Saturday, January 31, 2009
Paul LeMay, RIP
Right about now, Hartford could use a guy like Paul LeMay, but it's too late, because he's gone.
Paul died early Saturday morning.
LeMay, the outsized thinker, the forever optimist, the lover of life, music and artists, has died after a lingering set of illnesses that had rendered him bedridden for months.
LeMay started the Peace Train Foundation in Hartford and brought tens of thousands of hippies and rednecks and music lovers and corporate geeks into Bushnell Park each May for an old-fashioned fiddle festival that was one of the biggest events in the city, until the city said it was tired of this big event.
I didn't know Paul then. I knew who he was. Watched him from the distance as one of the horde who would descend on Bushnell Park. I met him many years later, under the Calder Stegausaurus where he hosted noontime concerts as part of a summertime arts grant. We became friends. I helped him resettle some Bulgarian musicians, and he helped me book Billy Bragg into Hartford for a show that had to be cancelled when Bragg got the opportunity to tour with the Smiths.
Paul had a giant heart, and a larger creative spirit. He was part huckster, part genius, part minister to the downtrodden. He could be kind and he could be tyrannical. He was headstrong and heartfelt. He cared about people, and music and life. He respected artists, befriended politicians, poked fun at stuffshirts, hobnobbed with corporate leaders and traded beers with Hartford's most outrageous lowlife.
Paul had his demons, and he had trouble keeping them at bay. He lived life like every greasy hamburger, every unfiltered cigarette, every pint of beer had his name on it. His joie de vivre is likely what brought him down. His joie de vivre was the key to his charisma.
When a friend needed five bucks, he give him ten, but he wasn't afraid to ask for fifty if he himself needed twenty.
Paul brought people together. He introduced me to Lucy. He invited thousands to join him for a party every year in the concrete-dull insurance capitol of the world. He filled silence with music, recognized talent and genius, and knew how to make and spend a buck.
He found joy in simple things, but he was forever complex and inscrutable.
In the past several years, his companion and friend of many years, Cheryl Daniels, cared for him and listened as he continued to dream in his sickbed.
I've never met another man like Paul LeMay. I doubt I ever will. I'll miss him, as a lot of others will. He changed Hartford, and he changed the world around him, and that's the best anyone can expect to do in the short time we're here.