By Suzy Williams
A sublime service took place on Saturday, June 17th at the Masonic Lodge on Venice near the Hare Krishna Temple, lauding and loving the great musician and lifestyle artist, Bruce Langhorne. Best known for being THE “Mr. Tambourine Man,” inspiring Bob Dylan to pen the song (Bruce played on Dylan’s first three albums), and causing Judy Collins to write “Since You Asked,” Bruce was on stage with Odetta when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. He played Africa with Baba Tunde Olatunji, and worked with Spike Lee’s bass-playing father, Bill Lee.
He lived in Venice the last quarter of his life and brought his high-being-infused drumming, guitar and piano-playing to our lucky, grateful community. He started the Venice Beach Marching Band when Katrina hit New Orleans and brought together an assortment of our finest local musicians. He threw many a fantastic musical bacchanal in his bohemian backyard on Sunset Avenue.
The Masonic Temple Open, airy main room was festooned with sunflower-rose bouquets and a classy potluck was spread on white tablecloths. A large table had framed photos of Bruce that spanned his colorful life. A grand piano on the hardwood floor stood near the stage with its velvet curtain. A lace-covered stairway, leading nowhere, was laden with bowls of fruit and shells. A particularly fragrant desert sage scent filed the air.
The first speaker, Miguel Rivera, began by singing a Native American song peppered with mournful yet joyous coyote yelps, then he entreated us to join in: “Ahh Ohhh Maaa…Ahh ahh ahh…Ahh Ohhh Maaa,” repeated, till we practically levitated. Steve Wolfe brought a talking stick that Bruce had fashioned and polished from a branch, and that stick was passed on to speaker after speaker, people giving testimony to Bruce’s wisdom and humor. Tales of adventures with Hugh Masekela, in Big Sur, his wonderful sense of touch. “One night we danced around the house…and I mean AROUND the house!”
Bruce’s gift of music: “He poured into me the knowledge of music,” waxed one young man. Another youngish bearded man, John, put us all in tears or damn near on the verge: “I don’t know how to live in a world without Bruce,” he wept. Retold favorite Langhorne jokes: “Chickens??!!” Vinnie Caggiano got up and recalled a life-changing homily Bruce came up with: “Self-imposed limitations are what age you.” Bill Attaway, our great Venice sculptor, gave an impassioned speech about a day when Bruce’s mixed a strange tough-love physicality with philosophy. People spoke of his “equanimity and grace.”
Bruce had requested for his funeral: “Have all my vestal virgins stand up and take a bow!” (However, nobody stood, for by this time, the women were neither “vestal” or “virgin.”) But we did get up to dance! After a few concert-style pieces written by or inspired by Bruce. (Kathy Leonardo did a sweet and moving philosophical song about what legacy we might leave), Robbie got up and played the hit of the day: ”Old Dog,” a folk-spiritual by Bruce Langhorne that has a refrain that goes like this:
Let me be unto the Lord as my Old Dog is to me
He don’t ask for nothin’- he’s happy just to be
Here sittin’ at my feet, and lookin’ up with love
Sayin’ “Oh my Lord and Master, send thy Grace down from above”
We then dissolved into a flurry of great tunes and solos played by a cracker-jack revolving band of friends of Bruce’s from around the country. Some locals that took part I recognized: Alfred Johnson, Leon Reubenhold, Vinnie Caggiano, Matt Cartzonis and Robert “Count Smokula” Miles. Children, maybe seven or eight of them (a lot of them were Bill Attaway’s!), mixed gleefully among the ecstatic adults. It was a “Home-Going.”
At the top of the service, Miguel, the one with the Native American incantations said, “Now Bruce is our ancestor.” Wow. That’s about right. Something to live up to … to live for.