A passing: Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)

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The death of Eddie Van Halen is a big enough deal as to require some comment by me.

Van Halen’s efforts in 1978 produced a seemingly odd instrumental named “Eruption” that radically changed the entire spectrum of guitar music. It introduced the concept of “tapping”, that is- tapping with the finger on the string 12 frets away from its insertion. This can be moved around the fret board and produces a very unusual tone compared to simply plucking a string.

Eddie was not the first to produce sounds from tapping strings.  Steve Hackett of Genesis did it in 1975. Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel was doing it in as early as 1968 at the Whisky in LA.  But no one did it like Eddie Van, who originally only did it in clubs and as a warm up exercise. But when it surfaced on Van Halen’s first album in 1978, the 1.4 minute instrumental explosion changed everything from the ground up.

Every player, including me, had to learn it but few could really do it justice. I could do about ten seconds of it before every finger cramped. Otherwise, “tapping” became the order of the day and every guitar shop had at least two or three acolytes trying it out on instruments sporting fast fret boards and lots of amplifier distortion effects. It’s said that Eddie plugged in an electronic gadget to increase the voltage to his Marshall amp, blowing them up pretty routinely.

The fact, however, is that most players couldn’t play it and even if they could, the amount of technical ability didn’t translate into listenability. You really can’t take it for too long before your ears start to ring. That said, Eddie did a lot more for guitar music than Eruption. His creativity and imagination was unparalleled. I learned to play some of his slower songs and very much enjoyed them. In their prime (late 70s and 80s), Van Halen with Diamond Dave Roth was a great band.

So one of the guitar magazine guys once asked Eddie how he came to be such a facile player. The story is interesting. When in high school, Eddie discovered that his life was guitar and nothing else mattered. He routinely skipped school, got up early in the morning, sat on the edge of his bed and practiced. Continuously, then had a sandwich for lunch and practiced again all afternoon, then supper after which his brother went out to socialize and Eddie say on the edge to practice until bedtime- every day for days on end.

So my response to that is that if I had that kind of passion for playing, I could probably play like Eddie too but I had a day job and I didn’t live for music. I had other passions that I lived for. Music was a side issue.  And BTW, if you read very erudite criticism of Eddie’s playing, they are all the same. It sounds “practiced”, practiced music lacks soul and soul is what the ear likes to hear.

If you dial into watch Neil Young play “The needle and the damage done”, he doesn’t have much of a singing voice and his guitar chords are rudimentary but trust me, you can’t take your eye off him.  Similarly, BB King always on the same area of the fret board and he rarely looks to see where he’s playing. He doesn’t have to. His fingers know where to go intuitively.

Sadly, the musical heros of my youth are sinking quickly. Some from old age. Some from suicide as they are unable to make the transition from the 60s and 70s to the new world. Eddie and the Band “Van Halen” were absolute masters of their trade in the 80s and now, having flashed across the sky in a blinding burst, have descended into history.

Rest in Peace Eddie Van. A life well lived.

A Passing. Little Richard (1932-2020)

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“Little Richard” (1932-2020) was far more than a founding father of Rock and Roll, he was literally the “architect of Rock”. Richard Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia in the same era as the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding and James Brown. His daddy sold bootleg whisky around the area. His flamboyant style of piano playing began in the mid-50s as a blend of gospel spirituals, country and what was then Rhythm and Blues originating in the Mississippi Delta area. He was an influence for everyone from Elton John to the Beatles. Rolling Stone said Elvis popularized Rock and Roll, Chuck berry was the storyteller and Little Richard was the archetype.

Richard’s band consisted of multiple instruments, many electrified, raised the energy level of Rock several levels. Jimi Hendrix played guitar in one of Richard’s bands at age 18. James Brown is said to have sang backup briefly at a young age. Richard’s pumping piano was usually accompanied by frenetic songs with a barely hidden sexual orientation (sometimes clouded by gibberish to white audiences but understood by blacks present). The Beatles masterfully sang several of Richards songs in the same style. Several of Richard’s songs (Long Tall Sally, Tutti Frutti) sans the energy and spirit were notoriously covered for white audiences by Pat Boone.

