Categories ‐ Moments in Rock History

January 2, 2015

Live Aid: Rock’s Biggest Concert

Bob Geldof was broke. The mastermind behind the versatile punk group The Boomtown Rats was looking for a new direction and a way to desperately score some more cash. Their hit single “I Don’t Like Mondays” had been released five full years earlier, and in October 1984, The Rats were no longer a sought-after band. Geldof struggled to fulfill his contract to the record company and churned out one more record. Album sales stiffed upon its release. Bob was desperate.

Working the phones to try to get interest generated for the album’s first single, he happened to look over at the television set. A BBC documentary by Michael Buerk was being broadcast. The program was a report on the catastrophic starvation epidemic permeating the country of Ethiopia. Images of stark, skeletal human beings looking directly into the camera shook up every viewer who happened to watch the BBC report that night. Geldof had never seen starvation presented in such a blunt, horrifying manner. He did not get much sleep that evening.

When he phoned his friend Midge Ure of Ultravox, the two of them spoke of the devastating situation in Ethiopia. Bob mentioned he was considering putting a record together to help raise money for supplies and food. Midge said he would help. From that conversation, a spark was ignited that would provoke a groundswell of musicians joining together to selflessly perform for a truly worthwhile cause. A benefit performance so massive that Geldof would begin to conceive the endeavor as taking place on two continents. The Concert for Bangladesh, The Concert For Kampuchea, even the No Nukes Concert, had all set a precedent of generosity and musical unity for a cause in the 1970s. But nothing, not ever before or since in the history of rock, would prepare the world for the sheer number of top acts it would witness in London and Philadelphia for a single day’s charitable performance on July 13, 1985.

Geldof had an uncharacteristically nightmarish task ahead of him. One, convince the world’s best recording artists to contribute to his unprecedented concert. Two, line up televised coverage in practically every nation on the planet with a TV set. Three, arrange for individual networks and governments to handle massive amounts of telethon phone pledges. Four, find venues large and secure enough to accommodate the special needs of every superstar. Five, provide enough catering for every human being working tirelessly behind the scenes. And six, oh yeah, whip it all into shape in a matter of four or five months. Somehow, miraculously, he got the job done with a lot of begging and pleading.

Wembley Stadium in a suburb of London is Britain’s top venue for rock acts, and they offered rental of the site for somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000. Promoter Bill Graham helped with securing a site in the United States, and after a protracted search, settled on JFK Stadium in the city of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia was not as generous as their British counterparts. All the technical and stadium personnel, along with their unions demanded to be paid. It would wind up costing around $3.5 million.

MTV agreed to broadcast the event all day long. Geldof felt one of the three networks would bring cachet to the project. CBS and NBC rejected the notion at the outset. Unfortunately, ABC was not too accommodating either. They agreed to a 3-hour broadcast in the evening, showcasing the final 9 acts in Philadelphia and the grand finale in London. No telethon pleas, no continual phone numbers, this was just entertainment to them. Sadly, Geldof was faced with a sole offer he couldn’t refuse. A group of independent stations across the U.S. did, however, wind up joining together collectively to broadcast the show throughout the initial daytime hours, continually displaying phone numbers to call.

As he permanently affixed his phone to his ear, Bob Geldof enticed, cajoled, and according to some disgruntled artists, tried “emotionally blackmailing” them into appearing on the historical date. Sting was one of the first performers to sign on. He had just unofficially broken up with his bandmates, The Police, and asked not to appear with them. Mick Jagger hemmed and hawed, and he intimated that he wanted to do a song via satellite with David Bowie on both sides of the Atlantic. Time lag of the signal would not permit such a technical achievement, so the two of them got together one raucous evening to make the Live-Aid premiere video “Dancing In The Streets.” Geldof really pushed for the members of The Who to get back together and sing some songs. So much internal squabbling, particularly between Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle, suggested the reunion would not materialize. A preliminary rehearsal session was a disaster. But the group managed to put away animosities and join the proceedings.

Bruce Springsteen was the biggest star and the biggest catch Geldof wanted to bag for the Philadelphia half of the program. Springsteen had just married actress Julianne Phillips on May 13, 1985 and claimed he wanted time to spend with her. With The Boss out of the picture, artists were slow to commit in the States. Rumors were spreading that the concert was a shambles, severely underfunded and mismanaged from the start, and more than one musician used this as an excuse to bow out of making a commitment. Huey Lewis and the News, who were still riding high in the charts with their “Sports” album, latched onto this rumor as their reason for not appearing. Both Paul Simon and Willie Nelson decided not to appear because of the poor treatment they were receiving from promoter Bill Graham.

British media eagerly fueled anticipation as the daily countdown wound down towards the concert. In the United States, promotion was scattershot aside from MTV’s spots, and many people were unaware of the mammoth event looming on the horizon. On the night of July 12th, Geldof went to bed with a painful back ailment, grabbing what little sleep he could. The next morning, musicians began trickling in backstage at Wembley, helping themselves to the food. Hard Rock Café wound up donating approximately $200,000 worth of catered delicacies for both the London and Philadelphia shows. Prince Charles and Princess Diana arrived and greeted the rock superstars before heading to the Royal Box. The stadium filled to capacity, and at 12 noon, a few musicians with the Royal Guard sounded “God Save The Queen.” And with that, the biggest concert in rock history began.

The first band to hit the stage was a London-based favorite by the name of Status Quo. Ripping into the opening strains of their song “Rockin’ All Over The World,” the right sentiment in light of this monumental moment, the crowd came alive with substantial cheer. Like many of the bands that were to perform that day, Status Quo had made an effort to patch up old animosities for the good of the Ethiopian cause, as bassist Alan Lancaster begrudgingly agreed to play with his estranged bandmates this one time. The British jazzy-dance group, The Style Council jumped to the stage next with a three-song set, and then it was Bob’s turn.

The Boomtown Rats were met with thunderous applause, and Geldof tried to give his all, despite the ever-increasing pain in his back. Their hit song, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” which was originally written about a schoolgirl who went on a shooting spree, now took on a different ominous tone in light of the famine situation, especially when Geldof dramatically emphasized the line, “…And the lesson today is how to die.” Aside from his microphone cutting out for about 30 seconds during their set, the Rats showed they could command an arena full of fans like any of their superstar idols.

The concert took on a snowball effect, as the rotating stage allowed for more acts to seamlessly revolve in a steady stream in front of the world audience. Singer Adam Ant, was the next act, followed by the group INXS, performing via satellite from Melbourne, Australia. Geldof’s pal Midge Ure brought his band Ultravox out for a couple of songs, including the stirring “Vienna.” An act called Loudness sent a video in from Japan, while “True” crooners Spandau Ballet slinked across the Wembley stage.

Then it was America’s turn. A little before 9:00 a.m., Philadelphia time, a curly-haired, 18 year-old kid named Bernard Watson strolled out onto the massive JFK stage and played his song “Interview.” Bill Graham had discovered the boy sitting in his car in the outside parking lot earlier in the week. Watson had just driven up from Miami Beach in hopes of making something happen. Talk about dumb luck. He was the official opening act of the American half of the greatest rock concert on earth! Jack Nicholson, with his trademark sunglasses on, nervously ambled out in front of the crowds and shakily introduced Joan Baez. Positioning her quiet, folk-driven set up front wasn’t exactly a rocking way to get the Philadelphia crowd on their feet. Several people heckled her. Ever the professional, Baez finished her songs and gracefully left the stage.

Geldof stopped to view some of the initial broadcast from the States backstage at Wembley, right when an American TV director decided to highlight the performances with cutaway crowd shots of sexually-enticing, jiggly, overly-endowed women. Bob immediately scrambled to get a message back to America that the suggestive cutaways might just offend many of the cultures who were tuned in at that moment around the world. Meanwhile, Elvis Costello was performing for the London crowd, only given time to sing one song, “All You Need is Love,” while Philadelphia favorites, The Hooters, followed Ms. Baez at JFK with their current hit “All You Zombies.” An Austrian band, called Opus, chimed in via satellite, and then Bristol-native Nik Kershaw, riding the British charts with his album “Human Racing,” graced the Wembley stage.

Prior criticism of the event had been leveled at its somewhat apparent lack of black r&b acts on the roster. This slight backlash didn’t hamper the 60’s quartet singing sensation The Four Tops from performing next in Phillie. The soulful sounds of B.B. King and his favorite guitar Lucille drifted in via satellite from Holland, and then, Billy Ocean, singing to a backing track, got the American crowd dancing with “Caribbean Queen.” Behind him, setting up on stage were the members of the original Black Sabbath, with frontman Ozzy Osbourne rejoining his group after having split from the band in January 1979. The proceedings went from Ocean’s breezy “Loverboy” to the ear-splitting metal sounds of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” and yet, the contrast in genres and styles only served to present a unified feel the world was experiencing that day.

Sade cooed her hits to the audience in London, Run D.M.C. barked their rap musings in Philadelphia, a Belgrade band named Yu Rock slipped in via satellite, and then Sting took center stage at Wembley. Dressed all in white and accompanied by Branford Marsalis on woodwinds, Sting performed a song from the recently-released album “The Dream of the Blue Turtles.” Phil Collins ambled out and perched at a piano to join in on a hushed, now poignant (in light of its context) version of “Every Breath You Take.” Phil was then left alone to present his song “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now).” This tune would figure in the day’s truly wondrous stunt, for Collins would again perform that song, later that night, across the Atlantic. He finished onstage at 3:45 p.m. London time and was immediately helicoptered to nearby Heathrow airport, right out to the tarmac, where a Concorde jet sat idling. Breaking precedence with its normal flight path, the supersonic jet blasted blindingly low across the sky directly over Wembley stadium, and the crowds roared with awe and prideful cheer.

Meanwhile teen heartthrob Rick Springfield was finishing up his set in Philadelphia, and the soft-rock sounds of REO Speedwagon wafted off the stage after him, mellowing the sun’s increasing intensity on this hot July morning. As Howard Jones held the Wembley crowd captive in his solo performance on piano, another historical moment was readying to make its international broadcast debut.

The Cold War attitudes of East and West nations were still very much a palpable reality. The Soviet Union continued to be a mysterious, monolithic nation with little exposure to the outside world. Mikhail Gorbachev was in power, and in earlier meetings with his representatives, Geldof’s point man, Richard Lukens, had tried to encourage Gorbachev to appear in the broadcast. In the end, a state-sanctioned rock band named Autograph was the only contribution the Soviets felt they needed to provide. Performing from a cramped Soviet TV studio, the band’s feed was out of sync in its time-base signal, and the world saw a static, scrambled set of songs with wooden, seemingly-apparatchik Soviet teenagers clapping nervously along, just behind the ‘60s-style television cameras. It was rumored that only about 150 people in the entire Soviet Republic watched the Live Aid broadcast. Nevertheless, an effort had been made, and another small divot had been chiseled out of the Iron Curtain on this amazing day.

The roster of acts continued to roll out. Bryan Ferry, Paul Young and Alison Moyet kept the London audience entertained, while Crosby, Stills & Nash, Judas Priest, and Bryan Adams all took to the stage at JFK over the next hour. One of the day’s truly musical highlights involved the charismatic stage presence of singer Bono and his band U2. During the song “Bad,” a sweaty, driven, Bono tried to wave several female members in the audience to make their way to the stage. Frustrated by the crushing crowd, Bono leapt to the Wembley field and helped a dazed and swoony girl body-surf her way to his side. The two slow-danced for a moment before Bono scrambled back to the stage and took command of the final strains of the song. A moment of connection, a small gesture, between pop idol and his adoring fan once again forged a powerful subliminal message that we were united for the day.

Think the concert ended around this point? Are you kidding? It was just getting started. Here’s a list of the superstars that burst from the wings during the evening in London and the afternoon in Philadelphia. The Beach Boys, Dire Straits, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Bo Diddley, Albert Collins, Queen, Simple Minds, David Bowie, The Pretenders, The Who, Santana and Pat Metheny, Elton John, Kiki Dee, George Michael, and some girl named Madonna. Amidst these sets, another strong musical moment occurred when singer Teddy Pendergrass was escorted out in his wheelchair by Ashford & Simpson in Philadelphia. Having suffered spinal paralysis from an auto accident in 1982, Pendergrass was not expected to perform again. The tears rolled down his cheeks, and down many a viewers’ as well, as the trio sang their set before an empathetic crowd.

Technical difficulties marred the early verses of Paul McCartney’s song “Let It Be” back in London. He was the last act to appear before the Wembley grand finale. A brief rain shower during Elton John’s and George Michael’s prior rendition of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” had seeped into the sound system wiring. McCartney, who hadn’t performed in front of a large audience in five years, never let the mishap shake him. The song went on, and as the sound came back, so did fellow musicians, Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Alison Moyet, and Bob Geldof himself, to help with its rousing final verses. Townshend and McCartney hoisted the weary Bob Geldof onto their shoulders as the crowd erupted in overwhelming appreciation. All of the musicians for the Wembley performance then gathered on stage for a version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and at approximately 10:00 London time, ten hours after they began, the European half of the show was over.

Back in the States, Tom Petty was performing. He was followed by Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, and The Thompson Twins. When Eric Clapton took to the stage, there was a fellow by the name of Phil Collins sitting in at drums behind him. Having arrived from Kennedy airport in New York, Collins now was able to perform “Against All Odds,” a second time, for the Philadelphia crowd. He stayed on stage to play drums for reunited Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. After the heavy metal icons stepped down, Duran Duran, followed by Patti Labelle, Hall & Oates with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, and finally Mick Jagger all took their turns in the spotlight. When Jagger began his song “State of Shock,” a strutting Tina Turner joined him onstage, and the two gave a comedic, give-and-take, mock rivalry duet that resulted in Mick tearing off Turner’s miniskirt. They continued their dueling dance with “It’s Only Rock ‘n” Roll.”

This seemed like the perfect time to wrap up the Philadelphia half of the show, but something truly weird was about to unfold on the stage. As all the members of the American show were called up to perform the finale, Bob Dylan stepped out from the curtain being used to shield the crew setting up backstage, and proceeded to give a truly horrid rendition of “Blowin’ In the Wind.” Behind him, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones attempted to lend acoustic guitar backup, but they were not only out of sync, but gratingly out of tune, and generally disinterested in the whole arrangement. What could have been a defining punctuation mark to the day’s sensational proceedings sadly came across as a shoddy performance by a motley trio of inebriated minstrels.

But this was the only setback in a monumental day of legendary musicians and their unity in a cause. When the grand finale notes of “We Are The World” ended in JFK stadium, the time on the clock read a little after 11:00 p.m. For a solid 16 hours, the planet had experienced a rock concert unmatched in the annals of modern day music.

The day’s powerful moments and musical high points may well be too hard to rank in order for legendary purposes. But one moment which completely encapsulated the meaning behind the day’s intent, that of the power of music and of charity, was not captured in a stage performance nor by any artist’s plea. It took place within a simple video that aired on the screens in both stadiums and around the world. A documentary crew with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had been to Ethiopia and shot some footage of a small child. An emaciated, skeletal-beyond-belief infant. The film simply showed the boy trying to accomplish a very easy task. To stand, and to walk. The song “Drive” by The Cars was the only audio heard over the picture on the screen. An odd choice one might say, but it touched a nerve in everyone who saw it. The sad strains of the tune, “Who’s gonna pick you up, when you fall down? We can’t go on saying, nothing’s wrong,” matched the empathetically somber image of that boy just trying to get up. Just trying to move. No, nothing in the concert could compare to the impact that one video had on the day.

In the end, Geldof was awarded a knighthood in recognition of his effort to relieve the famine situation in Ethiopia. At last estimate, the proceeds from the Live Aid concert and its parent organization, Band-Aid, have raised over $100 million. As of April 24, 2000, because of renewed war, regional rivalries and a three-year drought, the United Nations estimates that up to 8 million Ethiopians are again in need of urgent food and medicine to avert the ravaging horrors of widespread death by starvation.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Something Short of Nirvana

Interviewer Jim Crotty once asked the mastermind behind Nirvana what the title of his autobiography might be some day. With a mixture of dry wit and veiled truth, the rock legend replied, “I Was Not Thinking’ by Kurt Cobain.” Remarkably, this observation proves to be one of the most succinct and insightful snapshots into the psyche of a brilliant but troubled soul. It was obviously a self-aware statement, poking fun at his notorious insecurities with fame. Yet it was such a precise allusion to how this alienated rock star had walked blindly into becoming the gloomy guru for a nation of alienation.

Pinpointing the roots of his uneasiness is not a hard task to unmask. Stir together a huge dollop of sensitivity and a mature empathy for others, then suddenly drop in a broken home, and you’ll easily find a thousand kids who might wind up with a self-esteem problem. For Kurt, that pivotal moment occurred when he was 8-years old in the mid-70s. Divorce shot up the scales tenfold during this period of time. It wasn’t as commonplace as it is today. There was hardly any representation in the media or entertainment of families with single parents. A whole boatload of children more than likely had no point of reference to handle their feelings of self worth and isolation. Kurt’s fragile emotional state was frazzled when his mechanic dad Don and waitress mom Wendy suddenly put an end to their marriage. Kurt’s mom later told Newsweek magazine that the divorce “just destroyed his life. He changed completely. I think he was ashamed. And he became very inward – he just held everything (in).”

The town where Kurt was raised didn’t seem to harbor any shelter for his emotional woes. Aberdeen, Washington is a rural coastal town about 100 miles south of Seattle that has a commonplace small city fondness for pickup trucks and the simple life. Lumber mills are pretty much sacred institutions within the town’s limits. “Basically if you’re not prepared to join the logging industry,” Kurt once explained to Monk magazine, “you’re going to be beaten up or run out of town.” Over the next years of his adolescence, Kurt faced both scenarios.

His creative spirit manifested itself with a fondness for singing as a toddler. He was interested in art, making collages and toying with claymation. Oftentimes, young Kurt would appear at one of his musician aunt’s local performances and strum on her band’s guitar while they were setting up. But the hurt he suffered inside from his parents’ parting probably molded his inclinations to look within for inspiration instead of from outside influence. He basically took shelter in himself. He did not want to become anything that Aberdeen had to offer. He grew to despise the limited viewpoints and macho swagger that the town’s numerous so-called rednecks seemed to cherish. Kurt chose to be the antithesis of a testosterone-fueled, beer-swilling male. “I used to pretend I was gay just to f*** with people,” he told The Advocate magazine. “I’ve had the reputation of being a homosexual ever since I was 14.”

By his late teens, Kurt was becoming more disenchanted with his environs. He was sent to stay with different relatives over the years. He dropped out of high school (yet he spent much of his time reading many books in the local library). Soon thereafter, he was kicked out of the trailer home he shared with his mom, applied for food stamps, and lived under an Aberdeen bridge with some homeless men. Around this time, he discovered The Melvins.

In essence, The Melvins were the founding forefathers of the Seattle grunge movement. While punk rock had seethed mostly from the shores of England in the mid-to-late 70’s, America’s angry punk spirit only seemed to filter out of clubs like New York’s CBGB and from LA bands like X. The laid-back Northwest was known more for its folk music than it was for its metal sound. That all changed with the Melvins. Melodic sludge-rock churned from the power trio’s amps, and their dispirited attitude seemed to capture the imagination of Cobain. Soon, he was hauling their road gear. One day, the group’s Buzz Osbourne introduced Kurt to a young kid named Chris Novoselic.

Novoselic, who would later be known by his Croatian name Krist, was raised in Los Angeles, but he’d moved to the Aberdeen area when he was 14. Kurt told interviewer Gina Arnold, “I wanted to start a band really bad, and I got an electric guitar and I was really into it, but I couldn’t find anyone in Aberdeen to be in a band with. I was lucky to find Chris at the time.” The two began hanging out and sharing musical interests. They also pulled pranks. In 1985, the boys were arrested for spray painting the words “Homo Sex Rules” on the side of a bank.

Krist told Radio Triple J Australia, “Kurt did a tape with Dale Crover, (the drummer) from The Melvins, and one of the songs on it was ‘Spank Thru,’ and he turned me on to it, and I kinda liked it, it got me excited, so I go, ‘Hey man, let’s start a band!’ We scrounged up a drummer, and we started practicing; took it very seriously too.” Around this time, Kurt’s outward dissatisfaction with Aberdeen reached a pinnacle. “I decided to take some acid one evening and spray paint ‘queer’ on the sides of 4 x 4 trucks, the local rednecks’ trucks” he related to Monk magazine. “And so one of them saw me from his window and started chasing me and started screaming, ‘There’s the queer vandal!’ I’d been doing it for awhile. But that night I decided to really go for it and do a lot, a lot of vandalism. So they caught me and chased me around.” They pretty much chased him out of town.

Kurt settled in the nearby college burg of Olympia. He spent part of his time as a janitor with Lemons Janitorial Service. The rest of his waking hours, he played in a band with Krist along with an assortment of drummers. Their band names morphed from Fecal Matter to Skid Row to Ed Ted & Fred to Bliss to Throat Oyster to Pen Cap Chew, and finally to Nirvana. After Jonathan Poneman of local indie label Sub Pop heard one of their demos, he signed them up and sent them out on tour. Kurt remembered what their first gig was like to Backlash magazine. “We were uptight. It just didn’t seem like a real show. We felt like we were being judged, it was like everyone should’ve had score cards. Plus, I was sick. I puked that day. That’s a good excuse.” These comments reflect early signs of his feeling a lack of worthiness before an audience and perhaps a hint of stomach problems to come.

Modeling their early songs after the punk spirit of The Melvins, the tunes Kurt and company laid down for their Sub Pop debut album, “Bleach,” consisted of grinding guitars and lots of wailed lyrics, with only half the craft that would later accentuate their output. “Bleach’ is seen to be really one-dimensional,” Kurt later observed to Radio Triple J Australia. “It has the same format, all the songs are slow, and grungey, and they’re tuned down to really low notes, and I screamed a lot.” Recorded in 3 days for a mere $606.17, the album did garner the band lots of college radio airplay. The band settled into a series of tours throughout the rest of 1989 and 1990, honing their abilities. By the spring of 1990, Nirvana felt confident enough to record again.

Butch Vig was a producer in Madison, Wisconsin who had recently recorded a band named the Smashing Pumpkins. Cobain and Novoselic, along with drummer Chad Channing, stopped into his Smart Studio, and laid down some early versions of songs like “Lithium” and “Polly” that would soon show up on their future landmark album. “When I heard some of the demos for “Nevermind,” I was blown away,” Vig remarked, “because they were so poppy, even though the band was totally onslaught rockin’ when they played – it had a very hooky pop sense to it.” Channing soon left the band, and Kurt and Krist decided to hold off on letting Sub Pop release the songs on an album until they found another drummer. Dave Grohl of the Washington D.C. punk outfit Scream was soon recruited.

Major labels began to get wind of the talented trio, and after a huge bidding war, David Geffen’s DGC label signed the band. In May 1991, the band temporarily relocated to the Los Angeles area and laid down tracks at Van Nuys’ Sound City studio. Gone were the raw, undisciplined punk attitudes they had infused in their earlier work. The hard rock was still there, but the band had a polished assault, while the lyrics were incisive and kinetic. Kurt had truly searched within his soul to wrench the feelings of disconnection into the microphone. These were songs from the depths of his despairing heart. One of his lyrics went like so: “And I forget just why I taste/Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile/I found it hard, it was hard to find/Oh well, whatever, never mind.” They were contained within a vibrant, screeching anthem of a tune called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The song would thrust the band, and particularly Cobain, into the media spotlight overnight.

Kurt told Radio Triple J Australia about the origins of the smash hit. “This friend of mine and I were goofing around my house one night, and we were kinda drunk, and we were writing graffiti all over the walls of my house, and she wrote, ‘Kurt smells like teen spirit.’ And earlier on, we were kinda having this discussion on revolution, and teen revolution and stuff like that, and I took that as a compliment. I thought that she was saying that I was a person who, who could inspire…And it turns out she just meant that I smelt like the deodorant. I didn’t even know that deodorant existed until after the song was written.”

The album “Nevermind” was released in September 1991. Its mix of heavy metal and punk helped singe the definition of ‘grunge’ into America’s consciousness. Where Nirvana busted open the door, Seattle-area bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains followed through with the same kind of formula. Filming an anarchic high school pep rally for their music video to “Teen Spirit,” the band drop-kicked their fame straight to the top when MTV began airing the clip incessantly over the next few months. After 14 weeks on the chart, “Nevermind” smacked Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” out of America’s top position on January 11, 1992. Soon, millions of teenagers would be loping about the streets with meticulously torn jeans and natty flannel shirts. And the instant media attention seemed to overwhelm Kurt from the start.

He told journalist Michael Deeds shortly after “Nevermind”’s release, “I’m constantly feeling guilty in ways. Our music, especially on this album, is so slick-sounding. A few years ago, I would’ve hated our band, to tell you the truth.” By January 1992, the album would go platinum. DGC had only expected to sell about 200,000 copies. “Nevermind” would eventually tally over 13 million copies worldwide, 7 million of that in the United States. Kurt could confide his insecurities with Chris and Dave, but another person was foremost in his life at the time. And unlike Kurt, she definitely didn’t mind the spotlight.

Towards the end of 1991, Courtney Love was pregnant with Kurt’s child. A bleach-blond singer who had weathered some very harsh realities in her own life, Courtney seemed to pride herself on displaying her emotional battle scars to the world. She related a smidgen of her upbringing to Spin magazine. “I was moved around a lot. I have a really dysfunctional family. My mother is really detached. My real father is insane. The only good person in my family is my stepfather. He wasn’t in my life that much, though, and I was in institutions. I was in juvenile hall for four years (after stealing a KISS T-shirt from a Woolworths), boarding school for three years (in New Zealand). You know, I tried to be a stoner because they were bad.” Courtney’s dad, reportedly a manager for the Grateful Dead in the 1960s, turned her onto acid when she was three years old. He subsequently wasn’t allowed to see her until she was an adult. Courtney had gone to Japan as a stripper at age 15. To say the least, she was probably more of a walking wounded soul than her reclusive beau.

Having seen Kurt in concert in 1988, she set about to snare her man. “I really pursued him, not too aggressive, but aggressive enough that some girls would have been embarrassed by it,” she told Sassy magazine. “I’m direct. That can scare a lot of boys…Kurt was scared of me. He said he didn’t have time to deal with me. But I knew it was inevitable.” During the band’s 1992 European tour, Kurt and Courtney took time off to get married in Waikiki, Hawaii on February 24, 1992. Marital bliss was met in the media by fixation on another byproduct of their union. That of the couple’s fondness for heroin.

The nagging stomach problems that had chronically plagued Kurt sporadically in pre-“Nevermind” days seemed to manifest themselves in a more accelerated manner. On June 22, 1992, an ailing Cobain was rushed to a Northern Ireland hospital after a performance at the King’s Hall in Belfast. He tried to explain his symptoms and the media’s misread on them to the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve had this terrible stomach problem for years and that has made touring difficult. People would see me sitting in the corner by myself looking sick and gloomy. The reason is that I was trying to fight against the stomach pain, trying to hold my food down. People looked at me and assumed I was some kind of addict…We have a lot of young fans and I don’t want to have anything to do with inciting drug use. People who promote drug use are (expletive). I chose to do drugs. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all, but have nothing good to say about them. They are a total waste of time.” Meanwhile, he was feeling completely inadequate with the tremendous adulation he was receiving for his work. “I guess I must have quit the band about 10 different times in the last year…” he revealed. “The music is usually what brings me back.”

When Vanity Fair magazine reported that Courtney had been using heroin during her first month of pregnancy, she didn’t deny it. But after their baby, Frances Bean, was born on August 18, 1992, and Los Angeles social workers tried to place their child with Courtney’s sister, Love had a lot to say about the validity of Vanity Fair’s claims. They soon got custody of their child back, but the duo didn’t stay out of the news for long. A fracas with reigning headbanger extraordinaire, Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses, backstage at the MTV Music Video Awards made headlines around the world.

“They’re really talentless people,” Kurt offered in his assessment of Guns N’ Roses to The Advocate magazine. “And they write crap music, and they’re the most popular rock band on the earth right now. I can’t believe it.” As for the incident, he said, “They actually tried to beat us up. Courtney and I were just with the baby in the eating area backstage, and Axl walked by. So Courtney yelled, ‘Axl! Axl, come over here!’ We just wanted to say hi to him – we think he’s a joke, but we just wanted to say something to him. So I said, ‘Will you be the godfather of our child?’ I don’t know what had happened before that to piss him off, but he took his aggressions out on us and began screaming bloody murder. These were his words, ‘You shut your bitch up, or I’m taking you down to the pavement.’ Everyone around us just burst out into tears of laughter. She wasn’t even saying anything mean, you know? So I turned to Courtney and said, ‘Shut up, bitch!’ And everyone laughed and he left. So I guess I did what he wanted me to do – be a man.”

Kurt’s mood swings over his life and his career continued to show warning signs of coming apart in his statements to the media throughout 1992. He said to Melody Maker magazine, “I’ve had days where I’ve considered this to be a job, and I never thought that would happen. It makes me question the point of it all. I’m gonna bitch about it for another year and, if I can’t handle it after that, we’re gonna have to make some drastic changes.” He was already figuring on a way to stop the perpetual motion machine he’d help create. “People think I’m a moody person, and I think it’s lame that there are only two kinds of male lead singer,” he continued defensively. “You can either be a moody visionary like Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.), or a mindless heavy metal party guy like Sammy Hagar.” Cobain clearly tended to lump the latter performer in with the memories of the yahoos he once despised in Aberdeen.

Sometimes those yahoos crossed the boundaries into Nirvana’s world, and it upset them deeply. “I’m neurotic about credibility,” Courtney Love commented to Vanity Fair. “And Kurt is neurotic about it, too. He’s dealing with people who like his band who he despises. For instance, a girl was raped in Reno. When they were raping her, they were singing ‘Polly,’ a Nirvana song. These are the people who listen to him.” This incident so incensed Cobain that he wrote a message to his fans in the liner notes of Nirvana’s next release, January 1993’s “Incesticide” (a collection of B-sides, demos, live recordings, and outtakes). His fury read, “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us – leave us the f*** alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”

The sensitive kid from Aberdeen still wished to act against the injustices of an intolerant society, but the multitudes of despondent fans who wanted his leadership in their lives began to wear heavily on Cobain’s psyche. He did not want that responsibility. Nevertheless, by May 1993, the band was in Minnesota, at a remote studio, recording their next album for 12 days with underground producer Steve Albini. Cobain wanted to return to a less-polished sound. The band played together live on most of the tunes without much time spent on overdubbing or multiple tracks. They later brought in producer Scott Litt of R.E.M. fame to tweak a few songs like “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.” One song they had recorded was favored by Kurt to also be the title of the album. It was called “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.”

The song was actually meant to be a jokey take on the continually-morose portrayal of the band. They removed the song from the album, however. “We knew people wouldn’t get it,” Kurt told Rolling Stone magazine. “They’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves. I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked-out schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time. ‘He isn’t satisfied with anything.’ And I thought it was a funny title.” The band’s label, DGC, decided to place the song in a more overtly humorous package, as the lead song on 1993’s “Beavis and Butt-Head Experience” CD.

While it was refreshing to see the jovial side of Kurt Cobain in this instance, he clearly was struggling to get a handhold on his substance abuse. A few months earlier, in February, he had told The Advocate, “Everyone thinks we’re on drugs again, even people we work with. I guess I’ll have to get used to that for the rest of my life.” He certainly didn’t give the media any evidence to suggest otherwise during the summer of 1993. On May 2nd, he was taken to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center after police found that, with the help of Courtney, he had injected himself with massive amounts of heroin and the drug buprenorphine at a party. Kurt wound up spending much of the rest of May at a rehab clinic. But on June 4th, police were again summoned into his life, when they broke up a dispute at the couple’s Washington home and confiscated several weapons. By July 23rd, when he overdosed in a New York hotel before performing at the New Music Seminar, it was evident that Cobain was spiraling out of orbit.

His easygoing lifestyle was also being bombarded at home with the musical aspirations of his wife. Courtney had been in bands since 1988, but it was the formation of Hole in 1990 that soon brought her notoriety amongst fans and record label representatives. According to her interview with Barbara Walters, the band name was derived from something her neglectful mother once told her: ‘Now Courtney, you know you can’t walk around with a hole in yourself just because you had a bad childhood.” By the end of 1992, her husband’s label, DGC, had signed Hole for a major album release. She was eager to attain the same success as he had.

Nirvana’s fourth album, “In Utero,” was released on September 21, 1993, and it entered the U.S. chart at #1 on October 9th, displacing Garth Brook’s “In Pieces.” Artwork featuring fetuses that Cobain had designed was displayed on the album’s back cover. Both K-Mart and Walmart chains refused to stock the CD, citing offensive content. A subdued design was later released, and the song “Rape Me,” (an anti-rape song!), clearly printed on the back, was altered to read, “Waif Me.”

One of the band’s finest moments occurred on November 18, 1993, when they taped an “Unplugged” episode for MTV at New York’s Sony Studios. Kurt’s voice was at top form, with eloquent emotion, as the group worked through several of their tunes along with many cover songs. The recording would be released a year later and hit number one on the U.S. chart on November 19, 1994.

