I had an unplanned weekend of fun with old friends on Friday and Saturday. In the middle of the week I found out that my friend Vinx was going to be in Chicago doing a benefit show for a program to teach kids from that city’s housing projects how to do sound, video and web production. Since I get to see him all too rarely, I wanted to take the chance when he was within driving distance to do so and, amazingly, found a reasonably priced hotel room right downtown (and during the Chicago Blues Festival even!). So I made the drive down Friday afternoon.
I’ve mentioned Vinx many times on my blog. He’s one of those extraordinarily talented people who will never be a star because he doesn’t fit into a simple musical category. He got his big break when Sting heard him playing with Robben Ford in the late 80s, signed him to his record company and produced his first album. That was how I first heard him, on a Showtime Coast to Coast special when Sting introduced him and he played the song Tell My Feet. Here’s a version of that song. It’s all percussion and his amazing, soulful voice. The song is about the frustration he felt when he was forced to give up his lifelong dream of competing in the Olympics. He was on the American team in 1980, but Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow summer olympics and he didn’t get to go.
He opened for Sting on the Soul Cages tour and sang backup for him as well. If you watched Sting’s Unplugged special, you saw him and Vinx harmonizing on one of my favorite Police songs:
He and I met around 1994 when he came to Kalamazoo to do a show at the old Club Soda, which is sadly no longer there. He and I both got to the venue about 3 hours before they even opened the doors and I introduced myself. We ended up ducking into this little pizza place to get out of the rain, splitting a pizza and talking for a couple hours, then going out afterward and doing the same thing. We’ve been friends ever since. He’s not only one of the most talented musicians and singers I’ve ever known, he’s also one of the most genuine people. So it was great to spend Friday and Saturday hanging out with him and his love, Jenn.
On the way back from Chicago, I went to visit my old French teacher, Louis Johnson, after finally finding him after 20 years of looking. I found him completely by accident when he called the office where my best friend works. Rick talked to him and asked him if he remembered me and he said yes, that I was one of his favorite students he had in 40 years of teaching (and this was nearly 30 years ago that I was in high school). So he gave permission for Rick to give me his contact information and we spoke last week and set up a time to have dinner and get caught up.
It’s hard for me to overstate how influential Louis was on me. Next to my own father, no single person influenced my intellectual development more. I remember very little of the French language (I only took two years), but I vividly remember the many hours we would often spend after school talking about anything and everything. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of history and a deep love of both learning and teaching. Here’s a picture of the two of us from Saturday night, with Marcus Aurelius photobombing us:
We had a fascinating discussion, as we always did, about our own family histories. We went through the yearbook from my senior year (he has the yearbooks from all 40 years he taught) and reminisced about students and teachers that we knew. He told me all about King Stanislaw of Poland and the Great Northern War of the early 1700s, which I knew nothing about. We talked about religion and politics and history and a thousand other things over the course of five delightful hours.
So all in all, it was a great weekend. I’m so fortunate to have people like Vinx in my life and to now have my great mentor back in my life. These are people who have affected me in ways great and small and contributed much to who I am.