Loss, Love and A Lime Tree

I felt like a bit of me died with Dave Greenfield’s passing – my rebellious, non-conformist past, my youthful grasp for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

5:15 am on a dark and stormy Perth morning – I stagger out of bed into my training gear and into the blinding light of the living room, collapse into a chair and pick up my phone that has been on charge overnight.

I read the single WhatsApp message from my friend Rebecca back in the UK and my heart plummets with dread. “Oh no Ben – so sorry to hear about Dave Greenfield. Terrible news (sad face emoji) xx.” Horribly awake and panicky now I quickly tap in his name into Google and there’s the headline on the Rolling Stone website “Stranglers’ Keyboardist Dave Greenfield Dead at 71, After Coronavirus Battle.” I gasp and let out the only exclamation that I can make at such devastating news “FUCK!”.

96 tears begin to well as I read through the rest of the article with heartfelt tributes from former lead singer and guitarist Hugh Cornwell and bassist/lead singer JJ Burnel. I had seen Dave and the band perform less than three months ago at the Perth Astor Theatre – the tour was being touted as the band’s farewell tour – but after 45 years of performing and 35 years on and off watching and following the band, I wasn’t quite sure whether to believe it or not. Two years previously I had the pleasure of meeting Dave and the rest of the band backstage at the same venue. Dave was the first one I spoke to as he had plonked himself down on a chair next to me and was chugging away on a half pint plastic cup of Cognac and coke while puffing away on a ciggy – happy as a rat in a sewer. We had a really nice chat with him coming across as one of those jolly, conversant chaps you find perched atop of a bar stool in any English village boozer more than happy, willing and able to wax lyrical on any subject you care to talk about. Just a good old bloke – who happened to be the genius keyboard wizard of the greatest bad the world has ever seen* – who as Hugh observed “was the difference between the Stranglers and every other punk band.” He was the bubbling Hammond organ/ swirling synthesizer virtuoso behind songs that have been a massive part of the soundtrack to my youth and pretty much most of my adult life  – (Get A) Grip (On Yourself), Hanging Around, No More Heroes, Down In the Sewer, their classic brooding cover of Dione Warwick’s Walk On By, Golden Brown, Always the Sun and the song that has punctuated my life ever since I first heard it, The Raven.

*This is the gospel truth and no subjective view – it has been scientifically proven by the boffins to be categorically, undeniably fact. Where’s the reference proving this you say? Stick my fingers right up your nose, is where.

Me and the great man, backstage Astor Theatre, Perth, Feb 2018

The band survived Hugh Cornwell leaving in 1990 – re-emerging reborn with the ripsnortin’ Norfolk Coast album after many years in the musical wilderness. They survived the retirement of the father-like figure and huge presence drummer Jet Black – but Dave carking it? There’s no coming back from that. But, for Crissake, Ben you sentimental fool, the band had been making music for over 45 years – what did you expect?  True that time frame spans most of my life – and I knew it would end sooner or later – but not like this – not through fucking COVID (raging face emoji). I’ve already written on this blogsite about how I fell in love with the Stranglers – so won’t go into all of that again. But I felt like a bit of me died with Dave’s passing on Tuesday – a bit of my rebellious, non-conformist past, my youthful grasp for the forbidden fruits of sex, drugs and rock n roll …” like a dry tree seeking water or a daughter” – had finally withered, it felt like, soaring with hero Greenfield’s arpeggios, no more. No more excited anticipation all day ahead of a Stranglers’ gig buzzing in the knowledge that my musical heroes are in town that day.  No more exhilarating gigs giddily pogoing and bouncing around with the men-in-black massive, singing along full pelt to every song and shouting my appreciation til I am hoarse and happy. No more new albums to greedily devour and play over and over again and again to absorb every last riff, bass-line, beat and keyboard arrangement…

Take a bow – last time I will ever see this mighty crew live again – how many great memories, though? Thanks to the Stranglers from the bottom of my heart and raven soul.

A couple of hours later, and I was driving up the West Coast Highway to the office for the first time in a few weeks due to measures put in place – for what shall be herein referred to as ‘fucking COVID’. Angry gusts of wind off the ocean battered the car. My soul ached further at the prospect of attending the funeral – or the horribly tritely named ‘Zoomeral’ of a fallen comrade from a self-help community of which I’m a member. Docked in all my Stranglers garb (black jeans, black eight-hole docs, Stranglers’ ‘Rattus’ t-shirt in honour of Dave) I stomped around the office until it was time for the funeral, which I viewed on my laptop in the corporate silence of the boardroom. I and 50-odd others patched into the Zoomer…fuck it…the funeral of my friend which was being beamed to us via a laptop perched on a table at the cemetery.

