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Bill by Garnet Rogers (written on July 26, 2011)
I have been thinking , as most of my friends have , about Bill Morrissey, these last few days.
I met him in May of '83.
My brother Stan and I were playing Payne Hall at Harvard, and Bill was the opener.
We had heard of him, being the seasoned New England circuit veterans we were, but had knew nothing about his music, or what kind of guy he was.
He and his bass player, Grieg, sort of shambled in, and set their cases down and we began the wary business of trying to figure out what kind of nighmarish opener we were being lumbered with this time.
We were hitting light speed around that time, career wise, it being about a month before Stan's death, and any other act on the bill was seen as either an amateurish intrusion, or, if they were good, someone to be overwhelmed and stomped.
Stan in particular, had a very competitive streak, and this little unassuming guy was being touted to us as a "great songwriter" and a potential next big thing.
Of all the nerve.
We were however, prepared to be friendly within the limits of our band culture which frowned on outsiders, and we broke open a case of beer, and got out the guitars.
There was a certain amount of standing around and some cautious joke telling, and Stan politely admired Bill's Epiphone Texan.
"I used one of those for the first record...great guitars"
We were first to sound check, and for some reason Stan decided to run through Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing, instead of anything from our repertoire.
I remember seeing Bill bemusedly watching us from the wings, sipping his beer with a smile on his face, and leaning over to whisper into Grieg's ear.
We got through the rest of the check, and then it was Bill and Grieg's turn.
Stan was sitting at the back of the auditorium working on our set list, and I can still see him stop writing and go very still as Bill sang "Small town on the river".
I sat next to him, and we both gave a big exhale when it was over.
It was one of those songs, (and Bill wrote more than his share,) that stopped time.
Bill ran through another..".this is an old Library of Congress song..it's called "Morrissey falls in love at first sight."
He was really funny too.
This little bastard was trouble, and he was on the poster...we simply couldn't take him outside and break his legs.
Something had to be done.
Stan savagely stroked through parts of the set list, and did some revisions.
Better bring out the big guns.
Sound check was done, and we opened some more beer, and we sat outside the back of the hall in the clear spring air, watching the sun go down over Cambridge as the audience was let in.
It was a bright pefect evening.
The show went well for all of us.
Bill simply killed.
Stan and Jim, our bass player, and I watched from the wings.
We never watched the opener, usually, but this was one of those new comet in the night sky moments.
We were watching a guy who was already fully formed, and in control of his deal.
While our act then was a carefully scripted series of rehearsed and tired jokes, interspersed with Stan's great songs, Bill's show was a series of riffs, and lines and songs, all interwoven, and effortlessly tossed out like a trout fly, and he always hit his spot, and always got a perfect float.
His timing was perfect.
And then there were the songs...
Bill affected to be confused and distracted for a moment.
"I'm uh...really sorry...I'd like to sing this next song, but I....uh...I mean, you have not lived until you have heard Stan Rogers sing" the Sultans of Swing"...I mean...I wanna go out and join the Marines..."
Stan doubled over and laughed along with the audience.
Bill and Stan got on great that one night, and Stan was typically generous in his praise of Bill from the stage, and they would have become better friends, but that night was the one night they were to have together.
Stan was gone a month later.
And now Bill is gone too, and his friends mourn his loss, and the inevitability of how his life style took him down.
We all watched from more or less a distance because that's how it is with addicts.
Russell Brand, of all people, wrote a concise and to the point article about addiction in the wake of his friend Amy Winehouse's death.
He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that when you are with an addict, there is always a third entity in the room...and that entity is the addiction, and the addict is never quite with you, always looking past you,searching for the object of their desire, or rather, need.
Being with Bill was like that mostly, in later years.
I always felt there was a veil, or a filter through which everything had to fight.
From my own battles with alcohol, I know of the shame and secretiveness that accompanies any addiction.
You are ashamed of your weakness and feel everyone... your friends, your family, can see it.
And you are right.
