Tribute to my teacher Bonia

Spoken at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio
Sunday, September 2, 2012

I am Jimmy Goodman, one example of what has been said about Bonia, one of his creations. When I met Bonia I was nothing trying to be something. I had no notion what shape that something would take.

The first day I met him, he asked me to eat with him in the cafeteria. He looked at my hands while we were standing in line, took my right hand into his and brought it close up to his eyes and looked at my fingernails.

“You play folky folky?” he said more than asked.
“Yes, I suppose,” I said. I knew what he meant.
“For what you want to do, you will have to learn over. You will have to start again.”

It would take years to realize how correct he was. What I did was trust his judgment. The night before that meeting, I spent in Phoenix Arizona playing lousy music in a saloon. I took the red eye to Cincinnati for my interview and that’s when I met him. It wasn’t a romantic existence, it was just seedy.

From his advice, I went across the street and enrolled as a beginning classical guitar student at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati music school. My first piece was Mary Had A Little Lamb, classical style, using all my fingers and with nice harmonies. I am still taking classical guitar lessons, by the way, and I did learn an entirely different style of playing and thinking musically which allowed the music percolating inside of me to express in an different way than if I had never met Bonia.

That’s how it started.

To accompany the music I was hearing within, I began to write stories and poetry and to move them all together into some sort of style that the only antecedent I can cite is Bonia. I watched him, was transported by him, and soon all the borders began to blend and I was writing singing poesying praying with music and that is the journey I have been on these last thirty five plus years since I met him and he changed my life entirely, from the inside out and the outside in.

In that time, I served him as his student, became like a younger brother, never lost track of him, he was like a compass for me and I feel adrift adrift right now — without a moon without a sun — without him. It started with music, but it was more than music I received from Bonia.

A week ago Sunday I was doing three performances/events in California and in between I felt the urge to speak with him. I called him and reached him. I wanted to tell him about a dream I had about him, I often dreamed about him sometimes sleeping sometimes awake.

I spoke with him but the dream was too long and complex and I could hear from his voice it wasn’t the right time to tell it, so I didn’t.

In the dream, I saw him as a young man. He was beautiful, his hair golden and wavy like wheat fields and though I tried to conceal myself from him, he saw me.

That’s what it was with Bonia. He saw me. I could not conceal myself from him. I loved him and his presence in my life will not be replaced. He changed everything, every single thing, for me. He put his hands into my soft tissues and re-arranged everything. He gave me a life.

jsg, usa