The year 1994 began with the band heading out on the road to Europe for a two month-long tour. It would be their last. In February, Fender Frontline magazine caught up with Kurt and enquired as to the future of the group. “I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished together,” he offered. “Having said that however, I don’t know how long we can continue as Nirvana without a radical shift in direction. I have lots of ideas and ambitions that have nothing to do with the mass conception of ‘grunge’ that has been force-fed to the record buying public for the last few years. Whether I will be able to do everything I want to do as part of Nirvana remains to be seen. To be fair, I also know that both Krist and Dave have musical ideas that may not work in the context of Nirvana. We’re all tired of being labeled. You can’t imagine how stifling it is.”

It seemed like Kurt wouldn’t mind if he just stepped down from the racehorse for awhile. No implications of suicidal tendencies, but instead just an attempt to regroup in his head, turn inward once again. He passed up the offer to headline the 1994 Lollapalooza concert tour in the summer, a venture that would have yielded the band millions of dollars. To Kurt, he already had more than enough. He wanted some of his old life back. On March 1st, after a show in Munich, Germany, he opted to end the European tour, delaying the succeeding dates for a future time to be scheduled. He hopped a plane for Rome and checked into the posh Excelsior Hotel. Courtney and Frances Bean flew in a day later to be with him. At 5:30am on the morning of March 3rd, she awoke to find Kurt in a coma. He was rushed to Umberto 1 Polyclinic Hospital, where he had champagne, and close to 50 prescription pills, pumped from his stomach.

When he came out of his coma, Kurt asked for a milkshake. Official press reports blamed the incident on his own elation over being reunited with Courtney after a month’s separation. However, the fact that there were so many pills in his system tended to spread the rumor that it had been a failed suicide attempt. Nevertheless, Kurt was discharged a few days later on March 8th, and doctors seemed to think his condition was stable. Dr. Osvaldo Galletta at the Italian hospital told Newsweek magazine, “The last image I have of him, which in light of the tragedy now seems pathetic, is of a young man playing with the little girl. He did not seem like a young man who wanted to end it. I had hope for him.”

Back in the States, life never seemed to get back on even keel for the troubled musician. Seattle police were called to the Cobain home on the evening of March 18th, responding to a report that Kurt had locked himself in a room with guns and was threatening to kill himself. The authorities managed to coax him from the room, whereupon Kurt insisted he had not tried to commit suicide, but rather was trying to get away from Courtney. The cops confiscated 4 guns, 25 boxes of ammunition, and a bottle of assorted pills. A week later, on March 25th, Courtney allegedly staged an ‘intervention,’ with Kurt’s friends and managers in attendance, coercing Kurt to go into an LA rehab. He agreed to admit himself, but later wouldn’t board the plane. Courtney went on to Los Angeles, hoping he would soon follow. She later told Barbara Walters that Kurt “was ganged-up upon. I don’t think that intervention works on certain people of a certain age…I shouldn’t have called for an intervention. I just panicked.”

While Courtney holed up in the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Kurt had his best friend, Dylan Carlson, take him to Stan Baker Sports shop in Seattle to purchase a gun on March 30th. With the confiscation of his weapons, Kurt didn’t think he could buy one after the recent police incident. “We used to go shooting together,” Carlson later told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “He said he wanted the gun for protection.” Carlson purchased a Remington M-11-20 gauge shotgun for Cobain that day. Kurt took the weapon home, and then boarded a flight for Los Angeles that night. He checked himself into the Exodus rehabilitation clinic in Marina Del Rey.

While he was at the center, Courtney reportedly contacted him by phone. She later related a particular phone call to Barbara Walters. “I told him he dropped the baby. And I was mean about it. I wasn’t really mean, but I wasn’t nice about it. You know, we were really polite to each other, generally. And I told him on the phone, I’m like, ‘You know you dropped the baby…the other day, you dropped the baby.’ He was like, ‘What?’ I’m like, ‘You dropped the baby, you dropped Francies on her head.’ She was wearing a big hooded coat. He did not hurt her, and I did not need to tell him that.” Courtney conveyed that this was a major trigger in Kurt’s subsequent actions. “I do, I think that’s a major reason. Also, he felt like a waste of space, and a sellout, and he had made everything too huge, and it was his fault that everything was too huge, know what I mean? I mean it came like a Mack truck.”

Whatever fallout the conversation between the two had rendered, one thing’s for sure: on Friday night, April 1st, Kurt climbed the walls of the facility and left. He arrived in Seattle on Saturday morning and was taken to his Lake Washington home by a hired driver. He allegedly purchased shotgun shells at some point that weekend. Exactly what transpired after that is up to speculation. The outcome is crystal clear. According to the King County coroner’s report, Kurt Cobain died sometime during Tuesday, April 5, 1994. On Friday, April 8th, around 8:40am, a 50-year old electrician named Gary Smith, who had been contracted to install a motion detector and lights on the property, wandered to the back garage house and climbed the stairs to a second story deck. He saw something that looked like a mannequin lying on the floor inside, but upon further inspection, peering through the window, he saw dried blood around the figure’s head. He phoned 911.

Seattle firemen arrived and broke a pane in one of the French doors to the upper room, and gained access. Police fished out the wallet from the body’s pocket. It was Kurt Cobain. A cigar box filled with syringes, a spoon, some cigarette butts, $120 in cash, and an open can of Root Beer all lay about the floor near his body. Kurt was resting on his back with the Remington shotgun between his legs, pointing towards his chin, his left hand holding the gun. Two rounds were reportedly in the shotgun and one spent shell was on the floor. The pellet wounds from the spent shot had been released in the upper mouth of the victim. An enormous amount of heroin was allegedly later found in his system. In a flower tray filled with dirt, a note written in red ink contained handwriting traced to Kurt. It was mostly a jumbled, stream-of-conscious, pronouncement to his fans. Only a few lines were devoted to his wife and daughter.

This was how it ended. The death was ruled a suicide. Adamant opposition to that summation has been raised quite vociferously by one Tom Grant. A former detective in the Los Angeles area, Grant was a private investigator in 1994 when he claimed Courtney hired him to trace Kurt’s whereabouts shortly after his departure from the Exodus clinic on April 1st. Grant claims he became privy to many conversations with Love over the next month which heightened his suspicions that she may have had something to do directly with the death of Cobain. He alleges that Kurt was wanting to divorce Courtney and that she wanted him to go on the Lollapalooza tour to reap the millions he was being offered. He contends that she staged a phony overdose for herself on the night she thought Kurt would be murdered, Saturday, April 2nd, so that it would look like a dual suicide pact. He points to the assertion that with so much heroin in his bloodstream, Kurt would be incapable of picking up the gun, let alone pulling the trigger. And Grant’s biggest allegation is that the note left behind was not a suicide message, but instead a letter Cobain had simply been writing to let his fans know he was going to retire from the spotlight for awhile. Grant’s assertion is that whoever killed Cobain felt the note was tinged with the right ‘farewell’ sentiment that it could aid in masking the murder by being perceived as a suicide note.

Courtney’s own estranged father, Hank Harrison, wrote a book called “Who Killed Kurt Cobain?,” a tome that certainly didn’t rule out the possibility that his own daughter might have had a hand in it. A slew of websites have devoted much server time to the advancement of this theory. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield shot a documentary entitled “Kurt and Courtney” in 1998, and he presented several on-camera interviews with subjects who claimed to have knowledge of key facts that might have pointed to foul play in the matter. With no formal investigation being conducted by the Seattle Police Department on the homicide front, it is a moot issue at the time of this writing to pursue a dissertation on the speculations. However credible or incredible the evidentiary facts stack up, the outcome from the action resulted in true sorrow and a sense of great loss across the world.

Fellow Seattle rocker, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, seemed to be tapped into the same disenchantment and introspection in his lyrics that Kurt presented on his albums. He spoke with Melody Maker about his take on what might have driven Cobain to crash so hard. “The thing is you’d think your ego would be massive, playing for all these people, having all these people sing your songs. The fact is, you never think you’re that good. You don’t feel like you deserve this kind of attention or adulation. And so what you end up feeling instead of this large ego is, you feel like you’re worthless. You can’t live up to the glorification, and it makes you feel small and it makes you feel real s****y.”

Sensitive soul Michael Stipe of R.E.M. reflected to Newsweek that the awesome surge in popularity Nirvana experienced would be hard for any average Joe to weather responsibly. “If R.E.M. had sold 5 million copies of ‘Murmur’ (their first album), none of us would be alive to tell the tale. I really believe that. I’d have died with Quaaludes in my blood and a lot of Jack Daniels.” He went on to reveal his intentions of teaming with Kurt. “I know what the next Nirvana recording was going to sound like. It was going to be very quiet and acoustic, with lots of stringed instruments. It was going to be an amazing f***ing record, and I’m a little bit angry at him for killing himself. He and I were going to record a trial run of the album, a demo tape. It was all set up. He had a plane ticket. He had a car picking him up. And at the last minute, he called and said, ‘I can’t come.”

Danny Goldberg, Nirvana’s onetime manager, told Time magazine, “In all the years I knew him, he had very mixed feelings about being on this planet.” In the same issue, Daniel House, an owner of an independent record label and friend of Kurt, said, “None of this would have happened had he not been famous. When Nirvana started catching on, he was kind of bewildered. His music was so personal, it amazed him when people came out in droves to hear it.”

Journalists and fans alike descended on Seattle in the days following the discovery of Kurt’s body. The community spirit of admirers had the same deep sense of shock throughout their pack as did those hordes of sympathizers who surrounded Graceland in 1977 and the Dakota in 1980. A public memorial service was held at the Seattle Center Flag Plaza on Sunday, April 10th. Both Courtney and Krist released taped statements to the gathered throng.

Cobain’s body was cremated. Esquire magazine reported that Courtney put some of the ashes in an urn, some in a Buddhist shrine in their Washington home, and buried a bit in the back garden. The remaining remains were packed into a teddy bear knapsack which she carried with her practically everywhere in the days following the tragedy. She traveled to Ithaca, New York where she brought the ashes to Namgyal Buddhist monks who chanted and prayed over them, sending Kurt on his way and taking away the bad karma surrounding his demise. She reportedly left them with two handfuls of remains and went on a Hole concert tour with the rest, promoting her album “Live Through This,” which was released two weeks after Kurt’s death.

Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl privately mourned during the months following their friend’s passing. They first appeared at a live performance together on July 12, 1994 as part of the Stinky Puffs, a band led by a 10 year-old boy, at the opening of the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Washington. In 1995, Grohl moved out from behind the drums to lead guitar and lead vocal with the quirky and highly successful band Foo Fighters. Novoselic paired with a Venezuelan street singer in 1997, forming Sweet 75 and immersed himself in the world of politics. When the town of Aberdeen proposed a plan to erect a memorial to Kurt, Krist none-too-subtly vowed to take the life-size sculpture and ‘smash it to bits.’ The town council decided not to go through with the memorial.

In the days following Cobain’s passing, several reported ‘copycat’ suicides began occurring around the globe. A man who had attended the April 10th public memorial service, went home afterwards and shot himself to death. The media counseled distraught teens to take caution and call hotlines should they be depressed to the point of self-destruction. Kurt’s cousin, Bev Cobain, a psychiatric nurse who also suffered from clinical depression, wrote a book aimed at troubled teens titled “When Nothing Matters Anymore.” “I wanted the kids to know that role models make bad decisions, too,” she said. “Kurt was a wonderful role model in many respects, but he made a bad decision. I wanted people to see that there are other options.”

The garage behind the Cobain’s Lake Washington house was demolished in June 1996.

While much of history since the early ‘90s tends to look at the ‘grunge’ movement as a period of self-absorbed, devastatingly-downbeat bands such as Nirvana who cashed in on teen malaise, the music that was created during those times still endures. The captivating quality Kurt Cobain possessed was the ability to translate such vivid imagery to words of value and meaning. The solid musicianship that poured forth from the trio’s instruments was uncompromisingly solid rock. Adolescents weaned on the merits of grunge went on to mix many of the hard rock sounds of the genre with hip-hop vibes, in turn creating today’s bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock. While his spirit was frail and chipped, Kurt Cobain’s music contains a hearty dose of bravado and craft. Many of the bands that came after Nirvana tried to jump on the ‘whine’ wagon, and not only did we begin to reject their misery, consumers came to see it as markedly phony. The rock/rap of today is grounded in moronic self-assurance, and the pop resurgence showed that music lovers were eager to just hear something lightweight.

Even though he was a grunge emo, it was always refreshing to know that Kurt was well aware that he was being a pain about his self-absorption. When he was asked by Monk magazine to assess the band members of Nirvana, he kiddingly obliged. For drummer Grohl, he said, “Dave is in really good shape although he smokes two packs of cigarettes a day.” Sizing up bassist Novoselic, Kurt offered, “Chris is the horror of the stars. He has no shame whatsoever in carousing with the likes of Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp.” As for himself, Mr. Cobain was succinct and deliciously self-aware. “F*** him, he complains too much.”

Sidebar: The “Suicide” Note

To Boddah pronounced,

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complain-ee, this note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years. Since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to, as well as creating, music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins, it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury who seemed to love, and relish in the love and adoration from the crowd. Which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is I can’t fool you. Any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it, (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciated things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last three tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us, and I think I simply love people too much. So much that it makes me feel too f***ing sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man! Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know. I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be. Full of love and joy kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along, and have empathy. Empathy! Only because I love and feel for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
Peace, love, empathy. Kurt Cobain
Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar.
Please keep going Courtney for Frances
For her life, which will be so much happier without me.
I Love you. I love you!

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Freddie Mercury: “I’ll Keep on Singing Till the End”

In 1990, when Queen was holed up in their studio in Montreux, Switzerland, laying down tracks for what was to be their “Innuendo” album, guitarist Brian May put together some lyrics for a song the band was working on. “I’ll face it with a grin,” the lyrics concluded, “I’m never giving in, On with the show, I’ll top the bill, I’ll overkill, I have to find the will to carry on, On with the…, On with the show, The show must go on.” May was wary about approaching Freddie Mercury with these words. “I did ask him at one point if he was okay about it,” May told Rock Power Magazine. “And he said, ‘Yeah, totally okay about it. I will give it my all.’ And he did.” Mercury, at that time, was extremely ill. The AIDS virus he had contracted was full blown, wrenching much of the stamina he used to easily muster in the studio and on the stage. A year later he would lose his battle with the terrible disease. But ever the consummate professional, he sang the words to “The Show Must Go On” with every ounce of heartfelt commitment he put into all of his work. Listening to the track, one would never guess this singer was anywhere near his final curtain call.

Nobody knows for sure when Freddie Mercury learned he had become HIV positive. Some reports put it as five years before his death. Others at seven years. But one thing is for sure, Freddie did not wish to alarm his fans, friends and family. We were all kept pretty much in the dark until the end. He, instead, clearly wanted us to remember him as the jolly troubadour, the venerable showman whose music and skill brought pleasure to millions throughout the world.

From an early age, it seemed as if Mercury was destined to please others. When a man photographed Freddie smiling at the age of one year’s old, the picture wound up winning the grateful shutterbug first prize in a baby snapshot contest. This first sign of outward showmanship occurred on the island of Zanzibar, off the African coastline near Tanzania. It was here that Freddie was born to Indian parents, Parsees to be exact, in September 1946. His birth name was Farok Bulsara (not Farookh or Faroukh, corrects his brother-in-law Roger, as many archivists have gone on to misspell) and his last name was in recognition of his family’s hometown in India known as Bulsar. His father was a cashier for the British government, a job which took him many places throughout the Indian Ocean region.

Farok attended boarding school from the ages of 8 to 16 in Panchgani, India, near Bombay, and rarely saw his family, except on summer holiday back in Zanzibar. It was while at school that he came to be known by a more English-sounding familiar name, Freddie. When Zanzibar garnered independent rule from the British in 1964, revolution broke out, and the Bulsaras, with Freddie now graduated, moved to the working class suburb of Feltham, England, directly in the flight path of Heathrow Airport. Heading to Ealing College to study art design, Freddie hankered for the music world that was bubbling up everywhere in mid-60s London. Having been a member of a band back at boarding school, Freddie soon got another one going called Ibex. He often crossed paths with another local band, Smile, that had guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor as part of its members. Freddie and Roger opened a fashion and art stall in the Kensington Market in London. After a brief spell in another group called Wreckage, Freddie got together with May and Taylor to form a new band. In the midst of auditioning several bass players, they were introduced to John Deacon at a disco one night, and asking him to join, the group Queen was poised to conquer the world.

Roger Taylor had liked the name ‘Rich Kids.’ Brian had tossed in a few suggestions, like ‘Grand Dance’ and ‘Build Your Own Boat,’ but the band went with Freddie’s main pitch, ‘Queen,’ seeing the royalty connotations and Freddie’s flamboyance as two subjects to play off of. By this time, Freddie had changed his last name to Mercury. He later told his brother-in-law, Roger, that he chose the moniker because it was his rising planet (in astrology). Roger related to the Sunday Times magazine that, “when he told me, I said, ‘it’s a bloody good job it wasn’t Uranus.’ Freddie never forgave me for that.”

Having been raised in the Zoroastrian faith, Mercury liked to play on the dream-like imagery and spiritual truths inherent in the religion with his lyrics for Queen. Standard sentiments of strength, confidence, and love, the bedrock of his faith, were constant themes he explored in his songwriting. Zoroastrianism is based on the teachings of the Persian prophet Spitaman Zarathustra, who lived and preached around 1500 B.C. He spoke of an all-knowing, supreme God, Ahura Mazda, who created man as the central figure in the cosmic struggle against the wicked spirit Anghra Mazda.

While Mercury had hawked his secondhand clothes in the Kensington stall, he had met a 19-year old girl named Mary Austin, who managed an upscale boutique called Biba nearby. “It took Freddie nearly six months to finally ask me out!,” she told authors Jacky Gunn and Jim Jenkins in their book “Queen: As It Began.” “I thought he fancied my best friend, so I used to avoid him. One night we were at one of his gigs, and after it had finished he came looking for me. I left him at the bar with my friend to go to the loo, but I actually sneaked out. He was furious!” But soon thereafter, the two hooked up and became extremely close. They moved into an apartment together which they shared with another couple in the Kensington district.

By 1971, the band was performing at local colleges and clubs, while most of its members still attended school. John Deacon eventually got a degree in science, Brian May picked up one in electronics, and Roger Taylor received one for biology. After being invited to showcase and record their music at a local studio, EMI Records signed the band in late 1972. Freddie and Mary moved into an apartment of their own, a place where the group photographs for their first album were snapped. “Queen” and “Queen II” were released in under two years’ time, and when their third album, “Sheer Heart Attack,” was released in 1974, the group snared a top 20 hit in the U.S. with the single “Killer Queen.”

But it was with their next album, “A Night At the Opera,” which contained the long, operatic sweep of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” that sent Queen into the stratosphere. As a single, it shot to number one in Britain, Japan, and many other markets, selling over 150,000 copies in the first 2 weeks of its release. From that point on, Queen was bigger than life. Mercury hit his stride on the stage, vamping it up in furs, leathers, and dresses, commanding the attention of huge audiences in tandem with the band’s ever-increasing stock of pyrotechnics, dry ice and lighting. Hit after hit poured from their amps throughout the mid-to-late ‘70s: “You’re My Best Friend,” “Somebody To Love,” “Tie Your Mother Down,” “We Are The Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and their first U.S. number one single at the turn of 1980, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

By pulling out of an interview on Britain’s “Today” show in 1976, they allowed an unknown band called the Sex Pistols to fill in for them, thus launching those punkers’ rise to instant stardom through that one appearance. Freddie’s costumes onstage changed by the late ‘70s. Gone were the tight dresses and the black nail polish. He started to wear leather gear or uniforms. In 1978, Queen’s Madison Square Garden show in New York featured a gaggle of semi-nude girls riding bicycles around the stage during “Fat Bottomed Girls.” The next year, at the same venue, Mercury strode onto the stage 2 hours’ late, donning an NYPD beat cop’s outfit, and proceeded to pour champagne over the heads of patrons in the front rows. His outrageousness only fueled their adulation. Some of his outrageousness was fueled by drugs. Queen were no strangers to having a wild time behind the scenes, but perhaps the biggest display of excess in their career occurred when they threw a huge party in New Orleans to launch the release of their 1978 album “Jazz.”

Flying in over 80 journalists from around the globe on October 31st, the band entered the ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel at the stroke of midnight surrounded in a parade of strippers, transvestites, grossly-overweight women, snake charmers, and hermaphrodites. The baffled reporters soon relished sights like that of a woman who smoked cigarettes with her genitalia. They lined up in a backroom as one woman on her knees hummed more than just Queen songs. Mercury was his unfazed self, telling Circus magazine, “I’m going backstage for a rest. Maybe get a b*** job. Hell, it’s Halloween, right?” Roger Taylor related the magnitude of the New Orleans event to RIP magazine. “There were 125 strippers. For 10 years afterwards, the cabbies asked, ‘When are you going to have another party?’ You don’t quite see parties like that anymore.”

Even though his career had skyrocketed beyond his wildest dreams and he was adored by fans the world over, Freddie had remained devoted to Mary and lived with her for much of the early part of his rise to fame. But by the late ‘70s, the two didn’t seem to connect intimately. One day, as Mary related to the Daily Mail in 1999, Freddie confessed to her. “He said, ‘I think I’m bisexual.’ I told him, ‘I think you’re gay.’ And nothing else was said. We just hugged. I thought, ‘He’s been very brave.’ Being a bit naïve it had taken me a while to realize the truth. Afterwards, he felt good about having told me. He said, ‘I realized I had a choice. The choice was not to tell you, but I think you are entitled to your own life.” Mary reflected on the aftermath of his confession. “I used to think originally that I’d lost him to being gay. But then if he had been totally heterosexual, I think I would eventually have lost him to another woman, particularly when the fame came along. Women followed him even though they suspected he was gay.”

Freddie still loved Mary as his best friend. He got her a place near his Kensington apartment and gave her the job of company secretary to his music and publishing businesses which he ran from his home. While she had a few boyfriends over the 1980s, and even had two children by one of them, painter Piers Cameron, Mary remained totally devoted to Mercury. Freddie also was a devoted son to his parents. He made sure to take time out of most weeks when he was not on the road, to go visit them at their Feltham home.

After the number one success of the band’s 1980 album “The Game” and its follow-up single after “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” Queen’s output of hits in the 1980s never cracked the U.S. top ten again. Their music was still snapped up by millions though on their home turf of Britain. The band suffered a setback in popularity when they chose to play 8 gigs at the South African resort of Sun City in 1984. The United Nations put them on a blacklist since they were in violation of breaking its anti-apartheid cultural boycott on the African nation. Brian May told Guitar World magazine, “When we went to South Africa, we made sure our audience were integrated. And then we stipulated that we would have to have freedom of speech. So we were able to do interviews with the South African papers and say what we felt about apartheid, and have our views printed. We got hell when we came back, but I would argue that you achieve more by going places, than by staying away.”

All was forgiven when Queen was the standout performance the next year at Bob Geldof’s landmark Live Aid event. Geldof said, “It was the perfect stage for Freddie. He could ponce about in front of the whole world.” The date was July 13, 1985. In October of that year, two individuals passed away from an illness that the world was just beginning to learn about. Actor Rock Hudson, once a top screen star of the 1960s, was tragically cut down by the new-buzzword disease, AIDS. His passing was cause for hysteria. The world press launched an all-out campaign to uncover everything they could about Hudson’s secret gay past and scads of misinformation on how the disease could be contracted spread carelessly around the airwaves. Ten days after Hudson died, another death went practically unnoticed. Guitarist Ricky Wilson of the Athens, Georgia band, The B-52s, quietly slipped away, and his passing was not revealed as being AIDS-related until much later.

Since Freddie and Mary had moved into separate quarters, Freddie had a series of boyfriends over the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. By 1984, he had met Jim Hutton, a hairdresser, at a nightclub, and the two became constant companions over the rest of the decade. In 1980, Freddie had purchased an 8-bedroom Victorian mansion set in a quarter acre in the Kensington area. He paid over a half million pounds cash for it. He poured many more pounds into remodeling it. But he was quite comfortable living in his apartment, so the mansion remained empty for six years.

On August 9, 1986, Queen performed before the largest paying audience in their career, close to 200,000 people, at the Knebworth Festival in England. It was the group’s 658th concert. It was also their last. Freddie Mercury probably knew by this time that he was HIV-positive. Shortly after the event, he finally moved into his mansion and proceeded to live his life, in his own words, ‘like a nun,’ for the rest of the 1980s. He hired Hutton as a ‘gardener’ so it wouldn’t appear to other close friends jealous of the lover that he was being spoiled by Mercury.

From this point on, Freddie chose his public appearances sporadically. His very close friend, singer-drummer Dave Clark, originally of the Dave Clark Five, wrote all the music and songs for a musical stage play called “Time” which featured pop singer Cliff Richard. On April 14, 1988, Freddie appeared in the musical for a special charity performance. The proceeds from the show were all donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust for research into AIDS. On October 8, 1988, he hit the stage at an open-air festival in Barcelona, Spain with opera diva Montserrat Caballe to sing their collaborative tune “Barcelona,” which would later be used as the official anthem to the 1992 Olympics. Queen’s album “The Miracle” was released on May 22, 1989. By the start of 1990, with his strength diminishing day by day, Freddie still wanted to record more songs. He still wanted to create. The band went into their Switzerland studio to begin working on tunes that would eventually be released on the January 1991 album, “Innuendo.”

On February 18, 1990, when Freddie appeared at the annual British Phonographic Industry Awards ceremony, at which Queen were honored with an outstanding contribution to British music award, rumors of ill health were printed in the press the following days. His make-up under the hot TV lights was not enough to distract from the fact that he looked pallid and gaunt. Freddie did his best to dispel rumors of any kind of sickness.

Brian May told Rock Power magazine, “We didn’t know actually what was wrong for a very long time. We never talked about it and it was a sort of unwritten law that we didn’t, because Freddie didn’t want to. He just told us that he didn’t feel up to doing tours, and that’s as far as it went. Gradually, I suppose in the last year and a bit, it became obvious what the problem was, or at least fairly obvious – we still didn’t know for sure. He’s a very private person, Freddie.” Mercury had told his secret to Mary Austin long before any of his friends or family ever knew. She looked after him from that point on, tending to his every need. “I would sit every day next to the bed for 6 hours, whether he was awake or not,” she told the Daily Mail. “He would suddenly wake up and smile and say, ‘Oh, it’s you, old faithful.”

Hutton had been there too, but judging from the tone of his subsequent book, “Mercury and Me,” the decline of Mercury was seen more as an imposition on Hutton. He described in harrowing, yet exploitative, detail the daily horrors Mercury suffered from the disease, such as incidents where he lost control of his bladder and his inability to swallow some foods. Hutton, himself, reportedly contracted the AIDS virus.

Freddie pushed to get into the studio in Montreux one last time. In 1991, he and his bandmates took several weeks out to record more songs. Producer David Richards told Rolling Stone magazine, “I knew that he was very ill, amazingly his voice became better and better though. ‘My voice is still here,’ he used to say, ‘So I’ll keep on singing till the end.’ I personally didn’t know that he had AIDS; I speculated he had cancer. I think everyone pushed aside the fact that it was really that serious. Everyone still had that glimpse of hope that at the end maybe a miracle would happen…It was a difficult situation for all of us, but especially for Freddie, but he really wanted this project to be finished, even though he knew that the album would be released after his death.”

Brian May told Rock Power magazine that, a few months before his passing, Mercury did “sit down and talk to us about it, and from that point on it was openly talked about among us. But we still didn’t mention a word to anyone, not even our families, which is very difficult. When your friends look you in the eye and say, ‘What’s wrong?,’ and you say, ‘Nothing,’ it’s very hard. So it was a big strain; it did something awful to our brains for awhile.”

Freddie got so sick that he struggled to do a half-hour’s worth of singing over a week’s time. Then it became a half-hour’s work over a couple weeks. Brian told RIP magazine, “Then, at the very end, he couldn’t move. You feel so helpless watching someone so fit and strong and healthy and creative be destroyed by that horrible thing…He never succumbed in spirit. He was always up. He always had his sense of humor, which I find incredible. He was the first to say, ‘Hey, I don’t want you guys to sit around. This may be happening to me, but you have your lives to lead.” When Brian played Mercury one of his upcoming solo singles, “Driven By You,” he felt guilty putting out such an upbeat tune while Freddie was fading away. “He said, ‘Why should you do anything else?’ And he said, ‘If I pop off while it’s happening, it’ll give you an extra bit of publicity.’ That is Fred,” Brian related, laughing softly.

As autumn 1991 blew across England, Mercury was on his last legs. The tawdry rag, the Sun newspaper, owned by tasteless tycoon Rupert Murdoch, published a photograph a paparazzi member had taken of an ailing Freddie through a telephoto lens into Mercury’s mansion bedroom. Drummer Roger Taylor, a few years later, was so incensed by this incident, that he included a heated diatribe song against the morally-questionable billionaire in a solo song he released called, “Dear Mr. Murdoch.” “I thought it was a gross intrusion on my friend’s privacy,” Taylor told West End magazine. “I felt outraged that his house was surrounded by these vultures when he was basically trying to die in peace.”

Freddie’s demise was especially excruciating to his closest friend, Mary Austin. “He was always very protective of me,” she told the Daily Mail. “If something happened, he’d say, ‘Oh darling, don’t worry, we’ll get over that.’ He was uplifting. At other times, when he was aware he had AIDS and only had a limited time to live, there’d be the odd serious conversation when he’d say to me, ‘Let’s go and sit, we don’t know how long we have.’

Mercury’s final moments grew nearer. Mary continued, “The quality of his life had changed so dramatically, and he was in more and more pain everyday. He was losing his sight. His body became weaker as he suffered mild fits. It was so devastating to see him deteriorating in this way. One day he decided enough was enough and stopped all the medical supplements that were keeping him going. He just turned off. The overwhelming thing for me was that he was just so incredibly brave. He looked death in the face and said, ‘Fine, I’ll accept it now – I’ll go.”

Before he left us, Mercury did something that no other public persona had done before. He announced to the world that he had AIDS. Before 1991, no celebrity wished the public to know of their misfortune, choosing instead to be silent to the very end. To Freddie though, this would mean there was shame attached to his passing. He did not see it that way. He wanted people to know that this disease was not something to be hushed up. It should be discussed openly, for it affects not just individuals who are oriented in homosexual lifestyle, but everyone. His announcement of his illness on November 23, 1991, exemplified the dignity and character of a man whose final gesture was of caring, one of shedding light on that which was unmentionable.

The next day, November 24th, around 7:00 in the evening, Freddie Mercury passed away. His friends, including Dave Clark, were by his side. Mary said, “It was peaceful and he died with a smile on his face.” His Queen bandmates issued the following statement: “We have lost the greatest and most beloved member of our family. We feel overwhelming grief that he has gone, sadness that he should be cut down at the height of his creativity, but above all, great pride in the courageous way he lived and died. It has been a privilege for us to have shared such magical times. As soon as we are able we would like to celebrate his life in the style to which he was accustomed.”

A single red rose rested atop his coffin as it was driven to the crematorium. A Zoroastrian service was held to send him on his way. In December 1991, “Bohemian Rhapsody” once again entered the U.K. charts and shot to number one. It was the only time in British music history that any single has gone to number one twice.

As for Queen’s celebration of Mercury’s life, they, indeed, took to the stage on April 20, 1992, in a ‘Concert For Life,’ a tribute to Freddie and a fundraising effort for AIDS awareness, before a crowd of 70,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium. Broadcast to 70 countries around the globe and with the musical talents of David Bowie, Elton John, George Michael, Guns N’ Roses, and many more, the event helped to launch the Phoenix Trust, an AIDS foundation set up in Switzerland, and to which Mary became a trustee. Queen released some of the final tracks, which Freddie had summoned strength to perform on, on a 1995 CD entitled “Made In Heaven.”

Freddie’s will left almost 50% of his wealth to Mary Austin. She moved into his Kensington mansion. His parents and sister received 25% each. He left Jim Hutton 500,000 pounds and bought him a plot of land in his native Ireland on which to build a home. As for his remains, Freddie entrusted his ashes to Mary. Only she knows where they are hidden. Freddie made her promise she would not reveal their whereabouts. “I had to do it alone as he asked and keep it a secret,” she told the Daily Mail. “That was something that didn’t encourage his family to like me anymore or any less than they did.”

Brian May wrote a piece about Freddie for the band’s fan club magazine a month after Mercury’s passing, just before Christmas. “Freddie never wanted sympathy, he wanted exactly what the fans gave him – belief, support and the endorsement of that strangely winding road to excellence that we, Queen, have tried to follow. You gave him support in being the outstandingly free spirit that he was, and is. Freddie, his music, his dazzling creative energy – those are for ever.” The show must go on.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

February 1995: The Mysterious Disappearances of Taylor Kramer and Richey James

Vanished. That’s what newspaper articles in Great Britain and the United States claimed during the month of February 1995. Except that the reports were about two very different men. Both men had simply disappeared. One slipped away on February 1st. The other was gone on February 12th. One was a rising rock star, the other had moved on in life, shedding his rock stature. With hardly a trace of evidence, the existence of these two men were wiped clean from the everyday lives they led with their loved ones. For one, the warnings of distress and despondency had been quite evident over the years. For the other, life seemed promising and potentially groundbreaking. Neither man had ever met the other. Their worlds and their goals were completely divergent. The only link they had to one another was that they were two musicians, and they had simply vanished during a winter month in 1995. Eventually one’s disappearance would be solved. As for the other…

One of these men was Phillip Taylor Kramer. As a curious 12-year old, Kramer enjoyed listening to rock records, and like a lot of kids in the ‘60s, he was fascinated with the burgeoning modern music scene of the day. At 12, he also won a science fair at his school in Youngstown, Ohio by building a laser whose beam could pop a balloon. Young Kramer would soon become a very bright rocker.