They can, and because they love you they put up with it, and if they are wise they know that it is your battle to fight and that they are in the end, little more than collateral damage.
No one can fix the deeper problem that causes one to drink or shoot up, except the addict.
Stopping the abuse is only the beginning of sobriety.
The real work comes later.
We, all of his friends, can talk about the pain of watching his struggle, and how the drinking was no longer a joke, and how much we wanted to help him carry the burden.
But this isn't a treatise on addiction, I just wanted to remember Bill, and I do, and I will.
I'll remember the songs...those time stopping songs....
I just recited one over the phone to a friend..no point in trying to sing it, having heard Bill do it I could never discern what the melody was.
I'll remember the jokes.
He and I did a tour together, in 84, I believe.
We named it "Hell bent for Leisure"
We did it in a haze of alcohol and I should still be rotting in a jail somewhere for DUI, but god protects fools sometimes, and we( and the innocent public more importantly) made it unscathed.
What I mostly remember from those weeks is the two of us being helpless with laughter in the car, trading verbal riffs, and telling road stories, and talking and talking about books and music and bad gigs we had survived.
I'll remember the last time I was to see him.
He was fresh out of rehab, and I had sought him out in Kansas City or St Louis or some other stiflingly hot hell hole in one of the flat states.
I wanted to see him and offer support.
This was a Bill I'd never met...fresh, bright eyed, and so quick..beyond the whip sharp mind I knew.
This was the Bill who had been in there all those years, who had on some level been obscured by his struggle.
He was fussing with his guitar backstage, and looked up at me.
There was no greeting, he spoke as if we were just continuing a conversation, and there had not been a gap of some years since we last talked.
"They take a picture of you when you go into rehab.They give it back to you when you leave as a momento, and a warning."
He giggled, "Mine makes Nick Nolte's arrest mug shot look like a prom photo."
and he collapsed laughing, and then got up to shake my hand with his thin dry grip.
He had a bunch of new songs, and he gave me a cd of them.
We agreed to keep in touch but never did.
And now he is gone, and I have no good words to say, nothing of comfort to give any of us who loved him and mourn him, and remember him in our own way.
He is just gone, and way too soon.
I don't know if he ever recorded "Morrissey Falls in love at first sight".
But I am going to post what I remember of it here, and remember the bright eyed young guy we met that night and who I grew to love, and our delight and wonder as he sang in that lovely white washed room, with the sun shining through the leaves framed in the windows, on a spring evening long ago.
"Morrissey falls in love at First sight"
Well my heart skipped a beat when you walked into the room,
and in 5 minutes I was thinking bride and groom,
thinking bride and groom,
thinking man and wife.
never fell in love so fast in all of my life.
I know you'll like my friends
and you gotta meet my parents
my Dad's real funny and my Mom looks like Betty White
I gotta have another drink
and figure out a way
to introduce myself to you tonight
I'm lousy on the 1st night
better by the 3rd
I was raised Catholic,
in case you haven't heard
but I aint the kind of man
who lives on dreams and wishes
or walks around the house
breaking bread and blessing fishes
If I sent a dozen roses
just out of habit
would yoiu press the flowers in a copy of Babbiit?
I need another drink,
I need a cigarette
I ain't giving up
I'm gonna get you yet
I'll give you rights to my 10 best songs
If you wanna talk we can talk till dawn
right here, I need a word that rhymes with "earn"
I guess your name is the first thing
I oughta learn,
I hope you 're a Democrat
hope you like the Red Sox
hope you like bourbon
with a splash of water on the rocks
bourbon with a splash is the only drink I make
but baby I could learn
there's a course I could take
You might as well give up
I'm gonna make my move
we can honeymoon in Paris
hang out at the Louvre
we can winter in the city
summer up in Maine,
and all of this will happen
just as soon as I learn your name.
The audience was on its feet as he left the stage.
As he walked past us, Stan said "funny song"
Bill smiled and shrugged and said, "sometimes all you have to do is write 'em down."