He was a man of modest stature with a smoke-etched voice that sounded 7 feet tall. A soft-hearted curmudgeon, devoted to family but always with a subversive gleam in his eye. A musician, artist, entrepreneur and mentor to young rockers and misfits of every stripe.
Indiana's independent music community lost an elder statesman Nov. 18, when Jon Rans died unexpectedly at his New Orleans home from complications of a respiratory ailment. He was 60 and is survived by his wife, Rita, and their adult son, Ian.
Rans' influence ran deep in the Muncie area, where he owned and operated the Repeat Performance record store, the Bob Chaos cassette-only recording label and, in the late '80s with partner Jeff Weiss, an all-ages club called the No Bar & Grill.
The No Bar was a storefront basement with a DIY décor and, indeed, no kitchen or alcohol service. Yet it quickly became a key Midwestern stop on the indie underground railroad and was mentioned in Michael Azzerad's acclaimed rock history tome Our Band Could Be Your Life. It gave alternakids from Ball State - the entire state, really - a chance to open for acts like Big Black, Naked Raygun, Mojo Nixon, the Dead Milkmen and Die Kreuzen.
"Jon willed the '80s BSU music scene to happen," says Chris Cruzan, then-guitarist for the Math Bats and Modern Vending. "He is one of the biggest influences on my life."
A skilled drummer, Rans was known in college bars across the Midwest as the engine of the Mystic Groovies, a '60s cover band specializing in gritty garage psychedelia. More recently in New Orleans, where he and Rita have lived for the past decade, Rans mined a similar repertoire with the Lonely Lonely Knights, and his passing was noted there last week in the entertainment guide Offbeat.
Though he never forsook the music of his youth, Rans' original music projects evolved continually, from progressive rock in the '70s to experimental noise in the '80s with his bands Latent Chaos and the Safety Pups.
"He was not one to rest on his laurels, that's for sure," says local songwriter-musician John Sheets, known for his work with the Punkin Holler Boys, Mike's House and in the '90s with Rans in the Phantom Lures. "The sign of a true artist is that no matter where you go, you make your mark. Wherever he went, he was the guy."
Rans also was a painter. And while living in Muncie, home of a historic ceramics industry, he taught himself to restore antique pottery, eventually co-writing two books on pottery collecting. In post-Katrina New Orleans, he built a business restoring mold-damaged artworks and antiques.
"For being such a 'weird art guy,' he was an uncanny businessman," Sheets says. "He knew how to make money."
Cruzan, one of many who planned to attend a memorial celebration earlier this week at the Melody Inn, will primarily recall the Ranses' support during his musical youth.
"I want to thank Jon and Rita for being so kind to all us fools," he says. "You can't replace someone like Jon. You can only hope your children have a chance to meet someone like him and come away with the same awesome experience."