Before you get offended, let me tell you that I did not say it, but that its saying is crucial in the telling of the tale. And yes, I’ve been biting my lip about some of this stuff for awhile, but Now, as Kilgore Trout says, It Can Be Told …
Return with me to those thrilling days of yesteryear, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, spring 1973. (And, welcome to the Ides of March, appropriately.)
As chronicled earlier, my cousin Steve taught me the rudiments of guitar in the summer of 1971. Back in Santa Fe, my Mother was happy that I’d taken up a new instrument (I had played viola since grade school, and managed to get OUT of piano lessons after five years) but, being the same Pianoforte Gestapo about guitar that she’d been about piano — she was the classically-trained church organist–insisted that I sing and not just play the same chords over and over again.
And I was transported to the moment I decided to quit taking piano lessons in fifth grade: I was creating a programmatic thunderstorm at sea and suddenly a voice rang out: “That’s not in your piano book!” and the notion that a piano could be “fun” — i.e. that you could PLAY music, rather than WORK music (the old piano lessons had created tremendous pains in my back and shoulders as I hunched down to type the magic spots on the piano, pains that went away until I became a writer and then learned to sit properly and they went away once and for all)– flew out the Fetterman Drive window into the Laramie sagebrush and did not return for many years.
Starting in fifth grade I played the viola because A ) it kept all other musical requirements, familial and scholastic at bay, and B ) because no one else wanted to play viola and I was always welcomed into any orchestra without the feral bastardy of required “challenges” which I always considered INIMICAL to music, but quite fine for the neanderthal brutality of gym/sports.*
[* And C ) because I forgot my practice pad for the third week in a row and was therefore kicked out of band and any chance of becoming a drummer.]
With the guitar came, once more, that joy of playing MUSIC, and not competing, copying, emulating or otherwise playing other people’s music. And when the yawp of the musical martinet was heard, I, now a teenager, did what all savvy teenagers did: I never played guitar when SHE was present.
Now, what has all this got to do with Keith Emerson? Hold on, it’ll all pay off.
Thus, I vowed that the guitar would, thenceforth and forever be MINE. No one else’s music. No learning the opening guitar part to “Stairway to Heaven.” No sharing chops, no stealing licks from records. MINE. MY music. My playtime.
Which was a specific kind of INTENTIONAL ignorance. I felt that if I didn’t learn anybody else’s tricks, I wasn’t beh0lden to anybody else, AND I could compose without constantly thinking “oh, such and such did that.” I still find it a remarkable observation for a fifteen-year-old, but it sure as hell paid off in the end. It seems wise beyond my years.
So, when I was sixteen, lying on my bed on Blue Water Street (er, Camino Agua Azul, which every subscription service in the USA insisted on correcting to Camino AQUA Azul, since we were clearly too fucking stupid to know how to spell the name of our street) listening on my headphones to the Moody Blues’ “On the Threshold of a Dream,” during Mike Pinder’s “The Voyage” I suddenly heard the “Ants Go Marching”/”When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” bass line motif (that was the Number One Single in the USA the day I was born, in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version of “Sixteen Tons”– descending three whole steps and a half step ) and with thatpattern recognition one of the great epiphanies of my life: I KNEW THAT STRUCTURE! I COULD PLAY IT ON THE PIANO.
I had understood the structure of a whole catalog of music. I didn’t just hear the one song, but the many variations in many different eras and styles. It “woke” up something in me that has never yet slept.
Luckily the Pianoforte Gestapo was not present, and I went to the black Acrosonic (by Baldwin) spinet and quickly figured out Mike Pinder’s keyboard part.
I became a secret pianist as well as a secret guitarist. But that merely made the music of others an even more private and personal pleasure.
Now, about this same time, I went into a record store and asked the clerk if he knew of any rock and classical fusions. He suggested Emerson Lake and Palmer’s first album — the selfsame one, it would turn out, that contained the infamous Jungle Bunny Jive, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
I bought it. I brought it home. I nervously ripped off the shrink wrap with the sticker that said “FEATURING LUCKY MAN” that they slapped on albums if there was a hit single. I took out the sleeve, removed the record and took the dust cover from my Sears Fifty Dollar Christmas present stereo without radio.
I swung back the stabilizer arm, placed the record on the changer spindle, and swung the stabilizer arm back. I tugged the switch to the right two positions, past “play” to “reject” and the spindle arm slipped its restraining pin and the record dropped with a plastic flop onto the turntable and the arm swung left and lowered itself into the groove…
From the very first note, it was an utter revelation, an astonishment.
