Posted by: MC | July 29, 2011

J. Murry Owen 1955-2011

There are threads that run through a life.  There’s the vague story of birth – the shifting shadows and bright spots childhood – the teen years, every one of them – and what came next and next and next.  There are memories of scent and touch and sound.  Images of faces and bedrooms and meals and travels.  And there’s the land where you were raised.

Today the ashes remaining from the 56-year-old body of my childhood friend, Murry will be spread in the water running through land that raised both of us.  It’s a lovely symbol.  An important punctuation on a life.  But like that river and its flow – well, even when the sun dies out and this planet ceases to exist, what really happens with all of its stories?  What really happens with the unique vibration of any single life – the way it starts with two microscopic cells that join to ignite a contagion of liveliness – the way that form moves through a birth canal or is cut from a womb and brought into the astonishment that is its human lifetime until the body finally drops.

Start and stop.  Birth and death.  Yes…and just where is the origin of those two infinitesimal cells?  And the personality and character – that spirit – where does it go when the body dies?  It’s an empirical question, as far as I’m concerned.  And the answer is decidedly mysterious.  That’s that.

Murry and I sat together one day in early spring in one of the common areas of the dorm I lived in at Austin College.  By then we’d known one another 4 or more years, but when you’re in your late teens, that’s pretty much forever.  There were other people in the room, friends of ours, but I don’t remember who.  For me it was just me and Murry.  He was teaching me a song on the guitar; he was teaching me how to strike the perfect harmony.

His fingers on the strings were like old Hindu yogis – they made their movements without thought drawing instead on the vast and un-self-conscious intelligence of knowing beyond all seeking and practice.  His long black hair would fall into his face as he played.  Then he’d push it away to look up, to help me refine a chord or a rhythm, to encourage my voice toward some subtle precision.

To the best of my memory, this is what he taught me that night.  This is the song I sing today, for Murry, who’s spirit now unburdened with form, is only everywhere.

Deep in the Hillcountry

South of the plains

Out where the deer all run free

I hear the sound of a deep running river

Wilderness calling me.

Goin’ down by the sweet Guadalupe

That’s where I’m wanting to stay

Something is calling me back to the river

Gonna wash all my worries

Away.

Gonna build me a cabin

Of cedar and stone

Raise up the rafters high

Find me a woman to love all my life

Under that Hillcountry sky

Goin’ down by the sweet Guadalupe

That’s where I’m wanting to stay

Something is calling me back to the river

Gonna wash all my worries

Away.

Cedar and stone

And the sounds of the stillness

Down by the river alone

Such are my memories of Hillcountry heaven

And a peace I never have known

Goin’ down by the sweet Guadalupe

That’s where I’m wanting to stay

Something is calling me back to the river

Gonna wash all my worries

Away.

J Murry Owen

–taught to me (in perfect harmony) spring of 1976, Coffin Hall, Austin College, Sherman, TX

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Responses

  1. Hello MC,
    I want to thank you for posting this about Murry. A few years back I bought an instruction CD for learning to sing harmony. I never got around to it until recently and was very impressed with the teaching and the talent. I decided to search out this Murry Owen who was opening up my singing world so eloquently. I learned of his passing through a review written by Isabel at Amazon. I can sympathize with your loss for I too have lost a life long friend. Take comfort in knowing that Murry is still touching lives by his teaching as he did with you in your youth.
    RJ

    • Hey RJ — What a lovely thing to read this Sunday morning. It’s given me a thought that during and after our lives in these bodies the echoes of our kindness — our beauty and generosity — travel around through the dreams and actions of people — some we know and many we never will. Murry would like that — even as responded with some quick, hilarious and slightly sardonic comment. I can only wonder what that would be.
      MC

      • Hi MC …. I searched on youtube to see if anyone posted recordings done by Murry but it seems there are none. If you or others you know have some I think it might be a nice tribute to Murry to post them. It might give someone a little piece of joy in a cruel world. And yes, I do say this with some selfish motives 🙂


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