Truth be told I haven’t followed Chris Cornell’s music career since that first Audioslave album. Call it moving forward with ones life or just not really being into what he’d been doing since “Show Me How To Live” burned into my brain. But that’s not to say he didn’t make a HUGE impression on the younger J Hub back in high school and my early 20s. The fact that he’s suddenly gone and never going to tear the roof off a theater or stadium with that massive, “Thunder-0f-the-Gods” vocal weapon of his really is quite depressing.
I bought Louder Than Love in December of 1990, on my 16th birthday, and I never looked back. That album was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was heavy, dirty, dark, and hissy in a way that you’d a thought this cassette came out from under the front seat of some dude’s ’78 Olds Cutlass covered in dirt, dust, and THC resin. It stood in stark contrast to the Rush and various LA hair band albums I’d been slurping up heartily to that point. That album led me to Screaming Trees’ Uncle Anesthesia which led me to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff which led me to Nirvana’s Bleach which led me to everything else. And as much as I dug Kim Thayil’s howling abuse of his Guild, it was Chris Cornell’s voice that kept me entranced and enthrallled.
Though the guy bemoaned the Robert Plant comparisons, you couldn’t help but go there. He was my generation’s Plant(no offense to the very much alive and well Robert Plant), except better in that he was an incredible songwriter and musician. He wrote complex songs with unique chord structures and lyrics that ranged from poetic to cryptic. Badmotorfinger contained some of my favorite Soundgarden tracks. “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”, “Holy Water”, “Mind Riot”, and “Rusty Cage” were some of the best songs to come out of the 90s for me. Every Soundgarden album, though maybe not all classics, had at least three or four shining moments easily. And when he stepped out on his own with Euphoria Morning it was apparent he was the main music muscle in Soundgarden. Not taking anything away from Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd, or Kim Thayil, but the feel and off-kilter melodies were all Cornell. With the help of Eleven’s Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider, Euphoria Morning turned out to be a rather unique and quite beautiful record even without much in the way of great reviews.
Audioslave was one of those projects that seemed like the greatest idea in the world and the worst idea in the world at the same time. Fortunately the good ideas outweighed the bad, at least on that first record. The grooves of RATM with the soulful, powerful belting of Cornell proved to be a lightning in the bottle moment. When they hit they hit strong, but the power quickly fizzled for me. “Show Me How To Live” was that band’s shining moment. Pure power and hooks. It was the best thing Cornell had done in years.
I was lucky enough to see Chris Cornell live twice. The first time was August of 1993 at the World Music Theater in Chicago. Soundgarden and Blind Melon opened for Neil Young who was doing both acoustic and electric sets. Seeing Soundgarden live was unreal. They were so powerful on the stage. Cornell hit every note while also expertly playing rhythm guitar. Neil Young was amazing, but Soundgarden were breathtaking, even in a mere 40 minute set. The next time I saw Cornell was in October of 1995 in Indianapolis with Audioslave. Again, amazing show. His voice started out a little rough, but by the time they closed the night out with Rage’s “Killing In The Name Of” he sounded absolutely incredible. One of the best concerts I’d ever seen.
Chris Cornell as a guy seemed like he was pretty down to earth. He had struggles with drugs and alcohol and made it through the other side. He was interviewed by Marc Maron a few years ago on Maron’s podcast and it was an enlightening conversation. He seemed very humble about the mark he’d made on the world, almost uncomfortable about it. In that respect he seemed very punk rock. He liked his privacy and he’d follow the musical muse wherever she led, whether fans dug it or not. He was a pretty funny guy, too. Soundgarden covered Cheech and Chong and Spinal Tap in the past. They also covered plenty of their influences over the years; from Devo to Black Sabbath to the Beatles to Sly and the Family Stone to the Doors. He was as much a fan as he was a music titan.
Don’t know the circumstances behind Chris Cornell’s passing, and frankly it doesn’t matter. We’ve lost one of the best rock and roll voices to emerge in the last 30 years. No one belts it like Chris Cornell. Nobody.
Go spin Badmotorfinger a few times today in honor of the man. I’m looking Indiana, and feeling kinda bummed.
Election week was a bit rough. Not only did we end up electing in, well, you know who, but we lost Leonard Cohen. A guy that I never truly explored but felt his reverberations through Jeff Buckley and his breathtaking cover of “Hallelujah”. Of course, I loved “Everybody Knows”, “If It Be Your Will”, “Suzanne”, and I’ve especially loved his last album, You Want It Darker. Hitting up his albums last week in remembrance I was pretty stunned by the heaviness in his work. Musically he seemed to mix a lot of eastern European influences, as well as Brill Building pop. As a matter of fact, Cohen reminded me a bit of Bachrach, had Bachrach gone the path of the dark poet. Because no matter how you sliced it, Leonard Cohen was a poet of the highest order. This Canadian was goth before goth was a thing, and he stayed that way till the day he bid this world a fond adieu.
I’m leaving the table/I’m out of the game/I don’t know the people/In your picture frame -Leonard Cohen, from “Leaving The Table”
Then just as I was attempting to put a period at the end of the expletive-filled sentence known as election week, yesterday it was announced that Leon Russell passed away at the age of 74 years old. Russell was one of those musical characters that lingered behind the curtains and allowed others to bask in his musical genius. There have been so many people that scored number ones with Russell-written tunes that I won’t waste the time to mention them here. I will say that Ray Charles, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, The Carpenters, Peggy Lee, Helen Reddy, and Christina Aguilera, to name just a few, have all covered Russell’s “A Song For You”. That’s kind of an impressive list. Russell also was a big part of the George Harrison-curated Concert For Bangladesh, as well as performing on the track “Beware Of Darkness”. He also played piano on one of my favorite Badfinger tracks, the timeless “Day After Day”.
I guess I have a little more history with Leon Russell than I do with Mr. Cohen, but that’s not the fault of Cohen. It’s just how things turned out. Way back in 1995 my wife(then girlfriend) and I moved into an apartment together. Yep, living in sin folks. That’s how we rolled. Anyways, this was our first taste of living on our own. Freedom to a couple newbie 21 year olds and it was fantastic. We worked different shifts. I worked days and she worked 2nd shift. On the weekends we liked to head to Fort Wayne and hang out at Borders Book store on Coldwater Road. I think this was really where I got my taste for browsing for music. I loved going in there and having the aroma of books and coffee in my nostrils as I walked the vast aisles of CDs in search of something good to pick up. By this time our town had lost its only remaining music store so this was it for me. And for what it was worth, Borders had a pretty amazing selection of music. I bought quite a few of my Blue Note CDs there. Listening stations were great, too. Picked up Of Montreal, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Doves, Elbow, and so many more because of Borders(RIP.)
Anyways, one day listening to the radio I’d heard a song called “Tightrope”. I had no idea who it was but I was blown away. A mix of jaunty rhythm, old time-y piano, and a voice that was totally unique.
“I’m up on the tightrope/one side’s hate and one is hope/but the tophat on my head is all you see/And the wire seems to be/the only place for me/a comedy of errors/and I’m falling
Well somehow I figured out it was Leon Russell singing a song from his album Carney. On one of our Borders jaunts I found Best Of Leon by Mr. Russell and quickly bought it. I found myself getting lost in many of the songs in the evenings while my girl was at work. I’d wondered if I should’ve bought the album Carney, but now in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t of gotten the pleasure of hearing great songs like “Stranger In A Strange Land”, “Roll Away The Stone”, “Delta Lady”, and “Lady Blue” to name a few. I remember sitting on the second story balcony with the stereo playing Best Of Leon as I enjoyed a beer and a cheap cigar as the sun sunk into the horizon. I’d always thought that “Stranger In A Strange Land” sounded so familiar to me, like it had been in a movie when I was a kid. To this day I’m not sure why it seemed so familiar, but it remains one of my favorite songs of his.
So 2016, you have not been very kind to us. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, and now Leon Russell. And Trump. Man, I hope 2017 has some unicorns and rainbows waiting for us. I really do.
