by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines
My friend, Henry Mollicone, died of cancer on May 12th of this year (2022). I will always connect Henry with jamoca almond fudge ice cream. Read on.
He was my only friend (as opposed to acquaintance) who had his own Wikipedia page.
We were students together at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music in the 1960s. Henry, a year older than I, was an absolutely brilliant pianist and the school’s most lauded student composer...and boy, his competition was stiff! I was a piano major, but the composers were my preferred crowd: they were all guys, all absolutely brilliant, and mostly geeky. My people.
An Italian from Providence, Rhode Island, Henry was quite short, but he had a commanding and confident presence. His appearance fluctuated. He often looked slightly nerdy for sure, as befitted his title of composer...but once in a while, in the right light and in the right mood, he could almost be seen as handsome. Along with being talented, he was incredibly intelligent and quirky. And he had a certain aloof charm.
I was pretty sure that he preferred blondes and babes, but once Henry quite spontaneously asked me if I wanted to get some ice cream with him. I was surprised by his invitation, and pleased. We walked a few blocks from the conservatory to Brigham’s Ice Cream Parlor, where I feasted on jamoca almond fudge.
[An aside: As an admitted foodie, I tend to remember past events by what we ate, even dates that I went on more than half a century ago. While I remember the food clearly, I don’t always remember the guy I was with.]
I do recall Henry quite clearly on that occasion, however, and the delightful chat that we had. Up until our encounter, while we had socialized in the same group, I’d always held him on a bit of a pedestal, and I was more than a little shocked that he had asked me out and seemed to recognize that I was, after all, a girl. Our conversation over ice cream was one of sweet discovery, and I was happy to discover that this impressive and rather famous fellow was, after all, a swell and vulnerable human being.
After our treats, we went to his apartment in Copley Square. It grew late, so rather than walk me all the way back to the conservatory dormitory in the dark, we decided quite innocently that I should spend the night, and he invited me to climb into his bed. Henry lay next to me in the bed, of course.
Although I had never been romantically interested in him, with his warm body next to mine, I suddenly realized to my surprise that I was attracted to Henry. We wound up making out, as college-aged kids are prone to do, especially when they are kind of tired and their guard is down. His kisses were delicious, even better than the jamoca almond fudge had been.
We were both awfully drowsy. Nevertheless, I wanted to push our make-out session to the next stage. When I tried, he whispered quite tenderly, “No, you’re not that kind of girl.” While kissing my neck. (Or maybe I was kissing his neck. I forget.)
Gosh, I tried ever so hard to convince him that yes, I was that kind of girl, but he stubbornly resisted and there was nothing I could do to change his mind, so our encounter never evolved beyond pleasant necking.
He certainly liked me well enough to kiss me. Who knows? Maybe he got snuggly because of the sugar high from the ice cream. In looking back now, I wonder if saying that I wasn’t that kind of girl was a nice way of telling me that he wasn’t that into me, because there were other girls who entered his life who, it seems, were that kind. Then, too, I wasn’t blonde. Sigh.
I never held it against him, nor did I pine for him. Well, not much (read on). Should a romance have ensued, I would have been a satellite to Henry’s star, which is not a role that could ever suit me. And he was more than a little bit crazy, although I confess that this quality in a man has never particularly deterred me.
Here’s why I would have been a satellite. Henry was an amazing composer and a brilliant pianist. I have gone to lots of concerts by the top symphony orchestras and soloists in the U.S., yet the best performance I ever heard, hands down, was one given by Henry in the late 1960s. He played the Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
I arrived late, just as he was beginning to play, and rather than go up to the plush room where the audience had assembled, I sat all by myself several stories below in the magnificent courtyard, an eclectic and elegant mixture of ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Medieval design, sitting amidst statues, ornate columns, fountains, lofty arches, and (at the time) hundreds of fragrant Easter Lillies. The music poured over me in a cascade of ecstasy. Henry’s concert touched my soul in a way that has never since been replicated. Which kind of makes me wonder how that other performance might have felt, had he not decided that I wasn’t that kind of girl.
Afterwards, when I went to congratulate him, a trampy looking brassy blonde in a too-tight dress–someone who was obviously not a fellow music student–moved close to him and began to nuzzle him. She did not appear to be the type that you would imagine was much into Liszt. While she might in reality have been a Very Nice and Cultured Person, from my depressed perspective, she was obviously that kind of girl. The kind I wasn’t. I was jealous, and went home without congratulating him.
The last time I saw Henry in person was in the early 70s after we’d finished our conservatory studies. I was trying out as an actress for a big-deal professional children’s theater in Boston. To my amazement, the audition accompanist seated at the grand piano onstage was none other than our very own Henry! The director and his critical accomplices sat in a little clump below in the darkened theater, staring up at me.
First I performed a monologue. Kiddos, I must confess that I was good. The director and his gang actually applauded me! Wow!
Unfortunately, next I had to sing. I handed Henry the music, and maybe said a quick hello, but my thoughts were on the audition rather than on him. The tune I sang was from Anthony Newley’s The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. This was my first time singing for an audition, and to my horror, my voice did not come out at all in the mellow, rich way it had sounded in my apartment when I was practicing the song. The noise that emerged from my choked throat was creaky and croaky and weird. In short, it was an abysmal audition. When I was done, the director dismissed me with a terse, expressionless thankyouwe’llletyouknow. I grabbed my music–I couldn’t even look at Henry–and ducked out of the theater in humiliation as fast as I could.
[Another aside: In later years, I actually did get singing parts in musical theater, but that was because I always played either a comedic or a deranged character, so my voice didn’t have to sound pretty. In fact, if I had a beautiful singing voice, it would have been a deterrent to those roles, alas.]
Back to Henry: he and I did not connect again until about ten years ago, after I had moved to Sedona. My son and I commissioned him to compose/improvise a piece for my sister on her 70th birthday; she loved it! By this time, Henry had become quite an esteemed composer. He had a fair amount of renown–I mean, jeez, his own Wikipedia page!–although I always thought that he should have received even more fame and recognition than he did.
In our renewed friendship, while our conversations were only occasional, he was always enthusiastic and warm...until a few years ago, when I inquired how he was doing, and received an odd and somewhat cool email from him saying that he’d had some medical issues. His communications stopped then. I later discovered that it was cancer. A mutual friend, the one who called to tell me that Henry had died, shared that my former ice-cream date had fought valiantly for his life for about four years, but the cancer finally got him. Darn it.
If you are a musician, a singer, or an opera or a choral conductor, you must absolutely check out his music. Even if you don’t fit in those categories, look him up on YouTube, and get a dose of beauty and wonder!
Below is a YouTube of him improvising a song based on the notes that correlate with a person’s phone number. Take a look and a listen–it’s shorter than two minutes–and you will see how adorable and gifted he was.
Now you get to compose for the angels, Henry. Jamoca almond fudge ice cream will always belong to you. How lucky I was to have known you!