Marvellaland

Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Mourning My Brother

Photo from totaldrumsets.com

On July 30, 1980, I got fired from my job at Misc., a small clothing store in downtown Pittsburgh. Since then, I had been sitting at home, listening to the radio and collecting unemployment. Once a week or so, I would put in a job application, just so my benefits wouldn’t be cut off. I knew that in a few weeks I would hear from the Washington County Board of Assistance and get a good paying state government job.

Each day, I would write down in my day planner the names of the Led Zeppelin songs played on WDVE. Each song brought me closer to November 6, the day when I would finally see Led Zeppelin live and on stage. I considered it a good day when the local rock station played ten songs during the daytime hours, my prime listening time.

On September 25, 1980, I was listening to the radio and straightening up the house. WDVE played one Zeppelin song, then another. The second song was followed by even another song. How strange, I thought. Usually, the most songs that they ever played by one artist were two. What was going on? After the third song, the deejay broke in and announced that John Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin, had died in his sleep at Jimmy Page’s house in England.

I froze. Dead? Bonzo was dead? My head started to hurt. It couldn’t be true! I felt a sense of loss, almost as intense as when my father had died five years earlier. After all, I felt like Led Zeppelin were members of my family. They were the big brothers who had helped me make it through college, who woke me up each morning with a song, who put a smile on my face when things went wrong. So how could one of my brothers be dead?

I had to talk. I had to talk to someone who would understand. There was only one person that I could call, my friend Kathy. Kathy and I had become friends when we discovered that we shared a love of Led Zeppelin. Kathy still worked at Misc., but I had to talk to her, even if it meant talking to the bitch that had fired me. Sometimes, they played WDVE in the store, so maybe she already knew.

I dialed the number and Kathy picked up the phone.

“Kathy, have you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“About Bonzo.”

“No. What about Bonzo?” I could hear the dread in her voice.

“He is dead. He died last night at Jimmy’s house.” My voice was starting to crack.

“Call me at home when I get off of work.” Kathy’s voice was getting shaky too. I remembered that the manager eavesdropped on employee phone calls.

When I got off of the phone, I started to cry. I knew instinctively that my dream of seeing Led Zeppelin live had died with him. I thought back to 1977, when I had held my Led Zep concert tickets in my hand. I cried when I mailed them back to get a refund after Robert Plant’s beloved son Karac had died. Now it was over. I would never get the chance to see the band that I had fallen in love with in 1974. Watching “The Song Remains the Same’ would be the closest that I would ever get to Led Zeppelin.

When Kathy got home from work, I called her and we cried together. We had been ecstatic a few months earlier when the Pittsburgh tour date had been announced. We had been at work that day, and we had hugged each other and jumped up and down for joy in the middle of the store.

“I wonder if they will break up?” Kathy pondered

“I’m sure that they will. They won’t be like the Who and just replace him with another drummer. Can you imagine Zep with another drummer?”

“I feel so bad for his family,” Kathy said.

We talked about the “Moby Dick” segment of “The Song Remains the Same,” with Bonzo dancing around with his wife and little Jason playing the drums.

Kathy and I had both lost our fathers, so we knew what it was like.

After I hung up with Kathy, I listened to the radio again. WDVE had been playing nothing but Led Zeppelin since the announcement had been made. Listeners had been calling the station all day, talking about the band and offering condolences. It seemed like the whole world was mourning.

That night, I cried again for the brother that I would never meet. A few days later, my Aunt Elizabeth gave me an obituary she had cut out of the local paper, the Washington Observer-Reporter. She shook her head sadly. “I’m so sorry that Led died,” she said. “I know you really liked him.” I had to smile. Even though none of my relatives understood my love of rock and roll, Aunt Elizabeth’s comments touched me deeply. On October 21, I was offered the job that I had been waiting for. On December 4, it was announced that my band was no more.

Thirty-two years have passed since the fateful day of John Bonham’s death. Bonzo’s son Jason is now a successful drummer in his own right. I am so proud of him, as if he were a member of my own family. In October 2012, I hope to see him perform in “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience,” his tribute to his father. I still have the Led Zeppelin scrapbook I started in 1980, filled with the articles I had cut out of Creem, Circus, and Melody Maker, and many more during the 70s. Led Zeppelin is now just a memory, but the music will always be alive, powered by the beat of Bonzo’s drums. And I will never forget the rock and roll band that stole my heart and lifted my spirits during my darkest days.