When you live in times like these it’s hard not to think about ones fate, and ultimately death. Sometimes it barely cracks the surface with me, but there are some days when those thoughts of the morbid and dark are around every corner. Maybe I’ll bite it going to work. Or maybe I’ll choke on some pasta. Maybe on one of my afternoon walks I’ll get hit by some senior citizen with a wandering attention or some 17-year old texting while they’re driving. Or maybe the heat will get to me. Maybe some space debris will make its way into the atmosphere and it’ll hit me as I’m walking out to the car with the week’s groceries.
The possibilities are endless, really.
Okay, I’m not trying to be morbid here. I’m trying to prove a point, and that point is we have no idea what our fate is. Sure, we can do things like exercise, eat right, and stay away from putting carcinogens in our lungs. Those things help, but for the most part it’s a crap shoot. I started thinking about fate and death quite a bit after reading Paul Pope’s excellent book Escapo, the story of an escape artist in the circus.
When I started digging into graphic novels one of my best friends was guiding me to the good stuff. He sent me a list of writer/illustrators that I needed to read. One of those guys was Paul Pope. Pope has a very unique style, both writing and illustrating. He’s from Philly, yet was hired by Japan’s most prestigious Manga publisher, Kodansha, and developed for them the book Supertrouble. He completely immersed himself in the Manga style, but decided to come back to the US and get to work on his own material, publishing his work on his own as well as with DCs Vertigo imprint.
The thing that stands out about Pope is that he comes across like a real renegade. A DIY kind of artist that follows his muse wherever she takes him. In that respect Paul Pope feels more rock and roll than a lot of other comic artists. That’s not to say that guys like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Scott Snyder, Jeph Loeb, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, R. Crumb, and S. Clay Wilson aren’t rock and roll, but Pope looks the part. With his long, scraggly hair he looks like a cross between Thomas Haden Church and Jason Patric from The Lost Boys. His attention to detail is phenomenal. His drawings are crude and sleek, sometimes in the same frame. Bodies seem elastic while facial expressions are intense and pointed. It all comes together beautifully.
So the first book I read by Pope was Batman: Year 100. It’s a work of gritty genius as far as I’m concerned, and it pushed me more into Pope’s direction. So, digging through his books I found Escapo, a story about an escape artist that has a near death experience which changes him. I’ve always liked the idea of escape artists. Putting their lives in danger for the sake of entertainment. I guess boxers, MMA fighters, and footballers do that too, but you don’t have that unique sense of pizzazz; you don’t have that air of show and entertainment in those sometimes brutal displays of force that you do with an escape artist. Chained, bound, and tied, the escape artist must escape the depths of a water tank or the pending death of a dangling car overhead.
Vic is the real name of Escapo, but Vic is merely a beat up, Band Aid-covered ugly mug. Escapo isn’t a man; he’s a legend. Vic is a lonely guy who pines for the lovely and beautiful tightrope girl named Aerobella, who has feelings for The Acrobat King. When Vic is Escapo he looks at Death in the face and laughs. Even losing the girl Escapo seems to keep the crowds entertained and his fellow Circus folks in awe of his talents.
One night Escapo forgets the combination to a lock that he needs to open in order to escape a container from drowning. While in this life or death situation he’s confronted by Death himself. When Escapo is floating in this vault-like container filled with water he sees Death floating towards him. Once he realizes what is coming towards him he exclaims “Oh!“, with Death responding “Why do you look surprised? Your time has come escape artist.” Escapo then begins to barter with Death. “I’ve got things I gotta take care of…Wait, I have a letter…w-written to my sister…It’s in my coat pocket in my trailer! It’s all stamped and ready to go! But-But I didn’t have time to put her name on the envelope! How will they know it’s for her??“, to which Death replies “That is not my concern.” Eventually Escapo dares Death to keep him alive, and if he does Escapo will let Death ride on his shoulders during his next performance. If Escapo dies then Death can steal his breath while it’s still in Escapo’s throat.
