Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bravo! Joey Clarke - My Tribute to Joey Clarke

A moving tribute service took place in Trinidad  on Saturday January 22nd 2011 at the Top of the Mount, Mount St. Benedict at from 4 to 7 p.m. 
Bio: Master Playwright, Director, Actor, Producer, Writer, Broadcaster and Copywriter Joey Clarke passed away in Belize on Monday 17th January 2011 from a massive heart attack.  He was forty-seven years old.  For more than three decades his prolific talents graced both the Arts and Advertising Industries locally, regionally and internationally.  Born in the UK of Jamaican parentage, his early life and career blossomed in Jamaica where he wrote, produced and directed.  In 1995, Clarke came to Trinidad and joined the Sugar House Drama Company run by Patti-Anne Ali.   Between 1996 and 1999 Sugar House staged five original productions– Matrimoney(Clarke), Maubee (Ali&Clarke), Treasure(Clarke), More Maubee (Ali&Clarke) and Devilish (Clarke) amassing multiple Cacique nominations for best original script and best original music(Julie Harris).  Some highlights of his Trinidadian work include the TV program Joe Le Taxi with Sun TV, broadcasting with radio station FM 100, Raymond Choo Kong’s Cheaters, producing Sport TV features with All Sport promotions and appearances on Westwood Park.  He also created award winning advertising campaigns in Jamaica, Trinidad, St.Lucia and Belize building decades of regional advertising expertise.   In 2009 he married Senator Lisa Shoman and settled in Belize, adding published Author to his amazing accomplishments, bringing out Stories of Exordia, The Gospel of Rastafarai, Behold the Man, Devilish, Making a Killing, Treasure and The Best Medicine.  He also staged Devilish, Treasure, The Promise and Lesson for Lovers, the latter two being finalists in the Belize Theatre Company’s playwriting competition.  Clarke’s play "Best Medicine" was already being produced for television by Channel 5 Belize and will be aired in Belize in the coming weeks ahead.
He leaves his wife Lisa to cherish his memory and countless colleagues, friends and relatives whose lives were deepened and enlightened by his complete commitment to following his art.  His funeral took place in Belize on Saturday 22nd January 2011.  Patti-Anne Ali, Director of Sugar House  staged a final farewell for Joey Clarke here in Trinidad, on the same day.  
I was honored to be included as a part of that:  
MY TRIBUTE TO JOEY CLARKE - (Nov 6 1963 - Jan 17 2011 R.I.P.)
Thanks to this inspiring children's book "The Next Place",  we now use  this  euphemism in our family.

I found it when my son  was just a toddler and included  it in his library not because we were in any specific situation, but as part of his life-wisdom education. It is where his ailing grandfather is expected to go to soon and where Bobbin our dog went and Fighty his fighter fish joined some time later.

This week I could say to him:

My friend Joey Clarke went to "The Next Place".

The Next Place is where Warren Hanson the author says,

"I will not be a boy or girl, a woman or a man, I'll simply be, just, simply me, No worse or better than..."

I heard a priest say once at a funeral service that he believed every person, every life without exception, perfects one aspect of Creation...

If this is true, I  would have to offer the idea that Joey Clarke,  perhaps more than anyone I have ever met was quite unforgettably just that - Joey Clarke being himself - no worse or better than.

 I have never met anyone who could do Joey Clarke, better than Joey Clarke. He is easily one of the most  instantly recognizable and memorable characters without props or costumes - and it is this selfhood that encompasses the details of my memories.

If the word "Friend" means everyday interaction, keeping up with each other's business then you may feel me unqualified to call Joey a friend. In fact, I did not know he was  remarried and NOT living in Trinidad or Jamaica, but in Belize. In truth, I  had not remembered him for quite some time...

But when I saw the name Joey Clarke in the subject line of Patti's email, his voice, his face, all his Joey Clarke-ness filled my mind.

When I emailed the SUN TV crew  about Joey's trip to The Next Place, Vanessa Soodeen wrote back:

"You know how some people are "easy on the eye" .. well for me, Joey was "easy on the energy" .. in the sense of having an easy-going energy. He could mingle easily with different groups and types of people... You could see him mixing with actors on the stage of a theatre the same way he would mix with people in the stage of life... He was always so committed to the interaction ... smoothe and easy!

