Recollections: A Family Remembrance

Trying to capture Randy in just a few words is like trying to replicate a complex painting with just a few brush strokes. To know Randy was to know an utterly compelling mix of creativity, intelligence, enthusiasm, humor, obsessiveness, stubbornness, gentleness, humility, spirituality and love. Randy was at once a perfectionist and a disciple of randomness. Randy was an original.

Musical expression and composition were, of course, central to Randy’s life. And from his first composition at the age of eight on his grandmother Sally’s piano, a Mozart derivative minuet, to more and more complex musical works, including multimedia and performance art, Randy operated outside the box. Randy’s grandmother Kate observed that Randy never heard noise, he only heard music.

We will never forget Randy coming to the D.C. household as our 1967 Volvo was nearing the end of its long and useful life. And Randy slipping out to the garage in the middle of the night to capture on tape the special sound of the door opening and closing to include in his growing collection of squeaks. Or his hours of recording voices of individuals telling their own stories. Beginning with, “Once upon a time. . . .” and ending with and they lived happily, ever after.

Or his excitement with the sounds of silence.

One of Randy’s favorite sounds was the ringing of bells. Randy incorporated the ringing of bells into his first choral piece at Sidwell Friends High School. On Randy’s last visit to the Amish area of Ohio he visited the famous Lehman’s Hardware where he purchased an assortment of some two dozen cow bells. His parents found the cow bells with the Lehman Hardware stamp still on them in Randy’s apartment after his death. Who knows what inventive work he planned to use them in.

Randy’s creative spirit extended far beyond the realm of music. It permeated all his activities and actions. Consider his ping-pong games with his brother Eric. Eric approached the game with methodical, competitive seriousness. Randy played the game with chaotic, gleeful abandon. Eric played with a ping-pong paddle. Randy played with tin cans, metallic drums, giant tinker toys and a huge cardboard cartoon character. Eric watched perplexed as Randy would place miniature soldiers and other figurines on Eric’s side of the table. And award himself extra points for knocking them over.

We celebrate Randy’s creative talents and his artistic achievements. But we especially celebrate and cherish the unshakable enthusiasm with which Randy applied his creative visions and his eagerness to share his creative vision with the rest of us.

“Randy’s energy was awesome and unrelenting, Sometimes annoyingly unrelenting. . .” wrote a San Francisco musician and composer, Wiley Evans, on the World Wide Web Homepage he created for Randy after his death. “Randy was always bugging me to do more music and more performances. I say ‘annoyingly’ because he never let me down. He always had 14 projects going, yet he was always at all of the concerts I was playing at and he would be the first one to tell me how much he liked the pieces. And it wouldn’t just be, ‘I like that piece, man.’ It would be a very animated, and annotated description of what exactly he liked and disliked. There was no holding him back.

His friends and family knew that if Randy discovered a book, a record, a poem, a flower or a food that he liked, they would be encouraged, nagged, persuaded — into sharing his appreciation. One year it was I Ching. Another year it was Thoreau. One year it was Emma Goldman’s autobiography. Fearing that some of the family would shelve the work away, he gave each member of the family his or her own copy of the two volume work.

Randy was a natural teacher. He excited us with his discoveries with new truths, new ideas, new happenings in worlds of which we knew nothing. Perhaps Randy’s favorite student of all was Dan — an autistic young man to whom Randy taught piano twice a week over a period of seven years. His brother Eric remembers when Randy invited him to sit in on a lesson with Dan. And Eric recalls how Randy gently encouraged Dan to explore his creative potential. The mutual love and respect Randy and Dan held for each other was manifest. Randy and Dan played an improvisational jam for Eric and Eric could not have been prouder of his older brother and his star pupil.

To be sure, to love Randy was often to be frustrated by Randy. Randy continually challenged our basic assumptions. He would not let our minds rest idle. And he was stubborn to the point of exasperation. Surrounded by three lawyers who purportedly had some ability to argue and persuade, Randy was the most loquacious and outspoken of us all. And the obsessive meticulousness with which Randy approached certain activities could be maddening.

