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Spring It

I’m gettin’ old .. anything can happen now to anyone
-Bob Dylan

I haven’t had anything to say for a while now, and some would argue for a while longer than that. But I did have this photo taken from my roof last weekend and thought it a good excuse to put off the death of this blog for at least another few postings. Actually, I had this subject in mind on several start and stops – death – or more specifically, the unavoidable passage of time. But then I figured that I already have a knack for turning the cheeriest of subjects into an exercise in morbid reflection, so why start shooting fish in a barrel? And what does this say about me, when this is where my thoughts turn as we enter the season of re-birth? Perhaps I’m not alone, though. I read an article on Buddhism recently that claimed many new mothers experience an intense connection with both their own mortality and that of their newborn shortly after delivery. Of course some others don’t – which got me thinking about Ronnie Montrose.

Montrose, who died last month at the age of 64, played guitar and fronted his band “Montrose” on their later acclaimed but initially ignored first album … “Montrose.” He also introduced a young singer named “Sam” Hagar to the world. The cause of his death was first attributed to prostate cancer, but it was revealed yesterday as a suicide. According to his wife, Ronnie had struggled with life-long clinical depression stemming from feelings of self-doubt. And this is what got me thinking about what a chemical coin-toss life really is. Here you’ve got two guys fronting the same band in 1973. One adds a ‘y’ to the end of his name and goes on to rock stardom and platinum tequila sales, and the other beats himself up unnecessarily as the years pass and eventually takes his own life.

While I’ve argued before in the face of criticism for Hagar’s worth, it was Montrose’s guitar work on that first LP that changed the face of hard rock. His open-chord riffs on tunes like Rock Candy, Make It Last, and Bad Motor Scooter influenced guitar players from Eddie Van Halen to Angus Young. And it wasn’t as though the man toiled in obscurity – he worked with Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs, Herbie Hancock, and with Johnny Winter’s brother Edgar on the classic “Frankenstein.” Granted, he never assumed a permanent post in the spotlight as Hagar has, but you have to question how a man of his apparent sensitivity would have handled the constant label of “hack” that Sammy has let roll off like so much water on a duck.

Many would point to the old half-empy, half-full glass adage to sum up one man’s view of the world compared to another’s. This is, of course, horseshit of the first order, and whatever caused Montrose to put a .38 caliber gun to his head was a bit more than simple pessimism or myopic liquid-level estimation. Still, you can’t help but envy the Sammy Hagars out there who either manage to keep it simple or somehow find something worthwhile in themselves to cut through all the crap. As Sam wrote and sang on that first album: “I remember when I was seventeen / my father told me pick your dreams / he said ‘life ain’t easy, as it seems’ / ‘when you get older you’ll see what I mean.’ ” Pretty cheesy in the big lyrical picture, but well put for the subject at hand. The simple, cleanly-distorted guitar playing provided whatever poetry there was in that band, and without Ronnie’s riff none of the words would have stuck in my head anyway.

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