 

(Portions of this essay were featured on the website “On This Day in Led Zeppelin History” on September 21, 2001, Vol. 4 No. 55)

Cous (In Memory of Darrell T. Davis – September 9, 1959- March 22, 2009)

Today would have been my cousin Darrell’s 53rd Birthday. This is a shortened version of a 2,600-word essay I wrote to honor him. I don’t have a photo with me to include, but I’ll try to get one from my storage unit to add later in the week.  Don’t forget to tell your cousins that you love them. They won’t be around forever.

Growing up, I never had a brother or a sister, but I had a Cous. Darrell Tyrone Davis lived down the street from me, with my Cousin Kat and her husband Cousin Bill. Like a lot of African American families, the actual configuration of the family tree was unclear, but family was family. Since I was adopted, none of my relatives were related to me by blood anyway, but that never mattered. Cousins were cousins, no matter where they came from or how they got there.

Darrell entered my life when he was three years old. I couldn’t believe my luck — a little cousin to play with! But he was half my age. What was I going to do with a three-year-old? It was hard to accept that Darrell was a lot cuter than I was. With his light skin and curly hair, everyone loved him. In the color-conscious days of the early sixties, he found favor for his looks. By the time he started grade school, every little girl in town had had a crush on him.

To say that I grew up as a spoiled only child was an understatement. I lived in an eight-room house with my mother and father and I had a playroom filled with toys. But Darrell was twice as spoiled as I was. Sometimes he shared his toys and I shared my house, but not always willingly. As a child, I never had a babysitter. If my parents were going somewhere without me, I stayed with Cousin Kat. The reverse was true too. So Darrell and I, two spoiled brats with lots of toys and plenty of attitude, were thrown together whenever our parents needed some alone time. When we were little, I had to make sure Darrell understood the hierarchy – no matter how cute he was, I was the Big Cousin and he was the little cousin.

As he got older, I wasn’t needed to keep him company. By then, he had a lot of friends. I didn’t. At times, I was jealous of my good-looking cousin, who always had a thriving social life and lots of attention from the opposite sex. He remained spoiled, too. His parents bought him whatever he wanted, whether it was new clothes or a new car. By January 1976, both of my parents were deceased and I lived all alone in the house where we played house years earlier. We didn’t hang out as much, but we were there for important events in each other’s lives. I attended his graduation from high school, cheering when he received his diploma. In January 1978, he took me to see Earth, Wind and Fire on the day before my 21st birthday. A few months later, he attended my University of Pittsburgh graduation and the subsequent party.  But as we moved through adulthood, our paths rarely crossed.

After I moved to California, I tried to talk to him on the phone at least once a year, usually on his birthday. The last time I saw him was in the early nineties, before Cousin Kat died of Alzheimer’s. A year later, Cousin Bill died of a broken heart and I lost touch with Darrell. Sometimes, I would ask my other cousins about his life.

In February 2009, I found out that he was on Classmates.com. There was a picture of him sitting in a bedroom playing with a dog. My heart warmed at the picture of my little cousin. I wrote him a short note, giving him my e-mail address, as I didn’t have the money to get an upgraded account on Classmates to be able to read messages on the site. But he wrote back to me on Classmates anyway.

On March 22, 2009, my cousin Darrell died, a few months shy of his 50th birthday. Before I went to work one morning, I got e-mail from another cousin informing me of Darrell’s death a month earlier from cancer. When I got to work, I couldn’t see my computer screen through the tears in my eyes. I never got the chance to see and respond to his Classmates message. Part of my childhood was gone, as there was no one left to corroborate the times we shared together, just two spoiled brats with vivid imaginations.

In May 2010, I collected some mementos I had left with my best friend in Pittsburgh. Along with my report cards and scrapbook was Darrell’s senior picture from Canon-McMillan Senior High. I looked at the picture of the young man with the large Afro, huge glasses, gray suit and wide black tie and read the inscription.

Marv,

To my loving cousin. May we always be very close. I want and wish only the very best for you always. God bless you. Stay cool Cous. P.S. Thanks for all the help.

            Love,

            Darrell “77”

I ran my hand over the blue ink, which was more than thirty years old. Even though we didn’t stay close, I would like to think that Darrell always knew that I loved him. How could I not? He was family. Cousins were cousins, no matter where they came from or how they got there. But I will never forget the one who called me “Cous.”