If uniting black and white audiences was a point of pride for Little Richard, it was a cause of concern for others, especially in the South. Shaped by then social issues, Little Richard’s style music followed certain inevitable paths throughout the South, The tributaries that feed the “Chitlin Circuit”, an entertainment venue safe for black musicians started in Louisiana, became manifest in Mississippi through Alabama and Georgia. The path swung up through the Eastern Seaboard as far New York City, including the famous “Cotton Club” and the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Paul McCartney said that the first song he ever sang in public was “Long Tall Sally,” which he later recorded with the Beatles. Bob Dylan wrote in his high school yearbook that his ambition was “to join Little Richard.”

A large number of notable performers have trod the Chitlin Circuit over the years including Count Basie, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, The Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix (with Little Richard), Billie Holiday, John Lee Hooker, Lena Horne, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, Ike & Tina Turner, The Temptations, Muddy Waters. It was considered a monster breeding ground for talent. Richard was one of the first ten inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He appeared in several period films and most of his life is too plentiful and colorful to detail here.

It’s said that talent is born, grows up, streaks across the sky, then ultimately expires. What’s left is how long and how bright. Some talent like Nick Drake and Pete Ham flash brightly but briefly. Others like Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee persist in the sky leaving a trail of devotees that carry on the glow.

Enjoy:

 

https://youtu.be/LVIttmFAzek

https://youtu.be/kxT0DcRR9cQ

There is a very complete biography by Charles White, Foreword by Paul McCartney:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Fonda (1949 – 2019). Last of his kind

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Peter Fonda, maybe the last living icon of the 60s idealism he never let go of, is dead at 79. Lung cancer. The 60s officially died with the Manson murders in August, 1969 but the ideal of free spirits taking the cathartic road to find and immerse in the unknown remained in the background with Peter. He is best known for his paean to “On the road” (Jack Kerouac, 1957) riding custom motorcycles instead of cars. It’s said that vision from motorcycle riding is the closest thing to flying.

“Easy Rider (1969).  Two hippies riding custom bikes accumulate a cash stash from a drug deal (Phil Spector) in Southern California, then ride cross-country searching for spiritual truth. On their journey, they experience unexpected bigotry from small-town America and also meet with other travelers, all seeking alternative lifestyles. After a “bad trip” in New Orleans, the two counterculture bikers discover there is no peace and love anywhere in America.

The custom bike Peter rode was a highly modified 1942 Harley-Davidson Police Special. There were actually two made. One for the progress of the film and another to be trashed at the end. The trashed bike was restored and is now on display somewhere in California. The street version disappeared, presumed stolen and now resides in someone’s living room somewhere. It has never been found and probably never will be.

Watching “Easy Rider” is not much of a fun experience anymore. It’s so horribly dated. Virtually all of it ceased to exist many years ago, the film remaining as a hallmark in vintage memorabilia museums somewhere. I have a full size poster, signed by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson hanging on my den wall. I also have an original “Captain America” leather bike jacket with the full size American flag on the back. You can get the jacket still but not the one with the flag. I wear it out on the road now and then. It always generates remarks. (I have included stock photos of both, as I don’t have actual photos of mine at the moment).

“Easy Rider” was not Fonda’s first reach into filmdom (Generated by the family name). He had somewhat limited success starring in other similar films, most notably “The Wild Angels” (1966) directed by Roger Corman. Wild Angels began the biker forum that persisted into the 70s and introduced the “Hell’s Angels” to film. Wild Angels was a pretty crummy second or third-rate film full of gratuitous sex, violence and notably Harley-Davidson motorcycles (ridden by real Hell’s Angels). The Angels were pointed out as authentically “free spirits”, ignoring convention; riding around all day enjoying whatever came. In fact, dealing with the Angels was a risky proposition as they impossible to control, had virtually no respect for anything or anyone and would start fights for virtually no reason.

There have been books written and documentary films produced about the Angels and they are an interesting culture. Perhaps the best was written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1967:  Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Here is a representative clip from that volume:

They were a bunch of overgrown adolescents,

stuck in their religious mind-set as a way of life. 