This was the kind of music I’d been looking for my whole life, along with one other, which I finally got when Steeleye Span opened for Jethro Tull on the Passion Play Tour in Albuquerque the next summer — Celtic/old English folk music (which was then not to be found very easily in Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska or New Mexico). It was as though a terrible “itch” of the soul, which I had always taken for granted was suddenly scratched and I became aware of both the j0y of the scratch and the terrible pain I had ignored in the constant itch. Some take to culture like ducks to water. Others take to it like carp to pedicures.
The public toilet at the Acropolis, Athens
I did not then know (and it is to Mr. Emerson’s detriment) that two cuts had been lifted in part or in toto from Béla Bartók’s 1911 piano piece Allegro Barbaro and Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta, without attribution. Both families sued, and both were given proper credits (and, one presumes, royalties).
Still, in the raw cauldron of the new, copyrights and licenses and quaint notions of “intellectual property” have a tendency to get scrambled. And I think Emerson may have thought the pieces were in the public domain. Just ’cause you can tickle them ivories to beat the band don’t make you no copyright lawyer, as the good book says, I think.
But all in all it was pure on the edge keyboard bliss for me. Just what the doctor had ordered. And it led to quite a number of forays into Bartok, Copeland, Ginastera, and others. It was the key that opened a whole new realm of possibilities and a touchstone that I listen to to this very day.*
(* As I have noted elsewhere, we each have two musics: our public music, like the national anthem or a Beyoncé song, and our PRIVATE music, the music of our first kiss, our road trip to Tucumcari, that job in the supermarket. For instance, I cannot hear Crosby Stills and Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” and NOT be sitting on a boulder in Libby Creek, near Centennial, Wyoming, with the sun on my back and the water rushing past me, clear and cold. Our private music is just that, even a national anthem, or a Beyoncé song.)
It always evoked surrealist landscapes to me, unbidden. Vast and alien planes, Twilight Zone landscapes not of the Warm and Fuzzy Yes or Moody Blues variety, but the stark ambiguity of a Salvador Dali or a Max Ernst painting. Still, it was and remains compelling: one of the “touchstone” albums that I have continued to go back kto again and again over the years. Luckily, Emerson’s keyboard virtuosity was of such a comparative order of magnitude above my rediscovered piano skills that I never attempted to learn anything he was doing.
When my friend Steve Hiatt and I tool one of our unauthorized senior “field trips” to Albuquerque that winter, I picked up a book of Bach sheet music and as I began trying to figure out “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (a/k/a “Phantom of the Opera music”) there is was again, that three full steps and a half step descending “Ants Go Marching”/”When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” bass line.
Bach to the future
And the backaches were back. I made the decision to ghettoze the piano with the guitar. After that, if my eyes were going to be involved in my music they would be for assisting in finger placement on the fret- and keyboards. It would take me until my Junior year in college to abandon spots altogether, but, without consciously deciding to do so, I had made my choice already. The STRUCTURE of music? I would pursue THAT, but not touch-typing notes. I’d done it originally on the piano, and for years on the viola (an instrument so boring that they give it its own special Viola Clef, just to induce people into believing that it is special enough to take up.)
This was not the path Emerson took. He was classically trained, obviously, but many of the obits claim that he was “self-taught.” OK, somewhat, but it’s clear from his oeuvre that he’s studied the classical scores and recordings extensively. Which HE needed to do, because ELP was really a musical revolution — one not much cared for by the rock critics.
The old highbrow/lowbrow split that American pop culture likes to gutterize. I remember reading reviews of ELP (and Yes, and the Moody Blues) and the utter contempt that the rock critics (and stereophile critics, too) heaped on the progressive bands. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but, if anything THAT was a revelation, as well, which helped me come to terms, years later, with the sad fact that virtually every review I ever paid to read in Rolling Stone was sheerest idiot-wind bullshit. Evidently, Lester Bangs wrote about mindless dreck under a protean panoply of pseudonyms.
That stereo I had back in those all important high school days was directly under the window of my smallish, shared bedroom. It had a “dust cover” which would not cover the cheap stereo turntable for 12 inch records to play, and shortly after I bought the first ELP album, my little brother decided to start burning incense on the window ledge. I, seeing what was to come, freaked out, and shouted at him that he’d manage to drop a match on my turntable, but the Pianoforte Gestapo heard my alarmed tones and insisted that I was in the wrong and ought to apologize.
