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The Dominion Post recently reported the death (from a brain tumour on June 6) of well-known Wellington street entertainer and poet, John d’Estaing Adams, aged 64, also known as ‘Kenny’.

Adams (1946-2011) was born in the United States. He grew up in Southeast Texas on his family ranch in Beaumont. He had a brother and two sisters. His sister, Elizabeth, was a singer with the Melody Maids. After school, Adams completed an MA at the University of Southern California in 1969 and wrote songs in Nashville, Los Angeles and Houston, before arriving in New Zealand in the early 1990s. Adams performed in Wellington, Christchurch and other parts of New Zealand but lived mainly in Wellington.

He was nicknamed ‘Kenny’ for his resemblance to country singer Kenny Rogers and was a favourite and well-liked performer to regular night-goers around Courtenay Place, Wellington.

Adams was a Christian and recorded a poetry CD at Bus Tunnel Studios, produced by Mark G. Hayes, called Kenny (2001). He sold the CD on the street.

Adams’s poems had integrity and a concern for personal fulfilment, God, freedom and social justice. Some of his titles were ‘Persistence’, ‘There’s Power in Setting a Goal’ and ‘Take Courage – Don’t Fear’. A copy of his CD is in the Poetry Archive.

As a performer, Adams had a repertoire that included his own poetry like ‘Don’t Quit’, classic poetry, and well-known country songs like ‘The Gambler’ and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. His roots were firmly in Texas, USA.

His knowledge of classic English and American poetry was vast. He recited poems from memory in return for coinage. As such, his ability to remember poems is reminiscent of iconic New Zealand performer, Sam Hunt. Among his favourite poems were Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’, Lord Byron’s ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’, Kipling’s ‘If’, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ and poems by American poets like Whittier and Longfellow.

Adams kept a list of poems next to his guitar case that people could choose. It was an aspect of his performance that became increasingly important to him when the city council eventually confiscated his amplifier in the late ’90s after complaints from inner-city apartment dwellers about noise.

Adams also made his way into local literature. A poem about Adams, ‘Kenny’, is in PANZA member Mark Pirie’s collection The Search (ESAW, 2007) and the character, The Busker (based on Adams), is in Pirie’s 2009 verse novel TOM.

PANZA extends their condolences and sympathy to John’s family in the States and friends in New Zealand. All who knew John will continue to remember his spirited performances. A memorial service was held at Wilson Funeral Home in Adelaide Road, Newtown, Wellington, on July 6, 2011. A possible plaque of John may be displayed in the Courtenay Quarter sometime in the future.

Here’s a transcription of one of Adams’s poems from his CD Kenny:

JOHN ADAMS

There’s a bullet that goes with the credit

Don’t be too eager
to hold all the credit
for others to acknowledge
that you said or did it.

Give the glory to someone
who can truly profit from it,
who needs encouragement
to climb their hill
or to reach their summit.

If no one else give it to God.
He really deserves it
and he doesn’t get much credit nowadays…

But taking the credit’s like deadly poison.
My advice is don’t drink it.
You see Mankind’s so jealous
and full of the devil
that he’ll target anyone
who rises above level.

So don’t be too eager,
don’t be too eager to hold all the credit.
Judgement Day will remember it,
they will, they’ll remember it.
So now you can forget it.

No – you don’t want the bullet
that goes with the credit.
And there’s a bullet
that goes with the credit.

Author’s note: This poem came to me very quickly as I was sitting on a hill in the suburb of Newtown, Wellington, about an eight-storey hill, seven or eight-storey… I could see the harbour, and I could see over to the Cook Strait and see the ferry. Quite a lovely sight on a beautiful day.
  I reckon the credit is sort of like, well … if you take the credit, you get a bullet in the back. If you keep on taking the credit, you get the bullets coming from all sides. So the best way to handle it is to take a sip of the credit, it’s wonderful, refreshing, but then hand it over to someone else before it turns to poison, because there’s a bullet that goes with the credit.

Other links on John Adams:

Simon Sweetman’s tribute on Blog on the Tracks
Tim Donaghue: Ex-mayor to honour his rival
Tom Hunt: Final farewell for Kenny the Busker

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