Something in the mail, something in the short grass, something in the past and present, something slouching slithery this way came. And went.
But what I write about today is what remains, what’s remembered and well because it’s too good to let go and so never will be: reverie for the artful and clear talent of Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers Band.
The slithering part was found nestled in a gmail inbox a while ago: correspondence my way from someone I hadn’t heard from or about for several decades, someone I knew but not all that well, knew moreorless within a group of people comingled generally around the music industry, situated in California (me, them, our mutual areas of interests and work).
The person wrote to me to let me know that Grover Lewis, someone I did know well enough to regard as friend, at least for a while during those times past, that Grover Lewis passed away. The mail was from Austin, Texas, and there was news that people were commemorating Grover there as a child gone long from Texas and yet remembered because he was a child of Texas; a now-epitaphic article referenced in that email memorialized Grover as someone gone great as a writer “by overcoming his roots.”
I responded, somberly, reverently, that the talent Grover had lay in his roots and not in spite of them, that he had nothing to “overcome” so much as he had something to appreciate, despite his hardships. I can remember a lot of hardship in my past, particularly my childhood in the rural South, but it’s those hardships today that I now value: no shoes, no roads, skinny-dipping and silence. You can barely even buy that today.
No, if Grover ever had talent, it was that he was lucky enough to know what the rural South was at some time in his past, despite his hardships (and there were hardships). But something happens when you go contrary to who you are and follow that whom you are not: you lose the ticket to cruise back home again.
So there Grover was those years ago: a guy in cowboy boots in a cold San Francisco office who suggested a loathing for Texas, the South and mostly, those roots. It seems to have grown worse from there because from there, he and I lost touch and it wasn’t because I didn’t want it that way. We just lost touch, not really sharing a friendship so much as we shared an affinity because we were both affects from the South among an entire lot who weren’t and would never want to be: Rolling Stone magazine.
I was barely out of my teens at that time and the only person at the magazine who liked loud music — at least while I worked — and very much liked great guitars and those who played them and liked all that while I was working. I bet I played “Layla” five thousand times until an editor scratched the last copy I had in his rush to get the thing off and get “Sticky Fingers” on. And what I was enjoying about “Layla” was the guitar work contributed by Duane Allman. I’d sing along but the lyrics were meaningless to me — it was the guitar that had me so involved.
So, that was the end of Duane Allman blaring all through the night and day while I worked (I rarely went home then, save only to shower, change and sleep a day, then back for another two/three day stint and that went on for many years, with a lot of loud rock and roll playing whenever I was anywhere, but mostly at the office): “The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East,” “Layla” and “The Allman Brothers Band,” among a lot of other things mostly because someone else wanted to hear something else and I was obliged, what with the audible air being mutual throughout the whole place.
I cried the first time I heard “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” one steaming suddenly not so silently hot A.M. just past midnight in Gainesville, Florida, and I cried even more the day years later that I heard on another office radio that Duane Allman died. I never understood the bursting of tears other than it was that I was moved to tears and felt a love and affection that went beyond words. I really loved and love still the work by Duane Allman. There is presence there, presence of light and love and potent of goodness. The man was a message. His music, the messenger.
About that, I was wondering a few days ago: some sort of light intense enough to beam past the darkness that followed those times because Duane Allman’s work, his music, was a torch and the Allman Brothers Band were sparks, great big sparks, and the gathering darkness, it followed. Music went dark, people went dark, times went dark after Duane Allman left us living. Darkness and a lot of cosmetics and shiny big things including hair to mask the darkness but darkness just the same. Darkness and it remained.
I was wondering about that those few days ago, wondering but what Duane sparked so greatly and shone right past it all and here we are today and Duane’s still bright and his work and that light of his remain while most of that darkness has gone the way of trend.
He was a young man when he lost his life, his talent self-taught over his short life. Duane Allman died, sober and clear minded, while trying to avoid an impact between the motorcycle he was riding and a lumber-hauling truck that pulled out in front of him. He did the right thing, he laid his cycle down to avoid an impact but it cost him his life due to the internal injuries he suffered from his grinding impact with the road. Predictably, however, the public misjudged his passing as due to drugs, alcohol, some stupor, surely while that was entirely not the case as to his state when he died: a sober, good man on his way home from a friend’s birthday party.
This is where Grover Lewis and the disconnect and slithering email comes into things. Because, I’d long ago forgotten about Grover Lewis, forgotten about Rolling Stone and most everyone else I knew there, tried to forget about the darkness that followed — haven’t quite yet but I still work at it — and then the email in the inbox, my sincere attempt to share sympathy, the coiling up of darkness that followed afterward: never pet a snake, shoulda’ never answered the email, shoulda’ just said my prayers for the soul of Grover Lewis and shoulda’ never answered the email.
Commemorating the radical left writers of those times — and that includes Hunter Thompson who was also a part of that general people and social mix from those times past — from my perspective in the present, remembering the reality of that concentrated period of the past in many gritty details, it’s not what the legacies being rewritten in our present represent, because what was then is not at all what who was and how. It’s as if there’s yet “another new!”, “another bigger and best!” a yet again rendition, ongoing second act as newly invented version and act and act that just won’t ever get it straight out of the darkness that the reality of those in those times past were stuck in. You can’t rewrite that as light because it and they just were not that.
Duane Allman, on the other hand, was.
And, so, Grover Lewis’ grubby piece about the Allman Brothers Band that snipes and snakes at Duane Allman through the pages of Rolling Stone only a mere two weeks after Duane Allman lost his life, that was an act of darkness.
I read a comment by Jann Wenner after the suicide of Thompson, Wenner having said that “Hunter was the DNA of Rolling Stone” and all I could think of was, “just look at all that DNA all over the kitchen wall.” A fist on his magazine’s cover to commemorate his death, indeed.
And in that and other liberal press, Thompson and Lewis are commemorated as heroic overcomers when, in fact, it wasn’t that way, not at all. Nor were they heroic times, but as if to peek through to reality, the times and those who wrote about them are well reflected in what was written, by whom and how and that was that they wrote truly tacky snips at great creative talent like Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers Band.
Grover with his “I’m from Texas but I hate Texas and I’ve overcome my Southern roots” parade, it was falsehood. In all due respect, it represented falsehood, because without those qualities, there’d have been nothing to write about. His contradictions drove him maudlin but it’s noteworthy that he kept his boots.
And about Grover’s snippy article about the Allman Brothers Band that went to print in Rolling Stone only weeks after Duane lost his life and yet went to print anyway — it could have been withheld, it could have been edited, it could have been thrown out — the snippiness is not the act of a heroic writer but of a callous cad. Grover was no gentleman with that piece and his legacy to my view and experience with him — same goes for Hunter Thompson — was that exacting death is not the way of a hero, nor the act of courage. No, it’s just DNA all over the kitchen wall, cruel copy on newsprint in trashbins.
No acts of inspiration. No tarnishing of a great talent such as was and remains Duane Allman, just the backdoor run with a typewriter and cigarettes and an expense account to make the most pages as flippantly as possible and legacies be damned — which, I guess, they gave it their best shot.
So today we have the wonderful talent of Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers Band to show us and keep on showing us what it was and is to generate heat, and, light that’s still shining, and both of those of the best kinds. Grover and Hunter just went bang.
Remember Duane, Vicksburg, Mississippi — Photo Credit Unknown