The sight that confronted us on the screen once admitted to the Zoom meeting was the coffin on a trolley next to a small lake of remembrance. It felt somberly surreal and slightly abstract – like we were all professors observing some social science experiment into grief. Inevitably an older couple who looked like virgin Zoomers didn’t switch off their mute button. And intermittently the service was cut out as they shuffled from arse cheek to arse cheek, slurped their tea or some other aural crime against humanity. “IT idiots!” scathingly thought this particular IT idiot to himself – easily forgetting how I had liberally cursed, clumsily grappling with the vid conferencing technology at the start of this whole global shit-fest. There were some lovely but garbled words from his daughters and the celebrant and some tinny distorted songs which I couldn’t discern other than ‘Sweet Georgia’. Then the coffin was wheeled out of view of the screen following the committal and the mourners made their way back to the doors of the crem. Someone rotated the screen – so you could see the socially distanced condolers file off into the distance in silence – reminiscent of the closing scene of some bleak Scandinavian arthouse film. After leaving a small tribute on the Zoom ‘chat’ sidebar, I clicked on the ‘leave meeting’ button and that was that – no milling with fellow mourners exchanging comforting words and warm reminiscences of the departed – just out the boardroom and back to my desk, desolate and bereft. My face must have looked like thunder because no one said anything to me. I muttered about stepping out to buy some lunch, whacked my headphones on and marched out to the storm with Walk On By blasting out in my lugholes at full blast.

Zest for life.

I have to tell you it’s been a shit of a week….IT issues at work, something to do with cached (annoyingly mispronounced CAYCHED) IPAs not transferring across to the new server – dunno what the fudge stashed barrel of ale’s got to do with it* – maybe the IT spanners got spannered on it and fudged up the transfer across to the new server? God knows but it made my re-entry to office life even more stressful than it already was. Then to cap it all my beloved old skool  black  iPod died. That old iPod containing in the region of 4,000 songs – some of which I don’t even know how they got there – has been the mainstay of my car stereo for many a year with windows down and music blasting out – has gone on travels around the world with me and I swear the sound from that solid little slab of sound engineering was richer and more substantial than that produced through my iPhone. It just stopped on Friday morning after I’d taken a training session making this crunching sound, like a maimed cockroach was crawling around inside it. I’d had that thing for nigh on 10 years – it had served me bloody well – and it was if it couldn’t take the fact that Dave Greenfield had passed and the pain of playing all the Stranglers albums on a loop very loudly over the last few days had driven it to taking its own life (anguished sad face emoji).

*My dad joke quota has gone up exponentially since fucking COVID started.

So, I slept in this morning, read some of Hugh Cornwell’s autobiography A Multitude of Sins – third time I’ve read it I think – in bed and then finally got up fried myself up some mushrooms and herbed toms which I yammed down outside in our back yard in the beautiful crisp Perth autumn air and sunshine. I reflected on what a legacy of music the Stranglers had given me, the rich memories of the times I was fortunate enough to see them play live and reading, hearing and watching about their antics on the web, TV and radio – Dave may have gone, the band may never play again, but the music lives on and always will do in my raven soul. Better to have loved and lost and all that…

Our backyard – my space for contemplation.

And I thought about how much I loved my wife and lads and how we have drawn closer together as a family during lock-down – eating together at most meal times, doing family games nights, family movie nights and even family work-outs in the home gym we converted the garage into when lock-down started – things we would never have done together – certainly not as regularly  at any rate – pre-fucking COVID. I thought about how I may not be a Trotskyite rebel-rouser and carouser anymore, a revolutionary hedonist, a rebel without a clue – haven’t really been since my mid-20s, truth be told – and I guess I am finally an urbane, middle-aged working family man but I am happy. I still like to pogo around with the best of them at gigs in the mosh though, although I’m sure when, if ever, we’re going to be able do that again due to fucking COVID (hand on chin, pensive face emoji). These days, I can live in the present, one day at a time and I have a daily connection with a God of my understanding (limited as that is) who appears to have my back. I often find blissful stillness for a while in my morning meditation – I live here in probably one of the best places to be in the world right now. My heart goes out to those folk doing it so tough in the mega-cluster-fucks of the UK and US right now under the blind watch of Bojo and Chump (raging explosion from head emoji). And that makes me/we feel all the luckier to to live in this beautiful alive place with cleansing healing air and, aaaah,  that mighty ocean…

A flurry of little wren-like tree creepers suddenly descended into the neighbours’ lime tree that overhangs our fence and provides us with a ready supply of juicy limes to zing up our drinks and juzz the fish we cook. I looked up into the trees’ verdant branches. There were bunches of limes everywhere at various stages of ripeness, some smaller ones yet to mature – a lighter shade of green than the plump waxy ripe ones full of zesty juice and a glorious invigorating aroma, then there were the fat yellowing ones which every now and then plummet from the tree with a solid thud to lie still and eventually rot and be reclaimed by the earth that was ultimately the source of their genesis. The same earth that nurtured the bountiful tree that glistened vital in the sun’s morning rays laden with more fruit. For those of you, hard of hearing, I think that’s a metaphor, or an allegory, or something. Whatever, just go for a stroll in the trees….

Fly straight with perfection…

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