Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Remembering Rodney Lanier a year later

It's been a year this week since the Charlotte music community lost musician Rodney Lanier, who passed away Friday, December 9, 2011 after a short battle with cancer. 

Lanier's friend and former band mate Jason Hausman will pay tribute to him Saturday, December 8 at Rem-Rod: A Musical Evening Remembering Rodney Lanier with the band Sunshone Still (pictured above with Hausman far left and Lanier far right), who Rodney also played with. The concert, which includes a performance by Elonzo, will be held at Evening Muse - the club where Lanier was a sound engineer and jack of all trades. It is the place I interviewed him one October afternoon last year shortly after news of his illness spread. 

Hausman recalls Lanier's contributions to Sunshone Still's newest album "When the World Dies": "Every time he showed me a new part for that record, it was an earth-shattering moment. I was stunned by the simple beauty in his melodies." It was released after his death.

I didn't know Rodney well. He worked with my friends at Contagious Graphics at one point when not touring with Charlotte-based Americana band Jolene, who by that time had toured internationally and opened for bands like Hootie & the Blowfish. I knew him as Rodney Bear, because that's what my friend Carsten lovingly called him. Years later my husband and I would talk to him briefly outside the Muse. He was just someone you instantly liked. I miss those sporadic encounters. 

I've talked to a lot of people about Rodney - during the days after his death and when his name comes up during interviews with other Charlotte musicians like Hausman and Lindsey Ryan (who was, for a time, part of Lanier's band Sea of Cortez). Although I didn't know him well his death affected me profoundly. For a long time I don't think there was a day that I didn't think about him at some point partly because he was such an integral yet humble presence in the community and because his death was so sudden. Mostly I thought about what he said to me and how he lived his life.

When I interviewed him that day at the Muse he talked about how he'd finally gotten to a point in his life where (I'm paraphrasing here) things felt solid - his mortgage, he had a girlfriend, and the lineup of his band had taken shape in a way that it was getting stuff done again and really on to something. Heck, he even had health insurance, which isn't always true of musicians. He was optimistic about his treatment too. 

He left behind an army of friends and peers and a well full of memories and music. My husband and I were both shocked into action by his passing. Here we are thinking there will always be more time for creative pursuits, for what you'll someday leave behind. Because of Rodney, I got off my butt and started working on a project I'd been putting off for years. As a Christmas gift to each other this year my husband and I are booking time away for him to finish mixing his record and for me to (possibly, cross my fingers) finish a book I've spent the past six months working on (and five years thinking about).

I bet we're not the only ones. If Rodney had to go, I want to learn something from him. I hope that lesson never leaves me.