Tag Archives: loss


Duke at SunsetHe was thin and white when I found him in my backyard. He was sick and so tired he couldn’t even bring himself to run away.

I brought him a bowl of water and came back out in 15 minutes and it was all but gone. In for a penny, in for a pound. I brought out some food — not too much, since he looked so thin, I was afraid he might not be able to handle it. 15 minutes later that was gone.

I figured I had a new cat.

He also had one blue eye and one green eye, like David Bowie. Since he was thin and white, I decided to call him Duke, after Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona.

But those were probably the only things about him like the flamboyant Bowie.

Duke was essentially a quiet cat — though when he was still living outdoors at my old house, he would meow insistently for food — and to try to get indoor privileges. Since I Duke closeupalready had two highly territorial male sibling cats, George and Dave, I elected to leave Duke as my outside cat.

But around the time that Dave passed away after a long bout with kidney disease, I noticed Duke acting funny when he ate, tossing his head to one side every few bites. Over the course of a few days, the behavior became more pronounced. Finally, I gave a good look in his mouth.

A trip to the vets ended up with most of his teeth removed, which meant he was coming inside. There was a huge raccoon in my old neighborhood and I wasn’t leaving Duke out there nearly defenseless. George, my remaining inside cat (well, sorta, actually George’s mother D’Kiki was living in my back apartment with two foster cats… it was a complex scene, cat-wise) did not take to the new interloper at first. He’d always bossed his brother around — even though his brother, a smaller tiger, was the better fighter — but a whole new cat… that was an insult he had a hard time accepting.

But eventually Duke and George became good friends. D’Kiki passed on, my foster cats went back to their original owner, I was able to adopt out the three rescue kittens who were born to a feral mother in or near my backyard, and when I moved, it was only Duke and George who made the move. By that time, George, who had been born with his brother Dave, their late sister Heidi, and three other kittens in a computer monitor box in a corner of my living room, was 14. That house was all he’d ever known and I was afraid he’d hate the new place — but he seemed to fall in love with it. He immediately adopted a window overlooking the rooftops in my neighborhood. But he was ill… and about 5 months after we moved, he did succumb to cancer.

Duke was a bit lost for a while — and so was I. But we supported each other (I know that sounds silly; I’m just telling it like it was). Duke kept me focused and moving forward. He gave me continuity. I’m not a big “people person” these days but my buddy Duke was always there. (Well, he didn’t have outside privileges by himself, so that was literally true.)

Duke had always seemed to have a problem with what appeared at first to be “dry heaves” (you should pardon the expression). Since he had extravagantly long hair, I assumed it was related to that. But I noticed he never threw up during those episodes. (But he did, on rare occasions throw up, typically after wolfing down a big dinner. After a while, it appeared that he learned to in smaller portions more often.)

Eventually I took him to the vets for a general check up and to see if they had any insight into these dry heaving episodes. After a series of X-rays and a consultation with her radiologist, my vet reported that Duke almost certainly had a cancerous mass between his lungs and stomach. I told her that the symptoms had occurred occasionally for several years at that point, really since I first started feeding him. “Keep him calm and comfortable,” she said.

That was almost two years ago.

And I think they were good years for Duke.Duke listens to 'Trane He was relaxed. He seemed to enjoy himself. I indulged his passion for Coltrane on the mellow side — his favorite album was the 1962 Coltrane for Lovers album. (It once even brought him home when he’d escaped and was defiantly holding out in a neighbor’s locked side yard. I coaxed and cajoled. I put a bowl of cat food out. In desperation, I opened the windows and put on Coltrane for Lovers… by the end of the second track he was back inside, curling up contentedly.)

His health problems didn’t seem to have much more than occasional impact. But in recent months his weight was down — even as his appetite was good and, on the vet’s recommendation, I’d started dripping him with hydrating fluids to offset cancer-toxin related damage to the kidneys. Still, it was a relatively light burden on both of us.

