Living in a time when whole groups are targeted far too effectively: using hate as a religious, social and political tool, I thought I’d offer two true stories, one about a friend, the other about a teacher. Yes, they only belong to one of the many groups targeted. But they do represent how hate destroys good, especially when evil is enabled by hate-based theology, policies and politics.
Gene Rice was a very upbeat person who brought out the best out in people. The best recording sessions I had were with Gene whether I was being put on tape, or at his side observing while I was also studying recording at Belmont. He worked with, and brought to the Nashville scene, many talented musicians and songwriters. Gene did everything from being the engineer for the first five Alabama albums to demos for those who worked Music Row with their songs. Gene was recommended to me by the owner of a recording studio in West Leyden, NY where I did some of my first recording sessions because my wife and I were thinking of moving to Nashville. He had bought Gene’s studio when Gene moved south. When we met Gene he was having dinner with Barry. If gay marriage had been legal in New York or Tennessee at the time they would have been husband and husband. Gene convinced us to move to Nashville.
Years later, once I got on the road doing my own shows, we kind of lost track of each other; at least until we found out he had come home to find Barry face down on the couch with a lot of stab wounds straight through his body. A serial gay killer had been bouncing between Nashville and Atlanta.
We met a few times after that, but road life was gobbling up almost all of my life. Not long after that I learned from a neighbor he had committed suicide. Last time I saw him he admitted his horrible nerve condition: pain pills did little for, and missing Barry was making him more miserable than he had ever been. I guess he just couldn’t take it anymore.
What an incredible loss for all. After that there were a few days I picked up the phone, thinking I should call Gene about something, and then I remembered…
Jim Weber had a habit of fighting the status quo, but I only found that out later. He never brought it into the classroom. Everything he brought to the classroom was to inspire us, to encourage us to do our best. Jim was the first teacher to teach me what a really good teacher could do, who they should be; not that he had lacked any flaws. As with any employment, the first year you’re there it’s not wise to challenge those who had been there a lot longer, or administration: no matter how right one may be. But I think of that and remember how my father taught me to do what I felt was right, even if it’s wrong for me.
Jim Weber taught me that too.
If it had not been for Jim I probably would never have had my rather odd career that combined acting, performing, writing musicals that were one man shows, even though I had a passion for all of that: some starting before kindergarten. I used to sing in hootenannies that my father ran the sound for. I formed a small group in 3rd grade patterned after the Kingston Trio. I started acting in 6th grade as the Mikado. But I thought I had no talent, especially after I started taking saxophone in third grade. Like a good portion of teaching back then the preferred method seemed to be focus on what the student was doing wrong, demanding technical prowess from the start and especially motivating through humiliation. That may have motivated some students, it only made me want to give up and wonder if I was good enough to do anything.
That started to change in 68, Junior High. Mr. Weber taught chorus. His mantra was, “We’re ALL stars.” His method was to find what each of us did the best and help us find inspiration in that. Technical prowess could come later. He drove administration crazy, as well as those who had been there many years, by defying tradition. I remember instead of insisting on fancy props, often done by the art department, he had us ask our parents for common items that would become props. No surprise we had a full house for the two nights: every parent just had to be there. I’m sure he was told the school couldn’t “afford a musical.” I know he was told we were too young to do a musical but he insisted on doing one. They told him we could only do one that was age appropriate, I’m sure they thought he’d never find one. He found one specifically written for children our age. He said to us, “I was told you were too young, but they agreed to this one. It’s not very good. We will MAKE it good.” And we did. Another violation of tradition: even if there were cries for encores the chorus had to make way for the band. The band could do many encores. Instead he had us honor the cries. Again: not something I might do my first year in his position, but I understand why.
The powers that be were very unhappy with Mr. Weber. I was told much later the administration thought him “dangerous.” Why? Well by reading between the lines in news stories, his roommate, and the gist of a comment from someone defending how they attempted to humiliate him, he was gay.
Hey, it was the 60s.
Jim Weber was anything but dangerous. I found him always professional with his students, as did many of my fellow members of the chorus.
Graduation time we were told there would be no chorus. He was told when the chorus was supposed to perform. It was a set up. Graduation time Jim arrived and walked up when he had been told chorus was to perform. Chorus members were confused. I was in a chair, on crutches due to an accident with a lawnmower. I was told my degree would be brought to me, not to get up for anything. But I did. I picked up my crutches, fumbled my way up there, stood beside Jim Weber and stared down the members of chorus who I knew loved him too.
We sang, It was grand.
Yes, Mr. Weber taught me more than a few good things, especially about doing what was right.
There are times I wish that’s all I know.
I lost track of Mr. Weber until a year or so ago. I had written a children’s book where the hero was based on him. (I still want to get published. It needs illustrations and I am no illustrator.) I tried to track him down because I wanted to send him an advance copy. I found out after he left Nyack he taught Junior High in NYC until he died. He also was the lead role in many productions at a NYC theater. He would pay for his kids to come to the shows.
Exactly what Jim Weber would do.
Between performances he stepped out for a moment. His VW was still running, both of the doors open. His kidnapper had forced Jim to drive him to Central Park, then he put a bullet through his head. The murderer went home and bragged about what he had done. The murderer’s girlfriend laughed, thinking he was joking. He murdered her too. He continued to murder gay men until he was caught.
Mr. Jim Weber deserved better than any of this. Gene deserved better than this. So every time I hear all the hate spewed at groups of people I shut it out before anger gets the best of me. Instead I think of Gene, Jim, and other friends we have had: Millie and I kind of have a mutual history of being friends with great people who also happen to be social, theological, political rejects. Almost each one of these friends has been kind, helpful, loving. Usually when a person seems the be trying too hard to be “normal,” and rant against those who aren’t, the warning signs go up in my head.
There are bad people, no matter what their sexual preference, what their race, what their immigration status. There are good people, no matter what their sexual preference, what their race, what their immigration status. There are a lot of blase’ people. But some of the worst, most ungodly, people I know are eager to spread a gospel of hate. Some of the worst leaders who do this to target for political gain. History teaches us these leaders represent and enable the worst humanity has to offer.
I know my column probably will probably never have the readership it would need to make much of a mark. Sydney Harris; one of my favorite columnists, was more well known than I will ever be and he’s mostly forgotten. But, like Mr. Weber, like Gene, I want to do good anyway. I want to inspire the best, not the worst: if nothing else, because paying it forward is so important.
Jim Weber, Gene Rice: wherever you are, this is for you.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved