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On the passing of Ray Adams

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On the passing of Ray Adams

(Editor’s note: It has come to the Sopris Sun’s attention that this remembrance about Ray V. Adams last March never made it into the paper. So, here it is. The Sopris Sun regrets the mistake. Adams was, among other things, the Aspen Choral Society’s composer-in-residence and conducted Handel’s “Messiah” for many years).

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By Pat Noel

Many of us who migrate from here and there to someplace else arrive as righteous pilgrims aspiring to liberations of one sort or another.

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Just such a pilgrim I once met a long. long time ago in a galaxy far, far away in Nexus 81623.

The pilgrim’s name was Ray Adams.

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Although The Sopris Sun carried the notice of Ray’s passing, the bulk of the obituary dealt with his achievements during his 30-plus years as a composer and musical director in the Aspen community. However, I’d argue Mr. Adams made his musical bones not in Aspen but rather in Carbondale during an era of profound change in this community. An era in which Ray was a beloved participant, albeit all to briefly.

Let me, if you will. set the stage: Carbondale. 1970-something. (Sorry I can’t be more specific about the date but my memory has suffered some collateral damage along the way. So zeroing in on the nearest decade is as good as it gets).

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Anyway, where was I?

Oh.

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Yeah.

Ray Adams.

Carbondale. Some 35 years ago.

lt was a seemingly decrepit place with a face only a mother could love and that had only recently awoken from a multigenerational, albeit not entirely unpleasant, coma. For travelers of the day zipping along on Highway 82 it was easily bypassed under the mistaken assumption that there was “no there, there.” As former Aspen Times editor Mary Esbaugh Hayes noted in her book about her first days in the Roaring Fork Valley in the early I 970’s, Carbondale had the feel of a town lost in the 1950’s.

Well, as my father used to say when mom bitched him out for getting “hopelessly lost” on his everlasting quest for a shortcut from any Point A to any Point B: “Dammit, Anita. We may be lost, but we’re makin’ good time.”

And so it was in Carbondale.

Stuff happening

There was plenty of stuff happening beneath the surface and just beyond the glance of the casual observer.

Heck, there were more artists: potters, jewelers, musicians, singers, actors, dancers, educators, designers, writers, painters, photographers, wood masters and so on than seemed possible for a town its size. Although most had to take day jobs pounding nails, pouring concrete, cleaning condos or waiting tables, they’d found the place to connect with their particular muse and had a good time doing it. And out of this bunch there carne many of the mothers and fathers who helped create many of what are now considered Carbondale institutions.

One such perky parent was Laurie Loeb, known back then as an effective “community activist” or, variously, as a “pain in the ass trouble maker,” depending on who you talked to. Well-lauded over the years as both the Mother of the Mountain Fair and its then-parent organization the Carbondale Arts Council, she had her busy little fingers in many other social, political and cultural pies, which eventually embedded themselves in the warp and woof of the Carbondale fabric. (Lest Ms. Loeb be prematurely canonized, it should also be known she once harbored in her yard a particularly evil monkey named “Monkus” who would bite innocent little kids when they stopped to pet him. Several children reportedly died from their wounds).

For me, however. Laurie’s most endearing contribution to Carbondale came the year she returned to town following a trip back East with a new husband in tow: Ray Adams. (Once again, memory fails me regarding what year that was, exactly. But I’m pretty sure it was sometime after serial killer Ted Bundy escaped from local law enforcement custody —twice —- in 1977 but sometime before the Dutch Creek mine disaster of 1981).

Anyway, a number of Laurie’s friends developed a bad case of raised eyebrows when the new hubby showed up: some dubious of the age disparity between the couple (“a May-December thing” some said. “No, more like June-September … or maybe October,” said kinder others); still others were concerned that Laurie’s former lover, Charles “Crazy Charlie” Davis, whose righteous-anger meter could go from 0 to 100 in less than one terrifying Old Testament nano-second, would pound Adams into booger butter the first time they ran into each other on Main Street; and a few more who doubted Ray would be able to make it on his own, apart from his iconic wife (this group was composed mostly of ruffians from the American Tree & Cement crowd who called him “Ray Loeb” behind his back).

Ray establishes himself

Despite the doubters, Ray soon began the business of establishing himself in his own right as he pursued his vocation as music therapist, working mainly with autistic kids and introducing into their peculiarly-chambered worlds the expressive and joyous emotion of music.

It was during this time I first got to know him as he visited with Cully Crumpacker, the younger daughter of Maryann Crumpacker and Bob “Justy” Justman, who then lived across the street from Ray and Laurie on Garfield Avenue. Ray did marvelous work with Cully — “Music Man” stuff, in the best sense.

But it was quiet work — earnest achievement on a small scale to no general acclaim.

What my new friend required, I thought at the time, was a grander, gaudier stage on which he could strut his musical stuff before the community at large.

Yessireebob. what this guy really needed was …..

THE 1st ANNUAL CARBONDALE SPRING TALENT SHOW!

An utterly tawdry affair, it would nevertheless prove to be the proverbial springboard that launched Ray’s performance career in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Here’s what happened:

It was just about this time of year when a pair of rookie impresarios, myself and John Palmer, found our spirits at low ebb following a long, long winter of personal storms and drangs. What better way to cure cabin fever. we said to ourselves, than put on a live variety show: a talent show.