In the middle of last week, Duke had a violent seizure. It was too late to go to our regular vet (who was out of town, anyway) but by the time I got to where he’d dragged himself during the seizure, under a table where he was confined enough that he didn’t hurt himself to badly, he was calming down and beginning to breath normally. (Or normally for him, as his breathing in the last few years had become more rapid and shallower. Still, he usually seemed comfortable and happy.) Within a half hour, he was eating and seemed fine.

But two days later, he had another, less violent, but somewhat longer seizure. I stayed by him, holding his legs so that he couldn’t hurt himself. It seemed like that may have actually calmed him.

Yesterday, Duke had a pretty good day. He breakfasted and later dined on his current favorite food (chicken with liver), we went outside for a little while and I let him poke around in the plants. He seemed in good spirits and didn’t seem to feel bad. His coat looked good. (When a cat gets dried out, he gets that scarecrow-straw fur look.) He was a bit subdued but he mostly slept by where I was working. All night long, he slept right by my bed.

Around 4 or 5 am I heard him eating some of his dry food and thought that was a good sign. In the morning he looked good… but at a certain point he went in the other room. Something told me to keep an eye on him.

Duke passed away with me by his side, doing my best to comfort him.

He was a great cat.

Duke at Sunset

No song today. Go listen to some John Coltrane… Coltrane for Lovers if you have it. And say a little prayer for my pal, Duke.


No One Said Nothin’

Fall Equinox

My buddy James would have said it was all just a little too on the nose.

I first met him around ’75 or ’76 in a class on Surrealism. He and his brother Dave were both in the class. I didn’t get to know them then. I don’t even remember talking with them. I think I complimented them on their final project: a four handed piano duet of the theme from Exodus — with each keyboardist playing in a different key.

It was… uh… challenging listening.

A couple years later, I would be in a local cover band dive drinking semi-cheap beer and listening to some surprisingly good pub rock from a band called the Daily Planet. It was a decidedly unhip room with a decidedly unhip crowd, for the most part, but I noticed a party of 8 or so trendy looking twentysomethings — well, they had short hair and dark clothes — not locals, I decided.

No One Said Nothin’

more music links at end of post

When a pretty young blonde appeared by my elbow as I watched the band and asked me to dance I decided this was not a typical cheap beer Thursday. When she invited me to join her party I thought it was getting interesting.

As we sat at the table, she leaned conspiratorially close and whispered, The guy at the end of the table is my brother. He doesn’t like people to make any fuss which is why we came here. Do you know that band, The Knack? (The insipid but ingratiating “My Sharona” was inescapable on the radio at the time.) My brother is Doug Feiger, the lead singer.

I looked at him.

He did look eerily familiar. Kind of like Feiger. But eerily familiar.

I decided to play it blase.

You know who that is, don’t you? She asked. She seemed just the slightest bit offended that I might not.

I assured her I did — but I bit my tongue rather than follow my first impulse and launch into a frank evaluation of the song’s merits, possibly leading to a tirade on existential burden of its oppressive ubiquity.

It was not every day, after all, even then, that a pretty blonde asked me to dance and join her at her table.

The people at her table all seemed glib and glamorous… too cool, I thought at the time, to be associated with a band like The Knack.

And, at what clearly was the head of the joined tables was the guy I just couldn’t quite believe was Doug Feiger, flirting with the women and verbally jousting with everyone. He was assured, witty, sophisticated.

Clearly, he wasn’t Doug Feiger.

In fact, it would turn out that he was one of the two brothers playing that tweaked out four-handed Exodus I’d heard in my Surrealism class several years earlier. He’d recognized me from class and prodded his younger sister (drinking on a very fake ID) to bring me back to the table. She came up with the Doug Feiger gambit on her own, I guess.

James was then 21 and still at the university. I’d find out later that the huge, sharp Caddy he was driving belonged to his employers, ultra-wealthy Newport Beach nouveau riche types for whom he was a sort of butler/personal assistant/retainer.

