The older and wiser I get the more I value the voices and individuals that impacted this all-too imperfect world in a manner that looked outside of themselves, beyond their own narrow self-interests. At this time of the year especially, it is important to keep that thought in mind.
One of the most unforgettable images surrounding the topic of death that resonates in my mind is from the great American poet Robert Lowell, who once wrote how “the blind swipe of the pruner and his knife is busy about the tree of life”. And as 2017 comes to a close, this disquieting list of significant souls who through the course of the past 12-months passed over to the Great Beyond leaves us all more exposed, with a thinner herd to face the future.
Each of these individuals were special, unique, and irreplaceable. Some of them were personal friends; others major influences. May they each live eternal in our memory and fortify us with their strength, wisdom, and courage as we turn the page into 2018.
The Mid-Michigan music scene lost a pivotal player in shaping it with the passing last summer of Edward Kurth, who with his partner Bob Pierson, formed the iconic music store and emporium called Bay Music back in 1974, which was unlike any other to surface within the region.
Eddie served as a formidable supporter of the Tri-City music scene for over four decades. He lived, breathed and was totally committed not only to the magical power of music to inspire the human spirit, but to also soothe and assuage our souls during difficult times; and most importantly, he was a close advocate and fan to the musicians throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region that created the music that became a soundtrack to our lives and defined our region.
Eddie's enthusiasm for and kinship towards the musical community was pivotal and unparalleled. But mainly, Eddie’s spirit was a lot like Gabriel blowing his horn: music is the message and you better sing your song loud, clear, and with as much passion as you can muster. There is no room for tentativeness in life and there’s enough random behavior to distract all of us.
The passing last month of Rob Anderson is still tough to process, as he touched so many people on so many different levels – from his love of music and early involvement as manager of the ground-breaking regional ‘80s band The Flies; to his work as an economic development specialist and planner who paved the way for the Doubletree Riverfront Development in Bay City, and most recently while working with the Bing Administration, was pivotal in shaping the resurgence of Downtown Detroit.
Rob received his Bachelor's degree from The University of Michigan and his Master's from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Rob was committed to public service, leading groups that focused on community development in: Pontiac, Bay City, Rio Rancho (NM), Fayetteville (NC), Detroit, and New Buffalo.
Rob was a multi-faceted and multi-talented individual whose passions spanned the spectrum from music to architecture to politics; and he could always be counted upon to lend a helping hand to his many friends. Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ""Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another." Rob distinguished himself from the mass of humanity in so many remarkable ways - he truly will be missed
Carol J. Kennedy
January got off to a sad start for Baby Boomers with the passing of Carol Kennedy, otherwise known as “Miss Carol” to countless kids across the Saginaw area from Flint to Bay City who tuned in weekly to Channel 57 and became captivated by her engaging demeanor on the educational children’s television show Romper Room. She became the syndicated host on the show for the Saginaw area in 1956 and left us at the age of 90, along with a significant educational impact on a generation of children and students. After leaving Romper Room, Kennedy taught kindergarten at Merrill Park and Durand elementary schools in Saginaw for more than 30 years.
Also passing at the age of 90 back in March of this year is the undeniable Godfather of Rock ‘n Roll, Chuck Berry, who proved to be rock’s first guitar hero and poet, laying down the blueprint that inspired everybody from Keith Richards to the MC5. Never wild, but always savvy, Berry helped define the music. His material fused insistent tunes with highly distinctive lyrics that celebrated with deft wit and loving detail the glories of 1950s U.S. teen consumerism.
Hugh Hefner was an iconic force in publishing who started Playboy magazine back in 1953 with $600 and transformed it into a brand and an industry that extended into television, film, music, and an international string of ground-breaking nightclubs. While people are quick to associate Hefner with his controversial nude centerfolds, they often forget that he offered a remarkable platform to America's most significant writers and thinkers and entertainers, probing their architecture with thoughtful in-depth questions that became known as 'The Playboy Interview. James Baldwin, Ayn Rand, Malcolm X, John Lennon, Jimmy Carter, Ray Bradbury - the list goes on and on.
Hefner was also at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, introducing black voices and artists not only by giving them a platform in the magazine; and took on the censorship of the era that stemmed from Reagan's Meese Commission and was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, publishing the works of seminal writers like David Halberstam.
