It's hard to imagine that Richie Havens is now gone from this physical place. The man was so full of life. Of exuberance for the wonders of our day-to-day existence, and the things we find along the way. Of the interaction between all that he met. He talked to everyone like they were a long-lost friend, and to Richie, they were. Every one of us was a new, or renewed discovery about the connection through music, and life. Richie signed all of his posters, "Your friend forever," and he meant that. To Richie, it was all real, just like the man himself.
I first met Richie in 2001, when he played the Neighborhood Theatre, in Charlotte, NC. I knew much of his music through what I'd heard on the radio, and occasionally TV. He was a remarkable man to witness in a live setting. He put every ounce of his being into every song, letting it go with every strum of his guitar. As someone who loves playing with tunings and string settings on guitars, I was fascinated by his tunings, which allowed him to play entire chords with his thumb. This also allowed him to make his guitar sound like a giant rhythm machine, as though ten guitars were playing the same chord simultaneously.
He seemed a little larger than life to me, so I must admit that I did not talk to him the first few times I saw him. Richie's management also had this strange rule about not taking photos during his performance. I'm sure that they had their reasons, but it seemed to be defeating their own client. So much of Richie's life was in his performance, in the music, and the emotions in the song. It was as if he was sometimes born to be on the stage. How can you not allow that to be photographed? This is my argument about such rules. Sooner or later, there are no more photos that can be taken, and you're left with the emptiness of the documentation, and what has now come and gone.
However, Richie had no such rules after the show, where he talked and posed for photos with everyone. I finally approached him after a show in 2009 after working up the nerve. He saw my film camera, and talked about a friend of his that had shot one of his album covers, and the intricacies of meshing together the cover shot. At the end, I went to shake his hand, and Richie hugged me. He did the same when I saw him again a year later. That was Richie, a strong hug over a kind handshake, and another friend forever.
I had hoped that I would again see Richie Havens on this earthly place, but it was not to be. Travelers never know where the road takes you, or when it will take you. But that is why we are on the road. To discover what we have not discovered, and to throw our emotions into another song not yet played. Here, or whatever is down the road for all of us.
Godspeed, Richie. Save me a hug for the other side.
April 24, 2013
photo copyright 2009 Daniel Coston