You’ve just got to make it to January 1st.

“Guess who died?”

That’s how my father would wake up my mother most mornings. A notoriously late sleeper, my mom was the opposite of my eager beaver dad, who’d already been out buying donuts while the rest of were still under the covers. And having perused the Bridgeport “Post,” he just couldn’t help but inform my mother of the latest passings, even though she complained this was no way to be awakened.

I’ve turned into my dad. It happens surreptitiously, while you’re not paying attention, as you get older, and then, sometime when you’re an adult, you realize you’ve not only got your father’s DNA imprinted upon you, but his identity too. You just can’t shake it. And I can’t stop telling people who died.

Like Snuff Garrett. Do you know the L.A. “Times” didn’t even print an obituary? He produced Gary Lewis & the Playboys, and if that doesn’t impress you, he did Vicki Lawrence’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and Cher’s “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves” and “Half-Breed” too. Amazing how the past is plowed under, if you weren’t there it’s like it didn’t even happen. Does anybody remember the Commander, Mike Chapman? He and Nicky Chinn were gods decades back. But they’re still alive, at least Chapman is…Chinn? Probably. But you get old enough and you can’t remember who’s passed and who hasn’t. I laughed how Paul Simon and his band couldn’t remember who was dead or alive in “One Trick Pony,” now I know it’s a function of age. It all becomes a blur. And soon you’re gone too.

And a couple of weeks back, Luigi Creatore died. Don’t worry, I didn’t know him either, but I did know his songs, he and his partner Hugo Peretti, known together as Hugo & Luigi, produced Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him,” one of the great singles of the sixties. And they produced Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away” and “Chain Gang,” never mind “Wonderful World.” And they not only did Jimmie Rodgers’s “Honeycomb,” they did Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” too! And I’d never even heard of them! I wonder if the Grammys will make a big deal about them, their work will last longer than those of the acts nominated for Album of the Year. How come today’s music never lasts?

Meanwhile, read Luigi Creatore’s obituary here:

Luigi Creatore, Songwriter and Producer for Presley and Sam Cooke, Dies at 93

where you’ll also learn Luigi was part of the team that did the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”…what a career!

And although you’ll enjoy the history lesson, you’ll be wowed by the picture of Snuff Garrett and his colleague Leon Russell in Garrett’s obit. Once upon a time, Leon was not the Master of Space and Time, just another talented musician on the make:

Snuff Garrett, Record Producer Who Made a String of Hits, Dies at 77

And just yesterday, Little Stevie Wright of the Easybeats passed away. Vanda and Young get all the credit, but it was Little Stevie who sang the incredible vocal in “Friday On My Mind.” What a track that was, I can remember hearing it over the PA on a bitter day at Brodie Mountain, now they’re both gone. Live long enough and everything that was meaningful to you ceases to exist.

But it’s not only musicians who succumb in December.

Meadowlark Lemon just died. Do youngsters know who he is? Back when the NBA was still white, the Harlem Globetrotters were as big or bigger than any of the league’s teams. And its star was the clown known as Meadowlark, who lived around the corner from me in Fairfield, Connecticut. In a tract home. Where there wasn’t another African-American around. I never saw Meadowlark in the flesh, but his son used to hang at the playground, he was a good dude.

And then there’s Haskell Wexler, one of the best cinematographers of all time. Not only did he shoot “Coming Home,” but he did “Bound for Glory,” which looked like the Dust Bowl, and “Days of Heaven,” one of the most richly beautiful films of all time. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Wexler shot “American Graffiti” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and even “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” And it’s not only the credits, it’s the look, Wexler was an artist, someone unique. And at the height of his fame he made his own film, wrote and directed it too, called “Medium Cool.” It made an indelible impression upon me, not only because of its visceral quality but because of the use of Love’s song “Emotions” in it, as in “Arthur Lee and…” Wexler took a risk, put it all on the line, the Chicago Democratic Convention of ’68 was a vital part of the film. This was back when artists stood for something, when they weren’t so worried about their commerciality that they refused to
take a stand. I ran into Haskell at a Thanksgiving party last year. He didn’t hear so well but was stunned that I knew who he was and had so much respect for him. And to think of all the bozos lapping up the accolades these days. Haskell Wexler was a giant, and the Oscars will make a big deal about his death. No, they won’t, but you’ll see him in the “In Memoriam” montage.

And how about Stein Eriksen? Ski Like Stein! That’s what we all wanted to do, I got his book for Hanukkah. And watched him flip on TV. He was debonair and the true icon of skiing before Jean Claude Killy and was never eclipsed by the French master. I only saw him once, in front of his namesake lodge in Deer Valley.

And Ellsworth Kelly just passed, and Dave Henderson too!

And my uncle Herbie, my mother’s brother.

I don’t come from a large family. But now only my mother is left. Herbie lasted a long time, he died at 94, he was nearly 95. But I remember talking to him back in 2008, when he was wearing his Tufts hat, and he told me he went to the reunion but few attended, everybody else was dead. And you think you want to live forever, but you don’t. Because not only do you become frail, all your friends are gone, you’ve got no commonality, no frame of reference. Don’t envy those financial titans marrying twentysomethings, what do they talk about? We sang the theme song to “Car 54, Where Are You?” the other night, does anybody under fifty know that show? Under sixty? “There’s a holdup in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights…”

And when you’re young everything’s new and you think you’re going to live forever.

And then you age and you’ve seen it before but you understand it better, you’ve got context, you can deliver wisdom, but no one younger than you seems to care, they’re all just doing it for themselves.

So we get this inane worship of the young and stupid. Honoring someone for their youth is like honoring someone for being born, it doesn’t have much meaning, these individuals are far from fully-formed.

But then you become who you are, you’ve been there, done that and you pass.

It’s the way of the world, but it’s still incomprehensible. You were so vibrant and alive, and then no one cares about you anymore and just a few remember, no matter how great your contribution was.

So, if you’re trying to leave your mark, if you’re all about accumulation, you’re missing out. The truth is we’re all just grist for the mill and the best you can do is to have experiences and adventures that mean so much to you. Because ultimately you’re the only one who cares, the rest of us keep on keepin’ on, focused on our own little lives.

But when the giants fade away, when those who provided signposts in our lives are suddenly gone, we feel the emptiness, at least for a while, not only are we reminded of their humanity, their singular quality, their greatness, we’re confronted with the fact that life is evanescent, that it can be snuffed nearly instantly.

So take care of yourself. Go to the doctor, get those tests, no one is invulnerable, no one gets out of here alive. When you’re done, you’re done, no matter what anybody says. So make the most of your time while you’re here.

And know that people can have an impact. The ones mentioned above certainly did.

And pray that your loved ones make it through the holidays, it’s the hardest time.

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