Memoir

30. Strewn With Time’s Dead Flowers

Andrew Gold passed away a couple of days ago.  Cancer, age fifty-nine.  Only fifteen years older than me.

I don’t really know much about the guy other than two of his songs are synonymous with bright, happy, sunshine Seventies pop,.  He  had good hair and a good beard and nicely pressed slacks.  He was that Seventies — the same decade as Orleans’ “Still the One” and Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In the Years.”

He may have a deep catalogue full of dark twists and turns, I don’t know.  Like most everyone who read his obituary I know him as the “Lonely Boy” and “Thank You for Being A Friend” guy, and that’s enough.  He worked his voodoo, and for two A-sides  and many years he made people a little happier three minutes at a time.  Neither song is on my playlist, but without question they evoke a  period of time and that’s what Why It Matters is really all about.  Besides, a loss is a loss.  I hope it was as painless and graceful as it could be.

The generation before me first encountered the collective shock of celebrity death with JFK.  “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” is the old saw.  They all remember.  For me it was Elvis.  My mother and I were on a Putt-Putt golf course in Fort Worth, Texas when the announcement was made.  I don’t remember being particularly moved, but I remember where I was.

I remember making the connection, too.  Some of my first albums were Elvis movie soundtracks passed down from my aunt.  I’d seen his movies, too.  Elvis was ubiquitous — he was simply a part of the Universe According to James, and now he was gone.  I remember the waxy, pallid photo of the Elvis body in its casket.  He obviously wasn’t there anymore.  The King had left the building.

Next up was Keith Moon, almost a year after Elvis though I wouldn’t be aware of it until I picked up Who Are You from Record Bar’s cutout bin.  Again, no real impact though I thought the “Not To Be Taken Away” stencilled on his chair in the cover photo was rather eerie.

Death is entirely too abstract for children.  My grandmother died when I was seven.  I awoke to the sound of my mother crying.  I walked to the kitchen and found her cross-legged on the floor, sobbing.    The wall phone dangled by its cord, the incessant “eh eh eh eh” of the busy signal the only other sound in the room.

“What’s wrong, Mama?”

“Grandma died.”

I didn’t go to her, I went to the couch.  I tried to understand what it would feel like to live in a dark box in the ground.  I was scared of the dark.  How long I stayed on the couch, I don’t know.  Minutes.    Hours.  Eventually my sisters woke up, ran to my mother and sobbed with her.  For the balance of our childhood this was their trump card for any argument:  “You don’t have any emotions.  You didn’t even cry when Grandma died.”  I believed them.

Years later a girlfriend would echo their sentiment.  “Do you feel anything?  Is there anyone in there?  Are you a robot?”  I believed her, too.  Anyway, I’m off topic.

1980 hit the trifecta for music deaths.  Chuck the Magnificent kicked off the festivities.  His locker was near mine.  I caught him looking mournful between classes.

“What’s up?”

“Bon Scott died, man.”  He was digging through his locker.  “And I can’t find my nickel bag.”

Heavy news!  AC/DC’s main man had gone down, literally.  I feared for his soul.  Everybody knew AC/DC was a Satanic band.  Highway to Hell?  The man played with fire and it burned him, I was sure of it.  It was a frightening proposition for an attendee of a Southern Baptist church.

A few weeks later I received my first Jimi Hendrix album for my birthday: Axis: Bold As Love. Instant adulation, perhaps the first perfect record that I can remember.  I was particularly taken with “If 6 was 9” and its existential message.  “I’m the one who’s gotta die when it’s time for me to die,” Jimi said, and the tumblers fell into place.  My life to live the way I want to.  Somewhere along the line I grew up, became the white-collar conservative with the plastic finger, but that’s beside the point.  The power of Jimi speaking from the grave was immense.  Inevitably I still embrace this message, though the meaning has changed over time.  Rest in peace, Dr. Jack.  You were an angel, not a demon.

In the Fall of that year John Bonham died.  My pal Hal was crushed by the loss of Bonzo, as was the entire Guy In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam crowd.  We bemoaned our loss, walked with bowed heads.  No more Led Zeppelin for us.