He was also heavily vilified and paid dearly for challenging the notion that sexuality and nudity was something shameful. He was arrested and prosecuted on obscenity charges, investigated by the DEA and IRS, and at times pushed the edge of bankruptcy. But for Hefner writing and publishing wasn't a job - it was his passion. And we are all the more fortunate to have experienced the fruits and enduring legacy of his labors. In an age when major digital publishing entities are policing and censoring the free-flow of expression, Hefner stood for exactly the opposite; which exactly makes what he delivered all the more significant and invaluable.
Shortly after concluding his extensive 40th Anniversary Farwell Tour, songwriter and fellow ‘Traveling Wilbury’ Tom Petty passed away after suffering a massive cardiac arrest at the age of 66. A staple of rock radio through decades with his band the Heartbreakers, Petty wrote pithy, hardheaded songs that gave 1960s roots a contemporary polish. Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and he sold more than 80 million records in his career. His concise, melodic songwriting, fashioned from a blend of rock, pop, blues, country and psychedelia, found the perfect vehicle in the Heartbreakers, an unflashy but effortlessly accomplished ensemble capable of spanning numerous musical styles with ease. Their work stands in a lineage of American groups that stretches back through the Byrds, the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival, while also incorporating a hefty streak of British pop from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to the Searchers.
Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit. With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated column from 1963. Breslin also won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1986.
“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”
Sam Shepard, a prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who was also a fearsomely adept author, actor, director, and screenwriter, passed away at the age of 73 back in July. Shepard wrote more than 55 plays (his last, “A Particle of Dread,” had its premiere in 2014), acted in more than 50 films and had more than a dozen roles on television. He was also the author of several prose works, including “Cruising Paradise” (1996), and the memoir “Motel Chronicles” (1982). Though he received critical acclaim almost from the beginning of his career, and his work has been staged throughout the world, he was never considered a mainstream commercial playwright.
In August of this year we lost the legendary stand-up comedian and revolutionary political activist Dick Gregory, one of the first back comedians to break through the racial barrier and reach a mainstream white audience. It was Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, who in 1961 heard Gregory performing at a black club and hired him for the Playboy Club in Chicago
One famous and often-poached comedy routine of Dick Gregory’s involved his experiences in the US south. “I spent 20 years there one night,” Gregory began. “I walked into this restaurant and this waitress said ‘we don’t serve colored people here’ and I said ‘that’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’”
Already active in civil rights protests, in which he was jailed, beaten and shot, in 1967 Gregory, a chainsmoker and heavy drinker, weighing 288lb, staged a public fast to protest against the Vietnam war. That year, he ran as mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley, who would become the villain at the 1968 Democratic party presidential convention. After that convention nominated Hubert Humphrey, Gregory ran as a write-in candidate for the Freedom and Peace party, with Mark Lane, author of the JFK assassination critique Rush to Judgement, as his running mate.
Gregory’s candidacy was enough to put him on Nixon’s enemies list, and make him a target of FBI surveillance. In 1971 he and Lane collaborated on Code Name Zorro (retitled Murder in Memphis), accusing the authorities of a cover-up in the Martin Luther King assassination. He returned to the public eye during the 1980 Tehran hostage crisis, when he travelled to Iran to negotiate release of the hostages, then staged a hunger strike. He weighed less than 100lb when he returned to the USA.
Anita Pallenberg will always be remembered for her close liaison with the Rolling Stones, and particularly for her long-term relationship with Keith Richards. However, it would be a mistake to consider her a mere supporting player at the court of the famously debauched rock’n’roll band, since she became a vital part of their mystique and internal chemistry. As the band’s personal assistant Jo Bergman said in 2008: “She, Mick, Keith and Brian were the Rolling Stones. Her influence has been profound. She keeps things crazy.”
Pallenberg became renowned as an actor and model in her own right, and in the early 1960s had lived in New York and become part of the trendsetting pop art milieu that orbited around Andy Warhol and his factory studio. Decades later she returned to the fashion world, and in 1994 completed a fashion and textile degree at Central Saint Martins in London.
We also lost actors Roger Moore, former Allman Brothers Greg Allman and Butch Trucks, actor John Hurt, comedian Don Rickles, musicians David Peel and J Geils, filmmaker Jonathan Demme, Batman Adam West, musician Walter Becker, comedians Jerry Lewis and Ralphie May, and the one-and-only Mary Tyler Moore.
16th November, 2023