I think I can honestly say I’ve had enough of the grim reaper, loss, and grief in the last year. Hell, in the last three years. Being honest, this comes after a particularly terrible day where loss seemed to be the running theme.
What I know how to do, though, is tell stories. As a result, that’s what you’re getting here. After a day where word came that two people – one a former colleague, the other more like a brother than a friend – had passed away the day went from difficult to painful. So as I write here tonight, I’ve had a couple glasses of alcoholic beverages and it did little to numb how things felt.
The first man had been ill, a few years back he’d found out he had pancreatic cancer. They’d declared him cancer-free for quite awhile, but like many other forms of this horrid disease it came back with a vengeance.
Jim Fagin was a curmudgeon of a man. I don’t say that as an insult, it honestly was in the most appealing of ways. When a woman once called our station – a call I seem to repeatedly get from multiple people each day – saying she wanted him to go after CPS. Apparently they’d taken her kids and they had no right. Sure, she’d been on meth and smoking pot and the kids were in soiled diapers but that didn’t mean she was a bad woman, right? “Ma’am,” Jim said in his blunt demeanor, “I think you’re under the mistaken impression that we’re here to help people!” He informed her we worked in news. We weren’t social workers we had to make a profit and we told stories. That was it. It may be an over-simplification, but it’s true.
Jim wasn’t cold-hearted, though. Before I ever worked with him I dealt with him while I was at another station – across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I had stumbled on an accident and it was one of the first stories I’d had to cover in my career. A young boy, simply driving in the middle of the day to get a pack of gum at a convenience store, had been hit by a car. The driver had left an adult bookstore, likely not wanting to be seen, and struck the boy, who was following the traffic rules, and hit him. I’d shot the scene, a mangled bicycle, the street literally covered in blood. Jim called a few hours after we’d closed up for the day. “I saw your story,” he told me. “Powerful stuff! Powerful stuff!” The line was over the top enough we used “powerful stuff” for every good story from that point on . . . but Jim was serious. He swallowed pride and called to get the video from us which couldn’t have been easy. He went after the story at WOWT with a vengeance . . . to no avail. He once told me he was always upset they’d never caught the driver. That’s the kind of man he was and I always remembered that the story stuck with him. He passed away on December 2nd and the journalistic world’s a little worse off without him.
The second loss hit home from left field. On the way to San Francisco for a story I got a message from my father that George Marshall had passed away.
George was a dear friend. Closer even to my brother, Adam, a member of his band, the Manoucheri trio and drummer extrordinaire for our band together, Manoucheri.
I met George when my band ran a jam session at the Howard Street Tavern in Omaha, Nebraska. The bar had a storied history, with Albert Collins and Buddy Guy having graced its stage. We got paid in beer, mostly, but we honed our playing as well. We always opened with a set of our material and this night was no different. After finishing up I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see George standing there. “What can I do for you?” I asked pleasantly. George, a man of few words, simply opened his coat and showed me his t-shirt, which had the logo of the country club of my hometown. “Hey!!!,” was all I could get out.
“Your cousin Tom said you would be here and that you’d let me play.”
“Absolutely,” was my answer. “What do you want to play?”
“Hendrix. Clapton. Santana . . . just want to play.”
Play he did. My 2nd guitarist was starting a Hendrix tribute band and looked a bit skeptical. Here was an unknown guy, short – just over 5 feet – and my friend Grover shrugged figuring he’d play his best. We counted off “Them Changes” off the LP “Band of Gypsies” to start. George didn’t miss a beat or a break. He was dead-on, better than Buddy Miles on the original. We did other songs, it was like Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Neil Peart and John Bonham had just arrived in one body on the stage. We selfishly tried to stay on the stage as long as we could to the consternation of the jam attendees in the crowd.
My brother would have his own tales . . . a day in the school gym playing songs from Blind Faith, Cream and Jethro Tull. The ability to play Rush with no problem was innate in him.
George was a man of few words but when he spoke it was worth it. Often funny or insightful he’d also constantly push to gig. When I left Nebraska for another job my brother and George became even closer. He’d become the drummer in the Manoucheri trio.
Just a few months after my wife Andrea passed away I came to my hometown and stayed with my folks. My brother came over and simply said “George and Orv are coming. Let’s head out to the studio.” It was a pattern repeated at every visit since. George showed up, tuned up his drum kit, and walked up, shaking my hand.
“How are you doing,” he simply asked.
“Best I can,” I told him, and it was true. It wasn’t easy and I was still a bit lost.
“You just need to play some music,” George said and sat down at his kit.
I remember that day in particular because we played so much, and I played so hard, that sweat was pouring into my eyes. I had soaked through my shirt. “Damn, he’s just torturing that guitar,” our bassist Orv said. I had broken strings on two Stratocasters and was quickly moving through other guitars in my brother’s stash.
George didn’t stop. He just kept playing. When we finished he just said “well . . . when are we doing this again?”
My brother found George Monday night. We don’t know what happened . . . we may never know. He was young, healthy, in far better shape than I am. Today just didn’t seem real. To have lost George, who was at the house a lot, spent Thanksgiving with my family many years, had holidays, was simply part of the family, was unfathomable.
2013 has not been a banner year. We lost my grandmother, the kids lost Andrea’s father and mother . . . and now this. It’s all out of left field.
We will miss the amazing songs we didn’t get to play with George, the dreams we’ll never see. We’ll miss the melodies we created over his intense rhythms. But more we’ll miss the presence of the man who was a great friend.
Goodbye Jim. Don’t rest peacefully, George, but play on. I will try to hope when the summer storms roll through that part of the booming thunder is your hands, hitting every beat and never missing a break.