It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction
“Song For Sharon”
It’s hard to be an aging rocker. If you’ve got a fanbase, you can play your old hits in sheds, maybe arenas if you’re lucky, do endorsement deals, hell, even Iggy Pop has a clothing line, and live on the fumes, albeit financially lucrative fumes. But if you’re a fan…
I first met Gary Stewart in the Rhino Records store on Westwood Boulevard. It was a legendary place, because not only did they make recommendations, they’d insult you too, commenting on your taste. But if you went there long enough, you got to know Harold and Jeff and Gary.
And all three went on to further success. Harold Bronson created the Rhino Records label and with his partner Richard Foos they became the kings of reissues. And sometimes new stuff. They rereleased the Billy & the Beaters album, when the single “At This Moment” got airplay on TV. Harold was debating sending his gold record back to the RIAA, because the album never quite broke 500,000. That’s the kind of vibe that permeated the company, one of humor and seeing things from a skewed viewpoint. No one was puffed up, there was no attitude, and employees felt like it was home.
Jeff Gold went on to be a majordomo at A&M and Warner and then became the expert on rare records and memorabilia. He was into it from the beginning. Hell, he bid for a guest spot on “Seinfeld,” and you can see him sitting in the shvitz, and he also took a script that he gifted me.
And Gary Stewart…
Graduated from the Rhino store to the label, and I remember just after he got his job, being on the A&M lot, Gary pulling up in his car, thrilled that he had this new job, and giving me a copy of each title from his trunk.
Gary got excited. But he also liked to split the hairs. Sure, he was friendly, but if you wanted to argue about minutiae, he was the guy.
And eventually he graduated to Apple, and then went out on his own, and then back to Apple. And when you went out, you saw him. And he always got into it with you immediately. He’d ask if you were going to the gig. He’d tell you to go to this other gig. I remember him telling me I had to see Jason Isbell. But whenever you bumped into him, it was never casual, you just fell right back into the groove.
And one year I went to his Christmas “Losers Party.” Talk about a record collection! It snaked throughout the entire house. And there were a lot of women there, but I never knew Gary to have a girlfriend. But everybody knew him. I remember twenty years ago, at the beginning of the internet, on Match.com, when it was still free, I got into a conversation with a woman and when I told her I was in the music business she asked me if I knew Gary Stewart. That was him, interacting, being known, out and about.
But now he’s no longer with us.
His second stint at Apple ended last year and he was confronted with the question…WHAT DO I DO NOW?
It’s hard to stay in the music business, where people are willing to work for free, and those without families 24/7. If you’re in touring, you can have a lifetime career. But if you’re in recordings? They throw you on the scrapheap and replace you without thinking twice.
Now when this happened in the eighties, you went into the video business.
And when this happened in the nineties, you went into real estate.
But now there’s no longer a video business. And real estate is really competitive. So what do you do?
Go independent. But the rewards are slimmer than ever. I tell these people to give up, get a straight job, but they lose everything and still try to promote records, that you’ve never heard of. Hell, the classic acts selling tickets have got no chance of succeeding with new music, what are the odds for these acts?
Some get regular jobs. And they adjust. They view their stint in the music business like going to college. Something they did long ago, that yielded stories and good times, but is now over.
And I don’t know the exact details of what was in Gary’s mind. But my source says he was depressed, and seeing a therapist and on medication, and was open about it.
But it still didn’t make a difference.
When you’re so down, it’s hard to ask for help. A zillion people would have stopped by Gary’s house if they’d known. But they didn’t. And the truth is now more than ever, everybody’s caught up in their own little world, focused on themselves, and when someone passes, the Earth still spins, people go on with their lives.
You get a text, or an e-mail, completely out of the blue. That’s how it always happens. Sure, some people are sick and in decline, but others… You know, like the rock stars who O.D. Like Tom Petty. Playing the Hollywood Bowl one week, deceased the next.