(I’d later find out that the boss on that job was an utterly infamous investment scam artist who’d been on full page ads on the back of Sunday supplements and on late night commercials for years working his ultimately rather uninmaginative but surprisingly effective pyramid scheme. Years later, after the investment scammer hard died, James would be hired to rewrite the book for the widow who was preparing a new round of book blitzing as the memory of her late husband’s sins faded. He’d end up doing three times the work and getting 1/3 the pay he expected… no writing credit and no residuals, of course. It goes without saying.)

James Norling was a fine singer, a strong rhythm guitarist, and at his best a great — if not ultimately prolific — writer. I’d been in a couple punk bands and a no wave dance band but I was really anxious to do something else. I’d been listening to a lot of Joy Division and Magazine and when I found out that James was into much of the same moody, art-damaged music I’d been listening to (he had a truly amazing record collection… Eno, Can, Faust, Cale, old Pentangle) I felt like I’d really found a musical soul mate.

It seemed natural to introduce James and my buddy Rick Black, who lived about a 30 second walk away from the house James shared with his sister Sheila, the pretty blonde I’d danced with that night.

At the time Rick was just finding himself as a guitarist. He had speed and power but unlike a lot of guitarists of the era, he also knew how to play in between the notes, how to bend and sing notes lyrically.

Rick was the fauvist bluesman, I was the fervid, mic-swallowing punk, and James was the urbane sophisticate… what I guess you’d call your metrosexual kinda guy. I was surprised, at the time, when I found out he’d never been to Europe. But then I had to remind myself he was barely into his twenties.

Like any new band of the era, it took us a while to find a drummer. After some false starts and dead ends we ended up with a young guy named Marty, who was just out of high school and going out with James’ sister.

Marty brought a muscular, tom-heavy punkish tribal drive to the band. With Rick riffing and occasional twisting off into soaring or searing feedback-edged solos, me playing a usually overdriven bass (and switching off to lead guitar every third or fourth song — every bass players dream), and Marty’s pounding polyrhythms, it was left to James’ rhythm guitar to somehow anchor each song with edgy backbeats and quirky chopping rhythms.

First we were the Dogmatics. For a week we were the Wacky Wabits, and finally we settled on Machine Dog* — inspired by the needlepoint illustration of a particularly classic English Bulldog on the wall of our practice space in the back of a furniture store in Orange. (*Not, not not to be confused a certain set of latter day poseurs who no doubt came up with the name of their band independently — around a decade later.)

We played through most of 1980 and into 1981 — even through a fall where first James had a nasty carwreck where he broke his ankle and ruptured his spleen removed… or was it gall bladder… one of the ones that isn’t that big a deal. Gall bladder. I dunno. Anyhow. Bummer. We played as a 3 piece for a couple weeks unitl James came back. That was August 23, 1980.

A precise month later, Marty the drummer got in a fight in the bleachers of his old high school when one of his ex classmates and class rivals gave him a hard time for cutting his hair to be in a punk/new music band. Marty easily to the best of the other guy bur somehow ended up with his ankle caught in the bleachers and broke it. The ankle, I mean. James and Rick and I played three weeks without a drummer. His accident was September 23. Like I said, a precise month later.

One more precise calendar month later, on the night of October 23, I was riding my motorcycle home from a Mexican restaurant about 4-1/2 miles from my apartment when a driver t-boned me, breaking my femu, my hip — and my ankle.

(Rick and his girlfriend [now wife] were away on a trip up the coast. I said a little prayer for them — but I figured the real vortex of improbable patterns would make November 23rd the real threat. Happily, Rick, by staying very very still in a very safe place, was able to avoid calamity, thereby breaking the jinx and perhaps saving the world as we know it.)