I dutifully did so, fuming. Prudence seems a highly overrated virtue on this planet, I have come to learn.
Two days later, numnuts dropped a not-quite-extinguished match-head directly onto “The Three Fates” section of my album.
It was replaced, but call me Cassandra. And I was rather treated as though my foresight of a clear and present danger had, in fact, BEEN the cause of the incident. This would prove a leitmotif in the years to come, but fuck ’em. I am still kind of pissed off about it.
Which brings me to the Jungle Bunny Jive.
Again, I’ve told part of the story elsewhere, but my Dad had some very fixed ideas about certain things that WOULD NOT BE MOVED by facts or evidence. I learned this in several ways, but never so much as that 72-73 winter.
Our high school humanities teacher, Bill Gill, or, MISTER Gill, as we called him to his face, was both the terror and the heartthrob of the SFHS student body. His humanities course was legendary, if you had the guts to take it: he hadn’t given out an “A” for two or three years, it was known. the grade whores tended to avoid his hunanities class, but it was considered THE intellectual rite of passage for college-bound seniors, and yes, it was as tough as advertised. It also ended up being my favorite class, with Marge Carr’s English classes being a very close second. (Marge Carr founded “Fiesta Day” and introduced us to author Tony Hillerman after his first novel, Fly On the Wall, IIRC.)
Bill Gill was a slight man, precise and mannered, restrained, one might say, with an iron hand of self-control. and I seem to recall that he wore a bow tie, and a cardigan , many times. Wore a jacket, generally. Tended to tweedy. Actually,come to think of it, in manner, he was very reminiscent of Ray Walston in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, written by an acolyte of Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe. IIRC, Mr. Gill had a Master’s from Boston College and was in Santa Fe for the Opera in summer, when scho0l was not in session. And on the wall were posters in black and white: DH Lawrence, James Baldwin, George Orwell.
I stared at this mug for a year.
Mr. Gill was the Cultural equivalent of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, in a heavily Fine Arts town. (At the time Canyon Road alone had well over 50 galleries). In one year, he took us through some basic philosophy ( Socrates and an introduction to Plato plus some literature and “how a bill actually becomes a law”), through the history of art and then the history of music in two semesters. I wish I’d learned as much in several semesters of literature and philosophy as I did in that one year. Mr. Gill was legend at Santa Fe High. Most importantly I learned that becoming cultured and civilized was not a matter of osmosis and that one had to put some effort into it, but it was well worth the effort.
And here is the narrow defile that Keith Emerson attempted to stand bestride: the world of the intentionally cultured, and the wild world of the yahoo Bic lighter lifting crowds who were the intentional antithesis of the Mr. Gills of the world. Thus, the Lester Bangses of the world (rock critics) and the cultural arbiters of the Classical Establishment both found plenty of time to heap scorn on Emerson, His First Piano Concerto (On the “Works Vol I” album) was particularly savaged on both fronts.
Rock and roll VERSUS culture?
Asphalt v. Cobblestones
Back in Humanities Class, the well-known and dreaded Term Paper was already dreaded and well-known. When it had been assigned to seniors the previous year, we juinors all KNEW that it had been assigned. And at the end that Bill Gill hadn’t given a single, solitary “A” for it. Yet we youth, we newly minted seniors didn’t really think it would happen to us. And then it did.
It’s a pretty interesting mythos when you are given an assignment that you’ve had at least a year to dread, and every opportunity to avoid. Such was the cult of Gill.
And that second, winter semester, we all had to write the dreaded “term paper.” It was to be on a single painting, but it should explore the artist, his works and specifically how it related to the individual painting involved.
I knew in advance who I was going to pick, but not what painting.
It was going to be Salvador Dali — who is great for junior high school and high school minds, but whom one tends to outgrow rather rapidly, I fear — but I didn’t know what painting.
Finally, I settled on “Sleep.”
Sleep – Salvador Dali, 1937
Note: Photo is low resolution “fair use” reproduction for purposes
of criticism/commentary on said piece.
Now, you might wonder why I c hose it: mostly because it has the fewest number of Dali fetishes, etcetera that I could find, and I didn’t want to get called out on having ignored some crucial piece of the piece. He used crutches a lot, so I could write a whole section on the “crutch motif” and regurgitate a lot of Freud — in whom Dali of 1937 believed but I was at that time a Jungian, so I could throw in a lot of psychology and Psychology Today (more to the point).
