Wednesday, May 18, 2011

cry uncle

I grew up with a menagerie of "uncles." My dad was one of six sons in his family, but he also had a huge network of friends that went way back. These were friendships that I reluctantly tolerated when I was younger, thinking that these men were not good enough for my dad. As I grew older, however, I started to understand the precious value of having people in your life who knew you when, with whom could throw back a beer and reminisce, who could call you out on your shit without fear of offense.

These men would filter in and out of my dad's stories and our house. Most of them knew my dad from his musical life. I grew up tapping my foot along with one uncle's kick drum; helping another uncle transcribe lyrics from a popular R&B song; setting up the guest bedroom for another who had been kicked out of the house by whichever gal he was shacked up with at the time. They were talented, sometimes troubled men, whom my dad protected and loved and supported without enabling. His interaction with them taught me much about how adult relationships should be.

When my dad called me on Saturday to tell me that Donald Ray had died, I think both he and I were beyond the shock of this kind of news. My dad had been saying goodbye to friends for a while, and he and his group are getting to the age in which epidemiology wins out over good intentions. I think that my dad, having seen this sort of thing way too often in the last 3 years, has tried to make his moments count with those who are still with us.

The last time I saw Donald Ray, he was performing with his most recent musical project, The Next Movement. I'm glad I got to see him at his best. Donald Ray is the one on extreme stage right.

(I realize that the idea of a lounge band may seem lame/cheesy to folks outside of Las Vegas, but these acts are such a fantastic part of the musical legacy there that I suggest you get over your cynicism and check one out if you ever visit).

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