On Death and (Somebody Else) Dying


NOTE: Steve Moyer’s friends in the fantasy and baseball industries have begun a GoFundMe to help support his daughters, Harmony and Mary, who face college and adulthood without their pop. Please feel free to donate in honor of our friend. The link is GoFundMe Steve Moyer kid fund.

I have been trying to get my head around our friend and colleague Steve Moyer’s untimely passing last Thursday.

If you have followed my ramblings over the years, you know I have had a number of brushes with death myself, and that my own wife, child, and dog all left this plane within a year of one another between July of 2005 and April of 2006.

What these rather intense experiences seem to have made me, however, created a sort of paradox. On one hand, I accept the inevitability of our own human experience, understanding our time here is indeed finite and that there is no fairness within the amount of time we are granted here on earth.

Similarly, I can put it in a sort of detached-automatic mode, for lack of better verbiage, making certain the trash is taken out, that dinner is made, and that the appropriate persons are advised appropriately of the departure. 

Certainly, Steve was core to a lot of the fantasy industry, and having been colleagues for a quarter century I seem to be one of those who knew him the longest, and perhaps as well as anyone within our circle.

Still, it never occurred to me that Steve — hell, that any of us — would leave untimely, so soon. Further, I have had enough head butts with Steve that I was surprised to find myself at the center of coordinating updates about him, being the source for articles and news as well as disseminating funeral information.

I know I am not alone in banging egos with Steve, for as his fiance, Samantha Drennan — with whom I have unfortunately become friends under the worst of circumstances — acknowledged that Steve “argued with everyone about everything.” So I was happy Steve and I had a good clearing of the air last First Pitch, Arizona.

Furthermore, I was glad to help out during the couple of days subsequent to learning of Steve’s passing by sharing information and emailing so many who knew and cared about him. I helped my mate, Roto Expert’s Scott Engel gather information both for an article about Steve, and together we plotted a Hall of Fame Hour — one of the shows Scott hosts on FNTSY— on  Steve this coming Monday (listen from 7-8 PM, ET). I posted and commented on the Rock Remnants site that was Steve’s imagination, where Peter Kreutzer, Gene McCaffrey, and I made a musical home for our writing outside of fantasy sports.

The bulk of these activities occurred while I was still at spring training, usually one of my favorite trips of the year. For, in March, baseball is still fresh and optimistic, players are happy and mostly healthy, and drafts are gearing up.

Instead, within the throes of my “busy-ness” handling Steve things, I felt distracted. I was  disinterested in going to games and drafting and interviewing players. And, the truth was, I just wanted to go home and be with my family.

I did keep wondering, however: Why I was so ambivalent with respect to something I really enjoy?

Then it occurred to me that I was subconsciously being so busy detaching that I did not have to acknowledge how bummed I am. In discussions with several of the groups and leagues in which Steve and I both participate, I realized what an integral part of my life Steve was, and I guess vice versa.

And, that meant the bummed disinterested feelings I was trying to ignore were actually grief.

Life is such a silly ephemeral thing. So difficult to understand, let alone make reasonable. And yet it is wondrous and beautiful, for though in the end it takes us from one another, certainly prior to that life gives us the gift of one another.

It certainly is a shame, however, that we have forget to embrace this gift until that appreciation is no longer corporeal.

One of the bands that Steve and I shared a love for was the Small Faces, and perhaps their best-known song was “Itchycoo Park.” As a dog owner, and husband of an animal lover, I like to imagine The Rainbow Bridge in a sort of “Itchycoo Park” sense.

I hope I am right. I hope Steve is rocking out there, maybe with my son Joey and late wife Cathy, and our dogs Macaroni, Onyx, Jazzmine, and Mahina looking on. Miss ya Steve.

Bob Beucler, The Piper

My high school buddy Russ had a little brother, a tow-headed kid who was happy to play with his Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars while we kept him far away from our explorations with Thai stick in the garage.

Now, some 40 years later, he’s releasing at a pretty good pace songs he’s written on which he plays all the instruments. I’ll always think of him as the kid, but now he is also the kid who shreds.

The Good, the Bad, and the Dead

Wayne Cochrane might have penned The Last Kiss, and Pearl Jam might have proved its camp essence, but the big hit was from 1964, by J. Frank Wilson. I remember this time vividly as it was the first summer I was sick with what became known as Crohns Disease.

I had been sick for several months, losing weight and unable to keep any nourishment in me when it was determined that I needed to go to the hospital for tests and observation So, on the way to Monterey and the family’s summer vacation, they dropped me off at the hospital and went on their merry way.

I got my summer solace first, not being around them, second with books, and third with my transistor radio which blared Ferry Cross the Mersey, and Bits and Pieces chunks of Brit Pop, but also the maudlin Wilson song.