To A Tee

Photo by Pat Soberanis

I love tee shirts. I have loved them since I was a little girl. Now I have to give them up. I don’t have a permanent residence and it makes no sense to pay $70 a month to store tee shirts in a storage unit. But how am I going to be able to part with them? Parting with my books was bad enough – now this. You may look at a pair of pants and remember where you got them, but nothing bring back memories like a 1987 Grateful Dead “Dead in the Heart of the Blue Ridge” tee. And how could I ever sell my 1985 Live Aid tee, purchased in London during the week of that groundbreaking concert?

For the first time, I decided to catalog and count all of my tee shirts. Even before I started going to rock concerts, I bought tee shirts. Back in the ‘70s, every mall had a kiosk that ironed pictures on plain shirts. In 1976, I got an orange tee emblazoned with a picture of Led Zeppelin, the back cover of “Led Zeppelin III.” I wore that shirt until the picture started to peel off. At a drug store in the local mall, I found a “Frampton Comes Alive” tee. I still have both of those shirts. I went to my first hard rock concert in 1985, and of course, I had to get a shirt to commemorate the Deep Purple “Perfect Strangers” tour. From there, the shirts and shows escalated – The Grateful Dead, The Firm, Yes, King’s X, Emerson, Lake and Powell, Badlands, UFO – those are just from the 80s and 90s. Even though I never got to see Led Zeppelin, I have three other shirts besides the vintage orange one, as well as a white Jimmy Page shirt. When I saw Jimmy Page and Robert Plant together in 1995, of course I had to get a shirt. I have three shirts from the local classic rock station and one from another rock station that I got when I won a contest to meet Ozzy Osbourne. I have an Ozzy shirt too, gotten from a co-worker whose husband used to sell bootleg tee shirts that he confiscated from vendors while working security at concert venues. I had a former supervisor get me an Eric Clapton shirt when she went to see him in concert. Thrift Town provided me with a Dave Meniketti shirt, which I wore when I met him at a Y&T show last summer. One Christmas when I didn’t have much money, I bought myself a Metallica shirt at Hot Topic. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like flaming skulls! When I was in London in 1987, I went to the Bass Centre, where I could only afford a tee shirt. When I went in 1993, I got a shirt at Crazy Pig Designs, as I couldn’t afford their expensive jewelry. Between visits, gifts, and thrift stores, I have ten Hard Rock shirts, if you count the one from the Hotel in Las Vegas. A few months ago, I went to a free Oleander show and my friend bought me their tee shirt. After watching a taping of “That Metal Show” in Los Angeles in March 2012, all audience members were given a choice of a black or gray shirt.

But like a lot of people, I have shirts that commemorate events, former employers, colleges, and sports teams. I have several social worker shirts, a shirt from a shelter I used to work at, and several shirts from my two alma maters. I got shirts at the annual AIDS candlelight vigils, when I volunteered at the Amgen Tour of California, and when I went to hear Nelson Mandela speak at Oakland Coliseum in 1990. I have tees for Halloween, Groundhog Day, and Christmas. I don’t have any Steelers shirts (only three sweatshirts), but I have a Penguins and a Pirates shirt to represent my hometown teams. The editor who published my first essay in an anthology sold tee shirts with the book’s cover on the front. I had to get one to celebrate my accomplishment.

I love science and science fiction and I have the shirts to prove it. I ordered a Mars Pathfinder Sojourner shirt from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to commemorate the first Mars Rover. I wish I could get one for the latest one, Curiosity. I have several space shuttle shirts, including one in memory of the Columbia tragedy, which was a gift. Two trips to the annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas supplied me with a 40th Anniversary shirt listing every episode of all five Star Trek series and all of the movies and a shirt featuring the Enterprise hoveringover the Las Vegas Hilton. I found a Buckaroo Banzai shirt one year. It’s surprising how many people remember that movie. At a science store that used to be at Universal Studios CityWalk in the 90s, I got a Galileo tee shirt. You don’t find those every day.

The more I counted, the more I realized that my tee shirts were physical manifestations of my diaries, detailing my life and interests over the years. How could I give them away or sell them for a dollar each to a stranger at a yard sale? After spending hours going through them, I only put three in my yard sale pile. I have a shirt with a quote from Oscar Wilde on the front – “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Unlike ol’ Oscar, I also have 110 tee shirts. I hope I make $70 at this garage sale…

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