There was a perfect balance of stuff I could write about and empty space I didn’t have to write about. I considered writing about “Soft Construction With Boiled Beans, Premonitions of a Spanish Civil War” but realized that the task would be suicidal. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid.
And then I put on the headphones and started to write.
If you can guess the album that I listened to the most (the second most was Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past) you win a quantum fig Newton.
Emerson Lake and Palmer’s first album, which, like I said, already evoked surreal landscapes in my mind, as I listened.
And my father entered my bedroom and demanded to know what I was doing.
“I’m writing my term paper on Salvador Dali” I said.
“Well nobody can study to that JUNGLE BUNNY JIVE!” quoth Dad.
Two things: To this point, in my sheltered existence, I had never HEARD the phrase before, but found it instantaneously racist, insulting AND hilariously absurd.
“Keith Emerson is … ‘jungle bunny jive’?” I gasped back, incredulous.*
(* I was able to quickly divine that a “jungle bunny” must be a Black person — known in Northern New Mexico as an “Anglo” — and that the “jive” part was a generalized critique of Black music by a man who literally had Waylon Jennings 8-Tracks in his pickup truck [including “Okie from Muskogeee” admired un-ironically] and whose favorite musician was Chet Atkins.)
Now, take classical Keith Emerson and try to imagine him as Sly Stone, and that was the absurdity that I also instantaneously realized that laughing at would cause me to get busted right in the face.
“Nobody can study to that jungle bunny jive,” he reiterated somewhat more emphatically, and I solemnly uncollared my headphones and turned off the stereo.
“Yes sir,” I said, wondering where the HELL my dad had ever heard such a racist and ridiculous slur and how come I had never heard him say anything like that before in my life. Serious outlyer.
But the, anyone who listens to Wayon Jennings in their pickup truck was not to be trusted, I knew.
And besides, I was a sixteen-year-old dealing with his father.
I waited the requisite 30 seconds, I turned on the stereo, flipped over ELP and the double Jethro Tull, hit the changer and put my headphones back on.
Fast forward through two missed chances to buy Tarkus and Pictures At An Exhibition (something off-putted me about them for some reason) and I have turned in my term paper. It has been returned to me.
It is marked “A.”
That night I tell my dad that the term paper I wrote listening to that ‘jungle bunny jive” got the first “A” a term paper had gotten in at least two years.
“No you didn’t,” he said.
“Look ” I began to pull out the paper to show him,.
“I believe you got an A,” quoth the old man. “But you didn’t write it listening to that shite.” He actually said “music” but it came out as “shite.”
The end — in any substantive sense. The palpable sound of vault-like mental doors closing filled the silence of the room.
Immovable object in dad’s brain has turned the lock that has lit up the “occupied” sign in the lavatory of secret prejudices.
The phenomenon is well known in Kansas farm country.
In my private music, I cannot hear a cut off of Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past album without seeing a Salvador Dali painting in my mind.
But it is NEVER “Sleep.”
Now, that part of the story was to set up the theme that runs through it: belonging and legitimacy.
Books! READ them. (A public service message from this blog.)
Starting with this from the Agence France Presse obit:
… His last concert took place in July at the Barbican in London where he performed a tribute to Moog on a synthesizer alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra.
The concert summed up the dichotomies of Emerson’s career. An accomplished keyboardist in the classical mold, the normally courtly Emerson said he was offended that several orchestra members openly put in earplugs and two left the stage.
“Just imagine that you are talking to me across a table and I have my fingers in my ears,” he said.
Calling the minority of orchestra members unprofessional, he quipped: “Rock musicians don’t behave like this.”
Seriously? The “classical” snobs didn’t want their precious snootery effronted by synthesizer-boy?
And yet, at the end of his lifetime, Keith Emerson was still being walked out on by purists.
If you watch this amazing bit of video (that’s the real Bob Moog, RIP)
you can see the ring and pinky finger of Emerson’s right hand
“clawing” up uselessly as he plays the synthesizer. It gets worse
the newer the video you find. Clear debility of the right hand.
Two salient features emerged in the aftermath of eulogies from the critical set:
First, that it was “pretentious” and that “prog rock” (of whom ELP were leading exponents) was guilty of not being stupid enough because the “overblown” and “pompous” pretentious “prog rock” — which is, face it, kiddies, INSULTING and meant to be so — movement was now dead, in the form of Keith Emerson, long may he remain so.
