March 7, 2024

Backstage at the Egyptian: Memories with Roberta Gordon

Roberta Gordon was a senior at NIU and was singing in a local band, when she learned in 1979
that the theater was going to be torn down and was very upset. Roberta and her bandmates
held a benefit concert to save the theater on April 26, 1979, just before finals for her
graduation. Roberta never knew till years later that the Egyptian Theatre had been restored and
named as a historical landmark. Upon learning this, Roberta reached out to our staff and was
able to share her memories of the Egyptian Theatre and how her band helped with the “Save
the Egyptian Theater” movement in the late 70s.

ERIN: What did you major in while attending NIU? Was this the same focus in which
you built your career?

ROBERTA: I majored in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. Initially, yes because I worked for
five years in the social service field, while starting my master’s in counseling in
Chicago. I did employ my conversational Spanish language extensively in the
social services as well as later. I never finished my master’s and so I looked toward
a more lucrative field in sales in which I continued to utilize my Spanish. The skills
I developed in the social services provided useful relationship building abilities
necessary for my subsequent successful Sales career.

E: What inspired you to start your band and what inspired the name of the band?

R: The band was the brainchild of my college sweetheart, Reid Brody. Reid was
raised in the suburbs, creatively brilliant, producing satirical movie vignettes on
the theme of his familial suburban materialism. He was quite fascinated with the
subject so, The Old Dominion Toasters embodied the matter of an appliance and
the accoutrements of delivery logistics- Old Dominion Freight Line, at once.

E: What type of music did you play and what were your audiences like?

R: Reid was the composer of the music and lyrics, guitarist, with his brother Haim
Brody on the drums, the late Bob Morrison on bass and me on vocals. The music
genre was what I would consider Art Punk. Punk Rock was breaking at the time
and Reid’s heroes included Marc Bolan-T. Rex, The Runaways, and Blondie. The
music had a driving tempo with light and romantic words and
melodies/harmonies. We recorded an album in the studio, which I found
exhilarating, but we didn’t perform many live shows, due to my terrible stage
fright. Our very first live show was the benefit concert for The Egyptian Theatre,
April 26, 1979, finals week before graduation, on your stage! What an unforgettable honor and experience that was! After that our audiences were
typical light punk aficionados and tavern goers. After the Egyptian, we played
mainly clubs in Chicago like Huey’s, Obanion’s and Mothers.

E: What do you remember about The Egyptian Theater during your time in
Dekalb? What shows or events were going on?

R: Great question! My enchantment with the Egyptian theater started early on in my
freshmen year. My father was a history teacher, and my love for history, art and
architecture runs deep. I had seen several rock concerts there including Cheap
Trick and Heart. They might have been showing films also. It appeared in a state
of disrepair and neglect.

E: What inspired you to host a benefit concert for the Egyptian Theatre?

R: During my later college career, I became aware that doom for the theatre was on
the horizon. I expressed my distress to Reid, and he suggested we perform a
benefit concert to try to save it. I was terrified to perform on that iconic stage, but
I felt passionate about the consequence of its restoration. We hung up the poster
(that you now have) all over the town the week before the concert.

E: Have you been back to the theatre in recent years? How has it changed since
the last you had seen it?

R: In the early 1990’s, before widespread internet usage, I found out that it had
been restored, by fluke! I remember the time frame, because my daughter was
very young, and we had moved out of the city to Aurora, Illinois. The family
wanted to go to the opera. I started looking in some newspapers and to my
surprise, The Egyptian Theatre had been restored to become the Fine Arts
Theatre in Dekalb! I was literally in the state of shock, realizing that the seed we planted took hold and flourished! It had been incredibly, beautifully refurbished
to its former grace. I watched the opera Madame Butterly in a dream-like state,
remembering the performance on that grand stage twelve years earlier. It was a
peak life experience.

E: Why is it important that historic venues, like the Egyptian Theatre, are
preserved and maintained?

R: Historical theaters and architecture inform us of important periods and events in
our collective cultural memory. The Egyptian Theatre was originally built in
Egyptian Revival style. This marked the zeitgeist following the discovery of
Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The architect, Elmer F. Behrns, himself interested
in Egyptology, designed the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb to have one central
theme. Behrns’ motif for the DeKalb Egyptian was that of Pharaoh Ramses II.
Classical architecture has lasted millennia. We should not discard our shared
aesthetic traditions and values. The meaning of the word classical includes the
eternal significance of the traditional and long-established forms or styles.