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


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.


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I’ve mentioned in the past that infamous 60s writer Hunter Thomson took his life when he discovered he was simply out of date and couldn’t relate anymore to the 21st century.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)


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.
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)


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)



A passing: Paul Kantner (1941-2016)


Paul in '68 & '15You’d have to work hard to overestimate the musical contribution of Paul Kantner (and the Jefferson Starship). Paul died yesterday, Essentially of old age, at 74.

Formed in 1965, the Jefferson Airplane truly defined the “psychedelic era” in music. They performed at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969). “Somebody to love” and White Rabbit” are among Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time”. The Airplane was inducted into the R & R Hall of Fame in 1996.

Gracie '68 and nowPaul didn’t talk much but he was the pillar that created, maintained and now died with the Jefferson Airplane, one of the truly seminal musical groups of the 60’s, an era defined by it’s music. Lead singer Gracie Slick got all the media attention because she was volatile and the camera loved her. Gracie was the first female megastar in rock history and a brutally candid, sensuous symbol of 1960s counterculture. Now with snow-white hair, Gracie once remarked on a talk show that she once woke up at 110 mph in a Porsche on the 405.

In a 1968 Amsterdam concert incident, Doors singer Jim Morrison, under the influence of God knows what, appeared on stage and began dancing like a pinwheel. The Airplane played “Plastic Fantastic Lover” increasingly faster, Morrison continuing to spin faster finally falling senseless at Marty Balin’s feet. Morrison was hospitalized.

Jorma and meLead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen is an acquaintance; I played with him a couple of decades or so ago. He went on to form “Hot Tuna” and is still playing gigs out there on the road. I met Gracie a while back and have her signature on a poster in my music room.

Others in the group coming and going, Paul played with the Airplane’s entire history,. When the Airplane broke up in 1972, Kantner then formed the “Jefferson Starship” which went on until Gracie quit due to age-related loss of interest in 1988. This year she’s 76 years old and rarely seen in public.

Paul Kantner was a very important person in music throughout his lifetime. He and many others of his ilk, soon to expire, defined an age that will probably never be seen again. Rest in peace, Paul. A life well lived.



Death Triads for the new millennium


Traditionally, deaths for performance artists come in triads, but historically for different reasons.

Jim Morrison: (July 3, 1971) Two radically opposite personalities on and off ethanol.
Janis Joplin: (Oct 4, 1970). Made love to 1150 adoring fans at the Fillmore West, then went home alone.
Jimi Hendrix: (Sept 18, 1970) Chronic insomnia aided to permanent sleep.

All within a year of each other, all in their twenties from acute and chronic disorders self-mistreatment. All a direct result of the suspension of most laws of God and man in the waning sixties.

And speaking of sixties, we now have the obligatory new millennium triad of:

David Bowie; (Class by himself)
Glenn Frey: (Classically “American” band- “The Eagles”)
Dallas Taylor (“Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” drummer)

Bowie died at age 69 after an 18-month battle with cancer, leaving a very intense “goodbye” video, cloistering himself in a closet at the end. Frey died at 67 from complications of longstanding rheumatoid disease and colitis. There is some conjecture that the new drug “Humera” may have weakened his immune system (unverified). Taylor was 66, suffered from cirrhosis, receiving a liver transplant in 1990, lasted 26 years.

What all these guys have in common is that they died of “old men” diseases in an age where “old men” are now lasting into their 80s (but not necessarily with the same quality of life). In fact, the death rate from “old men” diseases hasn’t changed much in the new millennium. 60s is when much it peaks. All the truly great performing musicians of my generation are now facing their mortality.

What’s coming next: rode hard and put away wet, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker (Cream) are now 70 and 76 respectively. Jack Bruce died last year at age 71. Neil Young is 71 and entering his tenth or so “middle age crisis”, dumping his aging wife and taking up with famously predatory starlet Daryl Hannah (“Blade Runner”). David Crippen, still chugging along barely ahead of the game so far.

You really know you’re getting old when you start reading obituaries looking for people you know. Thomas Hobbes said: “The life of man- solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, mercifully, has not been true for any of the above. The future will, however, continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A passing: David Bowie


bowie_on_tourSad passing of David Bowie from cancer at age 69. Not any sadder than anyone passing from cancer at any age, but in the case of the Thin White Duke, not so sad as his amazing body of work left behind will speak for him forever.

There are at least two markers of genius. First is inimitability. True genius can be echoed by pretenders but never equaled. The second is that there is virtually no limit to their timeless multi-talented potential. Bowie (nee Jones) has said he considered himself a “collector of personalities”. Beginning in the 60s and 70s with “Space Oddity” and Ziggy Stardust” and the “Thin White Duke”. Proceeding through the 80s with new wave and his pop era and “Tin Machine”, into the 90s with his electronic period, and ultimately into the new millennium with his neoclassicist period. He collaborated with many other world class musicians including Queen (“Under Pressure”- 1981). In any of these periods, there is music to be enjoyed by some audience’s tastes.

