Gregg Allman died over Memorial Day weekend, which is a little weird considering he shot himself in the foot to avoid serving in Vietnam, in 1965 no less.
He was 69, much too young to go on that midnight ride across the sky. As one of my friends said, his time with Cher probably took years off his life. (She divorced Sonny Bono and married Allman three days later. Nine days after that, she filed for divorce on him. He dried out, won her back, then filed against her eventually, but relented with news of a pregnancy. When things finally collapsed completely, the fun had lasted two long years, all told.)
A sad situation, but that doesn’t make DP’s comment any less accurate, even if there were five other wives in Allman’s portfolio by the end, along with lots of drugs and booze and the tragic deaths of bandmates and hepatitis and cancer and who knows what else.
If you don’t have a dark sense of humor, I highly recommend cultivating one. I think it will come in handy in the future. I use mine every day. Allman’s death came as a kick in the gut to me, because the news instantly took me back to the day in a sunny, high-ceilinged room at the public library, where I discovered Eat A Peach in a stack of albums, wore it out for a couple of weeks and rushed back to borrow the newly-released Brothers And Sisters to feed my new-found love for the Allman Brothers Band.
That would make it either 1973 or ‘74, depending on why it was in my mom’s mind that I was at the library in the first place. It could have been a history project for my old school, or studying with a friend from my new school. Whether 43 or 44 years back, though, that’s what you call a lasting impression.
Another buddy joked that “Sixty-nine is pretty old. I can’t wait until I’m 70 and can retire. The things I’ll do!” That prompted a couple of older coots around the pickle barrel to pipe up with their advice, including “Don’t wait; You might not make it” and “I’ll tell you what you’ll do when you’re 70: You’ll spend all your time seeing doctors for about 40 different things that never bothered you before retirement.”
A few years ago, I lost my favorite uncle just days after he turned 70. He was the man who taught me to fish, and he was an inspiration for my studies and for my writing. An aggressive cancer took him less than eight months after something seemed wrong at the family meal after my dad’s funeral. He declined so rapidly that he didn’t want visitors after the diagnosis, so the last time I saw him was the same day I rapped twice on my dad’s casket, reflexively, to say goodbye to him.
My Uncle Don was a former seminarian, served in Vietnam, was awarded the Bronze Star, became a college professor, and as far as I know was the exact opposite of Gregg Allman. He had the radio set to NPR on our rides to fish Murrell’s Inlet together, so I couldn’t tell you anything about his musical taste, much less about his inner life or politics. Outwardly, however, it appears that the bell tolls across the land, no matter who you are, and often too early.
In case there was a danger of forgetting that, I was reminded when I lost my last uncle, John, an idol of my youth, last summer at 71.
There was a saying when I was in my salad years, geared to encourage hard work and perseverance while you’re still full of piss and vinegar, in pursuit of the good life later: “Work like a slave, so you can live like a king.” The idea was that sacrifice in your 20s and 30s and 40s would be well-rewarded later in life. I don’t doubt that’s true. But I think a lot of people wait until they’re past the point of regret and correction before they appreciate that youth is wasted on the young.
I remember standing waist-deep in the dark-tea water of the Little Pee Dee, white sand under my feet and Southern rock and what we call “classic country” nowadays playing in my head, casting for bass with my Uncle Don around the same time as I discovered the Allman Brothers. My uncle was much more of a saltwater fisherman and could have been a Frank Sinatra or a Buddy Holly fan for all I knew. It didn’t matter at the time, and it matters even less today. All I know is it can’t be repeated. Neither can my more recent exploits. Not exactly. And exactly is sometimes what we remember most.
I’m not sure the golden age of hunting and fishing in the U.S. isn’t behind us—particularly hunting. They’re not making any more land, particularly in the South, and even the wide-open spaces of the West are shrinking. You practically have to marry into hunting land in this brave new world, which leaves some of us quite torn. And you’re as likely to get buzzed by a ski boat while wading a lazy blackwater river these days as be set upon by a tour group of ten reverential green-tea-sipping kayakers on a three-hour tour.
Nowhere’s safe and it’s getting worse, is what I’m saying, even if you’re some kind of weirdo whose health is improving and energy increasing. I’m glad I got a lot of my hunting and fishing done early. I doubt that if I make it to seventy. I’ll be telling stories about how I wish I’d spent more time putting things off, and saved up more things to do later. I’ve already made it longer than one uncle and one college roommate. Haven’t made it as far as Don and John and some “outdoor brothers from a different mother.”
I’m looking at the average.
Ain’t wastin’ time no more.