Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Even when you know it's coming (A eulogy for Jim Foglesong)

Last night while I was sleeping, the man who laid the framework for everything I know about the music industry breathed his last.  Today, there is a sadness in my heart, even though lately there had been no doubt in my mind that this day was coming and coming soon.

I met Jim Foglesong, whom I and many of my friends refer to as JFo (He smiled the biggest smile I'd ever seen from him when I asked if he minded us calling him that.), in the Fall of 2007.  He taught my Survey of Music Business class at Trevecca, a class that held the vast majority of the people who star in my fondest memories of my college years.  It took me a whole two weeks to look the man up on Wikipedia, and the results led me to do the same for each and every one of my professors.  You see, what I didn't realize was that I was basically being taught Music Business by the man who made the Business what it is today.  Let me just give you a brief overview of what he did for the Industry (as quoted from Wikipedia):
Foglesong helped lay the foundation for the new country music boom in the 1990s. As president of Dot, ABC, Capitol Records and MCA, he signed popular artists, among them Barbara Mandrell, Don Williams, Garth Brooks, Donna Fargo, Reba McEntire, the Oak Ridge Boys, Con Hunley, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Sawyer Brown, Suzy Bogguss, Kevin Morris. Foglesong was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
My class found the late afternoon (read: directly preceding dinner) scheduling of Professor Foglesong's Tuesday/Thursday class difficult to focus through, despite his amazing credentials.  As a result, we spent a good deal of time chatting with each other over instant messenger, but our classroom was always full of laughter, and I think that's how he liked it.  I never once kidded myself into thinking that he didn't know what was going on in his classroom, but he never mentioned it.  Instead, he threw anecdotes into his lectures to keep us on our toes and pop our heads up from the glow of our computer screens.  He'd talk about his life in his younger days, and we suddenly realized that he wasn't just the grandfatherly gentleman we saw in front of us, who dressed up for class and encouraged us to do the same.  He was a real person who really lived.

Though I knew Jim was the former president of many record labels, the only time that really affected our relationship was when I was applying for internships and jobs.  All the other times, he was simply JFo, and I was Miss Royster (sometimes Anne).  We'd always stop and talk to each other when we crossed paths in the hallways of the music building.  He always had time for me, and that taught me to always have time for him.

When I went to ask him if it would be okay if I came to our Survey of Music Business II class a bit late on Thursdays, though, I was still nervous.  I didn't want to disrespect him, but I was in a bit of a pickle.  I worked at my internship (which he helped me to get, by the way) until closing time; in other words: until 10 minutes before class started.  With most of the record labels actually being in the next suburb over, it was impossible for me to safely make it back to class on time, and I felt even less comfortable asking my boss to let me leave early.  So I approached JFo.  I don't remember exactly what he said to me after hearing my well-rehearsed plea, but I do know it went something like this:
JFo: So, you're asking if you can come to my class late?
Me: Yes, sir.  But just on Thursdays.  I hate to ask it, but I don't know what else to do.
JFo: Miss Royster, I trust you.  You're a hard-worker, and I know you'll get the notes.
Me: Thank you.
JFo: Furthermore, wouldn't it be a bit silly for me to penalize you for going out and doing what I'm teaching you to do?
I love that man.

Foglesong, on being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

In the years to come, I'd find myself missing classes with Prof. Foglesong.  I missed the regular contact with him and learning about his life.  I missed the familial atmosphere that came from spending so much time there with people all intent on the same goal (becoming big-shots in the Music Industry).  I missed the subtle dousing of invincibility he gave us.  Of course we could conquer the Business.  He was teaching us; he believed in us; he was for us.  How could we fail?

When Foglesong began retiring from teaching at Trevecca, I felt it sorely.  No more were the days of hallway conversations.  Though he did still attend most of my concerts and recitals, it wasn't quite the same.  We knew why he wasn't at Trevecca anymore.  His health was becoming an issue, and it was showing.  That didn't stop me from secretly hoping he'd come good on his promise from Survey I: That'd we'd all gather for our 50th reunion in that room, and he'd come in and tell us what a wonderful job we were doing (despite being in his mid-80's when he started teaching us).  Basically, he promised to be our Mr. Feeny.  I really wanted that to be true, silly as it was.

There came a time when I no longer believed I belonged in Music Business.  I began to doubt myself and my abilities in the field.  I saw my friends around me heading for stardom, and I felt nothing more than mediocre, acing the tests, but failing in the practical application.  It was in that season that I got a call from Prof. Foglesong: a call of encouragement.  He was calling to tell me he'd personally nominated me for an award in his name for excellence in the field of Music Business.  He believed in me enough to forever have my name associated with his.  Even typing that now, the levity of his action brings me to tears.

But I do not cry for Jim.  No.  Not at all.  Jim Foglesong was a man of G-d in every thing that he did.  His faith was at the core of who he was, and it radiated out from him.  He was forever loving on everyone he met, forever thinking of the people around him, forever reminding people to be honorable simply by his actions (and occasionally in word for the particularly stubborn case).

No, I cry for me.  I cry that I will not see his smiling face again for a long time.  I cry for the world, for how many people will never have the chance to be personally blessed by him.  I cry for his wife, for her monumental loss.  But I do not cry for Jim.  He is in Heaven now, and I have no doubt that he's singing his heart out.

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