Bowie also participated in and defined characters from several films including “The man who fell to earth” (1976), The Hunger (1983) and The last temptation of Christ (1988). He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Music reviewer Brad Filicky writes: “Bowie has become known as a musical chameleon, changing and dictating trends as much as he has altered his style to fit, influencing fashion and pop culture”. Biographer Thomas Forget adds, “Because he has succeeded in so many different styles of music, it is almost impossible to find a popular artist today that has not been influenced by David Bowie”. In 2000, Bowie was named by British magazine the New Musical Express as the “most influential artist of all time”.

So, we add this incredible talent to the list of inimitable, timeless, pervasive artists “of a certain age” approaching their mortality now, but never forgotten.

Robin Williams agonistes: The crisis of the genius genome


Robin_Williams“Better to burn out than fade away”

Neil Young


The true mastery of making someone laugh is as much an art form as Chopin, Van Gogh or Segovia. It’s a skill that cannot be learned and by & large cannot be imitated. It’s innate and those randomly chosen need no training, only discovery.

Some of the chosen are not so much inherently funny as they can deliver jokes written by someone else smoothly and they have an innate ability to work audiences. Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. David Letterman had the gift for a while but burned out with time. All of them get rich and enjoy their lives. None have the frenetic “real” gift of Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin, Craig Ferguson and Robin Williams.

Traditionally, the popular media describes genius in association with “divine madness”, wondering which comes first, the divinity or the madness. I don’t think it’s a matter of an association. I think it’s the genome. For whatever desultory reason, the chromosomes on the ring of the truly gifted comic lie next to aberrancy. Hypomania, compulsive disorder, drug attraction and dependence. It’s difficult to tease apart all the components of this kind of genius. They integrate with each other and the result is an admixture of all.

They have the innate ability to pull from any experience or occurrence instantly and re-interpret it to make it funny. Speed is implicit. They don’t need pre-formed jokes to deliver. They can come back with a humorous response to virtually any stimulus instantaneously. When delivering humor they move from concept to concept seamlessly never knowing what’s next till it pops into their head.

It’s said the undisputed master, Richard Pryor, never knew what he was going to say in front of an audience till he started talking. It just flows like Segovia’s fingers. He doesn’t have to think about it. He’s somewhere else. Dangerfield worked exasperation to the hilt. Carlin made the complexity of language funny.

One might predict that the brilliance of a comedian varies directly with an intensity they cannot sustain indefinitely. Richard faded away into pedestrian movie roles and somatic drug damage. Rodney to heavy drinking. George to drugs and alcohol.

The unfortunate Robin Williams literally flew across the sky in a hypomanic blaze, then, like Hunter Thompson, got old and became irrelevant, reduced to occasional guest spots on hackneyed talk shows. Victims of new ages they both outgrew and both ended the hurt on their own terms. Pretenders such as Leno, Fallon and Letterman remain fat & sassy.

This brings me to examine the comedian I continue to think is the funniest man in the world, Craig Ferguson. In his standup routines, Craig is in constant motion, working himself and the audience up to explore creative concepts of everyday life. His TV show producers too cheap to provide a “sidekick”, he created literal personalities of a ridiculous robot and fake horse such that the audience believed these creatures. They come alive when he talks to them. No one has ever seen anything like this before.

Craig makes light of how surviving past alcohol and cocaine addiction shaped him, but he’s clearly hypomanic and the impression persists that these things aren’t too far from where he is now. That volatility defines his inimitability, and uniqueness defines his genius. Sadly, after ten years of presenting an innovative face to comedy, he’s quitting cold turkey in December 2014.

This is very worrisome. Those that have gone before him: Hunter Thompson, Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemmingway, Alexander McQueen, Sylvia Plath, Vincent van Gogh all suffered the fate of Robin Williams when the intensity of their creative process faded.  They quit life when it wasn’t fun anymore.

Mike Darwin has forever said that death quickly follows retirement for such people. I fear for Craig Ferguson.