This “popular notion” was promulgated by the same astonishingly wrong Rolling Stone-esque critics and Fellow Travailers (sic) who hated them in the first place. The anti-intellectualism and anti-virtuosity creeple-people who inhabit the soft white underbelly of “rock and roll’s” literary arm have seldom seemed so exposed for the pretentious “anti-pretentious” buffoons that they were and ofttimes still are, albeit in aluminum walkers.
As it appeared in The Comic News, 1996
And that, second, the intellectual (this is mostly from British rock journos) critique of the Punk movement, who seized on ELP as the epitome of whatever it was they were shoving safety pins in their noses over was now historically proven correct.
I am not familiar with the notion that the “punk” movement of the early 80s produced much of what you’d call an intellectual ANYthing. Some bad poetry. Some classic rock. Some hilarious hairstyles, but not exactly what I’d call the intellectual arbiters of late XXth Century aesthetics or Western Culture.
And it would all seem hilarious, were they not MORE literate than the journalists citing them in their post-mortems (literally) of Keith Emerson.
Both of these tacks are pointless and stupid, but at least the blatant anti-intellectualism of today is apparent.
No one would have dared term Bowie’s stadium tours excessive, indulgent and pretentious. But the same lighting crews, perhaps, in the same trucks at ELP tours are suddenly excessive indulgent and pretentious, None would dare say the same of a Rolling Stones tour in the past, oh, say three decades even though whatever it was, it was double whatever the critics found so “pretentious” in Emerson Lake and Palmer.
Keith Emerson, musician – obituary
Virtuoso keyboardist and co-founder of Emerson, Lake & Palmer whose amped-up takes on the classics helped to define ‘prog rock’
… In his “musical biography” of ELP, Endless Enigma (2006), Edward Macan identified two rival ideological streams emerging in rock music of the early 1970s – the “utopian synthesism” of groups such as ELP, which sought to transcend musical genres and raise the intellectual calibre of rock, and “blues orthodoxy,” which saw blues as the root of all authenticity and was well represented among rock critics – particularly the British critical establishment – of the time.
As a result, even as they filled stadiums, ELP were rubbished by the rock press, John Peel dismissing them as “a waste of talent and electricity” and Robert Christgau describing them as “as stupid as their most pretentious fans” and assigning a C minus to their album Trilogy. “If you looked up the word ‘pretentious’ in the dictionary, you could well find ‘Emerson, Lake and Palmer’,” as Carl Palmer later admitted….
That, chilluns, is vile: capital V I L E vile.
This canard that THEY alone were “pretentious” is belied by all the recent coverage of the death of David Bowie. I just watched the Pennebaker documentary of the last Ziggy Stardust show in London and … astonishing that it’s OK to shovel this swill about ELP but bring out NONE of it for Bowie’s “Ziggy.” Seriously? Is there ANY aesthetic yardstick here, or are we merely aping the ravings of a bunch of drug-addled rock critics of the 80’s switching over from cannabinoids to the alkaloid derivatives of the coca plant?
Snort on, you brave free-backstage-pass and ticket scarfer-uppers!
I never particularly cared for Emerson’s infamous piano stunts, but then I do understand how hard it is to be dramatically staged on keyboards, Until Edgar Winter showed up with the guitar-slung Keyboard, rotating grand pianos were probably the best that could be done. And, in a civilization that screams “mach show! mach show!” after telling musicians to be heard but not seen for centuries, well, it’s probably best not to say much. But it is telling that so many obits talk about the stabbing the piano keys and other Nice* stunts.
[* Emerson was in “The Nice” before forming/co-founding “Emerson Lake and Palmer.”]
We see this with Lady Gaga today, just as we saw it with The Who’s destroying their instruments routine until they got the attention and could, therefore just shut up and play yer guitar, as Frank Zappa admonished. Hell, we saw it most clearly in all the ululating eulogies to David Bowie, whose “genius” was more stylistic than straight up musical. In this, we still see the clash not of musical critiques, but of STYLE in an era where men and women bought blow driers and wore platform shoes with equal silliness. Idiotic in conception and utterly beyond the pale in an OBITUARY.
Aesthetic midgets, I’d call them, were I trying to be polite.
