I am wistful when July approaches. My pensiveness, like a gossamer canopy, frequently takes me to a world where crystal clear tears flow unceasingly as I lament the absence of our youngest son, a musician, taken too early in life. I am not alone. While perusing through a friend’s Facebook page where she highlighted her favorite music, I was led to a blog of another one of my musician sons — and discovered these words:
“I'm a little reluctant to share this story, but I have to publicly acknowledge this wonderful man who surprised me with a phone call a few months back. Sadly, it wasn't for a gig, but read on ...
“A little bit of back story: My younger brother — four years younger and the baby of the family — was killed in a traffic accident several years ago. He was en route to Las Vegas to buy Phish tickets when the Chevy pickup he was driving broke down on southbound I-15. If I remember correctly, it was after midnight, and storming badly in the desert. He was outside of his truck, trying to figure out what was wrong with the vehicle, or trying to flag someone down for help, but he was close enough to the shoulder to get hit by a tanker at high-speed. It struck him in the head. Life-flighted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, he spent several weeks in a coma, but didn't pull through. It was devastating, and blew my life completely off course. That's another story.
“But Christmas has been hard since. Particularly for my mother, I think. She writes a column for her local paper, and near Christmas wrote a piece reflecting on that hard time when my brother died and she was consoled by Connick’s Christmas album. To the point, my brother was a solid Harry Connick, Jr. fan, and some of those early Connick records were personal favorites of both of ours. He basically died with 'Here Comes the Big Parade' in the truck tape-player, and we played his music to my brother in a coma, hoping it would bring him back.
“I bought Connick's first Columbia release in the late 80s, having been introduced to his music by my high school friend Taku Hirano when we were both at summer school at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Connick's music brought me down a rabbit hole, where I discovered Duke Ellington, Carmen McRae, Dr. John, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, and too many others whose shoes’ laces I am unworthy to unloose. Before he was an American Idol judge or an actor, Connick was a prodigy pianist and a genius arranger, multi-instrumentalist, New Orleans music repository, Great American Songbook interpreter, and world-class performer and old school entertainer, and much more. He continues, on and on, to be a gateway to music for me.
“Shortly after my mother published that Christmas article, Connick's manager caught sight of the piece, and forwarded it on to the man himself. A few days after Christmas, he personally tracked down my mother's phone number and called her up. He spent a generous amount of time talking to her, commiserating and sharing. My mother mentioned to him that I was a musician, too, so he called me up as well. He asked about my life, and told me that he was praying for me.
“I am enormously moved by the compassion this man has.
“What's more, a few weeks ago, I received an email from his assistant, inviting me to see his show in Austin, Texas, where we now live. He left tickets and backstage passes so we were able to meet and chat in person a bit. He was wonderful to my son and to my wife. Put on a killer show, too. Beyond a musical hero, he really humbled me to be a better human being.
“Thank you, Harry Connick, Jr. for not only your music, but your example. You continue to be a blessing to so many.”
Note by JJ Abernathy: The above was penned by Mark Patrick Abernathy of Austin, Texas, dated May 3, 2016, whose younger brother, Yale Andrus Abernathy — and my good son — left mortality in July 1999.