"The wildest colts make the best horses." - Plutarch
He came into the world howling and in many ways he has never stopped. Finally, people are hearing what he has to say. I knew him on his first day and I will be friends with him on my last. Wherever his parents are will always be a home to my family and me. They are the few friends a person gets in life who stay forever and know you at your best and worst and still love you.
When their son was born, they wondered. Ken and Sue knew there was something unique about their boy but they were uncertain what it might be or if it had a name. Jeremy had the sweet face of every toddler but he was a bit more angular and even before he spoke his expressions suggested he was seeing things in the world the rest of us did not perceive. The bird-like turn of his head on his spindly neck to a sound or a note of music implied he heard a joyful noise that he understood in manners unknown to his family. A secret song was playing in his brain and only Jeremy knew the tune.
When our families gathered at the Carolina beach in the summers, Jeremy was an excitable boy trying to consume the visible world. The Atlantic was the same astonishment to him as it was to all the other children but instead held his attention only until he discovered the dunes or a sand crab or something as mundane as a thread on the corner of his beach blanket. None of us knew what to think. Perhaps, he was just an excitable boy.
Ken and Sue tried to figure it all out with doctors and experts but they were consistently told that Jeremy was like other children. We all knew the doctors were wrong. As he was finishing his first decade, Jeremy was gregarious in a fashion that might humble a politician. He loved people and everyone was his friend and he was compelled to introduce himself and ask questions of strangers on the street or in restaurants. Usually, they were pretty girls. Certain capabilities were missing but they seemed minor when laid along side the full character of this boy.
He was in love with specific things that lit up his mind and he refused to surrender them because they made him happy. Over and over and over they made him happy. One cartoon was a "different kind of Donald Duck" and he watched it with passion as though each time's viewing might enable him to see a thing differently or catch a detail he missed. Nothing was mundane to Jeremy and every thing he loved appeared to love him back, endlessly.
The doctors finally said he had Williams Syndrome but it seemed not to mean much to those of us who loved him and who were given his love. Yes, there were behaviors and capabilities that were defined by his genetics but we all have those limitations and they did not mean much to Jeremy. Music was still resonating in his head and the world was filling up his eyes and mind with distractions.
Jeremy went to high school with all of the other kids who looked at him and did not understand who he was or how the world came into his brain in a different manner than it did theirs. Classes were not easy and teachers did not always understand. Jeremy's mother Sue fought to see that her son was more than a problem and would get his chance to learn and graduate. When she succeeded along with her son, Ken gave his wife a diploma of her own to hang on the wall over the desk where she had helped her son understand there were other important ways to grow and understand.
Jeremy, who now has a tangled head of dark curls and a disarming honesty, used to attend a summer camp with other handicapped people. Eventually, he became a camper at Jabberwocky for people with disabilities and they all made music and ignored the absurdities of the land and civilization beyond the tree line. One of their counselors, Arthur Bradford, thought there might be something interesting in giving the Down Syndrome and Williams campers a camera and microphone and turning them loose on the unsuspecting population living within conventional confines of adulthood.
And one of the campers asked the question: How's Your News?
That question is now the title of an MTV program that turns loose people like Jeremy Vest to ask questions and enable those of us without the privilege of their perspective to see who and what they perceive and know. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame saw an edited version of Bradford's work with Jeremy and his friends and they decided to become executive producers of How's Your News? on MTV. In the show, my friend Jeremy, the excitable boy, and his friends, travel the country to red carpet events and political conventions and anything else that grabs their attention so they can meet and interview the bold-faced names of our culture. And they show us what it is like to be who they are.
Most of us do not have a handicapped person in our lives and, when we can, we likely avoid the complication. We suspect there is nothing we can understand and little we might do to help or make a difference. But not to worry. The How's Your News? crew has sufficiently proved that they do not need us and they are doing just fine. More importantly, they have given us a window on their world to show us they laugh and hurt and cry and love and communicate and misunderstand with about the same degree of proficiency as those of us without what is described as a handicap.
My friend Jeremy Vest is often at the center of How's Your News? In fact, there is an intrigue that Jeremy brings that constantly has the viewer wondering what he is likely to say or do next, which is a part of his charm and an allure of the show. His running mate Bobby, who has a special language only he can understand, is often confounding Jeremy's attempts to be cool. When Bobby tries to conduct an interview with either John McCain or Will.i.am his words are indecipherable. Every taping by Bobby ends with him saying something that sounds like, "Boulah." This is his expression of joy and even if you don't know his language you see it on his face. And on the faces of the rest of the crew and the people who meet Bobby.
The secret song playing in their heads prompted the creation of the How's Your News? band, which recently opened a New York City concert for State Radio. Sean, Susan, Larry, Lucas, and Brendan, who comprise the rest of the cast, join Jeremy on his drums and Bobby doing what Bobby does and they make music with their eyes and their faces and their instruments and their lives. I stood in the crowd on a warm spring day down in Austin in the backyard of Stubb's Barbecue during South by Southwest and watched the looks of amazement on hundreds of faces as the How's Your News? band rocked the Texas night.
That's why we never worried about Jeremy because there was a tenderness and an honesty in who he was as a person and he had no ability to understand the difficult odds. He just went after the thing that he loved and he got it: music, and people, and travel, and, yeah, the girls are coming around, too. The program he is now helping to produce and narrate is quickly becoming a cultural icon that says people who are different from normal can have meaningful and useful lives. How's Your News? is hopeful and redeeming, not just for the parents of people with handicaps, but for all of us who did not understand or hear their secret song. Finally, we hear their music and look through a window into their lives. We laugh with them. We get their jokes.
Which takes me back to my friend Jeremy. I love him and I love his family and I am as proud of him as if he were my son. Hell, I never thought I'd get to know a TV star.
But now I do.
As Bobby would almost certainly say, "Boulah!!!!!" .
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