Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Two Steves

It’s been observed that one of the hallmarks of adulthood is that the victim no longer cares for many of the things that seemed so important during their raging teenage years.

The protest pins are filed away in a drawer, the pop singles are sold at a garage sale and replaced with jazz and classical box sets, and the money formerly squandered on childish enthusiasms is now saved up and placed carefully away for retirement.

So it would be fair to say that the people I’m about to describe to you are classic case histories of arrested adolescence, beings that literally lived as though there were no tomorrow, whose love of music, particularly pop music, was such that everything else in their lives came in a very poor second. Hypnotized by what three minutes of music could do, they abandoned everything and followed a melody without any concern for where they might end up.

You might not think this would be a very constructive choice for someone to make and, of course, in many ways you’d be right. But in other ways, it was the only way they could survive.

And, in any case, choice didn’t really enter into it.

The two Steves once actually worked together at the same record store. You could be forgiven for thinking that they had once been one big ball of colored vinyl split by some Big Bang into two whirling entities of obsession. Chances are that if you had any interest in what lay beyond what the radio fed you and you lived in Philadelphia during the last 30 years, you knew one or the other.

Both were big men, in appearance as well as musical appetite. There was something about Steve G. in particular that was larger than life. He seemed almost Falstaffian with his beard and boundless energy. The most terrible insult he could throw at you, usually when you couldn’t seem to muster the same enthusiasm for some new band or record, was “Oh, I see. You don’t caaaaaaaare anymore!!”, the “caaaaaaaare” drawn out like some unsheathed sword that dared you to defend yourself against the encroaching common sense of adulthood.

Steve G., as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, cared too much. Only not about himself.

His knowledge of all kinds of music was encyclopedic. He wasn’t a snob, either; he respected all kinds of music and artists on their own terms. He would tell you, almost instinctively, why the production on the new Kate Bush album failed and who they should have gotten and how he would have fixed it. These declarations would teeter precariously between sounding like crazy daydreams and seeming to be the only possible explanation. Something about his certitude convinced you he was right.

He was endlessly extolling the properties of the latest import release and he turned us all on to so many things that the list became endless. And, though not conventionally handsome, it didn’t keep my wife and her then-roommate from competing to see who could impress him the most. Neither could hold much of a candle to Paul McCartney in his heart, though, and when Wings came to town in 1976, Steve was on the front page of the paper beaming from the front row of the audience.

He never worked anywhere but record stores and record shows and was always happy to order something or hold something for you. He always respected anyone else's obsession as much as his own. Over the years, he made a number of connections in the industry that should have led to his being able to turn his omniscient understanding of the business into a great personal success. But Steve could never get the hang of marketing himself, of creating an attractive package for the corporate world. He was too much himself. It was the industry’s loss and he watched as others, without half of his talent or love of the music, leapfrogged up the ladder.

Was part of it a fear of success or the loss of himself? Was he frightened that if he accepted the terms of adult life, he’d no longer “caaaaaaaare” anymore? When Tower Records came to South Street, they offered him the chance to run it and he turned it down. It was a position that would have offered him even more inside options than he already had. But he kept slogging away at record shows and dumpy record stores instead, reluctant to fill out a W-2 or to turn what he loved into too much of a job.

Friends would shake their heads and ask him why he insisted on living this way. You should think about the money, Steve. You should take better care of yourself. Think about the future. You're not getting any younger.

The money only really became an issue after the diabetes diagnosis. That’s when many of us gladly became chauffeurs, happy to repay his generosity.

We would have done more if we’d known how little time was left.

Next: Hello Goodbye


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