Remembering My Friend, Brian Zahn

By | Friends

Oct 06

I’ll never forget my dear friend, Brian Zahn.    He was a great guy, who I’ll never forget. Maybe you can sense his spirit by looking at his picture. Or maybe not, as a photo is but a window. And Brian was to me a guy who was always a little mysterious, with a wondrous and somewhat dazzling surface. What I saw in him was perhaps what he wanted me to see. Despite that, he was someone who supported me all my life.

Here’s a newspaper article that tells you something about Brian’s life:

I hope you’ll take a moment to read it, and then come back to read more.

I’ll always remember how Brian and I first met.

It was during the late ’60s or early ’70s and I was newly back from Europe and living off South Street in Philadelphia. In those days, I was a practicing macrobiotic, eating a lot of brown rice and miso soup and studying, as my friend Nolu Crockett-Ntonga called it, “the yin and the yang and the bim and the bam.”

I had this idea to start of a magazine devoted to all things macrobiotic and decided to call it Yarrowstalks. I put out the first issue and a couple of weeks later, I got a call. It was Brian, who wanted to know about this magazine I had published. He was curious because he’d been publishing a magazine of the same name for a number of years.

Brian did the opposite of threatening to sue. Instead, he suggested we get together. This led to us jointly publishing two issues of Yarrowstalks and Brian giving me the title of Executive Editor. Although, truth be told, Brian did most of the work. I contributed a poem, a song I’d written and, in the second issue, an interview with William Burroughs.

Back in those days, I was also a music man, fronting a band called the Life Band with Angelo Lewis. Brian loved my music and promoted me, even arranged for me to peform in a concert in which I shared the bill with Philadelphia jazz legends Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. Brian kept tapes of my music all these years. He saw me as an artist, a status I never fully claimed.

A couple of month ago, after not hearing from Brian for several years, I got a message from Brian on Facebook. “I’m in U of Penn hospital,” he wrote, “dying of cancer.” I called him up immediately and arranged to visit him in the hospital.

What struck me on seeing him then was how upbeat he was. He wasn’t really interested in talking about his illness but instead talked about a couple of his projects: a screenplay he’d published about Auguste Rodin and his documentary on Violet Oakley. He gave me a copy of both of those books and signed the Oakley one. “Read it,” he commanded. It said something like: “To the artist who lives in Angelo, the one he doesn’t see.”

When our visit ended, I wanted to hug him goodbye. But this was something he said his weak immune system might not tolerate. So we just said our verbal goodbye.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Brian invited me to a cocktail party. I had planned to attend, but at the last minute was unexpectedly called away to North Carolina for a memorial service for uncle who had just died. I called Brian last minute and relayed my regrets. “Let’s get together when you get back,” he said. True to form, he didn’t dwell on his prognosis.

That was the last time I talked to Brian.

Aside from missing him, I owe him a kind of spiritual debt. It’s not the kind of debt you repay to the lender, but one you pay back to others or to the world. It’s like that quote I must have shared with Brian back in our Yarrowstalks days: “One grain, ten thousand grains.

What the quote describes is a phenomenon of nature. When a grain is put into the ground, it gives birth eventually to ten thousand grains.

What it means to me is that whenever anyone gives you something of value, you must give it forward ten thousand times.

So I owe Brian and the world a lot.

I’d best get busy.

Adieu, old friend.

For me, you are immortal. And your spirit lives forever in me.

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