Monday, September 14, 2020

But I Always Thought I'd See You Again (Reflections on My High School Friend and Gary Peacock)

I'm not much of a James Taylor fan but I've always felt the the first verse and chorus of "Fire and Rain" do a really good job of poetically capturing the feeling of losing someone. Having a letter and not knowing where to send it, now that the person can't receive it; thinking that you'd always see someone again - and coming to the realization that you won't anymore - it's kind heartbreaking. If the song just stopped there after "But I always thought I'd see you again," leaving you dangling, it would have been perfect. It leaves it to the listener to figure out the implication themselves. The hardest thing about losing someone is figuring out what to do next.

Those thoughts about "Fire and Rain" have been going through my head off and on for the past 48 hours. On Saturday, Facebook reminded me that it was the birthday of my middle and high school pal Mark Wilson. (Taylor Allderdice, Class of 1985) I went on his personal FB page to leave him a message. We aren't really closely in touch, but we keep tabs on each other and get together every few years when he gets to town. 

Like most FB profiles, it was filled with birthday wishes for Mark, but some of them followed it with "you will be missed." I scrolled through and thought that can't possible mean what I think it means. After a few, there was confirmation - Mark had died. No explanation. No foreshadowing in posts from him. Nothing. He had surgery on his vertebrae back in June and there were some complications from it. He had gone into rehab for a bit, but the last time he wrote, he was headed home. 

Yesterday morning a friend of his in Fort Worth (where he's lived for the last few years) replied to my post where I asked what happened. It turned out Mark had a pulmonary embolism and died in his sleep at home. I'm not sure how soon it happened after he got home but it seemed to be within a couple weeks. 

As if this year couldn't get more depressing.

Mark and I met in eighth grade at Reizenstein Middle school. We weren't in the same class but he was in one of the two scholars classes in House B at the school (the school was divided into three "houses") and so was I, so we saw each other pretty often. I think we were in the same gym class. We became tighter friends in high school. He probably didn't know what to think about my crazy musical tastes back then, but he put up with them and seemed vaguely interested at times. When I discovered William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, it gave us something to talk about, since he was a book person too. He was really freakin' smart too. I remember him saying he was reading the dictionary to prepare for the SATs. I thought that was a little extreme but then again, I had no clue on how to prep for the tests, and I bombed them. Mark got into Johns Hopkins. 

Over the years, Mark and I would lose touch and then get back in touch. When we did, things always seemed to pick up where they left off. There was never any awkwardness about how we had changed in different ways or grew apart from one another. He did come out to me at some point but I was fine with that and respected him for telling me and felt even more supportive of him. 

He reconnected with me about 10 years ago after his mother had died. When he and his brother were cleaning out his Mom's house, he came across a stash of her records and thought about giving me a call. Time was of the essence in getting the place cleared so the vinyl ended up going in the dumpster. We laughed about it because I remembered the collection from my high school years. In included a Fugs album as well as a couple Miles Davis albums on Prestige. Hard to give your grieving friend a hard time for not getting them too me, but oh well. 

The last time I saw him, we met up at Gooski's, the bar around the corner from my house. Mark was glad that he could smoke in the bar, but I can't remember if he had a drink or not. (I certainly did.) But he was happy to be in place where you could light up. Plus, the bar was owned by a guy who had gone to school with us. 

One of the consolations to all this is that Mark's other high school friends didn't know that he had died either, until they saw my post on our class' FB page. Some reached out and we're talking about doing a Zoom chat to reminiscence about him. Hopefully we'll find closure that way.


When Gary Peacock took a solo on the second version of "Ghosts" on Albert Ayler's Vibrations album, he works his bow roughly over the strings. Initially it sounds like some non-musical scrapes, but as he continues, the melody of "Ghosts" takes shape. To my 15-year-old ears, things were being to make more musical sense to me. I began hearing connections to things that would have seemed simply like noodling before. 

After much speculation and retracted statements by some people, it was confirmed that Peacock did indeed pass away on September 4. He was 85.

Peacock has a remarkably varied musical life. He was the first simpatico bassist that Albert Ayler played with, and he appeared on several of his albums, including the aforementioned Vibrations as well as groundbreakers like Spirits Rejoice and Spiritual Unity. The bassist went on to work closely with pianist Paul Bley, who married Annette Peacock, Gary's ex-wife. Their work together helped to usher in the classic sound of ECM Records, leading to his work as one-third of Keith Jarrett's trio with drummer Jack DeJohnette.

But what really rounds his musical life out for me is something no one seems to be bothered to list in the obits. He played on a couple pretty solid Bud Shank albums on Pacific Jazz before he made it to New York and hooked up with Ayler. (My love of Shank came from my dad and I have written about him here too.) Maybe that part of his career is too vanilla for Ayler or Jarrett fans but the album New Groove isn't just standard West Coast jazz lite. It even features a tune written by Peacock, "Liddledabllduya," which is more impressive than the title might imply. 

Back in high school, I probably tried to get Mark to listen to Albert Ayler, fearing the worst. But maybe he would have heard something in Gary Peacock's playing. (Mark played the cello in orchestra.) Maybe somewhere, they'll cross paths with each other and talk music. Or philosophy. Or something. I just wish I was there with them.

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