Requiem: Dr. Gene E. Michaels

Michaels_Gene_20110612Michaels GE, Crippen DW: Post-scanning viability of specimens on support studs used in scanning electron microscopy. Bulletin of the Georgia Academy of Science, vol. 29, no. 4, September, 1971 http://www.gaacademy.org/
The first “scholarly” paper I ever participated in. We showed that fungal specimens frozen in liquid nitrogen for scanning electron microscopic freeze etching were still quite infectious when warmed (the liquid nitrogen didn’t kill the spores). Microsporium canid and microsporium gypsum as I recall. This was not known before our paper which was well received in the academic community. I was a total nobody.
Dr. Gene Michaels was a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at Georgia and was the fungus guy. New PhD. He and I bonded when I came back to college from Vietnam and he agreed to be my de-facto pre-med advisor when the real one refused to see me (because of my overall 1.9 grade point average). He believed in me and never ceased to encourage me. He had my infinite respect. He retired and had snow white hair and long white beard and was a continuing ambassador for the University of Georgia till his death.
I spoke to him a few years ago but sadly, he passed away in 2011. http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/354271/Michaels-Dr-Gene.php
Rest in peace, Gene. A life lived well. On 29 Nov 2013, at 23:07, Gabriel Castillo wrote
The paper is not entirely lost

A passing: General Vo Nguyen Giap


Giap-finaledit12 -789Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap died today. He was estimated to be 102 years old. Not a commonly known name, he is a very remarkable person.

General Giap’s career began in 1944 commanding a ragtag band of 34 Vietnamese citizen soldiers in December 1944 vowing to fight to the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule. Their original armament is said to have included flintlock rifles. Gen. Giap molded this force into what was to become Vietnam People’s Army, an underrated force that would defeat the French and American armies over thirty years of warfare, ending in 1975.

General Giap routinely led his troops into battle against better equipped, better supplied forces. His military strategy and tactics dealt the French colonial army under General Henri Navarre a humiliating defeat in 1954 after a 55 day battle at Dien Bien Phu. I have studied that battle at length and stood at the site pondering it in 2010. It’s one of the most fascinating stories in history and can best (and only) e appreciated by reading Bernard Fall’s “Hell in a very small place” (1967). The epic analysis from the undisputed master.

Giap went on to command other historically significant battles including the iDrang Valley offensive (1965), Tết Offensive (1968); the Easter Offensive (1972); and the final Hồ Chí Minh Campaign (1975) that eventually ended American occupation of Vietnam.

Of particular interest was the Vietnamese offensive at iDrang in November of 1965. A turning point in the American war; the battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win and convinced Lyndon Johnson (or his advisors) that more troops were necessary to hold on.

The battle and it’s aftermath was expertly and lyrically recounted by then Lt. Col, (now General, ret) Hal Moore in “We were soldiers once, and young” (1992). Gen Moore wrote a second volume recounting his followup visit in 2010 in which he interviewed General Giap. “We are soldiers still”, both highly recommended general education reading.

General Giap is considered to be one of the most brilliant military strategists of all time, comfortably sitting at the same table as Napoleon Bonaparte, Stonewall Jackson and Erwin Rommel.

“But we still fought because, for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” he said, repeating a famous quote by Ho Chi Minh.


A passing: Ray Manzarek


Today, Ray Manzarek, co-founder of The Doors died peacefully of biliary cancer at age 74, surrounded by his family, as it should be.  Technically it was the end of a musical era when Jim died of personal demons in 1971. Ray’s death adds to the sadness as a harbinger of all our eventual passages.

The history of Rock as a musical art form evolved vertically from its roots in the blues with jazz inflections beginning in the mid 60s. REO Speedwagon in the Midwest,  Aerosmith in Boston,  The Rascals in New York, The Allman Bros in Georgia to name only a few.  But the true epicenter of 60s Rock was Laurel Canyon in LA, central to the evolution of Rock as a serious medium.

The cross fertilization, cross pollination and insemination leading to the arrival of Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash & Young, the Eagles, Frank Zappa, the Turtles, the Mamas & Papas to name but a few.  And of course, more to the point……The Doors, created in LA and nurtured in Laurel Canyon. There was nothing like them before and there will probably be nothing like them again.

It was 1967, the year “Alice’s Restaurant” signaled the emergence of a radical change in things.   The strains of “Are you Experienced” from Jimi Hendrix and “When the music’s over” from the Doors wafted around the dorm hall leading to stunned silence. No one had ever herd anything like that before.  It was literally electrifying and it led like the auditory pied piper to the culture that created it.

Music is in a class by itself in its ability to pluck at the strings of the human heart and the masters have the ability to bypass technique. Mozart is said to have been able to perfectly play the identical piano piece upside down or with his arms crossed. Similarly, it wasn’t what Jim said; it was the way he said it and the words paled quickly.

If I play Jim Morrison in a pitch-black room, I physically return to many a curious and forgotten lore. I still get dazed and confused just as my generation did in 1967. When I play “If you’re going to San Francisco” by the late Scott McKenzie, or “Kiss and say goodbye” by the Hollywoods, it moves me to tears. “Gimmie Shelter” by the Stones makes me crazy. When I play on stage with the CODES and watch people absorbing the music and reacting, it reminds me of the awesome power it holds.

Rest in peace Ray and Jim.