So does Death take up Escapo’s offer, or does he take Escapo right then and there? Well you’re going to have to read Escapo to find out. Believe me, it’s well worth diving into this beautifully drawn and written story. The pages are sharply drawn, and the colors are rich and full. Pope’s prose flows effortlessly. You hear conversations between the acts, but the true draw here is the heart-broken and lonely Vic. He may have respect among his peers when he’s performing, but afterwards he’s just a “pug-ugly luckless jack”.
Now I’m sure you could find this somewhere online and you could read it and be done. But I say find this wonderfully put-together book. It’s a hardbound book with this amazing cover art that looks like a homemade, cut and paste art. It’s hard to describe, really. But it’s absolutely stunning. You hold the book in your hand and you can feel Pope’s intentions and aspirations. I guess I’m just a tactile kind of guy. I like the feeling of the hardcover and pages between my fingers. The heaviness in my hands.
You just don’t get that flipping digital pages with a mouse, folks.
So Paul Pope, he’s pretty great. Maybe Paul used to think a lot about death, like I do sometimes. Writing about an escape artist is a pretty unique way to work out some of those existential kinks, don’t you think? Escapo is avoiding death at every corner, and we’re all the better for it…but at some point, we all falter. Even Escapo. Just one misstep; just one second of hesitation and we’re floating face down in a tank of water as onlookers gasp in horror. Or we’re crushed under the weight of a ’52 Buick just seconds after it drops from it’s dangling perch in the air above. You just never know. You can never be certain when your time is coming.
Death’s got a schedule, man. He’s got places to go and people to see.
Judy died on May 19th, 2014 in her apartment from complications due to alcoholism and subsequently Cirrhosis of the liver. It was the solitary life for her because that’s what her alcoholism required. She was alone most of the time I’d known her, which was 23 years when she died. When I first met her she lived with a guy. An asshole, really. He was an alcoholic like her and it was apparent the relationship was tumultuous to say the least. Eventually Judy got tired of her guy and she bought a trailer one row over from him in the same lousy trailer park. From there Judy had steady work. She had no debt and lived pretty simply. She still drank but somehow made things work. She kept the booze and work separate.
My girlfriend became my wife in 1996. In 1997 we had our first child. His name was Dieter and he was a miniature schnauzer. Judy would watch Dieter for us. He’d stay at her trailer so we could go somewhere overnight. Like Cedar Point, or to a concert. Judy enjoyed having Dieter over. My wife and Judy had a miniature schnauzer when my wife was a little girl. We have pictures from one time when Dieter stayed with Judy. He had a look like “What the f**k is going on here?” It was priceless.
In 2000 my wife and I had our first “human” baby. Our daughter Claire was born on May 13th, 2000. Judy loved being a grandma. We saw her more once Claire was born than we’d ever seen her previously. Maybe being a grandma was her chance to do things better than she was able to as a mom. I mean, she did the best she could raising her daughter on her own. They moved often and Judy worked third shift, so my wife was pretty much on her own before and after school. In retrospect that’s one of those situations where you think “Wow. You’re lucky to be alive after that kind of childhood”, but as it happened it was just life. Regardless of the mistakes as a mom, she wanted to make up for them as a grandma.
During all this time Judy had boyfriends here and there, all of which dealt with drinking problems. None were as bad as that first guy I met, but I never wanted my children around them. They all seemed broken or ruined in some way. I don’t think Judy would have ever wanted to be with someone that had their shit together. I think she would’ve been too hard on herself. She already had two siblings -an older brother and a younger sister- that were very successful in life and she constantly compared herself to them. She didn’t need a partner to make her feel like a failure as well. The last guy she was with was Mark. He was a good 15 to 20 years younger than Judy. He was on permanent disability because of back problems and was on painkillers all the time, as well as being an alcoholic. Despite the fact that the guy was annoying, Judy seemed to be content with him. They got along, so at least she wasn’t alone.