When Kramer turned 14, a group of musicians formed a band in the Los Angeles area and played the rock clubs along the Sunset Strip. The group was named Iron Butterfly, and within two years, they had signed with Atco Records and released a debut album called “Heavy.” They shared the bill in concerts with high-profile acts like The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. In 1968, keyboardist Doug Ingle would write the band’s signature song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” The song hit number 4 on the U.S. charts and solidified the band’s reputation as a genuine founding father of the heavy metal movement. By May 1971 though, the band had split apart and the future of the Butterfly seemed extinguished.

But after the release of a “Best Of…” album in 1975, guitarist Erik Braunn and drummer Ronald Bushy decided to reform the group. Taylor Kramer, now living in the LA area, trying to find a playing gig, was hired by the band to be their new bassist. The band signed with MCA Records and immediately recorded a new album called “Scorching Beauty.” Soon after, Iron Butterfly hit the tour circuit with Robin Trower and Humble Pie.

While on the road, Kramer became fast friends with drummer Bushy. They would spend long hours writing songs together. Kramer would also try to enlighten his bandmate with scientific ideas and equations he had been formulating. On a piece of stationary from a motel in Aberdeen, Washington, he wrote, “There is only so much a human being can achieve within his physical boundaries, but I wish to reach beyond my physical being.” He took great pains to define God as the total energy unit made up of all levels of energy. He tried to explain to Bushy his theories of the very definition of the universe as being mathematically configured.

The band released another album called “Sun and Steel,” but then, without any true chart-topping hit, the group dissolved once again. Kramer went on to study at Western States College of Engineering and graduated in 1980. He subsequently worked for the Northrop Electronics Corporation and helped develop the guidance system for the MX nuclear missile.

Having been laid off from Northrop in the mid-‘80s, Kramer set out to start a company of his own. Through his music connections, he hooked up initially with singer Michael Jackson’s brother Randy and together, with a few other founders, they formed a video compression firm called Total Multimedia (TMM) in Thousand Oaks, California, a suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Taylor brought his father, Ray Kramer, a retired professor of electrical engineering, into the fold, and they started the business of storing visual images, through the company’s practice known as fractal compression, onto CD-ROM discs. Ray and Taylor also had another agenda as well.

Ray had passed along his notions of understanding the universe through mathematical equations to his son Taylor. With the help of TMM’s high-end computers, they set about to put some of Ray’s theories to the test. But by 1994, the company had encountered serious financial troubles, and the investors demanded reorganization to stave off imminent bankruptcy filings. This led to internal fighting, and Taylor felt that the original vision he had had for the company was now being tainted by greed.

Ray’s passion for a scientific breakthrough became Taylor’s as well. Taylor spent insomnia-draining weeks running mathematical equations on his laptop in the middle of the night. The essence of their quest centered around the ability to transmit waves faster than the speed of light. This breakthrough would mean that communication would occur through gravity waves anywhere within the universe in one second. Electromagnetism and gravitation would effectively be harnessed and become malleable. In January 1995, Taylor felt elated, for he concluded, after months of sleepless nights, that he had come up with all the answers. He dubbed the discovery, in honor of his father, as “Ray’s Moment.”

One of TMM’s main investors was a man named Greg Martini who lived in the Cincinnati area. On Sunday, February 12, 1995, Greg was slated to fly into Los Angeles International Airport with his wife on a business trip to check up on TMM. Taylor was going to meet them at the gate, drive them the hour and half ride out to Thousand Oaks, where they would pick up Taylor’s wife, Jennifer. Then the foursome had plans to head north to Santa Barbara for a quiet dinner and conversation. On this weekend morning, along roads that were not traffic-clogged with the usual Los Angeles weekday bustle, Taylor Kramer…simply vanished.

In the days leading up to his disappearance, Kramer appeared exhausted yet in an euphoric state. His sister told the Los Angeles Times, “He was so excited, that he was calling the math ‘sacred.’ I worried that he was having visions. My brother takes the weight of the world upon himself. He loves Jennifer, he loves his kids dearly. But he banked everything on this discovery with my dad, and his mind just ran away with it. He talked of supernovas, earthquakes, all events having no coincidences. I fear he had some kind of breakdown.”

Jennifer had tried to find out more about Taylor’s discovery a week before the 12th, and he had described its benefits as follows: “Imagine being able to flash up a picture of a missing child on this computer screen, or even a part of a picture, and with this new equation, being able to find that child in a fraction of a second.” She didn’t seem to register just how someone could accomplish such a feat. Ray Kramer surmised that his son might have vanished so that they would put his equation to use in finding him.

As a strategy point in dealing with Martini on the morning of the 12th, Kramer had told Jennifer, “At some point, I’ll need an hour alone with Greg.” She said that he shouldn’t exclude her from the conversations with Martini. Taylor left his Thousand Oaks home that Sunday morning around 9:00am. He stopped at the Los Robles Medical Center to visit Jennifer’s father, who was interned for cancer treatment. Climbing back into his green 1993 Ford Aerostar van, he headed to the airport. According to parking records, he spent 45 minutes either within the parking structure or in the Delta terminal at LAX. When he left, he did not have enough money to pay the parking attendant the three dollars owed. He also did not have Greg Martini and his wife in the van.

Coincidentally, Taylor’s old drummer friend, Ronald Bushy, was departing at the Delta terminal that morning, yet he never spotted his Iron Butterfly bandmate. Greg Martini never saw Kramer that morning either. Around this time, Kramer made some calls on his cellular phone. He reached Jennifer and said that, should Martini phone the house, to tell him to take a cab to a Hyatt Hotel in Westlake Village, a community next to Thousand Oaks. Kramer told her he’d meet everyone there at 2:00pm “with the biggest surprise for you.” He called his friend Bushy, who was at the airport, and said that he loved him more than life itself. Kramer then rang his wife back and said, “Whatever happens, I’ll always be with you.”

At 11:59am, Taylor Kramer dialed 911 on his cellular phone, as later pinpointed as originating from somewhere along the Ventura Freeway in the San Fernando Valley, and said, “This is Phillip Taylor Kramer, and I am going to kill myself.”

The police, alerted by the 911 call, got in touch with Jennifer. Family members and friends immediately contacted one another. A sheriff’s helicopter was dispatched to search the mountains around Santa Monica and the Pacific Coast Highway, as well as along the San Fernando Valley. At age 42, the amiable, extremely upbeat Kramer was nowhere to be found.

When the initial search for Kramer came up blank by the authorities, Jennifer and the members of TMM began to pool their resources for an independent investigation of their own. Hundreds of flyers were distributed throughout Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. Citizens began phoning her with alleged sightings. Kramer had supposedly been sighted at a school bus stop on Mulholland Drive. He was described as being seen at a market in the Valley’s Canoga Park. A pawn shop owner talked about computers with a man fitting Kramer’s description. He was allegedly seen outside a Burger King, at a soup kitchen, and at the Santa Monica Pier.

Jennifer received a phone call shortly thereafter from someone who sounded befuddled, whom she thought was her husband on the line. A few private investigators were hired to track leads and solve the case. One investigator told the LA Times, “Something happened during that time, either in his head or at the terminal, that made him turn away. And I’ll tell you, I haven’t a clue. The guy didn’t have an enemy. The guy was a dedicated family man. I checked him out. Whatever happened in his head while at the airport, or whatever happened right in the airport, I’ve got a feeling we’ll learn from Kramer himself.” Family members and police officials believed Kramer was still alive somewhere, perhaps in trouble.

One Ohio congressman felt that since Kramer had reportedly made an important discovery, as well as having worked on the MX missile, the FBI should be compelled to investigate the matter. Family members long argued that his disappearance may have been linked to his work. Months went by, without any trace of clues, no notes, no contact. In November 1995, NBC aired a segment about Kramer on its “Unsolved Mysteries” television program. Jennifer appeared on “The Phil Donahue Show” to appeal to a broad audience, and the family set up a web page detailing the events surrounding Kramer’s disappearance. Taylor’s mother held the strong belief that Kramer had been kidnapped.

For months and eventually years, the family did not give up hope. No physical clues, no money transactions, no notes were ever left behind to suggest Taylor had been contemplating suicide. Jennifer said to the LA Times in 1996, “I went to a psychologist for the first time in my life. She told me to assume Taylor’s gone and get on with my life. Well, that’s not to be. Taylor’s one in a million. We have to keep searching. But I do have a mortgage and kids and insurance, and so I’ve got to get working.”

Walter Lockwood liked to take photographs. As a Hollywood resident, he would venture into the nearby mountains to click shots of unusual artifacts set amongst natural settings. Walter and a friend hiked down a steep cliff embankment one afternoon to snap some shots. The date was May 29, 1999. The location was off a winding two-lane street called Decker Canyon Road that traced its way from the beach community of Malibu to the upscale Valley environs of Westlake Village. The duo took pictures of abandoned cars that had settled 450 feet down the canyon wall from the road above. Sitting amongst the handful of cars was a green Ford Aerostar van. The front end and windshield were smashed. When they peered inside, they saw skeletal human bones by the front seat. Walking away from the site to call authorities, Lockwood stepped on a human skull near the van. He and his friend dashed out of the canyon.

On Sunday morning, May 30th, a sheriff’s department helicopter hoisted a green body bag with the remains into the sky. Dental records matched the teeth found in the skull. After four long years of hope, curiosity, and confusion, the disappearance of the Iron Butterfly bassist was solved. Phillip Taylor Kramer had driven off a cliff.

His beloved company had shut down by the end of the ‘90s. He had left his family with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from money he had borrowed from friends. And yet, no one can truly explain what went wrong. Why did Kramer so suddenly feel compelled to end his life?

The mystery surrounding his disappearance spawned many rumors of conspiracies and foul play. What ultimately led to his final resting place in that canyon? Was it an act of despondency, one in which he snapped and felt that he could never wrestle his way out of the debt he owed? Or is there a clue in his remark to Jennifer in which he was supposedly going to meet her at 2:00pm on February 12, 1995 with the “biggest surprise?” Did he, in the end, feel that he could transcend death itself and flash through time? Did he think he could cheat his demise by appearing at the hotel for a surprise confirmation of his theories? Of course, no one will know for sure. In the end, his friend, Iron Butterfly’s Ronald Bushy may have summed up the ultimate tribute to his colleague, when he told the LA Times in 1995, “To Kramer, there was no problem that could not be met.” Perhaps, somewhere in the veiled world of an afterlife, Kramer is working on that problem at this very moment.


By the time Phillip Taylor Kramer drove off to the unknown on February 12, 1995, another man, also a musician, had been missing since the beginning of that month. His name was Richard James Edwards, known as Richey James, and he was the lead singer for the band Manic Street Preachers.

Hailing from the working class town of Blackwood in Wales, Richey was also a bright rocker, perhaps not scientifically, but certainly philosophically. The mining community from which he hailed molded him into an independent-thinking, anti-authoritarian, punker, one who looked upon his life and the world around him with bleak, nihilistic eyes. As with the majority of Welsh towns, existence consisted of hard work and few opportunities. Those individuals that broke from that lifestyle, people like Welsh natives Richard Burton and Catherine Zeta-Jones, did so by cracking the odds. As Richey himself once said, “Where we come from, there is a natural melancholy in the air. Everybody, ever since you could comprehend it, felt pretty much defeated.”

Richey wound up going to the University of Wales, Swansea College, where he hooked up with childhood chums who were interested in music. The Sex Pistols had made their beachhead a decade earlier in 1976, and James Bradfield, along with his cousin Sean Moore, decided to form a group in honor of that once radical punk spirit. Calling themselves Blue Generation, the band played hardcore songs that evoked a raw, garage sound. Nicky Wire, a bass player who was studying political history along with Richey at the university, soon joined the group and contributed rebellious lyrics to the band’s increasing song catalog. Meanwhile, Richey, who drove the van for the group, which segued into the name Betty Blue, had begun a liter-of-vodka-a-day habit which would carry him through, well into the ‘90s. He also started to practice a form of physio-psychological deviance to stave off his recurrent depressive states, namely that of self-mutilation. Just a few small cuts on his arms and legs at first.

The band recorded their first single, “Suicide Alley,” in 1989, and Richey designed its sleeve jacket. When a group member named Flicker left shortly thereafter, Richey came on board as a songwriter/guitarist to round out the quartet. Influenced by the music of Public Enemy, Guns ‘n Roses, The Smiths, and Joy Division, the band stirred these ingredients into their own musical cauldron to produce guitar-driven, soaring melancholia and despair. When Phillip Hall heard their EP follow-up “New Art Riot,” he signed on as their manager and let the group sleep on his London apartment floor, while they played gigs in the city to land a major record label contract.

The band’s songs were blunt and angry, yet also incisive in their criticism of social ills, political corruption, and music business toadies. Wearing T-shirts with slogans like “Eat The Rich” and “I Am A Slut” spray-painted on their front, along with women’s scarves, eyeliner and makeup, the band’s androgynous leanings only helped establish a unique look to the ballistic, blazing songs screeching off the stage. The group was created to celebrate and trash the emptiness of modern life, and Richey and Nicky’s creative lyrics lashed at all comers.

On May 15, 1991, after finishing a gig at the Norwich Arts Centre, the group sat down with a journalist for New Musical Express magazine, Steve Lamacq, backstage. During the course of the interview, the band’s philosophy of kill your idols, release a smash album, and then just burn out, led to Lamacq questioning the authenticity of their revolutionary posturing. Perhaps they were just a Welsh rehash of The Clash? Richey took out a razor and cut the words “4 Real” into his arm, right in front of the shocked journalist. News of this incident spread worldwide. After receiving 17 stitches to close the wound, Richey’s self-mutilating predilection was now formally out of the closet, and the band became a buzz in the music industry. Six days later, Sony signed the Manic Street Preachers, and the group finally had landed a major label record deal.

The band released the confrontational “Generation Terrorists” album in February 1992. As they played more widespread concerts, their fan base followed in a cult-like devotion. Like the Eminem of their day, the band spewed vitriol against their musical peers, sometimes with extreme lack of taste. While performing a Christmas 1992 concert at the Kilburn National Ballroom, Nicky stopped for a moment and made a statement about alt-rock group R.E.M.’s sensitive frontman. “In this season of goodwill, let’s hope Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury,” he remarked to the cheering audience. Comments like this put the band in English music magazine headlines, but also served to distance them from a wider audience base. (Incidentally, Nicky later regretted making the dispersion, and Stipe would subsequently quip, “Nicky Wire? Is that the guy who’s still alive?”)

The Manics went on to score a top ten hit with their 1992 single “Suicide Is Painless,” and released the album “Gold Against the Soul,” a more mainstream rock effort, in 1993. But tragedy struck in December of that year, when Phillip Hall, the group’s manager, died of cancer. Richey was devastated and turned to the bottle with more abandon. He stubbed cigarettes out on his arms, one of which had the tattoo “Useless Generation” printed on it. He was fascinated by the IRA hunger strikers in Northern Ireland’s Maze prison and admired the notorious protester, Bobby Sands, who had died by self-starvation in May 1981. By this period of mid-1994, Richey became more and more anorexic. He had an obsession with the words of famous people who committed suicide, like Sylvia Plath and Primo Levi, and derived the song “La Tristesse Durera” (“The sadness goes on”), off their ‘Gold’ album, from the last words of self-mutilation artist Vincent Van Gogh. He found honor in Yukio Mishima’s suicide after the renowned fascist, masochistic Japanese author performed seppuku on himself during a failed coup attempt on the imperial government. Clearly, Richey James was a bit disturbed.

By the end of July 1994, Richey was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of a National Health Services clinic for “nervous exhaustion.” He weighed a mere 90 pounds and was heavily addicted to alcohol. After a week, he was checked into a 12-step, detox clinic called The Priory in Roehampton. Band member James Bradfield visited him as much as possible while Richey was interned. Once he was released, Richey had sworn off drink, but took to smoking cigarettes at a ferocious pace. His overall demeanor had mellowed somewhat. The band’s latest album, “The Holy Bible,” a return to their punk roots, was released on August 30, 1994. A track on the record titled “4st 7lbs” was about the curse of anorexia and is in reference to the weight at which those suffering from the disease cross the line to death. Richey was still thin, but he seemed to be improving.

The Manics began a 16-date United Kingdom tour on October 5, 1994. The band was watchful of Richey’s condition. Bradfield told journalist Caitlin Moran, “I was so on edge about Richey, in case he started cutting himself up again. I kept thinking, ‘If you cut yourself up now, son, everything will be wasted.” The group’s new manager, Martin Hall, brother of Phillip, told Select magazine in late 1994, “The thing is, he doesn’t see anything wrong in cutting himself. It makes him feel better…But I don’t think we saw or wanted to admit how bad the situation was getting. Looking back, you can see that he’d planned the “4 Real” incident. But he hadn’t told the rest of us.”

In December 1994, the band played for two nights at the Astoria venue in London. These would be the last performances Richey would play with the Manic Street Preachers.

Shortly thereafter, Richey’s dog died and, in perhaps a state of depression, he then shaved his head. In late January 1995, he welcomed a Japanese journalist, Midori Tsukagoshi, who wrote for the magazine Music Life, into his Cardiff apartment. Wearing striped pajamas, Richey appeared content and healthy in spirit. He said, “Regrets are meaningless. You can’t change yesterday or tomorrow. You can change only this present moment. I try thinking, like, ‘There’s only today, I’ll do what I can do today.” He went on to say, “I used to start drinking as soon as I woke up, so the day was shorter. Some people maintain that all the best writing is done by alcoholics or junkies; that’s crap. Now I wake up in the morning, and I know what I want to do. I want to write, it makes me feel better in myself.” Things were looking up for the band. They were going to begin a 30-date tour of America in support of their “Holy Bible” album beginning February 22nd, and Richey and Bradfield were scheduled to go to the States on the 1st of February to do advance publicity.

On January 31, 1995, the group rehearsed for the upcoming tour, and then, Bradfield and Richey checked into the Embassy Hotel on Bayswater Road in London to spend the night, before they headed to the airport the next morning. Bradfield knocked on Richey’s door, adjoined to his own hotel room, to see if he wanted to hit a nightclub or two, but Richey begged off. Bradfield went out anyway and returned to the hotel shortly after 11:00pm. The next morning, when he knocked on Richey’s door, there was no answer. Bradfield flagged a porter to open up the now-empty Room 516. Downstairs, a receptionist said Richey had driven off at 7:00 that morning. The date was February 1, 1995. 27-year old Richey James had disappeared.

On February 17th, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, The Independent, reported that detectives “think that he is still in Britain.” Later that afternoon, Richey’s silver Vauxhall Cavalier automobile, the one he’d driven away from the Embassy hotel in, was recognized by Avon and Somerset officers at the Aust service station/rest stop on the M4 motorway near Bristol. The car was abandoned. The rest area overlooked a huge suspension bridge that connected the English and Welsh sides over the Severn River. The Severn Bridge was chiefly infamous as the final location for those individuals wanting to be carried away forever in the strong currents of the river below. It seemed he must have jumped. It is only natural that this is where the despondent Richey James, with a life’s history of self-mutilation, alcohol, anorexia, and misery, must have disappeared to. The mystery was solved. Or was it?

Since that wintry month of February 1995, fans and curiosity seekers traded stories about having spotted Richey in a variety of locales. He’s living in Japan, he’s with friends in upstate New York, he was abducted by aliens, he was seen at a gay pub in Brighton, he did a tour of death camps in Germany, he’s in Australia, Africa, Switzerland, in a monastery, in a mental hospital, begging on the streets of Liverpool, or simply living at home with his mom and dad. All of these notions have been offered. Most Manic fanatics don’t want to give up hope. The remaining band members still leave a space on the stage where Richey used to play.

Exactly what did happen on the day of the disappearance? When Bradfield entered Richey’s hotel room, he found Richey’s suitcase filled with his clothes, a picture of a house, and a wrapped parcel on the bed with a note attached to it reading “I Love You.” Bradfield got on the phone and called Nicky back in Wales and asked him to check out Richey’s apartment. Nicky found Richey’s passport, credit cards, and Prozac in a jar, all neatly laid out. It was apparent that Richey had returned to his apartment sometime that morning. That was it. All final traces he left behind that day.

In his interview with the Japanese journalist in late January, Richey mentioned something about someone close to him. He said, “Since the band started, I have only really been involved with one girl. I can speak to her more naturally than to anyone else. It means something. But I’ve never told her I love her.” The police suspected that the parcel and the note left at the hotel were meant for that girl. The box contained some books and poems along with videos of the movies “Equus,” about the psychological problems of a stable boy, and “Naked,” a bleak, witty portrait of a Manchester drifter. In an interview with New Musical Express in May 1996, Nicky said of the mystery woman, “He (Richey) had a relationship with a girl over a few years. That’s the only girl he had any feelings for, and he did really like her but…” Bradfield interjected, “He never talked about it so there’s no point in us talking about it.” Many people have come to believe the girl is Lori Fidler, an American fan from New York who started a Manics magazine. Richey apparently wrote many letters to her. She said in an interview, “We were close, and I know everything about him. But I think he was talking about someone else in that last interview.”

Nonetheless, on February 2nd, the day after Richey’s disappearance, Fidler’s girlfriend in New York answered the phone and heard the familiar overseas tone, a ‘beep-beep’ sound, and a voice said “Hi Lori.” The caller then hung up. Fidler was sure it was Richey.

On February 5th, a friend of Fidler’s stepped off a bus in the town of Newport, South Wales and walked over to a newsstand. He later told police, “As I approached, I saw, outside the shops, Richey James Edwards…he stood near a silver-gray-colored car. I said to him, ‘Hello, Richey, I’m a friend of Lori’s.’ He said to me, ‘How is she doing?’ I said, ‘She’s okay.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Okay, I’ll see you later.’ I was about to go into the newsagent when I saw him get into the car and drive towards the bus station…I am positive it was Richey from photographs I have seen.”

The band’s management got in touch with Richey’s bank and found that he had not used his account after January 31, 1995, the night before his disappearance. What was intriguingly notable, though, was the fact that he had been withdrawing 200 pounds a day, consecutively, over the previous 14 days. This bit of news seemingly did not suggest the actions of a man contemplating suicide but instead someone stockpiling some money for use to vanish without a trace.

Richey’s car was actually spotted at the service area in Aust on February 14th, when it received a ticket. This was three days before it was officially identified, on the 17th, and about to be towed. The 14th was a Tuesday. Reasoning that the traffic officers on duty in the area might’ve spotted it on the prior day Monday, but not making a note of it on that first day of the week, it is then conceivable the car could’ve been left there even on Sunday the 12th, when the parking violations officers would not be making their rounds. Nicky said to New Musical Express, “For me, it would mean that he’d been driving around for 12 days – so why then decide to jump in the River Severn? The battery was flat, because he’d been playing tapes and everything. He’d been sleeping in there, obviously.” Bradfield continued, “The conclusion you come to from that is that he couldn’t have used the car much more. So if he left it until the 12th and the battery was flat…perhaps, he just walked off and hitchhiked. There’s a myriad of options.”

Once the car was found, Scotland Yard assisted the South Wales police with the investigation. On February 21st, Richey’s dad, Graham, released a statement to the press, “My family are all very worried. If anybody has any information, I would urge them to contact the police.” Richey’s parents and sister, Rachel, placed a message in the local paper over 3 consecutive mornings that read, “Richard, please make contact. Love Mum, Dad, and Rachel.” The band called off their tour of the United States. The police kept up the search for a long time. But the investigating authorities seemed skeptical of the chance Richey may still be walking the earth as the months dragged on. Detective Sergeant Stephen Morey, who headed the case from London’s Harrow Road police station said, “I would say it would be relatively difficult to have remained this anonymous for this period of time in this country. Possible, but difficult. For me, personally, he is no longer with us.”

But what if he was no longer in Britain? His sister Rachel intimated that before he vanished, Richey had become obsessed with the perfect disappearance. A few days before he went missing, Richey was photographed wearing a shirt with verses written by the 19th century poet, Rimbaud, whom Richey admired. Rimbaud, at age 19, destroyed all his books, disappeared and was assumed dead. He was later found to be quite alive in Africa, having taken up gunrunning. Richey also seemed enamored of the hidden life J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher In The Rye,” had managed to foster, having disappeared from the public eye in the ‘60s. It wasn’t until 3 decades later, when his lover published a book about him, that the media became aware of his whereabouts in rural New Hampshire.

Nicky said to New Musical Express, “He could be in a sewage work in Barry for all we know.” Bradfield continued this line of thinking, “That’s more plausible to me. Something that’s very mundane. Rather than some kind of pilgrimage. To do something in isolation.” Nicky chimed in, “Having watched all these ‘missing’ programs recently and having spoke to Richey’s sister about it all, it’s not hard to go missing and completely change your life. There’s so many people that do. One bloke moved from Middlesbrough to Newcastle, and he wasn’t seen for 18 years. They all thought he was dead – and there’s only 5 miles between the two places.” In fact, Joe Strummer of the Clash once walked out on his band on April 26, 1982, on the eve of a tour, and disappeared for some time. He was finally tracked down in Paris by a private detective. He said he had simply wanted a break.

On March 2, 1997, a program called “Wales on Sunday” broke the story that Richey might have been spotted in India. A musician and a lecturer at Neath College by the name of Vyvyan Morris was on holiday in Goa, India during early November 1996. He says he spotted Richey, whom he had met before on a previous occasion, at the Anjuna outdoor market. Morris said, “He was with some hippies getting on a bus and his name was Rick.” The news spread throughout the music world, and fans felt renewed hope that their rock idol was still amongst the living.

On November 13, 1998, the British newspaper, The Telegraph, reported that Richey had apparently been recognized by patrons at the Underground Bar in Corralejo, a small town on the island of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. The barmaid at the pub told a reporter that she and another customer noticed a thin man resembling Richey James, and someone had shouted out, “You’re Richey from the Manic Street Preachers!” She said, “He just started to run towards the door and within seconds, he was gone.”

After spending months trying to cope with the strange departure of their friend, the other members of the Manic Street Preachers decided to go into the studio and start recording. They remained a trio, instead of filling Richey’s opening, and on April 15, 1996, they released the song “A Design For Life,” their biggest-selling single, which went straight to Number 2 on the U.K. charts. Their album “Everything Must Go” was released on May 20, 1996 and went double platinum. In February 1997, they were voted the best band and given the best album award at the Brit Awards, the English equivalent of the Grammys. A trust fund was set up for the missing Richey, in which a quarter of the millions the group subsequently earned since his disappearance would be his, should he ever step forward again.

After four years since her brother went missing, Rachel said, “My family is still as tormented today as we were the day Richard walked out…I cannot rest until I find out what has happened to my brother.” Although suicide is a viable explanation, the family still continues to believe he fled the pressures of fame and started a new life abroad under a false name. Rachel, in her continued investigations, related that no British coroner has, to date, ever dealt with an unidentified body that matches Richey’s description.

The Manic Street Preachers continue to play into the new century, drawing critical praise and a broader-based fan awareness than ever before. Their single, “The Masses Against The Classes,” released on January 10, 2000, met with enthusiasm in British music and critical circles. As for Richey, the band members have given countless, exhaustive interviews pertaining to his state of mind and the rumors surrounding his vanishing act. Nicky tried to sum it all up in one of those interviews years ago. “It’s so hard to speak about it, because for all we know, he could have gone insane. The morning he left, for all we know, he could have gone mad.” Whether it was a madness that drove him to embrace the icy waters of the Severn or a blossoming, idealistic spirit that resulted in a rebirth through a new identity, the world may never know.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Father, Deliver Us From Evil: The Abrupt End To Marvin Gaye’s Tormented Life

Marvin Gaye struggled to obey two fathers in his life. He wrestled with the strict, yet hypocritical sovereignty of his paternal papa’s rule. And he desperately hated to lose favor with his spiritual father, the Christian God whom his own dad preached about in his Seventh Day Adventist church. His secular father exuded rigidity, vitriol and beatings to gain the obedience of his eldest son. His spiritual Father was a guide whose unconditional love Marvin felt he was not worthy of. When Gaye, in essence, rebelled with his carnal and narcotic vices against his own father, guilt and shame seemingly infiltrated his psyche about how that rebellion would affect his stance with the heavenly Father. His career was crowned with great success and an outpouring of adulation, but Gaye’s achievements were constantly marred in his mind with the split view he had of his own persona. While Gaye demonstrated a massive ego, almost messianic at times, on further inspection, it appeared his inner life was filled with an overwhelming abundance of self-doubt.

Perhaps the line between what was acceptable, and what was not, in his life began to blur at an early age, as Marvin saw his father, Marvin Gay, Sr., walk a teetering line between the secular and the spiritual. As a preacher for the strident House Of God church, which blended Orthodox Judaic practices with Pentecostal Christian teachings, Marvin Sr. made sure that Saturdays in the Gay household were rigidly observant of the Sabbath. No child’s play, no radios, nothing but prayer and worship. He certainly did not spare the rod, for Marvin Jr. said that by age 12 he had been beaten over every inch of his body by his dad. When young Marvin entered into his teenage years, his father grew more disenchanted by the House of God church. He preached to a few couples out of his home, an apartment in the projects. He turned to a heavy dependence on alcohol and rarely worked. Marvin’s mom held down many jobs to keep the family going.

Marvin Sr. also had another peculiar vice. “My father likes to wear women’s clothing,” Marvin Gaye, Jr. told author David Ritz. The senior Gaye would put on his wife’s panties, dresses and wigs. “As you well know, that doesn’t mean he’s homosexual. In fact, my father was always known as a ladies’ man. He simply likes to dress up…I find the situation all the more difficult because, to tell you the truth, I have the same fascination with women’s clothes. In my case, that has nothing to do with any attraction for men. Sexually, men don’t interest me. But seeing myself as a woman is something that intrigues me. It’s also something I fear. I indulge myself only at the most discreet and intimate moments. Afterwards, I must bear the guilt and shame for weeks. After all, indulgence of the flesh is wicked, no matter what your kick. The hot stuff is lethal. I’ve never been able to stay away from the hot stuff.”

Mimicking what he saw as his father’s weakness for kink and drink and being ashamed before his heavenly Father for succumbing to those vices would haunt Marvin Gaye, Jr. throughout his life. Neighborhood children would taunt young Marvin about his father’s long curly hair and ‘feminine’ demeanor. The common refrain, “Is Marvin Gaye?,” would hound him around the schoolyards. Later in life, Marvin Jr., who was born with his father’s surname, Gay, would add an ‘e’ to the end of his own identity in order to eradicate an implied stigma.

Music was an escape for the insecure kid. Singing in his father’s church led Marvin to believe he had a capable voice, and moreover, a way with the female parishioners who hugged him after each performance. Any music other than hymns were considered the devil’s tunes in the Gay household. As a rebellion against the beatings and his father’s strict discipline, Marvin Jr. began singing doo-wop around the halls of Cardozo High School in the Washington D.C. area. He formed his first doo-wop group called the D.C. Tones. Restless with home life and school, Marvin left in the eleventh grade and joined the Air Force for a short stint. He lost his virginity in a cattle call lineup into a whorehouse outside the base. The event horrified yet titillated the impressionable shy young Gaye. The brush with this seamy and impersonal side of sex would fuel his cravings in future dalliances and influence the tone of his overtly erotic work. He told Actuel magazine, “I need prostitutes. Prostitutes protect me from passion. Passions are dangerous. They cause you to lust after other men’s wives.”

Back in D.C., Marvin sat in with a doo-wop group called the Marquees for dance parties and school gatherings. The famous Bo Diddley took an interest in Marvin’s skills and hooked him up with Harvey Fuqua, a successful doo-wop artist touring with his own group, Harvey and the Moonglows. Gaye traveled along as their drummer, playing many a dilapidated venue and sleeping under cold starlit skies. By the turn of the 1960s, Harvey and Marvin headed to Detroit. In December 1960, Berry Gordy, Jr., upstart owner of the Motown label, was holding a Christmas party for his musicians and staff. His sister Gwen came into the control room and told him to listen to someone singing and playing the piano in the studio. “Looking out,” Berry related in his autobiography, “I saw this rather boyish, slim handsome guy. Sitting at the piano, gracefully stroking the keys in an almost melancholy fashion, he appeared to be deep in thought.” After wandering out in the studio and listening to his music, Berry recalled, “I knew right then that I wanted to work with this man.”

Twenty-year old Marvin became an in-house musician at the Hitsville facility, along with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and “Little” Stevie Wonder. His friend Harvey Fuqua got married to Berry Gordy’s sister Gwen, and Marvin fell under the spell of another Gordy sibling, Anna. The two married in 1961. Marvin was placed in country-wide package tours with other Motown artists, and he tried to score hits with his first several albums to moderate success. Songs he co-wrote like “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” “Hitch Hike,” and “Pride and Joy,” garnered him enough cash to buy his parents a home back in Washington D.C. His mom was able to quit working, while Marvin Sr. spent more time swilling his vodka.

Drugs were a commonplace substance around the Motown studios in the early ‘60s. Marvin soon took to cocaine, anesthetizing his insecurity towards success and his neglect to follow in the walk of his Lord. “I like the feeling,” Gaye told David Ritz. “No one will ever tell me it’s not a good feeling. A clean, fresh high, ‘specially early in the morning will set you free – at least for a minute. There are times when blow got to me, and sometimes I know it built up bad vibes inside my brain. I saw coke, though, as an elitist item, a gourmet drug, and maybe that was one of its attractions. Was I corrupting myself? Slowly, very slowly.”

