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reprinted from the Hull Times, October 15, 2003
Stephen Martin

     It's difficult to stand out in such a traditionally iconoclastic town as Hull, where unique characters have gathered since 1644, each one marching to his or her own drum. But John Francis "Nantasket Jack" Thompson, Jr. traveled to the beat of a drum so different that the swashbuckling song of Hull seems suddenly less joyful.

     Jack never owned a car, but rather rode his bicycle everywhere, from Hull Gut to Cohasset Harbor. He would stop and talk along the way, sharing his vast store of rock and roll lore and delivering diatribes of dire political portent.

     This reporter first met Jack in 1991, at the lunch counter in the Anastos Corner Café. We told him the name of the Boston "one-hit-wonder" band in which we once served. He recited the name of our one hit, its label, and the year in which it was released. He then sang a verse and chorus, perfectly.

     We were impressed by his memory and voice, and flattered, because we didn't know that he could have done the same with practically any song released in the 50s, 60s, or 70s. We didn't know that he was once a popular south shore DJ, or that his deep knowledge of the genre had earned him the title, The Pope of Rock and Roll.

     The Professor, as Jack was also known, was born in 1949. One of three adopted siblings, he grew up in Cohasset. His sisters, Deborah A. Haskell of Rockland and Melissa Thomas of Hull, agree that young Jack was "a genius" who cared more about fixing radios and televisions than about doing his homework, but who still graduated on schedule from Cohasset High School in 1968.

     After graduation, during the height of the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the US Navy for four years. A Seaman Third Class, he was reportedly stationed off the coast of Vietnam, in the Gulf of Tonkin.

     In the mid 1970s, in two attempts, doctors at Beth Israel Hospital successfully removed a grapefruit-size tumor from Jack's brain. Upon being released, rather than calling for a ride, he decided to surprise his family by hitchhiking home from the hospital.

     Haskell and Thomas also agree that Jack was "not any crazier" after the operation.

     In the early 80s, Jack started DJing at the Gallant Fox, where now stands the Beach Front, where he later performed. Before long, the Pope was spinning platters and heads at such South Shore hot spots as Nalley's in Quincy, and Hull's Surf and Oakland House clubs. He would quickly preface each tune with its history, often tossing off gems of background information, and slipping in occasional political messages. Jack's politics could be startling. He was a survivalist, a Scientologist, and a believer in more than one conspiracy theory.

     A knot of contradictions, he confounded any attempt to interpret his beliefs in terms of left-and-right wing politics. He would rail against what he considered Israel's imperialist policies, then quote from the writings of Jewish sage Rabbi Avi Weiss.

     "It's all coming down," he would occasionally declare, referring to America's power structure.

     Jack listened to short wave radio every night, internalizing the words of Cliff Scott and other counter-culture commentators. He would relay some of what he heard to the scores of friends he passed each day.

     He once told Cohasset resident Beth Schmidt, a close friend for 13 years, "All I am is a conduit, a messenger."

     Schmidt, vice president of M3 Technologies, Inc., sits at a booth in the Corner Café, reminiscing. The music that fills the room is part of a collection of dozens of audiotapes compiled by Jack and given to his friend, Caf owner George Anastos. Roy Orbison is singing Crying.

     "Jackie had a profound social conscience," Schmidt recalls. "He was outraged at what he felt was a corrupt political system here in America, particularly after 9/11. He often spoke about the failure of our educational system to really educate our children. He ranted and raved. I listened."

     Some people could not listen to Jacks ravings, and were driven away by them.

     "He was like a 25-amp fuse in a 10-amp socket," says Joann Capone, another long-time friend. "Many people do not have a world vision, as he did. He knew that our country did not do right for its own people. He was ahead of his time. When he tried to explain things to people, hed get so excited he'd scare some of them away."

