Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Serendipitous Sadness

I always hate it when I go to look up a musician…and find out he’s no longer with us. At first that sounds a little weird, I know. If I was such a fan of the person, wouldn’t I already know that? Not necessarily. Sometimes you lose touch, for one reason or another. The band breaks up, the artists fall off the horizon temporarily, they go into realms of music I’m not particularly interested in, yatta, yatta. We get busy, we move on, and then…sometimes…we get a jolt. My two latest ones have come online. I have to admit, I still don’t always think in terms of any of my favorite artists having online presences. I’m still in the dark ages when it comes to flitting around the cyberworld, in many ways, one of them being searching for people. It always feels vaguely like a violation of someone’s privacy to go clicking on links with their name to see what the sites look like. (I know, “Get over it.” Not to worry. I am.) Anyway, sometimes you go looking for things and find out other things that you wish you hadn’t learned. I found out about the death of Johnny Cunningham (Celtic fiddler extraordinaire) while doing a Google search, down various avenues, looking for Silly Wizard CDs. For those of you who don’t know who Silly Wizard was, you’ve missed one of the great musical experiences of all time. Fortunately, you can still hear it, as most of the Silly Wizard CDs are available through normal channels (except, of course, their best one, A GLINT OF SILVER, which when I last saw it online was going for something like $75!). Anyhow, in efforts to find AGOS in something other than pricey mode, I started entering Google searches of band members’ names—sometimes, you can come at these things through a back door—and learned, to my dismay, that Johnny had been felled by a heart attack not too very long ago. I blinked back a tear and said a prayer for him, and I dearly hope that when I enter heaven, I have a certain wild-eyed Celtic fiddler on hand to greet me. That will truly make heaven even more heavenly. But this week, I got another one of those jolts. One a little closer to home. If you know me for any amount of time at all, eventually you learn that I was, am, and probably always will be one of many truly die-hard, hardcore Cryan’ Shames fans. They were the only band I ever went to see more than, say, twice. (!) They were the band of my teenage years, and extra special in that not only were they a fabulous bunch of musicians, but they were from the Chicago suburbs…some of which I rode through on a regular basis. Remember those wonderful teenybopper days when just being within the same general air space as your idols made your day? Well…I can attest to many wonderful days being within these guys’ general air space. Yeah, I made a fool of myself over them more than once. And of course, I had a major crush on at least one of the guys in the band…that went with the territory. Bands and crushes went together, especially for a girl with a big brother who played in a series of garage bands himself, and thus paraded a motley group of guys in and out of the house in front of his baby sister anyway. My crush was on a certain bass player. Not one of the original guys, by the way—one who joined them after their first hit album had come out, when they went through a slight personnel shift. This guy played lead guitar, but he wasn’t averse to playing bass, and the band was smart enough to sign him on. That’s how Isaac Guillory came into my favorite band and into my life. Okay, “into my life” is an overstatement, maybe. He never knew I existed. But I sure knew he did. Tall, dark, handsome, and a virtuoso musician—what else could I ask for? And if he had tweaked one little finger in my direction when I was, say, 17 or so…who knows how differently my life might have turned out. (Makes my heart feel like a teenybopper’s just thinking about it!) Suffice to say for a couple of golden years in there, I was in pretty much teenybopper heaven any time I could go see the band, stand stage right (where the bass player normally set up) and watch him work. It gave me a pure joy that I’ve never quite gotten over. When I say pure joy, I mean just that. There’s an element of female who hangs around rock-band concerts looking for something else entirely; that wasn’t me. In fact, the very thought that those girls who hung around with the band didn’t care about the music—they were just after…er—that—horrified me. (The fact that guys in a band were usually looking for girls who were after that was one of the great disillusionments of my teenage years as well.) Call me naïve, but I really thought all those girls were there for the music. I certainly was. If it came wrapped up in a great package, all the better. But I wasn’t drooling over this guy because I wanted to notch a bedpost with him. I have a literally visceral reaction to music, and that’s all the high I needed at that point. I loved to watch those long fingers of his play bass as if it were another melodic element in the band, instead of just being continuo…and the fact that he was easy on the eyes only made life better. Well, you know what’s coming. Once again, I was doing a search—not even sure why, this time. His name had just popped into my head, and I began wondering what had ever happened to the guy once the Shames called it quits as a regular playing/touring gig. I caught up with him once on a Donovan album, which was singularly underwhelming; that’s because overall Donovan is underwhelming anyway. But Isaac? Isaac, unfortunately, is no longer with us either. This time, felled by cancer that “had gone undetected for too long.” Apparently, this happened on New Year’s Eve of 2000. One can only imagine, and feel for, that suffering. But as far as legacies go, if that counts, the man left a staggering one. A wife, four children, and—even better, as far as us musicians go—an array of Google sites that unhesitatingly called him the best guitar player on the planet. So not only was the guy good-looking…apparently he really was as talented as I thought he was. Which is an affirmation of sorts, even in the sadness of wishing I’d have had a chance to hear him in one of his later guitar concerts before the axe fell. Apparently, they were truly special. I know he was. And I’ll miss him. I can only hope he’s playing accompaniment with Johnny even now, rehearsing for when I get there. (Hang in there, fellas. There’s a soprano in your future.) R.I.P., Isaac. And thanks for all you were. Janny


Donna Alice said...

Know how you feel--I remember how I felt when I learned Richard Long--"The Big Valley" had died. I miss him a lot, even though I never met the man--he was one of the bright spots of my childhood. I wanted Jarrod Barkley to be MY DAD and spent a lot of time daydreaming as such.

Deb said...

You are in luck. One Silly Wizard "Silver" CD is definitely in your future.

And I sure hear what you're saying about the music. During the latter half of high school and first year of college, I dated a guy who played bass. He had one of those fiddle shaped basses like Paul McCartney's, and although I couldn't stand Grateful Dead and The Cream, I used to listen (and watch) him play by the hour.

And dearie, bad pun alert!
Saying "the AXE fell", about a guitar player?! Shame to you! (I love bad puns.)


Janny said...

An inadvertent pun is the least of my worries when I'm in mourning, kiddo...

As for SILVER, if you find it online, you're doing better than I could. Like I was available when I looked only for tres mucho pesos.

And yeah, I know that's mixed metaphoring....

Still hearing that melodic bass in her head,