Sunday, August 19, 2007

The View From Here: Remembering Ray Pickens


From the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: “Ray Lewis Pickens passed away unexpectedly August 12, 2007. He is survived by his wife, Alice (Kanack) Pickens; children, Daphne & Alexander; parents, Homer & Norma Pickens; brother, Drew (Jill) Pickens; nieces, Laura, Beth & Kate Pickens. He is also survived by Alice's parents; brothers; sisters; nieces, nephews and dear friends.”

I got a call Wednesday night from Alice Pickens. Going through Ray’s things, she had come across my business card, and was reminded of Ray’s work on several of my projects. He had written music to perhaps twenty of my pop songs, many of which were used in “Karaoke Knights,” wrote incidental music for my Cleveland production of “Imaginary Invalid” and a full score for my yet unproduced adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer In A Day.”

Ray was a brilliant composer, and wrote in every imaginable genre. He was educated at the Eastman School of Music (where he was the winner of their concerto competition), and was a fellow at Tanglewood and Yaddo. In New York, Ray had a very successful career composing, singing, playing on, and producing national television and radio commercials, as well as playing piano and singing in clubs and restaurants and performing with the Metropolian Opera Orchestra. In Rochester, where he and Alice were to settle, Ray had an opera of his performed to much acclaim, and taught piano and composition, playing for several schools and many stage productions.

Ray found me on my website on-line, looking to create a musical of Moliere material, and for a time, I was exploring Moliere’s “Amphitryon” as a possible musical, though I found myself continually reverting to my familiar iambic pentameter, which was not particularly condusive to musical composition.

Ray did, however enjoy my collection of original lyrics, and through an amazingly productive period of perhaps six months, he churned out one tune after another, the result of which I occasionally get to perform as “Karaoke Knights, a One-Man Rock Opera”. It was Rays blues-tinged composition of “The Dreaming Tax” that gave me the idea for my “Charles” character, which was to lead me to the plot concept of the show, featuring five distinct characters vying for the karaoke competition prize.

Ray had his good days, as well as his bad, and his death comes at the conclusion of what was seemingly a troubled time. I think what amazed me most about him was that, on the rare occasion that his music did NOT capture the spirit of the song as I'd intended to perform it, the very next day, there would appear in my inbox a completely different interpretation of the song, crossing genres as disparate as Rap, Tango, Blues, Folk, Techno, and Tin-Pan Alley, along with the occasional nods to Elton John and Kurt Weill.

I performed the show in my living room last night for a couple of friends, just to connect once more to the spirit that Ray left behind, something I hope to continue to do for many years to come, and couldn’t help but think of him in the middle of the performance of this favorite song. Perhaps some of you will remember the fast and furious tune that Ray provided:

NEXT

I’m on top of the heap I’ve been climbing
And I’m proud of these muscles I’ve flexed
My success somehow needs better timing
Cause already I’m on to the next.

I spend much of my lifetime frustrated,
Chagrined and decidedly vexed.
Such feelings are never abated
When their owner moves on to the next

There is always a next:
It comes on with a burst
And somehow I am cursed
With not getting immersed
With the thing that comes first
It’s as if I rehearsed
Fearing if I dispersed
All my words sharp and terse
All my fears would be nursed
And my life would turn out for the worst.
There is always a next.

I stop out at the bar for a nightcap
And I sing as a lady inspects
She leans over to give me a light tap
But already I’m on to the next.

Such romantic pursuits light my fires
And some guess that I’m just oversexed
But I never fulfill those desires
Cause I keep moving on to the next

There is always a next,
It comes on with a burst
And somehow I am cursed
With not getting immersed
With the thing that comes first
It’s as if I rehearsed
Fearing if I dispersed
All my words sharp and terse
All my fears would be nursed
And my life would turn out for the worst.
There is always a next.

If a Greek tragedy was in store here
And I found I’d been Oedipus Rexed
Would I put out my eyes from the horror
Or would I just head on to the next?

When it all falls apart at the ending
See the good part’s not getting perplexed
‘Cause you can’t upset someone who’s sending
All his hopes down the line to the next.

There is always a next,
It comes on with a burst
And somehow I am cursed
With not getting immersed
With the thing that comes first
It’s as if I rehearsed
Fearing if I dispersed
All my words sharp and terse
All my fears would be nursed
And my life would turn out for the worst.
There is always a next.

I will die; there’s no getting around it
And when people all pay their respects
They will say I left life like I found it
Cause by then I’ll be on to the next.

There is always a next:
It comes on with a burst
And somehow I am cursed
With not getting immersed
With the thing that comes first
It’s as if I rehearsed
Fearing if I dispersed
All my words sharp and terse
All my fears would be nursed
And my life would turn out for the worst.
There is always a next.
There is always a next.
There is always a next!

11 comments:

friendlyblogger said...

Timothy,

Thanks for posting this article about my brother Ray. He was indeed a talented, complex, and intriguing person. Even though he was my brother of 43 years, I believe I will be spending the remaining years of my life trying to understand who he really was.

Thanks again

Tim Mooney said...

Thanks "friendlyblogger" (Drew?) Glad to hear from you. If you feel there's any further insight I can provide, feel free to drop me a note: tim_mooney@earthlink.net.

My best to the family,
Tim

MC Kukich said...

I graduated from Beaver Local High with Ray in 1981. I can remember when he first performed for us in Miss Craig's 6th grade class. We were awestruck little hill-billies to be sure. What a talent! I exchanged a few emails with Ray just last fall about our 25th class reunion. His family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers.
MCKukich@yahoo

Tammy Milewski said...