And the details are so horrific. Jumping at midnight from a parking garage. Imagine the torture, the state of mind. And then imagine the thoughts while you’re falling. And that parking garage ain’t that tall, maybe eight stories, what happens when you…
But Gary died.
A woman I knew just drowned herself
The well was deep and muddy
She was just shaking off futility
Or punishing somebody
My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
On Twitter. Then obits at the end of the day in “Billboard,” and “Deadline” and “Variety” and the L.A. “Times.” If only Gary had seen the love.
But he won’t. Death is final.
And then I got a DM this afternoon that Bobby Gale was killed in a car wreck, last night coming home from a gig in Montreal.
I met Bobby the first time I went to Toronto, in ’89. He’d graduated from being a deejay to working promo for Polygram. Bobby was so passionate, and the kind of guy I connected with, that I could talk to.
But then his wife left him and his bank account was nearly empty…
But Bobby soldiered on. Never losing the passion. Always working independent records. Going back to radio, sending me the playlist. I won’t say Bobby was ecstatic, but he was devoted, he still believed. God, if I knew he was gonna pass I would have had Bryan Ferry call him. Bryan was his idol, he fashioned his look to imitate him, all these years later, still.
Now earlier today I was listening to a seventies rock playlist on Apple Music. One with some deeper cuts beyond the hits, but I knew every song by heart. And listening on headphones…I was astounded how good they sounded. Listen to the Eagles’ “Out On The Border,” with the guitar parts in each ear, whew! And it’s not even one of my favorite Eagles songs. And Rod Stewart’s version of “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” God, the keyboard intro.
And last night on the satellite I heard “Miss You.” Most disco has been forgotten, but ironically the rockers’ foray still stands.
And I was thinking about rockers crossing over into hip-hop today. Old acts, established acts, not new ones. People would laugh, they’d be excoriated.
And we read all about hip-hop, but there are so many people lost, who are not fans of those beats, wondering how to discover new music. And how many times can you see the warhorses trot out their old material anyway.
So you spin the old records and…
You watch TV. Maybe get into food and…
There’s no place for the record junkies anymore, certainly not “Record Store Day.” That’s all about collectibles. Going to the record store used to be a religious experience. You came home, broke the shrinkwrap and heard notes you’d never heard before. Speaking of the Eagles, I bought “Hotel California” on the day it came out. And played it on my giant stereo I’d purchased less than a month before. With the JBL L100s and the Technics direct drive turntable and two channels of 110 watt power from the Sansui integrated amp, that sound was pure, it was before the loudness wars.
I was shocked. I was instantly into it.
Your discovery happened in your bedroom.
But now… You’ve heard the tunes already online, and most people’s stereos are a joke.
And you read the magazines, you were hungry for information. You were interested in what the players had to SAY! No one did endorsements, sponsorships were taboo, it messed with the music.
And you went to see bands no one had ever heard of in clubs, and you followed them into bigger rooms, if they ever got there.
You were tuned in. Music was everything.
But it’s not like that today.
It could come back, but maybe not.
I was talking to Jack Douglas the other day and he was saying how early sixties music sucked, where was Chuck Berry? And then came the Beatles.
We’re still waiting. The last time we had that spirit here was in 1991, with the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”
And the last hurrah was Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” back in ’95, but just recently a female writer criticized the album for being out of touch with the times, the woman not having power, but what’s wrong with giving head in a theatre?
We’ve scrubbed all the rough edges from the music. There could be no Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin today. And if you want to compare Ariana Grande or Rihanna to them, you’re probably at Coachella people-watching, where the music is secondary.
Yes, times have changed.
And some of us just can’t handle it.
It appears Gary Stewart could not.
But he will be remembered for his passion for the music, creating all those boxed sets, curation being king.
As Bad Company, an act he probably hated, once so simply sang:
I’m gonna live for the music
Give it everything you got
Live for the music
You know you’re gonna find a lot
To ease your mind
That was Gary Stewart.