The Last Kiss, however, belongs to a strange genre of pop song known as death songs. Some of the more prominant?

  1. Teen Angel, Mark Dinning (1960): When I was in third grade (also 1960) our classmate, Don DeVincenzi’s sister died in a local accident just like this.
  2. Patches, Dickey Lee (1962): Evolved into Poor Side of Town in a few years.
  3. Laurie, Dickey Lee (1965): Lee clearly had some kind of necrophilia thing going on.
  4. Tell Laura I Love Her, Ray Peterson (1960): Peterson actually had a pretty good hit with Corina, Corina.
  5. Honey, Bobby Goldsboro (1968 ): Arguably the most loved/hated of the maudlin.

There are more for sure. The links above lead to YouTube files of the originals. But, J. Frank lurks below.

You Really Got Me: The Locomotion, Little Eva

Of course, once again I was in the car, driving to the links, when the Locomotion came on my shuffle.

I can write a lot about the song, How it nailed me (as documented) at family camp. How it is just a killer Goffin/King song with that monster sax grooving with the machine gun snare to start, and then drive the song.

But, when I was listening the other day I thought “man, I first heard this song in 1962 and it still sounds as good to me today as it did then.”

So, I started thinking about other  songs like that, and the Kinks, You Really Got Me was the first to pop into my head and that seemed an apropos title for a new category of fun.

The parms are just that: a song that nailed you first time and always, but, the caveat is that you have to remember distinctly where you first heard it.

So, here are six of mine in no particular order (and, though both You Really Got Me and the Locomotion match the category, I went to other songs for my list):

Drug Test, Yo La Tengo: I read about Yo La Tengo for the first time in the Utne Reader as their critic, I think named Jay Waljasper, waxed on for a couple of albums worth about how great this band I never had heard of was. So, kind of like Steve went to see Baby Driver to prove to himself it was lousy, I bought President Yo La Tengo/New Wave Hot Dog to prove to myself that the Tengo were nothing. This was 1998, and the opening track, Banaby Hardly Working was ok, but the second cut, Drug Test came smoking out of the car stereo and it remains an all-time favorite song. Needless to say, Waljasper was right: I own seven of the bands discs and have seen them three times.

Please Please Me, The Beatles: My family all lived in London and my cousin Eve sent us a copy of Please Please Me on Parlaphone records in 1963 and it completely knocked my socks off. I remember putting on our little Philco phonograph, and that we didn’t need to use the little center spindle thing for 45 rpm singles because British singles did not have that gaping hole in the middle. The couplet “It’s so hard to reason, I do all the pleasin’ with you…” still stands as one of my all time favorites.

Holidays in the Sun, The Sex Pistols: I had heard of Johnny and the Sex Pistols, as they were referred to in the San Francisco Chronicle and was dubious. But, in October of 1977 I went to London for the first time to meet my cousins and travel some. I was taking a bath in my grandmother’s house which was a 150-year old Victorian, listening to Top of the Pops on my aunt’s funky transistor which was on the floor and pow, the #1 song of the week blew me away.

Borrow Your Cape, Bobby Bare, Jr: I hit pay-dirt with an Amazon order around 2007 when I bought my niece Lindsay a couple of discs from Amazon for her birthday. At the bottom of the page was one of those, “people who liked this, liked that” and The Longest Meow by Bobby Bare, Jr and his Starving Criminal Brigade was the disc. “What the fuck?” I thought to myself and I bought it (a lot of four and five star reviews on Amazon) and man is it a killer album. And, Borrow Your Cape is my fave. The Biletones even covered it for a while.

Complete Control, The Clash: I was totally caught up with the punks and saw every band I could in the process, including the Pistols final performance at Winterland, and the Clash four times. I was going to sleep, though, shortly after my return from my European trip of ’77, smoking a doobie when Complete Control came on during Richard Gosset’s evening show on KSAN. By the time the second solo began I was totally lost in it. Still am.

Modern Love, Peter Gabriel: I was standing in Odyssey Records on the Ave in Berkeley in late 1977 when Gabriel’s first album came out, and the crew at the record store put the album on. So, as I was browsing Modern Love and Solsbury Hill came on and I bought the album without having ever heard any of the rest. I still love Modern Love.

Allman Brothers, Dreams

My old friend Russ and I fashioned ourselves in the mode of Neal and Jack, at least sometimes, living a sort of vagabond life of simple ascetic pleasures traveling the world the way the monks of Tibet once famously did.

That meant hitchhiking after school from St. James to Cold Spring Harbor to try on and sometimes buy Hit Em Hard corderoy work pants, baggy the way they wore them back in the depression. If we found a beer or a J to go along with our Camel cigarettes we would enjoy it, and when we got hungry some yoghurt usually did the trick.

