Leaving the wicker

He died alone. Sitting in his white wicker chair surrounded by flying multicolored dragons, parrot-beaked visages, and Disney-inspired creatures floating in bubbles across the brooding indigo canvases. By his side, his drum set. The greatest drummer I have ever known died alone, in a converted garage in the back of a Monticello Park Historical District stone home.

I heard about his death from Beverly in an email. It hit me like a two by four.

“What? How can that be?”

I’d heard Bobby Natanson had been sick but thought it was the flu or a cold. No one had said he was dying. No one had said anything. I just hadn’t seen him around for a while. I hadn’t heard anything from him. “He’s sick.” Who isn’t sick in December?

When someone dies, that’s it. It’s final. There’s no going back. There isn’t another chance to say what needed to be said. Time has run out. The book is closed. The final line has been written. There is no more. You can’t go back. I felt the emptiness. It was as large as a hurricane coming off the Gulf of Mexico. Bobby was gone and that was that.

He died alone. Sitting in his white wicker chair in a converted garage.

How can that be?

I knew that wicker chair. I had sat in that wicker chair. I had hung his artwork for him, vacuumed his living room, cleaned and organized his exhibit space so that he could put a good face to the public when they came to his so-called “studio” to see his work during the On and Off Fredericksburg Studio Tour. Bobby had a certain way of looking at the world, a cross between Disney and the surrealists, which made him a Bobbyist. It was hard for him to function outside his art. Functioning got in the way.

His painting, “The Red Mirror,” portrays a face without a face wearing a hat that looks like an Edwardian foot soldier. There are eyes but they fade into the redness of the background. Is that a tie or a river running down the figure’s chest?

In “I See Rhapsody,” Bobby’s images pass by one by one while he plays the drums. A jazz piano, bass, and trumpet play in the background. Crazy images. Images of faces with smokestacks, 15th-century sailing ships, horses with elongated legs, figures with wings, and a man with a huge hat. It’s art and music at its most enthralling.

The same with “The Guitarist,” a six-minute video. In it, figures from his paintings come in and out of the screen, surreally floating by. It is a magical world, the world of a man who retained his childlike sense of wonder and amazement, a world that only Bobby could envision.

I feel loss. Not simply because he is gone. But because I won’t hear him play the drums again. I won’t see that look he would have when he inhabited that space where music and painting and creativity combined to create new universes.

I feel the passing of a genius who died alone in a world that rarely recognizes anything but money. He must have known he was dying. Sitting in his wicker chair eating pickles out of a jar. He resigned himself to his aloneness. He let go. He couldn’t fight anymore. He died surrounded by the world he had created. There was Mother Teresa smiling down on him, Buffalo Bill looking out yonder, Dali, Desert Man, Sam Miguel, the Devil’s Birthday, Business in Hell, and Pegasus. The sound of his drums beat gently in the recesses of my mind. I think of Bobby and I raise my glass and toast his memory and his life and the fact that he died alone, sitting in his wicker chair, in a converted garage in the back of a stone home in Monticello Park. •