Simon Schattner (June 14, 1957-July 19 2006)
Simon Schattner passed away last mnth shortly after his forty-ninth birthday. As a tribute to his numerous contributions to Boston's poetry and music scene, the Stone Soup Poetry website presents below the euologies prepared and read by his family for his funeral. A tribute is planned this Friday, August 26th, starting at 8:00 p.m., at the Out of The Blue Art Gallery. All photos below are by Bill Perrault.
Simon’s mainstays were his music, poetry, family and friends. Although he battled with diabetes and bipolar disorder for most of his adult life, the core of his unique self was always there- Simon- the peacemaker – sensitive, loving, caring, and intense about his interests- but funny too.
He loved his siblings, Tamar and Andy- love which later extended to their spouses, Helaine and Albert, and to his nieces and nephews, Danielle, Eital, Matthew, Natan, and Lia.
Simon was born in 1957 in Manhattan, where we lived in the Morningside Heights/West Harlem area, also the home of Columbia University, Jewish Theological Seminary, Manhattan School of Music, and Union Theological Seminary. He attended the local public schools (elementary and junior high school), where he was known for his school yard basketball and leading a group of 11 year old Rock musicians, who also hoisted up food to Columbia University students who had occupied buildings in 1968.
He prepared for his Bar Mitzvah with a tutor, a student at Jewish Theological Seminary, who, to his delight,exposed him to heated debates with co-Rabbinical students on the meaning of everything. One day, while reading one of the preparatory books, he yelled from his room, “Mom, Dad, we’re very Jewish- it says here that Jews are involved in social isssues”. On a beautiful, sunny June day in 1970, Simon was Bar Mitzvahd at Jewish Theological Seminary with Rabbi Joshua Heshel one of the rabbis on the bima with him, who, at the end, patted his back.
His musical life included starting guitar at age 8 following Recorder and Eurethmics classes at Dalcroze Music School, trumpet study at Manhattan School of Music, and piano on his own.
After graduating from high school in Montclair, he lived in Boston, and after a while, when he switched from rooting for the Mets to the Red Sox, realized that he really had found a home in Boston. At the age of 29 Simon received a Bachelors Degree from Northeastern University (with the medal in English). A few years later he graduated from Northeastern with a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation.
For the past few years, important in his life was affirmation of his Jewish identity, and continuation of musical and poetic creativity. He very much enjoyed using his creative energy by performing music and doing poetry readings at the small venues that dot Boston. He attended Bet Shalom Synagogue in Cambridge, enjoying its dual nature- two congregations housed in the same building with simultaneous services-“traditional and “egalitarian”,joining together for kiddush.He had participated in mutual synogue/mosque visits, and was looking forward to joining the Rabbi’s Talmud class this month.
To us Simon was a very human person with joys and sorrows, contributing to and open to the world around him. Beyond our love for him, our first born, we treasure him for the ways he enriches our lives.
Dorothy and Emil Schattner
When I think of my eldest brother Simon, the first thing that comes to mind is music. Simon was also a prolific and profound poet. Indeed, I have always been inspired by and proud of the fact that a stirring, wise poem written by Simon when he was 11 years old was published in a book. Just as Simon’s poetry is inspirational, so is his music.
Simon was six years older than me so by the time I was old enough to call him “Imon”, I was already privileged to be in proximity to his musical talents. He began his musical career playing recorder but quickly progressed to guitar, piano, drums and trumpet, among other instruments. I remember how after I had been studying clarinet for a few years, Simon picked up my clarinet one day and started playing amazing jazz music. From that moment on, the clarinet belonged to Simon.
I recall always feeling such deep pride in my biggest brother Simon, both musically and otherwise. I truly looked up to him because of his diverse and multiple talents, such as his basketball shooting prowess, for example. On the musical level, one specific incident that stands out is the excitement I felt as a kindergartener watching my brother play the lead role of Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” and listening to him perform “Edelweiss” so sweetly. Another musical occurrence that I recall was when I was in fourth or fifth grade and Simon would take his electric guitar out on the flat part of my parents’ roof and play the Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the neighborhood to enjoy.
Aside from playing music, there are certain record albums that I automatically associate with Simon because he would play them over and over such as Carole King’s “Tapestry”, Carlos Santana’s “Abraxas” and Kavaret’s “Siporey Poogy”. His love of music was infectious!
Simon’s enthusiasm for making, playing and listening to music was an aspect that was important for him to share with those dear to him. Eital recalls “jamming” with him at his old apartment on his various musical instruments. Natan remembers that the very last time he saw Simon, they “jammed” on their guitars together and, henceforth, Natan couldn’t stop wishing that Uncle Simon would be his guitar teacher.
For Simon, communicating with others through music and lyrics was integral to who he was. Simon had a gentle, optimistic outlook which was expressed through his music, poetry and his way of living. He liked to please others. Eital has a fond memory of how his desire to make her happy caused him to put on ice skates for the first time in fifteen years and take her ice skating at the Boston Commons!
As Simon’s “baby” sister, I was spoiled greatly by him and he treated me as if I were precious. Once, after I had spent a year in Israel at the age of eighteen, we were visiting together and I was describing to him how beautiful and tranquil the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea is. He agreed as he remembered the summer he spent in Israel ten years prior. Impulsively, we decided to drive to see the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey. It was when we were only ten minutes from the beach that we both realized that the Atlantic in New Jersey is east of the beach. We had a great laugh at our hasty foolishness and ate a delicious fish dinner instead.