     During the 90s, Capone worked with Jack at Blackie's On the Rocks, a bar that once stood where Le Calypso stands today. She remembers his "boyish acts of kindness," and his indiscriminate honesty. "If he had something on his mind, he'd say it straight out," she says. "He was Jack, inside and out. He was a kind-hearted man that turned into a firecracker, hissing and sparking, after a few drinks."

     Jack worked at many Hull establishments during his life, including Paragon Park. Many remember him from the years he worked the graveyard shift at Al's Spaghetti House, from age 15 until the late-night restaurant closed, in the late 90s.

     In recent years, a typical day for Jack began with breakfast at the Corner Café. He might then put in a few hours for local roofer Jerry Mulhaney, after which he would return to sweep and clean the café. Once a week, he would ride to the Cohasset dump, one of his favorite spots. He would salvage TVs, radios, and whatever else he could find. He would then fix them, and give them to his many friends. At night, he could often be found in the karaoke bars, introducing tunes and singing them as well.

     "Jack was my karaoke partner," muses Anastos. "He had a passion and a knowledge of music unsurpassed by anyone I've ever seen."

     Sometimes Jack was not ready to stop singing when the bars closed. He would return to his Rockland Terrace apartment and serenade the neighbors.

     "He had no sense of time," explains Jack's neighbor and landlord of ten years, William Horne. "Id just raise the window and yell, 'Hey, Jack! Shut up!' and hed stop. He was a good guy. He always paid his rent on time, every time, in cash."

     About four years ago, Jack became interested in organic herbs and non-genetically altered produce. He was a regular at Cohasset's Nuthin More Natural health foods store. Schmidt gave him a plot of land on which to grow a garden. This past spring, he purchased $100 worth of non-genetically altered heirloom vegetable seeds. He planted snow peas, radishes, beets, green beans, squash, plum tomatoes, and summer lettuce.

     "I watched him all season labor in his garden," says Schmidt, "pruning, weeding, hoeing, amending the soil organically. He collected egg shells and coffee grounds from the restaurant, applied liquid chicken manure over the course of the summer, and watched his garden flourish."

     On the afternoon of Friday, October 3, four days before his death, Jack harvested his garden. When he had finished, Schmidt invited him in for a piece of homemade apple pie and a cup of coffee.

     "He was reflective that particular day," she says. "And he said to me, 'I never married and never had any children.' I think he knew what was coming."

     Anastos went to meet his karaoke partner at the Red Parrot that evening. He was told that Jack had left five minutes before. He never showed up for breakfast, or reported for work, again.

     The only person to report having seen Jack between Friday night and Tuesday morning is Hull Police Department office manager Donna Doherty, a lifelong friend of the Thompson family. She claims to have seen him on Monday afternoon, October 6. He pedaled through the parking lot behind Town Hall, just as on any other day, she says, stopped to talk for a while, and rode away.

     Jack lived alone and never locked his door. When his father, John F. Thompson, Sr., first looked in on him Tuesday morning, October 7, he thought his son was sleeping on the couch. But when he passed by again at 2:45 that afternoon and saw him still lying there, he walked to the police station and reported it, even though he suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

     According to the coroner, Jack died sometime Tuesday morning. Three factors contributed to his death: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and hardening of the arteries. His remains have been cremated. A funeral mass will be held at 9 AM Friday, October 17, at St. Ann's Church. Following the mass, Doherty has organized a gathering in celebration of Jack's life, to take place at 11 AM at the James W. Richardson VFW Post 1787.

     "He was everywhere," Doherty remarks. "He was a good friend."

     "Hes a legend now," says Anastos.

     Schmidt affixes a poster to the window. Under the icon's likeness are the words, Your silence will be deafening.

     Its closing time at the Café, but the rock and roll gold keeps ringing out of the speakers. At one point, in between songs, the DJ's voice eerily announces, "This is Nantasket Jack, and when I'm not out advocating the overthrow of sovereign nations, I'm right here, playing classic oldies for you."

Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, 30 Speen St., Framingham MA 01701.
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