Pushin’ Too Hard: June 25th

June 25th is a date I always dread a little. In 1976, the day after my first real band, Taylor Bridge, finished another blazing rehearsal, my father, T.K., had a heart attack.

When you’re 18 years old, family events like this one etch a permanent place in your brain. Fused into this recollection is the combination of police, Allman Brothers, TK, screaming-drunken bandmates, hospital and June 25. Disjointed as a list, but very cohesive in the big picture. In ’76, the day after the great, post-rehearsal turmoil, comprehending what a heart attack was and how it meant change was a little over my head.

As the years rolled by, I noticed that turmoil seemed to congregate or coagulate on certain dates. Is this completely nuts or have you noticed this, too? So when I arrived back to Rancho Lilypad after a 6 hour drive through Wisconsin, I was a little stunned to find my current 6/25 upsets were quite trivial in comparison with others out there. Of course, I reference the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. The news has been non-stop since reports began streaming yesterday. The Chicago Sun-Times posted a tweet on Twitter well before the television media began to confirm the news.

A bad day for icons,” I quipped to my wife, Cath, as I walked into our house. As I got closer to her office, she began walking to meet me and I noticed she looked a bit different, having the unmistakable look of someone that just suffered a terrible blow. Did I somehow miss something? Could it be that Cath had also lived under the shadow of those Fawcett posters, growing up in England? Was Jacko secretly blaring out of her room as a youngster, when all I know about her early days seems to be an amalgam of Scott Walker, The Fall and Buzzcocks? Highly doubtful.

Steven Wells
Steven Wells

So it was a little confusing at first when I learned that Cath’s face was reflecting the death of a relatively-unknown-to-me writer named Steven Wells, or Swells as his friends called him. It turns out, Steven was a fellow writer at the NME (his obit with commentary) in the 80s when Cath was also working there, along with their mutual friend David Quantick. Over time, Dave worked with Steven as a writing partner on many things. I should note, it turns out Steven’s death occurred Wednesday night, June 24th. His last piece for the Philadelphia Weekly is here. There is a great bit of insight at No Rock And Roll Fun that is worth reading. This excerpt from a Wells’ poem recounted there by Simon struck me,

The number unemployed fell today
Fifteen thousand bled away
So we stripped them cold naked
And shaved their heads
Stopped the thrashing of severed nerve endings
By boiling the buggers in sterilized lead
Laid them out in cold, grey ranks
Introducing the human sandbag
A small donation to the nation’s maintenance

Sky Saxon was born Richard Marsh

Sky Saxon born Richard Marsh

In 1967, I was barely ten years old when I first discovered The Seeds and Pushin’ Too Hard. The sound and production Sky Saxon and company conjured simply floored me. A style and aesthetic that I thought was an appropriate touchstone when, forty years later, I began producing psych-rockers, WorldWideRiotI believe my Dad introduced me to that song when he delivered a cache of 7 inch singles he had “come across” while he was repairing the heating system at Universal Studio in Chicago. I played The Seeds’ record to death.

When I learned that Sky Saxon had died after learning more about Steven Wells and weathering the Jackson/Fawcett media deluge, I couldn’t help but think that June 25th is a bad day for music. Even Farrah seemed to live in the music sphere. Her poster, along-side posters of icons like Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart, seemed to be everywhere music fans were congregating. And for all of Jackson’s bizarre behavior later in life (another similarity to Fawcett), there is little doubt MJ contributed a ton to the music universe. Bigger than Elvis seems to be a common summary of his life and place in pop culture. And, although I will say the early Jackson 5 singles energized me and made me a fan of those records, Pushin Too Hard was where my musical soul hung out. How could I forget having to play Rock With Me, over and over again, during my disco-days tenure in a Chicago, Top 40 covers band? Not something that I think back on with fondness.

So I was quite saddened to read that Austin-based Sky Saxon died after a short illness. It seems no one is exactly sure what his age was other than in his 60s.

My condolences to all the families and friends affected by yesterday’s confluence of events. I hope Cath and David find some comfort that Swells covered the Jackson, Saxon and Fawcett crossings.

Yes, I maintain that there are certain dates in the calendar best avoided. I mark June 25th.


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