Still That Karaoke Singer from Hon Bar

This is a continuation from last week. If you haven’t read last week’s blog, please read this first. 

“Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.”

-Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Esquire Magazine, April 1966

Thinking about Frank Sinatra with a cold, and other similes above, I don’t think Bobby Ray would ever tell you he’s lacking anything. I don’t know if I’d call him glass-half-full, or just that the concept of the fullness of a glass is so far out of his vision, that it’s irrelevant. He’s just Bobby Ray and at the very least to him (if not to others as well), he lacks for nothing. Though, he’ll also tell you, he doesn’t have much to begin with.

“I came into the world banging my head on the way in,” says Bobby Ray. “I’ve been here before,” he says as he looks at me, half making sure I believe him, half I can tell he doesn’t give a shit if I believe him. This is his truth. “I had to write it all down,” he says.

When he talks of the vision that recurs for him assuring him that he’s reincarnated he says, “I know it’s true because it never changes. I got one of those old black copy books primers to write it all down. From before I entered this life I have memories. I have no reason to lie,” he tells me, and when I think about it, I guess he’s right.

“I had to really come to grips with this over a long period of time, whether I concocted it or it was a childhood dream or just the truth and that’s why I wrote it down. And it’ll never change.” Then his talk parades into a place where I get lost, of merging your unconscious and subconscious with your conscious. “We are talking right now through conscious mind, subliminal and the unconscious mind.” And as I start to lose him, he spells a word I must have missed completely, without being asked. He’ll do that, spell things for you, even when you’re not taking notes. His story of his pre-birth-image, he says, “This is like god’s memory in the subconscious mind.”

“Before I entered this life I was awakened in my soul body. I was out there in the darkness of space. It was like my eyes were open but I wasn’t a physical being. Under my vision was the earth and over here were these voices and they were female.” He points to where the voices came from. “There were two of them and they may have been like ancestors,” he points over his right shoulder with his thumb.

“I had my ears and eyes. I was looking ahead and listening to them. I was seeing the earth and they were talking about me coming to the earth, how I was gonna be, and I heard them and I got scared.” And this one ends.

He launches into memory two. “I looked down and I saw these little stick figures…it was my parents getting ready to copulate. I got scared and I went under again.”

And the third, “The next time I became conscious I was in the womb, fully formed.” And a side step. “My father was an ass. He was unedcuated and not refined. He had my mother locked in when he got her pregnant with my brother. Men did that to women back then. She was tiny. He was Fred Flintstone and she was Wilma.” He comes back to his vision. “I’m awakended all of the sudden. My mother was upset. She’s in a rocking chair rocking me in her belly, apprehensive about my father coming home. I’m seeing through the womb. I saw him come through the door with his paint overalls. She’s rocking me really hard like she’s worried about him coming home and I wake up. I’m psychically gifted, did a lot of psychic work.”

And finally, “I’m hung upside down by my ankles, soaking wet, just got slapped on the ass at the old Mercy Hospital down on Calvert Street.” He digresses and his memories get lost again as he returns to the reasons he believes he’s found them in the first place, “I’ve taken many awareness-increasing, consciousness-expanding sacrements. I did a lot of clinical acid, peyote, mescuplic, STP, DMT, I still make DMT by looking at the sun.” (See last week’s entry for specific instructions from Bobby Ray.)

Bobby Ray shifts in the backed stool at Mom’s Market. He’s sitting in “figure four pose” as we talk, and he tells me that he knows that he’s often in yoga postures. While he holds his body in asanas, Bobby Ray measures life in musical eras–I think it might be easier for him than one’s typical time stamps.

He tells me about the time period from when he was born and up through Elvis. Then he talks of the “blues shouters and how “the spirit was there” and Big Joe Turner and the “jumpin’ blues.” Then, he says, in 1956 everything changed. He launches into a description that draws out some Bobby Ray style nostalgia. The rockabilly era through 1959.

“All these country boys really came out of the woodwork. Such American soul,” he says so intensely. “I remember getting up on Sunday morning with my brother and watching these old black and white films of these hillbilly families in the Appalachian families up in the hills. The best country music you’d ever want to see, double guitar, it was raw American country music.” It’s like he’s still watching the show in front of me on his old black and white, as trails of ironic boots and post-workout millennials padder by. 

He launches into one short non-music tangent, “In 1960 when Kennedy came in, this new look, Joe College, cool guy, more polished, the president was a cool guy. The early 60s everybody was cleaning their act up.” But it’s short lived. “I was 15 years old, a sophomore at Calvert Hall, everything was gray when Kennedy died, for about 90 days. Everything was grey. Until February 14, 1964 when The Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan and the whole thing changed again.”

He tells me that The Beatles were “diff-er-ent” when most people use only two syllables. “I didn’t know how to process it. That changed the whole nation. All the way through 1969. Anything The Beatles did, they were the spearhead. Then they met Bob Dylan and George got turned onto LSD by his dentist.” I realize that anyone could google this information, but there’s something about Bobby Ray’s telling and I’d much rather hear it from him.

“They were trippin’ their brains out. That translated into their music. Deep esoteric metaphysical soulful head music. After Woodstock, August of 1969, November, I’m stationed on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, we hear over the television. We hear Nixon is president and Spiro Agnew is VP. Spiro says, ‘The Beatles are writing anti-American lyrics in their music.’ Four months later the Beatles broke up.” 

