So this is one that hits a little closer to home and as with all the things that I write about I need to be honest about the situation in order to get the point across.
Urban Network was my training ground to learn how to do a magazine. There was a lot of infighting amongst the management for power and I tried to steer clear of it because I always hated on-the-job politics. I will write more about this in my 25th-anniversary issue in June but basically it was a place that was quite peaceful until two men, one of them from Texas started hanging around the office. One of them was from radio and the industry was done with him he was a PD in the 60s and 70s and he was trying to reinvent himself.
He was very old school and he brought a very dark cloud into the environment. He didn’t like Jerry Boulding, He didn’t like Gary Jackson and he didn’t like me. While he tried his best to get rid of all three of us Gary was the first and only casualty. When he tried to get rid of me his plan backfired in his face but it became an increasingly stressful environment with that level of negativity each day.
Gary really loved working at Urban Network but he was the odd man out from the start. He was replacing Joe Nazel, an excellent writer and social justice advocate who I had heard so much about and only met him a couple of times. Joe was MUCH bigger than Urban Network and he was not to be confined and he had had so much success before working there with his novels. The staff LOVED Joe and he left Urban because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the Bird brothers who owned all three Network magazines; Album Network, Network 40 and Urban Network.
Joe was militant and didn’t bite his tongue and Gary was the complete opposite. He didn’t have the history that Joe had and he paid the price for it working there. I could see why the staff loved Joe so much but I could also see why they didn’t understand Gary.
Gary Jackson was laid back, subdued and he was not as aggressive as many industry people are. He just enjoyed working and he was very confident in his ability to edit. He would often tell me what it was like working for Sidney Miller at BRE and how he too hated on-the-job politics. He was odd and I’ve always befriended odd people because I’ve always been odd too and in the black community, we like to categorize people and place them in boxes, even when we are wrong. In addition, what we don’t understand, instead of embracing, educating ourselves or having an open mind about it and exploring that people are different, we often feel more compelled to attack. I’ve been on the other end of that and it is something that, as a community, we have to be more cognizant of.
Gary was a close friend of mines for the past 30 years and when he told me he was sick, as I do with everybody, I never told a soul even when he told me it was OK to do so. I waited a long time before telling a couple of people from Urban Network. I also tried to be supportive. When he ended up in the nursing home I talked to his wife Judith, who he absolutely cherished, about it and she wanted to get the word out. So I called the Living Legends Foundation and alerted them to the situation.
I visited him several times in the nursing home and I made a decision while watching him in there. I told my son that if I am ever in a position where I cannot take care of myself I’ll move to a state where he can pull the plug. It is painful to watch someone sit in an environment like that with the TV on all day just waiting to pass on. But I visited and had great conversations with him. I asked him if he had any regrets and he told me he wished he had been more successful in the industry. Gary was primarily a writer and editor for BRE, Urban and then Hits Magazine.
He really had a lot of faith in people even when they didn’t deserve it and I remember him telling me how in the meetings at HITS, his suggestions as the urban editor were often ignored. I told him that was not a good sign and he blew it off as if it was nothing. Shortly thereafter he was fired and he went to an event that night and told a woman that he had been fired from HITS that day. He said she did an about-face and walked away from the conversation and him. He was crushed by that and he was naive in a good-natured and positive way in thinking that everybody in the industry was a potential friend and I constantly reminded him that this is a business first. He was like an older brother to me and then at times, I felt like an older brother to him, even though he was more than 10 years older than me.
He was not happy about being let go from HITS and he wanted to do more writing. The digital era kicked in hard and made his tenure in the industry obsolete in an instant. Weekly trade magazines were dying out or drastically changing to embrace digital concepts. Some, like R&R didn’t make it and HITS changed the way they did their magazine tremendously. He was grateful that they continued to send him the magazine years after he was let go but he yearned to be back in the industry.
He ended up working catering gigs with his wife’s business and he told me it was great to fill his time with something to do but he wanted to continue working in the industry. From this perspective, this is a story I’ve seen way too many times and I tried to help him to no avail.
Gary died last night and I am convinced that he is at peace. With each visit over the last few months, he was always very positive and upbeat. I’m not sure if he knew he was dying as I never brought it up but he was at peace.
Rest in Power Gary Jackson and say hello to other Urban Network alum Jerry Boulding,, Bruce Bird, Joe Nazel, Graham Armstrong, Kim Winfrey, and Lee Cadena.