My wife would reach out to her mom as much as she could, but you can only ask someone so many times to come over, have dinner, and see their grandkids and be
rejected before you stop calling. Though she wouldn’t come over, she always remembered the kids birthdays. By 2010 we had three children, two girls and a boy. Judy always had a birthday card for each of them, as well as for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and sometimes for no reason at all. She wanted the kids to know that she loved them despite not spending much time with them(or us.) She would come over on birthdays and every Christmas. Whether she had the money or not to spend, she’d make sure each of the kids got something from her, even if it was $10 in a plain white envelope. One year she bought me one of those novelty, battery-powered singing fish. It would start singing a tune every time you walked by it as it was supposed to hang on the wall(it never hung on our wall, btw.)
On April 28th, 2010, my wife’s birthday, we got a call late that night from Judy telling us that my wife’s brother Joe had died. He’d taken his own life. He’d struggled his whole life with substance abuse and crimes, mainly theft and disorderly conduct, that seemed more like acting out for attention than anything malicious. He’d been troubled since he was a teenager and never got on the right path. Losing Joe was what started Judy’s spiral. From that moment on Judy’s drinking got worse. So much so that within a year from her son’s death she lost her job of 15 years because she was going to work drunk. She was old enough to get social security so she officially “retired”. This gave Judy ample time for drinking. Her and Mark were more partners in oblivion than a couple. On several occasions we would get drunken calls from Judy in the middle of the night. Usually she was trying to call someone else and would call us instead. One night my wife had almost convinced her to go to rehab and get help. But at the last minute she changed her mind.
In March of 2013 Judy was walking from a friend’s trailer to her own on a Saturday night. Somewhere between those trailers she passed out and fell in some bushes. She laid in those bushes all night. She was found the next morning and an ambulance was called. She suffered from cuts and bruises as well as hypothermia and alcohol poisoning. She was in critical care for over a week in the hospital. Even after two days in the hospital her blood alcohol level was still above the legal limit. She left the hospital and went to a rehabilitation clinic. She needed to get her strength back in her limbs from the hypothermia. She was very short of breath for at least a week afterwards. She was also jaundiced from her liver being enlarged, overworked, and generally poisoned. My wife did everything for her during this time. Took her to appointments, sat with her and even set her up with an apartment at a retirement community in town.
When Judy left the rehab facility she seemed like a new person. She had color back, she’d put some weight back on, and her liver had shrunk down to a reasonably normal size. We gave her some of our old furniture and bought her a new TV and set her up in the new living situation. She was set up to make a new start, and she did all right for a couple months. Then in September of 2013 she passed out in her bathroom, fell, and broke her hip. She hobbled around on a broken hip for a good couple of weeks. She told my wife that she had just pulled a muscle. My wife finally convinced her to go to the doctor. After X-rays it was pretty apparent she’d broken her hip. During her consultation with the orthopedic surgeon(who was a recovering alcoholic himself) he asked her when the last time she’d had a drink was. She said months ago. He asked her again and she said recently. So once again she dried out in the hospital after her hip surgery.
In February of 2014 Judy called my wife and told her she needed help. She was afraid she was going to die if she didn’t quit drinking. She was drinking a 6-pack of beer and a bottle of vodka a day. We got her into a rehab facility in Indianapolis. She was there for seven days. When she left there she once again seemed to be on the road to recovery. Clear-eyed and full of potential, or so she seemed.
When someone is trying to kick a habit, you not only have to lose the drugs but the friends you used the drugs with. That means opening yourself up to meet new, healthy people to spend your time with. Judy couldn’t do that. She was too far gone inside. She could never forgive herself for not living up to expectations she put on herself. She could never forgive her mom for loving her sister more than she loved her. She could never forgive her dad for leaving her when she was a little girl. And she could never forgive herself for damaging her son to the point that he’d kill himself. Of course most of these things she created in her mind. A mind with clouded judgement. Not even having a daughter and another son that loved her, or grandchildren that loved her as well could pull her out of that black hole called addiction. It had a hold of her and despite all her efforts, late night calls for help, and the support of her daughter she succumbed to the demon.