In December 1980 the unthinkable happened.  John Lennon was gunned down and millions joined in mourning what had happened to us.  What we lost.  John Belushi and Randy Rhoads were next in ’82 and then we shut down the celebrity death machine for a few years, at least as it applied to The Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam.  Sure, they still happened — Razzle from Hanoi Rocks,  Stiv Bators, Johnny Thunders, Cliff Burton, Hillel Slovak — but there wasn’t another collective gasp until Kurt Cobain in 1994.  He was twenty-seven years old, the same age as Janis, Jim, and Jimi.  And me, for that matter.

This was the fulcrum point.  The elder statesmen were no longer dying; instead, I was outliving the elder statesmen.  I was shocked to outlive the Jim/Jimi/Janis holy trinity.  I marked the moment I passed Bonzo and Mooney and Bon.  Forty was bittersweet, as I was going to enjoy longevity denied to John Lennon.  At forty-three I celebrated outliving Elvis.

And now the guy best known for the Golden Girls theme song is gone at 59.  Now when I read these things they are reminders of my own slow, encroaching death.  I suspect that is why we resent the Rolling Stones’ longevity.  We’re not embarrassed for them, we’re scared for us.  We believed The Who when they hoped they died before they got old, but damned if two of them don’t soldier on, reminding us that we are growing old, too. We care in the context of ourselves rather than them,  just as we always have.

In other news, Pinetop Perkins died on March 21 at age ninety-seven.  He was friends with Robert Johnson, arguably the spiritual grandfather of rock and roll who in 1938 died at age 27, just like Kurt, Jim, Janis, and Jimi.  I’m guessing Pinetop’s death didn’t make your local paper, Twitter feed, etc.  Maybe it did, but if not I’ll let you do your own math on why not.

Andrew Gold to Robert Johnson in 1,100 words.  That has to be some kind of record.

14 replies »

  1. Scientists have found a correlation with celebrity worship and depression and anxiety. Which comes first, chicken or the egg? Does depression lead to addiction or does addiction lead to depression. Does it matter?

    The bottom line is there celebrity worship has become an addiction for many who lack real lives and who choose to live vicariously through the distorted view the mainstream media, paparazzi and tabloid “reporters” provide as insight into the sensationalized lives of the rich and famous.

    Celebrity addiction can prevent or delay a person from forming his or her own identity. Celebrity worship has become epidermic and is most commonly established in pre-teen and teen years. The most vulnerable to becoming celebrity addicted are latch key kids, or kids who do have mothers in the home, who are themselves celebrity addicts.

    I don’t identify with any celebrties at all. Why on Earth would I? I’m not a celebrity worshipper so I don’t grieve the passing of people I have never met. I believe that creating deeper bonds within our own family and friend circles would probably do a lot to cure the need to search outside one’s own family and friends for role models to identify with and for validation.

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    • Interesting comment . I did not get a sense from the author of any kind of celebrity worship or addiction, nor do I get the sense that he lacks a “real life”. The posts here are about music, what music we heard when we were young, and how music shaped us as adults.

      Really, the post has nothing to do with mainstream media, paparazzi, tabloids, or the sensationalized lives of the rich and famous. It is simply about music, the people who make the music, and the passing of time.

      I do not think there is a person on earth who does not have one song, from Beethoven to the Beatles to Beiber that they completely identify with, that reminds them of when they first saw their parents dancing, of when they first met their husband or wife, had a child, lost a pet, or argued with a friend. Something was on the radio waves, something always is, and music, like a waft of perfume, can instantly transform a human being right back to that very moment.

      I believe this is the point the author is making with his posts. At least, it is for me.

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  2. I agree with Kelly. There are probably a number of logical reasons that we identify with “celebrities”. What makes a celebrity might differ from one person to another. Many associate the term with “rich, famous,” living the “high life” and in entertainment.” However, it’s important to note that well-known figures can come from any walk of life, including political and religious leaders, those at the top of their business or industry, etc.