They defined themselves by their opposition to

any and everything.  The strength of their

antagonism was the source of their faith, and

like all holy wars, their greatest enemies and

their greatest source of bloodshed was from

within, battles against rival competing for

bottom of the barrel status.”

 The Angels are still around, still wearing their “colors” but not much noticed any more than any other drug dealing gang in Southern California.  Peter Fonda never lost his interest in immersing into what remained of the counterculture, even far after it passed into obsolescence. Peter is maybe the last of the true 60s riders into the unknown, never finding more than appearing for a few minutes on a Harley as a guest star in “Wild Hogs” (2007):

“Why do you think I don’t wear the colors, Jack?

Why do you think I ride alone? ‘Cause you don’t

know about it anymore. I think you all oughta get

back on your bikes and go out and ride the highway

until you remember what riding’s all about”.

 I suppose his indomitable spirit is out there somewhere doing exactly that.

Peter Henry Fonda (1940 – 2019)

 

 

 

On this day in 1968

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1966 – Robert F. Kennedy, (Robert Francis {Bobby} Kennedy) [1925-1968] Legislator and public official, was Attorney General of United States. – Photo By Jim McNamara/TWP

RFKs assassination on June 5,1968 was a terrible blow to a very lot of people, including myself. RFK had emerged to be the fair haired boy of the presidential election what would have taken place in November, 1968. He was the heir apparent who seemed to have a viable shot at changing the country and the world. He displayed a sense of fairness and a clear understanding of what needed to be done and a viable plan on getting it so. Had RFK won the nomination, it was highly likely he would have negotiated a quick end to the Vietnam Conflict , saving thousands of lives, and would have worked to fix racial discrimination and narrowing income gaps in the economy. Kennedy was serious about tackling poverty and racism. He would have taken the country in a radically different direction that what transpired with Richard Nixon. Nixon had a crook as Vice president (Agnew), a “secret” plan to end the never-ending war (ended in 1975) and the Watergate debacle during which little or nothing constructive was done in government. The country and the world would have been a different place, I think.

Shortly after his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on June 8, it’s thought that as many as a million bystanders interrupted their day to stand near the tracks to pay silent tribute to the man in the train’s last car for the 225 mile ride from New York City to Arlington Cemetery where he was buried near his brother. Many in tears. What you will see in the following youtube video is as sad a commentary as you will ever witness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvxH3utA1kg

I don’t know if the photographs by Paul Fusco from Look Magazine will come over as it’s a piece from The Atlantic but I’ll include them here in case they’re released to the public. They’re heartbreaking.

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2018/06/rfks-funeral-train-in-photos/562238/?utm_source=&silverid-ref=MzEwMTU3MjQyMjUxS0

“For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these,
‘It might have been’.

A Passing: Tom Wolfe

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Tom Wolfe, clad in an impeccable three-piece white suit, created a quantum leap in descriptive writing, changing the entire landscape for the use of descriptive language. Prior to Wolfe, descriptive articles were very staid and correct. Wolfe’s hybrid departures into fanciful and colorful language began the “New Journalism”, pointing out Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion and others.

I think he began the art of observing phenomena not seen in the same light by others, describing what he saw in polychromatic language, probably more accurate and definitely more harlequin than what came before.

“The Kandy-Colored, Tangerine Flake, Streamlined Baby” (1965). An expanded look at automobile customizing in the 60s. “The Pump House Gang” (1968) An anthology exploring various aspects of the counterculture of the 1960s. The most famous story about Jack Macpherson and his gang of surfers that hung out in a sewage pump house at Windansea Beach in La Jolla, California.

“The Electric Kool-Aid Test” (1968) an “I was there” anthology of late 60s Hippies, most notably Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who traveled across the country promoting LSD in a colorfully painted school bus named “Further”. “The Right Stuff” (1979) told the “real” story of the antics of the (first) Mercury astronauts that made Chuck Yeager (sound barrier 1947) a household name.

