I won’t say that music in Myrtle Beach died along with Jeff Roberts. But it took a hit and the whole community is feeling the pain.
Co-founder and director for Myrtle Beach’s nonprofit South By Southeast, Jeff has been working his butt off for years – keeping music in our schools, supporting our local musicians and bringing topnotch national and regional talents to perform at the monthly SxSE Music Feasts at the city’s historic Train Depot.
On a personal note, Jeff was simply one of my favorite people. The perfect day for me would include a stop at his wonderfully independent Sounds Better record store, where I could just hang with Jeff for a while. Our Minister of Music was always up to the challenge: “Find me something I’ll love that I’ve never heard before.” And he’d rustle through a stack of CDs or flip through a bin of LPs until he came up with just the right recording.
That’s how I learned about the incredible blues mandolin player Yank Rachell. It was Jeff Roberts who introduced me to Mike Farris – both the music and the man – whose gospel vocals are nothing short of life-changing. Without Jeff Roberts I wouldn’t know the green-eyed soul of Lari White. Or the rockin’ good humor of Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. Or the quirky blues of Harry Manx.
Jeff Roberts was my mentor, my teacher, my friend. So Jeff, if you’re reading this – and I know you are – thank you for everything. I am so much the better for knowing you.
But where is that Verlon Thompson CD you’ve been promising me?
When I was a kid, all I wanted was for my big brother to like having me around.
But he didn’t.
I was the albatross – decked out in Wrangler jeans and a Dr. Kildare shirt – hanging around his neck that our parents insisted he bear. By the time we were in junior high and high school, he tolerated me, most likely because he had the hots for my girlfriends. I don’t think he ever noticed that his taste in music had become my taste in music.
To this day, I can’t listen to Sam & Dave: Hold On, I’m Comin’ without thinking of my brother. I used to sneak into his room for it – the old Stax album with the bright yellow cover and a photo of Sam Moore and Dave Prater sitting on a cartoon drawing of a big, green slow-movin’ turtle. The title cut, “Hold On, I’m Comin’” always got my juices flowing and I would play “Just Me,” track three on side two, over and over again.
Another of his albums that I loved (and still do) is Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the group’s self-titled debut album from 1965. It changed my life. It introduced me to the blues, and I became an instant fan of Paul Butterfield, Elvin Bishop and the rest of them.
The memories brought to mind by the music are especially poignant for me now because my brother died last week. He stayed up to watch a show on the History Channel and died. Just like that.
I tell you this in order to remind you that this go-round we have here is a short one. We need to use our time more wisely.
I don’t know about you, but I plan to walk on the beach more often, listen to more music, spend more time with the people I love, cook more meals, kiss more people, read more books, read more liner notes, write more stories, enjoy my camera, drink finer wine, visit my younger brother, brush up on my French, get my passport renewed, go to Italy, suffer fewer fools, declutter my house and my life, get the hot tub fixed and find a turntable so I can play Sam & Dave again.
Thanks for the music, Greg.
On September 11, 2001, I watched in disbelief with the rest of the world as a jumbo jet exploded into the South Tower of the World Trade Center while the North Tower burned. It was almost surreal. My brain was slow to comprehend what I was seeing. How could this happen, and how could it be intentional?
I immediately called my brother in New Jersey, who, thankfully, was out of harm’s way and watching it unfold on television. Then I called Brian, my good friend from college who lives on Manhattan’s Westside, down in Chelsea. Brian works for Time Magazine on Sixth Avenue at 49th. He was upset, but unhurt and miles from the World Trade Center.
“What about Jim?” I asked. “No, Jim works midtown like I do,” came the instant reply.
But it wasn’t true.
Jim’s employer, Marsh & McLennan, had relocated his department downtown to the 92nd floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Jim was dead.
Jim Potorti was my first big love. We met in college and spent the next four years together. Our relationship was full of love and music and dancing and angst and bickering and making up, which, when you’re 20 is enough to sustain any relationship.
Despite all the making up fun, we split up the year after graduation but kept in touch, meeting occasionally when I was back in New York. He grew up to be a peach of a man. There was a kindness to him that I don’t remember from college. I was so proud of him and so happy for him. He had found the woman of his dreams. They had built a life together; they had a wonderful life ahead of them, and in one instant it was gone. He was gone.
His brother, David, is a writer in Cary, North Carolina. I read in one of his pieces that Jim’s office had been right at the point of impact, so the chance of even finding any DNA was slim. They did find a piece of him though, a tiny shard of leg bone smaller than a fingernail. Did his wife find consolation in that? Not much, I imagine. Maybe it gave his parents something tangible over which to grieve. I hope so. For me, I can only see the obscenity in it.
In fact, I have no platitudes, no newly gained wisdom, no noteworthy philosophical view, no understanding to offer. When I think about September 11, I just hurt all over. I’m sick that Jim had to go through that horror. For me, the face of September 11 will always be that of Jim Potorti, who was a peach of a man.