I was a cousin/friend/schoolmate to Ray and Drew. It has been many years since I spoke with Ray, he was living in NYC, but we remembered our days at Beaver Local and hanging out. Even though it has been many years he will be missed. I was doing a search to locate him to chat again when finding the news. I was deeply upset to find out that he was back in Rochester, where I spend quite a bit of time, and I could have seen him again. I hope that Drew sees this and anyone else from Beaver Local and will always remember the "Elton John" from Beaver Local. I loved singing and playing in Band with Ray and will always treasure so many memories.
Tammy

Darrell said...

I was so sad to see this news. I knew the Pickens family when I was young and lived in E. Liverpool OH. This was truly a shock to me and my family, and if the Pickens family can see this post, please know that our family (Fadeley's) are thinking of you. We still think of you often. For some reason, he was on our mind this week and my dad went searching to see if there was any news. I cannot tell you how schocked I was to hear this...I still remember fondly being in their home listening to him play Benny & the Jets for my mom...it was her favorite. I'd love to hear from any of the Pickens family...dthompson@carolina.rr.com. Thanks for listening!
Debbie

Joe Linger said...

Tim, this is very upsetting news indeed. I was a high school friend of Ray, Drew and Tammy and I commiserate with their loss. I met his wife in Youngstown OH when he had some music premiered by the local symphony. later on in Germany, I met Eastman classmates of Ray and was not surprised to hear of his successes as a student there.

Joe Linger
jlinger@snet.net

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

I'm not sure if you still check your blog but I sure hope you do. I was a student of Ray's at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY and was especially shocked when I found out about Ray's passing two summers ago. I while ago I had randomly searched for Ray's music online and had found some amazing songs that he performed and sang in. I think it was a musical that he wrote about a giant. They truly are beautiful songs and were something that I regularly liked to listed to. I recently tried to listen to his songs and found that they had been taken off www.dogpile.com. I don't know if there is another site with his music or if it would be possible to get some of it from you. I really enjoyed listening to him sing and his lyrics are especially touching. Please contact me if there is anything I can do to get his music playing in my room again.

Thank you,

Kate

mkcordon@yahoo.com

astanley said...

Thanks for the article....I'm a cousin of Ray's and he is one of the main reasons I got involved in music. I released my first song on iTunes last year and couldn't help but think that he was a HUGE reason that I started playing the piano which lead to the guitar and singing as well. I remember so many good things about him and wish I would have gotten a chance to speak with him more as I became an adult and evolved into the musician that I am now. I loved that he wouldn't conform to the mainstream music and was always willing to take a chance and step out on the edge. I will always remember him.

Anonymous said...

This is someone who loved Ray very much, knew him well, and like Drew, wishes she could have understood him even better. She was very young six years ago and wishes she could have been of help to him when he needed it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. A young girl of ten she was, and had wished every day that she could help him feel better. It gives her comfort to know that he had such people in his life as you all who have commented on this wonderful memoir written by a man who she can't remember ever meeting. Thankyou for loving and appreciating him when I could not.

Anonymous said...

This is someone who loved Ray very much, knew him well, and like Drew, wishes she could have understood him even better. She was very young six years ago and wishes she could have been of help to him when he needed it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. A young girl of ten she was, and had wished every day that she could help him feel better. It gives her comfort to know that he had such people in his life as you all who have commented on this wonderful memoir written by a man who she can't remember ever meeting. Thankyou for loving and appreciating him when I could not.

Tim Mooney said...

Of the 150+ blog posts I've written over the years, this is the most commented-upon. And that is a testament both to Ray's personality, as well as his extreme talent and creative vision. Not to mention, of course, the outpouring of love from his close relatives. It seems that every now and then someone googles Ray, and mine is the site that seems to come up. I am honored and somewhat awestruck that my words carry the responsibility of saying goodbye to Ray for those of you who remember him.

The thing that saddened me most about my relationship with Ray is that my words and directorial abilities could not provide him with the hit musical that he so deserved. His frustration about not making the big break that he sought was an added stress to the pressure that he was already putting upon himself. I was doing shows for tiny audiences on the fringe festival circuit, and that vision of success was still well out on the horizon.

A few years ago, I stopped performing "Karaoke Knights," which had its good audiences and its bad (the latter largely due to a complicated production concept, and certainly not due to the music), and the heartbreak of playing to the occasional "I-don't-get-this" audience led me to set it aside. And yet, I do have a LOT of CD's of the soundtrack of "Karaoke Knights, a One-Man Rock Opera" that never quite sold like the hotcakes I'd imagined. While these versions of these songs feature my voice, Ray's music dominates this material, and perhaps some of you might enjoy them. (Now that I look through my i-tunes library, it seems I have most of Ray's demos for these songs, too, and should be able to burn them to another disc, as well.)

I don't want to make any money off of them. I'll send them out for free to anyone who writes me (at tim_mooney@earthlink.net) to request a copy. If anyone feels like sending me a couple bucks to cover shipping, that's great, though not necessary.

And if I get the chance to burn some copies, I'd also like to share Ray's masterpiece, "All Summer in a Day," his adaptation of the story of the same name by Ray Bradbury (with Ray singing all the parts). While there have been both producers and publishers interested in the project, we never got the official blessing of Ray Bradbury, and we've had to sit on a brilliant, though incredibly brief (20 minutes?) children's musical. (Ray's wife, Alice, told me it was her favorite.) Perhaps with enough encouragement, Bradbury's estate will someday sanction the work. Again, this is not for sale... only for sharing.

I only knew Ray for a brief, intense, very productive couple of years. We met, perhaps, twice. I was mostly in Chicago (when not on tour), and occasionally passed through Rochester, where we finally met. Otherwise, it was all phone calls and e-mails. His talent helped me dream of wild possibilities, which is, I think, one of the best things that people can do with their lives.

Thanks, Anonymous, for reminding me of those who are forever connected to Ray, and now to each other, through fond memories.

Love,
Tim Mooney

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