Monday, 6 November 2017

A Random Call That Hit Me In The Feels

Lonny Jones and Omar Cherif at the Venice Beach Drum Circle — September 2017

I remember my first interaction with Lonny and it was during my early days at the Venice Beach Drum Circle. After warming up for a while by the Boardwalk with the guys we headed towards the sand. I thought I’d help him with his instruments. So as we were walking side by side, he asked how long I have been playing; to which I replied as I long as I can remember and that I would always drum on benches and desks. He then remarked that as soon as I put my hands on the djembe he knew that I was a player.

“You know what you do?” He asked. I curiously inquired. “You count. Most people just play,” he said. After a brief moment of reflection I explained that even though it occurs subconsciously, but yes, apparently I do count. And it was Lonny who first noticed. 

Lonny Jones in his element by Omar Cherif — Venice Beach Drum Circle, Sep 2017
Lonny the inspirational Venice Beach Drum Circle icon

“Music is a hidden arithmetic exercise of the soul, which does not know that it is counting.”
— Gottfried Leibniz 

Almost three years later, a friend and I had an idea for a documentary about the VBDC. We gathered some old-timers, including Lonny, and began shooting. This was when I reminded him of his remark and how it boosted my self-esteem on those first days at The Circle. He proceeded to explain how pleasant it is to play with someone who counts: And that’s because you can synchronise with them by doing your own counting, which has a magnificent effect on the music and the final melody.

During the interview I was stunned to know that Lonny is 90 years young — the age of my grandparents. Yet he still makes it almost every weekend to the beach with his instruments just to jam with the rest of us. What an inspiration. 

He actually became my living example of age is just a number. I mean, we all know those who became ‘old’ way earlier in life, while look at Lonny kicking ass with his sweet tunes week after week. I think he serves as a huge wake-up call to many who allow life to live them rather than the other way round. Be like Lon and do something you are passionate about instead of watching TV all day long, slowly decaying.

More can be found on A Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2014-’15), its Sequel: Another Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2016-’17), and the Threequel: One More Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2017-’18.

Alex Mannone and Lonny Jones while filming the documentary, The History of the Venice Beach Drum Circle by Omar Cherif — January 2017
Alex and Lonny getting ready for interview

Fast forward to a few days ago when I found a missed call from an unknown number. A while later, it was followed by another, then a message on the voicemail. To my surprise, it was Lonny. It was the Full Lunacy Drum Circle gathering that night so I couldn’t call him back. You see, I had never told him about it since we start at 6 pm, so I assumed it may be too late for someone who’s in his 90s. But I was dead wrong — as we’ll see.

The next day, Lonny called back twice, leaving more messages. When I returned the call, he didn’t pick up and it was my turn to leave a message. Two more missed calls from him before I finally called back and he picked up. 

All this time I was sincerely wondering what it was. In fact, once I dialled his number that last time I had a pen and paper ready q for some odd reason I had a feeling that I would need them.

Hey, Brother. 

Is this the famous Omar Cherif? I couldn’t reach you for days.” He jokingly said. “I hope you’re doing well my Brother. I wanted to ask you about that documentary we shot some months ago.”

I explained that Alex is finalising it and it should be ready soon. “Whenever it will be, we will all get together somewhere to watch it.

He then suddenly said “You’ll need to write that down!” 

Oh, well the pen was actually in my hand. He gave me his address, explaining how to get there from Venice. 

I said I will definitely pass by someday, though also mentioning that I don’t have a car. The man then didn’t hesitate to say that he can pass by to pick me up anytime in his. How cute. You can even see him holding his phone in our featured photo together because he insisted to take another one using it. Auwh. 

Carrying on the phone conversation: “You know I like you, Omar, and I want to hang out sometimes. Because I know how much of a good person you truly are.

His words hit me in the feels, causing my sympathetic nervous system to produce goosebumps all over my body along some watery eyes. I thanked him for the heartfelt words, mentioning that coming from him it’s even more humbling. 

I love you, man,” I blurted out.

I love you too, Brother.

We’ll speak soon and make it happen. Have a wonderful night.” 

Long Live Lonny The Beautiful Soul.

Lonny Jones along his drums at Dockweiler Beach during Full Lunacy Drum Circle — 30 April 2018
Lonny Jones along his drums at Dockweiler Beach on the first day
he made it to Full Lunacy Drum Circle
— 30 April 2018


fter publishing this article about the Random Call That Hit Me In The Feels
on one of the Full Lunacy Drum Circles I arrived to Dockweiler Beach by 17:30 am. It wasn’t dark yet, so one could still see pretty well. Then Lo and Behold, I was flabergasted to see someone who looks and walks like Lonny coming towards us while pulling his heavy drums on the sand. I had to rub my eyes multiple times to make sure it was indeed him, before proceeding to go and him to help. This was followed by a few more times when he left quite late, resulting in us become even closer.

My great grandmothers are Navajo Native American Indians. They’ve been the rock that kicked my young ass. Taught me how to live and act like one of God’s best children. Those lessons kept me in school and out of prison. My old ass still holds on to those principles: Treat all humans and animals with respect,” Lonny once told me.

Despite the 50 years of difference between us, Lonny and I became true buddies who hold an incomprehensible soul-II-soul connection. After first meeting at the Venice Beach Drum Circle, then taking part in a documentary we made about the history of the place, followed by the phone call things just organically developed between us. Ever since we remained in contact.

Lonny Jones being welcomed by Omar Cherif on his first time to Full Lunacy Drum Circle at Dockweiler Beach — 30 April 2018
Almost all alone at Dockweiler getting ready before starting at 6 pm.

Lonny even agreed to an idea that has been flirting with my mind of having a documentary about his life; from a five-year-old kid landing in North Carolina to work in the fields, to his first sexual experience at 13, to heroin addiction (You too? he asked), to wife and kids and grandkids, to ending in Venice Beach drumming with meself the following century. He certainly has an interesting story to tell. I hope I can help him do just that.

The below photo was taken on our last meeting at the Drum Circle. “I know you’re leaving soon so I came to play with you one last time until we meet again,” he said. What an honour. Patiently waiting to reunite with him again and get that doc over with while help sharing his story with the world. Long Live Lonny Jones!

Lonny Jones and Omar Cherif at the Venice Beach Drum Circle — 2 June 2018


A Letter That Hit Me In The Feels

For The Love Of Storytelling

Rooting Into The Past

My Correspondence With a 31-Year-Old Reader Before He Passed Away

Some People I Shot

The Night We Turned ‘Beast Mode’ On

A Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2014-’15)

Another Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos

One More Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2017-’18

A Wacky Day Out at LA Burning Man Decompression in Photos & Video

The Intertwining of Music and Sexuality ― A Djembefola’s Tale

How Inspiration is Transferable

A Saturday Evening with an Old Brotherman & His Doggy

Why I Share Stuff

The Night I Became a Stripper

Give That Man Some Groceries

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