In February 2020 the Kenneth Karmiole Annual Endowed Research Fellowship was awarded to the filmmakers of “As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez.” Before the filmmakers could embark upon their research venture to complete this grant, however, the pandemic happened. The University of California-Santa Barbara Library Special Research Collections, to which the Karmiole Fellowship is related, remained closed, in fact, from March 2020 until July ’21.
At the first opportunity, the filmmakers—Brian Chidester and John Winer—made their way to UCSB, searching for Ahbez-related materials in the Bob Bertram Archive, and concluding on July 28, 2021.
The Bertram Archive was added to the UCSB Library in 2015 at the behest of curator David Seubert. Bertram was a songwriter/music impresario who owned a Los Angeles independent label during the 1950s and ’60s called Bertram International Records. Eden Ahbez had two singles released on Bertram International—“Yes Master!” b/w “Jungle Bungalow” (1958) and “John John” b/w “Surfer John” (1964)—and between 1949 and ’64 wrote and recorded nearly forty songs with Bertram (the bulk of them unreleased). This archive therefore proved invaluable to the research of our Ahbez documentary.
Many important artifacts were discovered by the filmmakers in the Bertram Archive. These include: a three-song demo reel of the earliest Ahbez solo recordings (c. 1949); a contract between Ahbez and Bertram to record the full six-part “Nature Boy Suite” in 1951; another four-part suite (c. 1958) of Ahbez’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Spiritual”; and many tape reels and sheet music folios related to his 1960 magnum opus “Eden’s Island.”
Also during the fellowship, the filmmakers were able to broker another Ahbez-related archive to be digitized and stored at UCSB, that of Ahbez’s final collaborator, Joe Romersa, to whom Ahbez left the bulk of his recorded material, as well as copious sheet music and assorted personal papers. Romersa donated his archive, which Ahbez left to Romersa in his last will and testament, to UCSB, which means the Special Collections now houses the largest collection of Ahbez recorded tape and archival materials in the world.
The filmmakers, per the agreement of the grant, were to speak to the fellowship in-person and present a cross-section of their findings. Due to COVID, however, this is not currently possible. In its place the filmmakers have put together this video of their time spent in the archive:
Future presentations, either by Zoom or in-person, are still possible. The filmmakers would like the thank the Karmiole Foundation and David Seubert, as well as his staff at the Library’s Special Digital Collections, for making this possible.