We were supposed to have lunch again next week. Another rerun of gyros and tea and idle talk, but that won’t be happening. What necessitates my entries is all too often the same impetus – somebody dies and I feel the need to respond. In some cases, it’s a famous name and I want to add my plaudits (or occasional corrective). The news that’s Paul Bocuse has passed elicited a slim smile; he was a showman who happened to be a great chef. His accomplishments have been enumerated enough; I can only add my view of his restaurants as a place of grand food and dining with a shmear of Las Vegas to it (sorry, Vegas). At my first visit, Le Grand Chef signed our menus (perhaps there was a small stipend on the bill for that), but I was pleased enough to hang it in my office.
Subsequent visits saw much the same menu and experience, though one meal sticks to the mind. Upon leaving, we nearly knocked over Don King who was pontificating into a TV camera in the parking lot. While I didn’t again spot the boxing impresario, there was sometimes a bit of a Don King feel to some of what happened in that palace. But there was also a homey feel, in its way. I thought about this on that Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, reading about his passing. I had on a dark suit I hadn’t worn for years; I was headed to the funeral of a cousin. Something was bunching up my suit pocket and I reached in to pull out a couple of notes and a cardboard napkin ring from Restaurant Bocuse, along with wine notes written on the back of it. Clearly it had been a while since I had worn that suit, but it seemed a bizarre coincidence.
I flew back to KC for a couple of days and then flew back to San Francisco again. Upon landing I received a text from the stepdaughter of an old friend of mine. She had called me to the hospital the night before; during the time I was in the air he had passed away. It was all very unexpected but then even a long illness with a grim prognosis rarely prepares us for the reality and finality of death. My friend Randy and I hadn’t been active in years, but we still both lived in KC and had split some gyros just a week before. It sucks. It sucks for his stepdaughter, his friends and, well, you know. But there is only one direction to life, I suppose. Randy had done plenty, and he was perhaps proudest of his relationship with his stepdaughter.
It’s a sense of loss that pervades each and every sentient being, on any waking day. Last week, Bruno Giacosa. A few days later, Mark E. Smith. Again, the coincidence that I was reading a biography of Smith when I got the news; he smoked like a BBQ joint and drank like a man in a hurry. He was a paragon of sheer punky orneriness, though some of his ex-band mates used far stronger language to describe his mercurial behavior. I don’t suppose my musician friends know that Giacosa was one of the inventors of modern Barolo. And I doubt if any but a few wine people cared about Mark E. Smith’s passing. I never got to see him perform; that rankles since only a few years ago, long after I had amassed a collection of Fall CD’s and records that fills an entire shelf, he played in Kansas City. I was, as usual, out of town. My friends tell me that it was a great show, and (or but) Mark E. quite openly picked his nose throughout the concert. My friend Shawn tells me that he was actually quite congenial and that they drank whisky late into the night, cigarette after cigarette.
I can’t praise them all enough. Others have done so in other places. But I haven’t seen or read enough about Mark E. Smith; reading Renegade (not quite his autobiography, more a series of rantings and ravings straight from the man’s slurring mouth), I came away with a stronger respect for his steadfast hold on his own vision. He fired people constantly because he wanted to shake it up and was always changing the sound. He hated that most musicians found a niche and then just sat there. No one could accuse him of that.
But they would charge him with being a bastard; that wasn’t unusual. If he didn’t like what you were playing he’d tell you that in front of everyone. He fired one guy on his wedding day. “Congratulations,” he said over the phone, “by the way, you’re sacked”, and hung up. It’s a story that had some legs to it; Smith seemed to almost relish the notoriety. The full story is that he was calling the guy to fire him but the guy had kept the wedding quiet; he didn’t want Smith to know. Friends invited only; Smith famously saw no need to be friends with his bandmates. It was a business to him, an endeavor for which he wanted to constantly challenge himself and everyone else. If you were getting too comfortable, and you wanted to do the same thing again, you were in the way.
His book is a bit of a hoot, but I know all five hundred or so of his songs. He bitches about the business, needless to say, but it’s insightful. God, I’m glad I was never in the music business; I thought the wholesale business was mean and hateful. It’s a monastery by comparison. “I always thought the pure essence of rock and roll was a completely non-musical form of music. I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, but the production’s so bad on it and I can’t hear the lyrics properly.’ If they all want that they should listen to classical music…Writers like that are too serious and precious about their ‘craft’ as they call it. There’s no fire or danger there, because they’ve thought it all out. I’m not a big music buff, but every song I hear reminds me of some other f**ker, and give or take a few tracks here and there you can’t say that about The Fall. Something that is original does stand out to me, always has.”
He was dismissive of emo and the rest of it. “Indulging in depression, like it’s a lifestyle choice, I hated that. I’ve always wanted The Fall to be the group that represents people who are sick being dicked around; that have a bit of fight in them.” You gotta keep that fight in you, though I hope I haven’t been a drunk bastard to my friends and co-workers. But you gotta keep that fight in you until it’s done. Randy used to keep after me about that. I don’t know if he kept fighting (that’s pretty much what I told him before I walked out of the hospital room, keep fighting), but he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.