The month of May really sucked for me. I lost three HUGE music heroes from my youth, Doc Watson, Robin Gibb, and Donna Summer.
A lot of you may not know of Doc, but he was an amazing Bluegrass and Folk music guitar picker, although pigeonholing him to any genre is probably disrespectful. He could play Blues with anybody, and his Gospel work was highly regarded as well; Americana would probably be the best label, if a label must be used.
An eye infection cost him his eyesight when he was just a baby, but it didn’t prevent him from becoming one of the most respected players of recorded music. Doc was a guitar player’s guitar player. He and I have a connection as we are both part of a fraternity of people who are privileged owners of a Wayne C. Henderson guitar. Most of you have heard of a player by the name of Eric Clapton; he’s in the club too…just sayin.
I saw Doc at a music festival when I was just a little kid, and saw him perform at a guitar clinic that I attended when I was living in Kansas City. He was a captivating person, a huge presence, with a talent that validates my belief in God and His gifts. Doc’s talent and abilities were not of this world. If you want to see some of this magic, search Doc Watson and “Windy and Warm” or “Tennessee Stud” on YouTube; even if that genre is not your taste in music, you will appreciate the man’s gift. I fear that important pieces of a unique art form may be lost with his passing. Nobody played it like Doc.
I was a white male, “coming of age” in the late seventies, and I didn’t think disco sucked, and I still don’t. Just like Classic Rock, the good Disco tunes have held up well against the test of time. I grew up on rock & roll. I have some great memories associated with Grand Funk Railroad’s catalog, Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and “Stairway…” and I think Pat Travers’ live rendition of “Boom Boom Out Go the Lights” is rock & roll perfection. However, I thought “Saturday Night Fever” was the coolest thing I had ever seen or heard. Both the movie and the soundtrack were part of a clearly defined turning point in my young, stupid, pointless life. I loved the Bee Gees, (and therefore Robin Gibb) and every other performer on that soundtrack. I still do. (For the record: I’m still a white male, actually much whiter now than I was then – in every sense of the word. But that’s another Chronicle.)
As much as I loved SNF, I don’t think it’s the Bee Gees’ best work. The stuff before, and the stuff after was better. Robin handled a lot of the lead singing chores on their early work, like “I Started a Joke”, and “Massachusetts”. But, for this Large Man’s money, you just can’t do much better than “Jive Talkin”, “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)”, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, oh baby! “Love You Inside and Out”… it’s probably pointless to go on naming songs – you’re either gonna say, “OH yes! Loved that one!”, or you’re gonna close this page and go back to Facebook, or that site with the two color postcards with women in dresses saying funny things about drinking and how stupid men have become. That’s your choice, and your opinion is respected here in the Large House.
I guess the easiest path to the conclusion of my point, and the best praise I can give to Robin Gibb and the Brothers G would be this: If you liked Bee Gees music, their songs either made you want to get dressed up to go out and shake your butt, or, they inspired you to get undressed and stay in and shake the windows. Either option was nice. Thanks, Robin. Rest in peace.
Again, it’s the disco thing, and the whole “coming of age” thing. Disco, and more specifically Donna Summer’s disco, was the soundtrack to this critical period of my life. I cherish the memories and the moments that I can attach to a Donna Summer song; some of those moments weren’t always that great, some were actually kind of sad. But it was life, and I was living it, and she sang the story. (Here’s some inspirational, perfect timing – she’s playing on Pandora as I write this, “Heaven Knows”. Her tunes almost always bring me a smile – even “I Feel Love”, and that is a terrible song.
From the summer of 1978 when the movie “Thank God it’s Friday” introduced the song, until the mid 80’s, if you were at a club and you heard “Last Dance”, you scrambled for someone’s hand to grab and hustle to the dance floor before the intro, slow part, was finished. This was the “last chance for love”. Very rarely did love ever come as a result of that “Last Dance”, but if you got up there in time for those first few bars of the slow jam portion, you got to hold a pretty girl in your arms for a few seconds. Holding a pretty girl in your arms was really the point of it all anyway.
I’ve shared a few tales about this period of my life, and how it was “the best of times and the worst of times”. Completely as a result of my own poor decisions, so no “sob stories” here – I’m the sole owner of the troubled times; my transition to adulthood was hard work. I had no clue about who I was or who I wanted to be, and I was afraid – all the time. I was afraid of the future, afraid of my past, afraid that no one would ever love me forever, unconditionally. I was afraid of myself. Could I finish one class…just one class at the Community College? Would I ever find a job that I was good at, and liked? Could I go a month, just one frickin month, without wrecking a car? Yeah, you could describe a few of these days as “the worst of times.”
But in the best of times, there were places where my friends and I would go to dance (and drink) the night (and fear) away, (I wasn’t the only one afraid, I’m just the only one who blogs about the fear). Donna Summer was always there, 4 or 5 times a night, along with the mirror balls and mirror walls, strobe lights, and cigarette smoke, she filled that space with her powerful, soulful, beautiful voice. The bass and the beat of the drum pounded in your ears, and thumped in your chest…like a heartbeat. Whether we were at our hometown dive, The Silver Fox, or if we were exploring the DC area disco scene – 30 minutes away, she was there, giving us songs to sing, giving us a reason to move, and giving us an opportunity to wrap our arms around each other.
Donna sang “There Will Always Be a You” at the Silver Fox as I danced my last dance with the first “love of my life”. (I’ve had more than one, please don’t judge) I remember how I almost laughed at how appropriate and well-timed the DJ’s song choice had been. My girl was leaving for college in a couple of days, and I was not. Even though she said I was wrong, and that a love like ours would last forever, I was pretty sure I knew what was coming. I was like a year and a half older than she was, and even though I wasn’t “college material” I was way smarter than her with regard to the world and the Universe, and the natural order of things. It was a brutal reality for a sensitive, 19-year-old kid to face, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a moment, and a lesson, and there is a song attached to it. As with most of the heartbreaking, soul-crushing, boy/girl moments of our youth, it turned out okay. And Donna Summer helped. Well, I guess I should say that she helped me; the college girl probably has no memory of any of it. If she reads this, she’ll probably be thinking, “Whatever, Large Man. If you say so, sounds nice and romantic – tell your story, loverboy! I could be accused of being a bit dramatic with these memories, but they are real.
The passing of these music heroes truly makes me sad, and reminds me (as if I needed another reminder) of our mortality. On the other hand, I feel lucky that we have the ability to listen to those songs any time we want to. Unlike my parent’s generation, we have nice, clear recordings of the songs and artists of our youth. Those songs that are attached to moments – big or small. When you can attach a song to a moment, they are both likely to stay with you forever.
Dim all the lights sweet darling
cause tonight it’s all the way
Turn up the old victrola
gonna dance the night away
Love just don’t come easy
no it seldom does
When you find the perfect love
let it fill you up
Thanks for reading.