By James Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
The mind follows some odd roads some times.
I stopped by the cemetery the other day to see if my dear friend Randy Mays' tombstone had been set in place and was glad to see it had.
As I looked at it, I thought about meeting Randy and how he’d shared with me his brother Billy leading him to Christ years earlier.
“Billy’s the guy,” he said, “the game changer who introduced me to the real game changer for me.”
I thought about that dash between the dates on tombstones, how that dash represents so much (or so little) for the departed. A dash is really just a mark. It’s in that dash that we make our mark.
I remember the first time I heard the jazz band The Weather Report. As a budding musician, it was one of those moments where you either get inspired or discouraged.
I didn’t play bass then, so I was inspired. I think I’d have been discouraged if I played bass, though.
The band’s bassist, Jaco Pastorious, was over the top good.
Jaco had a Fender Jazz Bass he’d made fretless - a chore in itself - and he played a million singing melodies and perfect grooves throughout their music. He knew how to support the others in the band, sitting back and holding the foundation while they all took amazing solo flights of musical fancy in turn.
It became apparent, though, as I listened that this band was Jaco’s outfit, if only as the other musicians deferred to his mastery of melody to let him weave his way around their contributions, slithering in and out of his traditional role as bassist to accent upper extensions of chords and make staggered harmonic leaps on his way back to the bottom end.
When he soloed, one could hear shades of Miles David, John Coltrane, Illinois Jacquet and Thelonious Monk in his song, but Jaco put it together in a way that was all his own.
Jaco died in a New Orleans bar fight a few years after I first heard him.
His music, the only part of his “dash” that I knew - was a game changer in my life. I learned to love jazz listening to Jaco and the boys and it brought in a flood of other artists for me to check out.
I don’t, and can’t, play jazz very well…but I borrow ideas from it in my limited vocabulary of music and it helps make what I play more interesting. Maybe it's even a little more sophisticated.
In much the same way, many writers, poets and authors have influenced my writing. I can’t touch the sly structural approach of Harper Lee’s "To Kill A Mockingbird," but after enjoying the sour ride of the story, I could go back and marvel at it.
Perhaps even learn a primitive way to employ similar leading tones to walk a reader down my own paths in my work.
Lee’s gone, too, although she lived a much longer life than Jaco did.
Some folks are so gifted, so dazzling, that I can appreciate their gift yet only marvel at it because it’s elevated beyond my capacity to understand it. I wonder with some of these folks if they even understand it themselves, but it’s one of the joys of life to experience them.
My old teacher Fred Benedetti is an amazing guitarist.
So good, in fact, that he was the classical guitarist chosen to play at the funeral of Andres Segovia, the best known modern master of classical guitar. I gleaned much less from Fred than I should have, though… because he’s such a great guy and so talented, that I loved to just hear him tell stories and watch him play.
Fred’s still making his dash, playing and teaching and enjoying his grandchildren.
My life was changed drastically and for the better by the ultimate game changer, Jesus, and I’m very grateful for that. Many folks hand a hand in that, so in some small way, they were game changers for me as well.
We’re making our dash day-by-day. I guess it would be nice to have someone someday look at our dash and say, “That was a game changer for me.”
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.