Dead of Winter
“I will measure up my life, my days as they go screaming by
With Xs on the calendar, till pennies on my eyes
I will count my many blessings with gratefulness my mentor
And I will count myself in luck as I count the dead of winter”
An unfinished song by Randy Lewis Brown
When I was considering how to begin this month’s topic I remembered a song I started a few years back and never finished,. It was based on the double meaning of “the dead of winter.” I love it when a common but dark phrase about the middle of a season can also be used to mean something completely different and even darker. This topic was brought to mind by two deaths which occurred in January 2023. So here we go…
Though inevitable, it is still a little frightening to witness the passing of your generation. I had never been more aware than I was this January. The deaths of Jeff Beck, closely followed by David Crosby were certainly inevitable. But they really are only remarkable for the fact that it suddenly hit me that my generation is not only dying off but our influence is rapidly, and in some ways thankfully, fading. Left to be thought of by today’s children in the same way, that, as a child, I recognized the Roaring Twenties as a source of weird clothes and old music: To be not wholly forgotten, but viewed as mostly irrelevant ancient history and not of any real significance to the world of the day.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck (Jeff Beck, June 24, 1944 – January 10, 2023) whom I only remembered as being a member of The Yardbirds, only came into my consciousness as a person, when my best friend, now brother-in-law, bought the first album by The Jeff Beck Group, “Truth”. Released on Epic Records in October 1968, it included a cover of the Howlin’ Wolf song “I Ain’t Superstitious” played by Beck and sung by, an at the time unknown to me singer, Rod Stewart. I was quite taken by the sound of and combination of Beck’s wah wah guitar and by Stewart’s gravely voice. But to be honest, after that, Jeff Beck faded from my musical world until I heard “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop” in the early 90s, I still recall his playing, so articulate, expressive and almost vocal in quality. I was impressed but he didn’t enter my consciousness in any real way again until his death on January 10, 2023.
My first memory of David Van Cortland Crosby (David Crosby, August 14, 1941 – January 18, 2023) was his Prince Valiant haircut when he was a member of The Byrds. However, I didn’t really know who he was until the release of the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album in 1969. I was at a party when I first heard “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Marrakesh Express” and Crosby’s “Guinnevere”. I was transfixed by the harmony of the three together and it wasn’t long before I was sporting a turned down mustache, just like the one in Crosby’s pictures. But like Beck, I didn’t follow him closely. Though I couldn’t help but be aware of his drug addiction, later imprisonment and re-entry into the musical world in the last few years.
To be honest, in my daily musical world, neither Beck nor Crosby meant a lot to me. They were simply artists of my generation. I was aware of both but their trajectories had little effect on me. But their unfortunately timely passings in January has affected me far more than even those of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. The passings of those three only informed me at the time that even the young were mortal. But the passing of Beck and Crosby have somehow brought home to me the fact that my generation is reaching its ultimate end. All too soon, we will be mourning the passings of Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, James Taylor and all the other musical icons of my youth. Not by untimely drug overdoses, misadventures or unfortunate accidents, but rather simply by the unyielding hand of age.
The deaths in January also have me thinking of what my generation has contributed and more importantly what we leave behind. Certainly we leave behind a huge musical legacy but since recorded music began each generation has left that for the following one to build on. As a generation we are responsible for the turmoil of the ‘60s, the Vietnam war protests, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the Weathermen and the rise of domestic terrorism in the ‘70s and yes, even Disco. Followed in the ‘80s by the insane excesses of the Reagan years, but also the hope created by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet Union and the Cold War. The ‘90s saw us with kids in high school and college, complaining about the “noise” that was Rap and Alternative music, just like our folks did with our Rock music. Also it was around that time I began to think about retirement and what I would do when I no longer worked every day. Y2K saw the internet take hold and become an irresistible force for change which some of my friends still refuse to embrace, (to their detriment in my opinion). We had truly become our parents, resisting every change like it would bring the end of the world. Well, I’ve got news; the world has always been ending according to the older generation (which is my generation). Hopefully it will continue well past 2023, unless the old dudes of our generation, running the world today, decide to nuke each other. So far, we have somehow muddled through and I have faith that our children, grandchildren and their children will also muddle through, leaving the past behind and forging a new world that their parents will always believe is “going to hell in a hand basket”. Because, that is the way we move forward; every generation lives, leaves a legacy and then quickly becomes history. The dead of this winter has proven to me that my generation is finished. So what am I gonna do? I am going to keep writing this column, creating new music, and performing to whoever will listen.
These days, the words of Bob Dylan constantly reverberate in my mind, from his song “The Times They are a Changin’”
“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
Don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly fading
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a changin’”
Those words are as true today as when they were first written and will remain true until we disappear from the earth. So folks from my generation; please consider what you criticize. As a group we made as many if not more missteps than any generation ever has. This is no longer our world. It belongs to our grown children and grandchildren. They can’t do any worse than we did.
So as we count the dead of winter and those of winters to come, rest assured that that which begins young will, if lucky, end old. If you are my age, be thankful we had such a great ride.
Until next time…
Randy Lewis Brown may be an over-the-hill, baby boomer and cranky old coot, but he is also an award-winning Northeast Texas-based singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “performing philosopher”. Despite his years, and an early bedtime, he remains steadfast in attempting to decipher the intersection of spirit, faith, science and the human condition, always trying to maintain a sense of wonder and whimsy in his occasionally clever folk-Americana songs and stories.