Notable Neighbors

October 20, 2023 at 5:23 p.m.

By DEAN LAUX Columnist

Living Life In The Fast Lane

If you’re going to be an actor, writer, musician, singer, lighting technician, director AND (not or) entrepreneur, you’d better start early in life and move fast. And that’s exactly what John Munn has done.

Born of Walter and Catherine Munn in Washington D.C., John miraculously survived a childhood tragedy at age 4: the loss of his mother in a fatal highway crash when she was taking him, asleep with his head on her lap, to a new home in Florida. He still bears the scars, both physical and emotional, from that deadly event. But, he says, “I didn’t know any different, so I had to accept it as what it was. I adapted.”

“After the accident, we moved around a bit,” John says. “My father had to really get a grasp on the loss, so I stayed with my uncle in West Virginia during my first grade in school.” Then John’s father, recovered and remarried, took him first to South Carolina for a year and then, with his new wife Henrietta, to Rogers Heights, Maryland, where they bought a house and John was able to complete his elementary and high school years.

John performing in his high school production of
Godspell in 1973

“I was not an academic achiever,” he acknowledges. “I was more into extracurricular activities” – a vast understatement. During those school years he was in the concert choir, the drama club, president of the photography club, photography editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, as well as president of the lighting club. He also directed several productions of the musical “Godspell” and performed in one-act plays.

“I think I romanticized writing when I was in elementary school. In high school, directing those musicals and taking a part-time job as a professional photographer, I knew that I would be involved in some way in performing arts, maybe filmmaking.” But he also realized that to be a creative artist, whether writing or directing, he had to gain the experience to have something meaningful to say.

After graduating from high school, John enrolled at the University of Maryland in College Park to study television and film production, thanks to a four-year federal grant he received due to his father’s disability with a serious heart condition. “I knew then that I wanted to direct: TV shows, films, theater – it didn’t matter much to me. I’m a comedy guy, and I was particularly enamored of Woody Allen. He’s kind of high-brow, and I’ve seen just about everything of his. He went beyond writing to edit and direct the production of his movies. I learned a lot from him.”

By the time he got his bachelor’s degree in communications in 1979, he had also learned a lot just from doing it. “When I did a production in the television department, I would basically cast it first, find my talent, write something for their specific talents and then shoot it. When I was in the theater department, I was building sets, hanging lights, running spotlights and learning how to direct.”

With degree in hand, he decided to leave the cold north and go “California Dreaming,” heading to Hermosa Beach with one of his college roommates. He got a job as an audiovisual technician, doing mostly trade shows at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A. But he didn’t intend to stay too long. The reason? “If ever I was to be a writer,” he says, “I knew I had to see the world and experience it,” so he’d have something worthwhile to say. Thus began a series of what he calls brief “retirements,” taking off work and going on trips until the money ran out and then getting a new job. “Once I built up enough money in Hermosa Beach, I took off for Miami, picked up my grandmother and took her on a trip to West Virginia, where she and my mother had lived.” That lasted for about a month, until he indeed ran out of money and went back to the West, this time to stay with his brother Don at his house in Las Vegas. “I stayed there awhile and got a job in the audiovisual field, because there are lots of conventions in Las Vegas,” he avers. A little later he worked with the famed animal trainers, Siegfried and Roy, for about a month at the Frontier Hotel.

In 1980 he went to North Hollywood in the L.A. area as assistant rental manager for Obie Lighting Productions, a company that rented lighting for musical acts, mostly rock and roll bands on tour. His work included building a show for The Cars, a “new wave” group that had formed in Boston in 1976. When they took the show out on tour, he got a call to replace their lighting technician, and he hit the road with the band’s Panorama Tour for three months. It was the start of a new chapter in John’s life.

From that point on, John became a legitimate and long-term roadie, joining “one tour after another after another,” he recalls. It was brutal, with long bus rides, 18-hour workdays and almost no time off. “It was a young man’s job,” he says, “but I was making the best money of my life at the time, and at the end of a tour I could retire again for a little while.” He stayed with this regimen for about ten years, as a roadie for some big-time celebs: Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, the Moody Blues, Christopher Cross, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young, to name a few. One bonus for his hard work was in sharing some of the adoration the fans lavished on the famous entertainers and the opening acts.

