Ivan Prosper R.I.P.
Losing a beautiful friend in the COVID era
Making records in a 1990s Oldsmobile
I had a dream just before waking a month ago. I was driving down the road in a beige sedan. It was one of those boxy American cars made during a period of awkward vehicle downsizing that started in the 1980s. It could have been an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, circa 1990 — functional, unremarkable, and a bit on the small side for me and my friend in the passenger seat.
Ivan and I were listening to a song on the car stereo. I was singing along and Ivan was playing air drums, his drumsticks carving the air above the passenger-side dashboard.
He looked at me and his eyes were twinkling as he embellished a fill in the song. We were stopped at a light or something now and I looked at him and we were both grinning and I said —
“Ivan! Man, we should do an album together. Where we both sing. We could do covers or we could write our own songs. Who cares?! We’ve always wanted to sing together.”
Ivan was a man of few words, in the dream as in life. But he was clearly down with the idea. There weren’t any other cars or people around us and, for whatever reason, it seemed like we were going to be in the car for a while. So we just decided to record our record in the Oldsmobile, right then and there.
That’s when I woke up. I don’t know if I’ve ever remembered a dream about Ivan Prosper before and this one — despite the confinement in a crappy old car — was suffused with good vibrations.
I made a mental note: “Got to text Ivan and tell him — maybe we do need to do a duets album…even if we do it over the Internet!” Then I got out of bed and…Well, you know how dreams are; I forgot about it.
Until a couple days later when my guitar player called to tell me Ivan was in the hospital in the Bahamas.
Lupo said Ivan’s best friend Sean had died a week before and Ivan was organizing a lot of stuff for Sean’s funeral. He came home after the funeral and fell asleep and then didn’t really wake up for a couple days.
Ivan had type I diabetes and when he continued to be unresponsive, his wife took him to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with COVID. As were Christie and their daughter Elizabeth.
A week and a half later Ivan was dead.
Loved ones dying alone — the high cost of pharma-fascism
I know in my heart Ivan wasn’t ready to die. The last time I saw him was August 31, 2019 — when the stars aligned for the original members of my longtime band Stand & Deliver (formerly Mystery Train) to reunite on stage for the first time in almost 20 years. Although Ivan hadn’t played the songs from our debut album in almost two decades, he didn’t miss a beat that night. He looked healthy and happy and he played with the same joy, ferocity, and groove as he always had.
I believe that if this had happened pre-COVID, Ivan would still be alive. Pre-COVID, Christie and Elizabeth could have been with him in the hospital, talking to him, touching his face, holding his hand. Instead, they weren’t allowed to see him for 10 days. By then he was nearly dead.
Ivan was deeply spiritual but he was also very earthy. He had incredible touch as a drummer and he responded to touch as a person.
So, yeah, I’m angry because that’s one of the stages of grief. And I’m crying a lot because that’s one of the stages of grief. But I’m also angry because it feels like this COVID psyop and the “for your own good” bureaucrats enforcing it took my friend’s life way too early. And even if they didn’t, it’s monstrous to lock patients away in the hospital and deny them the comfort and healing presence of the people who love them.
Which is a scenario that has been happening since the beginning of this grand theater of genocide. It’s a scenario that continues to play out today, all around the world.
I’m angry because Bahamas Press used Ivan’s death (and relative fame as the drummer for the band Baha Men) to push the vaccines narrative, claiming he died “of COVID-19” and implying he died because he was “unvaccinated” — without even mentioning the type I diabetes and kidney disease that appears to have plunged his body into septic shock.
Leave no trace
And…Ivan’s gone and nothing’s gonna bring him back.
I was on a call with a couple of the guys last night to start planning Ivan’s stateside celebration of life. We talked about how we’ve been haunted by feeling we somehow could have saved him. How we wished we had tried harder to get to the Bahamas and spend time with him.1
I guess those thoughts are normal when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one who you thought would be around for another few decades. But the more I reflected on those thoughts, the more I realized how parasitic they are.
I’m still crushed and heartbroken and I wish I had the resources to do something that would lighten Christie and Elizabeth’s load. But the more I’ve reflected on my time with Ivan Prosper, the more it occurs to me how much the bond we created transcended normal societal perspectives on relationships.
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Suzuki says:
“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself. In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire.”
What Suzuki is saying is that we only live fully when we are able to surrender completely into what we are doing in a given moment. When we act without self-consciousness (pride, self-criticism, judgment of others), we can later look back on what we’ve experienced without regret or attachment.
That’s the feeling I have when I look back on my time with Ivan Prosper. A lot of my ability to be present in my relationship with Ivan was due to his presence. Ivan had strong boundaries and, while he was one of the kindest men I’ve known, he didn’t dump his emotions on others or allow others to dump their feelings on him.
