Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Neon Man and Me

DVD Review

Written and performed by Slash Coleman. Music by Slash Coleman. Available for $19.95 at

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

In 2004, Slash Coleman suffered the loss of his best friend, Mark Jamison, a neon light artist who was electrocuted while hanging a sign. After Jamison’s death, Coleman began collecting mementos meant to help Jamison’s little boy, not yet born, to get to know the father he would never meet. That process led to the creation of The Neon Man and Me, a one-man play about friendship and going home.

In this show, Coleman portrays thirty characters, beginning with Jacques Lemoire, who gives a dissertation on the mating habits of elephants, who meet through a series of long distance calls called “musths.” This is followed by a recitation of Terry Kettering’s poem The Elephant in the Room. Writing, Coleman discovers, is a powerful pill.

Next, Coleman describes his first meeting with an “elephant” named Mark Jamison, then a tenor saxophonist alternately described as an “alcohol powered weejie board” and a “Pentecostal chick magnet.” To Coleman he becomes “the man,” his new best friend. That friendship is deepened through road trips, fishing trips, and late night coffees. The two form a jazz band together.

Later, while being dressed down by a university official for a questionable promotional stunt, Jamison proclaims that jazz is a spiritual truth and reveals to Coleman that a member of his church has had a vision that the two of them will play before millions. Jamison also has a premonition that he will die young.

After college, Coleman heads to Knoxville to write the great American novel. Jamison goes to neon school in Johnson City, Tennessee. Their relationship continues through a series of long distance phones calls that cover getting kicked out of school, losing a job due to inappropriate behavior, various occupations, marriage, and divorce. At the end of each call, Jamison invites Coleman to come home to work with him and to “be amongst his people.” Coleman’s reply becomes a refrain: “I hate Virginia! I’m never moving back!”

Of course, Coleman eventually does come home, but it is too late for him to reconnect with his friend. Coleman finally gives up on the idea that life has to be a “fantastical Moulin Rouge.” Rather, he remembers Jamison’s prophecy: “God always provides a way when there is no way. You will always take the right turn in the path.”

Coleman yearns for “shoes so fast they can go back and change your past.” Yet, after 133 apartments in eight states and two countries, after 144 jobs, he finally settles in Richmond, Virginia “amongst his people,” content working in his family’s upholstery business, a job that he thought college would save him from. He is with his family and telling his story, just as Jamison always wanted him to be.

This story is accompanied by haunting music that extols friendship and home in gentle lyrics that Coleman sings with quiet grace and serenity. This beautiful tribute to a friendship too short makes one realize that relationships must be nurtured and enjoyed. One never knows when or how a relationship will end.

Also notable on this gripping CD is the audience, which is warm and receptive to Coleman’s considerable charm and talent. Whenever the camera pans the audience members, their wide-eyed eagerness to hear and see more, shows that they are actively engaged in the performance. This is an audience that was wisely chosen.

I have seen this show both live and on television and am pleased to see that nothing was lost in the transition from one medium to the other. Coleman is clearly master of this game.

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