I saw them in concert once, in the hilariously-entitled “Cape Cod Coliseum” which was naught but a glorified high school gym, dinky* –so it was wonderfully intimate. It was the “Brain Salad Surgery” tour of 74 and I and my new bride of a month enjoyed it very much and very much MORE than we enjoyed the mini-traffic jam on the freeway back to Boston. The part at the end of the album with the rotating “computer:” sounds was one of the most effective bits of staging that I’ve seen in rock concerts.
[* That’s MY memory. According to the Cape Cod News, it was a 5,000 seat hockey arena put on sale in January 1974 because the hockey team it was built for couldn’t fill it.]
So we have the lowbrows sneering because Emerson was reading classical music (the original longhair music) and the highbrows sneering because it’s either rock, synthesizer music, too loud or all of the above and the notion that the ENTIRE wing of progressive rock was somehow illegitimate or made music that was too intellectual, or used too much virtuosity or too little (depending on your symphony and seat) all because Keith Emerson is dead.
I guess he was consequential.
So much of Mr. Emerson’s music was important to me in both my public AND private musics (for instance, the Lp Trilogy and particularly “Abaddon’s Bolero” on it played a not insignificant part in my loss of virginity, etc.)
But I have made an audio blog of how the secret pianist responded to Keith Emerson’s keyboards. And its trick is that it uses a quasi-twelve-tone version of the “Ants Go Marching”/”When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” bass line, only moving up in four whole steps instead of down in the traditional three whole and a half. Hear here. Enjoy.
Oh, and a coda to the Humanities:
I did not bray my “A” but I was certainly secretly pleased. And I received an “A” for the semester, which Mr. Gill did not, blessedly, point out to the assembled, nor did I mention the fact. But even this small satisfaction did not suffice.
I was called into the Vice Principal’s office later that final semester and it turned out that a certain private school into which I had been shanghai’d into to keep me silent about someone’s perfidy had decided that a year’s contract was a year’s contract and without payment for half a year whether I attended or not was due before my transcripts were to be released. Since my family was in no position to pay such a fee, that semester was lost, and I could NOT graduate without Freshman English, which I now did not have. (Did I mention that I pulled straight A’s the entire semester which would have upped my GPA considerably?)
But they had figured out a way for me to graduate, because I’d taken a full load of classes my entire high school career and could graduate because I more than made up for the “Lost Semester,” creditwise. BUT the State of New Mexico demanded that I have that semester of Freshman English.
And so they could, legitimately, convert my second semester grade of “A” in humanities to an “A” and a credit for Freshman English.
I acceded. With a secret regret.
And this is the first time that I have told anyone, I realize, including my parents.
You do what you have to do.
I am saddened that Mr. Emerson was, evidently, depressed by a progressive and irreversible neurological condition that was turning two fingers on his right hand into claws, and that the eight good fingers did not, in his mind, make up for the two bad ones. I am sorry that he took his life. I wish he would have listened to Cat Stevens, which was what I had when I bit the bullet and said, “Sure, turn my only goddam intellectual achievement of Santa Fe Senior High School into a goddam credit for Freshman English.”
And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plow, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if…
I won’t have to work no more.
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colors all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if…
I won’t have to cry no more.
I know what it means to lose feeling in your hands when y0u depend on them, to lose the fine control necessary to type and increasingly, to play guitar. But I try to keep those eight good fingers in mind, and I am so sorry that Keith Emerson could not. As one of my close friends knows, I had to stop a letter in mid-type because I coudn’t hit the right keys literally half of the time. I stare into that abyss too. But we have/had different operating systems. And so, perhaps, different outcomes.
Still, staring into the abyss, I understand why, like Hemingway, like Hunter Thompson, like Robin Williams, he might have thought it better to leave with faculties intact enough, rather than rot into oblivion: Better to end as I am than as I fear I might become.
To sleep, perchance to dream.
There’s now the rub no more.
Coroner: Keith Emerson killed himself with a gun
Maria Puente, USA TODAY
2:13 p.m. EDT March 14, 2016
Keith Emerson, the 1970s-era rock composer and keyboardist found dead last week, committed suicide by gun shot, the Los Angeles coroner’s office reported.
Ed Winter, spokesman for the county Medical Examiner’s Office, said Monday the autopsy confirmed the cause of death was a shot from a .38 revolver. He said the death was ruled a suicide … Winter said the autopsy report on Emerson, 71, showed he suffered from heart disease and depression.
[Longtime companion, Mari] Kawaguchi [52*] told the Associated Press that before his death, Emerson had been working with symphonies, including two in Germany and Japan, and was about to embark on a short tour in Japan starting on April 14 with his band. His work included a classical piano concerto.