Ivan could have walked around with a big chip on his shoulder. He grew up poor in the Bahamas, he had to deal with diabetes for much of his adult life, and he had to deal with the unique challenges of being a big, bald black man working and living illegally in the U.S. in the 1990s.
I remember Ivan occasionally getting angry. But you know what’s crazy? I don’t remember hearing him say an unkind word — about anybody.
A lot of the grace I feel around Ivan’s passing is due to the fact we met through music and much of our relationship was spent making music together. After the reunion show in 2019, we met at a local Waffle House for a late night breakfast. We would all go our separate ways in the morning, so we were enjoying being together. Telling stories about the old days traveling the Southeast in Lupo’s van, recalling great moments at shows, laughing about some of the crazy stuff we’d seen.
At one point we all kind of looked up and realized Ivan was silently sobbing, his shoulders heaving with the force of the emotion running through his body. Someone asked, “Are you OK?” but he just waved us off and sat there crying for a few minutes.
Our food finally arrived and we started eating. But we were all concerned and a little disconcerted. And then Ivan said, “I just missed you guys. I missed playing with you and I got overcome thinking about it.”
I’m fucking crying again as I write this. I think when Ivan joined the band in 1998, we all expected him to leave as soon as possible. We were good but Ivan was obviously a world class drummer. He could hit as hard as anyone since John Bonham while at the same time he was delicately tapping out crazy syncopated Stewart Copeland shit on the cymbals. He was astonishingly talented but he was also incredibly humble. He played to honor God and to serve the music.
And he believed in the music we were making. He loved the creativity we shared as a band and even though he could have easily landed gigs with much higher profile artists, he loved what we were building together.
Light of Creation
One of my fondest memories of playing with Ivan happened pretty much every time we did a show. During a guitar solo or instrumental break, I would turn around and bend down over the drum kit to marvel at Ivan’s playing. Sweat would be beading on his big bald head but he never looked stressed or strained. I’ll always remember the twinkle in his eyes and his special sideways smile when he looked up from the kit and our eyes met. It was like this moment of recognition of being in service to the Muse, of being totally surrendered to a higher Creative Power, and the feeling of ecstatic union that comes with that surrender.
There were times when I was singing and I could feel cosmic rays of light shining through Ivan and his drums, flowing around me and out into the crowd. I don’t know how to explain it but I know it was real and Ivan knew it too. He always gathered the band together to hold hands and pray before a show, so it probably didn’t surprise him to feel the light of creation flowing through us.
We shared a deep belief in the goodness of Life and of the Creator and a sense of being incredibly fortunate to make music together, whether we were playing in the practice room, in front of hundreds of people, or to an empty club.2
So, even though I’m still struggling to stay present with the myriad of feelings I have about Ivan’s passing, I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived so intensely with him in the music.
It was a privilege to be Ivan’s bandmate and an honor to count him as a friend for 24 years. He was one of the most genuinely kind and accepting people I’ve ever met and his courage, commitment, and generosity of spirit made my life so much richer.
Ivan was in the States illegally at some point in the late 1990s and was eventually deported in the early oughts. He spent a few months, if I remember correctly, in one of the post 9-11 Homeland Security detention centers for illegal immigrants. Even after he and Christie married, it took many years for him to be cleared to travel back to the U.S. So for a long time spending time with Ivan meant traveling to the Bahamas. Not the easiest choice to make for guys raising kids and making working class wages.
Ivan joined the Baha Men (“Who Let the Dogs Out?”) a few years ago and finally got his immigration status cleared. He just happened to be in Atlanta playing a show with Baha Men on the weekend our favorite late ‘90s band, Ill Mic, was doing a reunion show in Jonesboro, Ga.
We actually played to zero people once. We were the last band on the bill at this club called Somber Reptile in Atlanta. It was our first time playing there and we were the last of three bands on the bill on a Wednesday night. A bunch of our fans came to see us but the first band started late and the second band took so long to set up and tear down that we didn’t go on until 1 a.m. By that point all of our peeps — a lot of whom were Life College students and had to be in class early the next morning — had gone home. The slowpoke band before us then committed the deadly sin of bar band life; after dawdling around and making us two hours late to start our set, they left and took their remaining fans with them.
The only two people left in the club were the sound guy and the bartender. At one point I looked down the bar and the sound guy had gone outside and the bartender was gone too! We looked at each other and Ivan said, “Let’s play our music.” So we played our whole set, as if the place was packed and people were screaming encouragement.
After we finished, Carlos, the bartender, came up to us and apologized profusely. “I had to take a phone call,” he said, “but I am so sorry. You guys are awesome and even if you weren’t, no band should have to play to zero people.”
Carlos told us he’d make it up to us and eventually we became the regular midweek attraction at the Reptile, playing to a packed house and even opening for acts like Tinsley Ellis and Gene Loves Jezebel.