On the first Friday in September, Rex Harsin was a musician, playing a gig at Lula Lee’s in Baldwyn. A few days later, he was a filmmaker on a mission to China.
For Harsin, creativity is like a toolbox – it’s more about what he’s trying to create than how he’s trying to create it. He’s a musician, a photographer and videographer, a writer, a filmmaker, and an animator. (“…And a husband and father,” he’s quick to add. “That’s what’s important.”)
“They’re all the same thing,” Rex said of his diverse creative talents. “I’ve developed different skills, but everything starts with imagination. It starts with an idea of ‘What if we did this…?’”
And, increasingly, he said, it’s becoming about how he can use those talents to help others.
Take, for example, his photography and videography work, which today are the main way he makes his living. His recent work has included promotional videos and commercials for local organizations and businesses and music videos for area bands, but one of the things he enjoys most is doing wedding photography and videos.
“A lot of people can’t afford to have a nice video of their wedding, so I like to give them that option,” he said.
Even that Friday night gig was a way of contributing to his community. Lula Lee’s is owned by Harsin’s friend Clark Richey, who, through businesses like that restaurant and the Claude Gentry Theatre, is working to breathe new life into Baldwyn’s historic district.
Harsin’s current band, The Blue Dog Band, is rooted in his love of the blues. “To me, all music is on the foundation of the blues,” he said. “Even when we play a pop song, it’s got some blues to it. We play ‘Uptown Funk,’ but it’s got a blue song. It’s like wearing blue sunshades, everything looks blue.”
That philosophy carries over when he plays in this church’s worship band. “Which is cool,” he said, “ because blues comes from black spirituals, so it’s coming back around.”
Harsin met Clark Richey when they were both actors in a performance of the musical “Grease” at Richey’s theater, and the relationship grew into both a friendship and a prolific creative partnership.
“Clark’s awesome,” Harsin said. “He’s been such a Godsend in our lives. We’re both geeks; we’re making Batman and Superman references nobody else gets.
“Clark and I wrote a Western together, which will be put on stage (as a play) in March and filmed (as a movie) in April.”
A college foray into filmmaking paid off for Harsin rather richly. “I spent a lot of years making silent films, just for fun, mostly,” he said. Then, at the end of a semester, he was working buying textbooks, and a fellow student there to sell hers said she recognized him from those films. Three months later, that woman was his wife.
Recently, Harsin has taken his desire to use his talents to help others much farther than ever before – literally – when he traveled all the way to China to support a mission trip.
Harsin is friends with Mike Pittman of My Brother’s Cup coffee shop in Shannon, who travels to China regularly for missions.
The trip required Harsin to be gone for two weeks, leaving his wife, Amaris, and two young daughters, Lucy Jo and Stevie Rae – the latter only 3 weeks old.
“Mike’s been asking me to go for a while, but I just graduated from Ole Miss, so I couldn’t take two weeks off from school without failing,” he said. “So even with a 3-week-old baby, this was my first opportunity to do this. My wife encouraged me to go, so I’m going.”
On the trip, Harsin recorded video of the work Pittman did in order to create a video Pittman can use to help raise support for future missions. Harsin is planning another trip to China in January, and a trip to India next year, and has contacted other missionaries about doing the same for them.
In between, he’s considering a documentary about what would happen if volunteers would use a tenth of their food budget to feed others.
While Harsin said he hated leaving his wife and daughters behind so soon, he believed it was important, both for the people he’s helping and for his family.
“My wife and I are really looking at going and serving overseas,” he said. “We have a heart for kids – though we’ll serve wherever we’re called – and we want our girls to grow up understanding that life is more than just this American culture; we want them to grow up seeing a God culture. We don’t want them to grow up feeling entitled.
“To do that, we have to model that behavior. If we want our girls to see that, we have to live that.”
Photos by Lauren Wood // Story by David Hitt