But I think Wolf’s crowning glory was “Bonfire of the Vanities” (1987) followed by the film of the same name in 1990 starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, directed by Brian DePalma. Bonfires is one of the deepest, blackest, most brutal comedies ever written, mercilessly trashing virtually all of our (90s) social mores including, marriage, mistresses, Wall Street, trust and compassion, political envy and manipulation, racial politics and most especially the judicial system.

“Bonfires” does not blink and has no peer in its viciousness. The film is a must-see and can usually be found on many of the TV streaming sites and always on the Torrents.

I think Wolfe can be directly compared to Hunter Thompson in his use of “enhanced description”. Thompson took it a step further by interjecting his own life into the lives of his subjects, usually in a bizarre way, usually termed “Gonzo Journalism”. At any rate, Tom died at age 88 at the end of a very fruitful and satisfying life. It was a good deal. God rest his soul.

See the film.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

A passing: Charlie Manson (1934- 2017)

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Books have been written and movies made about Charlie over the past 50 years. It’s a little surprising that he lasted in what amounted to a cloister for this period of time.

A lot is said today about Charlie’s personality, but I think he’s at least as important as a signpost for the era in time he was a part of. An era in which none of the Pitt students enrolled in my “America in the 60s” class were alive. At some point, the professor asked how many in a class of 50 students had seen “Dr. Strangelove”. No hands went up. Earlier, she asked how many were watching “Vietnam”, the groundbreaking documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. One person.

The 60s came and went with a lot of notice at the time but quickly forgotten by Generation Z. But it’s important for little other reason that because Charlie and his girls probably could not have prospered in any other era. A world with no limits. A world of “Easy Rider” and “Groupies”, a universe of unlimited expansion of the individual and rejection of conformity.

A spontaneous pilgrimage of the faithful, Woodstock (August, ’69) symbolized 60s idealism, but it only hinted at the final demise of the decade of love. The Vietnam War continued, the subservient role of women in the counterculture continued, LSD use diminished and most of the illustrious musical groups of the age died or broke up.

The real end came almost simultaneously with Manson and Altamont, both in the fall of 1969. Manson et al “expanding” their consciousness to forge conflict in a country of “peace & Love” based on rock lyrics eventually leaving the “Family” on top. Altamont, a “free concert” where everything possible to go wrong did, including violence and death.

One of the fundamental myths that the sixties articulated was that some benefit accrued from testing the bounds of human capability and expansion of the mind. It was an era in search of the lost chord. Dissonant notes from political, spiritual, chemical, historical and media influences that come together to form a homogenous chord. The object of total freedom was to find Nirvana, but with little guidance, free-living tribes of the late 60s could just as easily evolve to their lowest denominator. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Jim Morrison searched for his soul by bolting through the “Doors of Perception”, immersing his persona in cathartic rock music masquerading as social profundity. In the end, Jim never found the values of freedom and self-expression his performance stood for, reaching too far for answers unobtainable. Janis Joplin made love to thousands of adoring zealots at the Fillmore, then ultimately died alone and lonely.

The Manson Family remains a vision of the “dark side” of the 60s era, the line no one knew was there till they crossed it. If there is an afterlife, one might rightly think that Charley will meet the same people going down that he met coming up.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

passing: Greg Allman

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Gregg Allman, the last vestige of the Allman Bros Band is gone, and with him goes a massive history. Rock Photographer Jim Marshall told me they were the best he’d ever seen and he’d seen them all.

“Southern Rock” was philosophically different than the rest of the genre. It was harsh but always melodic and to technical perfection. Other exponents, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Outlaws and The Marshall Tucker band had a southern flavor but were more countrified. Molly Hatchet claimed to be a Southern band but their aura could be more compared to Black Oak Arkansas. The Allman Bros really stood alone. They were legends at the Fillmore East.

