Richardson: Mentors found and lostWritten by Rachel Richardson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
One thing about coming of age and creating a life of art and activism in Toledo is that there are potential mentors everywhere you look. I’ve only been able to find this niche because it was there to be found; it was created by many people before me for many years before me.
Another thing about all of these talented mentors is that they do as much as they can to make their marks and work tirelessly for their purpose, but a time comes when they expire. I suppose this isn’t all that profound. It’s just life and death. No biggie.
Today, though, I am struck because I am just leaving Murphy’s Place where Joan Russell is being spiritedly celebrated. The club is absolutely packed full of community members and musicians there to honor Joan and Murphy’s as the institutions that they are. To say that the place is swingin’ would be an understatement.
She is there grinning because of it, and is also here with me as I write this. Just like she will be for the rest of my life every time I think to myself, “How would Joan handle this?” And, again, I am grateful to even have had the opportunity to know her well enough to guess how she would handle things. If her response isn’t the appropriate one, I can always think about how Rusty Monroe did things. My relationship with Rusty was quite different as I waited tables in her club and got my jazz legs. A juxtaposed position, but I learned nonetheless that these two women were the personification of: If you want it done your way, you had better be prepared to do every bit of it yourself. They each had such focus and refused to be deterred. They did it for the music and for the musicians and never for themselves. I try to remind myself of that in my own work.
When the advice I need has more to do with being a musician rather than behind the scenes, I can call on another teacher who left a few years ago. Joan and Rusty held down the clubs, but Leon Cook held down the stages in those clubs. Losing Leon changed my connection to jazz, making it nearly impossible to listen without continuing to actively mourn him, but I still take him with me every single time I make music in front of an audience. Leon was the consummate performer. He dropped countless gems of wisdom on me about the music and my attitude, even down to the clothes a singer should wear on stage. I still do as I was told on that front. I’m missing a piece in the shape of Leon’s guitar.
In Toledo, there is also no shortage of those who went before in the visual art and activism arenas. I have been lucky enough to have been raised by a mother who led by the example that eccentricity made the world go round, and who made sure that art and music were simply normal. I am, quite literally, surrounded in my apartment at this moment by paintings done by my aunt (my mom’s sister, Mona Rubin) whom I know very little about and who died quite a few years ago, but whose art has covered the walls of every home I’ve lived in. Supplemented by the work of Judy Dilloway (my mom’s dear friend who also passed away), I have been and continue to be steeped in the expression of artists who were compelled to create pieces about war, civil rights, HIV/AIDS, education and the human condition.
Lately, I’ve said to myself that God or The Universe or whatever is in charge has a special purpose when it breaks the heart of or injures the sensibilities of an artist. It knows that the artist will spend the rest of his or her existence tending to that wound by creating beauty or speaking to injustice or by answering ugliness. Or, in the case of some activists (I’m thinking of Dr. Robert Brundage, whom Toledo lost two years ago), by operating from the understanding that their brains and bodies are merely vehicles for doing meaningful work.
Rachel Richardson is an activist, musician, co-founder and co-director of Independent Advocates, and a product of Toledo, Ohio. E-mail her at email@example.com.