Memphis Loses a Unique Artistic Voice: RIP Randy Wayne Youngblood

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Randy Wayne Youngblood
  • Randy Wayne Youngblood
There are few sounds that have rattled my bones like the sound of metal dog tags falling to the ground and piling up. And there are few lines that have gutted me like the frequently repeated refrain, "I had to put the flag in the washing machine to get all the dirt out of it." These sounds have lingered, haunting me since I first sat in on Goodtime Speech, a play by Memphis poet Randy Wayne Youngblood. It's a benchmark against which I measure theatrical gestures of a political nature.

Although I was personally against the United States' military action in Iraq I disliked so much of the art that sprang up as a response. It was too shrill, redundant, and for the most part impotent if not outright counterproductive: Not so much preaching to the choir as angrily punching it in the face with platitudes. Not so with Goodtime Speech, which, by the show's end proved to be more heartbroken and lost than angry. It was emotionally direct, and disarmingly funny in its depiction of a topsy turvy world where up is down and patriotic songs fill the void created by death. It was easily the most powerful piece of anti-war theater I encountered during the Bush/Cheney presidency, and I attended some of the period's largest, and most creative demonstrations.

This was a clear-eyed vision. During a time of grief and conspiracy, this was a voice of sanity.

Randy Wayne Youngblood, who died in January at age 56 was diagnosed with Paranoid-Schizophrenia in 1984. Youngblood, a music enthusiast who once toured as a roadie for the band Yes, co-founded Memphis' Our Own Voice Theatre Company, and never let his obstacles prevent him from making amazing art. OOVC staged several plays written by Youngblood including The Wizard of Hope, Computrix's Landing Affair (For Everybody), and Radio Refinement. The company also collaborated with area musicians to stage Supergroups A+, a stunning rock opera that climaxed with girl group harmonies singing, "Don't ever put me in a box," desperate, and defiant words from a writer who knew what he was talking about.

A memorial gathering for Youngblood had will take place at TheatreWorks Sunday, February 16 at 2 p.m.

From OOV:

Randy's family will be in attendance and anyone is invited to come and honor the life and creativity of this unique theatre artist. Members of Our Own Voice will be sharing stories and contributing performance pieces for this special day. These are the performances that have been confirmed so far. Bill Baker & Virginia Reed Murphy will be facilitating a section from Boxing Unformed, Zak Baker & Jake Fly will offer music from Broadminded Mental Brains, and Kimberly Baker & Alex Skitolsky are collaborating to bring a new work of Randy's to life called Attorney Joker Part Sign. We hope you will join us for this special day at the theatre where Randy made his home on the stage.

Truly, a life worth celebrating.

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