When my sister Nancy was young, this was maybe 1973, making her 13, and me 15, she butted heads against the American establishment. I was a head-butter, too. But then, as now, there's great value in seeing other people fighting the powers that be. It helps show you what in real life you're up against.
Nancy died 14 years ago in a horrific motorcycle accident. But hardly a day goes by when I don't think about her, wish I could hear her voice, hold her hand, or have a meal with her.
Sometimes I can see her laying on the floor in my little beach home, hugging Whiskey, not caring in the least that Whiskey's just come out of the sea and she smells more like wet dog than angel.
I'm on a flight back east from three days of client meetings which can take a lot out of a person with too many synapses. I read recently, that the ancient Greeks had a phrase for people whose minds don't stop even for sleep. They have "Scorpions in their heads." I've got a battalion or two.
Trying to catch up on lost sleep, I was listening to music while closing my eyes. The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" came on my pod and so did a gallon of tears. Nancy tears.
Way back in the Spring of 1973, Nancy was graduating from 8th grade going into 9th. She always had a musical bent--and like my daughters 30 years later--she loved the Fab Four.
Schools back then--50 years ago or so--were rigid and tradition- bound. They had probably played some Classical graduation march for 100 years. It's the way they had always done things.
But Nancy listened to the words of Here Comes the Sun. Like many good lyrics, they sound better than they read. And Nancy loved the feeling of the song.
She wanted the song as her class' graduation tune.
Though never a "popular" kid, she got virtually the whole 8th-grade to sign a petition. Then she presented the petition to the administration of the Middle School. The Vices. Vice Principal and all that.
They said no.
That's not done. Besides, the Beatles...drugs. Long hair.
At this point, I would
have thrown in the towel. Too often, my attitude is 'fuck 'em. I'll hear my own
But not Nancy.
This wasn't just a song at a ritual for her. It was youth versus staid. It was sun versus darkness. Against all logic, she kept banging her head against the sturdy, thick and reinforced establishment walls. Like walls in 10th-century Crusader battlements, they were 10-feet thick, or 12.
At last, they relented. She banged hard enough and they agreed. They would play "Here Comes the Sun," in addition to some John Philip Sousa march.
I'm thinking about that
tiny victory now--48 years after the fact.
I'm thinking about the will Nancy had. The, yes, superhuman strength. The force. The force that through green fuse drives the flower.
I think the world, myself included, needs more Nancy in it.
I think the world, myself included, needs more still small voices.
I think the world, myself included, needs more pains in the ass. More fighters. More never-give-uppers.
I think the world, myself included, needs more believers, more optimists, more 'why nots,' and fewer 'we can'ts.'
Nancy wasn't with me during my three days of client meetings.
Nancy isn't with me when I fight my business fights, no matter how small and ultimately inconsequential they are.
Nancy isn't with me at all anymore.
Except maybe she is.
Maybe she's leading that battalion of scorpions who live in my head.
BTW, three of Nancy's albums when she played with a band called "Moonshine Willy."
And an obituary by her label.
In Memory of Moonshine Willy's Nancy Tannenbaum
On Sunday May 13th, 2007 Nancy Tannenbaum, aka Nancy Rideout, original guitarist in Moonshine Willy, was killed in a motorcycle accident in New York City. She swerved to avoid a pedestrian who mysteriously ran onto the West Side highway, was thrown from her bike and died at the scene.
Nancy came into my life before Bloodshot Records was even a gleam in my eye. It was a thrilling, wide-open time when music meant EVERYTHING. Chicago was a city bursting with new, inventive music and this band, Moonshine Willy, was percolating with some sort unnamed mutant aggro-hillbilly punk sound. On stage right was this diminutive, bashful, tight-lipped guitarist with a fearless sound.
She had the impossibly cool rock and roll last name of Rideout---I don't even think I knew her real last name for a couple of years--I just assumed she was born to play music with that name (and would, without much fanfare, thrown DOWN with a nimble, messy, totally intuitive sound that mashed bluegrass, country and rockabilly into something I'd rarely seen played with such innate energy. At times, she even seemed surprised at some of things she was pulling off.
Moonshine Willy signed the first Bloodshot contract in 1994 (suckers!) and we packed a good deal of camaraderie into the next few years. It was a time before it all became a business, before true adulthood and responsibilities wrung some of the pure exhilaration out of our creative endeavors. All of us went to the same clubs, ate breakfast at the same places, saw the same shows, hung out in each others backyards or on each others porches, played softball every week (she was quite the second baseman), soaked in our respective sweat on a drive from Dallas to El Paso in 118 degree heat with a busted AC in the van during the first Willy national tour, and developed a closeness that only comes from such time together in the trenches. We were all essentially living together, we just happened to have different landlords and mailing addresses. I cannot imagine all those shows at Lounge Ax or Wednesday nights at Crash Palace/Delilah's without her.
Our time together was emblematic of a simpler, more fun time--full of close friendships that transcend geography. For me, her passing is a heart-breaking reminder of just how special that time was.
Mostly, though, when I think of Nancy, I remember how so very happy she looked when she was playing.