Lacking any talent ourselves, we quickly enlisted people who did, including Ray Adams as the show’s musical director and band leader. Ray, in tum, put together a hot house band that he nicknamed Ramone and the Moanettes.

Next we needed a place to have the show, so we talked to Wally deBeque, who owned the Dinkel Building, which housed, then as now, the Crystal Theater. In those days before it was renovated by the movie people, it was rarely used, and had fallen somewhat into disrepair. In fact, Wally told us, only four seats would hold weight, the toilets didn’t work, the power was iffy and some government guy had posted a “condemned” notice on the door.

“No problema,” Palmer said and Wally gave us the key. Several cases of duct tape fixed the mechanical problems: March winds blew the notice away and a week later, we were in business.

Come the night of the event, it was, in show biz lingo: SRO … Literally. Using the local newspaper as a shill to attract acts and sell tickets in advance, we’d overbooked a teensie weentsie bit and 200 people showed up to fill the 50 functional seats.

It was just as crowded backstage as a hundred or more would-be entertainers packed the tiny dressing room, eventually spilling out into the alley where they joined the complete membership of the Carbondale Volunteer Fire Department, who were also in the show, and had stationed their pumper truck at the stage door just in case the place started to catch fire before they went on — 50/50 proposition.

No ugliness

Normally, under such crushing conditions, you’d expect the crowd to get ugly but, this being Carbondale and all, the entire congregation had had the foresight to bring their large picnic coolers that doubled as seats and were stuffed with bottles of alcohol and assorted packets of recreational drugs.

Come 7:30 p.m., Ray struck up the band; Palmer and I stepped out on the stage to introduce the first act; and so began the spirited competition for the $100 cash prize and an obscenely large bowling trophy I’d purchased the day before at the Glenwood pawn shop and which read “Talent Show Champion.”

Sad to say, I don’t remember much about the show itself, having popped the top on my own personal picnic cooler about an hour before curtain time and which stayed popped for several hours thereafter.

But here’s what I do remember:

About 3 in the morning I was rudely awakened as I was sleeping in the cab of the fire truck still parked out in the alley by Bob Aragon, a well known jazz bassist who was sitting in with the “Moanettes.” He told me that my co-host, John Palmer, had disappeared about an hour ago with one of the show’s chorus girls (an ad hoc group of very, very hot waitresses who worked at the Village Smithy and, in the evenings, at the Sopris restaurant). Bob was worried that, because no one was actually in charge anymore, that the show was getting ragged and he thought the audience might be losing their enthusiasm.

“You mean the show’s still going on?”

“Yeah ….. it won’t stop.”

Sure enough, he was right.

When I got to the stage wings, thanks to a quick pick-me-up composed of Mogen David 20-20, tonic water and AlkaSeltzer Plus cold and flu tablets (kids: don’t try this at home), I immediately saw the problems: the first was a 19-year-old CMC student who had been performing for almost 45 minutes an experimental piece she called “The House of the Rising Sun Meets the Volga Boatman,” and, the second, an audience that had passed out, flat-lined apparently, by an hysterical en masse shutdown of their autonomic nervous systems. All 200 of them, still there, but catatonically glued to their seats and/or picnic coolers, several bleeding from the ear.

First, I took away the college chick’s autoharp, gave her the bowling trophy and the hundred bucks and told her to go away.

Next, I asked Ray if he could do something, anything, to take us out on a high note.

And he did.

He jumped up on stage in his skin-tight trousers, frilly pimp shirt and lounge-lizard sports coat and launched into an incredibly obscene version of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” I don’t have the words to describe this performance other than to note that, with his long hair swaying, pelvis thrusting, voice pleading … this 20-something version of Ray Adams saved the show. He was exquisite and the crowd saw it. Incapable of either standing or ovating. the audience did their next best thing: sat up straight in reverential appreciation, rolled their empty beer bottles down the aisle and went home to detox.

On that occasion was truly begun Ray Adams’ career in the Roaring Fork Valley and it was, as Ray was fond of saying: “Spot on.”

A call from Karen

A couple of weeks ago, we got a call from the pianist Karen Tafejian, a friend of ours and an old Talent Show pal of Ray’s. Karen told us that Mr. Adams was ….. dying. And that a bunch of choral people from up and down the Roaring Fork Valley were getting together to give him a musical sendoff at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. So we drove to Junction to be there for this thing.

Since it was not all that long ago, I exactly remember … this:

It is a Sunday afternoon in March of 2013; partly cloudy; temperatures in the mid-40s. Beaucoup singers are congregated in the lobby of a hospital. They have spent the best part of an hour rehearsing a performance of choice morsels from their repertoire for their ailing director, Ray Adams. Rehearsal complete, Mr. Adams is wheeled in from intensive care by his mother, brother, and good friend John Colson, who positions him just in front of the choir.

He’s very ill and weak and there will be no spontaneous eruption of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” which Ray would perform over the years on the flimsiest of excuses.

Ray is not the performer now but the audience. An audience of one and this concert is for him alone.

Joyful noise ensues.

“Hallelujah!”

Like that Talent Show crowd of many years ago, he now is unable to stand. But he’s obviously moved and knows that he has seen and heard a flight of angels singing him to his rest.

He tells them: “Spot on,” and exits stage right.

(Pat Noel is a former Carbondale resident and co-founder of the Valley Journal newspaper).

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