Our buddy Steve Becker, a fine guitarist and harmonicist in his right, filled in for me on bass — and when I got out of the hospital two months after my accident, I was back at practice a week later. In a walker. But there.

part 2, coming soon…

Today, September 22, at 9:03 pm, PDT, marks the Autumnal Equinox, the moment in the year when day and night are closest to equal in length.

It is also the anniversery of A Year of Songs.

My “Someone Said Something” was probably my friend James Norling’s favorite in my songbook and he insisted — no, really, he insisted — that he or I or, occasionally, our pal Jose Alba perform the song at almost every party, barbecue, picnic or poker game where a guitar came out. It became a running gag but it never really ended.

Until this last week.

James Norling passed away unexpectedly. He lost consciousness and never woke up. He was 49, if I’m doing my math right.

I’ll offer this wordless version of “Someone Said Something” as my final song for A Year of Songs. Well… this year of songs.

This one’s for you, James.

No One Said Nothin’

Internet Archive page for this recording
Previous versions:
August 26, 2006
November 11, 2005


In the end there is ony the dance

In the end there is ony the dance




Partners will come, partners will go
waltzing off into the past
The music goes on, long after we’re gone
in the end there is only the dance

previous AYoS verion

Only the Dance

music plays from far away
let’s give it one more chance
why should we stumble, why should we fall
you know it’s only a dance

I’m here in the middle of the everything
and I’m hooked up to it all
I tried so long to be everywhere
and now I’m nowhere at all

music plays from far away …

The echo of that music box
the one that you found in Spain
I hear it at the river’s edge
and I hear it in the rain

I hear it in the whisper of
the evening wind in the trees
I sing it in the thunderstorms
and I scream it down on my knees

music plays from far away
let’s give it one more chance
why should we stumble, why should we fall
you know it’s only a dance

(C)1993,2006 TK Major


I Might Be the Wind

I Might Be the Wind

I first got to know Rick Routhier in 1976 when I moved into a tiny shoebox of an apartment a 30 second walk from the bay in Long Beach. When I met him he was drinking a beer and sitting on the second floor sundeck staring off into space picking out “I Shall Be Released.” He was a big fan of old Dylan, as well as Tom Waits. But when I found out he was deeply into Captain Beefheart (and from the Captain’s hometown, Lancaster, California, even), I figured we’d become good friends.

(Odder still, it turned out we had owned the same model of Aria acoustic guitar… and they were even bought at the same store — but his was beautiful and played and sounded great while mine had had a tweaked neck, buzzing frets and a strange, kind of flat sound. Still, I was bummed when — just before I met Rick — someone I knew borrowed it “for a few days” while his Les Paul was being worked on and then hawked it, calling me from Las Vegas to tell me he’d send me the money and the pawn ticket. I told him, just send the pawn ticket but, of course, he never sent either.)

In fact, I ended up getting Rick a job in the warehouse I was managing. He’d just graduated with an English/Creative Writing major, seldom first call at the employment agency — and in the lingering post-Vietnam recession, he seemed glad to have a job working with someone who’d seen the inside of a book a few times.

When you live in the same building and you work in the same warehouse — there’s a lot of potential for a certain kind of interpersonal claustrophobia, but I actually missed Rick when he took a swingshift union job down on our company’s loading dock a year and a half later. The money was a lot better and I couldn’t blame him but… well, I’ve never had a regular coworker I could sit around talking about Marcel Duchamp or Bill Burroughs with before… or since. It was a rare experience.

Eventually, Rick followed his longtime dream and moved to Santa Cruz. He liked it a lot and moved far back in the hills, living in a few of the most beautiful spots any of my friends have ever lived in. The coolest one was built right over a tiny babbling creek and it was a delight. But one night he awoke to frantic knocking on the door. Get out, now, his neighbor said, there’s a wall of water coming down the canyon. He grabbed his car keys and a jacket and ran out to his car in a pair of jeans, barefoot. But he got out and drove up out of the canyon safely.

