People Who Died

Tom Smith

tom smith | make green bay weird | feb. 2017

I feel with almost a month of 2017 gone by that I have the proper perspective to discuss the musicians and celebrities we lost in 2016. The general consensus is 2016 was truly a rough one in regards to these deaths. The year started with David Bowie passing away. Quite frankly, this was such a huge loss that 2016 could have quit right then and there and would have had no shame in its work for the year. Unfortunately, 2016 said, “I'm going to open a can of whoop ass on all of you" and the hits kept coming. The hits were so frequent that 2016 should have hired Casey Kasem to host its death announcement show. Alan Rickman? Are you kidding me? 2016, do you realize how many Harry Potter midnight openings I took my daughter to? I, of course, love him best for “Galaxy Quest." Abe Vigoda? Seriously, Abe Vigoda? We still haven't figured out who is our go-to when we talk about people who are still alive! Not that this was the only cast member of “Barney Miller" to bite the dust — of course, I'm referring to Ron Glass. George Kennedy… KENNEDY, how could you not love him in the “Airport" movies?

Patty Duke, whom I must admit I had a crush on at one point.

Gene Wilder: loved him in “Stir Crazy."

William Christopher, who portrayed Father Mulcahy, one of the best-written characters on “M*A*S*H."

Bernard Fox portrayed two of my favorite sitcom characters, Doctor Bombay on “Bewitched" and Col. Crittendon on “Hogan's Heroes."

Muhammed Ali was top of the heap of sports world losses in 2016. Growing up in the '70s, you could not escape the icon that was Ali. If my grandson Logan ever asks me where I was when I read “Superman vs. Muhammed Ali," I would instantly respond, “I was in ShopKo East while my mother was grocery shopping at Sure Way."

Taking Bowie was bad enough, so the thought of Prince passing away at such an early age was almost inconceivable. The Prince family lost another member when Vanity also joined Prince in the great jam session in the sky. We saw both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake from ELP get taken. The way I figure it, God must have wanted an ELP reunion. Now, some of you may go, “But Tom, Carl Palmer didn't die." Yes, that's true, but by ELP I'm referring to Emerson, Lake and Powell. Don't forget, folks, that ELP put out an album in '86 with Cozy Powell on drums. I kind of love that when Carl Palmer left Greg and Keith said, “We will just go out and find a drummer whose last name also begins with the letter P." Cozy rode a rainbow out of this plane of existence in 1998. Paul Kanter of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship — my favorite thing about him is that he hated the song “We Built This City on Rock and Roll" as much as I did.

Just think, Grace Slick wanted to dose Nixon with acid once. If she would have been successful at this, a prison sentence might have stopped that awful song from ever being recorded. Leonard Cohen and Leon Russel in the same year? Really? For all the acclaim those two receive as songwriters, they still may be underrated. Sharon Jones was a shock to me because I had forgotten that she was sick. I feel like Fletch in the doctor's office when talking about his fake uncle Ed. Ralph Stanley and Buckwheat Zydeco were both kings of their respective genres.

The biggest loss country music experienced was Merle Haggard. I only got to see Merle Haggard once when he opened for Bob Dylan in Milwaukee. I guess to me Merle was the headliner that night since I left immediately after he was finished. I had seen Bob Dylan in Madison with Willie Nelson a few years back, and let's say it was very disappointing. No, not even the presence of Charlie Sexton could save the day. The world of hip-hop lost Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest. This death didn't stop them from putting out their first record in 18 years. Stalwarts of rhythm and blues/soul/funk Earth, Wind and Fire lost their leader Maurice White. We also lost Scotty Moore, whose guitar playing helped bestow Elvis Presley with the title King of Rock and Roll.

We almost made it out of 2016 when the world of movies lost Carrie Fisher. I didn't group this with the other actors I mentioned earlier because this one affected me the most. I might have had a crush on Patty Duke, but I was totally in love with Carrie Fisher at one point in my life. In 1977 when I saw “Star Wars" at the age of 10, my thoughts concerning her were, “She kicks ass as Princess Leia and this is the greatest movie ever." When I saw her in “The Blues Brothers" at age 13 is when I fell in love with her. Sixty was far too young for her to die, the same age my father died, the man who took me to see both “Star Wars" and “The Blues Brothers." For the record, “The Blues Brothers" is my favorite movie of all time.

This list of celebrities are all people who died, and unlike the Jim Carroll song, none of them were my friends … and Then Came Doug. December 28, I received a phone call from the Rev. Norb at work. The fact that Norb was calling me at work and at that time of day immediately made me intuit that this wasn't good news. Norb was calling to tell me that our friend Doug Evans had passed away. Norb called me at work to save me from seeing it on the internet first and I'm very appreciative of that. Norb and I became friends with Doug because of the band Doug played bass in, The Didjits. Doug undoubtedly was one of the nicest guys EVER in rock and roll, a kind, gentle soul who also stormed stages as a rock and roll animal. How kind was Doug Evans? Off the charts. He had to have been, dealing with a Didjits fanboy like me. I was obsessed with the Didjits before I ever met Doug. I'm not using the word obsessed lightly, I remember I had a dream once that I won a truck and the first thing I did was take it out and drive it as fast as it could go while listening to the Didjits song “Max Wedge." Those of you reading who have never heard of the Didjits, let me take you to school. The Didjits were the greatest rock and roll band of the '80s, hands down, and Doug's bass playing and personality were integral parts of the band. The Didjits imagery contained elements of drag racing and car culture, which I really feel was because of Doug. The Didjits were not only the greatest band of the '80s but in the rankings of rock bands all time, they come in at number three behind 1. The Ramones and 2. Motorhead, in my opinion.

Rub your eyes all you want, but I put them over bands such as The Stooges, The Dictators, the New York Dolls, Cheap Trick and The Sonics. Speaking of The Sonics, way back in the '80s I had this theory that the Didjits were The Sonics of the '80s, meaning a super great band that was underground whom decades later people would finally catch up with. I still believe this, and I personally know many musicians who are currently active who not only credit the Didjits as a major influence, but literally a life-changing experience.

Last November, a possible Didjits reunion show was being discussed. This had the internet ablaze. In fact, the hashtag #DidjitsReunionShow was briefly trending. My obsession with the Didjits led me to seeing the band many times. The Didjits only played Green Bay twice (the second time with the Muffs at the City Center Theater), so many a road trip was taken to see this band. One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was able to finagle Green Bay's very own Boris the Sprinkler on the Didjits record release show for “Que Sirhan Sirhan" at the Metro in Chicago, a bill that also had the Supersuckers. I would like to take this time to kindly thank Botch, the Didjits' booking agent who made this possible. I still owe you, man. Since I'm patting myself on the shoulder right now, I remember walking into the Port Plaza Mall one time and having a conversation with Syd Jackson (former Green Bay punk rock promoter and fellow WGBW alumnus) where Syd asked me, “What band that has never played Green Bay before needs to play Green Bay?" I looked at Syd and without hesitation said “The Didjits." This is why the Didjits played at the ex-Option. Doug was always a joy to hang out with before and after Didjits' shows. Pretty sure if you look up the term 'good people' in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Doug's smiling face. Sadly, after the Didjits broke up I lost contact with Doug for a long time. Luckily, through Facebook, we reconnected about four years ago. I discovered that he was the same old Doug, a wonderful, loving person. With Doug's passing, Facebook allowed me to see an outpouring of love and mourning worldwide for him. It was quite evident that Doug was as loved George Bailey in “It's A Wonderful Life."

Live long and you hafta be cool to rule.

Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.

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