Clarence Henderson, gonzo consultant, American music encyclopaedia, former hippy, Vietnam War radar sergeant, PhD writer for thousands, brother, loving husband and father, and the rock on which his family flourished, died of cancer at Makati Med on 12 February.
It is not easy to remember Clarence “as he was” before the sickness came, toyed with him for a year and finally drove him down last Monday. Physically, the cancer and the chemo changed him very much. He lost about 40 pounds and all of his hair and aged 20 years. Clarence went through quite a cool looking stage, when he resembled the older Dennis Hopper, but, that period apart, his physical deterioration was marked and unsettling.
Mentally and spiritually though Clarence was never stronger than during his last year, proving that a dark sense of humour has its uses. I honestly don’t remember him ever complaining or looking for pity. He was always optimistic and positive—it didn’t do him much good in the end, but it made life much easier for the rest of us. I have enormous respect for the way he lived out his last year; if I can do half as well when my time comes I’ll be happy.
Clarence was born in Indiana, of hillbilly roots, as he would proudly tell you. His fire and brimstone background no doubt accounted for his deep feel for American music, from the Carter Family to Mississippi John Hurt to Willie Nelson, John Lennon and the Grateful Dead. Clarence used to keep a group of us at work going with his activities as an e-mail DJ. Monday morning would start with something topical, say, “Stormy Monday” by T-bone Walker, and as the week progressed we would receive a lesson in musicology that might include some rare gospel or doo-wop, or obscure recordings from the Vietnam War era.
Clarence would only go so far though, grumbling in his more curmudgeonly moods that nothing good had been recorded since Blood on the Tracks. Clarence's goal was to be a famous writer and his rollicking life story is recounted in his unpublished autobiography Hillbilly Highway, which charts the passage of Clarence and his brother Paul through confused and turbulent America in the late 1960s and 1970s, ending in the heartbreaking description of Paul’s death from AIDS. Here is its prescient opening:
Life can seem incredibly strange when you really sit down and think about how much craziness you can survive, about how many things in life are unfair, about how life sometimes ends up brutally and prematurely, about how we’re probably all reborn somewhere up the road, and about how all that philosophical stuff doesn’t matter in the long run anyway.
Clarence is gone now and with him a small but vital part of 1960s America. Gone too are Clarence’s vast musical knowledge, his feel for a huge range of topics across the whole range of social science, his quick learning, clear writing, and his deep and constant love for his wife Daphne, son Ivan, and his daughters. He’s gone, but not forgotten.
Thanks for suggesting the clip Albert.