Twenty years ago, the life we’d built in one place was ending.
We’d decided, for many reasons, to leave Madison, Wisconsin — widely considered to be the cultural center of the universe — and move back to Green Bay. The lovely Janet had grown up in Green Bay but had been away for 15 years. I’d lived there for a couple of years out of college but had been gone for the better part of a decade.
So we put our house on the market. She stayed behind. I headed north.
I took a new job that really was my old job, the one I’d left eight years before. That was a little strange. As was sleeping on the floor of the guest room at my friends’ duplex. As was trying to find a new place, not knowing when — or whether — the house would sell. It was a blur.
And then my mom died.
It had been barely three weeks since I’d left Madison.
Mom had been in a nursing home, having reached the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Another part of our old life was gone. The handful of days that immediately followed also are a blur, save for the gorgeous summer day on which we buried Mom.
And then life went on. We found a place to live. (I’d come close to wearing out my welcome at my friends’ place.) Our house sold in 17 days. My brothers and I kept a close eye on Dad.
A few weeks later, I was at work, thinking about Dad, and about Mom. It was Aug. 27. It would have been her birthday.
And then the news came across the wire. Stevie Ray Vaughan had died.
It hit home, not so much because of who had died, but because of where and how. Vaughan died early that morning when his helicopter left Alpine Valley, a big outdoor venue southwest of Milwaukee, and crashed into a hillside. If you live in Wisconsin, you know Alpine Valley.
That, and it was a flashback to 1967, when Otis Redding died in a plane crash in Madison, in Lake Monona, not far from where we lived.
They are forever linked for me, my mom and Stevie Ray. Mom’s passing was not a surprise. Stevie Ray’s passing was startling.
“Rememberin’ Stevie,” Buddy Guy, from “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues,” 1991. (The buy link is to an expanded edition released in 2005.)
Buddy Guy had jammed with Stevie Ray Vaughan that last night at Alpine Valley, along with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray’s older brother Jimmie Vaughan. This instrumental is his tribute.
This record was released on Aug. 27, 1991, the first anniversary of Stevie Ray’s death. It again would have been my mom’s birthday.