After I grew up, married Albert and had Eital and Natan, we developed a relationship with Simon as a family. Albert and Simon are the same age and found it easy to communicate with each other, perhaps because they are part of the same generation. Eital and then Natan built their relationship with Simon over the course of summer visits to the States when we lived in Israel and, afterwards, through visits which were all too infrequent after we moved back to the States.
Just three days before his death, I had written to Simon that we were planning to visit him before the end of the summer. He wrote back immediately to say how much he was looking forward to seeing us. Although we will not be able to fulfill our plan and we will never hug Simon nor look upon his sweet face again in this lifetime, he will remain in our minds, hearts and souls forever. May his poetry, his music and his spirit of blessed memory bring grace and a touch of divinity upon us all!
As I have been thinking about Simon, it occurs to me that throughout my life he was always giving me gifts. Many of which I failed to appreciate at the time, but which grew in significance over the years. When thinking about my brother, I thought it was time to share those gifts with others and thank him for giving them to me.
The first gift I received from my brother was my name. The family lore is that Simon suggested I be named Andy, after one of his favorite books, Cowboy Andy. He may have been hoping for a sidekick or a partner to ride the ranges with, which explains the many times we spent turning our beds into stage coaches or sneaking through the sage brush of our apartment in search of vittles.
The second gift I received from Simon, was the understanding that we were responsible for protecting our family. This was especially true when our sister Tamar was born. Again, the family lore is that Simon put a picture of her on the door to her room so that she did not have to be disturbed. I am sure that I would have been the primary disturber, but Simon made sure that I understood my job, at the age of 3 to be the door guard and make sure to protect our baby sister.
The third gift I received from Simon, was my first nickname – Little-Si or Little-Simon. Little-Si was a nickname that would serve me well while growing up and going to elementary school in West Harlem. Simon was well known, and invariably when I was “picked on” by kids in the neighborhood, I was rescued, by someone saying “don’t you know who that is? That’s Little-Si”.
The fourth gift I received from Simon was the understanding that to accomplish anything in life, takes talent, passion and most of all hard work. One day when I was about 10 years old, after observing me playing basketball with friends, Simon took me out on the porch of our apartment and asked me “do you know why the ball keeps getting stolen from you?” I didn’t know why. He said “because you only dribble with your right hand, so all your opponent has to do is wait for you to dribble and move in, since he always knows where it will be.” With that he stood in front of me and instructed me to look him in the eye while I dribbled with my right hand. Then he asked me to do the same with my left and of course the ball bounced away.
We repeated this until I could maintain a semblance of a dribble with my left hand while looking up. He left instructing me to “do this every day for a half an hour before dinner”. After several weeks he taught me to dribble with both hands and so on. If only he had worked on my layups, hook shots and jumpers, but he was my brother after all and not a miracle worker. Simon always worked hard and drove himself, from learning a new musical instrument, to writing songs and poetry, playing sports or mastering a new piece of digital equipment to enable his recording of his primary love in life – Music. Simon also worked hard on dealing with his illnesses. While they sapped his physical and often emotional energy at times, he never gave in to them and allowed them to take away his dreams and hopes and most of all his love for his family.
This is the fifth gift that my brother shared with me. His love of music. He would excitedly play a newly learned piece on the guitar, piano or whatever instrument he was playing at the time. He would call or send me his latest compositions for my review. He also would send me Tapes and later CDs of artists that he was excited about. As a teenager he took me to several spur of the moment concerts, two that stick out are Return to Forever and George Benson. Most recently He has shared his love of music with my children. He composed a song for Danielle and has helped infect Matthew with his love of music as Matthew recently began guitar lessons. Matthew and Simon would chat about this and after one recent conversation, Simon said that “it sounds as if Matthew is really getting into this guitar thing, you ought to be careful, you never know where it will lead” and we both burst out in laughter. I would be proud if my children follow their dreams and passions the way Simon did. Lia wants everyone to remember that “Uncle Simon had a great musical spirit”. In a typical act of loving kindness, Simon attempted to teach me the bass progression for a Jimi Hendrix favorite of his – “All along the Watchtower”. To this day it is the one thing that I can play on a guitar, or at least I think I can. Simon praised my playing and assured me that If Jimi Hendrix were alive, he would have wanted me to be his bass player. It was not coincidentally one of the only pieces that Simon taught me. Even his patience had its limits.
Simon had a great spirit for many things in life. The sixth gift that Simon gave me was an appreciation for and an opportunity to study and enjoy the martial arts. When I was in 9th Grade Simon began studying Karate in Montclair. He very quickly dragged me along, saying “look, it’s something we can practice together”. In his youth, Simon had always been a gifted athlete and generally in great physical shape. By contrast, while I always enjoyed being active I was not. After introducing me to karate, Simon moved onto something else, but was always encouraging and supportive as I studied Karate for the next half dozen years. In retrospect I understand that Simon was helping me find something that was not only fun and active, but fulfilling physically and spiritually.
The final gift that Simon gave me is that there really is no final gift. Simon was my first hero and is still my hero. He was my hero as a young child for his knowledge and abilities, and in typical younger brother fashion I knew there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. But as we grew up, I realized that Simon’s real heroism was not in the things he did, but in his belief in others and especially in me and those he loved. His heroism was in living his life with all of its difficulties and trials and still remaining true to his passions and beliefs. When we last spoke about two weeks ago we ended our conversation the way we usually did, Simon would say “I love you so much my brother” and I would say “I love you Simon”.