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You Can Close Your Eyes

  • July 21, 2004
  • 108 Views

By Pete Teo & Rafil Elyas

Jairus Anthony. 17 November 1963 – 12 July 2004

Jairus Anthony, beloved pub singer, passed away aged 40, on the morning of July 12, 2004. Jairus wasn’t just any pub singer, he was a charming fella well loved by many respected musicians and folks in the arts community. Kakiseni asked singer-songwriter Pete Teo as well as his former housemate Rafil Elyas, who fronts the band 360 Degree Head Rotation, to write him their tributes.

The Innocence and Ideal
– Pete Teo

Jairus Anthony passed away on the morning of the 12th of July 2004. Kakiseni asked if I’d pay my respects in print. I wasn’t sure at first. You see, I haven’t known him long and can’t tell you much about the road that brought him here. But we’ve shared many conversations and I’ve heard him sing when his voice was full and eyes bright. So I guess I knew him the same way some lovers know one other – through the truth behind words. And as such kinship can be compelling I eventually accepted the honour. If it should be deemed presumptuous of me to do so, I write with certainty that Jairus would have forgiven me.

I forget who introduced us, but I remember being struck by the stillness of the man. He was willowy, with keen eyes, calm voice and a smile that eased not in mirth but in empathy. As musicians tend to do, we discussed our artistic influences to avoid talking about the weather. I was stoked by our commonality but perturbed by his penchant for James Taylor, whose sweetness I’ve long abandoned for darker medicine. So I told him what I thought, half expecting disagreement. But it was a challenge denied – all I got in return was a kind smile – a simple acknowledgement from one who knew the world could only be beautiful precisely because it contains different manners of poetry…

A few weeks later, we met again in the half-empty belly of No Black Tie. A few of us were entertaining ourselves onstage. When it was his turn, Jairus gently sang Taylor’s ‘Carolina In My Mind’.

Dark and silent last night
I think I might have heard the highway calling
Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Signs that might be omens say I’m going, going
I’m going to Carolina in my mind

It was the first time I’d heard him play, and frankly, it was astonishing. The sensitivity. The clarity. The control. The warmth. I was spellbound. Finally, when the song was done, he turned to me: “That was for you,” he smiled. I knew then why Jairus loved James Taylor – for he too, like his hero, breathed the innocence and ideal of a bygone age – days when popular music revealed truths, even if they were said with simple beauty and placid voice.

In the months that followed, I learned that Jairus suffered from cancer. It was thus when we met at my concert at The Actors’ Studio last November, a friend who’d possessed charismatic calm had instead grown thin and sallow. And by the time I saw him again at his benefit concert two months later, he was barely strong enough to stand. His voice, once so sonorous and filled with quiet conviction, wavered as he spoke. When we had a moment to ourselves, he told me he was doing his best to keep his spirits up. He also made a joke about the song I wrote for him (‘Tom’). Perhaps he was trying to keep my spirits up. Then I asked if we’d do a duet rendition of ‘Carolina In My Mind’ once he got better. There was no reply. His eyes lit up momentarily before welling up in tears. I didn’t know what to say. So I hugged him.

That was the last I ever saw of Jairus Anthony. I wish I’d known him better although I am certain I know him enough. You see, he was a genuinely good man – and with genuinely good people, one doesn’t need much by way of history because truth shines in their eyes; in the words they utter; and in the things they choose to honour. I will miss Jairus, as will everyone who knew him. I will miss his songs, his easy manners, and his stillness. But above all else, I will forever treasure the memory of that night, when those gentle words of farewell finally made perfect sense.

Pete Teo
15 July 2004

***

Sweet Progressions and Fiery Rasam
– Rafil Elyas

I met Jairus in 1992. He reminded me of Jim Morrison, wiry and shaggy. We met at Street Connection, a hidden pub in Damansara Heights. He was a fledgling musician those days, sharing the stage with Paul Ponnandurai, Albert Sirimal and Vijay David, Amir Yusof and other seminal pub performers. He would finger pick James Taylor and other acoustic folk tunes. We quickly became good friends, united in our disdain for commercial and hotel lounge music.