My sister was a scrub nurse at what was then the Macon Medical Center when Duane Allman was brought to the operating room after a motorcycle crash in which he was injured trying to pass a truck that made an unexpected left turn. It was 1971 and no one knew who he was, just another disheveled, long haired hippie. The woods were full of ‘em. SO he got no “real” attending surgeon. He was relegated to the surgical chief resident’s service. On opening his abdomen, an un-fixable liver injury was found and he of massive bleeding. I often wonder if we could have saved him in 2017 at UPMC had we got the chance.

I saw Gregg when he came to Athens for a one night stand at a local bar, I believe it was early 1972. He was stoned insensible, really unable to play and actually fell off the stool. I saw an interview with him in the 80s where he tearfully said he never really got over Duane’s death. But the Allman Brothers did survive and persist with Dickie Betts at the helm, an authentic wild man fond of trashing hotel rooms (“takin care of business”), marrying women, writing songs about them, then dumping them (“Blue Skies”). The reconstituted Allmans finally had enough and fired him (notified him by sending him a fax) in 2000. For those with an interest, Dickie played an authentic 1957 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top.

Duane Allman’s response to an interviewer’s question: “How are you helping the (anti-war) revolution?” Allman replied, “There ain’t no revolution, only evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I ‘eat a peach’ for peace.b The post-Duane album “Eat a Peach” (1972) did well, much like the post-Bon Scott AC/DC album “Back in Black”, indicating that the magic was still more or less there. ” The Allmans went on starring Gregg on piano and organ, Derek Trucks on slide and guitarist Warren Haynes, both stellar talents who jelled well with the Allman Bros vibe. I think Warren Haynes is one of the top five most talented guitarists alive today. He’s the only player I’ve ever heard that could approach Duane Allman, although the vibe is a little dated now.

Duane Allman’s original ’59 Gibson Les Paul is enshrined at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I broke the rules and actually touched it, hoping a spark would pass through it to me. Unfortunately it didn’t. I’m still a mediocre player.

Duane and bass player Berry Oakley (killed in a similar motorcycle accident a few blocks from where Duane was killed year after Duane) are buried together in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Ga. The same cemetery they used to hang out, the inspiration for the song “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”- spotted on one of the head stones).

Gregg was a serviceable keyboard player and an excellent voice, but Duane was a true virtuoso. Like many artists, some of their best work was never popular enough to get on the radio. If you want to hear a totally awesome song featuring Duane on lead guitar, listen to the brief (truncated by me) live performance in a small club MP3 I am providing on this missive. Listen to the incredible subtlety and the touch that made Duane a legend.

The end of an era. A complex life well lived, all factors considered.

It’s difficult to find a good video of the original Allman Bros band in 1970. Try this one from the Fillmore East in 1970.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUvxRjYqjEQ

Also, this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqKrRATxHXY

Originally and masterfully performed by Sam Cook in 1964, a classic. It’s beautiful, listen to it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

And BTW, a fascinating biography of Bill Graham and the Fillmores is here at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QK3BMJ4/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

A passing: Butch Trucks (Allman Bros Band) Jan 24, 2017

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170125-butch-trucks-2005_f1bdfd6a8199b71fad90385f71f2d1e6-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Sadly, another rock musician now taking his own life: Allman Brothers Band Percussionist Butch Trucks, age 69.

http://www.syracuse.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2017/02/police_death_of_allman_brothers_drummer_butch_trucks_was_suicide.html

The Allman Bros were legends in their own time and continue to be important for the history of rock. One of the most influential bands in rock history. Butch was there from the beginning in 1969.

They lived fast, peaked early and died young. They headlined one of the biggest outdoor rock concerts in history (Atlanta International Pop Festival, 1970). Crowd estimates range as high as 600,000. Their album “Live at the Fillmore” continues to be one of the classics of all time, Rolling stone lists it as #49 in the top rock albums.

24-year-old Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash in Macon, Georgia in 1971, bassist Berry Oakley, age 24 followed in another bike crash a year later four blocks from where Duane lost his life. Brother Gregg Allman carried on with various iterations of the band until finally calling it quits in 2014. But the band was never the same, essentially playing the same material with increasingly younger musician replacements until it became seriously dated.

