Memorializing a musician, writer

Friends, family and fans from across the nation gathered at the service for Forrest Rose.
Sunday, March 27, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:16 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

A vase of blooming red roses, with one pure white rose, sat on the altar. His stand-up bass with its trademark snake head stood nearby. Half the crowd sat in neat rows; the other half stood wherever they could find room.

And, of course, there was music.

As Forrest Rose himself might have said, everything looked so arranged Friday as hundreds gathered to memorialize the man friends called a “master arranger.”

Rose, a musician as well as a columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune, died early March 21 in Arizona while on tour with the band Perfect Strangers. He was 48.

The Maricopa County medical examiner’s office performed an autopsy Tuesday but has not yet determined the cause of death.

The 4 p.m. service at Unitarian Universalist Church filled with so many people that the large plate glass windows steamed over. Rose’s friends and family members came to pay their respects, coming from across the country or across the street. A group of musicians from Iowa City, Iowa, where Rose was raised, played bluegrass tunes between eulogies by more than a dozen people.

Richard King, the owner of The Blue Note, recalled meeting Rose 30 years ago. King said he relied on Rose, who could “arrange random thoughts into coherence,” for advice and guidance.

“He was a master orchestrater, an arranger of things,” King said.

Mourners passed Kleenex boxes around the room to dab tears of sorrow and laughter, especially when Rose’s 15-year-old son, Brennan, rose to speak.

In a steady voice, Brennan told stories of his father as a “family man,” playing both his own role and his father’s in the tales, including an uncanny imitation of Rose’s voice.

“Oh, my gosh,” one woman said. “I can hear him say it!”

The service was followed by a remembrance and jam session at The Blue Note. White tablecloths covered the tables, each of which sported a bouquet of daffodils. A black-and-white picture of Rose was projected onto a screen above the stage. His bass was again on display, the snake’s head peering over the crowd.

“He had a wit and intellect that would rival Mark Twain,” said Frank Drengrath, who came from Montana to remember his longtime friend.

Although most of those who attended the day’s events knew Rose well, others were merely acquaintances, even strangers.

Natalie Powell read his columns for 15 years. She recalled meeting him just once, at a private club where he was playing.

“I didn’t meet him one-on-one,” Powell said. “He was the kind of guy you don’t get to meet unless you get lucky.”

On Friday, those lucky ones expressed their good fortune by turning out to say goodbye.

“When someone dies, people always say, ‘He was such a great guy,’” said Debra Hardin, a friend and fellow musician. “But this is one of the few times it’s really true.”

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