When I met him at a local chess club John was homeless. There was an old broken out of tune piano there. I listened as this unshaven unkempt guy stared mindless into a space only he could see, but I could hear. I was astounded. He was playing his own compositions. John had just been released from prison. His journey from Julliard in the East, to a Central California prison in the West defined his life.
While drinking on a California beach, a buddy of his was verbally trashing John’s girlfriend, John smacked him in the head with a 2 X 4. John then carried the guy up a steep cliff and took him to the hospital. When asked what happened, he told the truth. John was arrested and spent five years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. There was no piano. When I asked how he had spent five years without a piano, yet played as if he’d practiced every day, he said, “I practiced in my head.”
This Christmas, give a thought to the most unfortunate among us. Think about the how our Justice system creates criminals. I cannot condone John’s violent actions. I can empathize with those who through bad representation, and the inherent unfairness in the system. Those years in prison may have turned John Burrows into a homeless, angry, self-destructive man. It could never imprison his soul. The précis of John William Burrows life lies in one of his quotes. “You can run out all else, but you don’t want to run out of friends.” John was my friend.
On the day before he died, John told me, “God’s gift to the composer is the magic of melody and to the performer goes the passion.” Listen to the soul of John Burrows.