Sun November 20, 2011
Denny Johnson/The Rug: The Lifelong Application of Layin' Down the Bass/Love Philosophy
Shakin' Dave's tribute to his friend and former bandmate, the late Denny Johnson.
He was a blessed and enlightened individual. He maintained the quintessential Bass/role playing persona There was nothing rote about DJ. He must have been born with a comprehensive insight into the human condition and its obvious contradictions. His maturity, at least from a philosophical musical standpoint was intimidating to this wannabe guitarist/visual artist.
He maintained early on the outwardly misunderstood manifestations that an individual with the ability to see through the daily b/s is destined to carry as an added weight.
People blessed in that regard show little or no respect for the status quo, he saw through that facade early on, but it quickly became the serious matter of how and why are! Introspection was always Denny's growth tool. He was deeply versed in the Eastern philosophies. It is readily apparent now that frustration he must have felt on a daily basis. He bode well within his own confines. I feel quite sure he constantly wanted to bring peace to his surroundings, the dilemma was a constant, how? He was immediately aware if the circumstances of a situation were incongruent and at that point his impatience would revel the threadbare essence of the absurdity. He was deep. He was the essential bottom end. He wouldn't necessarily initiate the conversation but had the lifelong capability to conceptualize and more often than not bring it to summation.
His ability was at and artistic peak when I was fortunate enough to have him enter my musical life. It was the sixties and experimentation of all contexts was at least in vogue if not running amok. His ability always presented itself in such a manner that I felt I couldn't play well enough regardless of my mental state. I continually looked for his approval. If I deserved it, it was forthcoming. Not necessarily in a pat on the back gratuity, his style was more accommodating in a sharing of musical knowledge context. When that took place, the whole essence of why I played became a bit more cohesive. He believed in the music to the degree that my dreams were kept alive due in large part to his ability to see way past the immediate. His belief in the transcendental picture helped me to understand my musical surroundings.
We made some unconquerable borderline free form music during out camping out period to which even me, a parochial East ender became a lifelong devotee. With Denny's unspoken understanding and certainly my musical Brothers' Mark and Jose's example, I really began to understand the essence and beauty of Pharoah and Coltrane and Eric and Sonny. Certainly Denny kept the indigo spectrum and all of its artists at his beck and call, but was instantly capable of running the voodoo up if the moment was current. Many times it was, and those moments I treasure. But Denny, my relationship with you and your lack of patience with short sighted people doesn't necessarily bode positivity in the day to day business theatre. Your example showed me the correct finality of dealing with enlightened people and to a certain degree, passivity with the short sighted.
There is most certainly an aspect of tragedy in this reminiscence. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis and his image of manifest negativity as "The Bent One," whose physicality took on many forms. If I may be a bit presumptuous, I believe in Denny's life the "Bent One" aspect was his inability to incorporate his beliefs and apply them functionally in his day to day existence. Over his 68 years this eroded his spiritual interior and in the end Sunday afternoon, October 30th on Dorothy Lane it dealt his physical being the final blow. The purpose of this is meant to be a tribute and not to dwell on the negativity of the last ten year's Rug's life. He lost much of his tenacity upon the death of his beloved Vicki.
I saw Denny enter and exit a number of relationships both pertinent and passing throughout our time together. His diminutive Trolley Stop counterpart blossomed into his life's love. She was the perfect foil to his laid back demeanor. In their compressed life together everything seemed to grow even your beliefs, you could possibly envision them as once again being together, a very positive postscript to a very abrasive termination.
To my MIA Bass Brother I offer my undying respect and most importantly my love and admiration for the gift of music appreciation you share with me for all those years and stages. The memories of my time with you are all melodic everyone and then a tad atonal and to the largest degree penultimate in my life and times. From the Heights of Dream Canyon and Lake Isabel in Colorado to Madison, Wisconsin we have shared all the stages on Fifth Street from Dave Hall Plaza at Main to the beloved Gilly's at the brightest corner of 5th and Jefferson to the confines of Toby's on Linden...some of the most fervent spontaneity ever at Toby's, and it's mostly recorded for posterity. Thank God because this approach to celebrating your accomplishments is painful, but we can all take some solace in the natural order of grieving "this too will pass," and we will eventually smile at the memory of your obstinacy that will come in time, but this sorrow is correct for the moment and we; Jose, Sleepy, Fuzz, Skip, Ray, Mike, Slim and I'm sure even Marshall feel a void, a space that you have left behind that absolutely can't be filled. There'll be players that will play the notes, some of the same ones you've shared with us but will always be different and that's how you would want it. Right, Rug?
In remembrance of the banana peel you threw from the Blue Van on Wayne Avenue and justified it by saying it was organic and all part of "the Universe, the illusion that sustains reality," we are beginning to understand..."Something for You," "Where Did We Take the Wrong Road" goes orchestral circa 1970.