There are some emerging issues in the arena of maintaining a passion for over 50 years, then finding out it’s irrevocably done. We’re an older population now and we’re living long enough to become irrelevant with unforeseen consequences. In the year 1965, 50% of the population was under 25 years of age, 41% under age 20. In contrast, in 2012, only 23.5 % of Americans were below the age of 20 *. I was 22 in 1965. I’d hazard a guess that in 2017, close to 50% of the population is over 60. That’s a different world.

People flash across the sky and then there is an end to that trajectory. They get old and find out they’re irrelevant as new generations crowd them out. It’s hard to let go of that and some poor souls are unable to do so. They observe from the outside what they can no longer do for various reasons, not the least of which is they can no longer relate to the new generation.

I’ve mentioned in the past that infamous 60s writer Hunter Thomson took his life when he discovered he was simply out of date and couldn’t relate anymore to the 21st century. When the world changed from the 60s he couldn’t adapt to the process of adapting. It wasn’t fun anymore. Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) took his own life when he discovered he could no longer play the keyboards as in his glory days. Ronnie Montrose of “Montrose” (spawned Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar) took is life in 2012; he just didn’t find it fulfilling anymore. Bob Welsh, formerly in the formative stages of “Fleetwood Mac” took his life in 2012 in failing health and enduring the frustrations of the group’s success without him. Robin Williams at age 63- career waning and health issues.

These lives and deaths are radically different than young people with fertile lives killing themselves. David Foster Wallace, one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years, unexpectedly killed himself at age 46. Kurt Cobain kilted himself at age 27 at the peak of his musical career. These guys succumbed from endogenous depression, not an inability to cope with aging and an emerging generation that made them irrelevant.

Like it or not, time passes, things change and new generations emerge. The ability to survive is the ability to adapt and with a rapidly aging population, that ability isn’t guaranteed. Butch Trucks, a world-class musician in his glory days is collateral damage to this phenomenon. I fear he won’t be the last.

* Braunstein, Carpenter, Edmonds: “The Sixties Chronicle”, pp 263

Syd Barrett remembered (1946-2006)

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Last summer marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Roger (Syd) Barrett the original heart and soul of the mega-band “Pink Floyd”. Syd was the lead singer and principle songwriter, credited with naming the band in the mid-60s.

I mention Syd for a reason, yet to come.

First, a brief background history: Syd’s brilliance flashed across the sky for only about 3 years, beginning at the band’s inception around 1965 and pretty much ending around 1968. The band’s seminal album: “Piper at the gates of dawn” was recorded in 1967 and put them on the map in the UK. His instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive” (10 minutes long) marked the Brit interpretation of psychedelia. Of the eleven songs on “Piper”, Syd wrote eight and co-wrote two.

During the latter part of 1967 into ’68, Syd’s behavior became increasingly erratic, blamed on his use of LSD, which at the time was pervasive in the youth culture. His ability to perform on stage progressively deteriorated and in late 1968, his school friend David Gilmour gently replaced him in the band.

After leaving Floyd, Syd tried his luck at several solo projects but none went anywhere. By 1972, Syd’s functionality had degenerated to the point where he ensconced himself in a small flat in Cambridge and rarely emerged except to get the mail. Royalties continued to come his way and he remained essentially in custodial care until his death on July 7, 2006 at the age of 60 years. Cause of death said to be pancreatic cancer.

There has been much speculation about Syd’s state of mind over his few productive years. Much has been made of his fondness for LSD as a precursor and catalyst for psychosis. His sister Rosemary Breen said that his mental abilities and inconsistencies were consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, many who have studied him feel that he had classic delayed adolescent schizophrenia and his deterioration was an incurable self-fulfilling prophesy.

I have seen several schizophrenics through the years. They are usually highly intelligent and creative in their young years and they flash brightly but quickly across the sky. Their deterioration is progressive, sometimes lasting into their late 20s. One I knew deteriorated in her last year of medical school. It’s right out of that film a while back “A Beautiful Mind” (2001). The signs and symptoms actually started much earlier but were as ascribed to the eccentricity of genius.
photo-oneAt any rate, my point, and I do have one is for you to now peruse this photo. Syd in his glory days, early 20s.

