Writings About Music
Red Coffee Cup
Michael Robinson and Eli Robinson
Two of my favorite rings had been missing for weeks, and I mentioned this to several people hoping they might know what had happened to them. Even sunk so low as to imagine the plumber, who is also a minister, might have taken them while I was out getting a haircut. But then I found the rings, not expensive, but with emotional attachments like if I had been Woody Guthrie I might have written a song about them making some profound, transcendent point.
Both rings are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, but I bought them in an excitingly authentic shop in Paia, Maui from the kind, supercool proprietor whose name sounded like my initials, MER. Both are silver rings, one with a joyously bright green olive jade stone, and the other with an elegant champagne sapphire stone.
After several weeks of apprehension and puzzlement, I found the rings in a red coffee cup with “Love” printed in white letters together with an image of a heart. There those baffling rings were together inside the cup, which was inside a closed cupboard shelf in the breakfast room.
Michael Robinson, Eli Robinson and Julie Robinson
He never practiced religion after growing up and leaving his parent's home, but was completely and thoroughly of Jewish culture through and through. Qualities that now seem from antiquity existing in our time. Was about as intelligent as any of our kind, humans, walking around. Had drawn chess games at the age of nineteen against two of the greatest players of all time, Samuel Reshevsky and Miguel Najdorf, after teaching himself to play only a year or two before. These were part of simultaneous exhibitions, and in both instances the grandmasters offered him a draw because their positions were inferior, which he accepted both times because they had the time advantage, the challengers being required to move as soon as the grandmaster came to their individual board. During his career, he was in charge of the early giant computer systems for one of the largest companies in America, Equitable Life. If there was some technical problem at 3 AM, they'd call him, and from a deep sleep, in a few seconds, he had the solution, like spreading cream cheese on a bagel for him.
My parents, Eli and Lila Robinson
Thanks for thinking to wear red for this photo, Dad, and including the red car, too.
Dad pretty much left me alone to develop as I might. He said that’s what his parents did with him, and it seemed like a good strategy. Words like “love” were never used growing up, nor were there any hugs. There was something almost militaristic about his manner, perhaps influenced by his boss at Equitable, Coy Eklund, a war hero who fought against the Nazis serving on the Third Army staff of General George Patton. But when I came to see him for several weeks when he was confined to bed last May, Dad eagerly if slowly raised his left arm in greeting to hold my hand, and the way he held it, the feeling he transmitted physically despite his compromised state, well, that was very powerful. I’ll never forget it.
The rings had gone missing sometime during my trip to New York from Los Angeles in May to see Dad. When he got worse sooner then we had thought in June, I didn't get there in time for his last moments, arriving one day too late. After the memorial, where I had a lot to say about him, and after returning again to Los Angeles, the rings were still missing, but then they turned up several days later.
Sun Dance, from the Robinson Gardens album, is a 1992 composition that I recall Dad liked a lot, so here it is.
And while his tastes in music were conservative, and never really took an aesthetic interest in my music -- he did make it possible for me to have the time to develop my music, which was an absolutely priceless gift I am beyond grateful for -- I have now realized he’s all inside my music, just everywhere, in the way I think, the way I feel, they way I organize and do things with a composition. You’re alive there Dad, and it’s a powerful presence, so let’s both live forever like we already have.
And the rings that appeared in the red coffee cup with the word "Love" and a heart image, it didn’t make any sense why they would be there alone. So I took it to be an inexplicable, mystical, magical goodbye from Dad, the goodbye/hello I had missed thankfully gifted back to me.
Life really is like a raga, no beginning and no end, always Now. And even if we humans allow the earth to be destroyed eventually, the universe will continue on like an eternal tamboura.
Dad didn't drink coffee, so maybe it was a tea cup...
After writing this tribute, I went for a walk well past midnight, and came upon a fantastical, nocturnally thriving profusion of grand, billowing red roses in front of a stately home I'd never noticed before. I held bunches of the crimson flowerings gently in my hands while speaking softly out into the night air: "I love you, Dad." During one of our last visits in May, I had shown Dad a lead writing tool made from actual lapis lazuli, and he had stared at it in wonderment: "It looks like the sky!" perceiving at once exactly how the ancients viewed this wondrous stone.
And now his eyes are two of the stars that shine down on us at night with all their wisdom and love.
On that sad June day, I had shared with my family the lines below of William Wordsworth. Having met David Amram for the first time during my May visit, I subsequently had been curious to know the source for the title of one of the films he scored, "Splendor In the Grass", and found those words fitting for our grief:
What though the radiance which was once so bright
July 2018, Los Angeles
© 2018 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).