In the 90s when SUN TV was pioneering an organic styled approach to production in Trinidad, what we now know as   "Reality TV" (because someone else, US cable, told us so) - Joey Clarke and Patti-Anne Ali as "Sugar House" were exploding into their  Renaissance of their own in theatre.

I will never forget Joey at the podium in The Little Carib Theatre bringing then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday to full comedic effect for (the Sugar House production) Maubee, that bitter-sweet comedic portrayal of all things Trini. If we ever had the chance for a weekly television satire as slick, sassy and as witty as America's Saturday Night Live - THAT WAS IT!

During this time, Charlene Boodram's  remake of the French song, "Joe le Taxi" was burning up our back yard with regional radio play and one was of our most requested music videos on SUN TV's play loop. Much of what I intended to create with SUN TV was a sincere relevance to our contemporary Caribbean lives;  to make "we" kind of  TV that was true to here and now but with more of the sexy sizzle with which  American pop culture seduces the world - ( not meaning of course, the literal kind of sexy that so much of our  carnival/ bikini beach culture exudes).

Now we may differ about this, depending on our points of view and experience,  whether or not one could use the adjective "sexy" to describe Joey Clarke - smiles -

But our version of "Joey le Taxi" for SUN TV turned out to be one of our most successful small screen experiments during the two years of creating over 700 hours of 100% Caribbean programming. The timing and relevance of the idea was right and ripe. More than the hit song though,  it was Joey Clarke and Joey Clarke alone who made it what it was. In and out of taxis with camera man Science in tow, all over the country; No one else named "Joe" could have done what he did - spinning yarns from the everydayness of people on the streets; making hours of easy-to-watch TV from mundane maxi taxi travel experiences.

Because Joey was West Indian but not from Trinidad, he had everything needed to 'get us' and move freely among us...

...And because he was Jamaican there was enough separation and distance so that he could clearly witness and testify to our unique "Trini" ways of being and seeing,

His brilliant intellect and comedic sensibility were the talents that allowed him to think on his feet and produce television while in the field - exactly the qualities that made SUN TV producer-presenters excel and that made his "Joe le Taxi" program shine. I remember when  he brought back a montage of signs from about town that made him laugh: From the typically misspelled words to something obscure like a shot of an antique looking wooden sign which advertised in the most beautiful cursive:  fountain pens and lingerie!

When David Letterman or Jay Leno see the funny in U.S. life  on their Late Night Television shows, the New York Times  hails their genius in bold faced print the next day.

But, " this is Trini ", we say....

That is exactly why we needed the satire of someone like Joey Clarke - to help us undo some of that aloof kind of Trini-ness that is just not working for us.

I remember the weekend I was able to swing  from a 'no' budget to a 'low' budget in order to get Joey and Science over to Tobago. The exhilaration in Joey's entire being on their return was infectious and encouraging. They were so well received and had been pressed everywhere they went. "They want us to  do more Tobago content and come back soon!" he beamed.

Ten years later,  long after that incarnation of SUN TV went to The Next Place, I was on my way to Tobago on a newer, faster ferry T&T Spirit, when  a stranger came up to me pointing and smiling.

"SUN T V?"  he asked.

I smiled and nodded dumbstruck that anyone recognized me or remembered our local cable R&D project.

"Remember when SUN TV came Tobago?" he  stuck out his hand for a shake.

It was another time when all this Joey Clarke-ness flooded my mind.

Joey's fan did not ask another question, only stated, "Thank you. Thank you for SUN TV."

At a time when my visions for indigenous media were avant garde, Joey Clarke, my friend and colleague "got it" at every level. He engaged and committed creatively despite the fact that we were, (and I feel we still are), lacking enough self love to find and adventure fully and freely into the selfhood of our own individual West Indian-ness.

To me, Joey was funny and he was a genius.

Those of us who saw his light  were blessed by the perfection of his Joey Clarkeness and will never forget him; in this place or the next.

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