We’d like to take a short interlude from sharing new music and current music interests for a more personal post to remember a dear friend, brother in arms, and our third amigo, Rich. This one’s a bit long, just a heads up.
But the stars are burning bright like some mystery uncovered
I’ll keep moving through the dark with you in my heart
My blood brother – Bruce Springsteen
It’s been 15 years since Mike and Paul lost Rich to cancer. 15 years of births, graduations and soon a marriage among our collective children. Children who have been regaled time after time with stories recounting the escapades, wit and wisdom of “Uncle Rich”. 15 years of new music from our favorite artists, of discoveries of new artists, of attending concerts.
So many of those memories are enveloped in a soundtrack of our favorite music. So many memories that we made over our 20 year friendship with Rich were built on or enhanced by our shared mutual appreciation that so much of what we do everyday can be better with the right music, even if it’s just in the background. Rich used to joke about wouldn’t it be great if life was a musical, which led to all kinds of funny jokes involving alot of bad singing. If not a musical, our time with Rich was greatly deepened and enhanced by our shared experience of the music we loved.
A few short years from now Rich will have been gone for as long as we knew him, but to be truthful we’re not actually without him. So much of music we listen to now has its origins in the music the three of us listened to in the 80s and 90s and early 2000‘s.
So what follows are a few memories of our time with Rich framed through the music we loved or were experiencing at the time.
Mike: I’m driving down the Garden State Parkway with Rich in his beast of a car. This was when the tolls were $.25. At the tollboth, from the passenger seat I would try hook shot the quarter over the top of the car into the collection basket. One particular time on the way to Wildwood, the DJ from WMMR in Philly teased the next song with “next, one of the greatest songs ever!” During the commercial break, Rich and I threw out our predictions: Bruce Springsteen (naturally), the Stones the Who, or Led Zeppelin. The commercial ends, the DJ comes back and plays…… ‘In a Big country’……by Big Country. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Paul: As regular readers of this blog will know Mike and Paul are huge Springsteen fans. We shared this passion with Rich (after all, he named his dog Bruce!). I have many fond memories of Rich that involve Bruce. But two stand out.
Back in the 80’s before the Internet and streaming, you had to turn to bootleg recordings if you wanted to more fully experience a favorite artist. And so you would head down to your favorite independent record shop who carried bootleg records, and rummage through the backbins (sometimes you had to ask- “Do you have anything else from Bruce, WINK WINK??). Rich had a copy of Springsteen’s famous concert from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1978 that we loved. Only problem was that one day he left it in the back of his car (did we mention it was a beast?) and the sun had melted the plastic leaving it slightly warped. But did that stop Rich from enjoying it? Turns out it was still playable on a turntable, if you ignored the fact that at a certain part of the record the needle would do its best impression of rollercoaster ride going up and down and up… and that song (don’t remember which) would have its own unique set of pauses and stops. But since it was a bootleg to begin with (and this was in the pre-digital days) it actually didn’t make that much of a difference!
Here’s ‘Because the Night‘ from that concert:
Another memory. In 1992, Bruce pulled a Guns R’ Roses and released two albums at same time, Human Touch and Lucky Town. The resulting tour without the E St. Band has been the subject of much debate over the years in terms of how the new band held up against the E. Streeters. But of course since it was Bruce, Mike, Paul and Rich were there. During one of the many highlights (I want to say it was Promised Land, but my memory is fuzzy) Rich was dancing like a maniac, slipped, and hit his face on the stairs. He had a big gash above his one eye, but continued dancing like nothing had happened. Finally his girlfriend at the time insisted they get medical attention, so they left and Mike and I stayed. A while later (after all this is a Bruce concert!) right as the first song of the encore starts, his girlfriend comes back and says we need to take him to hospital for stitches. Mike and I look at each other with that dilemma – leave a Bruce concert early? I think one of us even suggested we wait until it was finished (after all it wasn’t an emergency at that point). His girlfriend gave us a withering look and might have even said “I can’t believe that Bruce is more important than your friend!” So of course we left…. we met Rich outside and what is the first thing he says?? “What the hell are you leaving a Bruce concert early for??!!” It was at that point that I realized that Rich and his girlfriend probably wouldn’t be a long term thing.
Here’s ‘My Beautiful Reward from Lucky Town, the song we walked out of at that concert.
Mike: Sitting on the roof of Rich’s apartment building overlooking the Philadelphia skyline at night. I don’t remember what music was playing but whenever I remember it I hear Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia playing, a song which seems prophetic in retrospect.
Paul: Another artist that we were really into during college was John Mellencamp. His album Scarecrow was as much a part of the soundtrack of our college years as Born in the USA was. My particular memory here was getting together with Mike and Rich the
summer after our senior year, right before we were all parting ways to go to med school or grad school, for one last 3 amigos bonding experience. We went to Rich’s house, listened to music, shared memories, and drank alot of beer. And then (perhaps because of the aforementioned beer drinking) Rich said let’s make some videos. Remember this was before Iphones and camera phones etc, so setting up a video wasn’t that straightforward. There was a concept video to the Eagles ‘King of Hollywood‘ that involved me in a rain coat, hat and glasses staring at a picture of Julianne Phillips (don’t ask). But the best part was a performance video we did lipsynching (and airplaying instruments to a number of Bruce and Mellencamp tunes. We had an old acoustic guitar, a broom and some pots and pans and kitchen utensils for drums. It was a blast.
Where is the video you ask? It is probably around somewhere on some form of old media that doesn’t play anymore, although I am not sure. But instead, how about Mellencamp’s ‘R.O.C.K. in the USA, which I definitely remember we “played” that night.
Rich was a unique quirky one of a kind friend who was loyal to a fault – going through college together, post college, and the beginning of forming our families bonded us together like brothers. While his tastes in music didn’t venture perhaps as widely as Mike and I’s, his passion for it and the meaning that it gave to our lives meant that we always had that connection to each other, regardless of whether we were separated geographically or involved in our own things. Whenever we got together, the memories would be recalled, the new experiences shared, and the music, always the music, would be playing.
At his funeral, Rich requested that ‘Jungleland‘ off of ‘Born to Run‘ be played, and we honored his request. Let’s honor it again. Rich, we miss you every single day, every single time we share a song with each other, or go to a concert together. But we know that you are always with us, in the songs and notes of the music we love.