November 30, 2007 8:09 AM
Correction: Fizer the Musician
My friend Josh saw this entry and pointed me in the right direction about the chess player. Apparently he's not a bum!
He's a beloved Berkeley street musician. Don't I feel out of the loop!
In 2005, students Sean Staub and Ben Hadden made a 14-minute documentary about his life, called "Future Past Remembered."
Here's an article written about Fizer's vision in The Daily Californian:
Faces of Berkeley: A Voice of the '60s Plays for a Peaceful Tomorrow
BY Catherine Yang
Wednesday, March 2, 2005
John Fizer, a self-proclaimed "peacenik," sings and plays guitar in front of Dwinelle Hall. "I try to be there every day," he says.
He may look like country crooner Willie Nelson, but John Fizer-better known to students as the man who plays the guitar outside Dwinelle Hall-would rather think of himself in terms of Bob Dylan.
The 59-year-old Virginia native has traveled across the country, from the cafes of New York's Greenwich Village to the streets of Santa Cruz, hoping his music will inspire students as much as Dylan's music inspired a generation of peace advocates in the 1960s.
"My hope is that with you and me and the music of the past, (we can) say 'no more war,'" he says.
Fizer can be found on the benches outside Dwinelle most afternoons, strumming along to Dylan's tunes, often drawing crowds of students who shut their books momentarily to stop and listen.
"I try to be there every day," he says. "So far, I haven't played for millions yet, but I have played for thousands."
Born in 1945 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Fizer-who has lived in and out of Berkeley for the past 40 years-says he never felt his hometown was right for him.
"I knew there was life on the other side of the mountain," he says. "It was so narrow-minded and oppressive (where I grew up)."
With help from a scholarship to the University of Virginia's Engineering School, Fizer was able to leave home. But, dissatisfied with his field of study, he left two years later to join the Air Force, hoping to study Russian culture.
The Air Force, however, assigned him to Yale University's Center for International and Area Studies to study Chinese for the next two years-from 1964 to 1965.
But as the Vietnam War raged on halfway across the globe, Fizer again began to reconsider his surroundings.
"I started thinking about the war and I started thinking it isn't right," he says. "We saw the horrors of (the war) until grannies were radicalized against it."
After leaving the service in the fall of 1965, Fizer made his way to UC Berkeley to join the activists, students, artists and musicians in the anti-war movement, performing and protesting along with them on Sproul Plaza.
"After the shitstorm is gold," Fizer says of the time. "It was the most liberal atmosphere. The arts and music just jumped."
Since coming to Berkeley, Fizer has accumulated an on-campus fan base and formed lasting friendships.
UC Berkeley student Nicole Moskowitz, who befriended Fizer over the last few weeks, says it is his story and personality that make him a draw.
"He's really friendly and super sweet," she says. "We went to lunch, and he has the most amazing life story."
Fizer, who says he feels a deep connection with the students here, often lives with students who have a spare room in their apartments, and is hoping this year-as in years past-to record a CD of his music for students.
He says he is now waiting to recapture the energy he experienced in Berkeley in the 1960s. In the years since the Vietnam War, he says issues of war and oppression-from what he calls the tyranny of the Bush administration to the greed of today's power structures-have become even more relevant.
"Just because the sixties didn't sustain, doesn't mean that we weren't right," he says. "I'm waiting for the arts and music to jump again. That's what I'm here for. After this war, maybe, there will be a millennium of peace. An old guy like me will be walking hand in hand with young people like you toward peace."
Contact Catherine Yang at email@example.com.
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