I always thought I’d see you again.
It’s been a rough time for the Rev., and honestly, I have no idea if what i am typing right now will make sense to anyone or mean anything to anyone except me. It’s one of those times when it is good to have a place to write stuff. Come along if you like.
Way back in an ancient time called the ’90s, a friend of mine by the name of Jim Love asked me to do a gig. As a muso. it was a Halloween party and he wanted to do a set of Oingo Boingo songs. He called the temp group Ongo Bongo–Only the “I”s are Missing. Hey, it was for Halloween.
It was Jim, his brother Sam and a guy playing bass who I had never met before. His name was Vince Diaz. We did the gig. It went well enough to make a bunch of drunk Halloween revelers happy. I made sure to get Vince’s number and walked away and have never played an Oingo Boingo song ever again.
A few years later, as often happens with bandleaders, I found myself in need of a new singer. We fired one; I can’t remember who it was or why. I was editing a newspaper called the Pasadena Weekly. I had a woman on staff who was a great writer and who sang her ass off. Deb Beyer ended up doing a few records of her own under the name Debra Davis and placed a bunch of tunes in TV shows I never saw…like something called One Tree Hill which I understand was very popular.
Anyway, I approached Deb about singing with my band and she said she was just too busy, however she followed that with: “But I know the PERFECT person.”
Her name was Darcey Brainerd. And she WAS the perfect person.
So we ended up with two people auditioning. Darcey and a friend I had worked with at GIG Magazine by the name of Temple Ray. Temple was really good. And she was kinda hot and had booking connections. But as good as she was, the audition was no comparison. Darcey smoked her.
But I was being practical. And dumb. I went with the hot girl.
I don’t remember if it was my decision or if I was influenced by others. No matter. I do remember that Jake Kelly–may partner in crime on and off for almost 30 years now–was PISSED at me about it. Anyway… Despite the decision, I suspected that Temple would be done with the L.A. thing soon and might decide to move. So I did a shitty thing. I called Darcey and told her that the decision had been made to go with the other person, but that I did not think it was going to work out; and, if I were to call her back in a month or two would she take the call. She said, yes. I was covering my bets. By all rights she should have told me to do something physically impossible. But she said, yes.
And a couple months later, Temple decided to move to Austin. And she had a good career there. A few years later i got a CD in the mail for a review and put it on and heard a voice I was sure was hers…and sho’nuff…she was singing backup with Jerry Riopelle.
So, I called Darcey and we started working together. Over the next five or six years, I did hundreds of gigs with Darcey in crappy little venues. One was a hole in the wall in Canoga Park, CA called The Classroom that, trust me, had no class at all. We had a regular gig at–really–a swap meet at an old drive in theater in Santa Fe Springs, CA. We played more dive bars than I can possibly list. And every one of them was something special: Not cuz of me or the band…but because of Darcey.
When people talk about her, for some reason they focus on how pure and sweet her voice was.
But that’s not what I remember.
I remember that Darcey could WAIL. When people ask why I am so unmoved by the R&B divas of the day, why I’m not impressed with the Rhianna’s and Jennifer Hudson’s of the world, I tell them it’s because i did a couple of hundred gigs and sessions with Darcey. Yes, she was that good.
We used to do a song at every gig. A Van Morrison tune called “Into the Mystic.” Darcey should have been a star because what she was best at was finding that one little thing that would take a song from good to unforgettable. And in doing so, she made everyone she gigged with look and sound way better than they ever did without her.
And when she was not on a gig–even if she was just singing backup–you missed her.
Even if you could not place what was missing you know that some vital piece was just not there.
…back to that Van Morrison tune. I sang it. It’s not that well known outside of us Van fans. We did it just because we liked it. On the second or third gig i did with Darcey something happened. When we got to the part of the song that i guess would be what passes for a hook in that tune, all of a sudden, I heard this harmony that was literally celestial on the line, “I wanna rock your gypsy soul.” Every head in the bar turned. The room got quiet. And the people who were there to drink and smoke and get laid actually listened. And from that point on, it was not a song we did for us. It was requested everytime we went back to a venue for a repeat gig. And there were a LOT of repeat gigs.
A couple of years after we started playing together, i found myself in need of a new bass player. And while cleaning my desk, i came across a piece fo paper that said Vince Diaz with a phone number. And i called him. And Vince joined us.
I am blind to this kind of stuff so i was kinda surprised when a couple of years later Vince and Darcey got married. They had a couple kids. And they were really happy.
We had a stupid falling out over how much the band should work and direction after a new drummer with big ideas came in and I found myself pushed out of my own band — long story and not important in the larger picture.
If you have not guessed by now, Darcey died a couple weeks ago. She was 49. Way, way, way too young. I never saw her smoke. I never knew her to be a drug person. But weight was a big issue. And having been 320 myself at one point, I know how much of a toll that can take on a person’s health. I don’t know if the weight got her in the end, but I know it did not help.
Today was the funeral. Linda and I got in the car this morning and drove from Las Vegas to Pasadena, CA and sat with her friends and family and heard about many versions of a person we loved. None of those versions sounded totally familiar except the ones spoken about by other people Darcey made music with. Her kindness and rich spirit were the common threads. We heard from family and people at a church we did not know she was a part of and a teacher whose classroom she volunteered in.
I wish I could say that there is a real point to all of this. There are a couple things I’d like to express but I am not sure they will make sense.
The first is that this wonderful singer whose voice was attached directly to her soul and who touched everyone who heard her stopped singing. None of us really know why.
The last time i saw her was about six years ago when she came out to a gig I was doing and we asked her to come onstage and sing a song or two. And she did. But she was not comfortable. The spark was still there and with a bit of time it could have become the flame i knew so well. But at that moment it was very dim. And I don’t think it ever got bright again.
I have watched people go through things like this. l have done it myself. But those among us who create don’t create just because we want to. We do it because we have an innate NEED to do it.
hen we deny that need, we die a little bit.
Darcey was such a force of nature and so kind and loving that I think only those very close to her who had shared making music with her ever knew how much her decision to stop singing outside of home and church hurt her. I have no idea why she stopped. But the fact that she did kills me just a little.
The second quasi point is so cliche it’s just dumb, but i have to say it. At the funeral, I met up with a guy by the name of Jeff Hoppenstand. Jeff and i were friends for years before i ever met Darcey and he ended up, eventually, playing with us. And it was one of those situations where working with a friend was a bad idea. We butted heads. I was an asshole a lot of the time. We ended up not seeing each other or talking for a decade. And today we talked. I can’t say that we made peace with what happened, but at least we have a chance to do that now. That is the point of what the headline of this blog post is all about.
I always thought I would see Darcey again. I thought that even though we were hundreds of miles apart, we would eventually make music together again. It’s like Vince said to me today. When you have played music–or toured as a tech–with someone, you are like the army buddies our dads had. You can go for years without seeing them and pick right back up as if no time at all has passed.
But time does pass. And people die. And there comes a time when you won’t see that person again. So make the most of the time RIGHT NOW.
“And i wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And magnificently we will roll
As we sail into the mystic.”
Safe journey my friend. When my time comes to sail I will be listening for your voice…
– Rev. Bill