Opinion » The Rant

The King of West Memphis: Remembering Chris Jarman



As I look out the window from my second-story office at the school where I work, I see children running around on the playground. Despite the fact that it's a cold December morning, they are yelling and jumping without a care in the world. There's one kid in particular I am looking for — the kid who wears shorts no matter what time of year it is. You know the one. After glancing around for a minute, I spot him. He reminds me of Jarman.

I first met Chris Jarman just over 20 years ago, when I moved back to Memphis after living away for many years. He was friends with one of my co-workers at a community college in West Memphis. The three of us would eat lunch together almost daily at what had to be one of the world's worst Chinese buffets.

Greg Graber (left) with Chris Jarman - COURTESY GREG GRABER
  • Courtesy Greg Graber
  • Greg Graber (left) with Chris Jarman

I had no idea that he was somewhat of a big deal on the radio in Memphis — a member of the popular "Wake Up Crew" on Rock 103. His approachable manner and humble demeanor were endearing. And then there was his wicked sense of humor. ... No human being ever made me laugh as much as Jarman. I remember going back to work after our lunch sessions with my sides and stomach hurting. Anything was fair game for Jarman, but he was never mean-spirited. In fact, he was often the butt of his own jokes.

Jarman never met a stranger, and was usually the loudest person in the room. His circle of friends was vast — from blue-collar workers to celebrities and civic leaders. As our friendship grew, we started hanging out on weekends. It never ceased to amaze me that when we walked into a bar, virtually everyone knew and loved Jarman. Even more impressive was just how seldom he had to pay for his own drinks! It wasn't his celebrity. It was because he was a genuine soul who never forgot a name or a face. He would greet everyone with a big ol' bear hug and a beaming smile that would make you feel like you were the only person in the world that mattered. In a world full of phonies, Jarman was authentic.

Having lived away from Memphis for so long, I didn't know many people when I returned. Hanging out with Jarman helped me to socialize and meet folks. I was the type of person who cared too much about what people thought about me. Jarman was the opposite. His West Memphis rock-and-roll persona was in sharp contrast to my preppy, uptight, boy-from-the-suburbs vibe, but he loved me just the same. Being around him and his "live and let live" way of life forced me to unwind a bit and get out of my stifling comfort zones.

There are so many stories about Jarman I could tell, but many would not be suitable for this page. One of my favorite memories was when he accompanied me and Holly (now my wife) on our first date. He and my co-worker set us up, and I'm still not sure if he came along because he was worried for her or for me! Holly and I have now been married for 17 years, so I guess he knew what he was doing.

One time, I was hanging out with him in the Rock 103 radio studio on Beale Street. I mentioned that my brother's band was playing across the street. Jarman proclaimed that we were going to go over there and watch the concert for a bit. Before I could even ask how he planned to do that, he put on three of the longest classic rock songs he could find: "Aqualung," "2112," and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." "Let's bolt!" he proclaimed, scampering out into the cold night air in his shorts across Beale Street. The mental image of his big ass booking it down to the juke joint in shorts on a cold January night still makes me laugh. He was living his best life, moment by moment, and it was awesome.

Like most people, I don't hang out in bars as much as I did in my younger days. But every now and then, I would run into him somewhere, and he'd give me the big ol' bear hug, and we would laugh about the old days. It always filled my heart with joy to see him. On occasion, we would text about a song I heard him play on the radio or about a college basketball game. He suffered with skin cancer over the years, the damage on his face clearly visible and a bit worse each time I saw him. It never seemed to dampen his zest for life.

Two days ago, my phone started blowing up from friends I had not heard from in years. I was shocked and saddened to find out that Jarman had passed away. Like thousands of others who considered Jarman a friend, my heart was shattered. We never think that someone with a spirit so large is mortal like the rest of us.

Down on the playground, the boy sporting the shorts comes back into focus. I nickname him "little Jarman" in my mind. The King of West Memphis may be gone, but he is not forgotten. RIP, my brother.

Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll — Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, sports teams, and organizations around the world. He is Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School.

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