Things I Learned from R. B. (July 19th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 24

Long explanations are often an apology in disguise or unashamed huge chunks of bragging.

So suffice it to say, we founded a seventeen-piece pop symphony orchestra in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and made Janet the conductor.

Sumner County, our location, was not well-suited to such an endeavor. We didn’t care.

The God of grace extended mercy to us and the community showed up to our first several concerts, mostly out of curiosity, leaving surprised that they didn’t despise it.

All the music was original. Not a Bach piece or a Beethoven sonata anywhere to be found.

So naturally (at least in my thinking) for the fifth concert, I thought it would be fun to have two local composers offer their own interpretation of a symphonic piece that they could put together, and showcase them in an evening’s repertoire.

The two chaps I had in mind were both old friends. One was named J. T., a handsome darker-skinned brother who had worked with me in Shreveport during the days when we were trying to figure out if we were running an outreach or a vaudeville show.

And of course, the other one was R. B., who by this time had ceased to seek a job and was living off unemployment, love gifts and the cushion of credit cards.

When I presented the idea to J. T., he was thrilled and immediately launched into creating his twenty-two minutes of music.

R. B. was a different case.

Trying desperately to mask his enthusiasm, he decided to become “negotiator in chief.” He wanted to know how it would be promoted.

He wanted to know if there was a chance it would be recorded.

And mostly he wanted to know if there would be any money given to him for the composition.

I had already prepared for this eventuality, and out of my personal finance, had set aside four hundred dollars to offer him. I thought it was a good investment to awaken his soul from a slumber of sloth.

Lo and behold, he bartered for five hundred.

When I refused, he reluctantly agreed on the lesser amount, signed on the dotted line and we were off in the pursuit of the R. B. Symphony.

Rehearsals were set up, along with sessions with Janet, who was helping them organize their music into a structured form so the musicians could have parts printed out.

J. T. was a little confused, but cooperative, and stayed pretty well on the calendar we set out to achieve.

R. B. quickly discovered where the gears were—so he would know where to throw his wrench.

He was always late for the rehearsals.

He constantly complained that there wasn’t enough time to put together the music.

And he was convinced that Janet was despaired by his ability.

The material he brought was derivative and often sounded like old hymns given a gentle face-lift.

I reached the point where it was more or less a decision on my part to find the bitter end and envision myself arriving there.

We suggested that R. B. make a video, which could be played on screens during the performance of his piece. So we went out and shot great footage of him playing, laughing and cavorting around town with my granddaughter, Isabella. She was only five years old—in that glorious stage when anything still seemed fun.

The video turned out beautifully. It was touching.

Janet did a little magic on the music, inserting additional parts, and we finally reached the finish line of passable.

R. B. invited his whole family from Rhode Island to travel down and attend the production. They arrived, looking like the Pilgrims (if the rock had landed on them.) They were cold, religious, traditional and leery that R. B. had joined forces with some “hippies” who were in a non-Republican cult.

None of that mattered.

The concert was fairly well attended, the music was played and appreciated.

And for one moment, I saw R. B. in the position as a possessor—a possessor of time, a possessor of creative energy, but mostly self-possessed with worth. It was a transformative thing.

That is, until the concert was over. Finding myself alone, backstage with R. B., he told me he thought he deserved more money—because the turn-out sure looked good. I restrained my generosity.

I don’t know if I ever had another moment with R. B. quite like that night.

You will notice that I’m not critiquing his music, nor comparing it to J. T.’s, and certainly not giving anecdotes about audience reaction.

All of that is irrelevant. For the first time in a very long time, a grown man who had somewhere lost his way, got a chance to act like a little kid in a video with a five-year-old girl, and write some music that people actually got to hear.

It was heavenly.

It was the kind of thing that makes you glad you have four hundred dollars to fuckin’ throw away.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great last line. That’s it in a nutshell.

    Sent from Jon Russell Cring’s iPhone Pro Max

    >

    Like


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