With the shock of testing positive for GRID (gay related immune deficiency), what they first called HIV in 1985, my Dr. told me I had six months to two years to live! As if that wasn't bad enough, I knew what precious time I would have left... was to be spent living under the dark secret... of being one of the first Americans to be infected with the most frightening plague to hit mankind in my lifetime.
Since I was unable to talk about my inner most feelings, not even in songs... after most of my life, writing and singing my personal truths out to the world, had always been my release valve... as a form of therapy I decided to write a book about it. An action that not only made me take stock in myself... it made me look back across the happiest years of my life and unearth painful memories I hadn't really thought about in decades.
In the process of digging up bones and fleshing out a very sketchy world, long before people carried cameras around all the time, or wrote anything down about my poor hard scrabble Mississippi family history, all I had were the few whispers heard at random family gatherings... and screaming insults lobbed in drunken anger between my parents. With a family tree, bent and twisted, hanging ripe with gossip and innuendo... I decided to carry on the tradition and have as much fun as I could... with it.
Like life itself, my fingers bounced along on one keyboard after another, through the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the good the bad, from the sublime to the ridiculous, all the while my renderings slowly grew from hard flat facts on a page/screen... to movies going off in my head.
Of course life got in the way many times. Once my mental health began to suffer under the crush of fear and rage, I moved out to the country to hide and die. I preferred to be remembered laughing, singing, fully alive and not the object of somebody's fear... or pity.
I decided to work on making Brenda's childhood dream of a horse farm on her family land a reality, since my dream of being a recording artist was every bit as dead... as I was about to be. I chose to use what time I had left to create a life for my Lady Love... for after I was gone.
That selfless act proved to be my salvation. It gave me a reason to get up and do as much as I could get done. I bought books on carpentry, wiring, digging ponds, fencing, barn repair, anything I needed to learn, was written down somewhere, long before Google and the internet... I bought books.
I journaled through it all... dating each entry, so when I was called back to my book, I would have a ready reference to draw from.
Twenty years passed, as I transferred my life from my journals to desk top PC's and onto
laptop Macs. Each learning curve found me trimming fat, sanding rough spots, scanning hundreds of pictures, a few old letters... and shifting gears.
A few years back, while out in LA visiting my good friend and master guitarist Ray Herndon, I read his manager a chapter out of my book and she flipped. Said it was the greatest thing she had read since Confederacy of Dunces or Catcher in the Rye. She Insisted I finish it, so I got serious about doing just that.
Then I had a hand shake pub deal with Blake Chancey that took up five years of my life. Brenda and I also out grew the tiny little house I spent years remodeling, so we tore it down and built a bigger version of it... that took another five years. All the while tinkering with my book from time to time.
One morning after an event, Brenda and I spent the night at good friend Sandy Knox's house. While Brenda slept, we both rose early, over coffee Sandy asked what I had been doing. "Working on my book," was my answer. "Read me some of it," she smiled.
I pulled out my computer and we plowed through a box of kleenex as well as laughed our heads off... until I reached the end of my rough draft. She sat there amazed.
Side note: With my physical decline, I lay near death in 1996, while in and out of coma, I had been screaming at my dear sweet niece, Heather Carroll to write down exact instructions for building a chicken coop. She said I was quite testy and intent on her writing it all down... correctly.
Well years later, after my health miraculously rebounded due to the advent of better drugs, I finally got around to building that chicken coop that was so bizarrely important to me at the most critical time of my illness, Sandy calls me out of the blue and says, "I've been thinking about your book. I want to help you get your story out there. I'm going to start a record label and do a record with all those songs you wrote while you were hiding and dying. The world needs to hear your story, Jimbeau."
I sat there in the heat, the sawdust and filth of my almost completed chicken coop... and wept. The book led me to a record deal at 62 in a 20 year old town.
The day Sandy and Wrinkled Records released my CD, I blogged on this website about almost jumping off my hometown water tower when I was 15. Attempting to speak to the young ones out there who are dancing around their first dark hole, where all to often we lose them. Teen suicide and bullying are two things I am passionate about somehow preventing.
In recalling my young life while climbing that water tower, I mentioned the streets below where I collected coke bottles and sold them back to the bottling company for two cents a piece.
Rex Jones, twenty years my junior and raised in a small town 6 miles from my home town was a bottle digger, meaning he dug around hold homesites as a kid for old bottles, collected them, had display cases full of them. He dug up more coke bottle from Newton than anything else. Why not? We had a bottling company there. :) Last year, on an adult whim he googled, coke bottle/Newton MS... and my Water Tower blog popped up! Kismet!!!
Rex Jones is with the University of Mississippi film and documentary department. Looking for the 12th subject for the final documentary in a series of 12 Mississippi personalities, Rex looked me up and asked if I was interested.
Of course I jumped at the chance. Rex followed me around, off and on for half a year. Interviewed me for six hours at the ranch, shot time lapsed scenes of sunrises and sundowns, scanned my pictures, filmed a couple gigs, me in my hometown, the water tower, my high school and came up with a 53 minute film that just took my breath away.
We also got to be the best of buds through it all. Rex is a fine young Southern Gent who, like me, pours his heart and soul into his work.
Rex's film about my life, was accepted into the Mississippi Crossroads Film Festival and won Programmers' Choice Award! Meaning, the crew who watched more than 3,000 films awarded Rex's film... the Best in Show!!! Just this April/6/2014!!!
It also was accepted into the Nashville Film Festival and it's playing on April 19th at the Green Hills Regal Cineplex.
The book led to the cd, the cd led to the blog, the blog led to the documentary... who knows what's next? I am just so honored and amazed and GRATEFUL to still be relevant at 62 in a twenty year old world.
Back when I almost died and didn't... I asked God, "What is there left here for me to do? I've lost most of my gay friends. (We stopped counting at 50!) Why am I still here and they are not? What was I spared to do?"
Just like when I sit down to write songs, I sat down by my window of creation... a place of meditation... concentration... then with the wipe of an imaginary eraser I wait for what comes to mind and its usually always... one word.
The word that came to me was "GIFT". Wasn't sure what that meant. What gift? My gift for putting human conditions into simple songs? Singing those songs? Maybe it meant I should try to pass my gift on to younger writers, teach them what I know.
That was another salvation... working with whoever God sent across my path, trying to impart not just song lessons, but life lessons, because after all real songs are about real life. One by one they all started bringing me books that reminded them of what I was telling them. I read them, and although I already innately knew most of what I was reading, I found wordage for feelings the tongue rarely touches.
I followed my gift... and my gift led me to what I am doing today.
Brenda and I will continue to follow whatever, to wherever life takes us... but to tell you the truth... it's all gravy from here on out. Beautiful Jim went from a joke I made up about changing my name from Jim Hinson to Jimbeau when the Muppet guy got famous first... to the name of my life story. WILD!
Come out and see it with me if you can. Should be plenty of squirming truths and gut bucket laughs... as the industry and this town witness what all I have to say up on the big screen. Come on out and see it. I dare ya. :) I'm living proof... one thing always leads to another...
ONE THING LED TO ANOTHER...