[* Why the AP felt compelled to include this ‘fact’ is beyond my ken or pay grade. Ick.]
And, sadly, he could NOT focus on the good eight, but the bad two. British paper The Daily Mail interviewed the girlfriend:
‘Keith wasn’t feeling well on Thursday night. He had bronchitis so I tucked him up in bed,’ said Kawaguchi, 52.
‘He was sleeping when I left and I thought he was sleeping when I got back, but then I realised what had happened. He was gone. I am still in total shock.
‘His right hand and arm had given him problems for years. He had an operation a few years ago to take out a bad muscle but the pain and nerve issues in his right hand were getting worse.
‘He had concerts coming up in Japan and even though they hired a back-up keyboard player to support him, Keith was worried. ‘He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul. Last year he played concerts and people posted mean comments such as, ‘I wish he would stop playing.’
‘He was tormented with worry that he wouldn’t be good enough. He was planning to retire after Japan. He didn’t want to let down his fans. He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous and anxious.’
Despair is an ugly thing. Winston Churchill used to call depression ‘the black dog.’
The black dog bit Keith Emerson in the hand, but it finished him by tearing out his throat.
But it had help. According to a different article in the same newspaper (written using the same exclusive interview — who says newspapers don’t recycle?). After the headline, though, one wonders why a STORY was needed after it. Brobdingnagian, that’s the word for it:
How the Hendrix of the keyboard was trolled to death by his own fans: Keith Emerson’s widow claims flamboyant showman was a ‘sensitive soul’ killed himself after taking cruel jibes to heart *
By TOM LEONARD IN NEW YORK FOR THE DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 18:49 EST, 13 March 2016
UPDATED: 06:19 EST, 14 March 2016
… The Yorkshire-born musician was one of the kings of progressive ‘prog’ rock, an attempt by musicians to bring some credibility to rock in the late Sixties and early Seventies by injecting into it some of the features of classical music.
Emerson died aged 71 at his home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, on Friday morning from what police said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
It appears that for all his rock dinosaur image, he was the victim of a very modern fate — ‘trolled to death’ by heartless fans who had attacked him online over the quality of his recent music, even suggesting he gave up.
In fact, he had been suffering for years from a debilitating muscular condition that affected the fingers in his right hand. ‘He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul,’ said his Japanese girlfriend, Mari Kawaguchi, 52.**
Although he had been planning to retire after a string of upcoming concerts in Japan, he was ‘tormented with worry’ that he wouldn’t be good enough, she said. ‘He didn’t want to let down his fans. He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous and anxious.’
It’s easy to believe that he could have been deeply troubled by the cruel barbs from fans. Not only did Emerson take his music very seriously — even if many others didn’t — but he was a deeply sensitive man who was far from the wild rock star that he appeared on stage….
[* THIS headline from a journalistic source that has the gall to accuse Emerson of pretentiousness? Seriously? Pot: kettle; kettle: pot.]
[** AGAIN with the borderline sexist ’52’ identifier.]
But they can’t help but stick in the anti-intellectual shiv:
Emerson brilliantly exploded the idea keyboard players were the boring, immobile members in a band. In a decade of gloriously silly musical pretentiousness, Emerson, Lake and Palmer — the band’s name didn’t sound like a puffed-up law firm for nothing — was leagues ahead of the opposition. Even Spinal Tap, the mock-documentary parody of a heavy metal band, didn’t come close to matching the excesses of ELP in its prime.
Seriously? Emerson is dead and the gossip stringer can only come up with Spinal Tap as a comparison? Great googly moogly.
Yeah. ELP was “Spinal Tap” and they wanted their Stonehenge to be 6 METERS tall as they dialed up their amps to 12.*
[* No sly reference to Greg Lake’s obsession with writing penny dreadful “subtle” blow-job ballads is implied or intended, although, when you think about it, it OUGHT to have been lowbrow enough for the likes of Lester Bangs, et al.]
But this is no place to search for solutions or cures. Emerson has made his peace and whether we agree or not, we must accept his decision if only because it is a fait accompli. There is no point in arguing with the dead.
So let us celebrate his life and his music and how one gets an A in Freshman English by listening to Jungle Bunny Jive.
Sooner or later the music always stops.
[Note on music video: So it was not a shotgun, as speculated on the soundtrack. Early reports are always in the fog of war.]