On May 19th, 2014 Judy passed away in her apartment, alone. A self-assigned alone. An alone that you must have if you want to wallow in your own pain. The only thing that can fix that is total oblivion. Alcohol was her gateway there. Not the love of a caring and concerned daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren, or the distant worry of siblings and a son could convince her that she wasn’t alone or that she had a reason to give up the juice for good. Judy seemed to be a whirlwind of turmoil and angst since day one, and that angst spilled over into a love of the bottle.
So I want to say this to you, Judy. You did the very best you could in the situation you were in. And that situation was raising a young daughter on your own while your ex made a new life in another state pretending he had no responsibility to you or your daughter. I thank you for keeping it together long enough to allow your daughter to grow up and be an integral part of my existence. You were riding choppy waters, but you kept your little girl as safe as you could. At least you didn’t hit the “self-destruct” button until you saw she was going to be okay. Thank you for that. And thanks for being a part of your grandchildren’s lives when you could. The board games, the cards in the mail, the trips to the zoo, and the homemade ice cream incident are all stories permanently embedded in the Hubner family history. Archived and lovingly remembered for future generations. You will not be forgotten.
And thanks for that singing fish. That won’t be forgotten either.
I begrudgingly became a Prince fan. Why? Well, when you’ve got a best pal that listens only to Prince and you’re hanging out with him nearly every weekend it’s inevitable that the “Purple One” is going to rub off on you. Prior to meeting this best pal in the third grade I can remember hearing songs like “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious” on the radio going to and driving home from town with my mom and thinking “I like this but I don’t know why.” When you hear lines like “I guess I should’ve closed my eyes/When you drove me to the place where your horses run free/’Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures/Of the jockeys that were there before me”, at 8 years old you’re not equipped with the life know how to understand that lyrical situation. But still, those songs got me tingling a bit. There were some feels for sure. But by the time 6th grade rolled around I was well into Ratt, Van Halen, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister, while my buddy was bringing over cassettes of Duran Duran, Madonna, and of course Prince.
My time frame for getting to know Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson was adolescence. Ages 10 to 14. Those albums were 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, Parade, and Sign ‘o the Times. That was a time span of 5 years. In five years he redefined what it was to be not only a musical superstar, but what it was to be an artist. Each one of those albums were uniquely their own little worlds. Each contained massive radio hits, but hits on Prince’s terms not anyone else’s. Not only was he this Machiavellian character, he was the absolute creator of his own universe. He employed band members, and some were very recognizable in that five year time frame. His band “The Revolution”. In the studio he was the Revolution. He created those records on his own, much like some strange alien creature moving from instrument to instrument in the studio. He made the sounds he heard in his head, and then instructed others what to do live. It was certainly a crew live, but behind the curtains one guy was running the show. He wanted to shock and offend just as much as he wanted to entertain. He made funky, dirty music that was meant to titillate and make people think. He used sexuality like an instrument; and instruction tool to open eyes and minds. But within those five years he went from end of world parties to a concept album that teemed with dance pop and jazz.
The man knew no boundaries. He didn’t take no for an answer. Regardless of your feelings about him or his music, you had to respect the artistry and fearlessness in his music.
I’d have to say Purple Rain, for me, is the record that affected me the most as a kid. The purple smoke and mirrors facade that hid the fact that Prince made a masterpiece of pop music. It ranged from Hendrix-ian guitar mania(“Let’s Go Crazy”), straight up boy/girl love song(“Take Me With U”), to one of the most perplexing radio hits of the 80s(“When Doves Cry”), Purple Rain had everything. Oh, it also had some naughty bits in it for some pre-adolescent confusion(“Darling Nikki” and “Computer Blue”). There seemed to be something for everyone on that album. My parents weren’t fans of Thriller, but dammit they sure did like Purple Rain. It was a bi-partisan record, at least in our house. As I’ve gotten older Sign ‘o the Times has become my go-to Prince record, for sheer volume and artistic reach, but Purple Rain never disappoints.
