June, 2011 :: Obit Club Membership Report
Ok – here is the current incarnation of the Obit Club – or at least my take on it — though I may not be exactly correct about some of these details. In the true southern storytelling tradition, if I don’t know the facts, I can generally fill in the blanks with some semblence of fictionalized truth. (And if, as one of the subjects of said fiction, you are not completely offended by it, just go with it. Don’t be too picky.)
1. Jenni Finlay– she got us all together originally. One of the top Americana music promoters in the biz. Leading her artist roster are James McMurtry and Ray Wylie Hubbard, Gurf Morlix and a slate of other talents. Oh yeah, and she is my firstborn daughter – who has been dragged to funerals with me (as features editor of The Paper, I had to attend a few high profile funerals); been late to school when I had to stop and shoot a bad wreck for The Paper (“Mo-om, Don’t stop… It doesn’t look that bad – they don’t even have the jaws of life…”), and grew up to appreciate a well-written obit, a good funeral, and proper mourning food.
2. Janice Williams is a recovering disc jockey. She was the music director at KVET for a while and bad corporate evilness got rid of her and started having the music programmed somewhere in a factory so you don’t get to hear Austin musicians and right there in the Live Music Capitol Of The World, now the music has to be the same as it would be in Anytown, USA. Janice is from Amarillo, Tx and her favorite holiday is the Day of The Dead. She decorates an altar and everything. She has a shrine to her dead cat that includes some of the actual ashes. She loves cemeteries, and has a good blog.
3. Joan Kornblith lives and works in Washington, D.C . She is the only one among us who currently has a stage name – she’s Katherine Cole, on the radio – and a real-life, award-winning broadcast journalist, and hosts a radio show on Voice of America – and (my favorite thing) – she wrote the definitive obit for Mary Travers. And her sister is the State Treasurer for Maryland.
4. Denise Boudreaux- she is from the same hometown as Marcia Ball and their parents were best friends, and she worked for The Father of Austin Blues, Clifford Antone, for a long time. Now she works for Lucky Tomblin running the music aspect of his operations. Denise sent us some really cool photos of herself with Pinetop Perkins, the 97 year old blues pianist who died this spring.
5. Susan Hanson – teaches really popular writing classes at Texas State University – with titles like “Nature and the Quest for Meaning” and has written some books that come with dust jackets. One of her books was excerpted (is that a word?) in Oprah’s “O” magazine. We worked together in Features at The Paper, and she has written at least as many obits as I. I was most proud when she got to interview Sargent Shriver and Bill Moyers for quotes for Ambassador Bill Crook’s obit. I knew her when.
6. Bill Wence — lives in Nashville. He is a radio promoter like Jenni. He was at her house earlier this year during SXSW and several of our club members were there. He told us that country legend Ferlin Huskey had died. Collectively, we said, “What?” And rushed for our smart phones to confirm. Yes. He had. We told him about the club and, of course, he wanted in. So we let him break the gender barrier – as a probationary member. So he hurried back to Nashville, went to the Ferlin Husky funeral. Scanned the funeral program and sent it to us with a delightful low budget review of the memorial. We voted him into full membership. BTW, before he became a radio promoter – he has been a piano player – and he still plays on tour occasionally. Just got back from a tour with country legend Wanda Jackson across the Western US. He worked in the lettuce fields in California in the 50s, and played /plays with Tom T Hall, Bobby Bare – and about a million other people . And he has some close connection to the song “Brandy, you’re a fine girl…” I think he played on that record. I know he recorded it on his last cd.
7. Jill Conner Browne – Her Royal Highness, herownself of Sweet Potato Queen fame. Hailing from somewhere in Mississippi, she co-wrote what may be the best obit ever for her own blessed mother and we voted her in unanimously upon reading it.
8. And me — Read the blog — or my website for more than you would ever want to know.
The rules are simple – in the time honored tradition of my own great-Aunt Robbie, we all want to be the “first to know-first to tell” when we see an obit that is exceptionally good – or famous – or has a good story with it. (I recently went off on a tangent after Jane Russell died – about the small town department store owner who measured me for bras when I was in junior high – and people thought it was fine – because he had been professionally trained in bra fitting – and as such, it was kind of like he was a doctor of brassieria.)
After the initial announcement – which sometimes is submitted multiple times, members of this intellectual and well-read club often make a comment about said obit or news report, and reply all if they have a personal connection, or a jarred memory of something related, or had a preteen crush on the deceased.
Jenni is our founder and, if we elected officers, she would probably get to be president. She is also our social chair and has hosted two obit club events in her home. She brought us together and got us as organized as we will ever be. Bill was a delightful overachiever when he was new but has been on tour so he’s slacked off a tad. But he’s holding his own in this group of women. I think Janice would hold the record for the most “firsts,” if we were actually keeping score – and Joan still wins something for writing obits heard round the world. Denise is good at adding her two cents worth on a lot of the roots music deaths. Susan catches some of the obscure death notices, and Jill tosses out a doozy once in a while.
All in all, we are a committed, if unlikely bunch. If any of us were adept at needlepoint, we would make throw pillows with our motto stitched on it. “First to know…”
That’s pretty much it. And for now, I have to go post Elizabeth Stillman‘s obit from the Statesman. That was a good one. I was lucky to meet her a few times.
My favorite line – “She did what she came here to do.”
Listening to: Johnny Cash & June Carter – “Farside Banks of Jordan”