Randy’s cooking leaps immediately to mind. What cruel fate it was to be hungry when Randy announced his intention to cook one of his macrobiotic meals for you. The general rule of thumb was that if you arrived at Randy’s house for dinner at 6:00, you should not expect to actually eat until at least I 1:00 p.m. In the interminable interim, Randy would faithfully assemble a dozen ingredients required for certain recipes, each of which was as Randy explained, “absolutely essential”. This assembly inevitably required at least one unscheduled trip to the nearby natural foods market. If all went well, in a state of sen-d-consciousness, you would sit down sometime around midnight on Randy’s living room floor and treat yourself to a mysterious — and sometimes even tasty — mix of beans, rice, tofu and assorted spices. But beware that if at some late hour Randy determined that an ingredient was missing, the whole endeavor was needed to be scrapped and you would have to suffice with Randy’s familiar standby — the avocado and cheese sandwich.

But for those who have not experienced Randy in his production mode, Randy was simply known as a quiet spoken, gentle, modest young man. A man totally open, tolerant and accepting of the most diverse range of individuals, ages, groups and backgrounds. Randy’s parents were struck by the fact that in his modest and wonderfully multi-cultural Los Angeles neighborhood, everyone on the street knew Randy and remarked on his gentle, friendly nature. Few of them knew anything of his artistic achievements.

Randy earned a modest living tuning and repairing pianos. A skill he learned from his friend and mentor — Jim Colwell. Randy admired the non-materialistic life of many of his Mennonite relatives and their Amish neighbors. And he insisted, stubbornly his mother thought, on living as monastic a life as possible. Of course, as a struggling artist, he didn’t have a lot of choice. Still, when his grandmothers and parents tried repeatedly to buy him a bed, he insisted that it was a luxury he did not need. His mattress on the floor was quite sufficient, thank you.

In more recent years, and especially after his girlfriend of seven years moved out of Los Angeles and out of his everyday life, Randy tended to his inner self. Randy felt deeply about the universe and his place in it. He found great solace in the teaching of Zen Buddhism. Randy also greatly admired Henry David Thoreau and the simple, quiet communion with nature that Thoreau embraced. Each day of his life for Randy had become an original composition. A mosaic of activities which included T’ai Chi, health food, piano tuning, animated discussions with friends, communion with nature, and artistic creation.

One of Eric’s most vivid memories from his recent camping trip with Randy to Yosemite is spying Randy at a distance in the early morning light as Randy engaged in his daily T’ai Chi ritual. Randy stood alone in the middle of a meadow surrounded by blue sky, sheer rock faces, and cascading waterfalls, Randy’s movements were enchanting as he performed the ballet of T’ai Chi. His movements were graceful, peaceful, delicate. It occurred to Eric that for a moment in time Randy had become an angel.

The past two years also saw Randy deliberately reaching out to connect with both those he loved and those he hadn’t spent time enough with. Randy always has had vast networks of friends. But now the friendships grew deeper. He formed ever closer relationships with the members of his family as well. He established e-mail communications with his 80-year old grandmother Sally who had recently become computer literate. Although he had precious few resources, he chose to spend a week last Spring camping with his brother, and another week last summer with his grandmother Kate in Ohio, and yet another week with his parents in Vermont.

While we are devastated by the sudden loss of Randy, we are reassured by the knowledge that Randy could accept his departure with Zen-inspired calmness. For Randy approached life as a continual miracle, with each moment to be lived fully. For Randy there were no goals that HAD to be achieved. No expectations that HAD to be fulfilled to make life complete. There was simply the process of living life itself Life to be experienced, loved, and cherished at all times. He will be desperately missed but he will never be far. Just listen to any sound and there you’ll find Randy.