Today I went to the funeral.
Now, looking back I am sorry I didn't know John better, as he was truly a wonderful man. I remember when I met him for the first time, about seven years ago. We, (me and my wife-to-be) came to visit John and his wife Julia and to house-hunt in their little suburb. A few years later we bought our own house just two blocks from John's and Julia’s. Our wives work together, and we would meet once in a while to chat or while we were riding our bicycles by their house.
The news of his sickness was a shock, and we all knew it wouldn’t be long before the end, but we prayed and hoped we were all wrong.
Today at the funeral house I saw pictures of John.
In his 20's and 30's he was everything any young man could ask for. Extremely handsome, fairly successful playing and composing his music in California, hanging out and partying with Clint Eastwood, Cher, and other stars of the moment. He missed by one inch being signed by a big label, and then eventually decided to come back to Chicago where he grew up.
His stage name was Johnnie Coolrock, and even now you can find his vinyl albums for sale on Ebay as collectibles.
Like any smart man, he always had a backup job. He was a painter and with his cocky sense of humor, he had a kind of "stage name" for his job: John D. Painter. Today I learned that he painted the houses of a lot of celebrities in Hollywood, and I remember he painted the trim of our house too. From this point of view, we are in a very select company.
Looking trough John's pictures at the funeral home, I saw him as child, young man, rebel teenager, father, husband...and in his later years he loved fishing. I saw pictures of him holding a fish with a large smile on his face. And I was thinking how life takes us up and down and changes us, and our perspectives, over time. A man who once upon a time was aspiring to the heights of success and worked hard to achieve it, now is happy just sitting on the ground with a fishing rod in his hand in the middle of nowhere, or playing with his young son. And I can't stop myself from asking: how do you measure success? In the amount of money you make with big mansions and fancy cars? Or perhaps happiness has nothing to do with success and money?
If a man like John found happiness in little things like fishing we all have to consider if it is really worth running around like crazy trying to accumulate that "more”…
Maybe others won't think of John's life in this way, but for me, he was an accomplished man. He had a full life, a wonderful wife and kids. He managed to touch many souls with his music and lyrics and towards the (way too early) end he was a happy man.
When I got home today, I stopped at the grocery store and got a bottle of whiskey. My wife was wondering why I got it... "you’re drinking whiskey?"...I had only one answer: Today I do.
Rest in peace Johnnie Coolrock, John D. Painter and John Brazas.