I don't write as a way of therapy. I know those who do. It's just never worked for me. I've tried. And I'm not talking about fiction here, but rather personal essays, journals, what have you. So, what I'm about to write shouldn't be taken for my written attempt at catharsis or working through my feelings or any of that. Further, I don't pretend that this should have any particular relevance to anyone else, and may, in fact, be the least bit self-indulgent. That said, when I heard about the death of someone with whom I've been close--indeed, a relative--it hit me harder than I'd expected. And I wanted to capture some of my thoughts about a guy I think the world passed by without enough regard.
The picture above is a 1970's era stereo. I don't own it. Just an internet image I searched up. But it captures something very close to a set of memories that have had a rather lasting influence on my life.
As a kid, I visited my cousins quite a lot. Not just the ones my age. In fact, I had more sleepovers and day visits with my older cousins than anyone else. And it was during these times together that I was introduced to bands like Black Sabbath and Rush. My cousins were pretty deep into their music, owning the latest in stereo equipment and headphones. They bought tons of records decades before vinyl was collectible. And they owned as many 45's as they did full albums.
Anyway, I still recall with perfect clarity the moment my cousin placed a set of monolithic headphones over my ears, cranked the volume, and dropped the turntable stylus down on "Iron Man." The jolt was part volume and part crushing guitar. I remember smiling.
I got to listen to a lot of records that way. Not on the go as I was doing something else. Not streaming from the cloud. Not as part of a playlist. Listening to music was an activity. We made time for it. We went to a place where the gear was set up, we talked about it, we chose, we handled the media, we sat without distraction and took it in.
Far from a "get off my lawn" statement, what I'm talking about is sharing something, and in this case, something that mattered to my cousin who has just passed. He cared about the music, and he wanted me to know about it. From the thrill of Sabbath tones to the depth of Rush lyrics, he wanted me to know.
We'd sit in his basement room--nice and cool in the long hot summer months of the high desert--and listen to music. If you've seen the scenes in Stand by Me where John Cusak plays the older brother to Wil Wheaton , you'll have a sense of the friendship I'm trying to describe.
There was more, of course: driving around in his Camaro, staying up way past my bedtime to watch Saturday Night Live, learning how to punch hard and stand up for myself. But the music is the most enduring part.
All my life, I've been rather broad in my music tastes. I'm as apt to be found listening to Sinatra as I am Sabbath. I can think of only one genre of music I really don't "get." But my introduction to rock and metal--its power and lyricism, it's ability to ease a heated mind or excite one to action--that journey began sitting in front of a 1970's turntable stereo system with giant earphones clamped to my head; it began in the cool basement of my cousin's cool room--he had sweet posters--where he took time to share something that mattered to him.
Later on, life dealt my cousin a lot of harsh blows. He inherited from his mother a debilitating and degenerative bone disease. He lost most of his hearing. He landed on the raw end of a relationship breakup that cost him any real future with his children.
But you know what, he never lost his sense of humor. As much as the music that seemed a part of him, he liked to make people laugh. He never tired of old jokes to try and fetch one, either. It wasn't that he didn't suffer or feel the pain that life brought his way. He did. But he grew uncomfortable dwelling on it, and quickly shifted the conversation to good memories or those old jokes. His own smile broadened his face by half.
I don't know, maybe my cousin's relationship with others was different. With me, though, it was spun of all the right stuff. And it makes me sad to think of how many missed the chance to know him the way I did. With any luck, most of us have a cousin like that. Or a friend. Someone who takes time to share the good stuff, treat you like you're as mature and interesting as you think they are, and is always looking for a way to make you laugh.
Losing someone has a way of resetting priorities, even if you haven't seen that loved one in a while. Maybe especially then. Because in the days since I heard the news of my cousin's passing, what I've thought about more than anything is the people in my life that I've let slip away. It makes me think of that line--again in Stand by Me: "Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant." While I find that true, I also hate that it is so. And really, in today's world, it isn't so hard to stay in touch, is it? Makes me feel a bit ashamed that I don't do a better job of it.
I like the world a little less with my cousin gone. I can't explain that. But he'd be telling me to "Cut it out," and "Do something." His wisdom was simple and accurate. He'd also probably give me a good punch in the shoulder, laugh, and admonish me to go crank some tunes.
No way I'll ever forget him. And not just because he introduced me to so much music, though that could be enough. No, it's like I said before, he took time to share something he cared about. It wasn't a transient file-share. It was a sit down moment in which he watched for my reaction and we talked about the songs, where we made sense of the lyrics and laughed as easy as you please.
I know how maudlin it all may sound. But I don't really care. I warned you this might be self-indulgent. But in the same way he and I took time to do nothing but listen to the music, I wanted to take time to just put down some of what I remembered and still hold close about my friend and cousin who has passed on.
He was part of the fabric of my life. Still is. And for the time-being, there's one thing you can be sure of: I'll be cranking a lot of tunes.