He tells me about 1972 when Glamrock arrived, followed by Kiss and David Bowie, and Bobby Ray says, “It got back to cutesie wootsie in a different way. The police would see you and follow you, harass you, if you had long hair. 1969. A quarter ounce of marijuana in 1969–it was a felony.”

But then the record scratches. And Bobby Ray stops his musical timelines.

“In 1970 I got discharged from the military, addicted, mentally and emotionally disabled. I found a special diet shop. All I could do was make myself as strong as possible. Fought it that way all the way through.” 

Bobby Ray explains that half of him was addicted to drugs and the half was trying to get healthy and strong. “One side of me has a needle in its arm, the other side wants only vitamins and minerals.”

His struggle has been his own, if you ask Bobby Ray. It’s his struggle to fight through alone, too. “Knowing you got a problem, 50% of it is already solved. You’re already halfway there. You can change anything. I feel like should’ve died four times. I’m still trying to overcome stuff, little things,” he says. 

Bobby Ray returns to his pre-determined death time and again in conversation. He seems to love his ability to dodge it, but also he’s amazed by his own aptitude.

“I was supposed to die 24 years ago. 24 years ago, I was at a seminar at the natural food store, on macrbiotic theory and meal, by Murray Snyder. Michael Rossoff–acupuncturist and lecturer–was outside and he was reading peoples’ palms. I’m watching and listening to him. He was telling him how long he was going to live and when he was going to die. So I asked him when I was going to die. He said 45-46. And I’m 24 years old at the time. He said ‘You chose that. That’s why it’s on your palm. You choose how long you’re gonna be here when you get here. But you can change that any time you want.’ That was in the fall of 1972…Zen buddhism and macrobiotics.”

He returns to 1972 so often, it makes me want to inquire about why this year was so significant. Maybe it’s obvious in his stories but still, I’m sure he’d have a reason tied to numerology or history or diet, or all of the above. He launches into the year of his pre-determined death.

“You know where I was on my 46th birthday? In city jail in N Section. I was on there for a 200K bail for marijuana. They put me with murderers, rapists, and [nationalities] who sold cocaine who had no bail. And I was under durress.” (Bobby Ray loves the word durress.)

“I was in there with one black guy. He was trying to appeal his sentence. Two cold blooded murders. The last night I was in jail, I had spent 114 days in the place. I was told I was gonna get murdered. They openeded the cages for dinner and I sneak down to the shower so I can get a shower before they let me out the next morning. The murderer walks in with three guys behind him. Bob, how would like me to kill you right now?” Bobby Ray explains that he just kept on showering, finished, and then “walked back to the cage.” He showed no fear. He looked the guy in the eyes and didn’t flinch. And they spared him. 

Bobby Ray suggests, “You let your enemy destroy himself. If your opponent is trying to intimidate you with fear and you don’t show it, you don’t feed him anything. I wasn’t afraid. They [cops, I think] had stuck a gun to my head an 8 mm, I had 4 pounds of pot, I was struggling, I had a drug record, a drug habit. Veterans wanted to put me on chemicals and lobotomize me.” He rattles off his list of issues again. 

“But I’m like a phoenix rising,” he says as his hands lift like he’s picking up a beach ball. “The greater the struggle, the greater the reward. Why am I still alive? Why didn’t I die? [Rossoff] told me I could change it. Over the years of struggling and studying while I was trying to survive. With diet, exercise prayer, I did it. I kept gleaning all these things from different religions and lifestyles. Tauruses are like that–we extract things from our environment that work practically and we discard the rest. Over the course of decades I’ve done that with religions and cultures. I became universalized with all the sacraments. These things have worked into a lifestyle that I customized to who I am now.” 

And amidst a tangent about growing up in east Baltimore, hearing about the street lamp lighters who used to go down Harford Road and light each street lamp, every night, one at a time, and about the new gas buses that came around in the ’50s, and a pack of Camels for 32 cents, Bobby tells me that Baltimore is a Scorpio-run city (and so is New Orleans, he says).

He tells me that growing up in a violent neighborhood, as a guy thrown in the midst of lowlives, military, jail, poverty, and trying to get along with people that “the world is an ugly place, it’s cold,” He says again, “It’s cold.” And then he starts signing “Riders on the Storm” aloud. “I can relate to that,” says Bobby Ray. 

So I ask him toward what I thought was the end of our conversation, “What did you want to be when you were a kid?”

“Kinda who I am now,” he says. “Someone who was evolving. I didn’t want to be a mechanic or anything I saw around me. I’m a master barber, a numerologist, an astrologist…” And then he starts talking about his face surgeries. He has a spiritual connection with Frank Sinatra, he says. He’s been in touch with Sinatra’s spirit before, while chanting one of his mantras.

So that’s who Bobby Ray is. He’s a phoenix, a spiritualist, a karma-changer, a master barber, an astrologer-numerologist, a recovering addict, a pothead, a chanter, a Buddhist, recently, a right-wing Republican, a Silician-Irish man, a sharp-dressed, overactive, introspective septagenarian. He texts me weird jokes around 9 p.m. now. He’s 40 years older than me and I can barely keep up. He’s a rider on the storm, a survivor, a unique cat. All of that, and a karaoke singer. Maybe he’s out of his mind, or maybe he’s more sane than all of us.


3 thoughts on “Still That Karaoke Singer from Hon Bar

  1. What a great character study! Compelling! I love this! Your hand must have been sore writing all of this down as he spoke. Has he read it? You have presented the most essential parts of his complex life in engrossing quotes and descriptive prose!
    Thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

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