Saturday, October 11, 2008

Prayer for Max Potts and Marcella Sali Grace

The wake for Marcella Sali Grace yesterday was a calm affair, graced (among others) by the actor Ray Brewer and the musician Sunyatta Marshall, whom I sketched (not for the first time, on either count) before all the waking and drinking and mourning was done, for the day.

I had seen Sunyatta in the Eiler dining room, holding forth on any number of subjects, on several beer runs to the fridge - John, Ray and I were hanging out on the back porch - when I remembered something that concerned her.

When I first heard the news of the brutal death of John's daughter, I heard in my mind a line from a song Sunyatta used to sing: "It's so hard to believe that these are the facts."

It's from the elegy "Prayer for Max Potts," written by Mark Stephens (my old friend, Sunyatta's ex-husband). Max was a local jazz musician who died from (apparently, almost unbelievably) self-inflicted wounds from a large hammer. It was, indeed, hard to believe that those were the facts. Sunyatta recorded the vocal in an unforgettable take on the Fred's Variety Group record Bells and Buzzers.

Mark gave me a copy of the record when it was new, and I've not lost it - "Prayer for Max Potts" remains a staple on my mix tapes, always positioned near the end, as one of the emotional conclusions of the song cycle - but I could never remember to take the record with me when I left the house over the course of the last two painful weeks after we learned the hard-to-believe facts of Sali's murder. So, though I saw John and his family every day, and wanted to play him this song every day, I never had it to play for him.

And there was Sunyatta at the wake, in the flesh. She had known Sali. They were activist musician chicks, separated by a generation. I approached Sunyatta and asked her if she remembered the words to the song.

She said, "Not only do I remember the words to the song, I sang it Saturday at a benefit for Barack Obama."

Would she sing it for John? Without a guitar? We didn't have a guitar handy.

Under the circumstances, she said, she would, though she would feel goofy singing it without a guitar.

So she moved out onto the back porch in the gathering dark and sang John the song.

"It's so hard to believe that these are the facts."

"I'll bury you, best that I can, in the words of a song."

1 comment:

The ROCK Church of Oak Ridge, Tennessee said...

Max Potts was a long time friend and pianist for me for we3ll over a decade. After I left St. Louis I heard of his death. I was overwhelmed with disbelief and sadness for this incredibly talented and tortured human being. Becauyse of his illness I was ablel to see Max at his best and his worst. I never lost sight that even at his worst he was profoundly gifted by God.