Now, much is made of Architectural feminine beauty, in the range of Victoria’s Secret models. A face that launched a thousand ships (a mini-Helen, of course, would launch one ship). The media is plastered with it selling everything from bug spray to diapers. But, alternatively, Syd was a drop-dead beautiful young man. Look at that face. A face that would generate madness in an alternate universe.
photo-three
Then, sadly, peruse this photo to see Syd in his late 50s shortly before his death. Rode hard and put away wet for too long. What a strange and terrible transformation that quietly awaits most of us. Unfair that we must eventually suffer the ravages of time and age. Almost an incentive to get in as much as possible for as long as possible before we go gently into that good night.

 

A sad passing: Keith Emerson (1944-2016)

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KeithKeith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake formed rock super group “Emerson, Lake & Palmer” in London in 1970. The band released seven albums in the next decade, all of which went gold in the US.

(pay particular attention to the fascinating echo and delay effects of this band, all designed by Keith Emerson)

Keith Emerson was the compleat musician. It was not his avocation or occupation, it was his burning passion that encompassed and ultimately eclipsed his life in totality. Keith is said to have suffered from depression after a degenerative nerve disorder in his hands that hampered his keyboard playing capability.

Passion is not a logical decision. Passion dictates behavior without rationality or logic, making it all up as it goes along. Anything interfering can be ominous. I knew a guitarist that ripped off the bandages the day after a carpel tunnel operation so he could continue to play. Debilitating illness, frequently in combination with desultory forms of depression can be a life-threatening blow to such passionate artists.

History reveals other musicians that committed suicide for similar interferences with their life’s lusts, including substance dependency and various stripes of depression. One would think that the fruits of artistic brilliance in and of itself would be an adequate stimulus for personal happiness and fulfillment, but history infers that the more brilliant an artist is, the more tendency for their self-ruination.

* Nick Drake- A fragile genius, dead in 1968 from an overdose of amitriptyline, a treatment for lifelong depression. Autopsy did not reveal whether the overdose was intentional or accidental.

* Pete Ham- Badfinger singer-guitarist, suicide in 1975. Depression after losing all to a crooked manager. Pete wrote “Baby Blue”, the brilliant anthem that played out the last scene in “Breaking Bad”.

* Keith Moon- Legendary drummer for The Who, an entirely justified reputation as the wild man of rock, dead in 1978 from aspiration following a probable inadvertent overdose of Clomethiazole, a drug prescribed to help wean him off alcohol.

* John Bonham- Of Led Zeppelin, considered my Rolling Stone to be the greatest drummer in rock history. Extensive history of alcoholism died of respiratory failure following aspiration after drinking 40 consecutive shots of vodka in 1980.

* Richard Manuel- “The Band”, considered one of the great piano players in rock. Suicide in 1986. Deteriorating technical abilities from chronic drug dependency and alcoholism.

* Danny Gatton. The ‘Master of the Telecaster’. Considered one of the top ten rock guitarist of all time. Suicide in 1994 resulting from untreatable lifelong depression and deteriorating technical abilities.

* Kurt Cobain- Of Nirvana, ‘’the flagship band’’ of Generation X. An artist that changed an entire culture. A lifelong history of depression culminating in suicide in 1994.

* Brad Delp- Lead singer for Boston. Delp was considered among the greatest rock vocalist of all time. Suicide in 2007 after multiple stressful life situations.

Rest in peace, sad brother.

 

“Come inside, the show’s about to start

Guaranteed to blow your head apart

Rest assured you’ll get your money’s worth

The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth.

You’ve got to see the show, it’s a dynamo.

You’ve got to see the show, it’s rock and roll ….”

 

Emerson Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9” From “Brain Salad Surgery”, (1973)

 

 

Never thought I’d live to be a hundred

Never thought I’d get to do

The things that all those other sons do

 

Never thought I’d ever have my freedom

An age ago my maker was refusing me

The pleasure of the view

 

Moody Blues: “To our Children’s, Children’s Children” (1975)