Early 1994 we shared a house in Damansara Kim. There, I witnessed his passion for music; he’d constantly be working on his repertoire, figuring out progressions on his acoustic guitar and programming beats on his Alesis 16. Musical osmosis occurred, the material in the CD rack ranged from James Taylor to Nine Inch Nails. I learnt to appreciate music that involved more than three (often distorted) chords and Jairus started playing R.E.M. Despite his persuasion, I never developed any interest for James Taylor’s works.

Jairus once joined a seminary, but left before taking his final vows. He moved on and worked for an advertising company, McCann Eriksson for some years then did part time work at the PJ Speech and Drama School and Robert Lam’s English Language Institute. In the mid 1990’s he focused on his musical career while teaching folk guitar part time.

We lived in that house for a little over a year. Those were great times; strange road trips, pub-crawls, jam sessions and in depth analyses of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. He was a great cook, made excellent curries and served up a fiery rasam. Our favorite time wasters were jamming to Saturday Night Fever and imitating Robert Lam.

At the end of 1994 I got married, moved out mid 1995, started a new job and traveled a lot, I seldom met my friends. I’d catch Jairus’s acts at Delaney’s, Backyard and various pubs in the Klang Valley whenever I was in town. He had paid his dues and earned a reputation; he radiated warmth when he played.

The past few years, he played regularly at Backyard and expanded his performance to include a full band; Jairus on vocals and acoustic guitar, his brother Edmun on bass, Justin Wah vocals, and Simon Justin Leo on lead guitar. The crowd could never get enough of them.

In 1996 James Taylor played KL. Jairus got to meet Taylor after the show. His prized possession was his Ovation replica, autographed by Taylor that night. Jairus said he could now die a happy man.

I was devastated when I heard of his illness at the end of 2003. I called him and he calmly described his condition, fourth stage pancreatic cancer. I was told he was given 6 months to live at initial diagnosis. The rebel he was, he blazed through 14 months.

Early this year Jairus was hospitalized at HUKM after a bad chemotherapy reaction. Friends and family surrounded his disheveled frame. I looked on as a priest recited prayers and gave him communion. After the priest left, Jairus looked at me and said, “Dude, you didn’t burst into flames!”

Around April/May 2004, the chemo wasn’t working and was discontinued. He stayed with his mother in Sri Gombak during the last weeks.

Jairus was the second in his family. He has an older brother Sylvester, younger brothers, Francis, Edmun and Gerard. Their mother, Mrs. Josephine Anthony, handled the task of raising the boys admirably and even now she continued to tend to him lovingly. They say there is nothing stronger than a mother’s love for her child and this was evident in the way Mrs. Anthony cared for Jairus throughout his illness. His brothers were pillars, supporting him with love, moral and financial support.

His friends rallied around him and lent a helping hand without expecting anything in return. In particular, Joan Chong, Susila, Sumathi Subramaniam and Suresh Vasudevan poured strength into Jairus and his family during this period. They ran errands, made doctor’s appointments and shuttled him to the hospital. His oncologist, Dr Fuad, treated him as patient and friend. He was a truly remarkable person to bring out so much love in people around him.

“My family and friends are my wealth,” he once told his priest. Indeed, he was richer than Bill Gates.

Monday 12 July 2004. I was in Manila when Edmun called me, Jairus had passed away around 8:00am. He would have been 41 years old this November 17th.

At his service, I saw him for the last time dressed in a fine suit. They played his renditions of ‘Carolina on my Mind’ and ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’.

For me, Jairus lives on whenever I finger pick a sweet progression on the guitar or order a serving of rasam at my favorite banana leaf joint.

Rest in peace, dude.

Rafil Elyas.
July 19, 2004

There were a few performances put together to raise money for his medical bills. One of the performances was recorded. The CD (Jairos and Friends) is available at the Backyard pub (28, Jalan Sri Hartamas 8, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 603-6201 0318)

First Published: 21.07.2004 on Kakiseni