Monday, May 31, 2010

The Day the Music Died - Reprise

I’ll never think of Cinco de Mayo in the same way. This is a celebration I wasn’t familiar with growing up in the northeastern part of the country, but after moving to California in the 60s I became acquainted with it and have enjoyed it every year since. But no more.

I thought the day the music died was the day Phil Ochs hung himself over the bathroom door in his sister’s house.

I thought the day the music died was when that damn idiot shot John Lennon for no reason at all.
I often thought the music had died every time someone I knew from the 60s music scene in Greenwich Village passed on way too early in their lives.

For me, the music died on Cinco de Mayo this year when my wonderful friend Steven Richard See succumbed to melanoma.

I moved west with the Ochs and others from the folk music world in 1968 when the recording industry gave up on Manhattan and relocated to Los Angeles. Oddly enough Los Angeles didn’t offer me the musical world I was accustomed to. I searched for it but it seemed to have disappeared. Eventually I gave up looking. Until I came to Morro Bay. Lo and behold, here was the folk music/singer-songwriter world I was missing. Predominant among the offerings were the intimate little concerts held at Coalesce Book Store and put on by some guy who billed them as The Cambria Hoot.

I was one of the predominant writers for a pulp called San Luis Obispo County Magazine. I wrote about nature, agriculture, art, and music. One day Steve called me, came over to the house, and we talked folk music for hours. Then we talked about our cats. He told me how he fed the strays no matter where he lived. A cat man is definitely someone special.

A friendship was forged and I wrote articles about the concerts he was promoting.

In 2007 I was stricken with breast cancer. It was a blow and I wasn’t sure I would survive, but most of all, I had no idea how I was going to manage to continue to work. Since I am a freelance writer, I have no employer supplied benefits and have no independent disability insurance. My choices were to do nothing about the cancer and continue to work or treat the cancer, disabling myself, and starve to death with no money. I needed help.

Two friends in particular came through for me and Steve was one of them. As a cancer survivor himself, he knew what I was going through. He put on a fantastic fundraiser for me. He asked Dave Stamey to perform and donate the proceeds to me. Dave, the best Western music performer ever, agreed. The money raised by that concert kept me going for more than a year.

To say I was grateful is an immense understatement.Since that time, Steve kept in touch with me, calling every few months if he didn’t see me at a concert or at the post office, checking up on me to make sure I was okay. He told me to come to any concert, free of charge. I never took him up on that. And of course, we would talk about our cats.

Ultimately I ran out of money. He called one day and I said, “I think I have to file bankruptcy.” He replied, “do it!” Then proceeded to tell me of his own adventure down that road.

A couple months ago he called me. I was glad because I hadn’t seen him around or at the post office and I wondered why. When he told me the reason, I was just dismayed. How could that cancer come back after so long. We talked about his options and I didn’t want to think that there weren’t any. His concern was twofold – for his mother and he said, for two friends who needed money help. I was one of the two. He still wanted to do some kind of fundraiser again. I remember telling him that his concern had to be himself and what could be done to combat this awful cancer. Then we talked about our cats, like we always had before.

I received one more call from him. His opening comment when he called was “How are you doing? Are things better?” Not a comment about himself. I had to ask how he was and things did not sound good. Again he reiterated how awful he felt for his mother, who it appeared would have to endure losing a son. I didn’t want to believe it. I wouldn’t accept it. And what about the cats?

On April 21st I suffered a stubborn irregular heartbeat that gave me a ride in the ambulance and a stay at French Hospital. When finally released, but unstable still, I came home and dialed Steve’s number. Fortunate for me, he answered. He asked how I was and I told him of my latest episode. “But I want to know about you,” I said. I could tell from the sound of his voice, it wasn’t good news.I knew he was surrounded by friends and everyone was helping. I wished I was in better shape myself so I could spend some time with him, but it wasn’t to be.

I got the e-mail announcing the “final” hoot concert. How could there be a final Hoot? The e-mail said Steve wouldn’t be there. I couldn’t imagine never attending another Hoot concert. Who will carry on the music?

Cinco de Mayo dawned. Sometime during that day, Steve made his transition from this planet.

I didn’t cry immediately. I just couldn’t believe I would never talk to him again. I wandered around my house with my skippy-beating heart trying to comprehend. I thought about all he did for people. How he made sure the music kept coming and never made much money on the enterprise. I called up in my mind what his voice sounded like. I remembered every one of our conversations.

About the music.

About politics.

About money.

About the cats.

Oh the cats!

Who will feed the cats? Who will feed the cats? Who will feed the cats?


Anne R. Allen said...

What a gorgeous, sad piece! I only met Steve in passing, but I know what a powerful force he was in the music scene here, and how much he was loved by the many people whose lives he touched.

Churadogs said...

The central coast has lost an extraordinary person. The whole Hoot program was an amazing gift to all of us. God Speed to Steve.

David Middlecamp said...

What a wonderful tribute.

We went to see a Waybacks concert up in Cambria that Steve sponsored. It was a wonderful relaxed scene. Musicians sharing stories with the fans during the break and great music.

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