Everybody is writing or talking about Robin Williams, and his unexpected suicide. Yes, indeed, he will be missed by me and most of the world. He was one of the few actors where I enjoyed every movie and TV series he was involved with. As a comedian, he was peerless. I won't go into the mental hell we call clinical depression. No. This has given me pause to reflect. What I want to talk about here are all the other artists and others that have left this side of life and have made a huge impression on me.
Most recently was Patrick "the Lama" Lundborg, a man in Sweden who had become a good correspondent, as we discussed our common passion for music. Like me, he was a record collector. We traded some and I purchased some from his Renaissance Faire site. Unlike me he had acquired a vast knowledge not only of obscure and rare vanity pressings of psychedelic, lounge, exotica, and unusual artists of the 60s through the early 80s, but wrote/edited the authority on these recordings, "The Acid Archives". He followed this with a huge tome, "Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way of Life" which I am still reading, and trying to absorb. The book is like a textbook for a course in psychedelic anthropology, yet his writing style keeps you reading. He also maintained a fun and multifaceted set of websites under the title "Lysergia". In the five years I knew him I learned more about interesting music than in the 50 years prior. I had emailed Patrick on May 31st. He usually would get back to me within 24 hours. No response this time. On June 12, while checking personal email before leaving for work, I received an email from another party saying Patrick had died the day before. I was stunned. At first I couldn't believe it. I searched for more information and it began to trickle in. It was true; at age 47 Patrick was gone. No cause was given. Like Robin Williams, Patrick left several projects ongoing. He was so full of life. Still there is no word on what happened.
Brother Love, of WAMO FM, Pittsburgh, was one of the first DJs in the country to try the new "underground music" format in the mid-60s. His cool, beatnik whispering style enhanced the psychedelic music format, which also included obscure composers such as Conlon Nancarrow and blues, jazz, and anti Vietnam War and anti establishment folk and rock music. As a teenager I was mesmerized by this new alternative to the "bubble gums" on top 40 AM radio. I never knew Brother Love's real name until moving to San Diego and learning that Ken Reeth was living in Carlsbad. I introduced myself and we had a great series of conversations about late 60s Pittsburgh. We emailed through his move to Las Vegas, and then the correspondence stopped. I learned later Ken had passed due to a long battle with leukemia.
Holding down the weekend afternoon "underground radio" shift on WAMO FM was none other than veteran doo wop DJ and Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer, Porky Chedwick. Porky passed away this past Spring at the young age of 96. I never realized until reading after his passing that Porky hated the underground format, yet he sounded so convincing as he spun pro-pot and acid songs. The ultimate professional.
Don "Stu" Archer, aka "Yogi", was a fellow classmate from fifth grade through high school graduation. We both began playing guitar about the same time, but he took lessons from another instructor. I have to admit that he progressed faster than me, but he was learning shortcuts to heavy guitar riffs where I was learning a more traditional method, reading music. A friend told me he considered Yogi to be the Captain Beefheart musically to my Frank Zappa characteristics. He made a profession of music performance and later taught music. We had not spoken to each other since the summer after my freshman year in college. I remember we talked that summer about philosophy and I noted the depth of his thinking although he had taken no college classes. 20 years later I finally was going to a high school class reunion, looking forward to catching up with Yogi. Then, two months before the reunion he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and was dead within weeks. I blame myself for not trying to get in touch sooner, since I knew where he was but he had no way to contact me.
I was introduced to electronic music in 1972 while in college, by attending the most unconventional of performances by a group calling themselves BIOME. We sat on the floor in a candle-lit room in our Student Union, with incense burning, while four classically trained strange hippie types performed on violin, percussion, keyboards and various electronic gadgetry and synths. Two men, two women producing the most transcendental, hypnotic, eerie sounds I had ever heard. I remembered them forever. Upon the advent of the Internet I began my search. Years later while in San Diego I found Allen Strange. Ironically he graduated from Helix High School in La Mesa, the same school my son had attended. In the process of finding and preparing a cd of BIOME's music for me, Allen passed away. His wife, Patricia, who had also been part of BIOME, forwarded my interests on to Frank McCarty, another member and now part of the music faculty of Univ of Pittsburgh and colleague of Sumner Erickson (Roky's brother and a story for another time), who was finishing the editing and remastering of the 1972 tapes. He sent a copy to me but it has never been commercially released.
Finally, I want to talk about my dear friend who passed away almost four years ago, Bryna Golden of the Babylonian Tiles. I was introduced to Bryna by Ian Bruce-Douglas of the 60s psychedelic band, Ultimate Spinach. I was still living in Ohio and we only knew each other through email. Then when I moved to San Diego, Bryna and her husband Dayve Hind, were in Westminster, south of Long Beach. I visited them in their home and got to see the 'Tiles perform a few times. Bryna suffered from a rare and progressive form of muscular dystrophy, which cut short her music career and eventually took her. We used to go to the San Diego Zoo with Dayve and Bryna. Always had a great time with them. I still remember the Tuesday Dayve called me to say Bryna had passed the night before. I also got to know her parents, Ken Golden and Shelley Moore. Shelley was a jazz singer and we got to hear her in Santa Ana a few times.
The list could go on here to include people who I never met but admired and who had been influential in my musical directions. Two come to mind: Lou Reed and John Lennon. I actually called off work the day after Lennon was shot and killed. No two famous people affected me more in their passing.
Yes, I'll miss Robin Williams. I miss all who are mentioned above. But we will all be there, ourselves, some day, one way or another. So let's celebrate life, and remember those who have enriched ours with their talents, their friendship and love, and their magnanimous giving.