“That,” my friend Meat said, “is a pretty cool mid-life crisis.”
It was his take on my story of why, as I reached my 40s, I started making up for lost time. I’d come to the realization that some of my favorite bands were not going to tour forever, and now that I could afford it from time to time, I ought to get out and see them live.
I didn’t agree that it was any kind of a mid-life crisis, but you had to smile. That was Meat, delivering a good line with a sly grin, and it made for a great story.
There always are lots of great stories anytime Meat is around. We’ll hear some tomorrow when we gather in Rockford, Illinois, to remember him. My friend Brian Leaf died Wednesday. He was 57.
Story No. 1: The Inner Sleeve has been the record store in our hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin, since we were in high school. Meat loved to tell of hanging out at the Sleeve and listening to tunes and shooting the breeze with Mike, the old hippie who’s run the place all these years. I wished I’d done so. I vowed to do a better job of being friendly with the folks who sell records. So grateful I did.
Story No. 2: Ten years ago, Meat emailed me to commiserate that he’d missed seeing rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef in Rockford. I’d seen Sleepy the night before in Green Bay. Sleepy was right in Meat’s wheelhouse. He loved Americana music. Meat also missed seeing a guy he knew that night. Meat’s friends told him “it was pretty wonderful” to see Sleepy and Rick Nielsen play a set together.
Story No. 3: Some tales of youthful misadventures date to the ’70s. I’m thinking Meat was with us the night we went tobogganing down the local ski hill. In the dark. After it closed for the night. Alcohol was involved.
Yeah, Meat and I, we go way back. We went to the same high school, then to the same college. We worked at the same two newspapers early in our careers, with my wife joining us at one. Add our hometown paper, where he met his wife Mary, and there is a rather distinct circle of friends from Wisconsin.
But that was a long time ago, and our group will be in the minority tomorrow. It’s OK. Brian belongs to Rockford, his home since 1988. He and Mary raised their kids, Roy and Sally, in Rockford and are deeply rooted there.
Rockford has many challenges, but Brian got to know the people and wrote about them with hope, style, passion and grace. He championed Rockford’s music scene. At day’s end, he savored a cold beer or a good bourbon. That, in fact, is how we spent our last time together a couple of summers ago.
Facebook was flooded with tributes from Brian’s Rockford friends in the wake of his unexpected passing. They are remarkable. He meant so much to so many people. I wonder, though. Did anyone in Rockford know we called him Meat?
Paul Thorn was one of Meat’s faves. He tipped me to this one. He liked the vibe.
Good choice, Meat. We’ll all carry a little bit of you everywhere we go.