Most days we played basketball in Gaynor Park. There was always a game on the single court there, and we’d rotate in and out, playing full court hard, against our high school friends, and Freddy and Jay and others who had cycled back from Vietnam and brought a steely dark humor and cynicism to our lives.

The hoops court at Gaynor Park was the locus for our social life. This is where you went when you wanted to find your friends, who were either jamming on the court or flopped over the concrete pump house on the other side of the unused tennis courts. I didn’t know how all the boys and girls who spent so much time in that strip of tarmac, grass and concrete ended up there, it all seemed magical, but some part of it was because the Eastman clan, Russ and family, lived catty corner across the avenue.

It was there, at Russ’s house, that we hung out at lunch, and on days when school was shortened for testing. It was there we sat in the yard discovering that granny smith apples and Madeira Rainwater were an incredible combo. It was there that we watched Bogart movies, read Tin Tin (Rich, having colored all the dog images in a book with a yellow marker: “Don’t eat the yellow Snowy.”), and learned what Thai stick was (in the garage, in case it was volatile).

Russ and I also spent many weekends hitchhiking around Long Island, setting some goal (Hey, Southhampton!) and often making it there and back. The adventures weren’t usually dramatic. A dip in the ocean, flirting with some girls who droves us two miles, finding somehow some beer. Not exactly Tibetan simplicity, but basic, elemental, life distilled.

We talked to everyone. Drivers who picked us up, of course, but also road workers, and convenience store clerks. The workers in Army Navy stores and wherever we went to buy Dannon yoghurt as a snack. Local gossip, news, the weather, that downhome chatter was part of a package of values that we developed and shared and which I think has endured. In later years, when we were actually in control of the car, we’d stop and help people whose cars had broken down, Russ making them feel safe as we helped or found help for whatever the problem was.

We often found ourselves, because of our long hair and baggy pants, talking to police officers who assumed we took drugs. I remember a number of times that we chatted up those cops, while holding a joint or two, talked seriously about the problems with Nelson Rockefeller’s increasing penalties for pot possession, and managed to save our hides by good grace and luck and maybe a certain amount of innocent guile.

Until we didn’t, at which point our wanderings and self-inventing become more publicly known at home, and lawyers had to be called. We’ll blame Frank Zappa for that. We ate the yellow snow, metaphorically at least.

Through all of this we listened to a lot of music. And the music that we listened to most was the Allman Brothers. When I heard from Russ’s sister that he’d died this past Saturday I thought about his cancer, and the unrelenting beat of disease that transforms a life of love and devotion into an unrelenting agony and violation of all of that. And I ached, for the many years in between those strange halcyon days Russ and I shared figuring out how to live in the world, and these strange days when whatever script we’ve been given makes the ending seem as inevitable as one of those Bogart movies. And much more terrible because it isn’t just a story.

I started thinking about this Allman’s tune today. It’s from their first album, which for some time was underappreciated, though nobody cares anymore from whence the good stuff came. And this is the good stuff.

So sit with Russ and me on the pump house, with our friends, and argue about Jaimo and Butch, and Duane and Dickey, appreciate Berry’s amazing bass line, and think about motorcycles and eerie coincidences and terribly sad moments. And raise a Stegmaier, please, for Russ. And don’t klunk.

 

Maggie Roche has died.

When I moved to New York late in 1976 punk was breaking. Patti Smith’s Horses was already out, and the club scene was lively and exciting. New records, new great records seemed to come out every day, and the music press, the Voice, the Soho News, NME and others were crazy with coverage and analysis of the vibrant music and the scene that came with it. It was an astonishing time to be in New York, a city that was bankrupt and dangerous and eating itself from within, but also reinventing the world.

While the punk scene was centered in the East Village, and I visited all those clubs there, I somehow ended up hanging out in the Village itself, mostly at Gerdes Folk City on West Fourth Street, and Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker Street. There the music was also hot, artists were being signed, but it was a singer-songwriter scene that was evolving, birthing a new generation of folkies, these far less interested in folk songs per se and far more interested in songwriting and confession and reflections on the quotidian and how life is lived by everyone and themselves.

I would have to do a little research to find a list of names of performers from that scene, some of whom I’m sure got a little famous and some of whom did not, but the two acts I admired most and saw many times were Steve Forbert and the Roches. Forbert wrote aching songs and sang with an aching voice, but the result wasn’t morose. His honesty and clever melodies are compelling and enduring, at least from his first two elpees, and it was hearing him live on the radio play a rocking careering version of Telstar on his acoustic that helped me develop the idea that the rock ‘n’ roll spirit isn’t just about volume and drive, but also about an honest and straightforward accounting of whatever you’re doing in song.

