When it comes to our development as music fans, the influence, opinions, and record collections of older brothers are often primary and very positive forces for our own musical sojourns. As is often the case with shared musical interests, and subsequent memories, the bond between brothers becomes even stronger; stronger than death itself.
Geoff Moore loved his brother. This is his tribute, which we’re honoured and humbled to publish here on the ‘Bin.
“‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ all right!”
Those were my big brother Bob’s words caught on tape at a 1975 Beach Boys concert in Edmonton’s Coliseum. It was summer of course, probably August. He sauntered through the turnstile carrying one of those high tech, cinderblock-sized cassette recorders. Bob was 24, a man of the world who drove an orange MG convertible.
I was 15, awkward, frightened, a flailing Q & A prototype of my eventual, flawed myself. I was trailing him, blown away by the prospect of my first major rock show. Second hand pot smoke! Bob lead us to our seats (good ones, lower bowl, facing the stage), set the machine on his lap and when the lights went down he pressed RECORD.
Bob the bootlegger.
Bob died April 8th, Easter Sunday. We’d hung out at the University of Alberta Hospital the Saturday eve in a lovely, pacific and leafy public area Bob referred to as his office. We were well pleased the Canadiens had won their final game of a dismal season. Always fun to beat the Leafs.
Joe Jackson sang, “Everything gives you cancer.” Fed up, cynical, that sneering ‘Sunday Papers’ attitude and righteous because collectively we seem to really, really like being fed the mulch of mass hysteria. Yet perhaps cancer (in its many forms) is a disease (or diseases) we have brought upon ourselves or maybe have at least exacerbated since the Industrial Revolution and the corner cutting acceleration of mass production.
The byproducts of progress and ease are spewed, leaked and packaged filth and poisons. I have smoked a pack a day for 37 years. Bob might have had one puff of a cigarette for a joke in 60. Cancer does not discriminate; it doesn’t pick and choose, it just is and it does the awful things it does. Nothing personal, you understand. Robbie Robertson sang, “You gotta play the hand that’s dealt ya.” My brother did with uncommon dignity.
This is not an era of leeches, blood-letting and voodoo priests. Modern medical science and technology have rubbed away some of the opaque condensation coating Madame Marie’s crystal ball. Today there’s a fair chance that you’ll know how you’re going to die and you’ll probably have a pretty good idea as to when.
This foreknowledge can be a powerful tool in the hands of an artist. Warren Zevon’s best records always sounded desperate; The Wind was cut while he knew he was dying from lung cancer. The selfish fan is slain by his version of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door:’ “Let me in! Let me in!” He meant it. Send lawyers, guns and money.
The late Joey Ramone, another victim of cancer, did a thousand-mile-an-hour rip-through of Louis Armstrong’s standard ‘What a Wonderful World’ to lead off his solo LP, Don’t Worry About Me. Nobody really wants to go and most of us will never manage to get our affairs in order; tough to take care of business from the ICU.
My brother was so thin, maybe 110 pounds counting the layers of robes and the IV stick on castors. The ravens had been circling for three and a half years. We held hands before I left him that last time and he squeezed my fingers hard enough to almost break a knuckle. After this most recent setback we would get down to discussing big, important stuff again: which two people should les Canadiens hire for their vacant GM and coach positions?
Foreknowledge for the eventual survivors is an unwelcome gift, a head start on grieving. These past few months I’ve surrendered repeatedly to the compulsion of playing Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia.’ It eventually dawned me that the narrator is addressing Death itself: “Ain’t no angel gonna greet me, it’s just you and I, my friend.” I know my brother felt this to be true.
This is the sentiment of a lapsed Catholic. Bob grew up with a portrait of his guardian angel and a crucifix augmented with a dried and brittle yellow palm frond tucked behind Jesus hanging over his bed; my room had the same décor. The next line utterly destroyed me: “And my clothes don’t fit me no more.” Press REPEAT, weep, sip Irish whisky, press REPEAT.
Cancer does not discriminate; it doesn’t pick and choose, it just is and it does the awful things it does. Nothing personal, you understand. Robbie Robertson sang, “You gotta play the hand that’s dealt ya.” My brother did with uncommon dignity.
Bob’s only discernable musical talent was his ability to replicate the flying arrow sound effect in Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid.’ He had the ‘Eros with Bow’ pose down too. Whoosh! He knew all the words to ‘El Paso,’ easily the best of the Marty Robbins gunfighter ballads: “There’s no chorus!”
Yet he loved songs with an inane, catchy chorus like Wilson Pickett’s ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’ or the Isleys’ ‘Shama Lama Ding Dong.’ He sang-along slaughtered the Drifters and the Temptations. Aaron Neville, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin – no one was safe. He danced like an awkward white man mimicking James Brown; if you’re imagining Jagger now, presume that the actual Jagger was trained by the Moscow Ballet. Ain’t we got fun. Add beer and tequila.
I suspect that I was shipped off from Montreal to Bob in Edmonton that summer of ‘75 at his insistence; I’ve never asked him outright and he never brought it up – this is us, we are Moores. Talking is for other people. Our divorced parents married their new partners and the house we grew up in was sold while I was out west, out of sight and out of mind. He was looking out for me while I was mesmerized by his record collection: Stevie Wonder and more, more Motown, the sounds of Philadelphia and Memphis, Van Morrison and the absolutely magical hook of ‘My Maria’ by B.W. Stevenson. Nobody else in high school listened to this stuff.
I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to become. I was still trying to figure out where to find the dots we’re all supposed to connect although one day I would eventually get a haircut and get a real job. All of this vinyl, this music stored in milk crates opened my eyes and changed my life: Why was I listening to the same stuff as everybody else back home when there was a whole new world waiting in the record store if I would just take the time to browse a different aisle and then spend four or five dollars a risk?
Bob Moore agreed with Bob Dylan who once said, “Nostalgia is death.” Even so when the Calgary Stampede in late April announced a July gig of the reunited Beach Boys here my first impulse was to call my brother and at least float a trial balloon. Something like, “It’s still a few months away; we’ll get tickets and if you’re feeling up to it…” I’d try to sell him on Brian Wilson’s participation, a 42-song set list, the ease of Bob and his wife Ann staying at our place. All of this in a nanosecond before remembering that I cannot phone my brother anymore and realizing that there is no way I can go to this show without him. Staring at the dial pad I catch another of wave of sorrow. I do not believe this tide can ever turn.
Geoff Moore is a writer and music fan who grew up in Montreal, and is living and working in Calgary. Luckily for us, he’s also a regular contributor here on the Delete Bin.