Paired with a couple of in-house female singers for duets, Marvin found his vocal stylings meshed perfectly with one Tammy Montgomery. A backup singer who was discovered by James Brown, she soon changed her name to Tammi Terrell. Teaming with Gaye, their 1967 hit, the Ashford & Simpson-penned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” was the first of several subsequent top-ten charting singles and three successful albums they worked on together. In the summer of 1967, while performing at Hampton-Sydney College in Virginia, Tammi suddenly collapsed into Marvin’s arms. Carrying her offstage, it became apparent that she was quite ill. Speculation on the nature of her disability came down to either a brain tumor, or the result of a jealous boyfriend hitting her severely in the head. She and Marvin were not lovers, but he had a special place in his heart for Tammi. Singer-songwriter Valerie Simpson had to imitate Tammi’s stylings by the duo’s third album in order to get the material released on Motown. In 1970, Tammi succumbed to her illness and died.

The tragic loss devastated Marvin. His marriage with Anna Gordy had been in tatters, he’d already planned to shoot himself in a suicide bid only to be stopped by Anna’s father, and his drug consumption escalated. In the midst of Tammi’s slow demise, Gaye’s solo career, ironically, was skyrocketing. The Whitfield-Strong classic, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” was given a groovy makeover with Gaye’s seamless delivery, propelling the single onto the top of Billboard’s chart for seven weeks beginning December 14, 1968. Irrespective of his fiery fame, Marvin refused to go on tour. He saw Motown as enslaving him with pop standards instead of the personal jazz fare he so desired to sing, and so, he virtually went into seclusion at the end of the decade.

Gaye had always combatively refuted his high school detractors’ assertions he was a wimp by becoming a versatile athlete. In 1970, he again felt the need to display his testosterone levels by approaching the NFL’s Detroit Lions for possible inclusion into their fall line-up. The team politely declined his advances. He instead invested in a prizefighting endeavor.

Incensed by the growing civil tensions after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and feeling the need to somehow address the insanity of the Vietnam War, Gaye turned to his younger brother Frankie, just back from Southeast Asia, for inspiration. “There was so much pain over there,” Frankie related to author Pamela Des Barres, “so much hurt. You hear about things that go on, but there’s nothing more terrible than war. Human life becomes cheap. You have to do something to yourself to keep from crying all the time, to keep from being afraid all the time. Every minute seemed like an eternity. We talked at length about Marvin knowing my feelings. Him being a part of me, it was devastating for him. We cried together. He could feel my pain. ‘What’s Going On’ was his way of fighting. It was his Vietnam.”

Marvin called his Motown boss, Berry Gordy, who was vacationing in the Bahamas. “He had done nothing for the past year and all of a sudden he wants to do a protest album,” Berry recalled in his autobiography. He wanted to produce a protest album about police brutality, Vietnam, social conditions, the state of the environment. Gordy tried to talk him out of it. “Marvin, you’ve got this great, sexy image and you’ve got to protect it.” Gaye wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. “Marvin, we learn from everything,” Gordy told him. “That’s what life’s all about. I don’t think you’re right, but if you really want to do it, do it. And if it doesn’t work you’ll learn something; and if it does I’ll learn something.’ The album was called ‘What’s Going On.’ I learned something.”

It was the first concept album by an African-American artist, and when it was released in 1971, the haunting title single rose to number 2 on the chart. Subsequent socially-conscious hits, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song)” rose to number four and “Inner City Blues” leapt to number nine on the Billboard Top 100. Critics deemed it Gaye’s masterpiece.

While many hailed it as Marvin’s solo triumph, others in the know at Motown knew that the album was truly a collaborative piece with many unsung musicians in the shadows. David Van DePitte arranged and orchestrated the music for many of the album’s tunes. He told authors Adam White and Fred Bronson his impression of Gaye. “I thought he was pretty terrific, but I had never worked with him or for him prior to this project. Somebody said to me, ‘Guess what, you’re elected.’ After taking a quick poll around the room, I came to find out that nobody else wanted to do it. They had all worked with Marvin before and found him to be such a pain in the fanny…as we sat down and started working on these tunes, not only did he not have a concept, but I thought it bizarre that all this material was finished but he didn’t have lyrics for all of it.” Other writers were concocting much of the material and waiting for Gaye to put his own personal stamp on it. “It was a prolonged process,” DePitte continued, “only because Marvin didn’t show up half the time. We were working at his home, and I would go and sit for hours. He would have an afternoon or evening appointment, and he’d not show – so I would just go home and try for another day. The actual time we spent working at the album probably wasn’t any longer than a week, but I think it ended up going over a period of three to four months all told, because of trying to hook up with Marvin.”

Gaye was becoming increasingly withdrawn and reluctant to perform. He followed up his hit album with a score to the blaxploitation film “Trouble Man.” With a marriage completely undone, Marvin sought out another female companion, with someone 17 years’ his junior. When 16-year old Janis Hunter strolled into the Motown studio with her parents while Marvin was recording “Let’s Get It On,” the performer lit up and gave the take his all. He was immediately smitten. The randy sexual delivery of this title tune, on an album that would be filled with erotic overtones, was suddenly given new meaning with this girl in his life. With his “Let’s Get It On” record, Marvin wished to banish the “nasty” connotations his strict religious upbringing had pummeled in his conscience and reflect on the act of love as something akin to a spiritual experience. Most listeners just thought it was a no-holds-barred sex album. The title song’s co-writer, Ed Townsend contends it was conceived to advocate overcoming any addiction, whether it be to sex, drugs, or other debilitating influences. No matter what the interpretation, the single went to number one on September 8, 1973.

Gaye moved into a quaint home with Janis in Los Angeles’ Bohemian-themed Topanga Canyon area. In this natural wooded environment, the two lived in seclusion for the better part of a year. In 1974, he was coaxed off the mountain to perform a rousing live show at Oakland Stadium in northern California. Bolstered by the warm reception, Gaye came out of his self-imposed exile and mounted a massive tour reaping millions of dollars that summer. Janis had a baby while he was on the road. Meanwhile, Anna, Marvin’s wife, was rather irate about his behavior. In 1975, she filed for a divorce that would drag on for a couple of years.

Marvin moved himself and his new family into a sprawling estate in the exclusive community of Hidden Hills outside of Los Angeles. According to the lawyer whom he contracted to settle his divorce from Anna, Curtis Shaw, Gaye was always breaking the rules of the community, disregarding regulations on fence heights and lighting mandates for his tennis court. “He’d say it doesn’t harm anyone and this is a free country,” Shaw told the Detroit Free Press. “I’d say there are rules that we have to follow. He’d say, ‘I don’t want to hear that.” He was living the life of a king and didn’t need to be tied down. On Sunset Boulevard, near Hudson Street in Hollywood, he built his own Marvin Gaye Recording Studio, complete with an upstairs apartment filled with a huge waterbed and giant Jacuzzi. Paintings depicting him as some sort of spiritual guru with white doves and adoring children hung around the recording room as a reminder to others who was the figurehead on the premises. Gaye seemed to have taken on his own spiritual path where he was the master of his universe for the time being.

As a love letter to Janis, he concocted the album “I Want You.” Just like “Let’s Get It On,” this new endeavor was a frank, carnal expression of his desires, both for lustful pleasures and for domestic bliss. Released in early 1976, the record sold millions but was generally panned by the critics. It was his formal proposal for Janis to be his wife. Marvin was still hitched to Anna though. He was facing contempt of court for failure to pay alimony and child support. Instead, Gaye went back on the road to promote his new album, gyrating and cooing ever more suggestively to his adoring female fans. Berry Gordy, Jr. decided to make Marvin an offer. Concocting a way to get child support for his sister Anna and her son with Marvin, Gordy proposed Gaye record an album. Whatever the album made would fulfill his responsibility to his ex-wife. “If the album did not make enough,” Gordy’s autobiography related as his conversation to Marvin, “it would be my responsibility to take care of Anna and Marvin III. You would have no more responsibility. Two weeks of about six hours a day in full settlement after a seventeen-year marriage has got to be a good deal for anybody,” Gordy told Gaye.

Marvin chose not to take Berry up on his offer. The judge in the case instead ordered Marvin to make the album anyway, and if it didn’t sell, Marvin himself would have to pay Anna additional monies. Marvin put together a tortured set of songs about his bitterness over their divorce, releasing them in a 2-record set called “Here, My Dear.” The album was a poor seller. To compound his money woes, the IRS was beginning to take interest in hundreds of thousands of dollars Gaye owed in back taxes.

In the meantime, he and Janis had another child and wed in October 1977 for a brief time. They separated a year later. Marvin’s world was spinning out of control. He was losing money left and right. And most of the blame for love and money woes could be placed on his fondness for cocaine. “How much have I spent on toot over the years?,” he answered David Ritz in 1982, “I don’t even want to think about it. To be truthful, I’ve been careful never to keep track. I don’t want to know. My attitude has always been, whenever good blow is around, buy it, regardless of price. It’s cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars. Maybe more. Enough to certify me as a fool. You’d have to call me a drug addict and a sex freak.”

Janis wound up having a short-lived relationship with singer Teddy Pendergrass. Marvin caught up with her in Hawaii during the summer of 1979, and after failing to win back her heart, he reportedly held a knife “about an inch” from it. She left the island, and Marvin proceeded to snort an ounce of cocaine into his system in an hour’s period, in a desperate suicide attempt. He was deeply conflicted, knowing that this ultimate act was a mortal sin before God. The drug did not snuff out his life.

Marvin’s mother, Alberta, flew to Hawaii to be with her troubled son. Having always had a very close relationship with her, Gaye’s mom tended to overlook the drugs and women infused in her son’s life and acted as a sounding board for him to unload his feelings of insecurity and unworthiness to. In 1980, Marvin relocated to London to perform a series of concerts and to dodge an ever-increasing probe by the U.S. Federal government into his tax status. The drugs, the women, and his Mom dutifully followed. He had been recording a new slate of songs which he anticipated, once sufficiently mixed properly, would put his career back in the forefront. Motown chose to release the album, “In Our Lifetime,” prematurely in Gaye’s estimation, and this action subsequently incensed the irritable performer. He told a reporter with Blues and Soul magazine, “…As far as I’m concerned it is definitely my last album for Motown – even if Berry (Gordy) does not release me from my existing recording obligations and I am, in fact, under obligation to record for the rest of my natural life for Berry. If he refuses to release me, then you’ll never hear any more music from Marvin Gaye…I’ll never record again.”

“In Our Lifetime” was a dismal seller. Once again, the timbre of the message it delivered showcased a spiritual conflict that Marvin himself continued to wrestle with. The album’s cover depicted Gaye as both an angel and a devil. His life was a non-stop blur of sex and freebasing. The divorce with Janis had finally gone through. His mother returned to the United States. Marvin was about as low as one can go. Then a wealthy businessman named Freddy Courseaut stepped in to try to get Gaye back on his feet. He offered to set him up in a small apartment dwelling in a tiny Belgian community called Ostend. Settling in to the quiet life, Marvin became healthier, jogging and bike-riding about town, becoming a local celebrity. He successfully broke from his contract with Motown and signed with CBS Records. And a writer named David Ritz, who had been compiling interviews and facts to pen Marvin’s biography, flew to Belgium and helped the down-and-out singer come up with his next big hit.

“Marvin had a reggae-styled rhythm track from his keyboardist, Odell Brown, that he was obsessed with,” Ritz told Songwriter Universe magazine. “He knew the track had potential. On his coffee table was an avant-garde, French sadomasochistic book, full of cartoon drawings of women who were sexually brutalized. I told Marvin, ‘This is sick. What you need is sexual healing, being in love with one woman, where sex and love are joined instead of sexual perversity.’ Marvin liked the concept of sexual healing, so he asked me to write lyrics to go with this concept.”

Marvin went into a recording studio in Ohaine, Belgium with his old bandmate, Harvey Fuqua, and laid down the tracks that would become the “Midnight Love” album. Gaye played drums, synthesizer, organ, electric piano, congas and percussion. The record was not as personalized as his earlier endeavors, and the carnal, romantic side of Marvin seemed to eclipse any spiritual message he might have wished to convey. “Sexual Healing” went to number three on Billboard’s Hot 100 and number one on its Rhythm and Blues chart in November 1982. By this time, Marvin had decided to end his self-imposed exile and ride the comeback trail west to Los Angeles. When he arrived in California in October 1982, his mother was in the hospital with a grave kidney ailment. His father had moved back to Washington, D.C. for a short spell. Marvin tended to his mother’s needs.

Back in America, Gaye was praised as a soul icon. He granted numerous interviews and lived the high life in rented homes and fancy cars. By January 1983, his father returned from his sabbatical. In a city filled with 10 million people, the two men would soon find themselves living together in a tiny, tense-filled environment that would lead to tragedy. But during the first three months of 1983, Marvin was riding a crest of praise and adulation. He sang a moving rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the NBA All-Star Game. In February, the legendary singer snared the one award that had always eluded him, the Grammy. And in March, he paid tribute to his first home away from home, Motown Records, by singing “What’s Going On” at the taping of their 25th Anniversary Special in Pasadena.

Alimony, child support, the IRS, and especially cocaine were tearing up Gaye’s financial reserves. By April 1983, he realized that touring in support of his album, something he was loathe to do, would be an inevitability. The four months on the road mangled whatever sanity he had left in his psyche. Author David Ritz reported one musician saying, “There was more coke on that tour than on any tour in the history of entertainment. Marvin was smoking it, even eating it.” The manic crooner kept his drug dealer in one room backstage and a preacher in another room.

Paranoia was the mainstay of each night on the road. In Boston, he hired famous criminal defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey, to head up an investigation into an alleged incident where Gaye claims he was poisoned by somebody. Bailey turned up no suspects or evidence. Marvin’s younger brother Frankie joined up midway through the tour to check on his whacked-out sibling. “I’d never seen Marvin in such a state,” Frankie was reported as saying by author Ritz. “He’d do a concert, be completely drained of energy, but then stay up for another eight hours, getting high, making up stories about how he was going to be murdered. It was so sad. He had developed this whole thing about how Jan (his ex-wife) was plotting to kill him. Knowing Jan as I do, I knew there wasn’t a lick of truth in that, and I told Marvin just that. But he was far gone by then.”

Tour manager Andre White told the Detroit Free Press, “I knew it would be his last tour – he knew it, too. Gaye had a premonition about being shot. He had it so strong that I had to prove to him he was one of the most protected men in the United States.” White regularly posted four bodyguards around the stage each night. One of his roadies was armed with a submachine gun.

Marvin would end his act singing the song “Joy,” which was a spiritual tribute to the lessons he’d been taught in his father’s church. Conversely, for the “Sexual Healing” encore, Gaye’s backup singer would strip him of his clothes, down to his underwear, while he practically bared all to the eager females of the front row. His lifelong battle to assimilate the pleasures of the flesh with that of the spirit seemed to boil down to this final pathetic gesture. After 97 grueling shows, Marvin returned to Los Angeles in August 1983 a broken man. Andre White wanted to drop the singer off at a hospital, but Gaye insisted on going home. As he pulled into Marvin’s parent’s neighborhood in the Crenshaw district of town, White told the Detroit Free Press he presciently joked to his unsettled passenger, “You know your mother and your father are not going to shoot you – so you’ve got it made.” Marvin strolled up the front walk of the home at 2101 South Gramercy Place and never really left there again.

He slept in a bedroom next to his mother’s. His dad was in the bedroom on the other side of his wife’s room. Both men vied for the attention of the matriarch. Alberta Gay’s sympathies sided with her beleaguered son. Drug dealers and easy women paraded up the stairs to his bedroom night and day. Marvin closed himself in, not trusting anyone, coked to the gills and checking his loaded guns. With the shades drawn, he’d spend endless hours watching adult videos on his flickering bedroom TV. Meanwhile, Marvin Gay, Sr. had also withdrawn into his own stupor in a haze of hard liquor.

His sister Jeanne related to David Ritz that Marvin “wanted to die. He couldn’t take it any more.” Marvin’s friend Clarence Paul further commented, “I spent a whole night with Marvin just a week or so before he died. I’d given up coke and Marvin asked how. ‘Just didn’t’ want the feeling anymore,’ I told him. He acted amazed. He was also frightened to death. He had me standing guard at the window, looking for whoever was supposed to come by to kill him. ‘There ain’t no killer, Marvin,’ I said, ‘you’re makng this s*** up. Who the hell would want to kill you?’ He said he couldn’t tell me. Said was real complicated. But I didn’t believe him.”

Marvin took to beating some of the women who came to his room. Deborah Derrick, one of those girlfriends told the Detroit Free Press that Marvin, Sr. was jealous of his son’s relationship with his mother. As the talented musician withered away in his room, it seemed to more than one close observer that he was just waiting for his father to come down the hall and deliver him from his evils. During the last week of Marvin’s life, his sister Irene was taking food up to his room everyday. “I can’t describe how terrible he looked,” she told David Ritz. “He’d gone completely crazy. He couldn’t even put on his clothes, and when he did, he dressed like a bum.” Sister Jeanne elaborated on Marvin’s deteriorating state: “Four days before the tragedy, Marvin tried to kill himself by throwing himself out of a car going sixty miles an hour. He was only bruised, but there’s no doubt he wanted to die.”

On Sunday, April 1, 1984, Marvin, Sr. searched the house for a missing insurance letter. He was in a cantankerous mood, accusing everyone within earshot that they had snatched the elusive document. Marvin Gaye was lying upstairs in his bed, wrapped in his usual maroon robe, his mother by his side, gently talking to him, soothing his nerves. When his dad shouted upstairs, accusing Alberta again for misplacing the letter, Marvin taunted his dad, telling the 71 year-old to come upstairs and speak to him if he had anything bad to say about his mom. Marvin, Sr. appeared in the doorway to the bedroom and berated his wife. Marvin, Jr. leapt to his feet and shoved his dad into the hallway, beating him with his fists. The elder retreated, and Marvin, Jr. walked back into his bedroom.

Jeanne Gay summed up to David Ritz the ultimate rule of the household. “In the past Father had made it very clear that if Marvin were to strike him, he’d murder him. Father said so publicly on more than one occasion.” Marvin, Sr. returned to his son’s bedroom with a .38 caliber revolver that Marvin, Jr. had purchased for him four months earlier. He fired a shot directly into his son’s chest. The singer slumped to the floor. His dad stepped closer and put another slug into him at point blank range. Alberta clambered out of the bedroom, screaming for her husband not to kill her, and ran out of the house. Marvin, Sr. walked out to the front stoop, hurled the gun aside and waited for the police. When the paramedics appeared, it was not apparent whether there was a threat of gunplay still on the premises, and so, they reportedly delayed their entrance into the house. Marvin Gaye, Jr. bled to death in his brother Frankie’s arms. He was taken to California Hospital Medical Center where he was officially pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. He was one day shy of his 45th birthday.

Marvin, Sr. was booked into the Los Angeles County Men’s Detention facility. He told investigators that he responded in self-defense to his son’s attack on his person and didn’t realize the gun was loaded. He told the Los Angeles Herald, “I pulled the trigger. The first one didn’t seem to bother him. He put his hand up to his face like he’d been hit with a BB. And then I fired again.” He says he didn’t realize Marvin, Jr. was dead until being informed by an investigator later when he was incarcerated. “I thought he was kidding me. I said, ‘Oh God of mercy, oh, oh, oh!’ It shocked me. I just went to pieces.” The elder Gay was kept under psychiatric observation to see if he would be fit to stand trial. During examination, a small tumor was found in his brain.

Marvin Gaye, Jr.’s funeral on April 5, 1984 drew an estimated 10,000 people to the Forest Lawn Memorial grounds in Glendale, California. Stevie Wonder sang a special tribute to his fallen Motown comrade. He eulogized before the audience, “We should be happy to know that, in the spirit of what he was as a human being and the spirit of his music, Marvin is with us.” Comedian and political activist Dick Gregory, a longtime friend of Gaye’s, reflected on Marvin’s declarations. “I like to raise people’s consciousness, he said. I like to give them hope. Well Brother Marvin you did that.” As fellow Motown artists sang a final song, the throngs of mourners filed past an open casket. Gaye was dressed in a formal gold and white uniform from his 1983 tour. Later in the week his cremated ashes were filtered into the Pacific Ocean by family members.

Alberta filed for divorce from her husband of 49 years on June 18, 1984. Marvin Gaye, Sr. had his tumor removed and was soon fit to stand trial. Police photos taken on the day Marvin, Jr. attacked him showed massive bruises on Marvin, Sr.’s body. He pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. On November 2nd, Judge Gordon Ringer suspended the six years and placed the frail father on 5 years probation. “Sending (Gay) to prison or requiring any additional county jail time would be a death sentence,” the judge reasoned. Marvin, Sr. and Alberta rarely saw each other after his release. He moved back into the house at Gramercy Place. Alberta described a day she went by her former home to David Ritz and encountered her ex-husband. “He wasn’t apologetic or repentant. He acted like someone who had finally gotten something out of the way. Now that Marvin was out of the way, he didn’t express any regrets. Since he’s been home from jail, he’d been drinking again – a fifth of vodka a day. He can’t even find his way from the backyard into the house. I don’t know how to pray for him. I don’t know where to begin.”

Ironically, despite his wavering physical condition, Marvin Gaye, Sr. wasn’t quite at death’s door. He survived another decade and a half until October 17, 1998, when he finally passed away in a Long Beach retirement home due to complications derived from pneumonia. Alberta had already succumbed to the ravages of bone cancer in 1987.

CBS Records went on to posthumously release two more albums of Marvin Gaye’s material. Author David Ritz, who had previously been denied writing credit for “Sexual Healing,” finally received royalty payments and acknowledgement after court proceedings ended in 1988.

For a man who possessed a marketable, creative talent for the musical medium of soul, Marvin Gaye, Jr. spent the majority of his life struggling to find his own. Marvin’s early life was grounded in a confused and complicated value system, as he sought approval from a distant pious father then rebelled from his seemingly gross hypocrisies. Subjugating his quest for acceptance from a higher authority, he took refuge in finite vices that perniciously ate away his inner spirit. His will to live truly seemed to seep from his body. Gaye always seemed prescient of his tenuous grasp on life. “In the back of my mind, maybe I know that I won’t live long,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. For such a genius who possessed the natural ability to become a legend as great as Frank Sinatra, Gaye subverted and stifled that ambition in pursuit of attaining instant gratifications and rewards. The duality of fathers in his life, the one who hounded his mother and the one who looked down from Heaven, were seemingly blurred in his mind into one entity who disapproved of his achievements and excesses. In the end, Marvin sought a kind of deliverance. Anna Gordy, his former wife, recognized the significance of the one who delivered Marvin back to his Maker. She wisely observed to author Pamela Des Barres, “I knew when I heard about (Marvin’s death) that it was God’s will. I thought about the fact, oddly and ironically, the very person who helped bring him into this world…God had the same person take him out of this world.”

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Elvis Presley: Prescription for a Fall

In March 1960, after having served a two-year stint with the United States Army in Germany, Elvis Aaron Presley stepped off a plane at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, thankful to be back on American soil. Having made his way up through the ranks from private to buck sergeant, Presley had driven a jeep for his platoon sergeant, battled an abscessed tonsil, and met a young 14-year old girl named Priscilla Beaulieu. Of the three events, Priscilla would have a lasting impression on the honorably discharged G.I. One other experience he’d had while serving God and country would also forever alter his life. While on maneuvers close to the East German border, a sergeant would oftentimes give his men Dexedrine pills to keep them alert and awake for prolonged hours at a time. As Elvis’ former bodyguard, Red West, later recalled, “Presley really took to them pills.”

On August 16, 1977, the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was found dead in his Graceland mansion bathroom of what was officially ruled a massive heart attack. The fact that his bloodstream contained 10 different prescribed narcotics and many years’ worth of astounding drug abuse would pretty much lend credence to the notion that his body simply gave out.

The change in Elvis’ behavior became noticeable to his friends shortly after he revived his career post-Army. Presley immediately jumped into the filming of “G.I. Blues” when he returned from Europe. Red West said in the landmark book “Elvis: What Happened?,” “From ‘G.I. Blues’ on, you can notice the way he (Presley) speaks. He had to make a real effort to slow his speech down. He would talk like a machine gun in those movies where he was wired with uppers. He was high the whole time.”

Throughout the 1960s, Presley was involved mostly with uppers, namely amphetamines. But Red West said, “Toward about 1970, he started taking the downers. He had taken them before, and that’s when he had his first weight problem, but he started into them heavier in 1970.” Red West, his brother Sonny, Dave Hebler, and the rest of the Elvis’ inner circle, known as the Memphis Mafia, took uppers along with Presley, if anything, just to keep up with his maddening pace.

Elvis spent most of the 1960s either in recording sessions, in front of film cameras, or oftentimes, in the company of Priscilla Beaulieu, who became Priscilla Presley when they wed on May 1, 1967. Aside from the monumental 1968 NBC-TV special he taped in front of a small studio audience, Elvis did not perform live from March 26, 1961 all the way up until the end of the 1960s, when finally, on July 31, 1969, he began a five-year contractual series of concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. The King was hugely popular as the 1970s rolled in.

While Elvis was extremely fond of “prescription” drugs, he seemed to be positively vehement against the use of street drugs like cocaine and heroin. When he was in Washington D.C. in December 1970, he tried to finagle a Bureau of Narcotics badge from Deputy Director John Finlater. Turned away by Finlater, the King went to the top and practically took over the White House that afternoon when he was suddenly granted a visit with President Richard Nixon. Elvis told a nervous Nixon, according to White House deputy counsel, Egil Krogh, that with a badge from the Narcotics Bureau, he would be able to operate undercover. “He (Elvis) could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him (Nixon) in his drug drive,” Krogh later related. The President ceded to Presley’s wishes and had Finlater get the King a badge.

Later, in February 1976, Elvis was made a police reserve by the Memphis Police Department. While RCA Records was trying to get him to record songs in the Graceland living room, Presley was upstairs in his bedroom, musing over a plan to kill the city’s top narcotics dealers. His huge arsenal of automatic weapons, pistols, rifles and rockets were strewn around the room, and Presley was amped high on drugs. His plan was to have his boys round up the evil drug dealers, from a list sanctioned by the local federales, then, the King would sneak out of Graceland, whack the bad guys himself, and slip back in, using the recording sessions as his alibi. Elvis’ bodyguards did their best to dissuade him from this plan.

As Elvis’ career ambled into the 1970s, he still had the charisma and talent to draw a stunning following. Nightclub and concert arena attendance records were consistently being broken with his performances, and Elvis toured fairly steadily from 1970 through 1976. His bi-annual appearances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, later renamed the Las Vegas Hilton in June 1971, contained both the highpoints and some of the low points this entertainer had to offer, now nearing his 40s. One reward for his achievements came in June 1971, when the city of Memphis named a stretch of Highway 51 that ran in front of his Graceland mansion Elvis Presley Boulevard.

His all-consuming need to please others, through the generosity of his distributing material goods, namely cars, was rampant during this new decade. Elvis gave Cadillac automobiles away as if they were sticks of gum to his doctors, to his staff, to policemen, and to perfect strangers. In 1975, while in a Memphis dealership, he noticed an African-American woman, Mennie Person, along with her family, peering at his Cadillac limo parked outside. Elvis asked the woman if she liked the car, and after answering in the affirmative, he bought her a brand new Eldorado right then and there.

By the end of 1971, Priscilla had gotten fed up with being locked away in the ivory tower confines of Graceland and had cooled on Elvis’ continual dalliances with women on the road. Even though she had a loving daughter in Lisa Marie to keep her company, Priscilla was getting quite bored. When she was encouraged by Presley to take karate lessons from Mike Stone, a former international light-contact champion, Priscilla began to spend more time off the mat and out on afternoon getaways with the handsome instructor. The night before New Years’ Eve 1971, Elvis announced to everyone in his entourage that Priscilla had left him and that she no longer loved him. Elvis’ pill-popping became much more prevalent.

During this period, Presley seemed to be very knowledgeable about pills of all kinds. Sonny West said in the book “Elvis: What Happened?,” “He even told us that there was a special new chlorophyll pill which would eliminate body odor. And he also talked about special pills that would give you a sun tan and change the pigment of his skin, although I don’t know whether he took them or not. But he thought a pill could fix anything. This is when he started losing Priscilla, right in there around 1971.”

Red West continued on the subject of Elvis’ pharmaceuticals: “I have seen him with literally dozens of bottles of every different kind of pill. Now, he knows a lot about them. He knows what pill to mix with another pill. He knows the dosages and the exact result. Sometimes he has miscalculated and had bad effects, but most of the time, he knows what he is doing, at least he thinks he does. He has got medical directories on the pills and he knows the color codes. Show him a pill or tell him its color on the capsule and he can identify it in a second.” But all the expertise would wane away as the abuse became more prevalent.

On July 6, 1972, Presley met the reigning Miss Tennessee of that year, Linda Thompson at a local theatre. The two almost immediately struck up a full-time relationship — Linda claiming it was practically 24-hours a day, never leaving Elvis’ side. Presley prepared the remainder of the year for a monumental performance which was to take place in Hawaii in January 1973. His “Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii” TV special was broadcast live via satellite to countries in the Far East, including Australia, and seen by tape delay around the world. In all, over 40 countries aired the performance and close to 1.5 billion people tuned in.

After the program, Elvis lost control of himself. His weight ballooned. He complained of mysterious throat problems which a battery of doctors tried to help him with. One of them, Dr. Sidney Bowers, concocted just the right throat elixir, and Elvis rewarded him with a White Lincoln Continental car. Presley seemed bored on the stage at the Vegas Hilton. During February, a few men from the audience rushed the stage, and Elvis fended them off with his karate moves. Screaming backstage to his bodyguards that the assailants were Mike Stone’s men, trying to kill Elvis before the formal divorce from Priscilla, he encouraged them to take out a hit on Stone. Later, after Red had actually located someone to do the assassination for $10,000, Elvis’ Memphis Mafia buddies were privately relieved to see him drop the matter.

By mid-1973, Variety magazine was commenting on Elvis’ deteriorating state of health in its review of his Lake Tahoe show. “Some thirty pounds overweight, he’s puffy, white-faced and blinking against the light. The voice sounds weak, delivery is flabby (and) his medley is delivered in listless fashion.” Under the auspices of Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, two retired Los Angeles detectives were asked to track down Presley’s sources on the prescribed drugs he was taking. Four doctors were revealed to be his primary suppliers. Of the bunch, Vernon Presley, Elvis’ dad, stuck up for one of them, Dr. George Nichopaulos. “Dr. Nick,” as he was called, was someone who had Elvis’ best interests in mind, Vernon reasoned. Even Red and Sonny West seemed to support this claim, stating that Dr. Nick would often replace the capsules Elvis had in his possession with harmless vitamins.

Elvis’ Las Vegas shows that summer at the Hilton were erratic to say the least. The culmination of weirdness, according to author Peter Guralnick, occurred one night while Elvis was inserting x-rated lyrics into his hit song “Love Me Tender.” Audience members squirmed when he sang the lyrics, “Adios, you mother******, bye bye, Papa, too / To hell with the whole Hilton Hotel, and screw the showroom, too.” He went on to sing the tune “What Now My Love” while tossing about on a big bed a-la-Madonna. The Hilton Hotel management expressed their extreme displeasure. Sonny West recalled that Elvis sometimes didn’t bother to learn the lyrics to his new songs. “There were times when he had a guy named Kenny Hicks actually lying under the plexiglass stage of the hotel…with idiot cards with the words to the songs.”

On October 11, 1973, Elvis and Priscilla formally ended their marriage at a divorce hearing in Santa Monica, California. She was awarded custody of Lisa Marie – Elvis could visit with the child at anytime – and given a generous settlement. The former couple walked out to flashing photographers’ bulbs arm-in-arm. Six days later, Elvis was having trouble breathing — he was said to be edematous, that is, so swollen as to be virtually unrecognizable. The result of this condition was his frequent daily injections of the painkiller Demerol. He was hospitalized for over two weeks at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. A biopsy of his liver showed an abundance of fatty tissue, brought on by the abuse in medications and his love of fatty foods.

Dr. Nick put Presley on mild doses of Valmid, Valium, Placidyl, and Hycodan, to try to break him of his excessive dependency on sleeping pills. The doctor introduced the singer to the exercise merits of racquetball. Presley, recuperated and eager to get before his audience, hit the Vegas Hilton stage once again at the start of 1974 and drew favorable response from fans and media. But his drug use did not subside. It stoked him to ever more outrageous behavior, particularly with his guns. Shooting out television sets had been a traditional Presley trademark, but now he was firing at the hotel’s chandelier and even shoving a gun into his trusted bodyguard’s, Red West’s, face.

After touring the south during the first part of 1974, Elvis settled into his Vegas stint with a revamp of his show. Trade papers hailed his performances as some of the best since 1971. They soon turned unfocused. Sonny West related in the “What Happened?” book that Elvis’ pill-gobbling tendencies caused him to not even remember the shows he had just performed. During this run at the Hilton, “he did a damn karate exhibition for 28 minutes straight…People were walking out all over the place. I never saw a word in the press about it. He lives a charmed life.”