    We may identify with the lyrics to a song written, characters played by actors, stories told by authors, acts of heroics, and people who make the news. Obviously, entertainment is meant to appeal to us on some level, and often, incite deep emotional reactions.

    I think that a lot of people living a “regular” and non-glamorous life find the lives of these people interesting, partly because their lives may seem to be the “American dream” but also because celebrity creates a sense that these people are cared about. And who doesn’t want to be loved? There can also be true respect for those successful in various areas of life, especially those at the top of their “game”.

    On the other hand, we like to know that “celebrities” are human, just like us. They have mortal bodies that can get sick, have fears and faults, have experienced failure, and deal with the same emotions and issues most of us do. They can get into accidents, develop illnesses, and commit crimes.

    How many “celebrities” have mis-managed money? The amount doesn’t matter. Many people get in over their heads financially. Just because someone has more of it doesn’t mean they know how to manage it. They just have more to lose.

    It’s natural to be curious about people in the limelight, on the news and in magazines. Sure, any interest may develop into too prevalent an activity, but I don’t think that people who seek out information about “celebrities” lack lives, or are necessarily prevented from forming their own identities. We are all curious beings. Look at those posting comments on blogs – we checked out the written musings of complete strangers, look at their photographs, and feel moved enough to spend time writing back to them.

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  3. Let me add that when Sandy Davis Jr. died, I cried for an hour. The “Candy Man” brought so much happiness into the lives of others. I didn’t know him personally, and this was before the internet, so I really only knew his music. He was a talented artist who not only entertained millions (including service people during WWII) but also actively fought for civil rights in the trenches of daily life.

    Any time a life is distinguished, it’s natural to feel something. Especially if that person touched your life somehow.

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    • These last few comments (yours and Kelly’s) are more along the lines of what I was gunning for. Sometimes when writing one misses the mark, so I’m pleased to see I got at least part of the way there. Simply put my hunch is that for a lot of people the death of a public figure is sort of a mile marker on the highway between birth and death. “Gee, I was ten years old when he was on the radio,” etc.

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  4. Another great write, my inspirational friend 🙂
    You strike home so many times with your words. Of the late greats you mention I can only remember where I was when John Lennon was shot. I remember hearing about the the others but there was ni major impact or fallout from the news. Surprising maybe about Scott and Bonzo, but they weren’t then the major infuence on my life that they are now.
    Having grown old with so many great bands still going strong that I used to listen to back in the day, I do dread the times ahead when hearing sad news. News of an ageing rock stars death is going to be a lot sadder in the coming years purely because of the fact I have grown older with them. Your third last paragraph says it all. Excellent stuff 🙂

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  5. I have not even looked at the news today. For not really knowing Amy Winehouse’s music at all, I knew of her troubles, and for her fans, hoped she would pull through. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a famous addict. Being a hardcore addict alone is usually a death sentence, but surrounded by yes-men 24/7?
    She didn’t have a chance. It’s so damned sad.

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  6. A few no-men could’ve helped Amy and others like her stay on the straight path, but I believe the only person who can really help in a situation like that is the addict him/herself. I am saying this on the popular assumption that it was either drink, drugs, or both that did for Amy. Because there hasn’t been a post mortem yet, the death remains officially ‘unexplained.’

    By the way, Andrew Gold (who I wanted to write about, but didn’t have time) had other songs like Never Let Her Slip Away, which was bouncy, sunny and about love. The other song, one of my favourites, is How Can This Be Love? As you can probably tell by the title, it was not a happy, sunny love song, but it is quite brilliant. Finally, he collaborated with Graham Gouldman from 10cc to create music under the name of Wax. Building A Bridge To Your Heart is the best known song from that group.

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    • This is what I love about music fans. There is a band for everybody, and a fan out there who knows the deep cuts. I’m willing to bet I could toss out Men Without Hats as a one-hit wonder and someone would lead me to their dark, experimental work. Love it — I’ll be looking for your recommendations online and in the bins. Thanks much.

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