A friend, Rob Meurer, died last week in a tragic accident. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street in front of his house in Studio City.
On the days following his death, I tried, but failed, to post anything about Rob on Facebook. I felt too raw. Too tender. Too shocked. Or maybe it was because I knew I needed to make a more thoughtful tribute to this gifted musician and generous person who taught me so much about art, and the dedication it takes to live a creative life.
On the morning of the day Rob died, I read a meditation about the importance of finding that “indwelling spirit,” or sustaining force within us that can carry us through times of sudden change — when events happen so fast we don’t have the time to adjust, or integrate the changes into our lives. The message helped to steady me as I dealt with Rob’s death, and how fast it had come, and how shaken I was.
Rob was a terrific musician, and he blew us away with his music every other week at the Unitarian Church of Studio City, where we met over ten years ago.
Sometimes he sang the music he wrote with his long-time collaborator and friend, Christopher Cross (Rob played keys and synthesizer on the album that won Cross a grammy in 1979).
Other times he sang Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Peter, Paul and Mary songs — “River,” and “Stewball,” and “With God On Our Side.”
He was brilliant, and funny, and constantly made us laugh.
The work he did with Beth’s, his wife’s, project, the Rising Star Children’s Musical Theater Troupe, was an inspiration all its own.
Every time I saw one of the productions, I went away thinking about how lucky the kids were to have someone so creative and knowledgeable to work with and learn from.
Rob and I stayed in touch mostly on Facebook this last year, although our paths happened to cross the day before he was killed.
We lived in the same neighborhood, we both liked to walk, and he was on his way to the store when I was walking home from Trader Joe’s with a bag of groceries.
I congratulated him on the musical he’d written that was being performed in Chicago. He told me the audiences loved it, but the reviews were not good.
“Many plays and movies that don’t get good reviews, initially, go on to be successful,” I said. ” “I didn’t think you were supposed to read the reviews.”
“The producers read them,” he told me.
Oh, right, money, I thought.
In an interview with the Daily News, Chris Cross talked about what Rob said to him when a project they’d hoped would be a commercial success had not worked out the way they wanted it to. ”Rob often said we should keep going, ‘because that’s what we do,’” Cross said, “His love of the craft was as deep as anyone I’ve ever known. He knew why he was here.”
My most enduring memory of Rob (besides him letting me use his car for several months when I moved to Studio City ten years ago — In L.A., who does that!? ) is of Rob singing Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom Flashing” in church one 4th of July weekend.
“Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing, ” he sang.
It was the best cover of the song I’d ever heard. And it was so Rob, a Bernie Sanders supporter who was always rooting for the underdog, always standing against the forces — political or religious — that would divide us.
Rob’s wife, Beth, asked us to light a candle on what would have been Rob’s 66th birthday last week.
As I lit the candle, I read a poem by Lisel Mueller I’d heard that day that reminded me of Rob’s passing, and of what the meditation I’d read earlier said about change, and how change can empower us and help us to grow if we don’t resist it, if we take it in the right way.
by Lisel Mueller
How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness
and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:
as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious
And I made a vow to keep going — to keep creating. Because that’s what Rob taught me. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re here for.