When he came back a day and a half later he had to dig mud away from the door to get in. He opened the door and there was a foot and a half or so of water still in the house. He figured later that there was so much mud that it had sealed the house up with the water still inside.

Floating in the muddy water was his beautiful old Aria guitar. The case it was in was just starting to get damp on the inside, but he threw some silica gel packs inside the guitar, bought a new case, and he played it the rest of his life.

Rick ended up working at a Santa Cruz electronics manufacturing company in a small warehouse not that different than the one he and I had worked in more than a decade before. He did well, making enough money to have his own tiny house and drink and dine with a small, lively set of bohos, artists, and alternatively oriented professionals.

One day at work he ended up talking briefly with a marketing exec who was surprised to find Rick had a bachelor’s degree. He didn’t say much to Rick at that point but a week or so later he called him to his office and asked him if he was happy in his warehouse job and had he ever thought about taking on a little more responsibility?

One thing led to another and Rick took the gig, buying a new junior exec wardrobe (happily, this was Santa Cruz in the early early 90’s, so a few pair of Dockers, a few button down shirts and a a couple of ties — for dress-up Friday, he joked.

He did well at the job but he said it took a lot of his time and energy. He was hoping once he got in the groove he’d be able to relax a bit and get back to his boho lifestyle.

I talked to him maybe 8 or 9 months after he switched jobs. We talked a lot about his work but the last few minutes of our conversation he mentioned he’d been having some health problems. Nothing serious, he said, but they’d been treating him for phlebitis, swelling in his foot.

About a month later, on a Sunday, I got a call from a good mutual friend of ours. Rick was dead. He’d entered the hospital a week or so after I talked to him. They didn’t think it was serious but they couldn’t control the phlebitis. My friend said that they hadn’t been too worried at first. But on Friday, just two days before, the doctor had pulled Rick’s mother aside and said, “Up until today, I thought Rick was going to come through this. Now… I just don’t know.” Rick’s mom nodded in agreement; she’d had the same thought. The next day, he was gone.

We found out later that it had been cancer, undetected even at the end.

So, I never talked to Rick again.


A year or so after Rick’s death I found myself one day, playing guitar, suddenly overtaken by an extraordinary sense of Rick’s presence. I’m a pretty skeptical, feet on the ground kind of guy — but this was intense. (OK… I’ll admit that in the past I was able to occasionally slip into automatic playing on my 115 year old upright piano… I never really knew where that was coming from. And it pretty much never happens on my electronic keyboards, even my new hammer weighted keyboard, which sounds and feels a lot like a real piano.)

Soon, with the sense of Rick at my elbow, I found myself writing this song, very caught up, emotionally. When the line about Sharon Stone’s chair came out, I was perplexed. I tried to change it, but the song resisted. Over the years I’ve toyed with changing the line, opening myself up to inspiration that never came and then trying by ‘brute’ intellectual force to come up with a substitute line. (That brute intellectual force thing never works well for me, anyhow.)

Now… I’m not going to try to tell you that Rick co-wrote the song with me (but the line about the ‘virus on your PC/ghost on your TV’ is mine, for sure, I was very proud of that back in ’93). An I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s he who’s resisting the efforts to change the Sharon Stone line. But it sure sounds like him in one of his goofy neo-DADA moods.

I miss that guy…

I Might Be the Wind

I might be this and I might be that
I might be a success or I might be flat
I might be them, I might be you
I might be the desert or the sky so blue

but wherever I go, whatever I do
I’ll never, ever stop loving you

I might be the wind, I might be the sea
I might be deep space for eternity
I might be a dog, I might be a cat
I might be the chair, where sharon stone sat

but wherever I go, whatever I do
I’ll never, ever stop loving you

I might be a virus in your PC
I might be a ghost on your TV
I might be a shadow where no shadow should
or a whisper from nowhere
that you almost understood

but wherever I go, whatever I do
I’ll never, ever stop loving you