The King of West Memphis
As I look out the window from my second story office at the school where I work, I see children below running around on the playground. Despite the fact that it is a cold December morning, they are yelling and jumping around without a care in the world. Their high-pitched shrieks emit nothing but pure joy. It's fun to watch them frolic around. There's one kid in particular I am looking to find. It is that one proverbial kid at every school who wears shorts no matter what time of year it is. You know the one. I'm sure your school had one of those kids as well. After glancing around for a minute, I spot him. He's out there. This kid reminds me of Jarman.
I first met Chris Jarman just over twenty years ago when I moved back to my hometown of Memphis after living away for many years. He was friends with one of my co-workers at a community college where I worked just a hop-skip across the Mississippi River, over the bridge in West Memphis, Arkansas. The three of us would eat lunch together almost daily at what had to be one of the world's worst Chinese buffets. It would be an understatement to say the dining choices at that time in West Memphis were somewhat limited.
When I first met Jarman, I had no idea that he was somewhat of a big deal on the radio airwaves in Memphis. I soon found out that he was a member of the extremely popular "Wake Up Crew" on Rock 103. His approachable manner and humble demeanor were two of his most endearing qualities. And then there was his wicked sense of humor..... No human being in the world ever made me laugh as much as Jarman. I remember often going back to work after our lunch sessions with my sides and stomach hurting from guffawing so much. Anything and everything was fair game when it came to Jarman making a joke, but he never was mean-spirited with this clowning antics. In fact, he was often the butt of his own jokes.
Jarman never met a stranger. He was usually the loudest person in the room. His circle of friends was wide and vast from blue collar workers to well-known celebrities and civic leaders. As our friendship grew, we started hanging out some on weekends, too. 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! We would be anywhere on any given night, and the majority of folks would know him, and it wasn't because he was a local radio celebrity. It was because he was a genuine soul who never forgot a name or a face. He would greet everyone with a big ole bearhug and a beaming smile that would make you feel like you were the only person in the world that mattered to him. In a world that seemed full of phonies, Jarman was authentic.
Having lived away from Memphis for so long, I did not know many people at that time when I returned. Hanging out with Jarman helped me to socialize and meet more folks. At the time, I was the type of person who cared too much about what people thought about me. Jarman was the opposite. He did not give a second thought about what people thought about him. In some ways, his West Memphis rock 'n 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 was good for me. It 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 blog....During this period of time in life, he was around for many memorable events and milestones. One of my favorite memories was that he accompanied me and Holly (who is now my wife) on our first date, as he and my co-worker set us up. I am still not sure if he came along because he was worried for her or me! Holly and I have now been married for seventeen years. I guess he knew what he was doing!
The kid on the playground reminds me of Jarman because he was also "that guy" who always wore shorts in the winter. I remember one time I was hanging out with him in Rock 103 radio studio that overlooked historic Beale Street. While spinning tunes with him and chit chatting, I mentioned that my brother's band was playing in a juke joint across the street. At that point, Jarman proclaimed that we were going to go over there and watch the concert a bit. I had no idea how he was going to pull this off and be on the airwaves at the same time. Before I could even ask, he put on a "three-for" of some of the longest classic rock songs he could find: Aqualung, 2112, and Shine On You Crazy Diamond. "Let's Bolt!" he proclaims, scampering out into the cold night air in his shorts across Beale Street like a hurt animal. People were staring and pointing, but he was oblivious! The mental image of his big ass booking it down to the juke joint in shorts on a cold January night when everyone else was wearing thick coats, gloves, and scarves, still makes me laugh. He was living his best life, moment by moment, and it was awesome.
With the passage of time, like most people, I do not hang out in bars or public places as much as I did in my younger days. As a result, I began to see less of Jarman over the years. Every now and then, I would run into him somewhere, and he'd give me the big ole 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. Sadly, he suffered with skin cancer over the years. Every time I would see him, the damage on his face was clearly visible and a bit worse than the time before. However, this never seemed to dampen his spirt or his zest for life.
I often joked with Jarman that he was the third most famous person to come out of West Memphis since Keith Lee and Michael Cage (former professional basketball players). He acted like this was ridiculous, but I could tell from his sly grin every time I said it that he actually liked it. While he loved all things Memphis, he was proud of his hometown of West Memphis. He was passionate about West Memphis High School Blue Devil football and his glory days as the marching band's drum major. People from West Memphis absolutely loved him, because he would often proudly proclaim his love for his hometown on the airwaves of its much bigger sister, Memphis.
Two days ago, my phone started blowing up from mutual friends I had not heard from in years. I was shocked and saddened to find out that Jarman had passed away due to complications from a fall he suffered. Like thousands of others who considered Jarman a close friend, my heart was shattered. We never think that someone with a sprit that large is mortal like the rest of us. One of our common friends sent me this text:
Jarman had an impact on so many lives. I remember: he always wore his hiking shorts in any temperature. He loved sports. He loved hugging beautiful women. He played the same 60 classic rock songs on the air for 25 years. Loveable teddy bear-like stature. I loved the stories of him racing you to the restroom stall at the community college. RIP Chris Jarman. We already miss you.
As I continue to look out window at the kids on the playground, the boy sporting the shorts comes back into focus. It is a chilly December day, and this kid could care less what anyone thinks. I smile to myself as I nickname the boy "little Jarman" in my mind. The King of West Memphis may be gone, but he is not forgotten... RIP, brother.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com