Saturday, November 17, 2012

Johnny My Friend... Thoughts about Kevin Gilbert

While I'm wiring up my new studio set up I put on music to listen to and today I grabbed a CD-R called "KG Outtakes & Misc" which is a CD 'mix tape' of various Kevin Gilbert songs, many of which at the time (90's) were never released or only showed up on various compilation albums. I used to play in Kevin's band "Thud" and did other things with him in the mid-90's like score TV shows and a tribute gig to Genesis at Progfest '94 performing songs from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as "Giraffe" (a name of his band project before he was in Toy Matinee).

Someone posted the entire Giraffe "Lamb" gig on Youtube if you haven't seen it. It was an amazing time. None of us had any idea what an important 'bucket list' thing it was for us and Kevin. 

For those who don't know who Kevin Gilbert was there's various information on line to read about him such as his web site. He was a brilliant musician, engineer, producer and songwriter with incredible wit and charm. I say was because his journey in life was abruptly cut short before he could finish being 30 years old. I don't want to get into the details of how it happened but if you don't know you're probably curious at this point. Let's just say that it was by his own hand in a frivolous and rather careless accident but it wasn't consciously intentional. I used the words 'consciously intentional' because probably somewhere in his subconscious there could have been at least some poetic desire to drop it all. He certainly wrote about the subject and even the cover of his album "Thud" has a man with his head smack down in frustration on a table next to a hanging post... plus the last song on the album is called "Song For A Dead Friend" which is a heavy one to hear now for anyone who was friends with him. 

Thud: Rush Parish, Kevin Gilbert, Nick D'Virgilio, Dave Kerzner

So that's what I wanted to talk about. What his songs and the music he recorded make me think of many years after his passing. For one thing, his vocal style both in terms of performance and the way it's mixed (very dry and upfront) it oddly feels like he is actually present in the room! That's an amazing thing about music and movies. A personality is captured for all time and reaches out to people even after that person is gone. Kevin's voice and words being that much more vivid. But then there are poetic things I find sad and rather intense to think about. I'm sure it's this way for other people who love and appreciate Kevin's music whether they knew him personally or not. 

I was listening to a cover of "Emanuel' that he did with Jonatha Brooke, an incredibly talented singer/songwriter that Kevin turned me onto years ago. They do a beautiful duet that's haunting and powerful. The end of the song has what sounds like a heart beat (maybe even a child's heart beat). It gets louder and louder and then stops. The end of a life. The sad poetry of that has probably hit me before but I forgot. So when I heard it today it was pretty heavy to think about it that way metaphorically. Then I was listening to a remake of the song "Tired Old Man" that he did. It was originally a song he played with Giraffe but later on he did a beautifully recorded version that he told me he did to impress Rosanna Arquette who he was dating after she starred in his Toy Matinee video "The Ballad of Jenny Ledge". She was an 'old Genesis' fan and this was probably the closest tune he had to "Cinema Show" and "Ripples" haha. 

Anyway, the song "Tired Old Man" is about Pinocchio and the puppet maker who calls him his only son... got me thinking about how Kevin's 'only son' was his music. He never got married (apart from some unusual story where he came back to the house one day saying he got married in Canada to Cintra Wilson... he used to by roommate in this weird 'castle' estate in Eagle Rock and I'll tell a bit of that story some other time but it's a trip... anyway, he didn't REALLY get married legally). He never had children or the benefit of hearing his songs on the oldies radio like his character "Johnny Virgil" did in Kevin's rock opera "Shaming of the True". That album, by the way, is FULL of parallels with Kevin's life and of course there's more sad poetry in songs like "Water Under The Bridge" and "A Long Days Life". 

But, I mean sad in a good way. More about compassion for who he was and who he wanted to be. Songs that have sadness in them are important. Otherwise everything would sound like "I'm Walking On Sunshine".  

Jonatha Brooke wrote a song about Kevin called "Glass Half Empty" where she talked about how he was never satisfied with what he had yet he actually had more than most - particularly in the area of success in the music industry (he won a grammy for his work on Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Music Club, he scored TV and Film, he had industry recognition, music videos, major label deals, paying gigs and all sorts of things most musicians would dream of). Mike Keneally who also worked with him shared a song with me that he wrote about Kevin too. 

I wrote a song about him as well and it appears on an upcoming album release with Simon Collins. Actually it was inspired by Kevin but it is mostly about crossing that line into the point of no return and can be applied to anyone (especially anyone who has experimented with excess such as drugs, alcohol etc). It's about how a split second can make such a huge difference in life and death. That one day, that one hour, even that one minute Kevin was carelessly searching for a thrill at great risk resulted in his demise. That's a powerful reminder of how fragile life actually is and it can't be taken for granted. And it's something we face everyday! Just driving around most of us don't even realize how close to death everyone actually is. One wrong turn or one person not looking is all it takes. Not that was should always be thinking about that but it's good to be extra careful and not think we're invincible or anything... because we CAN break. 

Now, relative to some of the other blog posts I've done, this one might seem morbid but it really isn't meant to be. Sadness in music and lyrics is a beautiful thing. So are the poetic aspects of songs that people interpret in their own way. Reminders about the fragility of life and what a gift it is to have a window of opportunity - however short or long that may be - to create and make an impression on others are extremely powerful. I hold great value with those things. Thinking about Kevin... he may not have lived what we would consider to be a long life. But in his time he created a lot of music for people to discover and enjoy. He left behind a big piece of who he was and that lives on in his art. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Dave. Song For A Dead Friend is one of the songs I have added to The Champs’ 2-act version of Shaming, and I always get a little choked up singing it.