On the last night of this run, he spent most of the set rambling into the microphone, while his girlfriend-of-the-moment, Sheila Ryan, his ex-wife Priscilla, and their 6-year old daughter Lisa Marie, sat in the audience embarrassed. Presley touched on many subjects, but when he got onto published rumors of his drug problems, he let loose. “When I got sick here in the hotel – I got sick that one night, I had a hundred and two temperature, and they wouldn’t let me perform, from three different sources I heard I was strung out on heroin, I swear to God – hotel employees, jack, bellboys, freaks that carry your luggage up to the room, people working around, you know, talking, maids. And I was sick. I was getting – I had the doctor and had the flu and got over it in one day, but all across this town – ‘strung out!’ I told them earlier, and don’t you get offended, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking to someone else, if I find or hear an individual that has said that about me, I’m going to break their g**damn neck, you son of a b****! That is dangerous! I will pull your g**damn tongue out by the roots! Thank you very much anyway.”

When the King hit the road for more concerts throughout September and October 1974, his condition was still shaky and some members of the band didn’t even recognize the now-grossly-overweight Elvis. Tony Brown, a new keyboard player for the band Voice, which toured with Elvis, told author Jerry Hopkins, that when Presley arrived for a gig at the University of Maryland, “he fell out of the limousine to his knees. People jumped to help and he pushed them away like, ‘Don’t help me!’ He always did that when he fell. He walked onstage and held onto the mike for the first 30 minutes like it was a post. Everybody was scared.” Guitarist John Wilkinson told Hopkins he saw Elvis backstage in Detroit slumped over a chair unable to move. “So often I thought, ‘Boss, why don’t you just cancel this tour and take a year off?’ I mentioned something once in a guarded moment. He patted me on the back and said, ‘It’ll be all right. Don’t worry about it.”

Presley’s generosity continued to shine through during these troubling times. He bought his longtime friend, Jerry Schilling a home in Los Angeles, citing the fact that since Jerry’s mom died when he was a one-year old, Schilling had never had a real home. Elvis wanted to be the first to give him one.

Linda defended Elvis to the end, stating to People Magazine in early 1975 that the rumors of his drug use were vicious and cruel. “Elvis is a federal narcotics officer!,” she adamantly offered. On January 29th, Elvis was having trouble breathing, and Linda woke Dr. Nick who raced Presley to Baptist Hospital. The singer’s colon was backed up. He stayed in his hospital suite for two weeks and didn’t touch prescription drugs once. But upon release, Dr. Nick found traces of barbiturates back in Elvis’ blood.

Back at the Las Vegas Hilton in March 1975, Presley was approached by Barbra Streisand to star opposite her in a remake of “A Star Is Born.” Elvis was very excited about the prospects of acting in something more substantial than the threadbare films he had appeared in throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. But when it came to the actual deal — specifically, the money and percentage gross — Colonel Parker handled the business end and couldn’t come to agreement with Streisand or Warner Bros., the studio backing the picture. Presley was crushed, and the role went to Kris Kristofferson.

A tour in April showed that he was still a delight for fans, but the press tended to pick out his cartoonish nature. While bending over to kiss a fan at a concert in Memphis, his pants split from his overweight bulk. The news of this slight incident hit the press around the world. After the tour, Elvis sought out a plastic surgeon to work on his face, in order to give it a more youthful look.

The King bought a 96-seat Convair 880 jet to help in his busy touring schedule. He christened it the “Lisa Marie.” Touring once again through the summer of 1975, his demeanor was more erratic. Presley managed to irritate his backup singers to the point where they walked off the stage. He left his entire entourage stranded in Greensboro, North Carolina for a while, taking off in his jet leaving them behind. In Asheville, North Carolina, according to author Peter Guralnick, Presley rifled through the drawers of a dentist he was visiting, searching for pharmaceuticals. Dr. Nick took the drugs away from Elvis, and the singer, once back at their hotel, fired a gun in anger. The bullet ricocheted off a chair and grazed Dr. Nick in the chest.

In August, Elvis cut short his usual stint at the Las Vegas Hilton after two days of a drug-hazed, rambling set of performances. He disappeared back to Memphis and was admitted into Baptist Hospital. The same scenario occurred once again: Linda stayed by his bedside, Dr. Nick had physicians run a battery of tests, and Elvis slowly came around. He had a swelled liver, various intestinal problems, and possible obstruction to the pulmonary area. He made up for the lost Vegas shows in December of that year. His 1975 New Year’s Eve performance in Pontiac, Michigan’s Silver Dome signaled a brief triumph as Presley grossed over $800,000, a record for a single performance in one night. But he ripped his pants again, the band froze in their overcoats, and the overall execution was mediocre.

By the turn of 1976, Elvis Presley was running out of money. His lavish spending and his penchant for giving gifts to anyone and everyone had drained him of his earnings, and he had offered Graceland as collateral on a $350,000 loan. To get access to more cash, Presley put together a quick tour of the south during March. He was extremely medicated throughout the performances. He forgot lyrics, appeared confused, and according to Dr. Nick, in St. Louis, he didn’t wake up until midway through the show.

A second series of gigs took him through Kansas on up to Lake Tahoe, and the detached nature of his swagger became more apparent. Rolling Stone critic Peter Graining said, “It seems to be a continuing battle…and Elvis is not winning. His hair is dyed, his teeth are capped, his middle is girdled, his voice is a husk, and his eyes film over with glassy impersonality. He is no longer, it seems, used to the air and, because he cannot endure the scorn of strangers, will not go out if his hair isn’t right, if his weight – which fluctuates wildly – is not down. He has tantrums onstage and, like some aging politician, is reduced to the ranks of grotesque.”

Elvis continued to seek out the latest drugs available on the market to numb his senses. Drugs like Valium, Ethinamale, Dilaudid, Demerol, Percodan, Placidyl, Dexedrine, Biphetamine, Amytal, Quaalude, Carbrital, and Ritalin. According to author Jerry Hopkins, Presley apparently told Red West’s wife that he favored Dilaudid the most, citing it was a painkiller given to terminal cancer patients.

Meanwhile, people within the Elvis camp were coming apart. Vernon, Elvis’ dad, was angry with road manager Joe Esposito and Dr. Nick for having sunk Elvis into a business deal which revolved around a string of racquetball courts with Presley’s name attached. When the deal went south, Presley was 25% liable for the failure. Vernon also, finally, had reached the end of his tolerance with Elvis’ three bodyguards, Dave Hebler, Sonny and Red West, and convinced Elvis they should be fired. The bodyguards, hurt that Elvis never had the guts to tell them of their dismissal himself, and concerned for his spiraling descent towards death, chose to write the aforementioned book, “Elvis: What Happened?” to try to shock some sense into their former friend. The book was published six weeks before Elvis passed away.

July 1976 and Presley was back on the road, mostly in the northeast for another series of shows. Then back through Texas in August. Bob Claypool wrote in the Houston Post that the show was “a depressingly incoherent, amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn’t act like ‘The King’ of anything, least of all rock ‘n’ roll.” But still Elvis forged on, trying to scrape more money from his ever-declining resources by hitting the road once again in October 1976. During this month, Linda, who aspired to be an actress, moved into an apartment in Los Angeles. For all intents and purposes, she was moving on. She loved Elvis, but his self-destruction was bringing her down. Also, she had grown fond of Elvis’ piano player, David Briggs.

On November 19, Elvis met Ginger Alden, a 20-year old Miss Mid-South title-holder who was brought over to Graceland by one of Presley’s pals to meet the legend. Elvis immediately began flying Ginger around the country, joining him on his tour through the West in late November. For what would be his final set of performances at the Las Vegas Hilton in December, Presley, by the end of the first week, according to one fan, looked ‘very tired and quite sad.’ Reporter Bill Burk of the Memphis Press-Scimitar wrote, “After sitting through Elvis Presley’s closing night performance at the Las Vegas Hilton, one walks away wondering how much longer it can be before the end comes, perhaps suddenly, and why the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll would subject himself to possible ridicule by going onstage so ill-prepared.”

With much cajoling and finesse, Colonel Parker got Elvis back into a studio in Nashville to lay down some more songs in January 1977. On the 26th of that month, Presley formally proposed to his girlfriend, Ginger Alden. He asked her to join him on a short tour throughout the southeast in February. During this run of shows, according to author Peter Guralnick, Elvis learned of Linda’s relationship with piano man David Briggs. Briggs related to Guralnick how Elvis reacted that night. “He had just come out onstage, and the audience was all going wild, and he turned around right in front of me and looked at me – and then he started pulling out every cord from every plug on my keyboard. Then he walked back in front of the stage to start the show. He never actually said anything, and I could never be sure exactly what he means, but that was when I decided it was time to leave Dodge.”

Elvis took Ginger, her family, his friends and Dr. Nick to Hawaii for vacation in March. By this time Dr. Nick was giving Presley 10 or so drugs to help him to sleep and 10 or so drugs to get the singer awake. As a new tour cranked up in March, Presley was barely present. He was just about unable to deliver a performance. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana on March 31st, concertgoers were told that Elvis was suffering from fatigue and an intestinal flu and was flying back to Memphis for hospitalization. He stayed at Baptist Hospital for five days. He hit the road with Ginger for a quick series of performances in late April. Around this time, he was served with a lawsuit from the main investor of the racquetball endeavor.

During his final tour, in June 1977, CBS-TV filmed two performances, one in Omaha, Nebraska, the other in Rapid City, Iowa, of a shockingly unfit Presley, as he struggled through some of his hits. He tried to muster what he could to bring some semblance of his once-magnetic charm to the screen. Ultimately, the presentation, when aired in October 1977, appeared to be a very tragic look at someone who desperately needed help.

His final live performance, at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana ran 80 minutes long, and Elvis appeared to belt out his tunes at better-than-average delivery. After the final song, instead of wearily trudging off to the backstage area, as he had in virtually every performance over the last year, he took the time to shake fans’ hands out front. It was as if he knew this could be the last time he would appear before a live audience.

Elvis holed up in Graceland for the month of July 1977. He retreated to his bedroom, to read, to medicate himself, to withdraw. The three bodyguards’ book “What Happened?” was published during the month, and Elvis was in anguish about how the public would perceive him. On July 31st, nine-year old Lisa Marie flew out to Memphis from LA to spend two weeks with her dad. She rode around in golf carts on the property, and on August 7th, Elvis took her to a nearby amusement park after hours to enjoy some rollercoasters. Presley began to look forward to the next tour, scheduled to begin on August 17th in Portland, Maine, and he started on a liquid diet prescribed by Dr. Nick, as well as working out on an exercise bicycle.

Having always been a night owl throughout the years, it was not unusual for Presley to go to bed at dawn and awaken late in the afternoons. This was his pattern on August 15, 1977, when he got out of bed around 4:00 in the afternoon. He watched a little television. He played with Lisa Marie in the yard. He called his dentist, Dr. Lester Hofman, who, incidentally, drove a Cadillac Elvis had bestowed upon him, and arranged to see him that night. The doctor told Presley he could stop by his office around 10:30pm. As was customary during his last years, Elvis never went anywhere without his guns. He put two .45 handguns in his sweatpants waistband, and with Ginger in tow, went to Dr. Hofman’s office for a teeth cleaning.

The dentist filled two of Presley’s teeth with porcelain and x-rayed Ginger’s choppers. Presley and his girl arrived back at Graceland around 12:30 on the morning of August 16th. In their bedroom, they discussed possible wedding dates, and Elvis thumbed through a copy of Frank O. Adam’s “Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus,” a detailed investigation into the merits of the Shroud of Turin.

Around 2:30am, Presley phoned Dr. Nick complaining of toothache from the two teeth Dr. Hofman had worked on earlier. Dr. Nick sent over three packets of various drugs. Around 4:00am, Presley coaxed three of his live-in friends to play racquetball with him on the backyard court. He soon grew weary. He sat at a piano and riffed on a few tunes, musing to Dick Grob, one of the security men, “We’ll make this tour the best ever.”

He finally retired to his bedroom sometime between 6 and 7:00am and lay beside Ginger, reading the Turin book. Around 9:00am, Ginger awoke briefly and saw that Elvis had not moved, but was still engrossed with his reading. He told her he couldn’t sleep, but that he would go into the bathroom to continue with the book. Most of Elvis’ prescribed medicine stash was also in his personal bathroom. He closed the door, and Ginger rolled over, falling back into a deep slumber.

Based on later test results, Elvis probably took some codeine, ethinamate, methaqualone, and butabarbital. He also ingested two tranquilizers: Placidyl and Valium, along with two types of painkillers: Demerol and Meperidine. Also found in his blood stream were morphine and an antihistamine: Chloropheniramine. The bathroom was comfortable, with two telephones next to the toilet, several comfy armchairs around the perimeter, a long marble countertop with a huge mirror, and a giant shower with a vinyl chair positioned in its center spot.

Sometime shortly after 2:00pm that afternoon, Ginger stirred and called her mom on the phone. Washing up in her own bathroom, she walked over to Elvis’ bathroom, calling out to him. She knocked on the door. With no response, she pushed open the door. Clad in a blue top and yellow bottom pyjamas, the bottoms down around his ankles, she saw his body slumped over, face down on the thick, brown shag carpeting in a pool of vomit. His face was purple and swollen with his tongue sticking out, his eyes blood red. Ginger phoned the maid downstairs, who in turn sent security man Al Strada and road manager Joe Esposito up to the room. Esposito tried to revive Presley. Vernon entered the room and cried out, “Oh God, son, please don’t go, please don’t die.” Ginger tried desperately to shield Lisa Marie from seeing her father.

Martin Davis, a construction engineer with K-Mart, later told the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper that he was driving south on Elvis Presley Boulevard, when an ambulance came racing towards Graceland. “The ambulance damn near ran over me,” he commented. “It hit the gate as it was going in. Shortly after the ambulance got there a gold-green Mercedes also hit the gate going in.” Indeed, the fire department ambulance from nearby Engine House 29, responded very quickly, arriving at 2:33 pm, and Dr. Nick, in the Mercedes, was close behind them. Elvis’ personal physician tried to revive him through cardio-pulmonary resuscitation procedures, saying “Come on Presley, breathe, breathe for me,” while enroute to Baptist Hospital.

They arrived at the hospital at 2:55pm, and the trauma team immediately flew into action. But it was all to no avail. By 3:30pm, Dr. Nick emerged into the waiting room to tell Esposito that Elvis was gone. Dr. Nick went back to Graceland to inform Vernon of the finality of the tragic afternoon. The hospital’s administrator announced to the press at 4:00 that the former King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was no more.

The Shelby County medical investigator, Dr. Dan Warlick, arrived at Graceland shortly thereafter. From the stains upon the carpet near the black toilet, he concluded that Elvis had “stumbled or crawled several feet before he died.” All medicine cabinets and a medical bag had been carefully swept clean of any contents. The autopsy on Presley that night was a private matter, and so, as not to tarnish his image any further, Vernon asked Medical Examiner Jerry Francisco to spin the nature of his death into a less sordid revelation. Around 8:00pm, as the autopsy was being performed, Francisco announced the “results” to the press. “There was a severe cardiovascular disease present,” he told the assembled news media. “He had a history of mild hypertension and some coronary artery disease. These two diseases may be responsible for cardiac arrythmia, but the precise cause was not determined. Basically it was a natural death. The precise cause of death may never be discovered. There was no indication of any drug abuse of any kind.”

News of his passing shot around the globe. Radio Luxembourg, the European continent’s most listened-to radio station, suspended all commercials and played Elvis’ music nonstop. French headlines read: “L’adieu a Elvis.” The Soviet Union newspaper Pravda said, “Elvis is dead. The USA has given us three cultural phenomena: Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola and Elvis Presley.” Fans from all over Tennessee gathered outside Graceland that night and the next day. 300 women and children required medical attention from fainting and anxiety attacks. Over 80,000 fans worldwide somehow descended on Memphis overnight.

Vernon saw the need for a public service to appease these well-wishers. Dressing Elvis’ body in a cream-colored suit, a white tie, and a pale blue shirt, the former legend lay in a copper coffin on the afternoon of August 17th. Hundreds of mourners fainted in the lines that stretched a mile in each direction. On August 18th, 17 white limousines followed by four dozen cars drove Presley’s body to the cemetery. After fears of his coffin being stolen, Vernon had Elvis’ casket, along with the one housing the body of his mother, buried on the grounds at Graceland.

It was later determined through a computer check that Dr. George Nichopolous had prescribed approximately 5,300 uppers, downers and painkillers for Elvis during the 7 months prior to his death. If all were ingested, that totals approximately 25 pills a day. This tendency towards overprescribing drugs led to Dr. Nick having his license suspended in 1980. The license was suspended again in 1995 after a Nashville, Tennessee board of medical examiners determined he’d overprescribed medication to Jerry Lee Lewis and other clients between 1987 and 1990. Dr. Nick recently lost an appeal on September 13, 2000 to have his medical license reinstated.

At the time of his death, Elvis’ latest single, “Way Down” sat at the number one spot on Billboard Magazine’s country chart, while his latest album, “Moody Blue,” was number three on the country chart and number twenty-four on the pop chart. Up to that moment, Presley had sold more than 500 million records worldwide and made 33 films. The volume of record sales would jump significantly higher over the following months and years to come.

For the 42-year old legend, who grew up poor in the 1940s, yet saw his unique talent for singing rocket his financial worth into the stratosphere, Elvis Presley in the end, simply couldn’t deal with his success nor could he stand to see himself fail. Conflicted by a need to please, a need to dispense generosity in ever-increasing gestures, he openly, desperately, did not have the resources to find solace within himself. The excessive drug use that started out prolonging the good times, wound up burying him from relations with others. Beneath the broken heart, deep down below the karate-kickin’, gun-totin’ bluster, was a man innocently wishing for connection, for validity, and for love. However tragic his fall, Elvis Presley, the entertainer in his prime, changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll for all time, yet sadly, he chose a route in later life that led to a self-inflicted punishment, one that served to diminish his self-esteem for having achieved status amongst the gods.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Elegantly Wasted: The Strange Demise of INXS’ Michael Hutchence

Stage presence is inherent. It cannot be taught. Look at Celine Dion. Great lungs, superb octave range, zero stage chemistry. Stiff as a cedar plank. Faked stage presence, the kind where the performer jumps about trying to catch your eye at all times, is also pathetically easy to see through. The slight tremble in the voice. The millisecond eye contact. All of it adds up to discomfort. It can be detected in their body language. How they approach the center stage, whether facing the audience in an open, full-frontal manner (in essence, offering themselves), or whether they furtively skirt along the rim of the stage, presenting a quick profile before darting farther back to join their band members, determines the charisma quotient of a natural stage performer. Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Roger Daltrey all play close to the edge, inviting. They are relaxed on the platform and their genetic ease shines through to the audience. Not many performers today possess that ease. Sure they’ll scamper out, do a few high fives, but how many stay out front, really out there, presenting both their songs and themselves to their fans, as opposed to just their songs? Not many.

Michael Hutchence of the Australian band INXS had stage presence. Lots of it. When I first saw the band in a little Atlanta nightclub in 1983 — not more than 40 or 50 people in the room — Hutchence seemed to connect with each and every one of us. The band, which was touring in support of their album “Shabooh Shoobah,” was kinetic and tight. The entire evening felt as if we were in a Coliseum show with front row seats because INXS’ performance was grander than the room. They maintained that powerful, yet intimate spirit through several other shows I saw them in over the years, all the way up to their final “Elegantly Wasted” tour. When Hutchence hit the stage at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre in July 1997, it felt as if we were back in that small Atlanta club. He drew audience members in, right to his side up at the stage, even though we didn’t leave our seats. His presence was mesmerizing and friendly. He was a true showman.

It is tragic, to say the least, to have had this talent suddenly taken from the world’s stage in the midst of what was commonly perceived as a successful comeback to the band’s 20 year career. Hutchence, at the age of 37, was discovered on November 22, 1997 dead of what was officially ruled a suicide. Whether he was depressed enough to take his own life or whether it was a humiliating mishap of kinky proportions has been the subject of rock legend debate ever since. Definitively, no one is sure what Michael was thinking and what his intentions truly were in those final moments, as his Dad, Kell Hutchence surmised when he told the Daily Telegraph, “I think God is the only one who knows what happened.” One thing is for sure, one of the world’s greatest, natural entertainers was gone. The life he had led had become increasingly excessive and tumultuous prior to his demise.

By 1994, after the lukewarm reception of their 10th album, “Full Moon, Dirty Hearts,” INXS appeared to be no more. The six lads who formed the band in Sydney, Australia in 1977 – Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers, and the Farriss brothers, Jon, Andrew, and Tim – had weathered the pub and club circuit in their early career and the monumental stadium tours in their late 1980’s heyday. While Little River Band, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, and Men At Work contributed to Down Under notoriety, INXS had grandly booted Australian rock into global consciousness and acceptance. Their 1987 ten-million seller, “Kick,” perfectly exemplified the band’s sharp writing skills and peak performances with its four hit singles, “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation,” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” But with the advent of grunge, the clamor for INXS’ brand of music fell through the cracks.

Regardless of the band’s status in the early 1990s, Hutchence continued to live the rock star life. He reportedly still carried around a cookie jar filled with ecstasy pills. He supposedly dabbled in other forms of narcotics, namely cocaine. He allegedly was stopped at Australian customs and asked if he had any drugs. Declaring that he was 15 minutes from his house, he said no to the fact he wasn’t currently carrying, but that he would be sure to make a call to his connection when he got home. He then reportedly took out his drug connection’s phone number and waved it under the noses of the stewing customs officials. He was searched anyway, and later, after his attorney threatened to sue airport customs for harassment, it was said he was never hassled again whenever he arrived back on Australian turf.

Hutchence had been dating the darling of Aussie pop, Kylie Minogue, for a few years, and subsequently, in 1991, he moved on to share the paparazzi strobelights with supermodel Helena Christensen. One night, while in Copenhagen, Denmark with Christensen, Michael got into an altercation with a taxicab driver, and the man slugged Hutchence in the head. The blow, according to author Vincent Lovegrove, allegedly led to Michael’s loss of taste and smell and caused him to overindulge in antidepressants.

A short time later, Hutchence appeared on England’s popular morning program called the “Big Breakfast” show. He was interviewed in a big bed by hostess Paula Yates. Yates was the wife of Bob Geldof, the former Boomtown Rat frontman, who organized the worldwide Live Aid charity concert in 1985. Geldof and Yates had been together for 18 years and had three children. Apparently, Michael made quite an impression on Paula that morning. She took to placing his photograph on the family’s refrigerator over the next year.

INXS released a “Greatest Hits” CD in 1994, a move that oftentimes signals the death knell for many bands, and the group did not hit the road or head into the studio that year. By early 1995, Hutchence, who had branched off once before on his own to record an album under the moniker Max Q, was preparing to lay down some tracks for a new venture. And as fate would have it, Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence were about to meet again.

On March 19, 1995, the two escaped to the Chilton Park hotel, a quiet establishment in the south of England near Maidstone. Someone tipped off the paparazzi of their illicit getaway. At dinner in the hotel restaurant that night, Hutchence and Yates became aware that nearly every other patron in the eatery was a tabloid journalist. Michael started throwing bottles of wine at them, sending everyone out into the hotel reception area. Dashing upstairs, the couple locked themselves in their room. Peeking out later, they saw the entire hallway filled with newsmen in sleeping bags. One reporter had booked the room directly across the hall from Hutchence and had set up a camera on a tripod facing the desperate couple’s door.

The next morning, Michael and Paula made a run for a waiting car outside the hotel. A tabloid photographer stood directly in his path, so Hutchence swung and hit him. Needless to say, the couple’s affair was plastered on every paper in England by day’s end. Geldof sent Paula packing, and she moved in with Michael. Hutchence’s announcement of his split from Helena Christensen was released four days later on March 24th. Kell Hutchence, Michael’s dad, told the Daily Telegraph, “I must say, I was a bit shocked – we’d had such a nice association with Helena and her family. Michael rang, and said, ‘Hey Dad, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.” He was smitten with Paula.

The press hounded the controversial couple everywhere they went. Michael was seen shoving another reporter outside a restaurant. Paula was dismissed from her show, “Big Breakfast” around this time. She told Hello! Magazine, “One morning I got a call and I was told ‘don’t come in again.’ When I asked, ‘why not?,’ they said, ‘because we’re a family show and you’ll never be clean again.’ And that was the end of that. It was so hurtful because I’d been very involved with that program from the beginning.”

On September 12, 1995, Hutchence pled guilty to punching the tabloid photographer, Jim Bennett, outside the Chilton Park hotel. He was fined $620 and ordered to pay $2,950 in court expenses.

Meanwhile, other INXS group members were going through a difficult spell. The Farriss boys lost their mother to cancer. Kirk Pengilly broke up with his wife, singer Deni Hines, after only 17 months of marriage. The band lost its contract with Atlantic Records. And their manager of 15 years, Chris Murphy resigned from the band.

At the end of their marriage, it was Paula Yates who filed divorce from Bob Geldof, citing his alleged adultery with French actress Jeanne Marine, 15 years Bob’s junior. Thus began Geldof’s and Yates’ very contentious custody battle over their three daughters, Fifi Trixiebelle, Peaches, and Pixie. At this time, late 1995, Paula was pregnant with Hutchence’s child.

INXS, for all intents and purposes, seemed unofficially washed up by the start of 1996. At the 15th annual Brit Awards in London on February 19th, Michael presented the band Oasis with Best Video honors. The lowbrow sensibilities of Noel and Liam Gallagher prompted them to proclaim Hutchence a ‘has-been’ and they noisily offered to battle him in a fistfight. Michael tucked tail and continued to try to remain out of the hassling photo blasts in the media spotlight. He worked with Depeche Mode producer Tim Simenon and Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill on his upcoming solo album. He also huddled with Talking Heads members in upstate New York. Kirk Pengilly was eager to get the band back together. He told the Sun-Herald Time Out magazine, “People were putting the boot in left, right and centre. We had just become a big target. At one point I said to myself, ‘I’ve had enough.’ So he phoned Michael. “He wanted to talk, we started talking, and that was the catalyst to start writing songs.”

Hutchence put his solo work on hold and went back to INXS. In April 1996, according to London’s Daily Star newspaper, in response to Yate’s penchant for bestowing her offspring with colorful names, Michael “banned her from picking an offbeat moniker” for their upcoming baby. He wanted the kid to have a traditional name like Bill or Jane. It would seem Paula won out. On July 22, 1996, with the assistance of two midwives at their London home, the couple became parents to a baby girl named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. They chose Heavenly “because she will be” and Hiraani was a Polynesian word meaning princess of the Beautiful Sky. The press swooped down on the new parents a week later when Paula took Tiger Lily to a bookshop, and Michael jumped from the cab, shoving and cursing the photographers.

INXS were having great success in the recording studio again, bonding and churning out songs like the old days. On September 30, 1996, they were asked to appear at the Australian Music Industry Awards (ARIAs), and it was seen as a comeback for the group. Unfortunately, earlier in the morning, police raided Michael and Paula’s London home and allegedly confiscated some drugs from their bedroom. More than one person mentioned that the authorities could have been tipped off by Geldof. The past year and a half’s worth of scrutiny and harrassment was wearing at Hutchence. Bandmate Tim Farriss related the incident to journalist Murray Engleheart. “It was rather marred by the fact that there was a certain episode with our singer and his girlfriend that happened the very day of the ARIA Awards that was kind of heavy, and she had to leave Australia like that day with their baby and fly back to England. To be perfectly honest, he spent three hours before that performance in his dressing room crying…This is the whole thing with the media. I know we’re not supposed to be human, but you are and human love is touched by human emotions and human events. That was a pretty tough time for them.”

The album “Elegantly Wasted” was released by year’s end, and its title track received favorable radio play. The album was critically approved in most circles as being a worthy comeback for a band that seemed all but dismissed. INXS began appearing on the bill with several bands throughout 1997 and conducted mini-tours through England and America during the summer. Things were beginning to look up. To the bandmates, the audience that truly mattered was their own countrymen. INXS felt they never got the respect they deserved over the years in Australia, and as the 20th Anniversary of the band loomed in November, they wanted to try to garner favor with their fellow Aussies one last time. A “Lose Your Head” tour, set amongst small venues across the country, was slated to kick off Down Under on November 25th. The band agreed to meet beforehand for a few days in Sydney to run through some rehearsals.

Hutchence flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, paying for his own hotel and travel expenses, to act in an independent feature film called “Limp” in October 1997. His character in the movie, an unscrupulous recording A&R man, has a scene in which he recommends that a young musician kill himself so that he will gain immortality in the legions of rock history. The director later described Hutchence’s performance as being entirely believable and culled from the gut.

He then flew to Los Angeles and worked on his solo album tracks. In mid-November, just days before the tour was to begin, Hutchence recorded a song called “Breathing.” Its haunting chorus featured a prescient sounding Hutchence intoning over and over, “keep breathing.” He also met with representatives from Quentin Tarantino’s company for a possible role in the sequel to “From Dusk Til Dawn.” He concluded his LA stay by meeting with actor-producer Michael Douglas over potential film roles in the future. He related to the Sun-Herald Time Out magazine that Douglas thought “I could sell some popcorn. But it’s just talk at the moment.”

On November 19, 1997, Hutchence arrived in Sydney after the exhausting trans-Pacific flight from the United States. He spent much of the next day resting. On Friday, November 21st, the band got together for rehearsal. Michael sent Paula a dozen roses in England with a card that read, “To All My Beautiful Girls, All My Love, Michael.” That evening, Hutchence met up with his dad, Kell, and his stepmother at the Flavours of India restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff. Kell related that meeting to the Daily Telegraph: “He was in great form: joking, mimicking friends, big smiles. He’d just been in LA, screen-testing for a new Tarantino movie. He was elated – he’d won the part.”

At one point in the meal, talk turned to Michael’s use of prescribed Prozac, and his father took hold of his hand. “Look, Mike, tell me. What’s this all about?,” he asked. Michael talked about the hard legal battles he and Paula were fighting with Bob Geldof in gaining some custody of her three daughters. On that day, Yates was back in England, where her attorneys were fighting for Paula’s desire to take two of the three kids with her to Australia for the December/Christmas holidays and join Michael and INXS on their tour. Geldof was adamantly opposed to the notion. Kell felt that Michael was clearly upset with Geldof. In Kell’s estimation, it seemed Geldof did not want to let go of Paula.

After dinner, father and son drove back to Michael’s hotel, the Ritz Carlton in the tony suburb of Double Bay and said their farewells. “It was the last time I saw him,” Kell said.

That night, Hutchence drank with an old girlfriend, Australian actress Kym Wilson and her boyfriend, attorney Andrew Rayment, at the hotel bar. Around 1:00 early Saturday morning, the three of them went up to Hutchence’s room on the fifth floor. There they drank champagne and strawberry daiquiris, and while Andrew fell asleep, Kym and Michael stayed up talking about old times. Shortly before 5:00am, Andrew and Kym say they left Hutchence and went home. And around this time, Paula called him from England.

She related that Geldof’s attorneys had been successful in blocking her wish to bring the kids to Australia on holiday. According to Paula, the last thing Michael said to her was, “I love you. I’m going to phone Bob right now and beg him, beg him to allow them to come.” He dialed the number for Geldof’s home. Geldof later told the Daily Express, “He called up in the early hours of the morning, and I couldn’t understand a word he said. I just put the phone down.” Geldof told friends that he and Hutchence didn’t argue during that phone call. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Hutchence allegedly said, amongst other things, “She’s not your wife anymore,” and “Your children hate you, little man. I’m their father now.”

Hutchence, soon thereafter, phoned his long-standing friend and former girlfriend, Michelle Bennett, and left a brief message on her machine. According to the Daily Mirror, the message he left sounded as though he were in a ‘state of distress.’ Bennett, later that morning, went to the Ritz Carlton and slipped a note under Michael’s Room 524, the contents of which were never revealed.

Around 11:30am, Saturday, November 22, 1997, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, a hotel maid, who had been sent by the band’s reps to check on Hutchence, entered the room. Michael was late for the morning’s rehearsal. She found the renowned singer hanging naked from a self-closing apparatus attached behind the main door of his hotel room. Around his neck was a leather belt. He had apparently died of asphyxiation.

Police who were first to arrive on the scene simply released the statement that an “Australian citizen who had been living in England was found dead.” It wasn’t until later that weekend that police officially disclosed Hutchence’s identity and said, “we believe it is a straight case of suicide.” Reporters, sniffing tales from sources, called into question the belief that a kinky sex act may have been involved. An officer said simply, “There was no toga party or anything.”

The coroner, Derrick Hand, issued a preliminary statement. “Post mortem examinations have determined that the cause of death of Michael Hutchence was hanging. However, a coroner’s investigation is still necessary to determine whether the death was from suicide. Routine toxicology tests will be carried out and the results will not be known for some weeks.”

INXS band members were blindsided by the tragedy, ready to hit the club circuit again, and consequently, they were forced to cancel their tour. They released a statement that weekend. “The band members of INXS are all in extreme shock at the loss of their dear friend and lead singer. Their love and sympathy go out to Michael Hutchence’s family. They ask that the media please, in this time of extreme grief, act with courtesy and grace and respect both for Michael Hutchence’s family’s privacy, as well as their own.”

News of Hutchence’s strange death plastered the headlines and airwaves across Australia that weekend. Bono of U2, a good friend of Michael’s and a neighbor of his at their homes in the south of France, announced to a San Antonio, Texas audience during their Popmart tour on Sunday night, “This is for Michael Hutchence, a great singer and a great friend. We’ll miss him.” U2 went on to play “Pride (in the Name of Love).” When Hutchence’s solo album was finally released in late 1999, Bono subsequently contributed vocals to a track, “Slide Away,” which Michael had recorded in 1996.

Back in Britain, Yates was in complete shock. She was taken by a friend to Heathrow Airport, along with her baby Tiger Lily, and immediately flew for Sydney. She sobbed on board the flight, telling anyone who would listen, reporters and passengers alike, that this was a horrible accident. When her British Airways flight touched down in Bangkok, Thailand for a brief layover, trouble broke out as Yates began to re-board. The BBC reported that Paula was under heavy sedation, and when she apparently asked a British Airways official if she could use a baby buggy for Tiger Lily to take her on the ramp to the plane, the representative not only refused her request, but allegedly told her that he did not care about her loss and kicked her. Yates threw a glass filled with champagne on him. Thai airport officials were called to the scene, and after sorting the situation, allowed Yates to re-board the plane a half hour later.

After arriving in Sydney on Monday, November 24th, she told the Daily Express, “Bob Geldof murdered Michael Hutchence. That bastard killed Michael. He is called Saint Bob. That makes me sick. He killed my baby. We have had three years of this.” Paula intimated that she and Michael had planned to get married on the Tahitian island of Bora Bora in January 1998. Yates mentioned she would dye her wedding dress black for the funeral.

She also said they had wanted to move back to Australia. Hutchence, himself, had alluded to these plans on his last interview he gave with the Sun Herald’s Time Out magazine. “Paula and I and the kids love it in Australia. Sydney’s the greatest city for the 21st century. London has become very difficult. People in Australia are so real and friendly. We love it. Paula is doing TV work there. It’s all very good.” Kell Hutchence seemed to feel otherwise about the touted nuptials. He told the Daily Telegraph that when he asked Michael whether he and Paula were going to get married, Michael responded by saying, “No plans yet, Dad, and you’ll be the first to know.”

Paula Yates ultimately wore a sleeveless, knee-length, black dress with white floral patterns, and not the dyed wedding dress, to the funeral. A public service was held on Thursday, November 27 at 2:30pm at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in the heart of Sydney. Over 1,000 mourners were present in the chapel, and the proceedings were shown live on Australian television. The INXS song “By My Side” played as family and friends like Tom Jones, Diana Ross, and Kylie Minogue filed in. In the midst of the service, cult Australian rocker Nick Cave got up to sing his song “Into My Arms.” Suddenly, someone from the balcony screamed out “This is how he did it Paula! This is how he died!” The man tied one end of a rope to the balcony rail, then attempted to throw himself over, before security and ushers surrounded him and hustled the man away. He turned out to be a notorious troublemaker who was known for disrupting Australian events, like the Australia-Iran World Cup qualifier soccer match and the Melbourne Cup. The members of INXS took Michael’s casket to an awaiting hearse, while the band’s “Never Tear Us Apart” concluded the service. On top of the coffin, amidst blue irises was one yellow Tiger Lily flower.

Eleven weeks after the incident at the Double Bay hotel, Derrick Hand, the town’s coroner, handed down his verdict. Michael’s death was officially ruled a suicide. Toxicology reports indicated there was alcohol, Prozac, and other prescription pills in his system, along with small traces of cocaine. There was no mention of the other theory. Death by autoerotic asphyxiation.

The practice of autoerotic asphyxiation consists of a person purposely blocking oxygen to their lungs during a sexual act, usually masturbation, in order to allegedly achieve a more heightened degree of orgasm. While plastic bags are used on occasion, most practitioners tend to rely on some sort of strangulation device, either a belt or a rope. With the growth of accessibility to outlets specializing in “borderline” sexual practices, such as through adult tapes, stores, magazines, and websites, police worldwide have reported an increase in the latter part of the twentieth century of accidental deaths attributed to the practice. A few members of British parliament have passed on in this manner. The one notable rock artist before Hutchence to have reportedly died of this cause was Kevin Gilbert, a songwriter who co-wrote 7 songs and played piano on Sheryl Crow’s 1993 “Tuesday Night Music Club” album. Gilbert was found in his California home on May 18, 1996 with a black hood covering his face, his head held in place to the headboard to his king-size bed with a leather strap.

The coroner’s decision in the death of Michael Hutchence drew speculation in some camps. To Kell Hutchence, Michael’s father, the case was closed. He said, “I have looked into all aspects of the coroner’s report and am convinced that it is accurate and there is no suggestion of any autoerotic behavior.” Hutchence’s fellow band members seemed to think drugs might have played a big part in his demise. Tim Farriss told Australian Broadcasting TV’s “7:30 Report,” “There’s been a lot of recent things, things like depressants and alcohol mixed together making people suicidal.”

Martha Troup, a business associate of the band’s for 12 years, told writer Gil Kaufman that Michael “felt pressure and it was a snap…he snapped for that momentary time. It was a culmination of all the things that happened all year. Michael was upset with the way the whole relationship was and what kind of person he (Geldof) was and how Geldof treated Paula and the children.” As to the rumors of autoerotic asphyxiation, she responded, “I can say unequivocally that that’s not it. Absolutely not…I’ve spent more time with detectives than I care to in the last two weeks, and the detectives explained it a bunch of ways. I’m no expert, but there was no semen, nothing in any part of the room, on Michael, near Michael, on the bed, anywhere. That I can 100% confirm.”

But not everyone was convinced of suicide. Author Vincent Lovegrove, who wrote the book “Michael Hutchence: A Tragic Rock and Roll Story,” talked with Rhett Hutchence, Michael’s brother, who felt that Michael was not alone in the room when he died. Rhett related that Michael had been into bondage and was tired of having sex “the normal way.” Michael’s mother, Patricia Glassop, told Q Magazine that Michael had been associated with people interested in sadomasochism during the months before his death.

Journalist Ian Vickers wrote in Cleo Magazine that he had been one of the first reporters to race to the Ritz Carlton on the day of Hutchence’s death. Gaining entry into the room directly next to Hutchence’s, he listened through the wall as the detectives investigated the death scene. When he heard them mention Hutchence had hung himself on the spring at the back of the main door, Vickers looked to his own room’s door, a carbon copy of the one Hutchence had used, and noted where the spring was and how Hutchence could have done it. “But,” he wrote, “I could also see at least half a dozen more obvious places to spring a noose if death was on your mind. Also, Hutchence had been a tall man – and there was no way the spring was anywhere near six feet up from the ground. It didn’t make sense.”

Vickers also reported that once the hotel maid had found Hutchence’s body in the room, a security guard supposedly came in and snapped pictures, which he later tried to sell to British newspapers. The photos allegedly showed Hutchence with pills and risque photos of Paula nearby his body on the floor. “The guard even described Hutchence’s hands and neck as being red raw from trying to free himself from the death grip he inflicted on himself,” Vickers reported. He concluded by saying, “Psychologists will tell you two basic facts that make suicide seem unlikely (in this case): 1) Dads of babies – especially one as doting as Hutchence – rarely commit suicide, and 2) Suicide victims – especially one as vain as Hutchence – rarely kill themselves in the nude. They know they’ll be found that way.”

There was no suicide note in the room. No final words of love to his baby daughter.

The immediate aftermath of Hutchence’s death drew his family into protracted disputes over his estate and sent Paula into a state of weird depression. In March 1998, she tried to overturn the coroner’s ruling of suicide, citing that Hutchence would have thought it a cowardly act, and he would not have chosen to purposely leave his little daughter. Strangely enough, on June 30, 1998, Yates, herself, was found barely conscious, slumped next to her bedroom door in her Chelsea home, with a noose around her neck. She was taken to a clinic for psychiatric observation and rehabilitation. While at the clinic, she started an affair with a heroin addict, Kingsley O’Keke, which resulted in the pair being ejected from the medical center.

Hutchence’s body had been cremated, and a clash over what to do with his remains resulted in his ashes being split up. Kell told the Daily Telegraph, “Poor old Mike’s been divided into 3 urns.” Hutchence’s dad and mom, Kell and Patricia, each got an urn, as did Paula. She carried Michael around with her wherever she traveled. In an interview with New Idea magazine, she was asked of her share of Michael’s ashes’ whereabouts. “They are actually in my bed and they’re wearing a pair of Gucci pajamas…I’ve taken them out of the urn because the urn’s a bit tricky to sleep with.” Kingsley O’Keke told London’s The Sun newspaper that when he and Paula began their brief five-week affair, he was at her house, when…“I rolled into the bed and felt this hard lump in my back. I moved over and found a small sequined pillow with what felt like a lump inside.” Yes, Paula kept Michael close by her side because she had sewn his ashes into the pillowcase.

As for the other two urns, Patricia kept her share of the ashes in her home. Kell took his share to the harbor in Sydney and spread them out over the blue waters. Shortly thereafter, Paula was on a boat in that harbor when a hatch came loose, hitting her on the head and sending her over the side. To her, it felt like Michael wanted an aquatic permanent reunion. She told New Idea magazine, “As I fell into the water, I thought, ‘This is it – he’s coming for me.’ But then as usual, some idiot got me out…You know how strong that yachting fiberglass is? The lid of the entire yacht flew off, hit me in the head – and knocked me into the water. I mean, that is a freak accident. I just thought, ‘I’m going.”

While Paula’s affair with the ex-heroin addict was still underway, Kell felt he needed to retain temporary custody of Tiger Lily. As a result of his filed legal action, he and Paula never had much contact with each other from that point on. He subsequently dropped his bid for custody. However, on October 28, 1998, the High Court in London announced that Paula had lost custody of her other three children to Bob Geldof.

By mid-1999, Patricia and her daughter were suing the band’s accountants over missing royalty payments due the family as executed by Michael’s will. The family also sued the executors of the estate over the mishandling of monies tied up in Michael’s properties in London, France, and Australia, as well as in offshore companies. Hutchence, according to Foxtel Entertainment News, was said to have been worth approximately $36 million, not counting the many investments he had on the side at the time of his death. By May 2000, a settlement was reached in the execution of the will’s assets.

The group members of INXS slowly came out from seclusion. They first reunited on November 14, 1998, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Australia’s Mushroom Records. Aussie singer Jimmy Barnes sang lead. Terence Trent D’Arby sang with them at the official opening of the Sydney Olympic Stadium in June 1999. However, the return to their old glory days may be out of their reach. Slated to tour New Zealand in late August 2000 with Australian band Noisework’s lead singer, Jon Stevens, as their vocalist, INXS was forced to cancel their gigs due to poor ticket sales. The legacy of a great rock ‘n’ roll band seems to finally have been put to rest.

Tragedy befell this sad story of the INXS frontman one last time when, on Sunday, September 17, 2000, Paula Yates was found dead of an apparent overdose. While it is generally acknowledged that Bob Geldof helped to keep her off drugs during their marriage (she allegedly dabbled with heroin as early as age 12), Paula had struggled with various addictions once her affair with Hutchence began. By the millenium, she had fallen very far out of the entertainment limelight but was making an earnest effort to clean up her act. She was truly excited in learning that an agent she met with a few days before her death was willing to represent her. Paula had been clean for over a year. When her friend Belinda Brewin popped in to see her the Saturday night before her passing, she sensed Paula had taken a momentary step back onto heroin. “I know Paula very well,” Brewin later told Vanity Fair magazine. “I know if she’d had a vodka…I’d know if she’d had a Valium. I know if she’d had a line of coke…I know if she’d had an ecstasy…I knew she’d taken smack. She knew I knew.” Brewin later learned that a former junkie friend of Paula’s was hiding in the house during her brief visit with Yates that night.

Another best friend, Jo Fairley, was the one who discovered Paula the next morning, lying on her bed, gone from this world. She called the ambulance and kept Tiger Lily away from the room. On a final note to highlight her fun-loving, quirky personality, friends decided to pay tribute to Ms. Yates in a unique manner, as they sent her on her way. A recording of Paula singing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking” was played during her funeral. The pallbearers held Yate’s casket waiting for the memorable cue in the song — “Are you ready boots? Start walking.” – before walking in step with the box out of the church. In the end, after so much bitter struggle with her ex-husband, Bob Geldof wound up retaining custody of not only his and Paula’s own three children, but also of Tiger Lily.

The mystery surrounding Michael Hutchence’s death will never truly be solved. For those who knew him best, his bandmates, he will always be remembered as a consummate entertainer as well as a loving friend. Kirk Pengilly told journalist George Negus in December 1998, “Michael was actually very shy and too many times that was taken as him being sort of aloof or arrogant in a way. As a person he was very genuine, very warm, extremely giving, you know. I think in a public sort of persona he was a shy guy even though there’s many nights I can think of that he certainly didn’t appear shy. He’d play up to it but deep down he was.”

But there was a side to Hutchence that suggested he liked to push the envelope. He might’ve tasted the dark side one too many times. Andrew Farriss told the “7:30 Report” that Michael “would flirt with everything and everybody…danger was just one of them. There’s a lot of people in the music business who paint a portrait of themselves as being dangerous – ‘living-on-the-edge’-type personalities that dress in a dangerous fashion and all that sort of stuff. But they’re all actors and actresses. Michael was real.” Hutchence confirmed his proclivities to VOX magazine in 1995. “I think I am definitely the type of person who’s willing to dive in at the deep end in all kinds of areas, and I really don’t give a f**k what other people think.” He went on to muse about the “live fast, die young” ethos in the rock trade. “I just don’t wanna be a f**king cliché. I don’t need to be dropping off in a hotel bath. I’ve come close, though. I’m surprised I’ve survived and so are a lot of my friends. I’m sure some of them are pissed off, because one thing about me is that I always manage to have my cake and eat it, too, whereas people love to see f**k-ups. That’s the industry. Welcome to the party. Jimi Hendrix is upstairs. But coming through it is fantastic.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

“Derek,” “Layla,” & “George”

“Layla, you’ve got me on my knees,

Layla, I’m begging, darling, please,
Layla, darling, won’t you ease my worried mind.”
(from “Layla” by Clapton/Gordon)

No amount of comfort could release the anxieties built up in Derek. Even when Layla finally relented, gave in to his cries of adoration and devotion, the romantic axman could never entrust his troubles to drift away in her secure embrace. For Eric Clapton, whose alias Derek and his Dominos belted out the tortured, searing ode to obsession in 1970, real love has eluded his grasp throughout the duration of his life. “Love,” in the Clapton vernacular, seems to translate simply to desire and envy. Desire to have the most drugs, the most alcohol, to have children, and to be envious of what he cannot fully obtain. That’s where a beautiful blonde named Patti Boyd came into the picture. She was married to a Beatle, George Harrison. To Eric, Patti was the way out, she embodied everything that could be perfect in his life. Winning her hand would turn things around for him. But the pedestal he built for her, and subsequently climbed to stand atop with her, was based primarily on obsession. True, unconditional, unwavering love, alas, never took root to ease his worried mind.

If genes were proven to be the only influence shaping the entire course of a human being’s life, the ones passed along to young Eric fit him to the “T.” Clapton’s mom, Patricia, was 16, during World War II, when she had a brief fling with a Canadian soldier, Edward Fryer. The 24-year old serviceman was married, and went back to his wife a few weeks after his affair with the impressionable teenager. Patricia gave birth to Eric in 1945 and left him with her parents to raise. For the first nine years of his life, growing up in Ridley, Surrey, Clapton was told that his mom was actually his sister. Patricia married and settled down to a life of her own in Germany. As the young Eric became a man, he would gradually mirror the character traits of his unknown father. Playing piano at hotels and small functions throughout North America, Edward Fryer married many times, and reportedly had countless affairs. He fathered three more children after Eric’s birth, before his death in 1985. Clapton never had the opportunity to meet his father in all those years. For the better part of his life, Fryer was a musical nomad, unable to commit his life with any one woman, subsisting liberally on a generous supply of alcohol. Like father…soon to be like son.

On the other hand, Patricia Anne Boyd grew up with loving parents in the quaint town of Somerset, England. She acquired a sense of culture and care for others when her family lived in Kenya, Africa for a spell in the 1950s. By the time she was 17, her parents had moved back to Britain, and Patti was ensconced in a modeling career, along with her younger sister Jenny. An American director shooting a commercial for Smith’s Crisps, a potato chip company, tapped her to be the spokesmodel for the advertisement. His name was Richard Lester, and he would inadvertently set in motion a series of interactions that would lead to one of rock’s most enduring love stories.

In March 1964, The Beatles had just conquered America. Their fame and fortune was escalating literally by the day. To exploit the mania which had burst forth from teenage fans the world over, it was decided a motion picture featuring the Fab Four was in order. “A Hard Day’s Night” was cranked out by writer Alun Owen in a very short period of time, and Richard Lester was brought aboard to direct The Beatles in their first acting foray. Bit parts went to several teenagers. Lester hadn’t forgotten the cute potato chip model he’d worked with two years earlier. 19-year old Patti Boyd was cast as an admiring schoolgirl who fawned over the lovable moptops as they sang “I Should’ve Known Better” in a train luggage compartment.

“When we started filming, I could feel George looking at me, and I was a bit embarrassed,” Patti later related to biographer Hunter Davies. While always considered the ‘shy’ Beatle, young George Harrison was just as much of a playboy as his other bandmates. “After that first day’s shooting,” Patti continued, “I asked them all for their autograph…When I was asking George for his, I said could he sign it for my two sisters as well. He signed his name and put two kisses each for them, but under mine he put seven kisses. I thought he must like me a little. He came into our carriage (train car) later and talked to Pru and me. She was the other schoolgirl in the film. Then he called me out into the corridor on my own. He said would I go out with him that night. I said, sorry, no.” Patti had been steadily dating another boy for two years and didn’t feel it was appropriate to go out with the worldly Beatle.

It took another phone call and a brief moment of reflection to reconsider before Patti decided to go out on a date with George the following week. The old boyfriend was soon forgotten, and Patti became inseparable from George. Once filming ended in early April, Harrison persuaded John Lennon and his wife Cynthia to go with he and Patti on an Easter weekend excursion to Ireland. He hoped to get to know Patti a lot better. The media somehow learned of their whereabouts, and the holiday turned into a getaway, as Cynthia and Patti dressed as chambermaids and hid in a dirty laundry bin to elude the press. But the incident cemented her bond with Harrison. Beatles, however, were not supposed to have steady girlfriends, let alone wives, so Patti was constantly screened from exposure alongside her man. She and Cynthia became commiserating pals over this period of Beatlemania.

From December 24, 1964 to January 16, 1965, The Beatles organized and played in an annual Christmas show held at the Hammersmith Odeon theatre in London. Sharing the bill were local favorites Freddie and The Dreamers, Jimmy Saville, and Sounds Incorporated. At the bottom of the line-up was a relatively new outfit known as The Yardbirds. Firmly rooted outside the English music hall and pop tunes, this blues outfit was a bit of an anomaly in the showcase. Its lead guitarist, however, was scintillating in his technique, even at such an early stage of his career.

Eric Clapton had joined the Yardbirds after a brief stint in a blues group called the Roosters. Having educated and absorbed himself in the history of American blues, Eric idolized artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry, who had all been able to translate their blues-rock to the mainstream. When legendary blues harpist Sonny Boy Williamson landed on British turf in 1963, he enlisted the aid of The Yardbirds as his backup band, which led to the group’s first album, “Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds,” being released in early 1964. The Beatles were intrigued by these relative newcomers and added them to their show.

George Harrison and Eric Clapton first took note of each other during these performances. “He was checking me out, and I was checking him out to see if he was a real guitar player,” Eric told Rolling Stone magazine. “And I realized that he was. But we come from different sides of the tracks. I grew up loving black music, and he grew up with the Chet Atkins-Carl Perkins-side of things – blues versus rockabilly. That rockabilly style always attracted me, but I never wanted to take it up. And I think it’s the same for him. The blues scene attracts him, but it evades him somehow. He’s much more comfortable with the finger-picking style of guitar.”

Patti Boyd may have been aware of Eric onstage, but she was more concerned at the time with being discovered by jealous female fans of George Harrison. “I scraped my hair back so that I would look completely different and no one would recognize me,” she recalled to Hunter Davies. “I don’t know how anyone did, but a few did, and started punching me.”

Swept up into the hysteria of the Beatles craze, Patti was solely devoted to George Harrison. In 1965, she moved into his home in Esher, Surrey and attended to his every whim. “Patti handled George very well considering their different social backgrounds,” Cynthia Lennon wrote in her autobiography. “George’s northern bluntness and lack of tact must have been hard to come to terms with in comparison with the smooth southern sophistication of the escorts she would have previously experienced.” His personality and modest charm were winsome enough to elicit her responding in the affirmative to his proposal of marriage over the 1965 Christmas holiday. On January 21, 1966, under a veil of secrecy, Patti and George wed at the Epsom Registry Office in Surrey. John and Ringo were on a vacation in Trinidad, but Paul McCartney attended the short ceremony in support of his fellow bandmate.

Meanwhile, having recorded another album with the Yardbirds, and contributing a few licks to their first hit, “For Your Love,” Eric departed the band in search of a more bluesier outlet. He performed with John Mayell’s Bluesbreakers for a while, but soon felt the need to start his own group. Together with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, Clapton formed a band in May 1966 with the boastful name Cream, as in ‘cream of the crop.’ Bruce took the duty of lead vocals, and the group set about becoming one of the world’s best-loved ‘jam’ bands. Patti and George Harrison, on the other hand, were immersing themselves in the music of India. Having strummed a sitar during the production of the Beatles’ film “Help,” George was keen on learning all he could about the instrument. In September 1966, he and Patti flew to Bombay to sit with sitar master Ravi Shankar for five weeks of intensive lessons.

Upon their return to England, the Harrisons hit the club and music scene once again. Patti recalled becoming very aware of Eric’s presence when she attended a Cream concert with George during this period. After the show, the couple attended a post-celebration shindig at Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s home. Patti told author Ray Coleman, “I was surprised by how alone Eric looked at that party. He was terribly reticent, didn’t talk to anybody or socialize.” A short time later, on New Years’ Eve, George and Patti’s entourage, which included manager Brian Epstein and Eric Clapton, were excused from Annabel’s, a London nightclub, because George refused to wear a tie. Unfazed, the happy party-goers simply trotted to nearby Lyon’s Corner House Restaurant to ring in the New Year. Clapton was becoming more of a friend to the Harrisons. But the seeds of love were only gestating between he and Patti, and their connection at this time was one of friendship.

As 1967 tumbled in with its good vibes and Summer of Love, Patti and George were turning on to a new drug, LSD. Clapton had been casually using drink and drugs for some time. “I started experimenting with drugs, I think, at a much earlier age,” he claimed to Larry King, “when I was about 15. I took a form of speed, and I started drinking back in those days, too. It was – it kind of grew out of the supposition that, in order to be a man, you had to drink or you had to do something. A lot of peer pressure. And it kind of went on quite harmlessly for a long time like that.”

The mind-expanding narcotics stimulated a spiritual quest in Patti and George. In February, Patti accompanied a friend to hear about a new type of teaching called Transcendental Meditation. “I went along with her to a lecture given at the Caxton Hall. Maharishi himself wasn’t there,” Patti related to Hunter Davies. “But I got all the movement’s literature from them so I knew all about their summer conference at Bangor and what it was going to be about. I said yes, long before George and the others heard about it. I’d booked up weeks before.” That summer, on August 26, 1967, the four Beatles, having been guided by Patti, boarded a train for Bangor in the north of Wales, to attend teachings by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their wives and girlfriends were in tow, all except Cynthia Lennon, who missed the train, both figuratively and literally. John would soon meet Yoko Ono and fall out of favor with his wife.

A follow-up trip to India left the Fab Four disenchanted with the holy leader, but George continued on an alternate path to spiritual enlightenment. Throughout 1968, he became increasingly distant from Patti, not sharing in his faith, and keeping her out of much of his life with the Beatles. George did foster an ever-increasing kinship with Eric Clapton though. Early in the year, he’d contacted the famed guitarist to help him with the score to a psychedelic movie called “Wonderwall.” On September 6, 1968, Eric entered the hallowed environs of a Beatles recording session at Abbey Road Studios to lay down the heart-rending strains heard in George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” “I think George was struggling with the two big boys in the group. And he needed some backup on one of his songs,” Clapton modestly recalled to Larry King.

Later that month, Patti, Yoko, and Maureen Starr were invited in to lay down backing vocals for “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” As the four Beatles were slowly disintegrating, George spent more time in the company of his new pal. He would oftentimes hang out at Eric’s massive 20-room Italianate mansion, called Hurtwood Edge, in Ewehurst, England. The sweet Harrison favorite, “Here Comes The Sun,” was written in Eric’s back garden one morning. The perennial Cream anthem, “Badge,” was scripted at George’s home by the two legends. Ringo Starr, in attendance as well, chimed in with a few of the song’s strange lyrics. As Harrison transcribed the tune, Eric read the sheet music upside down and mistook the word “bridge” for “Badge.” Thus, the name stuck.

Many people assume George Harrison wrote his most noteworthy Beatles’ track, “Something,” with Patti foremost in his thoughts. In fact, as George later noted in his autobiography, “actually, when I wrote it, I was thinking of Ray Charles. In my mind, I heard Ray Charles singing it.” The person who would fashion many a ballad about her extraordinary presence would turn out to be Mr. Clapton. However, the loving odes would not materialize under his Cream banner. By 1968, after the release of four albums, clash of egos and increasing drug abuse forced the power trio apart. Eric immediately set about forming another band, this one built around extremely capable and established musicians. Recruiting drummer Ginger Baker again, he brought aboard reliable blues bassist Rick Grech and the talented keyboardist Steve Winwood, creating the supergroup Blind Faith. Heralded by the press as a powerhouse quartet, the group would only record one album before fizzling away in 1969.

A 16-year old girl named Alice Ormsby-Gore had been introduced to Clapton through a mutual friend. Her father was Lord Harlech, British ambassador to the United States. The 23-year old Clapton was captivated by her spontaneous wit and candor. Alice subsequently moved into his house in March 1969. By this time, however, Eric was smitten with another. “All the time I was with Alice, I was mentally with Patti,” he revealed to author Ray Coleman. “My love for Patti began almost the first day I saw her, and grew in leaps and bounds.”

During the past year, before Alice moved in, Clapton had been a constant chum of the Harrisons. His friendship with Patti, consequently, was becoming more of an attraction. “There had been amorous beginnings to it all,” Eric told Coleman. “I went to their home, or she came to parties here, and we made eyes at each other, had a few cuddles and whispered sweet nothings. What I couldn’t accept was that she was out of reach. Okay, she was married to George and he was a mate, but I had fallen in love and nothing else mattered.” Eric would sometimes escort Patti to public functions when George was unavailable. One evening, when they were walking out of a theater, Patti recalled to Coleman, “Eric suddenly said to me: ‘Do you like me, then, or are you seeing me because I’m famous?’ I answered, ‘Oh, I thought you were seeing me because I’m famous.” The lighthearted quip quashed whatever approach he was intending to lay on her that night.

“What’ll you do when you get lonely?
And nobody’s waiting by your side?
You’ve been running and hiding much too long,
You know it’s just your foolish pride.”
(from “Layla” by Clapton/Gordon)

In the late summer of 1969, Clapton hooked up with the husband and wife team of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett. Eric felt adrift and despondent. His grandfather had just passed away, as did his close friend Jimi Hendrix. Cream and Blind Faith were no more. And he was desperately in love with Patti Harrison. He no longer wanted to lead a band, but instead, just melt into the background of one. Touring through different countries in the autumn, Clapton coaxed George Harrison into joining the tour when they returned for a series of British appearances. He literally had the tour bus pull up outside of Harrison’s sprawling mansion at Henley-on-Thames and practically yanked the Beatle aboard. George was increasingly intent on splintering off on his own, away from the Beatle yoke, and this opportunity gave him a stronger sense of independence.

By early 1970, Alice had left Clapton’s home in a huff, not to return until months later. The reason for her disgust lay in Eric’s dating Paula Boyd, a younger sister of Patti’s. Clapton figured if he couldn’t sway the real object of his obsession, he’d settle for her sibling. It was time for him to assemble yet another band, as well. This time he corralled bassist Carl Radle, keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, and drummer Jim Gordon into a group they anonymously titled Derek and the Dominos. Hoping to keep the identities of the band members a secret from the press, the quartet played a series of small gigs in British clubs. But the word soon got out, and Eric, once again, felt he needed to commit to some sort of project with his new bandmates.

In April 1970, Paul McCartney announced he was leaving The Beatles, and in a flash, the world’s biggest rock band was no more. George Harrison was eager to lay down new tracks he’d been fiddling with for a huge debut solo album. He enlisted Derek and the Dominos to play as his backup band, and throughout May and June, the landmark album, “All Things Must Pass,” was recorded. Patti would spot Clapton on occasion during these sessions, and their friendship became stronger. She felt an isolation from George because of his constant work. It was also alluded that he’d been having a few liaisons with the groupies known as ‘Apple scruffs’ that would hang around outside of the famed studio. George included a song by that title on his latest album. Eric, meanwhile, spent his off-hours writing material for his own band and trying not to let thoughts of Patti engulf him. But visions of her enveloped his mind daily. And the tracks he fashioned were songs of love to the woman he could not have.

A friend had given Eric a book by the ancient Persian poet Nizami. It was entitled “Layla and Manjun” and concerned a story of the unrequited love Manjun had for a beautiful but unobtainable woman named Layla. Clapton saw the obvious parallels to his own life, and set about writing the heart-wrenching classic that has defined his work as no other. In addition, he concocted other love songs for her, such as “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.” This collection of tender tunes would soon wind up on his next record with the Dominos, entitled “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.”

In August 1970, with Alice back in the house, Paula Boyd still in the picture and sister Patti quite unavailable, Eric needed to break away from England to record his album. He and the Dominos flew to Miami and set up house in Criteria Studios for a month. By day, the bandmates would take in the beaches, sun and surf, and at night, they would perform long-winded jam sessions, trying to discover the heart of each song. Producer Tom Dowd felt they needed more direction. He’d been producing the Allman Brothers’ latest album, “Idlewild South,” and was adamant about Clapton seeing the band perform at a nearby concert. Eric was immediately taken with Duane Allman’s masterful abilities on slide guitar. The Allman brother was invited to attend a Dominos’ session. “I went down there to listen to them cut (‘Layla’), that’s what I went for,” Duane later described to Guitar Player magazine. “And well, like he’d heard my playing and stuff, and he just greeted me like an old partner or something. He says, ‘Yeah, man, get out your guitar. We got to play.’ So, I was just going to play on one or two, and then as we kept on going, it kept developing.”

Not only did Duane Allman’s soaring guitar work on “Layla” help shape and solidify that song’s most endearing qualities, the southern rocker was able to bring numerous ideas and solutions to the sessions that enabled the double-album to become a tight, rip-roaring classic. “Incidentally,” he continued, “on sides 1, 2, 3, and 4, all the songs are right in the order they were cut, from the first day through to ‘Layla’ and then ‘Thorn Tree.’ I’m as proud of that as any albums that I’ve ever been on. I’m as satisfied with my work on that as I could possibly be.” Sadly, Duane Allman would not live to work on another Clapton collaboration. The next year, on October 29, 1971, Duane died in a motorcycle accident.

All the music, sand and sunshine, however, could not deter Eric’s obsessive thoughts about Patti. What once was a recreational activity, namely, drugs and alcohol, became the anesthetic to blunt his ever-increasing depression. The studio in Miami turned into a veritable powder and booze den. “We were dabbling and f***ing around with everything,” Clapton told author Michael Schumacher. “It was like a snort of coke in one nostril, a snort of smack in the other, a pint of cheap wine in one ear, a bottle of Scotch in the other – it was just full out.” After the group arrived back in London in September 1970, the party simply rumbled on as the guys wound up living together under one roof. The album was just about completed except for a vocal polish on “Layla.” “We’d finished all the other tracks, so I invited Patti’s sister Paula to come and hear me sing ‘Layla’ for the first time,” Eric recalled to Ray Coleman. “When she heard that vocal, she packed her bags and left my home in great distress. Because she realized it was about Patti and that I’d been using her, I suppose.”

The scene at Eric’s Hurtwood Edge mansion was becoming more insular with the all-day, all-night drug activities throughout the home. “We were taking all kinds of mild drugs: marijuana and acid and uppers and downers, and cocaine,” Clapton told Coleman. “And that’s where the heroin came in, because the dealer we were usually getting the coke from was insisting that we buy a little bit of heroin with it, because that was his stock-in-trade as well, and he couldn’t off-load it.” After sampling a bit of the hard drug, Clapton soon climbed aboard the horse at full tilt. Alice, who had been loyal to him throughout his affair with Paula and his continued obsession with Patti, became the household connection, scoring Eric and the band heroin wherever they traveled.

Soon thereafter, Clapton attended the opening performance of “Oh! Calcutta!,” a controversial, erotic new play that premiered at London’s Roundhouse Theatre. He noticed Patti Harrison sitting alone in the audience and asked her neighboring patron for their seat. He finally had the woman of his dreams alone to himself, by his side, and this time he wasn’t going to let her go. That night, the two of them went back to an apartment Eric leased in the city and spent an evening consummating their hidden affections for each other. A short time later, Clapton brought her to his house for another brief liaison. “He played ‘Layla’ to me two or three times,” she recalled to Ray Coleman. “His intensity was both frightening and fascinating, really. I was taken aback. It was a very powerful record…I was puzzled, flattered, shocked, amazed. I knew his feelings were strong for me, but I had no idea it would run to him writing a song for me.” Clapton affirmed his intentions in concocting the classic tune. “…I wrote ‘Layla’ specifically about Patti and me. It was my open-heart message that I was in love with her, and she knew it couldn’t be about anyone else. I just couldn’t visualize a life without her…”

In hindsight, Clapton has obviously enjoyed the success of “Layla” but does not quite view it as the rock masterpiece many have come to associate it with. “As a song just in itself, I don’t think it’s got much going for it to be honest with you,” he confessed to the BBC. “I mean there’s a structure and there is a melody, but historically, is where it’s at in the scheme of things, at the end of the ‘60s with the kind of bands that were coming into being, with the way that music was changing, and with the historic little bit of life history, you know, with me and George and Patti, that it’s got a life of its own.”

Over the next few months, Patti and Eric met several times for clandestine lovemaking. Eric was ecstatic about finally obtaining that which seemed unobtainable. For Patti, the affair presented her with a mixed bag of emotions. “I was a very shy person and, I suppose, easily manipulated,” she later related to the London Daily Telegraph. “Of course, it’s flattering to feel someone desperately wants you, but looking back, it’s quite uncomfortable to realize that you were the object of desire. That’s quite a passive thing to be.” Trapped in the throes of excessive heroin use, Clapton was becoming more agitated and commanding by the day. “He kept insisting I should leave George and go and live with him,” Patti related to Ray Coleman. “I said I couldn’t. I got cold feet. I couldn’t bear it.” She soon distanced herself from the talented and tormented guitarist.

The members of the Dominos were still lingering around Hurtwood Edge, indulging in the massive quantities of drugs Alice would regularly bring in. The weekly bill for the heroin alone ran in the neighborhood of $1,500. Clapton had a deep aversion to needles and required high quality horse in order to inhale the drug. The majority of Eric’s friends and associates were not welcome at the house during the ensuing years. Who frontman, Pete Townshend, was one of the few visitors Clapton would allow on the premises. Having sworn off narcotics in 1967, Pete was put in the uneasy role of trying to rehabilitate Eric and Alice without irritating them. Of the daily routine at the mansion, Townshend told Ray Coleman, “It was a typical junkie scene. It was despicable. But even through all that, you know, I got to like and love them both very much. It was the first encounter I’d had with heroin addicts. I wasn’t prepared for the lies, I wasn’t prepared for the duplicity…but even through all that, I decided they definitely seemed to me to be worth the effort.”

An attempt at recording a second Derek and the Dominos album proved futile. “…We peaked so quickly and made so much money,” Eric observed to Rolling Stone magazine. “And these guys, who were basically from the South – like Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon – were suddenly thrust into all this money and drugs and women, and it just cart-wheeled, took off and blew up. It was like a massive car crash, and scary, scary, scary. We couldn’t even talk to one another, we were so wound up and drugged out and paranoid. It was doomed, really…One of the reasons we broke up was the rapport between me and Jim, which had always been so good, had broken down. And in the middle of a session, when we were trying to do a second studio album, I said something about the rhythm being wrong for the song, and Jim said something like, ‘Well, the Dixie Flyers are in town. You can get their drummer.’ I put my guitar down and walked out of the studio, and I didn’t speak to him again.” Jim Gordon would subsequently go mad. In the early 1980s, with voices and visions escalating in his schizophrenic mind, Gordon brutally murdered his mother and was sent to prison.

In August 1971, Eric still helped his friend George Harrison out, even while he was in contact with Patti behind his back. Joining a line-up that included Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston, and the members of Badfinger, Clapton participated in George’s massive charity performance, The Concert for Bangladesh, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The torn rejection he was feeling from Patti, however, was too much for Eric to handle, and he finally issued an ultimatum. One day, Clapton drove over to the Harrison house, while George was away, and confronted Patti. “Eric showed me this packet of heroin and said, ‘Either you come away with me or I will take this,” Patti recalled to the London Daily Telegraph. “I was appalled. I grabbed at it and tried to throw it away, but he snatched it back. I turned him down – and for four years, he became a drug addict.” The dejected musical legend shuffled back to his giant abode, shut the door, and virtually became a reclusive junkie overnight. “At first, I felt guilt,” Patti continued. “Then I felt anger because it was totally irrational of him to blame me for something he was probably going to do anyway; it was very selfish and destructive.”

Life at the Harrison household was no bed of roses as well during the early ‘70s. George had caught wind of Eric’s deep obsession with his wife, and as a result, he grew more distant from Patti. During a party at Ringo’s house one night, George drunkenly blurted out his infatuation for Starr’s wife, Maureen, and suggested to Ringo that they simply swap wives. Patti broke down crying, locking herself into the bathroom. George and Maureen later allegedly consummated a brief affair. The perception of George having a mellow spirit ran counterpoint to his behavior when he got behind the wheel of a car. In February 1971, after numerous ticketed offenses and the bad-mouthing of an officer, Harrison lost his license for a year. As soon as he retrieved the privilege to drive in February 1972, he promptly ran his vehicle off the M4 motorway, severely injuring Patti in the passenger seat. As she spent time recuperating from a concussion and broken ribs for a few weeks in the hospital, Patti began to realize her union with George was definitely on the downslope.

While the respected Lord Harlech disapproved of his daughter Alice living with a drugged-out rock star, the kindly ambassador knew that deep down, Clapton was a soul worth saving. With his financial backing and influential connections, he set in motion a charity concert that would serve as an event to resurrect the broken guitar god. With Pete Townshend’s urging, Eric was enticed to emerge from Hurtwood Edge on January 13, 1973, after nearly two years of self-imposed exile, to play with Pete, Ron Wood, Steve Winwood, and other talented musicians onstage at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The performance helped boost Clapton’s spirits and opened the door for a chance of recovery.

A full year later, he seemed ready to dispense with his heroin addiction once and for all. Again, with the aid of Lord Harlech, Clapton underwent a new program to detour the cravings for the insidious narcotic. Dr. Meg Patterson had conceived of a form of acupuncture in which electric currents would be used to zap one’s ear lobes. In early 1974, she regularly visited Clapton and Alice at their home and administered the treatment. The cure was successful. Eric felt rejuvenated. Yet, one thing was missing. Patti Harrison.

During a party at producer Robert Stigwood’s home, Clapton walked straight up to George Harrison and blurted out, “I’m in love with your wife. What are you going to do about it?” George barely registered surprise. “…Well, at the time, he didn’t put up too much of a fight,” Eric later recalled to Australia’s “60 Minutes.” “I mean when I first announced that I was in love with her, he said, ‘Well, fine,’ you know. ‘You go ahead and do it.’ Which wasn’t, I believe now, what he truly felt, but there was a certain, you know – he didn’t want to appear to be, I guess, upset. The fact was he was very upset, I’m sure.” After the almost four year hiatus from Eric’s presence, Patti was understandably confused and dismayed. She and George left the party without any further discussion with Eric that night.

Clapton needed a project to keep his attention diverted from slipping back to his old habits. Producer Tom Dowd, who had engineered three Cream albums and had helmed the Derek and the Dominos sessions, invited him back to Miami’s Criteria Studios in May 1974. With a new band and a fresh take on songwriting, they worked on numbers like “Get Ready” and “Let It Grow.” Clapton covered a hit song by reggae wunderkind Bob Marley entitled “I Shot the Sheriff.” When the album “461 Ocean Boulevard,” named after their residence while staying in Florida, was released in August, it rose to number one on the Billboard chart for 4 weeks.

Eric was back in his element. He returned to England with Patti still very much on his mind. Alice saw the writing on the wall and left Hurtwood Edge thereafter. Sadly, Alice reportedly died of a drug overdose in April 1995. As for Eric, his heroin addiction became supplanted by one of alcohol that year of 1974. Part of his post-treatment with Dr. Patterson had been to spend a month on a farm, helping workers with chores and fashioning a clean constitution in his system. The farmhands unfortunately liked to end their day by dragging Clapton to village bars. Now, back at his home, Clapton turned to his one-time savior, Pete Townshend, who was gradually working his way up to two bottles of brandy a day himself, and the two became pub-crawl drinking pals. This new extracurricular activity did nothing however to diminish Eric’s determination to seek out the elusive girl of his dreams.

“Let’s make the best of the situation,
Before I finally go insane.
Please don’t say we’ll never find a way,
And tell me all my love’s in vain.”
(from “Layla” by Clapton/Gordon)

While filming the part of a rock preacher for Townshend’s Who motion picture “Tommy,” Clapton coaxed his bar buddy to visit the Harrison household one evening. Upon arrival, Pete, Eric, and George had a polite conversation in the living room for a while. Then Eric indicated to Pete that he should keep George occupied. Eric slipped away and found Patti in another room. For a full hour, he talked to her, proclaiming his love for her, letting her know he’d kicked his heroin habit, and promising to take care of her if she ever chose to leave George. With his peace finally spoken, Clapton left Patti behind to reflect once more, as she did in 1964, about severing a long-term love in order to pursue a rock star.

It took her three weeks to come to a decision. Patti packed her bags and flew to Los Angeles to stay with her sister Jenny and her husband, musician Mick Fleetwood. Eric was on tour throughout America, performing material from the “461” album, and he phoned her from the road. They finally connected when Patti flew to Buffalo, New York to join Eric on tour. After the series of performances, the happy couple celebrated their new relationship in Jamaica for a few weeks.

George Harrison seemed to not show any animosity towards the departure of his wife of eight years. While promoting his new album, “Dark Horse,” at a Los Angeles press conference in October 1974, he was asked by reporters if he was getting divorced. Typically dry-witted and evasive, George muttered, “No, I mean that’s as silly as marriage.” In answer to another question inquiring whether he had included a rebuttal song to Eric’s “Layla” on his new album, George replied, “What do you mean, musical rebuttal? That sounds nasty, doesn’t it? I’d like to sort that one out. I love Eric Clapton. He’s been a close friend for years. I’m very happy about it. I’m very friendly with them.” Asked why he was so happy, George cheerfully answered, “Because he’s great. I’d rather she was with him than some dope.” The ex-Beatle wasn’t exactly moping around, pining for his lost love. Having just formed his Dark Horse label with A&M Records, Harrison had become enamored of an assistant in the company’s merchandising department named Olivia Arias. The two would subsequently marry on September 2, 1978. Olivia is still George’s wife to this day.

Back at Hurtwood Edge, Patti began to realize the storybook image of a wonderful love Eric had painted for them was going to be tainted. “In my naivete, I believed everything was all right,” she recalled to the London Daily Telegraph. “He wasn’t taking heroin, which I thought was the main addiction for him. But, as it turned out, his drug of choice turned out to be alcohol…Eric would just completely pass out wherever he was sitting, whether it was on the sofa or the floor, because he was saturated with drink. The realization hit me: ‘This isn’t fun. He’s not having fun.” Clapton confirmed his inebriated state of fixation in hindsight to interviewer David Frost in 1994. “In my case, alcohol was very hard because I was so – I love drinking. I mean, being an Englishman, I think drinking’s so much a part of our heritage, especially the country pub…Today, I mean you see people sitting outside pubs with lager, you know. Pints of lager. And it looks so attractive to me, you know. And I don’t – really, I’d love to do that – but unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to stop, you see. I’d just go on and on and on.”

Patti hit the bottle herself during this period. But she also tried to bring restraint to the sodden proceedings. “Some of the time, I was an accomplice,” she acknowledged to Ray Coleman, “then I backed out. I thought one of us should be sober some of the time, so I was. I found him very hard to live with. He expected me not to care about his drunken friends lying all over the house. Sometimes he’d even bring drunken strangers back from the pub – tramps, who he insisted should not stay out in the street but should stay the night with us!” While Eric had initially accepted Patti with him on tour in 1974, he decided not to invite her on subsequent road trips with his band throughout the rest of the 1970s. As the pattern had been before with George, Patti was to stay at home and not to interfere with Clapton’s good-time revelry on the tour bus.

George Harrison continued to be civil to his estranged wife and Clapton. “George, Patti, and I actually sat in the hall of my house and I remember him saying, ‘Well, I suppose I’d better divorce her,” Clapton recalled to Coleman. “And I said, ‘Well, if you divorce her, that means I’ve got to marry her.’ In black and white, it sounds and looks horrible. But it was like a Woody Allen situation…It really was like one of those movies where you see wife-swapping – ‘Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.’ And everyone was saying, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. We can write our own story on this.’ Because those were the times.” On June 9, 1977, the Harrison’s divorce was finalized. Clapton continued to feel that despite George’s cheery exterior, he retained a lingering animosity about the situation, even though they remained friends throughout. “We always talked,” Eric related to Rolling Stone Magazine. “Some of it was very LSD-type conversation and very esoteric, sort of cosmo-speak, especially from George. And he would show up from time to time, when Patti and I were living together. He came around once, and it was all very trippy. It got quite hostile at times, but we always cared for one another.” George gave his own take on this observation in 1977 to Crawdaddy magazine. “I didn’t have any problems about it; Eric had the problem. Every time I’d go and see him, he’d really be hung up about it, and I’d be saying, ‘F*** it, man, don’t be apologizing,’ and he didn’t believe me. I was saying, ‘I don’t care.”

In 1976, Eric wrote another famous love song inspired by Patti one evening after they had gotten back from an afternoon luncheon. They were set to attend another event at a club that night. “Wonderful Tonight’ has a little bit of irony in it,” Clapton shared with Rolling Stone magazine. “I didn’t write it in a particular good mood. I wrote it because my wife was late getting ready to go out. I was in a foul temper about it.” He wrote the beautiful-sounding ditty in ten minutes flat. Sweet romantic songs, however, could not disguise the fact that Eric’s drinking and constant bickering with Patti was becoming more pronounced. One afternoon in 1979, Patti returned home to discover Clapton in bed with her good friend Jenny McLean. With tears flowing, Patti raced to her sister Paula’s doorstep for commiseration, then, flew to Los Angeles to spend time with record producer Rob Fraboni and his wife. Clapton continued his liaison with Jenny for a week or so, until his manager, Rob Forrester made a bar bet with Eric that he could instantly have Clapton’s name in newspapers the next day. Eric took the challenge. Forrester simply phoned a gossip columnist with the Daily Mail, and the next day, the paper trumpeted the headline, “Rock star Eric Clapton will marry Patti Boyd in Tucson, Arizona next Tuesday.”

The famed guitarist nearly punched off his manager’s head. Forrester had merely wanted to force Eric to consider the depth of his relationship with Patti and make a decision about their future. Clapton let Jenny go and phoned Patti, leaving a marriage proposal on the Fraboni’s answering machine for her. As ‘cheap’ as Patti felt this approach was, she agreed to be his wife. Clapton was set to tour the United States that week, and while on a break in Tucson, he and Patti were married at the Apostolic Assembly of Faith in Christ Jesus on March 27, 1979. The ceremony was conducted in Spanish by the Reverend Daniel Sanchez. The next night, while performing a concert in the Arizona city, Clapton called Patti out onstage and sang “Wonderful Tonight” to her. She remained on tour with them until April 14th in Louisiana, at which point she was flown back to England. On May 19th, a reception was held in the garden behind Hurtwood Edge. George Harrison and his new bride Olivia attended, as did Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Elton John, David Bowie, members of Cream, and many other musicians. George, Paul and Ringo jammed together on a makeshift stage, the last time three of the four Beatles ever performed together in public.

“I tried to give you consolation,
When your old man had let you down.
Like a fool, I fell in love with you,
Turned my whole world upside down.”
(from “Layla” by Clapton/Gordon)

Clapton had finally wooed, courted, and won his musical muse. But years of obsession and addiction had worn down any semblance of lasting love. Once the honeymoon was over, it literally appeared to be over. It would take the better part of the next decade for their union to dissolve. In the meantime, Patti went back to watering down Eric’s drinks as best she could and staying out of harm’s way. Clapton became dangerously unbalanced. “Everyone used to walk around me on eggshells,” he recalled to the Sunday Times. “They didn’t know if I was going to be angry or whatever. When I’d come back from the pub, I could come back happy or I could come back and smash the place up…There were times when I just took sex with my wife by force and thought that was my entitlement.”

After passing out on a basement woodpile during the 1982 Christmas holidays, Eric was finally coaxed into going to rehab. Spending weeks at Minnesota’s prestigious Hazelden clinic, Clapton checked out only to check back in to the bottle. “It was becoming very difficult,” Patti observed to the London Daily Telegraph. “You’d look for the part of the person you know and love, but it was hard to find. I think Eric was worried about his talent totally disappearing if he stopped drinking, which is a common idea among creative people.” Clapton’s penchant for having affairs with other women had not diminished as well. While recording his “Behind The Sun” album in 1984 in the Caribbean, he took up with 28-year old Yvonne Kelly, a married Montserrat native who provided housekeeping services for the AIR recording studios on the island. On January 11, 1985, Yvonne gave birth to a by-product of one of their couplings. At first, Clapton did not openly acknowledge his baby daughter, Ruth Kelly Clapton, was his own, but subsequently he provided financial support for her and her mother. In the 1990s, Ruth and her mom moved to Doncaster, England, and in 1998, Ruth gave a spoken word performance on Eric’s song “Inside of Me.”

Patti learned of the pregnancy in the autumn of 1984 and moved out of Hurtwood Edge. She was doubly wounded by the incident because of the fact that she was unable to bear children. Two attempts at in-vitro fertilization had proven unsuccessful. But by bringing Patti along on a holiday to Israel, Eric was able to woo her back to his house in February 1985. He had recorded the song “Never Make You Cry” as his resolve to not hurt her again. The sentiment was short-lived. Later that year, in December, Eric had taken up with another woman, an Italian model-actress named Lori Del Santo. She became pregnant with Clapton’s second child, Conor. This time the rocker seemed proud to be a new dad, when the boy was born on August 21, 1986. He titled his latest album, “August,” in commemoration of the birthdate, and even suggested Lori and his son live under the same roof at Hurtwood with Patti and himself. To the crushed and deflated Patti, this suggestion was finally the last straw.

Patti moved out for good in the winter of 1987, leaving Eric behind with his new family. “It was the most difficult thing I ever did in my life,” she later reflected to the London Daily Telegraph. “I loved him deeply, but knowing he was still seeing Conor’s mother, I felt there was no role for me. Because he loved me, he believed I would be pleased and happy for him that he had a baby. It was as if I was his best friend, that he could tell me everything without realizing how deeply painful this was for me…It probably took me six years to get over it, with four years of psychotherapy. My self-esteem was unbelievably low, and I found it really hard to build up relationships because I had been used to difficult people. Anybody who was sweet and nice to me was no challenge.” Patti cited Lori in her divorce papers and was granted the final separation in 1989. Climbing back from decades of being subservient to egotistical rock stars, she founded a drug and alcohol addiction charity named SHARP in 1991 with Bryan Ferry’s wife, Lucy, Ringo Starr’s spouse, Barbara Bach, and Squeeze musician Jools Holland’s companion Christabel Durham.

Like his father, Clapton was never able to accept the comfort and security afforded by a monogamous relationship. He soon grew tired of being a dad and put Lori and his son into a separate residence. In March 1991, he tried to reconcile with his 4½ -year old boy by visiting with him in New York. He took Conor to a circus in Long Island on March 19th and said to Lori how pleased he was that he had connected so well with his child. The next morning, Conor played ‘hide and seek’ with his nanny in Lori’s 57th street Manhattan apartment, while a janitor fixed a lock on a window. The janitor opened the huge 4’ x 6’ pane of glass to allow a fresh breeze in while he worked. Before any one could have possibly responded, Conor playfully leapt up onto the foot-high window ledge, probably unaware that the great open yawning lay before him, and lost his balance. He fell 53 floors. Clapton arrived to see the paramedics take his beloved boy away. Both Patti and George Harrison attended Conor’s funeral in Surrey, England to lend Eric their support. The shattered singer composed the bittersweet tributes “Tears in Heaven” and “The Circus Left Town” for the son he never truly got to know.

By the time of the tragedy, Eric had gotten ahold of his drinking problem. Having attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since the late ‘80s, he had finally found the strength to put the disease in its place. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine if he was tempted to tumble into the brandy glass after the devastating loss of his son, he responded, “Never once, no. I’ve been in a program of recovery for nearly four years, and that helped me tremendously. It was somewhere for me to go and talk about it. I may well have gone back to something or other if it hadn’t been for that.” Taking recovery one step further, he helped found an alcohol and drug abuse clinic on the island of Antigua. The $9,000-a-month Crossroads Centre opened in October 1998 with 36 beds and intensive treatment for local natives as well as visiting addicts.

While he’s been linked with famous personalities such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Sheryl Crow, Clapton has never settled down again in a solid relationship. As of this writing, however, he is set to become a dad again in June 2001. An American graphics artist, 25-year old Melia McEnery, is pregnant with 56-year old Clapton’s child and is scheduled to give birth in Ohio. How much of a role Eric will play in their lives remains to be seen. His track record with the opposite sex has been unstable at best. “I’ve often used women for very, very ulterior motives,” he confessed to Australia’s “60 Minutes.” “As a crutch, as a means of securing my identity, as a way of elevating my status, as a way of making me feel good about myself. Or, just to be mothered, you know. Or for sex. There’s a lot of different motives.” But hindsight, according to the solitary rock legend, has always been kind in its recollections. “I don’t think I’ve had a relationship that has ended with any sour effects,” he confided to Rolling Stone magazine. “I’m very lucky in that the people I’ve loved still love me and I still love them. I think most people will find that even if they’ve broken up under the worst circumstances, the things that draw you to another person will always remain, and the bad stuff just seems to dissipate.”

As for rock’s most notorious triangle of love, George, Patti, and Eric will always keep their legendary bond. Eric is still as fond of his ex-Beatle friend as they were of each other in the 1960s. “We get on fine,” Clapton told Mojo magazine in 1998. “We both put quite a lot of work into our relationship. We go out of our way to touch base and see one another, and I love him dearly. Someone like George has a very deep meaning for me in my life.” As for his all-consuming quest to wrench Patti away from Harrison, Clapton said to interviewer Larry King, “It’s something I regret…I admired him and I fell in love with her…I became addicted to drugs seriously during that period because I couldn’t cope. And I sought that as a way out of the situation because I didn’t know how to deal with it.” He offered more soul-searching to interviewer Ed Bradley: “I don’t know if I was capable of knowing what love was then. I was obsessed with this woman. That’s why I say I don’t know if I loved her. Because, as a practicing drunk, which I was then, I just wanted something very badly.”

For Patti Clapton, her place in rock history will forever be associated with the Shakespearean focal point she represented in this tale of love conquered and lost. She seems satisfied and relieved enough knowing it all appears to be behind her now. “Maybe it had more to do with them,” she related to the London Daily Telegraph. “Perhaps Eric just wanted what George had. I don’t know – I just think it’s amazing we’ve come through it and we’re all still alive.” For Eric and George, their “Layla” will always represent a lover whose song carries a life of its own. “We’re still very much the same in the way we think about and feel about each other,” Clapton observed to Rolling Stone. “Patti is still there in the picture for all of us.”

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Death at the Dakota

Late one afternoon, a fan stepped up to ask John Lennon if the former Beatle would sign his copy of the Lennon/Yoko Ono album “Double Fantasy.” Lennon stopped momentarily, taking the man’s pen in hand, and marked the record cover with the words “John Lennon, 1980.” The fan was happily overwhelmed, stepping back, seemingly mesmerized as John walked on to his limousine parked at the curb. The fan turned to another Lennon admirer and said, “They’re never going to believe this back in Hawaii.” He had a big grin on his face.

The fan was Mark David Chapman. The day was Monday, December 8, 1980. The time was just after 5:00 pm. In less than six hours, Chapman would step forward from the shadows of history and ruthlessly extinguish John Lennon’s life.

This December day would be a prominent, albeit sad, cornerstone in many peoples’ lives. Practically everyone who was born before 1980 and has retainable memories of this period can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the dreadful news of Lennon’s death. As their parents can recollect the place and circumstance they learned of John F. Kennedy’s shocking assassination, a moment which “clicks” in everyone’s memory banks of that era, John Lennon’s demise is unfortunately the cohesive shared experience commonly accessible in every baby boomer’s lifetime. Those fateful shots fired in Manhattan that night caused people around the globe to reflect on the senseless brutality the late 20th century seemed to foster in droves through troubled souls who inflicted their torment on the most pacifist of individuals.

John Lennon was, by all accounts, a peaceful man. After a decade of unparalleled hysteria in the phenomena known as the Beatles, he sought a simpler, more private lifestyle. He chose New York City to be his sanctuary away from the madness in August 1971. He and Yoko Ono stayed at the St. Regis Hotel for a few weeks when he got his initial six-month visa, and then, they moved into a brownstone apartment on Bank Street in Greenwich Village. Jumping into radical causes for such concerns as the American Indian, the White Panthers, and the Black Panthers, John enthusiastically gave of his time and talent, but, as a result, he was irritating politicians in Washington. His visa was cancelled after the first six months, and John and Yoko spent some time travelling the country, battling their immigration foes, distancing themselves from suspected government surveillance, and wrestling over lawsuits with their Beatle manager Allen Klein. By early 1973, they were settled back in New York and decided to purchase an apartment at the Dakota, a gothic, ominous, stone structure on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. It was the apartment building that was used to haunting effect in the 1968 chiller “Rosemary’s Baby.” Celebrities like neighbors Leonard Bernstein, Lauren Bacall, and Gilda Radner would often pass the Lennons in the hallway. The huge windows surrounding the spacious interior of their 7th floor apartment afforded John and Yoko a marvelous view of the Park and beyond.

As 1974 approached, Lennon and Ono had a bit of a falling out, and, as Lennon so dryly summed up his sudden move to Los Angeles, “I went out for coffee and some papers, and I didn’t come back.” But return he did in 1975, after a rowdy year of drinking and L.A. partying, and shortly thereafter, Yoko became pregnant with their son Sean. On October 7, 1975, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Lennon’s deportation ruling, and he was free to live in the United States shortly thereafter. Two days later on October 9th, John’s 35th birthday, Sean was born. John had mellowed to the point that all he wanted to do was stay home and raise his new son. He effectively became a househusband.

Except for attending Jimmy Carter’s presidential inaugural celebration in 1977, John kept pretty much to New York and doted on Sean for the next four years, baking bread and cleaning out the cat litterbox at the Dakota. The couple eventually purchased five apartments in the building. Yoko attended to business matters concerning John’s former record label and music publisher. As a getaway from the Big Apple, they purchased 1,000 acres of land in the quiet wooded environs of upstate New York. And for warmer weather, they bought a seaside mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.

By July 1980, John began tinkering with a few new songs while vacationing on his 63-foot yacht, “Isis,” with a five-man crew, in Bermuda. He first concocted the song “Woman.” Yoko also began writing some tunes, and by the time the family regrouped in Manhattan two weeks later, John and Yoko had about 20 songs written. On August 4th they began recording their album “Double Fantasy,” named after a flower John had spotted in Bermuda, at the Hit Factory studios on West 54th Street. In September, record impresario David Geffen offered to release their album without even hearing a cut from it. John was “back,” and he willingly gave interviews to Newsweek, Esquire, Playboy, and Rolling Stone magazines. Hitting stores on November 17th, the album was eagerly snapped up by fans of Lennon who had waited five long years for new material. John was elated at its success and was eager to work on another album. He and Yoko were in sync, recording more songs, and spending more time in the studio. New horizons in his career seemed imminent, and as the first single released from the album optimistically trumpeted, it was “(Just Like) Starting Over.” The album “Double Fantasy” had climbed to number 25 and the ‘Starting Over’ single settled at number 6 on the Billboard chart by Saturday, December 6th. That morning, Mark David Chapman was waking up at the 63rd Street YMCA, just nine blocks south of Lennon’s residence at the Dakota.

Chapman had arrived the night before. This 25 year-old from Honolulu, Hawaii had brought very few personal effects with him. He had come to Manhattan for only one purpose.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas but raised mostly in Decatur, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, Chapman had admired the Beatles when he was a young teenager in middle school. He played in a band himself. Friends saw him as conscientious during the period he worked as a YMCA counselor. But around 1969, 14 year-old Chapman started experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs and went on a wild bender for several months. As quickly as his spiral into narcotics commenced, he suddenly quit, cold turkey, and became a devout Christian. He’d spend hours proselytizing to other students at his high school. After graduation, he did a short stint for the YMCA in Beirut, Lebanon, and then had a brief, yet intense, relationship with a young girl in the States. By 1977, Chapman had no definitive career path, aimless in his goals. He moved to Hawaii, took odd jobs, and tried to kill himself. After spending almost a year traveling the world on money his parents had given him, Chapman settled back in Honolulu and married a Japanese woman named Gloria Abe in June 1979. He took a low-paying job as a security guard for a high-rise condominium. He became irritable and unapproachable during this period. He also still had a fascination with the Beatles. With John Lennon, in particular.

On October 23, 1980, Chapman quit his security job, signing out his name as “John Lennon.” Four days later, he purchased a Charter Arms .38 revolver. He simply left Gloria in November and traveled to New York. He stayed at the Olcott Hotel on West 72nd Street, merely a few hundred yards from the Dakota. His resolve to go through with some sort of action against Lennon dissolved, and he returned to Honolulu a few days later. By that Saturday morning, December 6th, when he stirred from his cot at the YMCA in Manhattan, Chapman’s resolve was renewed and committed.

John and Yoko sat with Andy Peebles of BBC radio, giving a lengthy interview that took up a few hours that day. John went to a nearby favorite café in the afternoon to have his usual cappuccino and read newspapers. Later, he phoned his Aunt Mimi in Dorset, England, the woman who had raised him as a small child, to tell her of the success “Double Fantasy” was garnering on both sides of the Atlantic, and news that he and Yoko were considering a concert tour to support the album. Meanwhile, Mark Chapman checked into the Sheraton Centre Hotel on 52nd Street and 7th Avenue for the night.

Sunday, December 7th, was rather uneventful. Mark Chapman paced in front of the Dakota apartment building, waiting, wondering.

On the morning of Monday, December 8, 1980, John Lennon got his hair cut. The winter day was almost spring-like, with a temperature in the low ‘60s. He gave an interview with the RKO radio network and for the majority of the afternoon, spent time in front of the lens of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, who had been snapping shots of Lennon and Ono for a few days at the Dakota. One of the photographs she took that afternoon was of a naked Lennon curled about Yoko, gently kissing her on the cheek. This photograph would ultimately grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine four weeks later.

Mark Chapman was outside the Dakota most of that afternoon, mingling with some other fans, the .38 tucked away under his jacket. As he read a paperback copy of J. D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” a street person ambled up to him, asking for money. Chapman handed him a ten-dollar bill, and the disheveled begger kissed Mark.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, Leibovitz was snapping her last photo of Lennon on a windowsill with a view of Central Park behind him. He and Yoko left the apartment shortly thereafter and walked down to the front lobby. The driver of the silver stretch limousine, which had been meeting them regularly out front at this time, parked outside the security gates of the Dakota that afternoon, by the street curb, several yards from the entryway of the building. As Lennon strolled to the car, Mark Chapman stepped forward and handed him the “Double Fantasy” album to sign. It was over in a matter of seconds, and Lennon and Ono were in the back of the limo, on their way to the recording studio. Chapman’s elated mood over acquiring a personalized collectible from this icon would soon darken again.

The bulk of their work at the studio that night consisted of putting the finishing touches on one of Yoko’s songs, “Walking On Thin Ice.” She had recorded the song in August, but the couple felt it would work better on a follow-up album, “Milk and Honey,” and had decided to leave it off the “Double Fantasy” release. Producer Jack Douglas had mixed the track with them a few days before on Friday night and was just readying it for the mastering session scheduled on Tuesday morning. David Geffen dropped by later in the evening, and John played ‘Thin Ice’ for him. Everyone agreed it was a wonderful cut, and Geffen told Lennon that “Double Fantasy” was about to be number one in England. It was a very celebratory mood in the studio that night.

Around 10:30, John and Yoko started to head out the door, their work done for the evening. John asked Douglas if he wanted to go with them to a nearby deli to grab some sandwiches, but Douglas needed to stay behind to complete some other work. The couple climbed into their limo, and with John feeling a bit tired, they decided not to go to the deli. The driver took them back to the Dakota.

At approximately 10:50pm, the limousine pulled to the curb out front, once again, instead of inside the security gates. The Dakota’s doorman, Jose, opened the limo for John, who climbed out first, carrying cassettes of the “Walking On Thin Ice” single. He ambled towards the huge stone archway that covered the entrance to the building. As Lennon passed under the archway, Chapman stepped from its recessed shadows and calmly said, “Mr. Lennon?” John stopped and turned. Chapman was bent over in a combat crouch position, arms fully extended, about five feet away, pointing the gun directly at Lennon. In a split second, John tried to react, by facing front again, making a move for the building, but multiple shots rang out, five in all, and John was struck in his back and arm.

Lennon stumbled through the lobby door, as the front desk clerk, a burly man by the name of Jay Hastings, came out of his office to see what had caused the disturbance. “I’m shot. I’m shot,” Lennon moaned, as he fell to the grey stone floor, the tapes scattering away from his hand. Yoko barreled through the door, screaming for an ambulance. Hastings bent down to Lennon and removed the singer’s glasses. He took off his blue uniform jacket and covered John. Then he pressed an alarm button that was connected directly to a nearby police precinct. Yoko cradled John’s head, crying hysterically.

Hastings left Yoko and John and rushed outside to look for the shooter. Chapman was out front, having dropped his gun on the ground, just standing there reading “Catcher in the Rye.” When Hastings incredulously asked Chapman what he had done, Mark looked up with a blank stare and said, “I’ve just shot John Lennon.”

