Friday, August 5, 2011
A Strange Tale of Tragedy
I have been trying to write this story for several days now but, and you will probably understand, it is very difficult.
The only comment I will make about the last blog is I am not going to open business as a psychic. Damn what a fiasco.
This story begins October 30, 1970. We had played a concert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, coincidentally the birth place of Duane and Gregg. Someone picked up a big piece of tar (opium) and we were pulling little balls off of it and eating it, We also found a club and jammed after our show at Vandy. We finally made it back to our hotel and everyone scattered for the night. At that time Red Dog was the official driver of the "Windbag", the Winnebego camper in which we were then luxuriously traveling the country. After damn near a year in a Ford Econoline, trust me, it was luxury. Anyway Augie hadn't participated in the evening's mind altering delicacy and since the next show was in Atlanta, only a few hours drive, he wanted to get everyone in the Windbag and drive while it was night with no traffic.
Those of us still at command central started rounding up everyone and getting them ready to move their butts and baggage into "Winnie" (she had several nicknames). We tried calling Duane's room but no answer. We knocked on his door and no answer. We knew he had gone to his room so the first tingling of anxiety started. Someone got the hotel dude with the master key to open Duane's door and there he lay fast asleep. We tried waking him up but no deal. Then we turned on the lights and the tinglings jumped through the fuckin roof. His lips and fingernails had a slight bluish tint to them. An ambulance was called and all hell broke loose. We all jumped into the Windbag and somehow managed to keep up with it to the nearest hospital. Everyone scrambled out when they brought Duane out of the ambulance and their triage dude gave him a once over. I don't know if he was a doctor but he looked at us and said something to the effect of "we'll do what we can but don't hold out too much hope, he's pretty far gone." Then they ran him into the hospital.
I don't really know what was going through my head. It was all a bit surreal. I had eaten some of the tar so my mind wasn't exactly clear. I will never forget, however, Berry looking up and on the verge of tears saying over and over please just give him one more year.
Someone finally came out and informed us that Duane had pulled out of it and that he would be just fine. We even made it to Emory University for the gig that night.
I will not go through the details, but Berry's "prayer" was almost answered. Less than 24 hours shy of exactly one year later a truck pulled in front of Duane on his Sportster and he was killed. I was painting the bedroom of the house I was renting on Wimbish Road in Macon when Red Dog called me and told me I better get to the hospital, Duane had been in a wreck.
When I got to the hospital everyone was either crying, getting news, talking to whoever might give us an update and people were still arriving. I remember one intern that kept telling us if he had made it this long he would probably be ok. I also remember a doctor telling us not to pay any attention to that idiot intern, Duane was not going to be ok.. After a while nothing was happening and the tension was unbearable. Sometimes crying is just the right thing too do. For most of us we didn't know how, YET.
I think it was Bunky Odum that went with me but I know I was part of a two man crew that went to get everyone some wine. I'll never forget when we arrived at the door to the hospital dropping the wine I had onto the pavement when I was told: Duane had died.
I will not even attempt to relate the next few weeks other than to say it took me about two weeks to really learn how to cry. You simply cannot absorb something that overwhelming all at once. Fuck man, we were invincible. I was listening to Cowboy's "Please Be With Me" with Duane playing slide and the damn finally broke. To this day I can't hear that song without feeling those emotions.
Berry was devastated. I don't think Berry really knew how to exist in a world without Duane. The sparkle that was Berry was simply gone. He drank himself into a stupor almost daily. We continued to tour but Berry's heart just didn't seem be 100% into it any more. He did hit bottom and was talking about putting together a band that would include the "Ole Ladies" when two years and 13 days after asking for Duane's "one more year" he was riding his bike about two blocks from where Duane was killed and side swiped a city bus. He died from a fractured skull.
How do you deal with this? Duane was the leader. Berry was the instigator. I will say though that this time I had learned how to cry. We were no longer invincible and a year without Duane had burned that fact into my soul. God I miss them both.
It's really weird how we went on anyway and then the worst of all possible things that could happen happened. Success. On a level no one ever dreamed of and we sure were not ready for. Without Duane and Berry and with the world treating us like gods the whole thing just imploded.
You know, when I think back on those times March 1969 - October 1971, it's hard to believe all that happened in such a short time. We did more living in those two and a half years than most people could do in 10 life times.