansky said...

Ed, thank you for this wonderful review of John's Memorial Service. All of his friends, family and colleagues spoke the truth about him in such an unconditional way. It was beautiful. John's heart was as wide open as the sky and endless as the ocean. I will take care of my memories of him for I know they were all priceless and I cannot relive them. For all your new followers out there, please do a simple search with John Bushey in the box on the upper left hand corner of this blog and it will turn up many more years of stories and tales about John's amazing life and times. Thank you, Ed for doing such a great job covering all of it!