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The Thaddeus Gazette


My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.
—Richard Adams, Watership Down

I'm inured to the lessor iniquities of growing older: random aches and pains, forgetfulness, a certain preoccupation with medical practice, a growing inchoate rage against the inexorable disintegration of my entire world view and value structure as instantiated by so-called real life. Yeah, little stuff like that.

What I'm still coming to grips with is the degree to which a sojourn in an ape suit is back-loaded with grief.

It comes in diverse forms at random intervals, sometimes one damn thing after another, sometimes a whole bunch of damn things at the same time. And then sometimes it comes at what resembles appropriate timing, even though there's no such thing.

The scattered, motley mass of entertainers and show folk sometimes blessed or cursed with the epithet "New Vaudeville" that I embrace (despite my better instincts) as kith and kin has its share of seniors, fragmented relics of the Great Nice Try of the 60's and 70's that begat so many good intentions that yet survive. Like its tenuous cousins folk music and international dance, it sparked a community that simultaneously encouraged diversity and quietly isolated itself from mainstream culture. And while all continue to attract curious youths into their folds, vaudeville has the advantage of rewarding diligence, loyalty and integrity (plus appropriate talent) with that well-know elixir of ego-boo, stage time.

But the infusion of Them Pesky Kids does nothing to mitigate the march of time, and some of our old stuff is growing old indeed. Venerable Canadian song-dance-and-crazy-hats guy Al Simmons had the temerity to feature his own gradual disintegration in a Moisture Festival spot with a parody of "Head, Shoulders Knees And Toes" (which they sing to the tune of London Bridges in Canada, who knew?): "Bunions, essential tremor, losing my hair/losing my hair/losing my hair/bunions, essential tremor, losing my hair/pacemaker, medial meniscus tear." Har de har har.

When I lost Sandahbeth, my, partner, confidant, bodyguard, hot girlfriend and wife of 30 years, back around the beginning of the Obama Aberration (good intentions...), I recognized intellectually that, even at my relatively young age, I was headed for more of the same. Emotionally, though, I continued to be in denial. None of my friends whom I loved so could ever grow old and croak and rot and crumble to dusty oblivion. How could they?

And even high-profile departures like Chef Ray of Grateful Dead kitchen fame, whom we threw a celebration of life live-in wake six weeks before he passed, or former Flying Karamazov Sam Williams, felled by cardiac arrest while gallantly steering and braking a city bus to safety, appropriately grieved, were still episodes conducive to art and performance, to Floaty Head Of Wisdom buttons (available at your local VaudeCo outlet) and memorial performances of Dark Star on solo trombone and Way To Go. Just my little way of telling Mister D to fuck off.

Moisture Festival this year was...amazing. Great acts, great audiences, super great crew, all the amenities you'd expect from a world-class festival run by the entertainers and fans for the benefit of the entertainers and fans (especially the paying ones in the folding chairs). I had the grueling pleasure of a two-week stint with a show band (every show every night, baby!), topped off at the end by two stage appearances with those Serpents Of Swing, Snake Suspenderz.

There is a tendency for band people to say "My band {$band_name}...", as a sign of affiliation, not possession, but I'd be a cockeyed liar to talk like that about such an emergent and self-organizing entity as the Snakez. We formed, if that's the word, pretty much as a whim, me and Howling Hobbit finding excuses to go out and play old jass on uke and trombone at open mikes. We had just evolved to the point of actual paying gigs (for very small values of "paying") when Sketch showed up.

At the Gage Academy Drawing Jam (there's artists! and music! and naked people! and beer!), the artist and drummer ostensibly known as Andrew Hare, attending as an actual painter thank you very much, approached us desiring to jam on drums. Another drummer's traps were close at hand, both Hob and I were open to the idea, and Andrew came across as the kind of guy who could walk his talk. He sat in and never left. I came up with his nickname after observing his penchant to retire to a corner with drawing implements before, between and after shows.

Sketch was that unicorn of the band world, a drummer who knew music and not only provided a solid metronome but also played with the group and not at it. He was solid, tasty and knew when to kick back and when to kick. His facility with well-timed freehand percussive punctuation of comic performance was probably most responsible for Avner the Eccentric's endorsement of our organization: "If I have a pit, I want you in it!" Not to be typecast, he also doubled on standup bass and other instruments and brought me thoughtfully-constructed MIDI orchestration projects to duplicate. And he was, indubitably, a serious painter who presented in galleries and had genuine ideas to convey. That's not an area I'm conversant in, but I liked his stuff.

Our performances at MF have in the past left me a trifle regretful, usually for my own clams, but this year we nailed it pretty effectively, both shows, with plenty appreciation from both audience and fellow performers. We took our bows and went back to civilian life. And the next weekend Sketch sat down one evening to watch TV and didn't get up again.

Okay. He was 67, he had various health problems, he'd had long and well-invested (if not remunerated) careers as both a fine artist and a musician. Maybe it was time. Maybe he was even ready.

But like William Goldman says, life's not fair. It's just fairer than death.

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