So here’s to that awkward kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota that grew up to change music forever. He blew boundary lines; musical, sexual, societal, and artistic to pieces and rebuilt to according to his rules. From one Midwest guy to another, thanks Prince. Thanks for being as weird and strange as you were. And for being as beautiful as you were.
R.I.P., Christopher Tracy.
Editor’s Note: The Prince videos available are sketchy at best, so I felt this was a fitting way to pay tribute. D’Angelo did this song justice, one of my absolute favorite songs.
David Bowie was one of those artists that seemed to transcend space and time. He seemed to exist anew in each era he inhabited. He had no “disco phase” or “folk phase”. He has no embarrassing blemishes on his musical resume that would prevent him from moving forward. He remained relevant throughout his life as an artist, not because he changed with trends or bowed to what record companies wanted him to do. He remained relevant because he was a true artist. A true innovator. An artistic renaissance man. He saw the value in the whole package. He crooned and swooned, he growled and hissed. He was indeed a thin white duke, and a pasty strung-out user all in the same weekend. He was alien, abstract, absurd, perverse, and toyed with taboos like it was an art form. He was also a guy with a wicked sense of humor that had a gleam in his eye at every step. A showman, performer, and the master of the pantomime.
I’ve loved David Bowie since I was a little kid and the first time I heard “Space Oddity” on the oldies channel. As I listened to it I thought it was the Beatles, but was corrected by my older brother that it was indeed NOT the Beatles. I remember that song made me extremely sad for Major Tom. Lost forever in space, never to see his family. That says a lot for the guy singing the song to make a 5 year old mildly depressed over his song. Anyways, from there “Cat People”, “Modern Love”, “Changes”, “Ashes To Ashes”, “Golden Years”, “Young Americans”, “Life On Mars”, “I’m Afraid Of Americans”, “Heroes”, “The Man Who Sold The World”, and pretty much every fucking David Bowie song I would hear made an impact on me. I loved his songwriting, his style, his mastering of many artistic mediums(music, art, film), and his humanity. He seemed to separate his art from his private life. He kept Ziggy and the Thin White Duke separate from being David Jones. David Jones was not David Bowie. David Jones was a dad and husband. He was human just like you and me. He died, and that’s really, really sad. He was loved by his family and close friends, while the rest of us loved David Bowie.
So we mourn two deaths. I’ll spin Lodger and Station To Station a few more times and say goodnight. There’s more to say, I just think I’ll say it later.
I’ll leave you with a conversation I had with one of my oldest and dearest friends Jason S. today.
Jason: Fuck you, cancer
Me: I’m pretty fucking destroyed today.
Jason: No shit. I heard from Michelle(his wife) this morning and for the first couple hours no problem, then I started listening to my Bowie playlist on Spotify and I can’t understand why I’m so distraught over this. Who can fill his spot in the world?
Me: Nobody can. He was truly one of a kind. I listened to “Life On Mars” about 20 minutes straight. Why couldn’t Sting die instead?
Jason: I listened to the new album twice, too, and he was still pumping out gems-“I Can’t Give Everything Away” Jesus Christ.
Me: The new one is amazing. That last track is unreal. “Tis A Pity She Was A Whore” is another great one. The Next Day was a great album too. He kept innovating, and yet everyone still pines for the Stones.
Jason: It’s like- there’s weather, the sea, forests, mountains, and there’s always Bowie. You can’t take any of those things out of existence. He was elemental.
Me: I couldn’t say it any better. Even when an album wasn’t agreeable with you it was usually you and not the album.
But we’ll still get a steady stream of Coldplay albums until the year 2030.
Jason: 1- exactly, but every album had at least one track usually that was relatable to anyone 2- years ago I read a review of a Coldplay album that described it in a way I’ll never forget-“music for bedwetters”
Me: Music for bedwetters??? Fuck that’s perfect.
Jason: Yeah, and that was, like, ten years ago.
Me: And yeah, there was always something you could lock into on each record.
Outside and Earthling were like these amazing metamorphosis. He reinvented his art nearly every time out. Who does that?
