Monday, August 15, 2011

"He said, 'Steve it's because people leave, and no highway can bring them back.'"

Three years ago, my friend Robert Wisdom died. No one can be sure of the exact date because he lived alone, and they didn't discover his body until the 18th. Best estimates from the coroner were that he had been dead about three days. Robert was 45.

I wish I had something more profound to say about the whole thing than that I miss my friend. I miss the guy who would go see a zillion bands with me based on nothing but my recommendation. He said to me once: "You have to understand. I trust your musical taste, and, specifically, your understanding of *my* musical taste, implicitly. I am a tempo junkie, and you get that. If you ask me to go, I know it's gonna be loud, fast, powerful and maybe or maybe not melodic. But I will like it."

He was kind to never bring up the two resounding failures that stuck out like sore thumbs out of all those shows I took him to: Son Volt and Phish. Robert was neither a twangy guy nor a jam-band devotee, but he suffered through both (hell, I suffered through Phish too...not sure what planet I was on when I bought those tickets) in good spirits, with the knowledge that, from his perspective, my batting average was still pretty damn high.

Robert is also the guy who, in 2002 or so, looked at my yard, all 2.5 acres of it, and said, "it'd be a serious fucking crime if you don't start having volleyball games out here." Say no more, buddy. We're still playing.

The last band Robert and I saw was Mission of Burma at the First Unitarian Church in Philly in the summer of '08. They were mindblowingly great -- a powerful reminder of how to age with grace and still keep your edge. Sadly, around the same time, Robert was sliding, health-wise. He had told me about a year earlier that he had diabetes and needed "to stop treating it with Coca Cola." By summer '08, he had been fighting leg sores, one of which nearly cost him his leg. I assume it was a diabetic complication that got him in the end. It doesn't fucking matter. My almost always funny, sometimes caustic, very smart friend is gone. Really gone.

After he died, in the punk-rock spirit of trying to make something good out of the bad, I redoubled my usual "life is short, motherfucker; do something!" outlook, joined a new band within days and had a great time with them for a few years. My biggest regret from my days in Mondo Topless was almost immediate: I remember coming home from our first Philly gig and saying to Jamie, "Damn, Robert would *love* this band." I thought that *every single time* we played Philly thereafter. And I suspect that he would like the Mud Falcons and our SST vibe even more.

So it's somewhere between poetic and odd that a couple days after I have a king-hell life-affirming great day on a mountain with my son -- an experience that was bookended by great conversation with an old friend, Kevin, who shares my "life is short" attitude -- the anniversary of Robert's death arrives. And simultaneously, there's an old man out there (my dad...see a couple posts back if you're unclear) who ruins his life and the lives of many around him by refusing to accept the aging process at all. We're all muddling through, folks, but it strikes me that there's a pretty clear path out there if you choose to take it. Take care of yourself as best you can. Spend quality time with the people you dig. Be nice. Have fun. Life is short. Do something.

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