This blog post differs from my “Best Of’s” postings and will be unlike anything I will pen in the future. This reflection, and please indulge me, is for Paul David Povse. Advocate and Pal. Paul passed away on Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday more than two months ago. His marvelous obituary is still available at Kirlin-Egan-Butler website http://www.butlerfuneralhomes.com/obituary/Paul-David-Povse/Springfield-Illinois/1781896 and captures the man eloquently. I recommend the read.
It would take more than the 14 column inches of his obituary or the honest but inadequate contents of this blogpost to capture the life and spirit of Paul, yet here are unvarnished and yet somewhat arbitrary recollections I have been untangling in my heart and mind for two months.
Reaching Out – Foremost, Paul was the King of reaching out. Our friendship launched shortly after I began hosting the nascent ‘Sunday Night Sounds’ at then WSSR in 1987. After being on-air for a brief time, I received a handwritten letter from Paul complimenting and critiquing the show. He suggested we share a lunch to discuss music. The letter was affirmative and persistent, and so, that one lunch led to more lunches, dinners, repeated exchanges of cassettes, CD’s and recent downloads; long and diverse conversations, movies, merging of families, concert caravans and a life-time embrace between kindred spirits. As we reflected in those last few weeks, I rightfully kept thanking him for his simple act of extending himself to me.
The Enabler – After a time, PP hatched the idea that I should and could write for the newspaper. This suggestion was wholly uncomfortable to me, and per his hallmark constancy, he assured me I was up to task. After hacking out a couple of mediocre pieces, and the guileless editor exercising workmanlike patience; he cajoled my writing into a stronger form. I reached a threshold of success, to both his and my satisfaction. He brought me on as a regular free-lancer of music criticism for the State Journal Register – an honor for which I was and am eternally grateful. I was able to meet my musical heroes, cover regionally and nationally recognized musicians of all genres, pick and choose my subjects - all under his steadfast tutelage. One of the best pieces of advice that he offered, in his constructive, modest tone, when I tossed out an overheated lead or wanted to fling too many high-falutin’ words about, was this: “Choose the ‘right’ word”. I’ve never forgotten and practice that (most times) in my personal and professional writing to date.
Paul not only provided this unexpected opportunity, but he supplied the tools, knowledge and his open-hearted, diplomatic enthusiasm. He helped to shape my knowledge of music, movies, writing, arts, culture….. through constant exposure to myriad songs, musicians, films, books, articles, websites, knowledgeable companions, and like-minded journalists.
Connoisseur of Piano & Jazz – My knowledge and appreciation of jazz came later in life. My first exposure was in college from my southside Chicago roommate Roberto Cisneros, who played the Oscar Petersen Trio’s “Tristeza” for me and, as the youngsters now declare – ‘Mind Blown!’ From that starting point my jazz vocabulary grew in large part due to Paul’s un-wavering respect and love of jazz. PP shared his evangelical zeal for Bill Evans, Bill Charlap and Fred Hersch; pianists of pure musicality and honesty – trademark qualities of Paul’s taste in all music. He turned me on to the Stephane Grappelli-Yehudi Menuhin violin summit records; Pat Metheny, George Cables, Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau, Grant Green; I could name a hundred jazz players – luminaries or unknowns whom he championed. I grew to appreciate the civil musical conversations on Marian McPartland’s ‘Piano Jazz’, an NPR staple for decades, because of him. He was determined to ‘hear’ music; a masterclass of attentive listening.
And I am not even attempting to cover his expansive knowledge of the original Folk and Acoustic music movements – from the 1960’s forward. Unparalleled zeal and expertise. Another blogpost in the future. Oh, and down the line we will cover movies.
The Weaver – Paul threaded so many lives together in a wondrous and unassuming style; creating a quilt of varied interests and avocations. I vicariously know and receive musical blessings from his amigo Rick Wilson in D.C.; An Upstate New York “Boys Club’ who retreat every year to the backwoods and steep their souls in classic and vanguard music – then send their samplers and critiques to Paul – always shared with me. I got to know Bruce Weber, Mike Lawrence, political and sports figures who were just ‘friends’ to Paul. His foremost achievement; The Thursday Night “Boys Club” (alternative faux-bloated label; “The Algonquin Society”) - a collection of life analysts, educators, astute political observers and satirists, chums, dads, washed-up-but-still-in-the-game athletes, students of life, doctors, lawyers, civic leaders, instructors, artists - conjoined by Povse’s belief that we all had something in common and something to share - a joke; a song; a newspaper article, a story of a grandchild or child……common ground stealthily achieved with his clandestine guidance.
The Aggregator – Long before aggregation became an internet ‘thing’, Mr. Povse was the Sultan of Gatherers. He clipped news articles; magazine reviews; op-ed pieces, recipes; design articles. His network of comrades was gifted me (twice weekly) - a gigantic manila envelope of information, including music samplers. Through these collections, culled just for each individual’s tastes - I have learned to appreciate the word craft of Gretchen Morgenson, Jim Fusilli, David Denby, Jon Pareles, Roger Angell, Emily Nussbaum, Jason Gay; that’s a start.
Common Human Decency – In the current era of omni-present self-help videos and multiple sub-cultures of preachy mindfulness, Paul was a gentleman; poised and well-considered in all aspects of his life; as a father, brother, uncle, journalist, mentor, teacher and friend.
Over time it dawned on Paul and me that we shared a growing appreciation for our situations – our families, professional careers, friendships – not in a maudlin or Facebook over-shared outcry, but on that realistic, self-examined level of honest evaluation; despite all the setbacks, we had hit the jackpot with all we had – our friendship included.
Simple Kindness – I distinctly remember this event: Post-performance, PP would always, always lightly impose on the performing artist to compliment the show. At one sparsely attended singer-songwriter concert, he made an apology for the empty seats, wherein the singer replied, “but you were here Paul, and that’s what matters.” That symbolized PDP – he did what counted: afforded you his personnel presence and undivided attention. He encouraged you when you were flagging, loved his family and your family, and tirelessly supported his friends and causes.
He did that for me for thirty years.
The Nightsounds – Finally….after being asked countless times since Paul’s passing, I share the answer to “When are you going to do a tribute show?” Well……I’ve been doing them for years.
One of the secrets of Nightsounds is….Paul. He has been contributing songs since our lives and musical trajectories intersected. A week did not go by when he did not forward a sampler or fresh purchase to me – and per his polymath knowledge and editorial skill, the Nightsounds has been a tribute to him and a better program. I freely admit a quarter of any recent show would have been material culled and screened by Paul Povse. The Nightsounds are now and will be an unceasing appreciation.
The day after his death, I made an offhand count of the number of CD’s I had in my carrying case, which comes with me to every show at WUIS (a former paint sample container, shaped like a lunchbox) that can accommodate 60 to 70 discs. 33 of them were from Paul. The tribute will continue as long as I host this show, which is an extension of and forever tribute to our friendship.
Epilogue – Friendships can be messy, unexplainable, sacred – all at the same time. And I find myself, daily, wishing I could call or email or text and share a quote, highlight a movie, recommend a magazine article – and unfailingly thinking – “I can’t wait until you hear this!”
Farewell, friend. I hope you are looking down on us and applauding our everyday engagement in this cruel, crazy beautiful world. You are sorely missed. Billy Collins says it best in this poem.
The dead are always looking down on us, they say.
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.
They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a long afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,
which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes