I’ve recalled that the last time I did this (the write-every-day odyssey) I picked up a new friend. His name was Gary. He started commenting on some of my posts, and we struck up conversations that extended past the blog forums. His profile picture was The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
Back then I wasn’t working so much. I wrote lots and lots of blogs about ’80s Metal music, and what it means to be a groupie. I was trying to explain complex stuff to people who see nothing but circus and spectacle. Gary was an ex-sound engineer (one of the very first of my big, cuddly soundies) who’d worked the scene but retired into fatherhood in Wyoming. He’d toured with Van Halen, among others. When we talked, we understood a lot of stuff without having to explain so much. We were proof that old road-crew speak in a language all our own. We both understood the burn. We both spoke in bumper-sticker, hippie philosophy sometimes. We cracked bitter, crude jokes and made each other laugh like hyenas. Not really that hippie-like after all. Sometimes you had to be there.
Yet we also communicated on other levels. Even though we only ever met up online, Gary became a very good friend. When he split from his long-term girlfriend on Christmas Eve, and spent a surprise Christmas alone, I checked in on him regularly because I was genuinely afraid he would kill himself. It’s the original strain of groupie-love that comes out of me. The need to offer comfort and salvation to people who ask for neither.
When Bret Michaels had a massive brain hemorrhage a few months later, Gary was the person I talked to in those first hours while I folded and unfolded myself with worry. He actually cracked jokes that made me laugh through that time. Deadpan and dark like most crew people.
We said goodbye at least twice over two years, but our paths always ended up coiling back together eventually. Goodbyes are for suckers, and hardly ever meant. Crew pass back on through.
We didn’t get to say goodbye for a third time. He’d gone to the doctor in October 2010 for a persistent stomach pain that he thought must’ve been an ulcer or something similar. It quickly became a lot more serious than that, but last I’d heard from him in January 2011 the new treatment they were trying for his pancreatic cancer had a good success rate… So there wasn’t a goodbye that time. What we got was an “Awesome, dude. Keep me posted.”… and then a quick fade. The last note hanging in the air, but still feeling like the song was only half-over.
Nice hang, man. Bright. You left ’em eager and yearning for release like a bunch of virgins on a first date.
It was a good way to end it… but a short set all the same. No encores.
The night always ends, the trucks were loaded, and Gary had more traveling to do. Leaving as little on this earth as anyone ever does. A remembered feeling. A faint smile on my face when the gaffer lifts up the lino.
When he died I gave him Springsteen.
…And Gary, I know that you were just an old, Hair Metal hellion like me, so a 21 confetti-cannon salute might have been more appropriate… but I also knew you as a man. A good man. Outdoorsy. Tough. A survivor. A proud, single father of three young kids. A man who knew the value of sweat.
I figured you would’ve liked my choice of finale. Five years on, it still reminds me of you, mate…