Eulogy for Fred Lewis

By Jason Clark, Winter, 2012

Here are a few things I remember about Fred Lewis, my friend of nearly 40 years, and why he meant so much to me.

First there was the family connection: Fred was my father Donavan's star Anthropology student. I first met Fred out at a dig at Lambitieco, Mexico, near Tlacolula, a small and rather rough town about 10 Km from Mitla -- itself a village well known for its Zapotec ruins and the place where Donavan and I had been staying and where I remained that summer of 1972 after my father chose more private and better equipped quarters at Rancho San Felipe, near Oaxaca, the provincial capital. Fred was an old Mexico hand, and was invaluable to Donavan not only because of his anthropological enthusiasm, but in showing him around and how Mexico worked. He knew what the authorities and others expected.

Fred was also a great drinking buddy, and was knowledgeable about a lot of subjects, or at least was a good bullshitter. Fred and my father had a similar sense of humor and shared a disregard for society's shibboleths. For being over 20 years Donavan's junior, Fred had remarkable empathy. He had a genuine interest in Mexican pre-history and archeology, for sure.

Later that same year Fred met my brother Mark when I brought him down to Mexico, and introduced him and me to Mark's future wife, Rosemary. By happenstance, thirty years later Fred was indirectly responsible for my meeting my present wife. As Fred was about three years my brother's senior, and Mark was into jazz at the time, and also had training in Anthropology (having recently acquired an MA in the field), they had much to talk about. Shortly after we Clarks returned to the Bay Area, Fred also moved up from Mexico and settled into a ground floor apartment on Fairview Avenue in Oakland, near the Berkeley border. Dan Keller -- another budding jazz buff -- also moved to the Bay Area about this time. Dan had been a student of Mark's when he was substitute-teaching in Rome before our Mexico sojourn, and Mark had introduced him to jazz. Fred, Dan, Mark, and Rosemary remained close friends until Mark and Rosemary relocated to Chicago in 1978, and even shared that triplex on Fairview for a few months.

In many ways, Fred complemented the rest of us by his age and experience, but also in his social background. We all were middle class. Like Donavan, Fred came from a family in which he was the first person to attend college. Fred's parents were anti-education, having read Fred the riot act for participating in a geographical competition at school. They also didn't like the fact that Fred liked books and listened to 'nigger' music. The intolerant milieu Fred had to contend with as a youth had a profound affect on his attitudes later as an adult, and he remained a sort of rebel for life.

The jazz connection was a strong one. At a time when everyone over 30 seemed to prefer easy listening and everyone under 30 listened to rock music, Fred stood apart from the crowd and listened to neither. He was one of the few of my own generation who knew more about jazz than I. Granted, I'd read more about jazz, as the history was fascinating to me, plus it was a guide to recordings; whereas Fred had picked up his knowledge by simply being in the right place at the right time and talking to fellow aficionados. I approached the music intellectually, while Fred approached it socially.

In later years, he listened to little else, save Cuban music, R & B from the early 50s, and the odd Country song from his early childhood. As our friendship developed over the years, I found that Fred could discuss the musicological, and not merely the social and historical aspects of jazz. He discussed the technique of various singers, piano, and horn players, and some elements of harmony and rhythm, that were always my principal interest in the genre. Fred not only liked to listen to jazz, he liked to discuss it from every angle: technical, historical, social, and cultural. Even where our interests didn't quite coincide -- as in his enthusiasm for cabaret singers and R & B music -- he always viewed the music from historical and social vantage points. He taught me more about my own culture than anybody else.

[He listened to] a lot of Cuban music and Sassy, as well (Fred's Voice of the Century) as background. I expect that any personal prohibitions on sauce or smoke will be waived for the evening's commemoration and festival of Federico...

Ironic that the one time I called Fred (must have been about last July or so), he was telling me how the doctors were almost positive that he was going to be a goner...that it was a miracle that he had survived... and now he's done checked out. The man was late to his own funeral. As I'm sure I will be. Well, he enjoyed life. His favorite saying in early years was, "Salud, dinero, y amor, y tiempo para gustar los". I do believe he had ample amounts of all three, and if that isn't testament to fine living, what is? So, he was hedonistic and went a bit astray with the Boo-ahh and the blow; he still had a certain magnetism and was unique. He will be missed. I'm glad you're having the event and dragging Mark to it.

Good on you, Dan.

Updated Tuesday, 06-Sep-2016 16:27:31 MDT