Bonnie Stone Sunstein remembers Rich
I'm proud of my brother, and I knew I wanted to share my perspective here today, but I wasn't sure how to do it. I could tell you about the time I was stuck in an airport lounge, reading student papers. There was a TV on. I wasn't watching at all, but found myself moved and transfixed by the music. I put down the papers, listened until the credits rolled, and was not surprised to see that it was Rich's music. The movie was "In a Child'sName." I'm not a musician, but I somehow regognize his music anywhere. . Or I could tell you about how he rolled his eyes in pretend disgust at my English professor's perspective. Once, I observed that when Wacko, Yakko, and Dot jump outside the cartoon and talk about themselves, it's an appropriate symbol of contemporary postmodernism. "For Chrissakes, Bon, it's a CARTOON," he snapped. I might tell you about the conversations we've had about the relationship between poetry and music; the music he's shared with me, the poetry I've shared with him. I could tell you how my girl cousins and I danced around the night he was born, and 47 years later, just last summer, he directed us in a long and hilarious birthday song we had written by email for my mother. I could tell you about the day we performed it, and the window I had into his kind of professional nurturing--how he got us to do more than we knew we were capable of doing. But I won't, because you already have your stories about Rich the composer.
Instead, I want to offer a snapshot, frozen in time about ten years ago, when Rich was still under the wing of a mentor and hankering to fly on his own. This is not a portrait of Rich. It's a meditation on what exactly CREATES all of this; what was there in the first place.
And it was exactly ten years ago when I found myself in this very studio. For years, I'd been hounding him to invite me to a recording session, any recording session. In fact, I didn't care that it wasn't his music they were recording, or even that he was the editor instead of the composer.
First I'm skeptical. Okay, so, a big flurry of artists and technicians. They're creating music for a fake screen world meant to appear more real than the real one. They share vocabularies and tools I don't recognize. They're recording the last six minutes of a film called "Joe vs.the Volcano." It is fine, new music. Rich didn't write it, but he sure knew it, and his job that day was to manage it. He lets me speed back and forth with him between the
orchestra in the studio and the technicians in the recording booth, as process became product, intention became expression, art became craft, artist became audience....
Georges Delerue, his mentor, speaks to him in French about the guitar and flute duet. I know that Rich has re-learned French, overcoming the curse of a bad high school teacher, in order to have the chance to work with Georges. Here, I can not tell his secrets or be his braggy big sister or embarrass him some other way. Here, I stay quiet and watch....and I think...
Where did this come from? I'm thinking. How does he do this? Why do I bond so with both my brothers in this dimension of our lives? This is not common for adult brothers and sisters. Our home was traditional in some ways, but it was oddly different in others. We lived in the fifties suburbs, our father was a hardworking travelling salesman who didn't often relax, but when he did, he watched TV and made music. Some dads had their lazy boy recliners, but not our dad. The only possession I ever knew him to splurge on was the baby grand piano that sat in our living room.
And our mother was--and still is at 85--primarily an art teacher. We teased her ruthlessly about saving everything: meat trays for printmaking, popsicle sticks for gluing, buttons for making eyes instead of mending our clothes. Rich was fond of saying, "Oh, Mom's making dollies out of STUFF again." She organized her art materials as neatly as our friends' mothers stacked their dishes. And our kitchen table was as important for art projects as it was for meals.
I don't think any of us would say we followed in our parents' footsteps--or that anyone, especially not our mother, told us what to do with our lives. Sometimes people razz her, "What did you FEED them?" they ask when she brags about our artistic accomplishments. Well, I can assure you it wasn't the food.
She didn't push us, force us to take lessons, or yell at us to practice. She didn't march us through museums or into concert halls, though when we did go to museums and concert halls. She shared with us what SHE saw and heard. And we'd tell her what WE saw and heard, and we'd ask and listen. We made stuff and tried stuff and watched others making and trying stuff. One day recently, cursed with theory in my head, knowing my brothers wouldn't think to ask, and blessed with my mother on the phone, I tried to force a philosophy out of her. I didn't expect what I was about to hear. "So Mom," I asked, "what exactly does it boil down to?" "Well Honey, she said, "four things: freedom, a space to work, people to enjoy it, and permission to take risks...." She taught us that the artistic sensibility is not a lonely one.
And there it was, that Monday, ten years ago in this room. Freedom, a space to work, people to enjoy it, and permission to take risks. My brother Rich had learned it so well that I could see him creating it for others. This was his work....I watch some more....Georges bustles to the podium, peels off his sweater, and draws a baton from a battered black case. "Stop me if there's anything wrong." Rich confers with Bobby the technician and Ken the editor. They don't like the guitar/flute duet and they're tired of the way Georges uses bells. "First it's vibes, then it's glocks and vibes. This never bothered him before."
"There's too much support; we can't hear the melody through the strings." "It's got to be choreographed a little differently," Ken tells me. Bobby adds, "It sounds like there are little weights hanging off the bells," Support? Choreography? Little weights? Six minutes of credit music? I think I'm learning this vocabulary. I think I get it. It's about taking risks; it's about putting your own spin on something someone's taught you. It's about learning and
it's about teaching.
My brother was in the business of making us a little more human: designing art for an audience, manipulating natural sound into a tool-made world of tapes, reels, dials, and numbers in order to re-design our natural world on a giant screen. And this business takes place in this room full of history, alive with the ghosts of mentors. In this old wooden recording studio Casablanca was recorded, the original Looney Tunes, and soon this room would hear my brother Rich's music for ten triumphant years.
I know from anthropology that jumping into a foreign culture helps us understand our own. Hollywood wasn't magic; it was a familiar tedious mix of work and thought and art. The musicians drank coffee out of plastic cups, sat on old brown sofas, joked and kissed and ate
donuts from cardboard boxes--just like the teachers I've worked with for my whole career. They critiqued and enabled each other, they politicked and bitched and gossiped and planned. They told stories. They offered themselves four things, I guess: freedom, a space to work, people to enjoy it, and permission to take risks.
Rich died way too early for us--and he didn't want to die. He did everything he could to prevent it, and so did we. Cathy, Claudia, and Julie led him through his last days with devotion that most men will never know. There was more music to write, more musicians and technicians to know, more family time to take, more jokes to crack. He was too young to be an old mentor, but he was old enough to be mentor to everyone here. As our mother taught us, Rich knew that artistic sensibility is not lonely. I had entered a good movie that day when Rich invited me to enter his work world in this room. And it might have been short, like the last six minutes of Joe vs. the Volcano, but I saw once again that artistic sensibility, the ways we have of signaling our humanness, requires freedom, a space to work, people to enjoy it, and permission to take risks. For me, far more than even his music, that is my brother's legacy.
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