I suppose you can say that I knew him well. At least, that’s what you’d expect when you write somebody’s biography, after all. We did spend days talking, months in chatting about what had been written and what still needs to be done. It took almost six years. You learn a lot about somebody under such circumstances.
At times I thought he exaggerated some incidents, especially when he joked about himself. At others, I got the impression that he underplayed his role in other people’s lives.Yet, when checking up on these stories ( a biographer’s second priority – the first is grammar!), I was always surprised at the accuracy of his memories. He surely had joy. He had fun. And he had a season in the sun…
He did make mistakes in his life – like we all do. In talking about these he was brutally honest, often with an acceptance that he not only learnt from them but that he also had to shoulder the responsibilities associated with them. I find solace in the thought that maybe – in a very small way – talking and writing about his life contributed to healing some of the rifts that invariably follow well-intended but flawed steps in life.
But we had fun as well. In the process of setting down a lifetime in mere words (such an unfair project to condense three score and ten on a few pages!), he’d take a break, get out the blue guitar and sing. I’d have a glass of wine. Ever the professional, he’d make absolutely sure that the guitar was in tune before caressing a melody from the instrument. An audience of one or an audience of many didn’t make a difference; his performance had to be perfect every time.
During one of his visits, he composed the music for a CD that was released later. It contained his adaption of some of the most famous love poems in Afrikaans. During that time it was impossible to start with his life story before ten of eleven – he’d work on the compositions from six until then before announcing his readiness to continue. Whenever it came to music, his dedicated professionalism and discipline never wavered.
And now his story has been told, the book is on the shelves, and it’s there for all to read. His one regret was that it was impossible to include all the people that meant so much to him. There were many famous individuals who touched his life – but it were the chance meetings with fans and friends that meant especially much to him. These meetings often blossomed into friendships that existed till his death. The support he and his family received during his last few days, remains testimony to his charisma and ability to reach out to friends and starngers alike.
The way his family rallied during his final days, deserves mention. Those readers who know his story, will realise how precious this must have been for him.
And now that famous voice is silent. We talked about death quite a lot, almost always including the question about what will be sung in heaven. Will there be choirs? Individual performers? Or will it be an entirely new adventure to discover the music of angels? Whatever it is, I find it easy to imagine him up there, adding his rich tenor to the melody of eternity.
He leaves us with such a wonderful legacy. The songs he sung – both old and new – will add spice to our days in future. The memories he made with so many people will add to that whenever his CD’s are played. A few years from now, people won’t remember him for the cancer he struggled with or the politics of his youth. They’ll stop what they’re doing when his songs are played, smile sadly, and say: “He enriched our lives with that voice. He made us laugh with the silly ditties. His rendition of Heimwee made us cry. But you know what? That man could sing. And he did…”
The voice is silent.
But his song goes on.