Just how and why does anybody dedicate their lives to art in a fallen world? To make such a choice in 2010 would be over the top from my perspective. When I was a kid in the 70’s I had no idea that the gentrification express was all ready rolling along and that standards had already begun to fall across the board. I remember being in my mom’s pine green Volkswagen bug, engine in the back, trunk in the front, waiting in line for gas for two hours when the gas station guy put a sign on the car in front of us that said NO MORE GAS. I had no idea that the foundation of who I was and who I was going to be was all ready being built by in large by my relationship with my Grandfather, Fritz.
Fritz was really something. My Grandfather was a great painter and sculptor. You know the gold statue at the skating rink in Rockefeller center in NYC? My grandfather’s job was to keep it GOLD. His day gig was restoring art, and he worked on everything at Rockefeller center. After work he worked on his own art which ranged from portraits to sculptured busts to even working on the living stations for his church. From his perspective there was no other way to see his work as other than being a gift from God. His portraits, large acrylic paintings, had a special quality about them, capturing what it was like to actually be around the person being painted. My prized possessions are his two busts:Martin Luther King Jr, and Beethoven. Absolutely incredible work. He only did a few shows of his own work when I knew him, one time because my Mother insisted upon it and really helped make it happen. I would pursue Art as my creative outlet up to my second year of college when Jazz finally took over once and for all. One day I showed him my drawing of the planets in our Solar System. It was pretty weak but I remember him encouraging me to keep working on it, what he would also say after beating me in Chess. I’ll also never forget watching his sculptures cook in his Kiln. How did this relate to a 8-11 year old kid?
My Grandfather invited me in to his world at this young age and let me be a part of it. Direct access to his inner world of creation. Something I cherish and will never forget. While I was never able to co-create with him, he showed me the things in life behind his art, what was important to him, and why he was an artist. For him, the creation of art was a spiritual task which led to his relationship with God. My grandfather was a devout Catholic. He was in fact the artist on staff at the church which he worked tirelessly for free. I will never forget seeing the priest, Father Rooney, openly crying at his wake. Seeing a priest touched so strongly by my grandfather’s life had enormous impact on me.
As a kid he was the example of who to be, so I tried to be the best grandson I could, going to church with him every day, sitting in the front row, and praying as loud as I could. My Mother also has a history of getting loud in church to this day .One time the sermon was about me, the kid in the front row who was more into church than all the adults in the room, which made my Grandfather very proud. Back at home my Grandfather would spontaneously have the desire to say the Rosary and then he would haul my brother and I off the street from playing inside to pray with him. I’ll never forget the passion with which he did this. More than anything,I’ll never forget his daily list, a piece of paper with all the people and things that we needed to pray for that day. After my Grandfather passed away my relationship with Catholicism faded away, but the impact of sharing that experience with him was forever. My two weeks as an Altar boy didn’t work out.
Going deeper, the greatest connection my Grandfather gave me was one that neither one of us could see at the time, the one to music. One of his favorite things to do on his downtime was to sit in a room with the lights turned down and listen to classical symphonies. Long ones. Eventually he started not just inviting me to these listening sessions, but just telling me, “Now we are going to listen to the gift of music.” Some of these listening sessions lasted two to four hours and as a kid, I had a hard time getting into the music.The deep impact was made by me sitting there watching how much this music meant to him. I could see the emotion in his face. We never spoke of the music as all he would gently say was “Listen”.
I left those listening sessions knowing that music was important. Now I just had to wait for music to find me and show me which way to go. I played trumpet in 4th grade and was always praised for my exuberance. It wasn’t until High School when legendary music educator Bert Hughes found me though, that my course was charted. In Jazz band one day, Bert played the Basie band playing “Splanky”.”Just listen”, he told the class.
Back in the early 80’s, time went on, and my parents divorced, divorce wasn’t as popular then as it is now. My Grandfather was diagnosed with Liver Cancer. My Grandmother had already been suffering from bad Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t walk for several years. My final memories of my Grandfather are him leaving his death-bed to help his wife walk to the bathroom, and him calling me to his side the night before he died to explain that it was time for him to return home, and that I was now the man of the house. I was only twelve and far from being capable of that kind of responsibility but I told him I accepted this.
As my Mother drove my Brother and I to my Grandfather’s Funeral a couple days later, we came upon the biggest and brightest rainbow I have ever seen. With tears in her eyes, my Mother turned to my Brother and I in the back seat and said:
“There it is boys, do you See it?”