This was the man who is closest to being my surrogate father. He came into my life in my adolescence and taught me much that I treasure today. From him I learned the mysteries of auto mechanics and the secrets of building muscle car engines. I learned about the majesty of Led Zeppelin, the reckless, drunken abandon of AC/DC, the brilliance of a young Sammy Hagar teamed with Ronnie Montrose. We drank, we smoked, we laughed, we made bizarre comedy recordings. I was introduced to Hunter Thompson, Frank Zappa, the folklore of ’70s rock ‘n roll. And most of all, to singing. The fire, the drive to perform that still burns in me was sparked by him.
I had the blessing of being with him while the voices in his head weren’t yet the dominant force in his life. Poring over catalogs from auto performance parts suppliers, writing endless notes about this configuration versus that, his was an analytical mind, devoted to building a car worthy of his imagination. Things never seemed to go to plan, given the financial and emotional constraints of the situation, but he always had the plan under refinement, waiting for the right opportunity.
Frustration was a constant in his life. The holes in the walls of each apartment bore witness to this. He never stopped reliving the glory days of high school, and didn’t seem to want to accept that that phase of his life had passed. Music was a part of this deferred adulthood. He was constantly making plans with his high school band buddies Ken Lewis and Bob Butler, writing lyrics that would never be put to music, practicing for rehearsals that would never come.
Through it all were the voices. Intimating, belittling, insulting, commanding. Throughout it all, an assortment of medications were his bulwark against the terrible voices, but they never were an adequate defense against his demon-haunted world. The medications were almost as much of an impediment as the psychoses they were purported to treat. Between the two, they cost him countless opportunities to do both the good and the great things of which he always felt he was capable, and perhaps could have been.
It was with all this in mind that I saw him many years after we parted ways. I’ve spoken in the past about the cruelty of seeing people after a long absence, hoping that the time apart has been kind to them and that they have accomplished a clarity of understanding that perhaps you can understand and adopt. I had been warned that he had had further progression of his mental health issues, but I was not prepared for the zombie before me. Despite my anger for all the things to which he had subjected his family, I was overcome with shock and pity. A man from whom I had learned a million things, who now probably couldn’t spell his own name.
I suppose there’s a certain justice there for those who were victims of his cruelty and selfishness, people who I love dearly and who never deserved an single moment of these horrors. But I am informed by the foundation and groundwork of my beloved Order of Elks. which states:
“The faults of our brothers we write upon the sand,
Their virtues upon the tablets of love and memory.”