We’ve lost a lot of good people to excess. Both in the world of the arts and in our own, personal universes. People we both loved and resented because of the fact that they couldn’t put the bottle down. Or put their cigarette out. We loved them because they were in our hearts for good; yet resented the fact that they loved us but not enough to stop a behavior that was obviously bad for them and could certainly be fatal in the end. Unless you’re afflicted with an addiction you can never truly understand how hard it is to stop that harmful behavior. You should thank your lucky stars you don’t have to consider food over narcotics. Or breath over smoke. Sobriety over booze. Christmas presents over a fix. It takes the strength of Atlas not to wring the neck of that person in your life that can’t stop doing what you know is killing them. They know what they’re doing is slowly(or not so slowly)killing them.
For me personally it ranges from loved ones that can’t quit smoking(one eventually did after cancer intervened, as well as heart failure), to a mother-in-law that drank herself to death.
Passing out drunk outside on a cold March Midwest night, and then sleeping it off in a frost-covered bush couldn’t even convince her to put the bottle down. A month in rehab, picking herself up, moving into a home away from those that pushed the demons, and attempting clean living really only led her back to pints of cheap vodka and 6-packs of cheap beer. There was a last ditch effort by herself to get help and she spent February of 2014 in a rehab facility. It was 7 or 8 days and she went from a shaky, nervous bird of a human being to someone that resembled the woman that worked long hours working to support herself and her daughter all those years ago. It was short-lived, though. By May of 2014 she was drinking more than she had been during the March black out. My wife found her mom dead in her apartment on May 19th, 2014. Drink, malnutrition, sadness, and an overwhelming malaise took her. No matter how hard we reached out; inviting her over to spend time with her grandchildren, offering trips to facilities for help, and even just trying to talk and open her up a little, nothing could break through the wall she seemed to have been building between herself and the world for the past 30 years.
I hate to say it, but she was beyond saving. She was no longer drinking to ease the pain, she was drinking to punish herself. She was punishing herself – for in her eyes – failing her children, failing her mother and siblings, failing at her job, and failing at sobriety. Once someone’s gone down that deep in the hole you can almost never get them back. If you do, count your blessings. If you don’t, you have my condolences.
I’m sure there’s going to be lots of talk about the great talent we lost in singer Scott Weiland. That his talent as a singer, frontman, and songwriter will shine on long after he’s laid to rest. His songs in Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver, and his solo output will live on and in years to come he will be seen as another musical genius we lost to drugs and alcohol. I think 90s nostalgia will blind people to the fact that Scott Weiland was kind of a hack. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up with STP. I graduated in 1992, bought Core as soon as it came out, and continued a love/hate relationship with Weiland and STP until the early 2000s when I realized they weren’t really worth the trouble. I still love certain songs from them(and him), but I can’t listen to anything of theirs all the way through at this point. Scott Weiland was just a user that spent his free time making music. He’s just another guy that couldn’t kick what was hurting him the most. In the end all the success, thousands of screaming fans, artistic integrity, and creative drive came to a permanent stop in a parking lot on a tour bus in Bloomington, Minnesota.
I don’t think Scott Weiland’s death was any more important than my mother-in-law’s. They were both people with dreams at one point in their lives. For the last 20 years they muddled through life attempting to salvage what was left of themselves as human beings. They both struggled to keep their heads in that tiny air pocket as their ships sank to the bottom over the last five years. But in all of this, regardless of how beaten up, chewed up, and crushed my mother-in-law was, she still sent her grandkids a card on their birthdays. No matter if she didn’t have a pot to piss in and could hardly write because of the shakes, she made it a point to let them know she loved them. Maybe this was a last ditch effort to keep herself remembered. To keep her in the thoughts of future generations that could talk kindly of her long after she was gone.
I wonder if Weiland sent his kids cards in these last couple years. I’d like to think he did. I’d like to think he at least tried. For them. For their sake I hope they have some good memories of their dad. The music alone isn’t enough. Not for them at least.
Death makes angels of us all
and gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as raven’s
claws – Jim Morrison