Poet "Barber Emeritus" Amir Yasin Dead at 79 | Live Culture
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Friday, March 9, 2018

Poet "Barber Emeritus" Amir Yasin Dead at 79

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 10:00 PM

click to enlarge Reuben Jackson, receiving a haircut from Amir Yasin - SUSAN NORTON
  • Susan Norton
  • Reuben Jackson, receiving a haircut from Amir Yasin
Amir Yasin has died. The Detroit barber passed away unexpectedly, but peacefully, in his sleep on March 2. He is survived by his son, Rashied Yasin of Portland, Ore., and his beloved girlfriend, Khadijah Rollins of Detroit. He was 79.

In recent years, Amir had become something of a cult figure in certain Vermont circles. Using his friend, longtime Vermont Public Radio jazz DJ Reuben Jackson, as a conduit, Amir — and Khadijah, increasingly — would post scattered thoughts and musings  via Jackson's Facebook page. Amir's often lyrical dispatches on everything from politics to race to music to the daily comings and goings at his HangTime Barber Shop in Motown inspired a devoted audience among Jackson's online friends and followers.

"They're like, 'I don't care about your Facebook posts. I want to hear what Amir is up to,'" Jackson told Seven Days in 2017. "People care, which is really sweet."

Indeed they did. When Jackson reported Amir's passing on Facebook, many of those same followers mourned the barber's death personally — even though none had ever met him or could possibly even have recognized him had they encountered him on the street. Amir limited his Facebook missives to words, never pictures.

Amir's posts also inspired something else: conspiracy theories.

"Some people want to know if he's really me," said Jackson.

In that 2017 Seven Days piece, Jackson called Amir "the barber emeritus, the storyteller, the griot." He also characterized his friend as "a bit of a curmudgeon and sorta funny." Though Jackson doesn't cut hair and tends to be more docile than the sometimes prickly Amir, his descriptions could really have applied to both men — and the similarities didn't end there.

The crotchety barber, like his poet friend Jackson, had his own flowering and sometimes melancholy literary streak. Both were passionate and deeply knowledgeable jazz heads. And here's another curious parallel: Shortly before his death, Amir announced he'd be retiring from the barber's chair in early 2018, right around the same time Jackson is leaving VPR to return to his native Washington, D.C. The DJ's "Friday Night Jazz" show  ends on Friday, April 27.

With so much in common, it's little wonder many speculated that Amir was perhaps an avatar, a creative writing exercise through which the demure Jackson could express thoughts and feelings he might otherwise keep to himself. Jackson long played coy about the mystery.

"If Superman is here, where's Clark Kent?" he teased in 2017.

Whether Amir was a fiction or not, a significant part of Jackson seems to have died with him.

"He was, dare I say, a hero," Jackson recently wrote. "He was unabashedly tender and vulnerable in a way I (and many others) could never be. His death has taken the wind out of me."

Khadijah, too, is devastated.

"The moon (which he also loved) and I are lonely," she wrote in a message passed along to Seven Days by Jackson. "We were deeply loved by a cranky, terse, funny, wistful man."
It is unclear as of this writing whether Khadijah will continue using Jackson as an online proxy to share stories and observations from Detroit in Amir's absence. (If Amir was a product of Jackson's soulful imagination, then so is Khadijah. And if they're both in fact real, well…)

At least for now, the couple's fans are left with Amir's typically touching last words: "What a joyous fool I became, slow dragging with the stars."

In lieu of flowers, the Yasin family asks that you donate poems in the comments section.


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Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

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Dan Bolles is Seven Days' assistant arts editor.

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