Nonetheless, in 1990, at age 34, John realized that it was time to get off the road. “I wanted to buy a house somewhere, but L.A. was too expensive,” he says. A high school friend urged him to come to Miami, and he decided to check it out. He went, bought a house in North Miami, and started working in Miami’s burgeoning film industry as a video tech specialist. And that’s where his life took two new twists.

Lifelong partners: Nancy McCune and John Munn

First, he met his lifelong partner-to-be, Nancy McCune, when she answered a clever personal ad he had put in the Miami Herald. They met for a soda, hit it off right away, and though they didn’t go through a formal marriage ceremony, they’ve been together now for 32 years. That’s a promising start.

Second, they were both accumulating savings from well-paying jobs, and they had two houses, one of which could be rented or sold to accumulate more. John had bought another small, dilapidated property just before he met Nancy, and he spent three or four years fixing it up before renting it out. He began reinvesting in one piece of real estate after another, specializing in studio apartments in the Art Deco buildings along the shores of Miami Beach. Whether renting or reselling them as condos, “I made great money,” he says. “I never lost a dime in real estate and probably did $3.5 to $4 million in sales and rentals.”

In 2007 John and Nancy decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee and continued their real estate investments in a locale where there was a huge influx of newcomers. For about a decade, it was a goldmine for them, but it just grew too big and too fast. In 2016 they sold out their holdings and started looking in earnest for a place back in Florida. They eschewed the Miami area and looked at St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Venice before deciding on Englewood. “We wanted a funky beach town where we could live near the beach but not on it,” John says, “and we felt that Englewood had a lot of potential. It is Olde Florida, and some people are reticent to change,” he acknowledges – but things are changing here, and John Munn is now playing an important role in the process of making the community a destination as well as a nice place to retire to.

“I’m a musician – a bass player and a singer,” he notes, “and I got involved with a garage band. After a while I said, ‘Let’s get out and play in front of people.’ The band got a spot at the Open Studio on Old Englewood Road for about a month as “Groovin’ in the Garden,” which morphed into “Groovin’ in the Gallery” at the Englewood Art Center. That was a big success for a year and a half until March 22d of 2020, when C0VID-19 shut the nation down. As things eased up, he formed another band called “Vinyl Recall,” which he has kept alive for about three years. 

Silvano Stasolla, Dan Klein, Roger Cummings and John Munn performing at Wednesdays@5.

 “More than anything, I wanted to bring more culture to Dearborn Street,” John asserts. “Some places have music, and there are art shops, but they haven’t had enough events that bring people together to celebrate. So I started what I call PUMA – Pop Up Music Areas.” He got several Dearborn shops to allow his band to play out front, thereby bringing listeners who would then visit the shop. It worked, and now Culture Coffee, for one, has a regular Friday night performance called “Culture Coffee Open Mike” from 5 p.m. until closing. 

“Then we went to places where normally there wasn’t a Pop Up venue. I’ve created a community music appreciation program called ‘Wednesdays@5,’ because nobody does anything on Wednesdays,” he says. “The musicians have their gigs on the weekends, and they’ll be happy to get a spot in midweek. Wednesdays@5 has already found a home in the courtyard at the Old Florida Gallery, where there’s a covered bar area, a nice grassy knoll where there are trees and some shade, and a little stage.” And it’s free!

“My next step,” says John “is to create Bayside Arts, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, which will be the umbrella for PUMA and Wednesdays@5. I’ll also create subgroups for painting, sculpture and other forms of art, and we should be able to use the Pioneer Plaza, the $1.2 million stage which Englewood just recently completed. Dearborn is about to blossom, and I want to help make that happen.”

Dearborn Street, fresh from its makeover, just needs to use the fast lane if it wants to keep up with John Munn.

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.