Which brings us to the Roches. The three sisters were delightful, funny, vivacious, and clever. They lit up the stage as presences, even Maggie the shy one, and lit up the room with their clever and lovely and surprising harmonies. We is their far too cute origin song.

As Tom recounts below, their first album as a threesome was produced by Robert Fripp, the famed progressive and experimental rock guitarist. The result is a spare and resonant sound, full of room without obvious reverb. Pretty and High was a song by Maggie, it closes the album with surreal drama and poetry and a clanging guitar. Play it loud, as if it rocked.

Ten Most Lasting Albums From Your Teen Years (per Lawr)

Peter put up a great post here, and Steve responded with a cool list. I am, I believe, the oldest (Steve is still the most curmudgeonly, though) so my teen years halt at 1972 meaning Brit Pop and Psychedelia ruled my adolescene.

My list:

  1. Tommy, The Who. Boy did I relate, especially as a misunderstood, chronically sick kid who saw things differently than seemingly everyone else around me.
  2. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Small Faces. A killer bit of British psychedelics, packaged way weirdly, and displaying maybe the best band of instrumental players ever who were in a single band Steve Marriott went on to Humble Pie, Ronnie Lane recorded with many including Pete Townshend’s early solo stuff, Ian McLaghlen played all over including with the Stones, Kenny Jones was the Who drummer after Keith Moon, and Ronnie Wood? Duh.
  3. Cheap Thrills, Big Brother. Live garage rock at its very best. These guys are so fucking tight it is scary
  4. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan. A seminal part of my life: I listened to it every night as I went to sleep for two years.
  5. In Search of the Lost Chord, Moody Blues. My foray to prog rock, and since my parents drilled classical music into me early on this was the perfect synthesis. And, it still sounds good to me.
  6. Otis Live in Europe, Otis Redding. With Cheap Thrills, 801 Live, Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, this is maybe the best live album ever.
  7. The White Album, Beatles. Man, all over the map. When I was a little older than my Blonde on Blonde days, I would listen to this (like Cheap Thrills) on my headphones, at night, as I was going to sleep. So interesting and all over the place for maybe the most creative band ever.
  8. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane. I remember the day I bought it, and where I bought it. Still kills and is so sophisticated for such a young band.
  9. Moby Grape, Moby Grape. Too bad these guys couldn’t hold up. As noted, one of two Peter (my asshole brother, not my mate the wonderful Mr. Kreutzer) dissed.
  10. The Doors, The Doors. The other the bro dissed, and one I listened to every time I put a stack on the spindle.I will always wonder if the Doors were really a great band, but no question this is a great album.

801, TNK

Another contribution to great Beatles covers, this is one hell of a deconstructed version as well, one I love, and one that is so appropriate for the holiday.

That is because I first heard this song, driving home from my friend Cathy Fabun’s, on Christmas Eve of 1977.

Cathy lived in Richmond, about five miles from where I lived in Berkeley, and she was a pretty new friend at the time. Cathy always held court Christmas Eve, so I was invited and it was good fun. At the time Columbian was still the dope we smoked, but Maui Wowie did make an appearance each fall, and that fall I had some.

I left Cathy’s house around ten, and it was indeed a beautiful, crisp night. Instead of driving on Interstate 80, I took the Eastshore Highway which parallels 80, but is a two-lane road that hugs the bay. The lights of the bridges and city were glistening so beautifully–and they still do for me–that I wanted to drive closer.

And, at the time, I drove one of those mid-engine Porsche 914’s which was kind of like a little spaceship.

So, I am stoned, driving down by the water in some otherworldly fashion, and this tripped out psychedelic version comes on KSAN, then the killer FM free form station that served the area.

“What the fuck is this?” I wondered. Next day I bought the album, I also own it on CD. It pretty much kills all over. And, this is the lead track.

Afternoon Snack: London Tornadoes/Bill Frisell, “Telstar”

I remember the big breakthrough of the London Tornadoes’ (note the Internet does not acknowledge the “e” in Tornadoes, but the band’s drum kit certainly does)  hit Telstar was that the song was 3:15, that making it the first top 40 song in a million years to clock in at over three minutes (Marty Robbins El Paso actually exceeded four minutes!).

The song, released in the throes of the space race, was an homage to the first communications satellite sent into outer space, and the Tornadoes did pretty good job of evoking spaciness with the Joe Meek headed production. Meek, a British producer and songwriter also produced Have I the Right? by the Honeycomb during Brit Pop’s peak, and he explored alternative sounds until a sordid murder/suicide ended things, rather un-meekly, in 1967.

But, guitar virtuoso Bill Frisell, lovingly covering the iconic guitar sounds of early pop, chose to include Telstar in his 2015 release, Guitar in the Space Age.

Its all good stuff, it is.