Two police cars arrived within two minutes. Hastings pointed out Chapman to them, and two officers roughly handcuffed the perpetrator. Patrolman Anthony Palma entered the lobby, saw John on the floor, and rolled him over to examine the wounds. He called out to Officer James Moran that they couldn’t wait for an ambulance. Moran and his partner Bill Gamble, along with Hastings’ help, carried John to a patrol car, and with sirens blaring, they raced for nearby Roosevelt Hospital. Yoko climbed into the other police car and followed close behind. Holding John carefully in the car, Officer Moran asked Lennon if he knew his own name, trying to keep the wounded man conscious. John feebly nodded his head. And then, he lay very still.

Skidding to a halt at Roosevelt’s emergency room, Lennon was placed on a gurney and wheeled into the trauma ward. Doctors tried to massage his heart, but with over 80% of his blood supply gone, John had already passed away. At 11:07pm, John Ono Lennon was officially pronounced dead.

Dr. Stephen Lynn, Roosevelt’s director of emergency, had to give Yoko the horrible news. Word leaked out quickly. Two of the three network affiliates were heading into their 11:00 news broadcasts when the shooting occurred. The ABC network was still broadcasting its Monday Night Football game coverage, which was currently at a tied score. The booth broadcaster, Howard Cosell, was told by his producer that Lennon had been shot. Moments later, Cosell was informed of John’s death. He broke in on the events transpiring on the field and told the entire nation what had just happened. His voice quivered, and Cosell ended his announcement solemnly by saying, “Our game is in overtime, but it hardly seems to matter anymore.”

David Geffen got to the hospital shortly before midnight and took Yoko home. Once back at the Dakota, Ono phoned John’s son Julian, his Aunt Mimi, and Paul McCartney. Fans learning of the tragedy that night, began to assemble outside the Dakota fence early in the morning hours of December 9th. Hundreds of mourners sang John’s lyrics, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” By 2:00am, over a thousand mourners stood outside the building and more cops were sent in to keep control. By 4:30, a friend of Yoko’s stepped outside to ask everyone to settle down so she could sleep.

Early the next day, Tuesday, December 9th, Yoko broke the news to Sean. The boy was inconsolable for most of the day. Ringo Starr and his fiancee Barbara Bach had been vacationing in the Bahamas, but immediately flew to New York to be with Yoko and Sean on Tuesday. As Ringo left the Dakota, Julian Lennon arrived to spend time with his estranged father’s wife and son. Although John had been much of a distant father to Julian over many of his years, the two of them had begun patching up their relationship, and John would oftentimes eagerly help Julian when the boy had questions concerning songwriting and playing instruments. In Scotland, a stunned Paul McCartney stepped out of his house briefly to say to the gathered press, “I can’t take it in at the moment. John was a great man who’ll be remembered for his unique contribution to art, music, and world peace.” George Harrison was so dismayed, he broke off plans to record an album that week and sequestered himself away inside his English mansion for a long time, without a word to anyone. Producer Jack Douglas had been up the entire night of the murder, walking the streets of New York in a dazed state. He appeared on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show the next night, bedraggled and shell-shocked, barely mumbling his recollections of the man he had come to admire and consider as a true friend.

On December 10th, with a constant presence of fans still congregating around the Dakota, Yoko Ono issued the following statement to the press:

I told Sean what happened. I showed him the picture of his father on the cover of the paper and explained the situation. I took Sean to the spot where John lay after he was shot. Sean wanted to know why the person shot John if he liked John. I explained that he was probably a confused person. Sean said we should find out if he was confused or if he really had meant to kill John. I said that was up to the court. He asked what court – a tennis court or a basketball court? That’s how Sean used to talk with his father. They were buddies. John would have been proud of Sean if he had heard this. Sean cried later. He also said “Now Daddy is part of God. I guess when you die, you become much more bigger because you’re part of everything.” I don’t have much more to add to Sean’s statement. The silent vigil will take place December 14th at 2:00pm for ten minutes. Our thoughts will be with you. Love, Yoko and Sean.

A crowd of over 100,000 people stood silent that Sunday, December 14th, for a memorial vigil in Central Park. Yoko remained in the apartment that afternoon and continued to stay sequestered for several months following the tragedy, trying to make sense of a senseless act. For her, the spirit of John Lennon and the passion he brought to his art are the qualities of their relationship she continues to try to share with established fans and young children who may not be aware of Lennon’s legacy to this day.

As for Chapman, he was arraigned shortly after his arrest and charged with murder. Since he had previously tried to commit suicide, he was placed under observation at Bellevue Hospital. He was eventually found guilty and sentenced to between 20 years and life imprisonment. At Attica State Prison, he has given a handful of interviews to the media in an effort to explain why he took the life of one of the 20th Century’s most endearing and gifted talents. His reasons have been numerous and not very consistent. The fan had met his idol. The idol had signed a memento for the fan. The fan then shot his idol. Who knows what complex reasons led to Chapman’s fateful journey that warm December evening, one that brought him squarely into the path of the man he once adored? The reasons could be deeply rooted in psychosis, or a multi-faceted result of his formative environment, or simply the excuse he gave around the time of his arraignment. When asked why he did it, Chapman quietly said he didn’t like the way John Lennon had scribbled his autograph on the album that night.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Country Muse Gram Parsons Fill the Desert Skies

On the morning of Friday, September 21, 1973, tourists entering the vast deserted stretches of California’s Joshua Tree National Park, approximately 150 miles east of Los Angeles, came upon a sight not mentioned in their guidebooks. Near a huge outcrop of stone called Cap Rock, they discovered something smoldering under the hot morning sun. Upon closer examination, it looked to be a coffin. The charred remains of a body lay inside. Shocked and terrified, the visitors contacted the local sheriff’s office. Media swooped in to learn the identity of the mysterious corpse. By mid-afternoon, it was revealed to be Cecil Ingram Parsons, otherwise known as Gram Parsons. He was a musician who had passed away the day before in a nearby motel. Police were baffled by this new twist in their investigation into the entertainer’s demise. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times cited the scenario as one harboring ritualistic underpinnings. Who Gram Parsons was, and how he ended up scorched in a coffin amidst cacti and desert winds has captured the imagination of rock folklorists for many years since.

Outside of the music industry, not many people are aware of Gram Parson’s body of work. Most folks would be hard-pressed to name just one of his songs. But in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Los Angeles music scene was evolving into a hybrid sound that would soon be called Southern California rock. The Eagles would ultimately become the most identifiable progenitors of this style of music. One of the Eagles’ founding members, Bernie Leadon, had played in a band named The Flying Burrito Brothers shortly before taking up with Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Gram Parsons was a pivotal voice in the Burrito Brothers and what he brought to their sound influenced many artists within the industry. Parsons unabashedly promoted country music as a means to influence rock. Others would claim they originated the ‘country-rock’ sound, and it is evident that several artists were introducing country elements into their music all around the same period of time. But, Parsons was easily identifiable as the one voice above the rest who never wavered from his pursuit to create what he called ‘cosmic American music.’

Unlike countless other musicians who have headed west to southern California to struggle their way to the top, subsisting on very basic means, Gram Parsons never had to struggle, at least financially. He was rich. His dad’s family had owned the vast Snively citrus farms in Florida, and Gram lived off a semi-annual dividend left to him in a trust fund. What Parsons did wind up struggling with was the gnarled tangle of familial wrangling that ultimately took its toll on his psyche. For his extremely successful father, one day in 1958, had calmly gone to the office, taken care of a few bills, and then, blew his brains out with a .38-caliber revolver. His mother quickly devolved into a haze of booze and prescribed drugs, remarrying to a man whom Gram perceived as a gold-digger. His new stepfather, Bob Parsons, adopted Gram and his sister Avis, changing their surname, and attended to Gram’s ailing mother. Years later, Bob confessed to Gram that he’d made martinis in the hospital room his mom was being treated in so she could continue to drink. This obviously hastened her declining health, and she died, leaving Gram and his sister a phenomenal inheritance.

Gram was not one to rest on his unearned laurels. He’d grown to love music, particularly rhythm & blues and gospel, and formed early bands in his town of Winter Haven, Florida. When he’d become proficient on piano and guitar, Gram struck out for Harvard in 1963 and met a fellow musician at a party by the name of John Neuse. It was through Neuse’s influence that Gram apparently became enamored with the country style of music. “Gram had played a little country music back in Florida,” Neuse told author John Einarson. “But he wasn’t really interested in it. He wasn’t into country music. I introduced him to the music of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and the people who were doing great music at that time.” Neuse and Parsons roped in three other musicians and formed a country-tinged, rhythm & blues outfit known as The Like. Gram met another friend at this point, a former child actor who had starred in the western “Shane.” His name was Brandon de Wilde, and together with the band, he’d chime in with harmonies and partake of their burgeoning experimentation with drugs.

The Like were invited to go to New York by de Wilde to record some demos. They wound up staying in a rented house in the Bronx across the street from two other musicians, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills. The group changed its name to the International Submarine Band and played its brand of country & western-R&B throughout Greenwich Village coffeehouses. “Thanksgiving time 1966,” Neuse told author Einarson, “our dear friend, actor Brandon de Wilde, went to Los Angeles to do some television and movie stuff. Gram went to visit him and met a girl who was with David Crosby…” 19-year old Nancy Lee Ross had met the famed Byrds folk singer earlier in the year and was living at his house the day Gram dropped in. “When I saw this guy who looked like a coon dog/drowned water puppy come up the driveway,” she recalled to author Pamela Des Barres, “it was not in my mind to be unfaithful.” Gram said, “I’ve been looking for you for a long time, and I’m going to take you with me.” He went back to New York, collected his band, and moved everyone, including Nancy, into a huge home in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles. Gram married Nancy shortly thereafter.

L.A. was oozing hippie love at this point, with the sounds of Stills and Furay, who had joined Neil Young, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer forming the group Buffalo Springfield. The Mamas and the Papas were at the height of their career. And folkies-turned-pop stars, The Byrds, were commanding respect amongst their peers as the original rock stars of the Hollywood scene. It was while Gram Parsons stood in line at a Beverly Hills bank that he met Byrd’s songwriter, Chris Hillman. The two had an instant rapport in that they both loved country music. Hillman had grown up around horses in rural Southern California and had played the bluegrass circuit for many years before turning to folk and The Byrds. David Crosby had recently left Hillman’s group, and Hillman was looking for a musical equivalent to fill the gap and help steer them in a new direction. Roger McGuinn, Hillman’s founding partner, wanted to create an album centered around the Moog synthesizer. Chris wished to tap into country. He brought Gram Parsons aboard the group in February 1968.

In the studio, Gram immediately tossed about his country music ideas for the other members to absorb. McGuinn appeared to be threatened by the new teaming of Hillman and Parsons and their twangy renditions. Recruiting sidemen like “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar and Clarence White of the Kentucky Colonels on bass, The Byrds recorded the album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” It was more country than it was rock, and Parsons had crafted the majority of the tunes on the album. John Neuse, Gram’s old friend in the International Submarine Band, would later proclaim his designation as the king of country-rock to author John Einarson. “We were the founders. We predated ‘Sweethearts of the Rodeo.’ Let me make a definitive statement. Gram turned the Byrds on to country music, and I turned Gram on to country music.” Nevertheless, history of rock has seen fit to award Gram with the honor of being the most influential advocator of the country-rock genesis.

Parson’s stint with the Byrds was short-lived. Five months to be exact. In July 1968, while touring in London, he decided to stay at his hotel and not head to the airport when the band was readying to move on to South Africa for a gig. With his experience witnessing segregation firsthand in his own state of Florida, Gram did not wish to participate in concert before a segregated audience. While drug use was becoming a regular diet in his life, Parsons simply found that the Byrds would ultimately be branded as a pop band, and he wished to continue exploring his country leanings. “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” only rose to number 77 on the Billboard chart later that autumn of 1968, but for many within the industry, it represented a turning point in the southern California country-rock vibe.

During the summer, Gram remained in Europe and became friends with two guys named Mick and Keith. He had spent a rainy night at Stonehenge with them while on tour with The Byrds, and now, Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards let him sit in on sessions while The Rolling Stones were completing their “Beggars Banquet” album. It was at this point that a man named Phil Kaufman, who had been hired to attend to the Stones’ every whim when they came to the United States, caught his first glimpse of Parsons. “Keith Richards flew in (to L.A.) to take over mixing the album,” Kaufman recalled in his autobiography. “He brought his lady, Anita Pallenberg, with him…and an American guy called Gram Parsons who had been staying with Keith and Anita in the south of France. I wasn’t very impressed with Gram at first. My job was to stay with Mick and Keith and look after them, not this skinny little redneck from wherever he was from. I didn’t know where he was from, and I didn’t care either. As a matter of fact, he was supposed to be a millionaire, and the first thing he did was borrow money from me to buy a six-pack.”

Meanwhile, Richie Furay was forming a new group after the demise of Buffalo Springfield with his musician friend Jim Messina. The two considered asking Gram to join this new band, Poco, around late 1968. “I saw Gram Parsons as a very talented young man,” Messina later related to author Einarson, “but there was an edge about him, even back then, that was very destructive. It came across when we were auditioning him. I didn’t feel good about it. As much as Richie wanted him in the band, I think he felt a little of that too.” An invitation to join was soon dropped.

Ex-International Submarine bandmates Ian Dunlop and Mickey Gauvin had formed a group named The Flying Burrito Brothers shortly after Gram had left to join the Byrds. When these friends decided to relocate back to New York, they let Gram take over the wacky moniker for his own band. In the fall of 1968, Parsons found a country co-hort for his new group in the form of Chris Hillman, who had left the Byrds a few weeks after Gram. Corralling “Sneaky” Pete, bassist Chris Ethridge, and eventually, ex-Byrds drummer Mike Clarke, the newly-refurbished Flying Burrito Brothers started performing around dive country bars in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, owners of A&M Records, quickly signed this unusual band.

Hillman and Parsons lived together in a Topanga Canyon home and spent their days smoking a lot of dope and writing songs. “Probably the most grounded time in Gram Parson’s life was that period,” Hillman later recalled. “I was getting a divorce, and so was he, and we shared a house and were putting the Burritos together…Gram woke up one morning, got the mail, and found his draft notice. We wrote ‘My Uncle’ because of that. ‘Sin City’ was about our manager, who had robbed us.” Pamela Des Barres, a famous groupie at the time and a member of Frank Zappa’s girl group, The GTOs, became pals with Gram. “Gram Parsons befriended me,” she wrote in her book “I’m With The Band,” “much to my constant thrill. I considered him to be a heavily misunderstood genius, a gentle soft-spoken, well-mannered country boy who drowned his and the world’s sorrows in little vials of powder and reams of reefer. When he sang about the agonies of love, his heart-breaking tears rolled down his cheeks without his knowledge.” Parsons’ love of drugs led him to wear custom-made cowboy outfits festooned with marijuana and pills. These fashions were designed at Hollywood’s leading country costumier, a place called Nudies in the San Fernando Valley.

The band’s debut album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” was released in February 1969. Containing R&B covers like “Do Right (Woman)” and “Dark End of the Street,” and a GTO-backed ditty named “Hippie Boy,” Parsons and Hillman had tinged all of the tracks with a country flair that made it a standout recording unto itself. Tom Russell, a local country singer/songwriter at the time, recounted for John Einarson the launch party held at A&M’s studios for the Burritos’ album. “The music was real interesting, though the sound was really loud. It sounded like Buck Owens turned way up. The audience was a mix of rednecks and hippies. Gram was famous for trying to bring these two elements together. The music was loud, and ‘Sneaky’ Pete was playing extremely bizarre steel guitar; nobody’d ever heard fuzz-tone on a pedal steel, with this rock edge. And the songs were about pills and drinking. The whole thing really set the stage for what came after, that southern California country rock.”

While the Burritos were admired for their craft within the industry, their music wasn’t exactly snapped up by a record-buying audience eager to embrace their Opry-rock. The album only rose to number 164 on the Billboard chart. Drugs hindered performances from the outset. ‘Sneaky’ Pete recalled a gig at L.A.’s Whisky-A-Go-Go for label chiefs Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. “Gram was so stoned he couldn’t play the piano. Chris Hillman, of course, was right up there plugging, but Chris Ethridge had smoked a little too much of something. As we started to play, after about three or four songs, Chris Ethridge got to the point where he wasn’t able to stand up anymore. As he continued to play, he got more and more stoned and finally passed out, dropping his bass. One of our roadies picked it up to play. The suits got up from their table in mid-concert and walked out. We thought we were finished. It was typical.”

After a narcotic-fueled train tour around the country, the Burritos looked to churn out another LP, however, Parsons began hanging out more and more with newfound friends, The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger later said to interviewer Ben Fong-Torres that Gram was “one of the few people who really helped me sing country music. Before that, Keith and I would just copy off records.” Parsons had first lent his country flair to several of the tunes on the Stones’ “Beggars Banquet” album. His touch was definitely discernable on their song “Country Honk” off their “Let It Bleed” album, for which he recommended the fiddling contributions of musician Byron Berline. When the Stones were putting together tracks for the “Sticky Fingers” LP, they gave Parsons a demo of their tune “Wild Horses” in hopes he would coerce ‘Sneaky’ Pete to lend some pedal steel guitar licks to the song. Gram asked them to let him record “Wild Horses” for his own Burritos sophomore album, “Burrito Deluxe,” and the Stones gave him the go-ahead. “Wild Horses” appeared on the Burritos Brothers’ album before it hit stores as a Stones’ original. Needless to say, no one remembers the Burritos’ version.

For that matter, not many people would recollect anything about “Burrito Deluxe,” which turned out to be a commercial failure. One thing Gram did get out of this recent recording spell was another girlfriend – 16-year old actress, Gretchen Burrell. The two holed up in L.A.’s Chateau Marmont hotel getting stoned out of their minds. Phil Kaufman observed their behavior from the sidelines. “Gram would do stupid things,” he wrote. “One time he left the Chateau Marmont to go to Schwabs drugstore. It was only about 100 yards away, but because he didn’t trust his old lady, he took all his drugs with him. He got busted for jaywalking, and they found drugs on him. He must be the only guy that got busted for felony jaywalking.”

Parsons was becoming disenchanted with his group, neglecting to rehearse for an upcoming tour, and spending more time with Keith and Mick. Chris Hillman recalled to author John Einarson, “Gram was hanging out with the Stones and almost being a pest. We had a gig one evening, and I had to go find him. I finally found him at the Stones’ session! I go in there to get him, and he’s going, ‘Ah, I don’t wanna go.’ And Jagger got right in his face and told him, ‘You’ve got a responsibility to Chris Hillman, the other band members, and the people who come to your show. You better go do your show now.’ He was very matter of fact, I’ll never forget that. So Gram got up and went to the show.” Hillman continued, “Gram was getting into a lot of drugs. He just went headlong in the direction of abuse, and it was an area where I just couldn’t help him at all. There was nothing that any of us could do. I think his major failing as far as being a member of the group was concerned, was that he lacked the sense of responsibility, which you must have if you work with others.”

Pamela Des Barres noticed the change in Parsons. She wrote in her diary in November 1969: “Gram took Keith (Richards) to Nudies on his motorcycle, and they came back late. Keith scares me, he’s like a foreign object, and my sweet Gram is becoming his clone.” She took to calling her good friend Gram Richards. Parsons and Richards were prone to swap clothes, Keith wearing Gram’s country duds and Gram donning Keith’s leathers. Parsons was able to secure a place on the bill for his Burrito Brothers at the Stones’ ill-fated Altamont concert appearance in San Francisco that December. As that afternoon turned into a disaster, so too was Parsons’ association with his fellow bandmates. Phil Kaufman related one of the final performances Gram played with his Burritos that summed up the anger bubbling beneath the surface. “Gram was stumbling around and Chris Hillman was really unhappy with him. He took Gram’s brand new, very favorite guitar and made toothpicks out of it. He smashed it against a wall. The group had deteriorated to that level.”

Parsons was fired from the Flying Burrito Brothers in May 1970. Chris Hillman explained to interviewer Sid Griffin that Gram “worshipped the Stones. They could do no wrong. That’s why we parted company: it was becoming more important to hang out with the Stones and play rock star games than it was to do his own thing with the Burritos.” Guitarist Bernie Leadon, who joined the band a few months before, became the defacto songwriting partner with Hillman. The country flavor the band still exuded would help to inspire Leadon’s country-rock sounds he would later bring to his band The Eagles. Artists like Linda Ronstadt, Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band, John Stewart, Michael Nesmith, and Poco all began to flourish in their careers with this new hybrid genre.

Gram spent the better part of the next two years tagging around with the Stones. He and Gretchen moved to London in March 1971 and took up heroin. Gram was a significant contributor to the Rolling Stones’ masterpiece album “Exile on Main Street.” He lived off and on with Richards in the south of France, abusing massive amounts of drugs. Keith mentioned to author Stanley Booth that “Gram gets better coke than the Mafia.” When in Los Angeles, the duo would oftentimes head out to the Joshua Tree National Park to swig whisky, shoot up with needles, and search the skies for UFOs. Richards was keen on producing a Parsons solo album, but he was never in good enough condition to get started on the project.

In late 1971, while in Washington D.C., Gram met up with an old Burrito Brothers bandmate who wanted him to check out a folk performer at a dingy bar named Clydes. Parsons told author Pete Frame, “Chris Hillman was so enthusiastic when he told me about Emmylou that I just had to go and see her…and I was knocked out by her singing. I wanted to see just how good she was, how well she picked up country phrasing and feeling, so after her set…I introduced myself, and we sang one of the hardest country duets I know – ‘That’s All It Took.’ Emmy sang it like she was falling off a log.” Gram phoned the talented Emmylou Harris a year later when he had a deal with Reprise Records to do his solo debut album.

Enlisting the talents of Elvis Presley’s backing band, along with artists like ex-Byrd member Clarence White, Gram and Emmylou made sweet country music in the recording studio during the months of September and October 1972. Along with the aforementioned “That’s All It Took,” sweet harmonious ballads like “She” and “A Song For You” stood out as inspired, soulful downhome tearjerkers. The results were captured in the album “G.P.,” and it was strong enough to warrant a tour, which got underway in the early spring of 1973. Dubbed the “Fallen Angel” tour, Parsons was blitzed out of his mind during the opening sets in Boulder, Colorado. Old chum, Richie Furay, was in attendance and called the performance “one of the most pitiful things I ever saw.” For the sake of Emmylou and his bandmates, Gram pulled himself together and delivered the goods on subsequent gigs. “We set out to play country music and rock ‘n’ roll in the better hippie honky tonks of the nation,” Emmylou wrote in the liner notes to a Parson’s compilation album “Sleepless Nights.” “The rooms were small but the energy generated was of a special intensity. We didn’t exactly break any box office records, but there are people who will remember.”

Gram and Gretchen were arguing incessantly on the road. She was jealous of Emmylou and her sweet connection onstage with Gram. By all accounts the two musicians never had an affair. Guitarist Jock Bartley played on the tour and described their chemistry to author John Einarson. “The singing was so emotional. ‘Love Hurts’ was the most amazing one. It still makes me cry to listen to it today. Gram’s frail voice cracked a lot and was not always in control, but what they created together was unbelievable. They made love with their voices.” Gretchen was finally tossed off the tour by road manager Phil Kaufman, who had become good pals with Gram.

During the summer of 1973, Parsons was retreating into the solace of drugs and drink. His old actor friend, Brandon de Wilde, had been killed in a car accident, and his musician pal, Clarence White, was fatally struck by a drunken driver. At Clarence’s funeral on July 19, 1973, Parsons sang the gospel tune “Farther Along” with Bernie Leadon. Outside the proceedings, Gram allegedly turned to Phil Kaufman and, according to author Ben Fong-Torres, said, “Phil, if this happens to me, I don’t want them doing this to me. You can take me out to the desert and burn me. I want to go out in a cloud of smoke.”

A few days later, Gram’s Laurel Canyon residence burned to the ground. He and Gretchen were able to make it out of the smoky inferno in time, but the occasion marked the end of their marriage. Their relationship had deteriorated immeasurably over the previous months. Gretchen had allegedly struck Gram with a wooden hanger a month prior to the house fire, causing him to go deaf in one ear. Gram moved into Phil’s house and had divorce papers drawn up on her. Meanwhile, Parsons entered the studios once more with Elvis’ sidemen and Emmylou to record his sophomore effort, “Grievous Angel.” This time the singing connection between he and Harris was solid and the contributions from guests Bernie Leadon and Linda Ronstadt rendered the album with a polished, ambitious sound. Gram was proud of the results and looked forward to touring in support of it in the fall. To relax and gather his strength, Kaufman advised him to go out to Joshua Tree for a short respite.

Accompanying Gram on the trip out to the desert were his friend and personal assistant, Michael Martin, Martin’s girlfriend Dale McElroy, and an old friend of Parson’s from his Florida high school, Margaret Fisher. The foursome arrived at the Joshua Tree Inn on Monday, September 17, 1973. They spent much of the afternoon smoking the stash of marijuana Parsons had brought with him. By Tuesday morning, it was apparent their stock of the drug had dipped considerably, so Martin drove the 150 miles back to Los Angeles to score some more. Parsons took Dale and Margaret over to the Joshua Tree airport for a little lunch and a lot of whisky. Both women drank very little that afternoon but watched Gram consume booze and pills. After the three-hour lunch, Dale went back to her and Michael’s room, but a short time later, Margaret knocked frantically on her door, claiming Gram had overdosed. She brushed by Dale, grabbing ice cubes from a tray, and the two scurried to Room 1, where a dealer Gram knew was staying. There they discovered just Parsons lying on the ground, turning blue.

Administering a suppository of ice to the stricken musician, Margaret was able to jolt him out of his declining fate. Gram snapped to and walked around the room, appearing as if he had not overdosed at all. He cracked a few jokes, and Dale was convinced enough that he was okay, so she returned to her own hotel room. Later that evening, Margaret asked Dale to watch Gram while she went out to grab some dinner. Parsons was back in his own room, Room 10, and was apparently asleep in bed. He seemed to be breathing normally, and Dale sat in a chair beside him, reading a book. About 20 minutes later, his breathing turned ragged. As it grew more labored, Dale panicked. She tried to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Margaret returned and dialed for an ambulance. Parsons was rushed to nearby Hi-Desert Memorial Hospital, but attempts to revive him proved unsuccessful. At 12:15am, in the early Wednesday morning of September 19, 1973, 26-year old Gram Parsons was pronounced dead.

The local sheriff detained the two women for questioning, and a call was placed to Phil Kaufman back in Los Angeles. The quick-thinking road manager immediately drove out to Joshua Tree, sweet-talked the police into letting him look after the two witnesses, promising to return them for questioning, and he drove Margaret and Dale straight back to L.A. Phil buried drugs the girls had hidden from the authorities in Gram’s room out in the desert. The two women were never questioned by the police. Meanwhile, autopsy reports indicated that Gram had died of drug toxicity over a period of days, due to multiple drug use over the period of weeks. Amphetamines, morphine and cocaine traces were found in his system.

When notified of his stepson’s death, Bob Parsons, who now resided in New Orleans, Louisiana, told funeral authorities to send his beloved’s body back to his state. Most reports speculate that Bob wished for Gram to be buried in Louisiana, to establish a residency of sorts, which in turn, would allow for a greater control of his royalty shares and inheritance to be controlled by his stepfather. Phil Kaufman still had the divorce papers Gram had drawn up on Gretchen, having failed to deliver them in a timely manner. Thus, she was entitled to half his share of wealth since she was his legal widow.

Kaufman caught wind of Bob Parson’s plan to have Gram’s body flown back east. He remembered the pact he’d committed to with Gram just a few months before. Kaufman was convinced that Gram’s body was to be destroyed out at Joshua Tree. Phil phoned Dale McElroy and Michael Martin the next day on September 20th. He knew they owned an old 1960 Cadillac hearse. Kaufman coerced Michael into accompanying him in his plan. Calling the funeral home in Joshua Tree where Gram’s body was temporarily being stored, Phil found out that they were going to take the corpse to Los Angeles International Airport for transportation to New Orleans. Contacting the airport’s Mortuary Air Service, he discovered the body was being driven into LAX that night. With the aid of many Jack Daniel drinks for their courage, the two men drove in the hearse to the airport, decked out in their usual jeans, cowboy boots and hats.

Just after their hearse pulled up to the airport mortuary loading dock, a truck carrying Gram in a coffin parked next to them, having driven in from the desert. Phil’s drunken mind went into overdrive as he got out of his hearse to greet the truck driver. “I said, ‘The family has changed their mind. They want to fly the body privately by private plane out of Van Nuys (an airport in the San Fernando Valley),” Phil wrote in his autobiography. “He looked at me and Michael and our unusual attire. I said, ‘Look, man, it’s late in the night. We’ve got a couple of girls lined up, and then we got this call. We want to do this quickly,’ and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I understand. I’ll just go inside and get the paperwork.” The truck driver went into the mortuary offices and returned with documents for Phil to sign. A passing airport policeman pulled his car up to the dock. The two phony morticians almost fled from the scene, but the cop offered his services in moving the coffin from the truck into the hearse. Michael and Phil thanked them and nervously got in the car.

“Michael was driving,” Kaufman wrote. “You know how big a hangar is? Airplanes fit in it, that’s how big. Michael managed to hit the wall of the hangar as we were driving out of it – that’s an indication of the condition we were in.” The drunken duo stopped at a filling station on the way out to Joshua Tree and purchased a five-gallon can of gas. Inebriated and extremely wary, they drove into the park for a number of miles. After a while, they didn’t feel like driving anymore and pulled over at the next convenient spot. It was an area known as Cap Rock. Even though they were later told Gram loved Cap Rock and would have been honored that he was burned there, Kaufman claims it was just a coincidence they stopped there.

Dragging the coffin out the back of the hearse with a thud to the ground, Kaufman open the lid to see his buddy lying naked inside, no sign of trauma except for the surgical tape across his chest where the autopsy had been performed. Fearful they could be caught at any moment, Phil quickly poured the gas into the open coffin and lit it. “When high-octane gasoline ignites,” he later explained in his memoirs, “it grabs a lot of oxygen in the air. It went whoosh and a big ball of flame went up. We watched the body burn. It was bubbling. You could see it was Gram and then as the body burned very quickly, you could see it melting. We looked up and the flame had caused a dust devil going up in the air. His ashes were actually going up into the air, into the desert night. The moon was shining, the stars were shining, and Gram’s wish was coming true. His ashes were going into the desert. We looked down. He was very dead and very burned. There wasn’t much left to recognize.”

Kaufman and Martin high-tailed it out of the area. Pulling over in another section of the Park, they slept in the back of the hearse that night. Gram’s smoldering corpse was discovered around 9:00am the following Friday morning. The body was eventually flown back to New Orleans and into Bob Parson’s custody. But Gram’s stepfather never made a dime off his inheritance. He passed away a year later of alcohol abuse.

Phil and Michael were later arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of theft. The body had no intrinsic value, but the coffin did, so they were each required to pay the Yucca Valley funeral home in Joshua Tree $708. They were also each given a fine of $300. Phil had unloaded a bit of expense to cover his legal costs and was in need of extra cash, so he hatched one last plan involving his ol’ deceased buddy Gram to make back some money. “Phil had a tasteless benefit for himself in his own backyard, called it a ‘wake,’ and charged ten dollars a head to see Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett sing ‘The Monster Mash’ amid a bunch of paper-mache tombstones and crabgrass,” Pamela Des Barres wrote. “He sold Gram Parsons T-shirts and bottles of Gram Pilsner beer. I bought everything, and still use the beer bottle as a candle holder, even though I thought the dingy event was a dismal finale for the world’s most underrated country soulman.”

Indeed, many of Gram’s friends hold fond memories of the gentleman who instilled a little country in their souls. Keith Richards told John Einarson, “He redefined the possibilities of country for me. If he had lived, he probably would have redefined it for everybody.” Richards told Des Barres, “Gram was special. If he was in a room, everyone else became sweet. Anything that Gram was involved in had a touch of magic to it.” Chris Hillman succinctly said to Einarson, “If Gram had stayed on the straight and narrow, he and Emmylou would have been huge.”

As for Gram’s rather macabre ending out in the hushed silence of the wilderness, these friends seem to respect what Phil Kaufman attempted to do. “Several years later, I was in London,” Phil wrote. “I was at a party, and I ran into Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg. Keith saw me, brushed everybody aside and gave me a big hug. He said, ‘Hey, you took care of our buddy, pal.’ I said, ‘Yeah, thanks.’ Then he and Anita went to the bathroom. I held the door closed while they proceeded to do more drugs.” Emmylou later wrote, “We all cared about each other and certainly Phil cared about Gram. He might make light about stealing the body and all that, but he took a big chance. Although he might be the last one to admit it, he did it out of friendship because he felt a commitment to Gram. I think it was Phil’s way of grieving.”

Parson’s influence on the direction of country-rock in American music is undeniable. As to whether he “discovered it” or “invented it” is completely argumentative. As his friend Richie Furay said to author Einarson, “Gram is given way too much credit. That really bothers me. He was stoned out of his brain. But he knew a good idea when he heard it.” That was the quality through which shone his talent. Gram took those ideas, songs laid down by country greats like Buck Owens and George Jones, and translated them into a contemporary rock approach for all to digest. It was his honesty and commitment to the material that made Parsons stand out far from the crowd. Emmylou Harris summed up this trait to Pamela Des Barres. “He cut straight through the middle with no compromises. He was never afraid to write from the heart, and perhaps that’s why he was never really accepted. It’s like the light was too strong and bright, and people just had to turn away…because it was all too painful. It could rip you up. Not many people can take music that real.”

© 2001 Ned Truslow