I sit at my desk at work. My heart hurts – dull pain settles deep in my chest. It is heard to breathe. Emptiness envelops me like a shroud. So this is what a broken heart feel like.
Christopher Russell Edward Squire, a British man who I have never met, has left this mortal coil. Unless you are a progressive music fanatic like me, that name probably means nothing to you. But for over forty years, the booming bass guitar and ethereal voice of Mr. Squire has defined a generation of music fans and an orchestra of musicians throughout the world. In 2009, I started an essay about how Yes music has helped me get through sadness and hard times, giving me hope and inspiration in a world that sometimes seemed bereft of those qualities. To say that I loved Chris would be silly; but to declare that his talent changed my life would be an understatement. And now he is gone. It is hard to imagine a world without Chris Squire.
I was lucky enough to see Chris with Yes four times, in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Oakland, and Sacramento. Each time, being surrounded by other like minded-fans gave me a sense of belonging. No one ever judged me at a Yes show due to my appearance or acted as if I didn’t belong there due to the color of my skin. Yes meant acceptance. To non-fans, progressive rock is considered the plodding, overbearing, overindulgent product of rock musicians with inflated notions of their self-worth. But to fans, Yes music was the music of the Universe, our own classical music that lifted us up and gifted us with transcendence.
In the mid-1980s, I had two friends, Mary and Stephanie, who would come over to my house on a regular basis. Music was our connection, and most of that music was progressive rock. We would spend hours, and sometimes days, listening to Yes. “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” “Relayer,” and “Fragile,” was the soundtrack to our lives. With a pizza, Chambord, champagne, or maybe just rum and coke, we would become astral travelers, with Chris’ trusty Rickenbacker leading the way to enlightenment. When Mary and I went to London, exactly thirty years ago today, July 4, 1985, we played “Starship Trooper” on our mutual cassette players as the plane descended from the sky. It was the first international trip for both of us and we couldn’t have made it without bringing Yes along. As we walked across the Westminster Bridge the next day, we hummed the music to “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” as the video featured a shot of the Bridge. A year later, I had a chance to meet him, but I ran away, afraid to meet one of my idols. In the mid-1990s, Mary and I saw Yes at Blossom, an outdoor venue outside of Cleveland. We started crying when we heard the opening notes to one of our favorite songs, “Awaken.” Even though I always felt acceptance at Yes shows, some of the obviously more recent fans seated near us stared when we started screaming and applauding as the band played that opus from “Going For the One.” But we didn’t care. That’s what being a Yes fan was all about. You didn’t care what others felt or thought. The music was all that mattered – the music and the brave creators of the sound that never let us down.
I had been crying ever since I heard about Chris’ demise from leukemia on Saturday, June 27, 2015. I spent all day Sunday looking at photos and reading the tributes from fans, friends, and other musicians, relating how much Chris had meant to their lives and careers. On Wednesday, July 1, his widow Scotty posted on Chris’ Facebook page that he would be cremated that day at 2 PM MST. She asked fans to play music and/or think of him at that time. I was in a training class at work, but I didn’t let that stop me. I sat at my desk and thought about another of my favorite songs, “Onward.” I fought back the tears that were forming. I said a prayer, discreetly made the sign of the Cross and whispered, “Thank you, Chris.” The physical body of the master of the Rickenbacker 4001, the first rock bassist that I fell in love with, the larger-than-life six-foot-five musical giant may be gone, but his substantial body of work, the beautiful music of almost 50 years will stay alive.