I usually can't stand public displays of grief. Except for Graceland's, of course, I have never understood the concept of a candlelight vigil. Those roadside memorials make no sense to me. I usually think of death as being a normal part of life that is unavoidable and go on about my business — sad, yes, but not overwhelmed.
But losing singer, friend, and all-round fabulous person Di Anne Price is a tough one, and I just don't feel like a world without Di Anne in it is the same. Well, it's not the same. It's hard to explain.
I can't remember how long she and I had known each other, but it seems like it was most of my adult life. I know that when I wrote a different column for this paper called "We Recommend," which dated back to 1989, when the Flyer was founded, I doubt a week went by when I didn't write something about her. The act was Di Anne Price & Her Boyfriends, which consisted of Memphis music veterans Jim Spake on saxophone, Tim Goodwin on bass, and Tom Lonardo on drums. They tirelessly gigged around town, and Di Anne played solo as well, including a lot of performances at elder-care homes around town.
Di Anne had one of the most spectacular voices in the music business, but she would be the first person to tell you she didn't understand why people thought it was a big deal. She loved music with a passion, and she never took her talent for granted, but she was the polar opposite of a "diva," in the sense of someone who is overly self-important. She was absolutely beautiful, inside and out. And not in a goody two-shoes kind of way. She had a wicked sense of humor, and she didn't suffer fools gladly.
She always seemed kind of in a frenzy when trying to get to a gig, but all of that came to a screeching halt when she settled in at her keyboard. And back during the days of civilization, when you could smoke in most bars, she'd be there at that piano, sometimes almost in the dark, with a single candle on it, cigarette at her side with smoke curling up in the air, and a shot of tequila beside the ashtray. It was perfect. And when she sang it was like growling and purring all at the same time, as if possessed by a lioness smelling something sweet in the air. When we started our "Last Mondays in Studio A" concert series at the Stax Museum (where I work) and had live music in a club-like setting in the recording-studio re-creation, Di Anne was the first act we booked, and people comment on that to me to this day. It was amazing.
Every time she sang a song, it was hers. No matter if it was one she wrote or a famous jazz or blues standard, it was Di Anne Price's song. And you couldn't experience Di Anne perform without noticing that her piano was like an appendage. It was part of her. The most wonderful thing about a Di Anne Price performance was seeing the way she interacted with the people there to see her — her "babies," as she always referred to them. She had a way of making each person in the room feel like she was playing strictly for him or her.
She loved her rabidly loyal fans not just for coming to see her but also just for who they were and just because it was the right thing to do. She never minded if people came up and sat on the piano bench with her; in fact, I think she loved that most of the time. And she always filled up the room with a vibe that was like something from heaven. I don't see auras around people, but I'm sure those who do saw a glow emanating from Di Anne that just couldn't be explained.
I think the reason so many people loved Di Anne so much (at least, I know it's the case for me) is that she was so real and authentic and didn't have a pretentious bone in her body, which sadly gave out last week. You always knew when you were going to see and hear Di Anne Price that all of your worries would get put to the side during that time you were in the room with her. For that one or two or three hours of her melting lyrics down to their most exquisite form, the crazy world outside the room didn't exist or matter. There was only loveliness in life.